Monarch Threats and Winter Birds

You may have heard of the disappearance of the well-known conservationist that has been protecting the monarch butterflies that migrate to Mexico and winter there.  Homero Gomez was last seen on January 13th.  Monarchs have a number of threats including illegal logging that reduces the size of their winter habitat in Michoacán.

I recently finished reading a book by conservation biologist Nick Haddad called The Last Butterflies.

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This book took me a while to read, but I enjoyed it.  It was interesting if you like reading about scientific experiments in the wild and that sort of thing.  One of the last chapters was about the migrating eastern North American monarch.  Much like the passenger pigeon, there are still millions of monarchs, but they face a number of threats that could wipe them out, including threats to their wintering grounds in Mexico.  Here in the United States there is a loss of habitat as well as threats from pesticides.  Why does this matter?  Monarch caterpillars and butterflies are the most well known and loved insects.  They are like the canary in the coal mine.  When they decline, despite efforts to assist them, we can guess that many other insects that we care less about but that are very important are also facing numerous threats.

I am looking forward to getting some milkweed plants from an acquaintance at the Palos forest preserve restoration project who has promised me some plants in April.  I have had no luck planting milkweed from seeds.  I have swamp milkweed and butterfly weed, but am eager to plant some asclepias syriaca (common milkweed), too.

Another important thing gardeners can focus on is nectar plants in the autumn when monarch are migrating south.  Below are a few pictures from my garden.

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Monarchs on sedum in September.  One day this past year I looked out and saw six monarch feasting on the sedum nectar.

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That same day the monarchs were sipping on the Agastache ‘Blue Fortune.’

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Monarch on zinnia

But we are still in the very middle of winter, so I will post some winter bird pictures as well.

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Male red-bellied woodpecker snacking on suet.

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Two downy woodpeckers wait for the red-bellied woodpecker to leave.  The feeder is hanging by a string so it swings around when birds peck on it.  Notice that we just pruned off a few lower branches on the chinquapin oak tree.

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I have enjoyed having the downy woodpeckers visit the yard more frequently this week.

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The house sparrows look for bits of suet that may have landed below the feeder.

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The mourning doves arrived to check out the action.

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The European staring gives it a try.

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Looks like the squirrel managed to get a chunk of it.

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White-breasted nuthatch

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When we pruned the trees I brought in some serviceberry branches to see if they would open inside.  I have no idea if that will work.

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Sunrise on our street.  The days are getting longer!

 

Crabapple Tree

The crabapple tree outside the kitchen window has been catching my attention recently.

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It snowed on Halloween, but the next day the sun came out and I love the blue sky and fluffy clouds above the snow outlined crabapple tree.  On the left the chinquapin oak tree was showing its fall colors.

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Backing up, here is the view from the kitchen window.

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The dark-eyed juncos have arrived, and are winter residents in our neighborhood.

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Male house finch

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The crabapples probably get tastier after a freeze or two.  Though they probably are not terrific tasting since usually quite a few little apples persist on the branches over the winter.

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The crabapples are at various stages of ripeness.  The tree is full of crabapples this year and we hardly had any last year.

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Profusion crabapple tree this past spring.  The weather must have been just right to get the flowers pollinated and set into little apples.

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The squirrels have come a number of times for a snack.

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Golden-crowned kinglet migrating through Chicagoland.  It is always fun to look out the kitchen window and see what birds are stopping by.

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The bark of the tree does not look very healthy to me.  Does this mean the tree is dying?  The leaves get diseased and fall off early each year.  I have not diagnosed the problem yet.  We did have robins successfully nest in this tree early in the year though, when there were still leaves.

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As a side note, I saw a black swallowtail caterpillar in the fennel on November fifth, the week after the snow.  We are in cleanup mode these days and have started a big leaf and grass compost pile.  I am leaving more plants standing in place this year to provide habitat for wintering insects and other critters that are good bird food.  Insects are the foundation of the food chain, right?

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Dan and I had a fantastic walk in the woods this morning, starting at the Wolf Road Woods trail in the Palos Forest Preserve.

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At Tomahawk Slough we saw a very fluffed up great blue heron.  The temperature was below freezing last night and thin ice covered parts of the slough.

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This shot was from our walk last week at the Willow Springs Forest Preserve.  It is time to pull out the cozy jackets, wooly scarves and mittens, and warm boots and enjoy cold weather hiking.

Nasturtiums, Mums and More

As most plants die away some continue to bloom cheerily.  We have not had a real frost in the backyard yet, though I saw frost on our front lawn one day.  We have a little warmer, more protected microclimate in the backyard.

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Orange nasturtium

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Orange nasturtiums and alyssum along the fence.  These have variegated leaves.  I planted 3 packets of Jewel mix nasturtiums around the yard, if I remember correctly.

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More traditional looking leaves.  This giant group grew out onto the patio.  The squirrel jumped on them at one point but they grew back.

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Yellow nasturtiums have a touch of orange and red.

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Reddish orange nasturtium.  I did not get a picture of the dark red nasturtium.

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Coral mums.  This picture was taken about a week ago.

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Coral mums and pollinator

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Some of the pollinators prefer the flowers to be a bit more ripe.

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I looked for a bumblebee today and found one on the Agastache ‘blue boa.’

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On Saturday, 10/19, there were two black swallowtail caterpillars chomping on my curly parsley.  I did not see them today, so hope they got away somewhere.

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Virginia creeper

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Aronia melanocarpa, black chokeberry ‘Viking black.’  I planted these two bushes last year and they grew nicely, though I did not get any berries this year.  The garden around them this year was mostly fallow, though I grew some sunflowers between them after the daffodils.

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Our favorite vegetable this time of year is curly kale.  After we finish cooking our soup on the weekend we throw big bunches of chopped-up kale in, and it softens up in the hot soup pot.

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The squirrels have been tearing around the yard, digging holes in the lawn and everywhere else, planting their nuts for the winter.  We don’t have acorns in our oak tree this year, after a bumper crop last year.

Fall colors are just starting in the yard….

June View and Midwest Vacation

I sprained my ankle, so no gardening for me.  It is a chance to post a few pictures from the past few weeks.

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Today’s view from the kitchen window.

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Looks like the squirrel came by for a drink.  I need to move the birdbath into a sunnier location as my chinquapin oak tree grows.

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Digitalis purpurea, foxglove.  This flower is not native, but it is well behaved in my garden and the bees and hummingbirds seem to like it.

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Looking at it from a different angle, the foxglove is on the left.  The grass in the “meadow” is high and the little hickory tree is shooting up. The tall tree in the back is the serviceberry, also called Juneberry.  Since it is June it is time to look for berries, though the weather has been mild, so everything is a bit late.  The raspberries on the right are starting to form.

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The cedar waxwings, who love berries, have been checking the serviceberry tree out.  You can see the berries are not quite ready, though there always might be one or two that can be eaten early.

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In the vegetable garden the clematis started blooming.  The robin came for a little bath in the bottom portion of this birdbath.  I did not get mulch down before I sprained my ankle so there are weeds everywhere.  My doctor said to just “bless the weeds” for the next few weeks while I rest and heal.  I sprained my ankle in the kitchen an hour after returning from our Memorial weekend mini-vacation…  Here are a few pictures from that time.

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Camel rock in the Garden of the Gods Wilderness in southern Illinois.

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We explored a lot of trails, like this trail at Giant City State Park.

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I got a sense of pleasure at seeing a rock pigeon nesting in the rocks instead under an overpass in a city.

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Liriodendron tulipifera – tulip tree in bloom.  There are not too many of these trees in northern Illinois, but they were common as we went south.

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The boardwalk at Heron Pond in the Cache River Wetlands.  Curiosity about this area was what motivated us to make another trip to southern Illinois.  Being on this boardwalk felt magical.  The cypress trees grow up in this swampy pond, where we could hear various birds calling.  It is a pretty wild area, but a great place for biodiversity and a buffer between the south and the north during this time of climate change, where various animals and birds can find habitat.  We did not see any water moccasins, but kept our eyes open and appreciated the boardwalk.

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We did a lot of driving, including on back roads like this.  A Swedish thriller audiobook kept us entertained in between jumping out of the car to explore the next place.

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These may be box turtles mating, or something….  This was at the Oakland Nature Preserve in Carbondale, Illinois.  It was a buggy morning so we were doing a very fast walk through these trails to keep away from the bugs, but we saw quite a few turtles and a lot of native and/or rate plants.  Our hiking boots were caked with mud on this trip.

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On the way home on Sunday we stopped at the Chinook State and Wildlife Area, east of Terre Haute, Indiana.  There were no trails, so we did not stay long, but two different units came to fish while we were there.  We had beautiful warm weather during our trip, but as we headed home the cool, wet weather began to move in again.

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We stopped to see a few of the covered bridges near Rockville, Indiana.

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On the last stretch home to Chicago we stopped to see the bison at Kankakee Sands in northwest Indiana.  Can you see the head of the little calf in the group?  This is a prairie restoration area run by the Nature Conservancy.  We did not want to take the time to go to the bird area, but we were refreshed by the wide open area we saw.  Then back in the car and back to life in the suburbs!

January Happenings

We finally got snow in 2019.  It seems more like winter now!

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Today we trimmed the chinquapin oak tree on the left.  Each year we have cut off a few lower branches and this may be the last year to do that.  We will see.  We like to keep some privacy, but don’t want to deal with the mosquitoes in the shade when changing the birdbath water or mowing the lawn under the low branches.

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Shadows on the snow

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Female northern cardinal on a snowy day.

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While I was putting together this post I saw this picture and remembered that we were going to prune back the left side of this American plum tree that is crowding into our yew bushes.  So we just went out and cut that off now.  We keep fighting for sunlight.

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On the last warm day, before the cold and snow, Dan turned the compost pile and mixed up all the very wet stuff, very dry stuff and kitchen scraps, so that it will keep decomposing as soon as we get a little more warmth.

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We smeared some peanut butter on a knot on the crabapple tree and the squirrel is working on it.

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This morning we watched hundreds of Canadian geese on the open waters on Lake Katherine.  We watched one group after another taking off and flying to the east.

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Several groups were landing on the grass nearby for their morning munch.

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A week ago Dan surprised me with a bouquet of roses and chrysanthemums.  We rarely buy flowers at the store these days, but it was a nice treat for January!

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Also, this is the time of year when vendors from work send holiday gifts.  We got one box of chocolates around Thanksgiving and two this week.  I had to take a picture of the beautiful way it was wrapped.

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I sure love chocolate!

View From The Window

On cloudy, gray days there are a lot of pictures that look black and white.

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Dark-eyed junco

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Dark-eyed junco on snowy birdbath

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Down woodpecker

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Red-bellied woodpecker getting a suet snack

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A female house sparrow, I think

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The snow is mostly melted now.  The squirrel is often seen at the suet feeder.

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On a cold morning this week we visited Lake Katherine.  There were a few spots with open water where the ducks and geese were gathered.

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The mute swans were present among the hundreds of geese and ducks on the lake.

Bulbs and Duck Identification

Spring is holding off except for some cute bulbs that are making small splotches of color in the garden.  This post combines pictures of a few flowers with a birding adventure I had at McGinnis Slough today.

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Little blue anemones come up from bulbs each year.

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Another blue anemone with the yellow center slightly less open.  You can see bunches of daffodils in the background.  Very tiny bugs were flying around the garden yesterday, so they can get some nectar from these flowers.

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My regular large yellow daffodils are still waiting to open.

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The  mini daffodils are at their peak now.

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Purple snow crocuses

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My other purple crocuses are getting starting now, too.

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Praying mantis egg sac.  I took the day off yesterday and one of my projects was to cut down the clumps of dried ornamental grasses that have stood up over the winter.  This was the third praying mantis sac I found this year.  The other two were on the goldenrod stalks.

Today was cool and rainy in the morning.  Around noon I made it to McGinnis Slough to do some birding, since I had heard of a number of duck species seen there recently.  It would really help to have a scope, since the lake is pretty large, but I did my best with my binoculars and camera.  After taking the pictures I came home to try to identify the ducks I took pictures of.  Not all the pictures are great, but the more I do this more I learn what the different species of ducks look like.  If I misidentified any of them please let me know.

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Male blue-winged teal duck

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A female and two male blue-winged teal ducks

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Here is one more shot of the blue-winged teal near an American coot.  There were a lot of coots today, though I did not get any great pictures.

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Across the slough I could see a goose guarding a nest on high ground.  There are two blue-winged teal ducks on the right and a male northern shoveler duck on the left.

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Male northern shoveler duck

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This couple was hard to identify because of the poor picture, but I think they are green-winged teal ducks, though not positive.

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The great blue heron blended into the dull landscape and I almost missed it.

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Ring-necked duck

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Blurry picture of a female bufflehead duck

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Male and female bufflehead.  I took this picture last weekend, but throwing it in here…

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I headed down one of the paths and came across a pair of mallards.

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Mallards and reflections in pond

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I walked around to the front view of the mallards.  They were aware of me but enjoying a nice place to preen.

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Mallard ducks and reflections

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Just one more look at the female mallard duck with her beautiful feathers spread out.

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The sun came out for a moment then and even the bare woods looked pretty with the trees reflecting in the pond.

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Walking back along the path I looked out at the rushes, which provide so many hiding places for the ducks.

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I saw another goose on a nest high above the water line.

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A red-tailed hawk landed in a nearby tree with a squirrel lunch.  It was watching me.

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The red-tailed hawk flew across the slough to an oak tree to eat the squirrel, without me nearby…

Reading:  One reason I have more blog posts recently is that my son, Phil, has been reading to me on the weekend, and I enjoy sorting through my pictures while he reads.  He has been reading Middlemarch by George Eliot.  I also just finished reading Unseen World by Liz Moore.