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  It has now been replaced by a beautiful new building that better meets the needs of nature field trips.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!

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.

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.

Pineapple Sage, Monarch and Hummingbird

The pineapple sage is blooming now.  A week or two ago the monarchs were visiting it and now it is the hummingbird.

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This monarch spent a long afternoon on the pineapple sage.  This picture was from more than a week ago.

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The monarch was also on the zinnias.

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It is so hard to get a picture of the hummingbird from the kitchen window.  Can you see it?

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The hummingbird rested on the crabapple tree branch.

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A male red-bellied woodpecker was checking out the Chinquapin oak trunk.

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Grasshopper sunning on a zinnia.

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The beautiful, messy prairie at the Little Red Schoolhouse nature preserve last week.  Asters, boltonia, and goldenrod.

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Ladybug on American plum tree.  I spotted a bunch of aphids, so I hope the ladybug finds them!

Fall Color:  I heard that the best fall color in northern Illinois is supposed to be in the next 10 days.  It is usually the second or third week of October.

Sedum, Skippers and Plums

The cool days and rain this past week have greened up the grass again.  Many plants are dying out in the garden, but some plants are at their peak or will be getting going soon.

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Silver-spotted skipper on sedum.  I noticed that last September I had a picture of a silver-spotted skipper on sedum as well.  One of the host plants for this butterfly is false indigo, which I have planted close by.

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There have been quite a few of these very small skippers around the yard this week.  The proboscis is the long sucking mouthpart that drinks the nectar.

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Sedum in dappled light.  I don’t know if you can see all the flies, bees, wasps, etc. that are hanging out on this plant.  In the background on the left are the two American plum trees and in the center are the yew bushes.

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I remembered to check on the American plums and found a number of ripe ones and many on the ground.  I tasted one that was between red and purple and was no longer hard.  The skin was too tart to eat, but the flesh inside was sweet!  I picked a dozen and brought them in to see if I could keep them from just falling on the ground.  I picked a few up off the ground, too, that seemed fine.  It would be a lot of trouble to make anything from them, but eating a few a day is fun!

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Red berries for the birds on the Hicksii yew bushes.  They won’t last long.  The viburnum bushes are heavy with purple fruit and I am waiting for the day the birds start feasting.

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Pink zinnia.  The annual Monarch Festival is at Lake Katherine today, and at the end of the day I think the monarchs are released.  I am hoping a few will wander to my neighborhood and take an interest in the zinnias.

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One lone chamomile flower.

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Moss roses re-blooming this year in an old planter, with no help from me.

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Still thankful for cucumbers.  This type is “Marketmore,” and is very dependable and tasty for my salads.

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One of three large collard patches.  6 – 10 leaves head into our weekly pot of soup.  We have a lot of cabbage moths in the yard!

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How many house sparrows can hang out at the bird bath at the same time?  The bird bath has been generally quiet these days, but once in a while there is a party.

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Grasshopper on pineapple sage.  It looks like the leaf below has been chewed on by something.  The pineapple sage will start blooming with bright red tubular flowers, maybe in a few weeks, and will be visited by the hummingbirds.  It was cool at noon today and I just heard one cricket trying to make a few noises.  Now at 4 pm it has warmed up and the full summer chorus of grasshoppers, crickets, cicadas, and other noise makers are going at it.  We expect hot summer weather this week!

Vacation:  We took a long weekend trip to central Indiana over labor day and had a great time at Shades State Park in Indiana.  I have been too busy to post anything from that trip, but here are a few bird pictures that we saw in other places on our trip.

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We visited Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area, where tens of thousands of migrating sandhill cranes stop during migration in spring and fall.  Through our zoom lens from the observation deck we saw two sandhill cranes in the shade and later another flew out of the trees.  We probably won’t get back here to see the spectacle in the fall, but we could imagine these muddy fields filling with birds.

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Is this a killdeer?  It was in the same muddy field.  That is the best we could do with our zoom.  We need to get another camera as ours is having some troubles.

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Belted Kingfisher.  I think it was along Walnut Creek.

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Butterfly on thistle.

Butterfly Weed, Blueberries, Basil, and a Cocoon

Happy Summer Solstice!

We are having a very lush June this year after much rain.

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This is a “yellow” butterfly weed that I planted last year, I think, but it just got going his year.  The butterfly weed are blooming around the yard and hopefully will attract some monarchs.

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This was the view from my lounge chair this afternoon.  In the front some ground cover is blooming yellow.  In the back the orange butterfly weed is blooming and attracting a variety of bugs.  Just to the left of it the pineapple sage is getting taller and looking healthy.  You can also see a few blueberries on our little ‘top hat’ blueberry bush that are starting to ripen in the middle of the picture.

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It looks like my first blueberry is getting  ready to eat on the ‘Duke’ blueberry bush!  We don’t have that many blueberries as I have not worked hard to acidify the soil around them.

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It looks like the basil is ready for me to make some basil pesto!  In front are prairie verbena flowers.

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Just above the basil is Heliopsis helianthoides ‘Summer Sun.”  I was lying on my lounge chair enjoying these flowers and watching the clouds float by.  Summer at its finest.

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We also have some heliopsis blooming in our little meadow.

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I took this dragonfly picture in the meadow early this morning, where it had rested in the grass for the night.  It is probably some type of skimmer.

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A little before noon I found this turtle on the road in front of our house.  We also found a smaller turtle on the road near Lake Katherine this morning.  Maybe with all the rain recently the usual rocks in the lakes are covered with water and the turtles are looking for other places to catch some sun.  That is just a theory.

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Turtle foot.

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The Tokyo cross turnips are coming along well.

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We are throwing in chopped up collard leaves in our recipes now, too.

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I have seen black swallowtail butterflies in our garden depositing eggs, so was glad when I finally saw a caterpillar chewing on our curly parsley.

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Later in the week I noticed it had travelled a few feet to the rhubarb leaves where a cocoon was getting started.

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Today I went back to the same spot and found this cocoon, well disguised.  Little things like this make me happy!

Poetry referring to nature:

Were the whole realm of nature mine,

That were an offering far too small;

Love so amazing, so divine,

Demands my soul, my life, my all.

                                          Isaac Watts