Florida Birds and More

I saw the first yellow flowers on our snow crocuses today and the green daffodil shoots are starting to come up.  But while we are waiting for spring to come to Chicagoland, Dan and I took a short trip to Florida and enjoyed the sunny weather!  I did my best to identify some of the birds we saw on this trip.

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Reddish egret on Sanibel Island.  One day we visited the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge.  Looking at the bird guide they gave us this picture looks like a reddish egret.

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Nearby were several groups of white pelicans.

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I believe this is a willet resting on a stump near the shore.

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This shot shows that many of the birds were on sand bars or in shallow waters, where they were resting or fishing.  These lakes or bays were surrounded by tall mangroves.

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We walked on an observation boardwalk into one of the red mangrove areas.  I love the reflections on this picture.

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We observed a tiny snake on one of the mangrove branches.

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Looking closely we noticed little mangrove tree crabs crawling on the branches.

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We almost missed the yellow-crowned night heron in the shade of the mangroves.  They like to eat the mangrove tree crabs!

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Can you see the tail on the male horseshoe crab?  We saw a larger female horseshoe crab near the mangrove boardwalk, but could not get a picture.

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Dan saw this hawk fly into the trees and was trying to get a picture.  We thought it was a red-shouldered hawk, which would be a first for me.

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Dragonfly resting in stream.

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We spent some time visiting beaches and the shorebirds seemed to be visiting some of the beaches, too.  Besides the herring and ring-billed gulls, this shot includes a black skimmer and some royal terns.

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We saw osprey nesting wherever we went.

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This great blue heron had found a nice perch in a pond at the Lemon Bay Park in Englewood, where we visited one afternoon.

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Also seen at the pond was this bird, which I think is an eastern phoebe.

We saw some really fun birds when we visited the Six Mile Cypress Slough on our last full day in Florida.

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Starting at Gator Pond we saw many sunning double-crested cormorants, along with egrets, herons, and osprey.

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It was a cool, but beautiful morning in the cypress woods and the ferns were wonderfully verdant.  We saw a downy woodpecker and heard that someone had seen a pileated woodpecker.  I had never seen one, so was on the look out.

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Pileated woodpecker at Six Mile Cypress Slough near Fort Myers, Florida.

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A barred owl was sleeping away the morning.

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At Otter Pond a green heron was looking for breakfast.

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From this angle you can see the minnows swimming in the water.  The heron was intently watching for just the right fish to swim by.

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Nearby a white ibis had something in its bill it was working on as we watched.

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Apparently these are apple snail eggs, that are an introduced species.

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Nesting near Otter Pond was a limpkin, another first ever bird for me.  Limpkins eat apple snails, so help to keep a check on this species, and that is why they are nesting here.

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An alligator found a sunny place to digest its breakfast.

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A turtle was warming up on a log.  I like the way the back feet are stretched out.

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One of the magnificent, old cypress trees was putting on fresh green leaves.

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We practiced trying to get shots of warblers, but missed more than we were successful.  Once we got a picture we were not sure what kind of warbler it was.  Maybe this is a palm warbler, but not sure.

We decided to fit in one last visit to the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, which we visited a few years ago.

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A female anhinga was drying its wings in the sun at the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.

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A great egret was fishing as it stalked between giant old cypress trees.  We saw a number of giant trees blown down due to hurricane Irma.  One part of the boardwalk was broken and closed down, but there were wood storks nesting there, so that was a good reason to keep visitors out.

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I zoomed way out to catch a little blue heron hunting on lettuce lake.

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At that point I was distracted by an alligator swimming up near to the boardwalk.  The little kids near us were thrilled.

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We looked into a scope on the side of the boardwalk and saw this snake.

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One of the posted signs explained that first people were afraid of the swamp, then greed made them exploit it for feathers and lumber, and to drain it for land.  But now there is a greater understanding of the function the swamp plays in our ecosystem, as water purification, flood control and habitat.

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I am thankful for those who have preserved places like this for us to enjoy and for the trees and swamp to provide habitat for so many species that have decreased rapidly.  I see that there is a need for the millions (billions?) of domesticated cows, chickens, dogs, and cats, but surely these other wild species are valuable as well.

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!

Swallowtails, Hummingbirds And Other Flying Creatures

This time of year it is fun to see the variety of pollinators that visit the garden.  The eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly posed nicely for me, but it is always a challenge to get good hummingbird pictures.

IMG_9849Eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly on zinnia

IMG_9817This eastern tiger swallowtail hung out with wings open quite a bit making it easier to photograph and to identify it as a male butterfly by its markings.   Dill flowers were blooming behind the zinnias.

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I think this is a question mark butterfly sunning on the fence.  It looks a little tattered.  I took a picture of another one a few weeks ago.

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I was trying to capture this monarch butterfly on the milkweed, but the camera wanted to focus on the trunk of the crabapple tree.

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Here is another attempt to get a shot of the monarch fluttering above the milkweed.  I love the colorful outdoor flower arrangement of this shot!

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The hummingbird competes with the butterflies for the same flowers.  Here it chased away the monarch butterfly and is enjoying the swamp milkweed.

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The hummingbird enjoys the neighbors’ hibiscus flowers.

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Here the camera caught the fast-moving hummingbird, but it is at the edge of the picture….

IMG_9687Hummingbird on garden fence.  I think I have mostly seen females.

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We don’t have a hummingbird feeder, but the neighbors on both sides do.  We just offer flower nectar….

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Hummingbird on Russian sage.

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I took this picture of the hummingbird visiting the coleus plant from the office window.  Later, while sitting on the patio, I watched a hummingbird check out every single white flower on the coleus plant before moving on.

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Hummingbird on white phlox.  Most of my pictures are kind of blurry like this, as I have to shoot quickly when the hummingbird shows up before it moves on.

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Wasps have taken up residence in the open fence posts around the garden this summer. They are good predators, but I keep out of their way.

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Wasp resting on hickory leaf

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A green dragonfly rests on a turnip leaf.  I am a dragonfly fan!

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Bee on coneflower.  Many kinds of bees are in the garden now.

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I have seen a few grasshoppers and crickets, but I am keeping my eyes open for a praying mantis, which I have not seen this year.

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The invasive viburnum leaf beetles are back.  They lay their eggs in the branches and in the spring the larvae will start chewing on the leaves.

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Last summer we cut these two Chicago Lustre viburnum bushes to the ground, but did not have the energy to dig out the roots, so they grew back quickly and have looked nice this year, but the beetle issue is not going away, so maybe next year we will find some other plants to replace them, or maybe not….

If you got through all this pictures you must like flying creatures!  I will leave my other bird pictures for another post!

Indigo Bunting, Skunk, and Garden Update

We enjoy the garden this time of year, but also like to venture out in the many natural areas near where we live.

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Dan got a picture of a male indigo bunting singing in a tree at Lake Katherine last Saturday morning.

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The dragonflies are active this time of year.  This might be a blue darner.  I am seeing fireflies at night in the garden now, too.

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This monarch was at Lake Katherine on the thistle plants last week.  I may have seen one Monarch in our yard this year, but that is about all.  My zinnias are just about to start blooming, so that will attract them.

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I am going to sneak in this very blurry picture of an eastern bluebird that we saw in the Palos forest preserve yesterday.  The mosquitoes were after us when I was trying to take this picture, so that is my excuse for the poor picture!

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On our walk yesterday we passed this stump with interesting fungi.  I don’t know if you can see the hole in the log just below the top fungi, which looks like a nice home for some critter.

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Back in our yard, the monarda, bee balm, that I planted two or three years ago finally bloomed for the first time.  We have it growing in our tall grass area.

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One day this week I was working at my desk and looked out of the window to see something black and white that caught my eye.  We had left the back gate open and the skunk must have come in, snooped around for a minute, but then went back out the gate, which we then closed.

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Here is a closer look at one of the marigolds that was behind the skunk in the picture.

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A peek into my garden where things are getting going.  The cucumber is just starting to take off on the right.  Behind that I just planted two little tomato plants that my Arab neighbor lady gave me.  I don’t really need more tomatoes, but I am curious to see how they will do and I seem to have room right now for them.

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I took this picture of the zucchini plant about a week ago.  Since then it rained a little and there were a few flowers and the first small zucchini is coming along. Get ready for zucchini!

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We have been picking and eating a lot of raspberries in the garden this week.  Dan and I have each had a couple of good handfuls a day.  I throw in some mulberries and service berries into my morning oatmeal, too.

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There were quite a few blueberries on the Duke blueberry bush, but it seems to take forever for them to turn blue.  I think this bush is dying.  Our soil is not acidic and this bush does not really get enough sun.  But it has made a great effort to produce this year.

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Pink hydrangea.

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This morning we went to the McGinnis slough in the forest preserve in Palos Park.  As we were looking at the great blue herons and egrets we noticed a deer walking in the slough.  It seemed to be eating lily pads.

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Its ears were perked up and it looked our way a long time as we looked at it.

Rain:  As I was writing this post we just had a nice rain shower.  It was just over a tenth of an inch, so not a lot, but even that should help everything in the garden, as it has been a bit dry recently.  It cooled the temperature down, too.

September Birding and Wildlife

The fall bird migration season is a great time to get out and do birding in our area between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River in Illinois.  I recently joined IBET (Illinois Birders Exchanging Thoughts) and I get numerous emails each day from birders who are announcing what birds they are seeing around Illinois.  This has given me ideas about new areas to explore.  This morning we ended up at McGinnis Slough in Orland Park and never got to the other places we planned to explore.  It amazes me how many beautiful natural areas there are right around us that we have not even explored yet!

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Wood ducks and American coots at McGinnis Slough.  We walked very quietly down the path in order not to scare the waterfowl and saw quite a few beautiful wood ducks, but the pictures I took of them were not the greatest.

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Most of the brown ducks are mallards, but I wondered if the brown one in front is an American wigeon or something other than a mallard.

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I didn’t really count how many coots there were.  I would say at a minimum there were 40, but maybe quite a few more.

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Great egret up in a tree above McGinnis Slough.

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McGinnis Slough.  This time of year there are high marsh grasses surrounding the water as well as a beautiful forest area.

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Orange sulphur along the path

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Can you see the dragonfly?  I think it is a darner, but after some research I am hesitant to clearly identify what type of darner.

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Female yellow-rumped warbler at Lake Sedgewick in Orland Park, IL.  She is just migrating through…

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I made a quick stop at Lake Sedgewick yesterday and hope to explore here soon.  One of my IBET emails said that a group of 25 American white pelicans stopped for a bit on one of the islands in the lake as they migrated through this week.

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Male downy woodpecker.  These birds stay in Illinois year round.

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Another place where I made a quick stop yesterday was Orland Grasslands.  An IBET email mentioned that a mink had been seen here several times this week.  The grasses are tall now and I hope to get back to explore soon.

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Male northern flicker searching for ants at Cranberry Slough Nature Preserve.  We sat in our car for a while and watched the little meadow filled with morning bird activity early last Sunday morning.

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Deer in morning light.  Restoration has been going on at Cranberry Slough Nature Preserve and much of the overgrown shrub undergrowth has been cleared out to restore sunlight for more native plants to flourish.

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Back in our yard the goldfinch was snacking on coneflower seeds.

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Mystery bird in our chinquapin oak tree.  Can anyone identify this bird?

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Hummingbird on clothesline.

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Mute swans at Lake Katherine last week.

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Stephanie walked around the lake with me last week and she tried out the new giant adirondack chair in the back meadow.

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The forbes at Lake Katherine were tall and attractive.

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Aster

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Back home again, this is a painted lady butterfly, I think, on an orange zinnia.

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Common green bottle fly on yellow mum.  Yesterday when Dan and I were walking at Lake Katherine we saw for the third time a man with his camera in the weeds.  We stopped for a while and he is a specialist at insect photography.  We had a fun time talking about insects and the best ways to take pictures of them.  He recommended some reading for me.

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Huge bee on the nasturtiums.  I am not sure if these big bees are bumble bees.  They are much bigger than the other bumble bees in the yard.  Rather than entering the flowers from the front they just bite the outside of the flower and sip the nectar that way.

Hope you enjoy your little corner of the world this week!

August Morning at Lake Katherine

Both Saturday and Sunday I took morning walks at Lake Katherine.  Here is a little of what I saw.

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Green heron

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These pickerel rush blue pond flowers were planted this spring and are blooming in the shallows of the lake.  I had some trouble getting a picture of them, but here is a small one with the green heron.

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The green heron stretched out ready to catch a fish.

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I actually noticed the green heron today when I was zooming in to try to find out what this bird was.  I think it is the eastern kingbird.

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Great blue heron.

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It was one of those gorgeous mornings with incredible reflections.  Can you see the line of ducks in the water?  The beaver lodge is on the far left.

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 A close up of the ducks with the beaver lodge behind.

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Here comes a beaver swimming with a tree branch to the beaver lodge nearby.

I am going to try inserting a little video of the beaver.  Our camera battery ran out on Saturday morning.

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Marsh mallow

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There are all kinds of wild flowers blooming now.

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Green darner dragonfly

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All the water is gone from the ephemeral pond now and it is full of grasses and other plants. This would have been one place where dragonflies would have hatched, I think.

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Elderberries are ripening making good bird food.

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I spent a while trying to get a picture of this oriole in the tree top.

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Male goldfinch eating thistle seeds.

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Male goldfinch singing a morning song.

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On the paved bike trail there are people on bikes and runners.  The lake trail has a lot of dog walkers, fast walkers, and slow walkers with cameras, too.

House Wren and Ladybug Larvae

Summer residents are back in our yard this year.

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I think this is the second year a house wren has moved into our bird house.  This little guy sings his intricate song all morning.

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House wren in the birdhouse I bought to attract bluebirds.

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This little hummingbird was perched on the clothes line flapping its wings in the rain to get a birdbath.

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The butterfly weed is blooming.  Will we see monarchs soon?

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Ladybug larva.  In an earlier blog post I mentioned that something on the plum trees was attracting a lot of ladybugs.  Now the plum trees have a lot of ladybug larvae and the trees are looking in better shape.

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Ladybug pupa.  This is the next stage in the ladybug lifecycle before the ladybug emerges and can fly.  There are a lot of these pupa on the plum trees now.

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Plums on American plum tree.  There were a lot of terrible looking plums on the tree earlier.  I put a drop cloth down and removed a ton of diseased or insect filled plums.  The rest of them look pretty good, so I may get some edible plums yet.

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Dragonfly blending into the meadow.  I understand that dragonflies are predators for ladybugs.

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Nearby in the meadow is a false sunflower.  Last week Dan saw a small snake sunning, intertwined in the grasses in the meadow.  There are damselflies here and there but they take a lot of work to photograph, as they are so small.

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Also in the meadow is the hickory the squirrel planted.  We are still trying to determine exactly what kind of hickory this is.

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Starling gets a shady rest on a hot day.

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We have had many predictions of rain, but not that much has fallen.  The plants still look healthy, but we will need more rain if the heat continues.