Fall Walks, Birds, and Butterflies

Fall Walks, Birds, and Butterflies

The weather stayed nice and unseasonably warm through today, when the rain and cooler weather seems to be moving in.  I was able to go on a number of beautiful fall walks this past week.

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Fall colors at Lake Katherine

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There were two pairs of mute swans at Lake Katherine this morning.

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The nuts were abundant on the bald cypress trees.

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Our little bitternut hickory tree in the front yard continues to grow more each year and it turned very yellow today.  You can see that the neighbor’s autumn blaze maple behind it is just getting ready to turn color.

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On Wednesday I had the day off and I went for a walk at the Little Red Schoolhouse in the Palos Forest Preserve.  The hickories were turning color, but most of the color was fairly muted.

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The temperature was in the mid-70s, so I sat down in the sun across from the prairie and soaked up the sun and the quietness.  The big oak trees were still very green.

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A large grasshopper was walking in circles in the grass at my feet….  So many different and complicated insects in the world, eating and being eaten.

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Nearby a migrating white-crowned sparrow looked for a snack.

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I spent some time in the shelter observing birds.  Another more experienced birder came along and she confirmed some of my sightings.

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I thought I had take pictures of a group of eastern bluebirds and she confirmed that was true.  I have not seen eastern bluebirds for a while, so that was rewarding.

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A great blue heron and a double-crested cormorant each found a resting spot on top of the solar array in the middle of the slough.  It was a very beautiful day.

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Back home in our yard two painted lady butterflies have been hanging out at the zinnias all week.

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A variety of other moths and butterflies spend the day on the flowers that are still blooming.

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I was struck by the two designs that meet in this picture.

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A week ago I took this picture of a goldfinch munching on the dried coneflowers in the garden.

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Pulling back you can see the little goldfinch on the messy coneflowers.  This is the view from our kitchen window.  This is the time of year to clean up the yard and get ready for winter.  I am always having a conversation in my mind about what messy plants to leave for the birds and insects and what clean up to do now to make it easier in the spring.  Some years I clean up more and some years I leave more mess!

Indigo Bunting, Skunk, and Garden Update

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.

Autumn Colors, Grasses and Birds

Autumn Colors, Grasses and Birds

It has been fun watching the fall colors peak in the yard this past week.  We had our first frost last night on November 11th.  I don’t remember such a long growing season before, and the frost may not have been a killing frost for the tomatoes and peppers.

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Carpinus caroliniana, with common names American hornbeam, blue beech or musclewood.  The top leaves turned pink/orange a few weeks ago and fell off earlier.  This picture was taken on November 8th.  The other American hornbeam we bought from Possibility Place Nursery turns yellow in the fall, so maybe they are variations of some type.

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American hornbeam fall color.

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Dwarf fothergilla bush, possible ‘beaver creek.’  I replanted this bush at this location in the spring and hope it will settle in to its new location this coming year.  This bush started turning color weeks ago.

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On November 6th the other fothergilla bush was still green, with the second American hornbeam, on the left, and the spice bush, on the right, very yellow.

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By November 8th the yellow leaves had mostly fallen and the chinquapin oak leaves on the right were turning color as well.

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Today, November 12th, the fothergilla leaves are just starting to turn.  They should turn brilliant colors over the next week.  I enjoy watching these changes out my office window.

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Quercus muehlenbergii, chinquapin oak tree, starting to turn color on November 3rd.  I put these date up so that I can compare year by year as the weather gradually warms.

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Here is a close up of the chinquapin oak leaves on November 10th.  Today we mulched up a lot of them when we mowed the lawn and started the fall compost leaf pile.

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The American plum trees are nothing special in the fall, though stunning when they blossom in spring.

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The neighbor’s maple tree is always beautiful in the fall.

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MIscanthus ‘morning light.’  The was a great growing season and this miscanthus ornamental grass is well over 6 feet this year.  The seed heads on our zebra grass seemed to be 8 or 9 feet high.

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Out the kitchen window I caught a glimpse of the little blue stem grass that has turned red in the fall.

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When I finished working in the garden today a few dark-eyed juncos got to work poking around on the ground.  They are winter residents.  The garlic plants I did not harvest earlier have grown back in bright green shoots.

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On Wednesday morning I did a little birding and managed to capture this sparrow in a picture.  I am not sure if it is an American tree sparrow or another kind of sparrow.

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I think this is a pied-billed grebe, though the bill does not look quite right.  Anyway, I love the fluffy feathers and the reflection! This was at Lake Katherine on a morning walk.

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The nasturtiums and marigolds have been so beautiful in the yard this year.

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I have had a fresh pepper for my lunch salad every day and there are still quite a few left to eat, so I feel blessed.

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Beans soaking for tomorrow’s soup.  These were from the pole beans that I left to dry on the vine.  After we had a ton of green beans in the fridge, and the mosquitoes were killing me, I stopped picking the rest of the beans.  This past week I finally pulled down the pole bean structure and shelled a lot of beans.

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I am really enjoying reading this fascinating history book about Alexander Von Humboldt and his exploration of nature.

Hope you enjoy these weeks and it won’t be long before the snow flies!

Golden-Crowned Kinglet and Moths

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.

Bees, Fungi, Grasshoppers and Hummingbirds

Bees, Fungi, Grasshoppers and Hummingbirds

This is always a fun time to be taking pictures in the garden.  There are too many mosquitoes to want to do much weeding, but the garden it packed with pollinators on all the September flowers.

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Bee on Caryopteris.

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I have two caryopteris bushes that are covered with bees these days.  My best guess is carpenter bees.  I can count 6 bees in this picture.  They love the sedum, too.  The ornamental grass in the background is miscanthus ‘morning light.’

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The sedum has turned pink.  On the back left is the other caryopteris bush and on the right is the blue hill salvia that is blooming again after a hair cut earlier in the summer.  The sedum is most active when the sun is shining, attracting a lot of flies, skippers and bees.

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I zoomed in to take a closer look at the bold-faced hornet.  My research says this critter is in the yellowjacket wasp family that live in those big hanging nests in trees.  I wonder where the nest is.  If you are not in danger from bothering the nest these are considered beneficial insects due to their predation of flies, caterpillars and spiders.  Wikipedia says that adults also drink nectar which they feed to their larvae.  The designs on the body are really fascinating.

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I moved over to the blue hill salvia to photograph the busy bees there.

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But my camera wanted to focus on this mystery mushroom instead.

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Funky fungus

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Recently I noticed a large area of fungi.  I am not sure if they are the result of the deterioration of our old silver maple tree or if it is just from wood chips breaking up or what.  I am not really an expert on fungi, but the fungi area is five or six times larger than this picture.  It looks a little bit like wasp nests….

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Unknown critter on my plastic chair this morning.  Is it a wasp or a moth or something else?  There are so many unknown small creatures in the yard now.

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When I went to pick pole beans I found these two grasshoppers next to each other.

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In the little messy meadow there are a lot of little grasshoppers and damselflies these days.

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Next to the meadow the turtlehead flowers are in bloom and behind them the coral mums are getting ready to bloom in October.

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Russian sage and solidago rugosa goldenrod ‘fireworks.’

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Monarch on Russian sage.  I have not seen monarch caterpillars on my milkweed yet, but realize that some of the monarchs that have been visiting recently have been male.  I noticed that when I looked back at some of the pictures I posted in previous blogs that show the pattern when the wings are open.

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There have continued to be two monarch on the zinnias each afternoon this past week.  The goldfinches have continued to pick the petals off to get at the zinnia seeds.  There is a butterfly festival at Lake Katherine tomorrow, 9/18/16.

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Hummingbird at neighbor’s feeder.  There have been at least two hummingbirds very active in the yard the past weeks, as they live in the mulberry tree behind our backyard.  At least five times I have seen a hummingbird chase after a monarch to scare it away.  I suppose they share the same nectar in the flowers.  I did not believe it at first, but after multiple times I saw that the hummingbirds thought they were the boss and were trying to enforce it, not very successfully.  I think the ones I am seeing are female or immature as they have not had ruby throats.  We do not have a hummingbird feeder, like the neighbors on both sides of us, but the hummingbirds are busy in our yard every day.

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The flowers on the east fence are prettiest this time of year.  In bloom in orange, yellow and white are nasturtiums, alyssum, zinnias, marigolds and mums.

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I thought all of these mums I planted two years ago, I think, had died, but some have come back and started blooming now.

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Butterfly bush flower and nasturtiums.

If you have lasted through all these pictures, thank you!  I don’t blog as often now, so I seem to accumulate a lot of photos between each post.

Butterflies, Birds and Blooms

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!

Indian Summer

The weather has been warm this October.  After the frost last weekend some of the plants are finished, but some are sending out beauty into the autumn days.  Will we have more warm days?

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A slow-moving moth on agastache hyssop blue fortune.

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The agastache is looking pretty dried out, but the bees and other pollinators are still visiting.

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Pink mums are blooming now.

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The pollinators seem to like the flowers past their prime.

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Still a few yellow mums left.

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Another unknown yellow flower is blooming in our meadow.  It looks like a sunflower, but not sure what it is.

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Marigolds were still giving a fine show last week, but have pretty much finished now.

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One more yellow spot – spice bush leaves.  The bushes in the yard are turning various colors now.

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Bee balm in fall colors in the little meadow.

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The parsley plants are so full.  I keep grabbing bunches, chopping it up and freezing it.

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There have been strawberry blossoms all over the yard these days.  But without much water and not enough sunlight I have a lot of green strawberries that will probably never ripen.

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Pearl crescent on butterfly bush.

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I finally zoomed in to catch a picture of the chipmunk who has been resident in our yard.  I have seen quite a few in the neighborhood.

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Sunset at Lake Katherine last night.