Bees on Agastache

It is a busy time for bees.

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A large pollen covered bee on Agastache ‘blue fortune’ – anise hyssop.

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A jumbo bee meets the ever-present orange bugs.

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This bee is a little smaller.

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False sunflower

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These two bees spent a long time chasing each others.  I was not sure if it was a mating event or something else going on.

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Coleus below my office window

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Bee on coleus

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Hawk chased a squirrel, but came up empty.

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Can you see the caterpillar on the parsley?

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Black swallowtail caterpillar

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Grasshopper on dried coneflower

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Moth on miscanthus ornamental grass

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One of the three prairie drop seed plants has grass heads now.

Suet Visitors

I have never used bird feeders before.  On the spur of the moment I bought a suet feeder and put some suet in it, to see if I could interest some woodpeckers.  There have been no woodpecker visitors yet, that I am aware of.

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The weather has been so cold that for quite a few days there were no bird visitors.  Then one day I noticed black-capped chickadees exploring the suet feeder.

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It was a bit of a puzzle to get at the frozen suet.

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A male northern cardinal was among a group of birds checking it out on Friday.

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I love the bright red bird’s contrast to the winter scene.

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Sparrows and starlings came by to try their luck.

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A house sparrow looks for a snack.

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I noticed a hawk fly into one of the large trees in the neighborhood.  I suppose this is a good time to find a bird meal at a bird feeder.

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The dark-eyed juncos looked at the suet briefly, but then went off to look for seeds on the garden plants.

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The dark-eyed juncos are winter residents that are always fun to watch as they hop around on the ground looking for seeds

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We have had snow on the ground for 2 weeks and temperatures have remainder below 20 degrees Fahrenheit since December 26th, which is apparently a temperature record in Chicago.

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Last Saturday morning, with a wind chill well below zero, we took a walk at the Little Red Schoolhouse forest preserve.  There were lots of animal tracks, especially deer tracks.  We were okay with the weather, except for our feet, which seemed like ice blocks.  This morning we had a good walk inside the mall instead, so we were a little wimpy!

Food: Our son is on a two-week 1500 calorie meal plan suggested by his doctor, before he gets his annual blood test.  You can find the meal plan on the Eating Well website.  I have been cooking all kinds of interesting and delicious meals and though it is a bit of work it has been generally tasty and enjoyable.  It is one way to stay cozy in the cold weather.

Current Reading:  I am in the middle of reading several books at once – Being Mortal by Atul Gawande; Jungle of Stone: The True Story of Two Men, Their Extraordinary Journey, and the Discovery of the Lost Civilization of the Maya by William Carlsen; Disunity in Christ by Christina Cleveland.

Snow, Cyclamen, Hawk, and Sandhill Crane

The first snowfall to stay on the ground just started.  We should have a few more inches of snow today.

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First snowfall of the season in the back yard.

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Snow on chinquapin oak tree.

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The cyclamen started blooming to bring in the Christmas season.

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We started cooking the soup before the snow fell and brought in Brussel sprouts, collards and kale.  We still have a lot of kale in the garden, so we will see how it looks next week.

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When I stepped outside yesterday this hawk flew up into a nearby tree.  It was probably hunting sparrows or squirrels at the bird feeder next door.

img_4259-1We came upon a lone juvenile sandhill crane (no red marking on head) at Lake Katherine on Saturday morning.  It must have been separated from its flock as it flew south. On Friday Steph and I were taking a walk and looked up to see 80 – 90 sandhill cranes flying over us in a southeast direction.

Praying Mantis, Spider, and Forest Restoration

I have been looking around the yard for a praying mantis this summer and I finally found my first one.

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Yesterday I noticed this praying mantis in the tall Miscanthus ornamental grass. Its head was following me as I tried to get a good photo.  I am not sure if this is a Chinese mantis or a praying mantis that is native to Illinois.

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There are a lot of little grasshoppers like the one in this picture in our little unmowed meadow.  That was why I started looking for a hungry praying mantis.

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While I was looking around in the meadow I saw this black and yellow garden spider.

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Here is the view of the spider from the other side.  If you look closely you can see the spider web.

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Today I went looking for the praying mantis again.  It was not in the miscanthus, but I found if in the mums that are  getting ready to bloom.

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I will have to keep an eye out for her egg sac when I clean up the garden this fall.  I enjoy having these mostly beneficial insects around.

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I have not seen any monarch caterpillars on the swamp milkweed, but the aphids are certainly invading.  I guess something will be interested in an aphid lunch…

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Yesterday was such a rainy day.  It has been dark, cool and rainy all week.  I guess the house sparrow was able to sit out in the rain.

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The rain seemed to benefit the nasturtium leaves that are gorgeously green.

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This picture is taken through the screen on the office window.  I can watch the hummingbirds on the pineapple sage, though they are too fast to capture in a picture.  The tall plant in back is brussel sprouts.

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Here is a little closer look at the brussel sprouts plant.  The zinnias continue to attract the hummingbird and butterflies.

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Painted lady butterfly on pink zinnia

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A century old oak tree was but down across the street from us this week, as it was too close to their house.  There will be fewer leaves to rake, but fewer leaves for the compost pile, too.

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I have not had many chances to get out and look for migrating birds this week.  But I barely captured this hawk flying over the neighborhood.

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A group of ten of us volunteered today to clear out honeysuckle bushes at the Palos Forest Preserve.

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Here is a cleared out area surrounded by brush piles on either side.  We were not able to burn the brush piles today, because there was not enough wind to blow the smoke away, so someone will have to have a bonfire another time.

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This is an area of the forest that was cleared earlier.

Palos Forest Preserve

This morning we took a walk at the Palos forest preserve and took the trail at Wolf Road Woods.  This was the first time we walked this 3 mile trail and found it really enjoyable.

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Tomahawk Slough in the Cook County Forest Preserves.  As the trail started to go by this small lake we could hear the deep resounding calls of bull frogs.

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Bullfrog and lily pad.

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The lily pad leaves and flowers seemed to be a bigger species on this lake.  The flowers were facing away from us to the south.

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I heard a new bird call I did not recognize and zoomed in on this bird, which I believe is an Eastern Towhee.  This is the first time I have seen one of these birds.

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Intricate spider’s web in the woods.

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Can you see the katydid on the oak leaf?  Dan and I have been fascinated with hickory trees ever since we planted one in our yard.  As we were looking at hickory leaves I wondered out loud what was chewing up these oak leaves nearby.  And then I noticed the katydid.  Otherwise I would have walked right by.

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We thought we had come upon an old cemetery with one tombstone.  A closer look showed that this was related to the atomic testing done in this area from 1943 – 1949.  The sign says there is no danger to visitors and someone has scratched out the “no.”

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Unidentified hawk

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Eastern Kingbird.  This was taken yesterday at Lake Katherine.  I think it is an eastern kingbird because of the  white at the bottom of the tail.

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I couldn’t resist getting a shot of this little goldfinch.

We feel so blessed to be near such beautiful natural places with an abundance of bird life and other biodiversity.