Swallowtails, Hummingbirds And Other Flying Creatures

This time of year it is fun to see the variety of pollinators that visit the garden.  The eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly posed nicely for me, but it is always a challenge to get good hummingbird pictures.

IMG_9849Eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly on zinnia

IMG_9817This eastern tiger swallowtail hung out with wings open quite a bit making it easier to photograph and to identify it as a male butterfly by its markings.   Dill flowers were blooming behind the zinnias.


I think this is a question mark butterfly sunning on the fence.  It looks a little tattered.  I took a picture of another one a few weeks ago.


I was trying to capture this monarch butterfly on the milkweed, but the camera wanted to focus on the trunk of the crabapple tree.


Here is another attempt to get a shot of the monarch fluttering above the milkweed.  I love the colorful outdoor flower arrangement of this shot!


The hummingbird competes with the butterflies for the same flowers.  Here it chased away the monarch butterfly and is enjoying the swamp milkweed.


The hummingbird enjoys the neighbors’ hibiscus flowers.


Here the camera caught the fast-moving hummingbird, but it is at the edge of the picture….

IMG_9687Hummingbird on garden fence.  I think I have mostly seen females.


We don’t have a hummingbird feeder, but the neighbors on both sides do.  We just offer flower nectar….


Hummingbird on Russian sage.


I took this picture of the hummingbird visiting the coleus plant from the office window.  Later, while sitting on the patio, I watched a hummingbird check out every single white flower on the coleus plant before moving on.


Hummingbird on white phlox.  Most of my pictures are kind of blurry like this, as I have to shoot quickly when the hummingbird shows up before it moves on.


Wasps have taken up residence in the open fence posts around the garden this summer. They are good predators, but I keep out of their way.


Wasp resting on hickory leaf


A green dragonfly rests on a turnip leaf.  I am a dragonfly fan!


Bee on coneflower.  Many kinds of bees are in the garden now.


I have seen a few grasshoppers and crickets, but I am keeping my eyes open for a praying mantis, which I have not seen this year.


The invasive viburnum leaf beetles are back.  They lay their eggs in the branches and in the spring the larvae will start chewing on the leaves.


Last summer we cut these two Chicago Lustre viburnum bushes to the ground, but did not have the energy to dig out the roots, so they grew back quickly and have looked nice this year, but the beetle issue is not going away, so maybe next year we will find some other plants to replace them, or maybe not….

If you got through all this pictures you must like flying creatures!  I will leave my other bird pictures for another post!

Butterflies, Birds and Blooms

I am starting to see beautiful butterflies in the garden each day now.


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.


I can see this zinnia patch from my office window during the day and notice when the butterflies arrive.


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.


Such beautiful details on the monarch butterfly.


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.


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.


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.


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.


A group of chickadees were in the crabapple this morning.  All I could get was this silhouette.


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.


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.


The nasturtiums are starting to thrive now.


Marigolds with basil flowering in the background.


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.


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.


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!

I Spy In July

It is full summer now.  After hot dry days we had plenty of rain this past week and all is growing well.


Male downy woodpecker on yucca plant.  Each year I wait to see it the woodpeckers will come to attack the yucca plant seed pods outside my front window.  Moth larvae grow up inside the seed pods.  It did not look like the woodpecker was very successful on this attempt, but wait a few days and they should soften up…


A few weeks ago I just got a glimpse of this cedar waxwing.  It was the end of the mulberries ripening, so I think that was what brought it to our yard.


Black-eyed Susans with miscanthus ‘morning light’ and Russian sage.


This was taken in early morning light and shows what these flowers looks like from the patio where I eat my oatmeal.


Orange butterfly weed


Swamp milkweed, grown from a seed packet labeled ‘red milkweed.’  I am still waiting for monarchs, though there are plenty of red admiral butterflies around.


North flower bed with joe pye weed, liatris and echinacea – purple coneflowers.  The messy meadow is on the left and kale in the foreground.


Laundry usually dries quickly these days.


Zucchini still in its somewhat tidy state.  The marigolds have been cheerful this year.


We have been able to keep up with the zucchini by picking it small.


Cucumber vines grow out in all directions.  We have a lot of cucumbers, though, and my refrigerator is starting to get full!


Invasive viburnum leaf beetles mating.  We removed the raspberry tart viburnum  and the blue muffin viburnum bushes, that were both so beautiful.  It looks like next year we will be getting rid of the Chicago lustre viburnum bushes as well.  We don’t have the energy to fight these beetles year after year, so we will start over with other plants.


Sunday soup.  Sometimes we put a little too much in the pot!

Viburnum Leaf Beetles and Catbirds

I have a Blue Muffin Viburnum just outside my office window and noticed that it was being defoliated and the leaves were almost bare, so I did a little research.


Larva of viburnum leaf beetle.  Once I learned about this I went out and found many larvae on the underside of the leaves of the viburnum.  Apparently these beetles have moved into the Chicago area and viburnum dentatum cultivars, of which I have four bushes, are highly susceptible.  One can prune the bushes in the winter when you can see where the beetles have laid eggs on the twigs.  Otherwise, what I did was to brush the larvae into a bucket of soapy water.  There were maybe 30 that I brushed in the bucket, but I am sure I missed many.  Currently this bush is in bloom and was only defoliated on the back branches.


Another Arrowwood viburnum dentatum I have is a cultivar ‘raspberry tart.’  This one was almost completely defoliated before I noticed it.  I hope it survives until next year, but it may have the same problem again….  One result of all these larvae is that I think they attracted additional birds this year.


This year is the first year I have seen catbirds in our yard and they seem to be hanging around.  This catbird was finding larvae in the viburnum leaves.


This catbird spent some time poking around the strawberries, too.

So I am not sure of the future solution for the viburnum.  I will see if we can get ahead of these beetles, but if not we may need to plant other cultivars of viburnum that are not as susceptible to them.

Nasturtiums, Goldenrod and the Forest Preserve

We have had beautiful fall weather! Here is a little of what is happening in the yard.


Nasturtiums and alyssum.  I never seem to have enough nasturtiums in the garden, but thankful for what I have!


Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’ goldenrod.  It is that time of year again, and I still have three stands of this goldenrod.


Wasp on goldenrod.  I tried to figure out what kind of wasp this is, but was not successful.  The goldenrod is covered by flies, bees and wasps.


Zebra grass at sunrise from kitchen window.


Viburnum dentatum ‘Chicago lustre’ bushes loaded with berries.  Bird food.


Pink turtlehead flower.  Bee food.


Daddy Longlegs spider in the pole beans.  Every time I have gone to pick green beans I see the daddy longlegs spiders scurrying away.  This must be their home.  When I looked for them to take pictures today I found three of them.  Creepy!


When it rains the toad comes out.  This guy came all the way up on the patio.


We went for a walk in the Cook County Forest Preserve on this cloudy morning.  They are celebrating 100 years.  This was at the Little Red School house trail and we stopped to watch the birds in the prairie.  I believe the yellow flowers are compass plants.


The goldfinch was getting some seeds for breakfast.


We spent some time looking out at the Long John Slough, which was covered with lily pads in many places.  There was a cormorant and a variety of skittish ducks that we spooked.


We saw two beavers.  This beaver swam across the slough toward us and kept an eye on us while it munched on lily pads.


We came across a nuthatch as we walked through the woods.  We had trouble trying to get pictures of it as it climbed the tree.


We spent a while trying to get bird pictures, but we were not very successful.  I put this picture in because I think it is a male hairy woodpecker, and I think this is the first time I have gotten a picture of one.

Enjoy autumn!!

Ready For Spring?

We have had solid snow cover for the past 36 days and more snow days before that.  Yesterday it warmed up above freezing and the snow is melting.  I have been noticing small signs that spring is headed our way here in the Midwest.

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Snow crocuses poking through the snow pack.

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After some snow melted the snow crocuses looked like this yesterday.  The purple, yellow and white flowers coming soon are so small, but I will be looking for them.

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Mini daffodils finally showed up when the snow melted yesterday near the south facing fence.

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The sparrows are getting more interested in the birdhouse again, though no nest material is inside yet. All the nest material is still covered with snow.  Unfortunately for the sparrows, this is supposed to be a bluebird house, so any squatters will be evicted.

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I noticed a flock of robins fly in one day.  I counted at least 25 on this picture.

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The northern cardinal is a winter resident.  Here the male is scratching in the leaf litter where the snow has melted.

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The snow melted around the base of the viburnum dentatum first, providing access to the leaf litter where insects and worms might be found.  Yesterday was pruning day for me.  The temperature was above freezing during the day when I pruned, helping any sap to come up to heal the cuts, but then freezing at night.  I pruned a few low branches on the Chinquapin oak, as well as four viburnum bushes, the serviceberry, and the American plum.  I was just trying to thin out some of the more dense or low hanging areas and get rid or broken or crossing branches.

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If you remember we had an early winter storm in November last year, before the leaves had fallen.  This resulted in the leaves persisting almost all winter on the American hornbeam, fothergilla and viburnum bushes, although they have shriveled up a lot.  Most years the branches are more bare…

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The top branches of Top Hat Blueberry stick up above the snow pack on the north side of the house.  The sun is rising higher each day, though, as the days lengthen, and bringing sunshine to more areas.

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I did not put up the winter hoop this year.  Although the kale looks brown there is green near the stems.  I might go out today and stick the hoops in the slots in the ground and put the plastic up.  That will warm the soil so I can start planting cool weather seeds like lettuce.  Then the Kale can hopefully start giving us new baby leaves this spring.  I am pretty sure this winterbor kale made it through two winters now!

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Last Sunday I walked around Lake Katherine, but it was very icy.  Today I imagine it will be very muddy.  Last week I took this picture from a little stand where people sometimes throw bread, although a sign discourages feeding wildlife.  The geese saw me and swam right toward me hoping for bread.  With all the snow cover there has probably been less to eat for them.

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It has been a good winter for reading.  I am working through this fascinating book, which I checked out from the library after hearing an interview with the author on NPR.

Another growing season starts.  I am not sure I have the energy to keep up with my garden, but I will just do what I enjoy, and of course a few tasks that just must be done. I often find that the garden revives me as I poke around and then stop to watch the wildlife that shares this little place on earth.

House Plants and a Beaver Lodge

Tomorrow is the first day of winter and hopefully the holidays will bring a time of relaxation.  Here are a few pictures from the past weeks.

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Every year I show you my cyclamen.  I am always amazed that it comes back so beautiful after looking so dead during the summer.  This is year nine.  I always take it outside over the summer, where it loses all its leaves, and then bring it back inside in the fall.  We also have a few small succulents that seem to be doing well in the greenhouse window.  No snow on the ground today, though some is predicted for Christmas Eve.

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This is the poinsettia plant I picked up cheaply last Christmas.  One of you readers told me it needed 12 hours of complete darkness in order for the leaves to turn red.  I have kept it in the laundry room, but apparently that is not dark enough, though the stems and some of the leaf veins are all red.

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I don’t know the name of this plant, but it is looking great since I re-potted my house plants this summer.  I am letting it get drier before watering this year.  Last year this plant was on its last leg…  It does have some white spot, which may be a disease, but it is not too bad and I can brush some of it off.

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Beaver lodge at Lake Katherine.  In an earlier post I showed you a tree chewed by a beaver.  When walking around the lake someone point out this lodge, made with sticks and mud.  That person had actually seen the beaver.  However the lodge has been looking the same for several weeks, so I have a suspicion that the beaver is no longer there.  I wonder what could have happened.

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Another view of the beaver lodge with sumac trees and a mallard duck.

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A closer look at that mallard duck. The males are called drakes.

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Drops of water on little crabapples, back in our yard.  You can see that the leaves are still on the viburnum bushes in the back of the yard.  The leaves had not fallen when the cold snap hit in mid November and they have clung to  the branches this past month.  It is a favorite shelter for sparrows and other birds.

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Sparrow hiding out in viburnum bush on a cold day.

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We cooked up some of these brussel sprout leaves and threw the rest in the compost pile.  So there is nothing really edible now except for a few kale leaves and some oregano under the leaf litter.

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The  compost pile was about 6 feet tall earlier with chopped leaves and grass.  It got pretty hot and shrunk down to 3 feet.  Then  I got my pitch fork out and turn the top half a bit, so it is almost 4 feet now and still pretty warm inside. There is plenty of room to dig holes and throw in our kitchen scraps.  Once it gets topped with snow and freezes then it will be harder to get the banana peels inside.

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I have a lot of books, mostly from the library, to keep me busy reading.  Right now I am in the middle of Deep Down Dark, about the Chilean miners who were stuck underground for 69 days.  So far very interesting reading.  When I feel tempted to complain about dark days I can be thankful that I am above ground and so incredibly blessed.

12/21/14 UPDATE – Beaver Spotted!

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Beaver at Lake Katherine on winter solstice.  This is not a very clear picture, but we went out walking around the lake this morning and saw the beaver swimming around.  Beavers are social creatures.  I wonder if there are two beavers in this pond, as I have only seen one.  It was such a quiet morning and a bit dark, so that is one reason it was hard to get a good picture.