Zucchini, Tomatoes, Collards and Praying Mantis

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!

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.

Thankful For Pleasant Autumn Days

It is a good time of year to be thankful for the growing season and the harvest.  The garden is ready for winter now.  We have had such a pleasant, warm autumn, but now I am looking forward to the quiet and rest of winter.

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We mowed the lawn as short as possible.  The fothergilla bush still has red leaves, on the left.  These pictures of the whole yard are always interesting to me, when I compare how things look from season to season and year to year in these blog posts as trees and bushes grow.  It still looks pretty green today and I just watched some sparrows and dark-eyed juncos fighting for space at the bird bath, that is not frozen.

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The fothergilla bush on 11/21.

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The grass clippings and mulched leaves went into the compost pile, which it pretty hot today.  We have eaten almost all of the Brussel sprouts.  The rhubarb is winding down.  I pulled out a lot of the strawberry runners and babies, but they like the cool weather, and will be green for a while.

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Last Sunday I went to the horse stables and brought back manure to spread around the garden and blend into the soil over the winter.  Still active at this time of year are kale, collards, garlic, parsley, mint, and oregano.

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On 11/16 this common buckeye butterfly was warming itself on our driveway.

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The green tomatoes are gradually ripening.

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Sometimes while working in the garden I hear the sandhill cranes flying overhead on their way to an Indiana sandhill crane gathering.

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At Lake Katherine the beaver has been getting ready for winter, too.  The lodge is well covered with mud and trees have been brought in close for easy access in cold weather.

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Last weekend we took a walk at Pioneer Woods in the Palos Forest Preserve, where restoration work has been going on.  The green leaves are probably mostly on invasive honeysuckle bushes.  Winter is a good time to cut those down and build some big bon fires to clear out the forest undergrowth.

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Harvest moon.

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.

Cucumbers, Butterflies and Mosquitoes

Cucumbers, Butterflies and Mosquitoes

It is harvest time in the garden.  I have made spaghetti sauce twice with all the tomatoes.  We had a zucchini dish last night.  I can see a lot of peppers that I need to do something with.  I have picked buckets of beans.  The refrigerator has been stuffed with cucumbers!

img_5293Here are 30 cucumbers that were being stored in the fridge.  Some did not last and I threw them out but we have eaten most of them.

img_5421Every evening after work I have gone out to the garden to harvest for the day.  Recently it has mostly been buckets of pole beans.

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We set up a structure in the spring and the bean vines have completely covered it now.  I have to harvest when it is sunny or the mosquitoes eat me alive.  I have learned to wear long sleeves.

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The peppers are ripening.

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Clearwing moth.  In my last post I showed a picture of a tomato hornworm.  Clearwing moths develop out of hornworms.  When they are flying they look a bit like a hummingbirds as they sip nectar.

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A pair of goldfinches were harvesting seeds from the cone flowers in our yard.

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Here is a shot from the tomato patch and the zinnias back toward the house.

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Today three monarch butterflies spent the afternoon in the zinnias.  I caught two of them in this picture.  I have seen two monarchs on the zinnias every day all week.

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Monarch on orange zinnia.  On the left a little skipper was sipping on the white zinnia.

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The sedum is starting to turn pink now and here a little skipper is enjoying the delicate flowers.

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Over the Labor Day weekend I visited Minnesota.  Here my 91-year-old Uncle Bob is feeding corn to his hens.  He also has bee hives, several cows and calves, and a vegetable and flower garden.

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The Chippewa River near Eau Claire.  I took a little break here on my drive back to Chicago.  On my trip I also stopped by the Rum River, Mississippi River, Wisconsin River and had a short stop at Mirror Lake State Park.

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A few weeks ago I was walking around Lake Katherine and I met an older man carrying one of these flowers.  I said to him, “You have some purple loosestrife.”  He thought he had some lavender that he was getting to bring to the lady next door who has trouble sleeping.  He had heard that if you put some under your pillow you sleep better.  I explained that loosestrife is an invasive plant so it is fine to pick it, since we don’t want it around the lake.  He was disappointed that he could not find lavender at Lake Katherine.  In general it is too humid in Chicago for lavender. We had a short discussion about invasive plants.

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Before I met this man I had just taken a picture of the berries that were ripening on the buckthorn bushes that have completely invaded the understory around the lake.  When I mentioned buckthorn, he said he had heard of them.  He pulled a very small plastic bag out of his pocket and said it was buckthorn bark.  He had ordered it online, because it is supposed to give you help in legal issues and his neighbor had some legal issues.  Someone is making some money off this invasive plant!  This man had no idea that there was buckthorn bark all around him.  Maybe if Lake Katherine finishes up some of its other restoration projects they will be able to tackle getting rid of some of the buckthorn and replacing it with native shrubs.

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!

Vegetable Flowers

Vegetable Flowers

The raspberries are finished now, though all kinds of birds are wild about the remaining mulberries in the big tree in the easement.  Now is the time for summer vegetables.  Last weekend I took these vegetable flower pictures.

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Cucumber flower.  The first cucumber is a little small yet.  It has been dry, so I will probably put the drip hose on tomorrow for a few hours.

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Zucchini flower.

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Eggplant flower.

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This is the first year I have grown white eggplants.

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Tomato flower.  Green tomatoes are ripening, but I have eaten a couple of sweet cherry tomatoes.

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Wax bean flower.  I have been picking yellow wax beans every day and cooking them up.

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The French pole beans are climbing the poles and string lattice, and they have been flowering, but I have not seen the thin green beans yet.  Soon!

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Kale planted last year is flowering now.  I just keep breaking off these flower stems to keep the plant producing leaves.  On the right is wild kale that it tender and easy to use.  In the back left is curly kale.

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There are a lot of pepper flowers now.

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Dill in bloom.

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Cone flowers.  The birds, bees, and butterflies need food, too.

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Joe Pye Weed

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Liatris spicata blazing star

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Great blue heron at Lake Katherine, where we often walk on Saturdays.  There are a lot of fish in this lake, so happy hunting.

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Another shot of the heron and lily pads.

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The little house wren thinks he is king of the yard.  He has been busy bringing home lunch.  I saw glimpses of a cedar waxwing and an oriole in the yard this week.

Rabbit Story:  A while ago we were excited that we chsed a baby rabbit out of the yard.  A larger rabbit somehow got in for a visit sometimes, but politely went out the gate when we opened it.  Then about a week ago Dan discovered five baby rabbits in our meadow!  Our neighbor helped us chase them out of our yard.  He was hoping they would come and live under his deck.  Every now and then we find a little bunny in the yard, so it is non-stop, but so far the damage has been manageable…  We just have such a cozy habitat for insects, birds, and even mammals.  The brave chipmunk ran by me few times as I read outside this afternoon.