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.

Zucchini, Tomatoes, Collards and Praying Mantis

With an inch of rain recently we have had a break in the drought.  It is a beautiful October day and here is what I saw when I looked around the garden today.

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Male zucchini flower

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Female zucchini flower.  We have had quite a few zucchini flowers over the past months, but without rain few of them developed into zucchini that I bothered to pick.  Now we might get a few if the weather stays warm.  I enjoy these magnificent but short-lived flowers.

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I have been eating these yellow pear heirloom cherry tomatoes for a few months now.  The leaves of the plant are diseased, but I just keep getting enough cherry tomatoes to have a bunch in my salad each day.

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These are tomato plants that my Arab lady friend left on the patio in my watering can, so I don’t know what kind they are, but they are finally producing the first red tomatoes.  On Thursday I made some delicious ratatouille…

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We try to throw in 2 to 10 leaves of collards into recipes when we get a chance.  This plant near the lilac bush is looking healthy.

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In the vegetable garden the inner portion of the collard plants have been eaten by cabbage moths.  We have more collards than we can eat, so I don’t worry too much about it.

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Here come the brussel sprouts.  They have been pretty small, but I think the rain will help them get a bit bigger.

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Backing up, here is what the brussel sprout plant looks like.

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The pole beans are drying on the vines and will be shelled when I pull down the bean structure.

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I looked for bugs on the bean leaves and found a grasshopper.

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Parsley is one of the plants that look beautiful all the way into December.  I have not cooked much with it this year, but it makes a great ornamental plant.  It is an essential ingredient in my fabulous spaghetti sauce recipe.

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I finally saw my first black swallowtail caterpillar for the year on one of the parsley plants.  For me, parsley is a much better host plant than dill for these caterpillars.

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All the native and ornamental grasses have seed heads now.  This is miscanthus ‘morning light.’  I have been searching them the past months to see if I could see the first praying mantis.

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This morning I found a female praying mantis in a clump of miscanthus.  Her abdomen is very  large and I wondered if she was getting ready to deposit her egg sack or if she just ate a very large grass hopper that she is digesting.  I was trying to get a better shot and she moved further into the grass, so I am no longer able to find her.  I find paying mantis egg sacks in the grasses every spring when I am doing clean up and try to put the egg sacs in a place where the ants will not get at them.

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These little zinnias are finally blooming now.  They are called ‘summer solstice’ but seem to be best in the fall.  I plant them from seeds each year, and they are cute in the garden and attractive to pollinators.

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Just to the right in the alyssum I found a little skipper resting.  I almost pulled up all the alyssum during the drought because it just looked like seed heads, but the flowers have returned after the rain and it is buzzing with small pollinators.

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The coral mums are starting to bloom…

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Some migrating warblers have been passing through.  I think this is a palm warbler, as they seem to visit every year, but not sure I can tell from this picture.

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Then there is the usual bird bath ruckus to see how many starlings or sparrows can get in the bird bath at once!

Have a beautiful autumn day!

Blueberries, Birds, and Wildflowers

Spring just keeps progressing day after day.  Plants are blooming and birds are migrating in.

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Duke Blueberry.  Just when I had sort of given up on getting many blueberries in the garden we had a lot of blossoms this year.

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The little Top Hat Blueberry was full of blossoms, too.  We will see if the blueberries turn out well.  These blueberry pictures are from about two weeks ago.

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Today all the strawberries are blooming.  I went around to try to put some straw under each plant to keep the berries out of the dirt.  I can also see that we are going to have a bumper crop of serviceberries before long, so I am looking forward to berry season.

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Common Lilac.  This photo was taken about two weeks ago, but the lilacs have been pretty for a long time, since it has been cool the past two weeks.

IMG_7605.JPGI never got good pictures of the crabapple blossoms this year.  It seemed to rain right after they opened, or I must have been busy….

Last weekend I took a few bird shots when we walked around Lake Katherine.

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Female mallard on log in pond

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Great blue heron

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The end of April seemed pretty early to see goslings, but we had some warm weather early in the spring.

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Fluffy gosling

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Back in our yard the Chinquapin oak tree is full of catkins.  Can you see the palm warbler in the tree?

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I tried to zoom in a little on the palm warbler.

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Here the palm warbler is looking for a bug snack among the strawberry and anemone plants.

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The dwarf fothergilla bush is in bloom now.

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There are a lot of little brown birds like this in the yard.  It could be just a house sparrow or it could be some wonderful migrating bird.  I have not had much time to get out and observe, but even going outside for 5 or 10 minutes can be rewarding.  I had heard the goldfinch song in the yard and today I saw the yellow bird for the first time this year.

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I was sitting listening to an unfamiliar bird song this morning way up in a tall tree and then I saw the orange color.  A Baltimore Oriole was busy singing and getting some kind of food from the top of this tree.

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It was so much fun to watch this Baltimore Oriole from my patio.

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The kale and romaine lettuce have been in the ground for 2 weeks.  There is a frost warming for tonight, but it looks like 37 degrees, which I think is fine in my yard.  I put up the bean pole structure and am waiting for the soil to warm up to plant pole beans.  You can see the mound of rhubarb in the back.  I made rhubarb sauce for the first time this season today.  I think my tomato and pepper plants should be coming from Seed Savers in the mail some time this week….

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Huechera ‘plum pudding’

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I threw some dwarf sunflower seeds in the meadow a week or two ago and was very excited to see they sprouted.  Can’t wait for these small sunflowers.

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Dark blue salvia is blooming next to the yarrow that will start up soon.

Yesterday our family went for a walk in the forest preserves.  I was looking forward to seeing spring wildflowers.  I did, but they were different from the ones I saw a few weeks ago.

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Dodecatheon meadia Shooting Star wildflower in the Cap Sauers Holdings of the Palos Forest Preserve.

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I am not sure what this is, but it was pretty.  No need to know the name, really.  We can just enjoy the beauty!

Red-headed Woodpecker at Indiana Dunes State Park

The weather was gorgeous and Dan and I had the day off so we headed to the Indiana Dunes State Park, which is about an hour away.  It turns out that there is a birding festival going on there this weekend, though we did not know that before we got there.  We climbed the bird observation tower where we ate our lunches and looked at the scenery.

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We saw this red-headed woodpecker gradually coming closer to us.  This was the first time I have seen one of these birds, but I understand that this is a common location for them and a breeding ground this time of year.

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We headed off on the trails through the dunes and into a wooded area.  We climbed Mt. Tom, a sand dune that is 192 feet high.  This is just a shot at the beginning of the trail as we left the beach at Lake Michigan.

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I believe these are large white trillium, which were blooming throughout the woodland above the lake.

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And now for a few shots from our yard – While in my office this week I saw this indigo bunting outside the window, though I did not get a great shot.  This is the first one I have seen in my yard.  They are passing through in spring migration.

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Also visible in our yard this week are palm warblers.

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I also captured this shot of a palm warbler at Lake Katherine this week, as they pass through in spring migration.

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Song sparrow at Lake Katherine.  It was nesting in the same place this year as last year.  My pictures are not all great, but I have a lot of fun taking them.

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Back in our yard again – the goldfinches are back and making a lot of cute noises these days.

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I was not sure what this bird was, but I wonder if it is not a female red-winged blackbird.  I hear and see male red-winged blackbirds in the neighborhood everyday, so maybe this is the female.  If anyone knows better please let me know.

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Male northern cardinal in the ‘Profusion’ crabapple tree.

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Our two fothergilla bushes have been blooming the past few weeks.  I did not get any pictures, but the lilacs are blooming now, too!

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Occasionally we see rabbits, but not yet in our garden this year!  Which is great because I just planed out a lot of vegetables and herbs recently.  I have gotten in the tomatoes, peppers, parsley, dill, basil, peas, and today I planted some pole bean seeds in a warm spot.

Bees, Birds, Butterfly and a Toad

I have been watching for migrating birds in the yard.  The trouble is, it is hard to get good pictures of them.  Still I am entertained and enjoy observing and learning.  After a busy day of gardening it is fun to get out the camera and take a closer look at what is visiting the flowers.  So here are a few creatures I saw this week.

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Bombylius major – bee-fly.  This little brown bee-fly with a long proboscis is enjoying nectar from the strawberry flower.  It is a fly that is a bee mimic.  No stinging involved here.  The wings were flying very rapidly so it could hover above this flower.

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I have some pink strawberry flowers, too.  It looks like a lot of strawberries are coming soon!

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I can never remember the exact name of these blue bulbs, here visited by what looks like a mini-bumble bee.  It was hard to focus on both the flower and the bee, so I took a lot of shots.

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Here the same blue flowers are below the birdbath where a male goldfinch is coming for a quick drink.  There have been quite a few goldfinches in the neighborhood.

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I think this is a white-crowned sparrow.  If I have this wrong let me know.  They are not in my book of birds of Chicago, so I think this guy is just migrating through.

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Often from the kitchen window it is hard to know what I am seeing across the yard.  Is this still the white-crowned sparrow, a palm warbler or something else?

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Or this slightly blurry bird snacking in the chinquapin oak tree.  Is this a palm warbler migrating through, or something else?  My camera was focusing on the beautiful oak leaves and catkins hanging down.

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A red admiral butterfly has a great camouflage with closed wings.

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Red admiral butterfly

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Back in a weedy part of the garden a toad hopped to get out of my way and try to blend into the surroundings.  I am so happy to have toads in the yard.

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We enjoy our chinquapin oak tree so much, as do the birds.  Our laundry poles keep me from getting a very good shot of it, but once warm weather comes the laundry can dry so quickly outside.

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I planted garlic for the first time and it seems to be doing well.

Seeds Sprouted:  All the bush cucumber seeds sprouted so maybe I will try making pickles this year.  The wax beans are sprouting and I saw two zinnias emerge.  The lettuce needs to be thinned and nibbled on.

Sightings:  We saw quite a few large bull frogs at Lake Katherine today, and could hear them, too.

Warbler and Goldfinch find Lunch

This afternoon a palm warbler (I think) and I took an interest in each other.  I was shooting pictures and the warbler was gradually coming closer to me.  It is hard to focus on a little active bird, but here is what I captured.

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Palm warbler on solidago rugosa ‘fireworks’ goldenrod.

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Here is what that corner of the garden looks like.  I have been enjoying it from my office window all week.  New England purple dome asters, goldenrod ‘fireworks’, and zinnias.

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The day I took this picture the asters were hosting a grasshopper, a bumble bee, and a fly.  The fly might make a nice snack.  Would the grasshopper be too big or would it be delicious?

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Palm warbler hopping my directions and stretching to see something.  These birds are passing through during their migration.

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Goldfinch eating coneflower seeds.  It is fun to see the goldfinch enjoying these seeds.  Sometimes I want to pull down these dried up flowers because these aren’t very attractive, but when I have the goldfinch in the yard it is fun to leave them for him.  It could be a female or a male that is starting to lose its bright yellow summer color.  Not sure.

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What can you see in this picture.  Look closely….

The rabbit is baaack…

I am enjoying the alyssum and the chrysanthemums I planted in the spring, along with the orange and yellow zinnias.

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No sense spending a long time chasing him out of the yard when we don’t know where s/he is getting in.  Nice fur.

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Meanwhile, there was a frost warning last night, though no frost yet.  So it is time to be vigilant and start bringing in as much of the harvest as possible.

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Now that the wax beans are slowing down it is easier to see and enjoy the marigolds.  I also brought in a bucket of pole beans that had dried on the vine and shelled those today.

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I think this is a cabbage worm.  We have had soo many cabbage moths in the yard this summer, with all the kale and cauliflower that we have been growing.  I am surprised I have not seem more of these worms.

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Walking around Lake Katherine this morning I decided to looks more closely at the ducks to see if there were any that were not mallards, and I think this is an American coot.  The lighting was not great, but it has a black body and a white bill.