Black Chokeberry and Lilacs

It was a busy week in the garden!  Dan offered to help on Saturday morning and on the spur of the moment dug up two viburnum dentatum “Chicago Lustre” bushes that were chewed up by the viburnum leaf beetle worms.  So then I had to go hunt down something new to plant in their place.  I was looking for a spicebush, but could not find one, or other native shrubs I was interested in, at the garden centers I visited.  I stumbled upon some ‘Viking’ black chokeberry shrubs and decided to get two of them.

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Aronia melanocarpa ‘Viking’ black chokeberry.  From what I read this is a small to medium shrub that suckers.  It has edible fruit and shiny green leaves that turn red in the fall.  So it seems like it will be good for the birds and I might eat a few berries myself.  To the right is the clematis getting ready to bloom soon.

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This shrub had already flowered this spring and is setting fruit.  I am not sure if it needs two plants to have fruit, so I bought one bush that had flowered and one that had not.  We will see what happens next year.

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Here are the two shrubs with the dying daffodil leaves in between.  I will put some annuals in to fill the void this summer.  Maybe some coleus…

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Syringa vulgaris, common lilac.  This flower is on our oldest lilac tree, which almost died, but has branches coming back slowly.  The fragrance was heavenly for a few weeks!

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Charles Joly lilac

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The common lilac on the right is our newest lilac and it is an excellent barrier plant to what is happening in neighbor’s yard.  However, what you can’t really see in this picture is that we have two hornbeam trees on either side of the lilac that are being crowded out and are almost invisible from this vantage point, though our neighbors can enjoy them.  I may have to drastically cut back the lilac or eventually remove it.

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The crabapple blossoms seemed to come and go very quickly this year, so not sure if much fruit will be produced.

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The red, bronze and then green leaves of the crabapple have been looking healthy this spring, so I am really hoping we can keep the disease at bay that has bothered this tree the past two years.  This spring has mostly been a nice balance of sun and rain, which helps.

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We love it when some migrating warbler stops in our crabapple, or any of the other trees, even though we often cannot identify it.

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Little blue bulbs add color to the mostly very green garden.

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The chives by the compost pile are blooming.

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Next to the chives the strawberries are blossoming and berries are starting to grow.

As I was writing this I remembered that there was an asparagus shoot coming up next to the strawberries and I went out and ate it raw!

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This buttercrunch lettuce is looking great!

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Eggplant flower

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The columbine is starting to bloom.

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Little bluestem native grass.  The unmowed “meadow” area did not look so good this spring.  We left the tall grass long in the fall and it seemed to kill a lot of the roots under the dying grass, so things were a bit bare.  I found a couple of these little bluestem grasses, put in some sunflower seeds, planted a small monkshood, and will add a wild bergamot plant soon.

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Wild bergamot and zinnias still to be planted.  As I write this the temperature is 47 degrees F.  I am not very interested in going out to plant in these cold wet conditions, but maybe later in the afternoon it will warm up.

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Yesterday we took a walk in the forest preserve and the mayapples (podophyllum peltatum) were blooming.

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A toad near a stream in the forest.

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Rose-breasted grosbeak.  We came upon a group of birders in the forest who were identifying all the warblers in the trees at McClaughry Springs Wood.  The warblers are hard to get pictures of, especially with the poor light yesterday, but Dan was able to get a picture of this bird.

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Catbird in the forest preserve

Happy Spring!

Lawn Repair, Daffodils & More Birds

A lawn is part of American life, and is the easiest way to deal with certain parts of the yard.  But I have to say I do not like lawn work, so this year we hired a landscaping crew to come in and repair a bad area on our front lawn.

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We had three low bare spots in front of the house, so on Monday we replaced that area with sod and flagstones for our mailman to walk on.  And, yes, it needs a lot of water to get the sod established and we will need a weed whip to cut the grass around the stones….  As you can see in the bottom left corner of the picture our old lawn currently has violets blooming in it, so I imagine it will infiltrate the new lawn at some point.  We could use weed killer, but so far we have avoided herbicides and pesticides on our lawn.  I don’t like lawns in general, but I think this new sod looks nice!

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Then Friday I got a hair brained idea to fix a patch of the lawn in the back yard on the north side of the house.  I pulled up all the sod, because it was mixed with some weird kind of grass that was not attractive.  It was a big mass of thatch.  I put down some EZ straw that is mixed with seeds, I guess.  So now I am watering on the front AND back side of the house twice a day or more.  As you can see part of the straw/seeds is in the sun most of the day, so that will need more water than the part in the shade.  I will give you a report in a few weeks on whether it germinated.  The sparrow are interested in the seeds and the robins in the worms in this area.

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Speaking of lawns, I have to throw in a picture of a beautiful dandelion.  I am digging them up and out wherever I see them, but they are pretty!  I noticed a small bee on a dandelion this afternoon.

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My favorite daffodils are the large yellow trumpet ones.  I think a bought these and a few other varieties from Breck’s a while ago.  We have about 10 bunches of daffodils in the back yard.

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Under the crabapple tree, and next to the daffodils, the irises are getting ready to bloom in about a month or so.  The hicksii yew shrubs are in the center back, and I think a pair of northern cardinals have a nest in there.

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New red leaves on ‘Profusion’ crabapple tree.

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The white daffodil is usually the first to bloom, though it was delayed with the snow this year.

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I like this white trumpet daffodil with a yellow center.

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Double white daffodil.  They look best when the bloom first opens.

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I am not sure if these double yellow daffodils have a name.  They are a little heavy for their stems.

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Also currently blooming is the spicebush – Lindera benzoin.  I have not figured out how to get my camera to take a good close up of a small flower yet.  This shrub is now maybe 10 -12 feet tall.  I think if there were another spicebush in the neighborhood I might get berries.

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It snowed within the last two weeks and I still had dark-eyed juncos feeding on the last of the coneflower seeds.

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I spotted a little brown creeper on the oak tree one cold day.

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I thought this might be a fox sparrow, but I really don’t know my sparrows…

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I managed to get a shot of a ruby-crowned kinglet where you can see the little red spot on the head.

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I think this is a yellow-rumped warbler.

Yesterday Dan and I visited Orland grasslands – south and did some birding.

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Greater yellowlegs shorebird at Orland grasslands – south.  Dan was shooting pictures of this shorebird when we saw a birder with binoculars come up and tell us he was looking for the yellowlegs that was seen in the area.  We told him we had just seen it, so we chatted a bit.  Always fun to talk to an expert birder.

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We noticed a killdeer along the path.

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It was a little chilly and the killdeer was resting in the grass.  I think there are a lot of different birds in these grasslands that I have never seen before, so hope to get back here sometime.

Lettuce update:  In my last post I planted lettuce and spinach seeds, covered with straw, and then it snowed.  I am glad to report that my seeds germinated and I have spinach and leaf lettuce getting going!  I can’t wait for the garden salad!

April Variety Show

The week started with snow, then temperatures in the mid-60s, then a weekend of cold rain.  Meanwhile the migrant and returning birds are visiting, and the garden is greening up.

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A beautiful crocus livens up a little corner of the garden.

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I took the day off on Friday and did a little weeding in a few areas of the garden.  I cleared the creeping Charlie out of the goldenrod before it grows tall.  The mini-daffodils are holding up well in the cool weather.

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I planted a some lettuce and spinach seeds in the beds and some grass seed under the plum tree.  I know it is early!!  But we had some warm days this week and the soil seemed warm on Friday.  I put some straw from last year’s ornamental grasses on top of the seeds.  The idea was to protect it from birds and maybe from frost.  If the seed don’t germinate in 10 -14 days I can always plant another batch.  I love having early  leaf lettuce in the garden.

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We had snow this past week, though it only lasted a few hours before completely melting.

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Robins have been back in the yard for a while now.  This one is looking puffed up on a snowy day.

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A male goldfinch also posed on our crabapple tree.

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I think this is a yellow-rumped warbler checking out our neck of the woods.

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I spent a while trying to get a decent picture of what I believe is a ruby-crowned kinglet, a migrant passing through.  I deleted a blurry picture that showed the red on the top of the head.  I have a few straw piles around the garden and a few birds appear to be using them for nest building material.

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Taken earlier in the week, this little bird appears to be a golden-crowned kinglet, with a yellow patch on top of the head.  Both kinglets are very small and are always on the move, so hard to photograph and identify well.

 

Leaving my garden, below are pictures I have taken in the past two weeks of birds in the Palos area.

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American white pelicans at Maple Lake

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We heard there were American white pelicans and common loons at Maple Lake, so we went over for a look.  There were about 50 pelicans keeping their distance from photographers.

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There were a half dozen common loons swimming around and diving for fish in the lake.

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We were not the only ones taking pictures.  We saw nice cameras, binoculars and scopes, as people enjoyed the migrating birds.

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A hooded grebe between dives at Maple Lake.

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An eastern phoebe was chasing bugs along the lake at Long John Slough two weeks ago.

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At Joe’s Pond I watched male and female Redhead ducks.

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Ring-necked duck at Joe’s pond.

Once the weather gets a little warmer there will probably be plenty to do in the garden, but on raining days like today playing around with my pictures keeps me entertained!

Autumn Wanderings

When I get a chance I get out in the forest preserves to enjoy the autumn days.  Even with the snow on Friday the oak leaves are still hanging on.  Here are a few shots from the past two weeks.

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Reflections in the pond at the Little Red Schoolhouse.

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Turning to face the other way I could see an oak savanna with a stately, magnificent oak.  I love it when I see that young oak trees have been planted to replace many of the ancient oaks around us.

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I stopped to read an old sign by the trail about hibernation.

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My walk eventually lead me by the original little red schoolhouse.  It has now been replaced by a beautiful new building that better meets the needs of nature field trips.  In the background you can see several doomed roofs of cages that house birds.  Maybe these are birds that have been rehabilitated or cannot survive in the wild for some reason.

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There were a lot of little kids out enjoying the day.  This little girl climbed the fence to get a glimpse of the hawk in the cage.

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Red-tailed hawk, the most common hawk in our area.

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The orange serviceberry leaves were so pretty!

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The big surprise was the working phone booth.  The sign inside says that the phone actually works and to dial 911 if needed.

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I flushed out a lot of little birds when I walked down this prairie trail.

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Everywhere the oaks were turning orange, yellow and red.

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A late dragonfly was enjoying a warm rock.  I slowly brought my finder under the dragonfly’s head.  It sat on my finger for a while, but flew away before I got a picture.

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Two weeks ago Dan and I walked in the Willow Springs forest preserve for the first time.  We keep finding trails that are new for us.

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This looks like a den that would provide shelter for some animal….

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On November 1st I parked by Arrowhead Lake in the forest perverse south of us. It was a gray day, but the walk turned out to be beautiful anyway.

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I crossed Harlem Avenue to explore a new path I had not tried before.

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The woods were very quite except for the woodpeckers.

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Downy woodpecker

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The colors caught my attention as I walked out.  Maybe you had to be there….

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Back in our yard the aphids, or something, completely covered the kale plants.  I did see a few lady bugs around.  Sometimes the kale makes it through the winter and sometimes it doesn’t.  In any case I look forward to a swarm of lady bugs and other predators in the spring.

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On a more cheery note, the pineapple sage was blooming on November 1st.  I never saw any hummingbirds on it this year, as it did not start blooming until October.  We had a hard frost this week, though, and it’s days are over…

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It snowed some on Friday, for the first time this year, and stuck for a few hours. The chinquapin oak is just changing color this week and still has its leaves.  The crab apple lost most of its leaves back in June with some disease, so I need to try to get rid of those diseased leaves from under the tree.

Compost leaf pile:  We dug out some of the compost from the bottom of the pile, and started a new leaf pile yesterday.  We used the mower to mulch the leaves on the lawn and captured them in the mower bag that we carried to the leaf pile.  Dan even went out in the easement and mowed up those leaves, too, to make the leaf pile about three and a half feet high.  When the leaves are mixed with grass clippings they get hot pretty quickly.  We will do this the next few weekends and try to get the pile as large as possible before winter.  Then I can put my kitchen scraps in the pile until it is too frozen to get them in!

June Garden and Illinois Waterways

Everything is growing and green now!  The trees have leafed out, the flowers are taking their turns blooming, the vegetables are getting going and the weeds are doing what weeds do…  The birds and the bees are active!

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The chinquapin oak tree is on the left and the crabapple tree on the right.  The crabapple is having another bad year, with the leaves turning brown and falling.  Last year we did not have any crabapples and that might happen again this year.  But we are enjoying the irises blooming this week.

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Red iris

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The male northern flicker was hanging out looking for an ant meal.

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The yarrow flowers have finally turned yellow.  In the back you can see the first pink foxglove flower.

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Foxglove in foreground, on the left the lady’s mantle is blooming, and in the back penstemon – beardtongue – is getting ready to bloom.

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The grasses in the unmowed “meadow” catch the morning sunlight.  The grasshoppers and damselflies love this area.  The robins are starting to visit the serviceberry bush for a berry snack.  The raspberries on the fence are forming and will ripen in a few weeks.

Road Trip

10 days ago we headed out for a four-day vacation in central Illinois.  The day we took off was rainy, so we spent time driving down to Alton, IL.

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The fields were just getting started.  We enjoyed being out in the country.

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Thursday morning we visited the Audubon Center at Riverlands in Alton, where we spotted this Eastern Kingbird.

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The male indigo bunting kept its distance, but the color is wonderful!

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Many areas along the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers were flooded.  We went hiking at Pere Marquette State Park.  Climbing the hills got us away from the flooding and provided wonderful views of the Illinois River.  Can you see the little brown ribbon of a trail we took to get us up to this hilltop where a few benches provided a rest area?

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Dan on the Pere Marquette State Park trail.

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The next morning we visited the Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish and Wildlife Area and enjoyed a walk around this little pond.

We did not stay long as our goal was to visit Emiquon, run by the Nature Conservancy.

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Emiquon is a Nature Conservancy project in a flood plain along the Illinois River, and a lot of migrating birds stop over here.  However, migration season is mostly over and this time of year is when the flooding is the highest.

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We tried, without much luck, to zoom in on birds across the water that looked like pelicans.

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We drove by a snapping turtle, but did not get too close.

Then we crossed the Illinois River and went over to take a look at Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge, where the flood waters were high as well.

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A lot of drift wood came to rest on the shore at Chautauqua Lake.

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Red-headed woodpecker at Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge.

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On Saturday we visited Matthiessen State Park on the Vermillion River.  Since it was Memorial Day weekend the crowds were large and the trails had turned into muddy pits, that took a lot of skill to navigate!

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Cedar waxwings were in the tree above the river.  I have seen them in our yard this week, too, looking for serviceberries or other ripe berries.

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Sunrise view from the hotel in Yorkville, where we stayed Saturday night.

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We visited Silver Springs State Fish and Wildlife Area on Sunday morning.  There were several lakes as well as a trail along the Fox River.

We enjoyed all the places we saw and now will get back to hiking in our wonderful neck of the woods.

Golden-Crowned Kinglet and Moths

Birds are migrating.  Insects are slowing down.  The last flowers are blooming.  The last vegetables are being harvested.  Here are a few pictures.

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Two weeks ago I saw this golden-crowned kinglet hopping around the crabapple tree.

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I am not sure what kind of moth this was, but it let me get close as it gathered nectar from the marigolds today.

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This little moth was taking shelter under a nasturtium leaf.

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We still have a monarch butterfly hanging around the zinnias.  When the zinnias are covered with fall shade for a while in the afternoon the monarch moves to the pole beans.

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Nearby a grasshopper was moving slowly.

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I think this is a black cricket, also on the pole beans.

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The coral mums have been blooming for a while, attracting a lot of bees and flies.

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A closer look at the mums.  I think that is a hover fly, though it could be a bee…

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The pineapple sage is blooming wonderfully, but the hummingbirds have left to fly south now.  I think there are still a variety of small pollinators enjoying these red tubular flowers.

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Just a few gaillardia flowers are still blooming, but the bumble bees really love them.  The white flowers are alyssum.

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The ‘morning light’ miscanthus grass is at its peak now and is at least 6 feet tall this year.

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Seed heads of ‘little bunny’ pennisetum grass

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Strawberry flower and little strawberry.  You never know what you will find around the garden.

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We are gradually adding brussel sprouts to our soup each Sunday.

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I took a look today and there are a lot of green tomatoes in the garden!  I don’t see frost in the forecast, but I will keep my eye on the weather report.

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My Arab neighbor friend is back from Jordan and came to gather a bag full of collard leaves.  Quite a few of the collard leaves are chewed by worms, and she did not want those, because I think she uses them to roll up a spicy meat dish.  We totally welcome someone to share these greens with.

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Last Saturday was my first day with a volunteer team of around 20 people that were cutting brush and burning.  We were almost exclusively cutting back Eurasian bush honeysuckle.  We had two big bonfires going.

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Today Dan and I just took a wonderful early morning walk through the prairie and forest at Spears Woods in the Palos forest preserve.  We bumped into the volunteer crew as we were leaving. They were getting ready for another productive day.  By clearing the invasive shrubs they are opening up the ground for native plants to thrive, which in turn provides habitat for a greater variety of birds, insects, and other wildlife.  With habitats diminishing everywhere for so many species this is valuable work, in order to maintain healthy ecosystems.

Butterflies, Birds and Blooms

I am starting to see beautiful butterflies in the garden each day now.

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Black swallowtail butterfly on pink zinnia.  It looks like there is a bee under the zinnia, too.  Besides all the pollinators, the gold finches pull these flowers apart to get at the seeds in the middle.

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I can see this zinnia patch from my office window during the day and notice when the butterflies arrive.

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Monarch butterfly sipping nectar.  I saw a monarch once in the beginning of August, but now it looks like they are in the garden more often.

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Such beautiful details on the monarch butterfly.

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I snapped this grainy picture of the monarch on my red milkweed, a host plant for the caterpillars.  I have not seen any caterpillar eggs on the milkweed yet, but I will keep watching.

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Speaking of caterpillars…each year I have at least one tomato hornworm on my tomato plants.  I love the designs on the hornworm, which will turn into a clearwing moth that looks a lot like a hummingbird.  These orange cherry tomatoes are the best I have ever had.  Week after week they are amazingly sweet.

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I think there are some hummingbirds nesting in the mulberries near our house.  I see them flying around quite a bit, but this is the only picture I have gotten of one of them as it sipped on the Russian sage this morning.

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This is the second year I have seen this kind of bird in the yard.  I am guessing that it is a female Baltimore oriole in our crabapple tree, but if anyone has a better idea please let me know.

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A group of chickadees were in the crabapple this morning.  All I could get was this silhouette.

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One morning I noticed the neighbor cat sitting very quietly looking at the area where both the bunny and the chipmunk often hide.  We left the gate open one night and have not seen the bunny since, thankfully.

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The chipmunk is very active and has a hole in the ground right at this spot, so it can disappear and come out on the other side of the fence.

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The nasturtiums are starting to thrive now.

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Marigolds with basil flowering in the background.

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We have a lot of peppers in the yard now.  I just picked this bell pepper today after it got a little more orange/yellow.

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Dan was eager to remove these two Chicago Lustre viburnum bushes that were infested with viburnum leaf beetles.  Digging the stumps and roots out is a big job for another day.  I am not sure what to replace them with.

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What Elephants Know, by Eric Dinerstein, is a really fun children’s book that I read recently.  It is fun for adults, too!  It takes you into the jungles of Nepal….

Have a great week and get out and enjoy the rest of summer!