Zucchini, Tomatoes, Collards and Praying Mantis

With an inch of rain recently we have had a break in the drought.  It is a beautiful October day and here is what I saw when I looked around the garden today.

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Male zucchini flower

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Female zucchini flower.  We have had quite a few zucchini flowers over the past months, but without rain few of them developed into zucchini that I bothered to pick.  Now we might get a few if the weather stays warm.  I enjoy these magnificent but short-lived flowers.

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I have been eating these yellow pear heirloom cherry tomatoes for a few months now.  The leaves of the plant are diseased, but I just keep getting enough cherry tomatoes to have a bunch in my salad each day.

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These are tomato plants that my Arab lady friend left on the patio in my watering can, so I don’t know what kind they are, but they are finally producing the first red tomatoes.  On Thursday I made some delicious ratatouille…

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We try to throw in 2 to 10 leaves of collards into recipes when we get a chance.  This plant near the lilac bush is looking healthy.

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In the vegetable garden the inner portion of the collard plants have been eaten by cabbage moths.  We have more collards than we can eat, so I don’t worry too much about it.

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Here come the brussel sprouts.  They have been pretty small, but I think the rain will help them get a bit bigger.

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Backing up, here is what the brussel sprout plant looks like.

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The pole beans are drying on the vines and will be shelled when I pull down the bean structure.

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I looked for bugs on the bean leaves and found a grasshopper.

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Parsley is one of the plants that look beautiful all the way into December.  I have not cooked much with it this year, but it makes a great ornamental plant.  It is an essential ingredient in my fabulous spaghetti sauce recipe.

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I finally saw my first black swallowtail caterpillar for the year on one of the parsley plants.  For me, parsley is a much better host plant than dill for these caterpillars.

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All the native and ornamental grasses have seed heads now.  This is miscanthus ‘morning light.’  I have been searching them the past months to see if I could see the first praying mantis.

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This morning I found a female praying mantis in a clump of miscanthus.  Her abdomen is very  large and I wondered if she was getting ready to deposit her egg sack or if she just ate a very large grass hopper that she is digesting.  I was trying to get a better shot and she moved further into the grass, so I am no longer able to find her.  I find paying mantis egg sacks in the grasses every spring when I am doing clean up and try to put the egg sacs in a place where the ants will not get at them.

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These little zinnias are finally blooming now.  They are called ‘summer solstice’ but seem to be best in the fall.  I plant them from seeds each year, and they are cute in the garden and attractive to pollinators.

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Just to the right in the alyssum I found a little skipper resting.  I almost pulled up all the alyssum during the drought because it just looked like seed heads, but the flowers have returned after the rain and it is buzzing with small pollinators.

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The coral mums are starting to bloom…

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Some migrating warblers have been passing through.  I think this is a palm warbler, as they seem to visit every year, but not sure I can tell from this picture.

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Then there is the usual bird bath ruckus to see how many starlings or sparrows can get in the bird bath at once!

Have a beautiful autumn day!

Look Closely

What a beautiful fall day! Here are a few pictures of things I saw today.

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Small red and blue insect on small nasturtium leaf.  This critter was so small I almost missed it, but I got out my camera to try to magnify it a bit.  I took a quick look in Illinois insects and did not see a picture that looked like this.  It might be in a grasshopper or tree hopper family with its yellow legs and orange behind.  Though of course it could be a flying object.

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I am not sure if this helps, but from the side you can see a black line around the head.

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I have been waiting all summer to see a black swallowtail caterpillar on my parsley and today I saw two of them!

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I saw three different kinds of bees on my asters today.

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White snakeroot plant.  I guess this seed was dropped by a bird into the garden and the plant was blooming before I noticed it.  I saw some white snakeroot in the prairie of the forest preserve today and I guess the bees like it.  It is poisonous to cattle and humans if we drink milk from cattle that have eaten it in the pasture.  Apparently the roots were used for snake bites in traditional medical practices.

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I went to Spear Woods in the Palos Forest Preserves this morning for a nature walk and talk about the Palos Restoration Project.  I had never been to this part of the forest preserve before and enjoyed the walk led by someone who has been working on this site for 26 years to restore the native habitat.

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We did some seed collection of three plants: blazing star, lead plant, and rattlesnake master.  All ages were involved from elementary school to retired people.  I think I am finding my people…  Though I would love to spend some time with birders, too…

Caryopteris, Chinquapin Oak, and Green Beans

The pollinators are shifting over to the caryopteris and soon the sedum.  The zucchini are multiplying.  The neighborhood trees are producing acorns and other nuts.  Just when summer seems to be coming to an end we anticipate really hot weather this week.

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The caryopteris bluebeard is blooming now and covered with bees and other pollinators.  The sedum is just about to bloom and turn pink, as the black-eyed susans die away.  I just dug out the hydrangea so that I can put a nice big circle of mulch around the chinquapin oak.

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Bee carrying pollen on legs on caryopteris bluebeard.

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First sedum blooms.

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Our chinquapin oak is looking healthy.  The laundry posts block the view….  We really love this tree.  Have we said that before?  We planted it in 2009 and it was about 7 feet tall then.

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Acorns on chinquapin oak.

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I saw this baby chinquapin seedling under the crabapple tree.  We pulled up two of these oak seedlings today.  I hope the birds and squirrels plant more of these trees outside of our yard.

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Blue jay in bird bath.  One afternoon I heard the blue jay squawking in the chinquapin tree and then squawking in the bird bath.

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Blue jay’s bright blue feathers

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Pole bean blossom.  The rabbits have left us alone for a while and the pole beans have come back.  I picked quite a few green beans today, for the first time this year, and put them in some soup we cooked up.  We threw in half a red cabbage, collards, zucchini, turnips, broccoli, tomatoes, and potatoes from the garden, along with some herbs.  A couple of cans of beans added a little more protein and we have meals for a few days.

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This is the time of year when the zucchini patch takes over the garden.  Only one zucchini plant successfully survived from the hill of three seeds I planted, but it seems pretty healthy and bountiful, though some mildew is coming on the leaves now.  In front of it on the left, the collards are doing really well this year, too.

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Just have to throw in one more picture of a black swallowtail caterpillar on parsley.  We have several caterpillars chewing on parsley around the garden this week.

Celebration!  Celebrating 35 years of marriage to my true love tomorrow.  I am glad that he likes nature, too!

Summer Ecosystem

I am not sure what to name this post.  Everything is happening in the garden:  flowers, vegetables, birds, insects, and mammals, etc.  Here are a few pictures of what is happening.

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Cone flowers and Joe Pye Weed

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Close up of liatris, opened and closed flowers.  Favorites of bees.

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Zucchini blossom.  Getting ready for lots of zucchini.

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We have been eating a lot of bok choy recently.

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Maybe we will cook up this red cabbage next week…  This is the first cabbage I have successfully grown.

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This huge collard plant is ready to eat, but it will wait while we finish eating all the broccoli that is about to flower.  We have had so much broccoli this year.  There is a pepper on the left of the picture.  The peppers are ripening and I have started eating them.

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I planted cucumbers for pickles, but I am not exactly sure when to pick them.  I don’t seem to have time to pickle anything, but I am just happy to have cucumbers to eat.  I don’t have enough tomato cages so the cucumber vines are crawling all over everything!

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I always enjoy watching the black swallowtail caterpillars chewing the parsley.  This one reached the end of his branch.  Unfortunately the next day I could not find the two caterpillars here.  I can hope the big one made a chrysalis, but I think birds got them.  The chrysalis from a previous blog is still green and under the rhubarb.  I wonder if a butterfly will emerge.

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I counted 7 starlings in the bird bath and 3 on the ground waiting for their turn.  With that kind of riot I need to change the bird bath water twice a day!  Even the robin in charge of the yard does not seem to want to stand up to the starlings.  The parsley plant above is just to the left of the bird bath and the starlings were poking through it today.

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I think this is a starling that is molting into its adult feathers.  If I am wrong let me know.

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I think this is a Baltimore Oriole.  I was sitting at my desk and noticed it through my screen window in the viburnum bush.  Then it went to the hostas and pulled down the hosta flowers to find bugs.  There were two birds that looked the same color, so it could have been two females or two juvenile orioles.  These two birds were under my window for about ten minutes while the robin stood by and watched.

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Hickory tree.  Two winters ago we had snow on the ground for many months so the squirrel never had a chance to find all the hickory nuts it had buried.  Last summer we had hickories coming up all over the yard.  This one came up in a location good for a tree, so we have been watching it grow.  This is the second year.  We mowed down the tall meadow grass that was around it.  We are hoping that it is a shagbark hickory.  We found a shagbark hickory down the street, but there are other kinds of hickories around also, so we will see.

Sightings:  This week there was a baby bunny running around the yard and hiding under the rhubarb.  I did not see it today… Then today we took a walk be the water reclamation lake and there was a coyote.  It was about 5:30 pm.  The coyote was trying to cross the bridge toward us.  Most of us got off the bridge, but one older couple stayed on the bridge looking at the ducks.  The coyote finally managed to run past the couple and into the woods.  It was skinny.  It did not look like it had eaten a duck recently.

Butterfly Weed, Blueberries, Basil, and a Cocoon

Happy Summer Solstice!

We are having a very lush June this year after much rain.

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This is a “yellow” butterfly weed that I planted last year, I think, but it just got going his year.  The butterfly weed are blooming around the yard and hopefully will attract some monarchs.

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This was the view from my lounge chair this afternoon.  In the front some ground cover is blooming yellow.  In the back the orange butterfly weed is blooming and attracting a variety of bugs.  Just to the left of it the pineapple sage is getting taller and looking healthy.  You can also see a few blueberries on our little ‘top hat’ blueberry bush that are starting to ripen in the middle of the picture.

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It looks like my first blueberry is getting  ready to eat on the ‘Duke’ blueberry bush!  We don’t have that many blueberries as I have not worked hard to acidify the soil around them.

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It looks like the basil is ready for me to make some basil pesto!  In front are prairie verbena flowers.

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Just above the basil is Heliopsis helianthoides ‘Summer Sun.”  I was lying on my lounge chair enjoying these flowers and watching the clouds float by.  Summer at its finest.

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We also have some heliopsis blooming in our little meadow.

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I took this dragonfly picture in the meadow early this morning, where it had rested in the grass for the night.  It is probably some type of skimmer.

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A little before noon I found this turtle on the road in front of our house.  We also found a smaller turtle on the road near Lake Katherine this morning.  Maybe with all the rain recently the usual rocks in the lakes are covered with water and the turtles are looking for other places to catch some sun.  That is just a theory.

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Turtle foot.

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The Tokyo cross turnips are coming along well.

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We are throwing in chopped up collard leaves in our recipes now, too.

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I have seen black swallowtail butterflies in our garden depositing eggs, so was glad when I finally saw a caterpillar chewing on our curly parsley.

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Later in the week I noticed it had travelled a few feet to the rhubarb leaves where a cocoon was getting started.

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Today I went back to the same spot and found this cocoon, well disguised.  Little things like this make me happy!

Poetry referring to nature:

Were the whole realm of nature mine,

That were an offering far too small;

Love so amazing, so divine,

Demands my soul, my life, my all.

                                          Isaac Watts

Autumn Vegetables and Ornamental Grasses

Last Sunday I pulled up the tomatoes, beans, and zucchini, and after the hard frost last night I pulled up the cherry tomato plant, the eggplants, and the peppers.  Still, there are vegetables to eat until the really cold weather comes.

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I left some stumps when I pulled out my really huge cauliflowers earlier in the year.  The leaves are still edible and this week I noticed all these baby cauliflowers starting to form.  I’m not sure how big they will get before I will need to eat them, but it was fun to see!

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Winterbor kale.  The leaves will die when it gets really, really cold, but so far each spring the stalk has started sprouting again, for a second season of kale.

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We have four lacinato kale plants around the yard and they have kind of a tropical feel to them.

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Here is what the lacinato kale looked like after the frost.  However by late afternoon the kale was looking normal again and is not giving up that quickly.  We cooked a big pot of kale soup yesterday.  Of course it had a lot of other vegetables and beans in the soup.

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I left a half-dead turnip in the ground earlier in the summer and while I was not paying attention it grew big.  The leaves are looking a little tired at mid-day, but this made some nice soup, earlier this week.  You can tell we eat a lot of vegetable bean soup!

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The brussel sprouts also don’t mind a little frost.

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I have been cutting of 6 or 7 sprouts every time I make soup, but there is a lot more to eat all the way up the stalk.

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Frosty turf grass.  We used the mower to mulch up all the leaves on the grass and got the compost pile heaped up again.

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The little bluestem grass, a native grass, turned red/orange recently and has been capturing my attention.

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The ‘morning light’ miscanthus grass must have been about 5 feet tall this year.  The seed heads are red now.  We have two of these large plants in our yard.  They add privacy, beauty, and provide straw for paths and the strawberry bed in the spring.

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The sparrows decided to move back into the bluebird house again.  One of the bedding materials they love are the seed heads of the zebra grass, which are quite soft.  The sparrows perform some interesting acrobatics bending the grass stalk and trying to break off a bit of the fluffy stuff to carry away.  The zebra grass is probably 7 or more feet tall.

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Sparrow gathering zebra grass seed head for nest.  They don’t seem interested in the crabapples.

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The squirrel was interested in crabapples though.

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Sparrows feed on burning bush berries.  One day I was sitting at my office desk and heard a scratching sound.  I was curious enough to pull up the shade and I found a flock of sparrows gobbling up the red berries on the burning bush – Euonymus alatus.  These plants are somewhat invasive locally, so I really want to get rid of them, but have not gotten around to it yet.

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I noticed this black swallowtail caterpillar, that did not look like it made it, on my parsley this week.  However, I was listening to “Nature” this week on TV and heard about caterpillars in the arctic that freeze and thaw for 7 years before they are finally ready to turn into moths, so I wonder about my little guy.  If he is dead I hope a bird had a good meal.

Winter Vegetable Hoop:  I probably won’t be putting the hoop up when the snow flies.  The kale that was under the hoop last winter has grown large and is spreading over the lawn, so I don’t think I can corral is back to the area where I put the holes for the stakes for the hoop.  Still, we will see what happens.  I might just throw the plastic over the kale and hold it down with some rocks to keep the kale edible for as long as possible.

Swallowtails and Dragonflies

The agastace is in full bloom now and attracting butterflies and bees of all types.  I should have studied entomology!  I just checked out Sue Hubbell’s book about bugs, “Broadsides from the Other Orders.”

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I think this is a female eastern tiger swallowtail on the agastache ‘blue fortune’ giant hyssop plant.

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Here is a side view of the eastern tiger swallowtail on the hyssop.  I like the striped body.  It looks like she is using her proboscis to sip nectar.  Is that kind of like a straw?

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Limenitis arthemis – red spotted purple butterfly, I think, on agastache.  At first I thought it was a black swallowtail, but it does not have a tail.

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Here is a closed wing view of the red spotted purple butterfly on agastache.  You can see the pollen on its body.

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Just below the agastache a black swallowtail caterpillar is resting in the parsley.  There are a lot of hungry birds in the yard, though, so I am never sure if these guys will survive.

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Agastache ‘blue fortune’ giant hyssop.’  On the left is heliopsis helianthoides ‘Summer Sun.’  The agastache plant is really buzzing, mostly with bees and flies.

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I think this is a carpenter bee on the agastache.  In any case it is a very big bee.

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Here is a different kind of bee.  It looks a little more like a honey bee of some type.

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Red admiral butterflies are fairly common in the yard.  Here on Echinacea purpurea – purple coneflower.

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There are small white cabbage moths all over the yard.  Here on Russian sage with miscanthus ornamental grass in the background.

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One day I was looking out of the living room window and I saw something slide out of the bottom of the big silver maple tree.  I went outside with my camera and saw this yellow caterpillar with black spikes coming out of its back scurrying across the lawn.  Looking it up online I found that it is an American dagger moth caterpillar.  Apparently they leave the tree and look for a good place to make their cocoon.  The spikey hairs are poisonous.

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Red dragonfly on liatris spicata – blazing star – a native plant.  I saw a number of red dragonflies around the garden yesterday.  In Japanese the name is “aka tombo.”  If you look that name up on line you will hear a famous Japanese song.

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I was having lunch outside one day this week and almost did not see this big green dragonfly that rested on the butterfly weed near where I was sitting.

Praying Mantis update:  I have not seen any praying mantises in the yard this year.  Considering that I found 6 – 8 praying mantis egg sacs from last year I expected more.  It may have been the very cold winter or it may be that we really have a lot of bird in the yard this year eating the babies.  Or it may be some other reason.