Monarch

Flowers are blooming and butterflies are visiting.

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From the kitchen window I caught a glimpse of a monarch butterfly on the swamp milkweed.

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Thursday morning I saw the first monarch caterpillar I have seen in the yard in a long time, chewing on the swamp milkweed flower, as far as I could tell.  However when I went back in the next hours I could not find it.  I am hoping it made it to safety….

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We have a lot of hungry juvenile robins, as well as juvenile starlings and a lot of other birds in the yard.  I read that soldier bugs are predators for monarch caterpillars, though maybe that is when the caterpillars are tiny, not huge, like the one above.

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We have had grackles in the yard this week, visiting the bird bath.

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A noisy blue jay has started visiting the yard this week, checking on the acorns on the Chinquapin oak, which are still tiny.

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On this day the bird bath was almost empty and not very clean, after a large group of starlings had a pool party.  The blue jay did not take a drink or a bath…  I have to change the water frequently in this hot weather.

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I really enjoyed the raspberries this year, but I think they are all eaten now!


Birds At Year End

We had snow yesterday…  These pictures were taken over the past few weeks as we move from late fall to early winter.

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Red-bellied woodpecker at Hidden Pond Forest Preserve

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Female northern cardinal at Hidden Pond Forest Preserve.  I always hope to see wood ducks in Hidden Pond, since I saw them there once, but I have never have seen them there again.

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I walked one of the trails at Hidden Pond forest preserve a few weeks ago.  Today I went back there with a crew of volunteers and we cut invasive brush and built two big bon fires to burn it up.  In this picture the late green leaves you can see are probably honeysuckle, which is an invasive shrub all over the forest preserves.

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Black-capped chickadee at Lake Katherine

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I always look at the waterfowl at Lake Katherine to see if I can see anything besides mallards and Canadian geese.  This pair look like scaup, but I can’t tell if they are the greater or lesser variety…  My picture is not the greatest.

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Back in our yard the blue jay is faced with a frozen bird bath.  In the background are sedum, which I decided to leave up for the winter.

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We have had quite a few dark-eyed juncos pecking around in the yard the past few weeks. They like to scrounge around in the leaf litter, so our yard is a good place for them. I think they prefer seeds, but will eat insect, too.

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Dark-eyed junco eating liatris seeds

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Here is what our messy meadow looked like after the snowfall yesterday.  The little bluestem grass has turned red.  Plenty of flower and grass seeds here.

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I noticed a large flock of starlings across the street and on our front lawn.  I heard that when you see starlings on the lawn that you have grubs in the lawn.  It certainly is possible.

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When a white-breasted nuthatch flew in and landed on the neighbor’s oak the starlings may have been spooked and all flew away.

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Moving from birds to mammals….  Dan and I went for a walk one Saturday morning in the forest preserve south of us on Harlem Avenue and came across this deer, who stood still for a few moments.

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The squirrels have been busy in the yard.  This one was working on the ice in the bird bath.  Don’t you love that winter fur and fluffy tail?

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The squirrel is continually running around the yard, maybe checking on the nuts that are buried here and there.

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At the end of November I went to the horse stable and loaded up the car trunk with buckets of horse manure that I spread over the vegetable gardens.  It should blended into the soil by next spring.  The manure was already fairly well composted.  The parsley and strawberries stay green until it really freezes hard and stays frozen for a while.

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I guess we are done with mowing the lawn and mulching up our leaves.  We had strong winds last week, causing the last of the leaves to fall.  We got them all mulched and then the snow fell the next day.

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The shadows are long now on the north side of the house, but when the sun comes out the grass is still green.

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You can see the kale is still hanging in here in the pictures above, so I was still able to add some fresh greens to our vegetable bean soup.

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We are getting close to the shortest day of the year.  Sometimes I think I hear a great horned owl in the trees near us, but I have not seen one yet.

Acorns, Spiders and More

The acorns on our chinquapin oak tree are ripe and it is entertaining to watch the wildlife go for this food source.  And one foggy morning this week we noticed spiders everywhere, so I started looking around to capture a few pictures of them.

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Chinquapin oak acorn.  There are a few caps on the ground but the acorns are already mostly eaten from this tree.

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The extremely speedy chipmunk can reach to the edge of the branches for the hard to get acorns.

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Chipmunk stuffing his cheeks with acorns.

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The squirrels are climbing the oak for acorns, too.

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A lot of the time both the squirrels and the chipmunks are running around looking for any acorns that might have fallen to the ground and stopping for a snack.

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The blue jays arrive every morning and make a lot of noise.  Once I think there were six blue jays searching for acorns in the tree.

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The chipmunk dashes about and then freezes when he or she sees me.  Here it is hiding in a messy patch of zucchini.

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The chipmunk is trying to get from the zucchini on the right to a hole it dug in the middle of the lawn.

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Here is the chipmunk hole in the lawn…

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One weekend morning we saw the neighbor cat sit by this hole for a very long time.  I am not sure, but I think it finally gave up.

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Pulling back you can see what the garden looks like from the kitchen window on September 15th.  The grass is so dry.  No need to mow it.  We have not had much rain this summer and hardly any for weeks.  The blooming flowers are still buzzing with pollinators this time of year, though.

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Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’ goldenrod

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The wasps seem to be particularly attracted to the goldenrod.

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Bees are all over the sedum.

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The sedum gets a lot less sun as the oak tree grows, leaving a less exciting sedum display.  The drought may be having an effect, too, so I have not noticed as many butterflies visiting.  We have also had unseasonably cool weather this past month, though the heat is back this week.

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All those sedum leaves are a perfect place for hiding spiders, waiting to catch a fly lunch.  This week we noticed spiders everywhere in the garden.

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Just outside our front door a spider had tied up a nice meal package.

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An orb spider has been spinning her web below the clothes line every night just outside my office window.  In the morning the web is highlighted by the fog.

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And I have to remember to always give the kale leaves a good shake to get rid of lurking spiders before bringing the kale in for soup.  Otherwise the spiders are running around the kitchen sink….

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The bean pole structure has a colony of daddy longlegs spiders.  When I pick beans they move out of the way, so they are not too scary.  I have stopped picking beans for the year, though, and will just harvest the dried beans late in the autumn.

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I picked up a prairie dropseed ornamental grass at the farmers’ market and planted it where some of the strawberries have been dying off.  I hope it will get established before winter.  The nasturtiums look tired out by the drought.  Maybe I will water the vegetable garden tomorrow morning…

Bird Bath Visitors

Our bird bath is often shady now, as our chinquapin oak keeps getting bigger.  So it is sometimes harder to get the camera to focus on the birds instead of the sunny view in the background.  But these are a few of the birds we have seen in the past weeks.

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An American robin enjoys a peaceful, solitary moment to rest at the bird bath on a sunny day.

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It is not always so peaceful as there are a lot of robins and house sparrows in the neighborhood who are looking for the same thing.

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Here there are four or five robins in the bird bath and four waiting on the ground.

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It is the time of year for more blue jay visitors, as they inspect our acorns to see if they have become tasty food.

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Female northern cardinal in chinquapin oak tree.  The cardinals are not pushy, and I think they like it a little quieter when  they come to the bird bath.

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I have seen grackles in the yard a few times recently.  This one was very wary and furtive before taking a sip of water.

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A European starling joined the grackle.  The grackle is bigger, but starlings are bold birds.  The starling drank some water and jumped in to splash in the bath as the grackle watched.

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The robin deferred to the grackle, even though the robin is usually king of the castle.

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The goldfinches are often heard and seen in the yard this time of year.  They are seed eaters and especially like the cone flowers.

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This looks like a female American goldfinch.  This little bird spent a long time hopping around the edge of the bird bath cautiously.

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At one point the goldfinch removed a white feather that had been floating in the water.

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It finally jumped in and had a nice splash!

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I have been so happy to see beautiful cedar waxwings in the yard.  This one was cautious about the bird bath, also.

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Finally it made the plunge!

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Too cool!

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The hummingbird was visiting the lilies by the bird bath.  I wondered if it would stop for some water….

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But it rested on a lily flower.  A sparrow stopped at the bird bath and the hummingbird took off….

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A female northern flicker, in the woodpecker family, searches for ants or beetles near the bird bath.  She keeps looking around between foraging moments.

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The black-capped chickadee likes to preen itself on top of the laundry pole.

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A downy woodpecker came for a visit back in mid-June.

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This looked like a giant wasp or bee in the dill today.  I love providing habitat for native bees.

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Monarch on zinnia.

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Meanwhile I am picking yellow wax beans and green pole beans every day and trying to cook them to keep up.  I know this is a losing battle and might try to freeze some beans soon!

Bird Bath Fun!

We have had a lot of fun watching the birds in the bird bath this week.  One day it really took off and it seemed like every type of bird in the neighborhood showed up.  We were filling up the bird bath a few times during the day.

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It starts with just one robin sitting in the water enjoying the day.

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A little splashing attracts the attention of the sparrows.

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The robin has an eye on who he will allow with him in the bird bath.

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Robins can be pretty aggressive toward other robins.

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All the commotion attracts the blue jay.  The water glistens on its back.

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A female northern cardinal dares to share the bird bath with the blue jay.

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The house finch needs a drink and bath, too.

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Even starlings that we have not seen for weeks make an appearance.

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The house sparrows come in huge numbers.  Is the white-breasted bird in the back a house sparrow, too?

I was going to add a video but that did not seem to work.  Here is one more busy shot.

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Bird fun!

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!

Autumn Transformations

We had a hard frost last night, but the fall colors have been pretty the past few weeks.

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Earlier in the week the orange leaves were slowly falling off the chinquapin oak tree on the left.  You can see the gaillardia flowers still blooming in the front right.  The zinnias stand was still pink in the center back.

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We have two small American Hornbeam trees.  One lost its leaves last week.  This one is always a little later in changing color and gets orange and pink.  Behind it the lilac is still very green and the spice bush is yellow.

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Saturday morning we woke to a little snow on the ground, after a very cold Halloween, with almost no kids coming for “trick or treat.”

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Last night we had a hard frost, but the sun was out this morning and the frost soon burned away.  Still, it finished off the pink zinnias and they turned brown.  In the bottom right is the blue fescue ornamental grass, which has done well this year.

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This is looking back across the yard with a somewhat foggy lens.  On the left the red upright grass is “little bluestem.”  In the spring the grass stands out because it is bluer than the grass around it and in the fall it turns red/orange.

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Before the frost I captured some cheery gaillardia blooms, also called blanket flowers.

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Frost-covered gaillardia.  We are supposed to have warm weather tomorrow, so we may still get more of these flowers.

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Pink geranium.  I forgot to include this in my last post about fall color, as these flowers do well in cooler weather.

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Frosty pink geranium.  My camera could either focus on the ice or on the inside of the flower.  The frost won’t hurt this flower.  I also love the foliage on this plant that gets bright red as the weather gets colder.

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Geranium ‘rozanne’ continues to bloom prolifically and beautifully.

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Despite the frost it is ready to bloom another day.  That helps the late pollinators have something to feed on.

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The bluebird house did not have bluebirds this year.  I kicked out sparrows a number of times and finally some house wrens filled up the house and then moved away.  So it was time to clean up before next spring.  This spider was surprised to have me discover its home.

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Here is a closer look at that spider.

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You can hear the blue jays before you see them.  This blue jay pair stopped in after the snowy morning.

Day Light Savings Is Over:  Now I know, but this morning we forgot and went out for a walk at Lake Katherine at around 7:45 am and did not see a soul until we got back to the parking lot.  Then we realized that everyone slept in that extra hour, and we were really walking at 6:45 am.  Still, it was great to see the swan couple, the little coot, and a lot of ducks and geese busy slurping breakfast in the water.  The warblers were there too, but they move so quickly I couldn’t tell what kind of warblers they were.  In the quiet morning you could just hear the sound of softly falling yellow maple leaves.  The frost loosened them up and the sun this morning set them free.