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!

Acorns, Spiders and More

The acorns on our chinquapin oak tree are ripe and it is entertaining to watch the wildlife go for this food source.  And one foggy morning this week we noticed spiders everywhere, so I started looking around to capture a few pictures of them.

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Chinquapin oak acorn.  There are a few caps on the ground but the acorns are already mostly eaten from this tree.

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The extremely speedy chipmunk can reach to the edge of the branches for the hard to get acorns.

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Chipmunk stuffing his cheeks with acorns.

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The squirrels are climbing the oak for acorns, too.

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A lot of the time both the squirrels and the chipmunks are running around looking for any acorns that might have fallen to the ground and stopping for a snack.

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The blue jays arrive every morning and make a lot of noise.  Once I think there were six blue jays searching for acorns in the tree.

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The chipmunk dashes about and then freezes when he or she sees me.  Here it is hiding in a messy patch of zucchini.

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The chipmunk is trying to get from the zucchini on the right to a hole it dug in the middle of the lawn.

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Here is the chipmunk hole in the lawn…

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One weekend morning we saw the neighbor cat sit by this hole for a very long time.  I am not sure, but I think it finally gave up.

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Pulling back you can see what the garden looks like from the kitchen window on September 15th.  The grass is so dry.  No need to mow it.  We have not had much rain this summer and hardly any for weeks.  The blooming flowers are still buzzing with pollinators this time of year, though.

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Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’ goldenrod

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The wasps seem to be particularly attracted to the goldenrod.

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Bees are all over the sedum.

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The sedum gets a lot less sun as the oak tree grows, leaving a less exciting sedum display.  The drought may be having an effect, too, so I have not noticed as many butterflies visiting.  We have also had unseasonably cool weather this past month, though the heat is back this week.

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All those sedum leaves are a perfect place for hiding spiders, waiting to catch a fly lunch.  This week we noticed spiders everywhere in the garden.

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Just outside our front door a spider had tied up a nice meal package.

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An orb spider has been spinning her web below the clothes line every night just outside my office window.  In the morning the web is highlighted by the fog.

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And I have to remember to always give the kale leaves a good shake to get rid of lurking spiders before bringing the kale in for soup.  Otherwise the spiders are running around the kitchen sink….

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The bean pole structure has a colony of daddy longlegs spiders.  When I pick beans they move out of the way, so they are not too scary.  I have stopped picking beans for the year, though, and will just harvest the dried beans late in the autumn.

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I picked up a prairie dropseed ornamental grass at the farmers’ market and planted it where some of the strawberries have been dying off.  I hope it will get established before winter.  The nasturtiums look tired out by the drought.  Maybe I will water the vegetable garden tomorrow morning…

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.

I Spy In July

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.

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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…

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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.

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

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

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Orange butterfly weed

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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.

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

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Laundry usually dries quickly these days.

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

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

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

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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.

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

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.

Caryopteris, Chinquapin Oak, and Green Beans

The pollinators are shifting over to the caryopteris and soon the sedum.  The zucchini are multiplying.  The neighborhood trees are producing acorns and other nuts.  Just when summer seems to be coming to an end we anticipate really hot weather this week.

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The caryopteris bluebeard is blooming now and covered with bees and other pollinators.  The sedum is just about to bloom and turn pink, as the black-eyed susans die away.  I just dug out the hydrangea so that I can put a nice big circle of mulch around the chinquapin oak.

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Bee carrying pollen on legs on caryopteris bluebeard.

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First sedum blooms.

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Our chinquapin oak is looking healthy.  The laundry posts block the view….  We really love this tree.  Have we said that before?  We planted it in 2009 and it was about 7 feet tall then.

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Acorns on chinquapin oak.

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I saw this baby chinquapin seedling under the crabapple tree.  We pulled up two of these oak seedlings today.  I hope the birds and squirrels plant more of these trees outside of our yard.

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Blue jay in bird bath.  One afternoon I heard the blue jay squawking in the chinquapin tree and then squawking in the bird bath.

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Blue jay’s bright blue feathers

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Pole bean blossom.  The rabbits have left us alone for a while and the pole beans have come back.  I picked quite a few green beans today, for the first time this year, and put them in some soup we cooked up.  We threw in half a red cabbage, collards, zucchini, turnips, broccoli, tomatoes, and potatoes from the garden, along with some herbs.  A couple of cans of beans added a little more protein and we have meals for a few days.

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This is the time of year when the zucchini patch takes over the garden.  Only one zucchini plant successfully survived from the hill of three seeds I planted, but it seems pretty healthy and bountiful, though some mildew is coming on the leaves now.  In front of it on the left, the collards are doing really well this year, too.

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Just have to throw in one more picture of a black swallowtail caterpillar on parsley.  We have several caterpillars chewing on parsley around the garden this week.

Celebration!  Celebrating 35 years of marriage to my true love tomorrow.  I am glad that he likes nature, too!

Summer Ecosystem

I am not sure what to name this post.  Everything is happening in the garden:  flowers, vegetables, birds, insects, and mammals, etc.  Here are a few pictures of what is happening.

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Cone flowers and Joe Pye Weed

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Close up of liatris, opened and closed flowers.  Favorites of bees.

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Zucchini blossom.  Getting ready for lots of zucchini.

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We have been eating a lot of bok choy recently.

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Maybe we will cook up this red cabbage next week…  This is the first cabbage I have successfully grown.

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This huge collard plant is ready to eat, but it will wait while we finish eating all the broccoli that is about to flower.  We have had so much broccoli this year.  There is a pepper on the left of the picture.  The peppers are ripening and I have started eating them.

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I planted cucumbers for pickles, but I am not exactly sure when to pick them.  I don’t seem to have time to pickle anything, but I am just happy to have cucumbers to eat.  I don’t have enough tomato cages so the cucumber vines are crawling all over everything!

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I always enjoy watching the black swallowtail caterpillars chewing the parsley.  This one reached the end of his branch.  Unfortunately the next day I could not find the two caterpillars here.  I can hope the big one made a chrysalis, but I think birds got them.  The chrysalis from a previous blog is still green and under the rhubarb.  I wonder if a butterfly will emerge.

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I counted 7 starlings in the bird bath and 3 on the ground waiting for their turn.  With that kind of riot I need to change the bird bath water twice a day!  Even the robin in charge of the yard does not seem to want to stand up to the starlings.  The parsley plant above is just to the left of the bird bath and the starlings were poking through it today.

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I think this is a starling that is molting into its adult feathers.  If I am wrong let me know.

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I think this is a Baltimore Oriole.  I was sitting at my desk and noticed it through my screen window in the viburnum bush.  Then it went to the hostas and pulled down the hosta flowers to find bugs.  There were two birds that looked the same color, so it could have been two females or two juvenile orioles.  These two birds were under my window for about ten minutes while the robin stood by and watched.

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Hickory tree.  Two winters ago we had snow on the ground for many months so the squirrel never had a chance to find all the hickory nuts it had buried.  Last summer we had hickories coming up all over the yard.  This one came up in a location good for a tree, so we have been watching it grow.  This is the second year.  We mowed down the tall meadow grass that was around it.  We are hoping that it is a shagbark hickory.  We found a shagbark hickory down the street, but there are other kinds of hickories around also, so we will see.

Sightings:  This week there was a baby bunny running around the yard and hiding under the rhubarb.  I did not see it today… Then today we took a walk be the water reclamation lake and there was a coyote.  It was about 5:30 pm.  The coyote was trying to cross the bridge toward us.  Most of us got off the bridge, but one older couple stayed on the bridge looking at the ducks.  The coyote finally managed to run past the couple and into the woods.  It was skinny.  It did not look like it had eaten a duck recently.