A Visit to Goose Lake Prairie – Part 2

As promised, here are the rest of too many photographs taken last Tuesday – a week ago already! – at Goose Lake Prairie. The bird at the top of the post is an adult male Common Yellowthroat. Below are two photos of a juvenile Common Yellowthroat negotiating a thorny perch.

I reported 6 Dickcissels but there were likely several more. In any case, I took photos of the closest ones I could find. Once the sun started to emerge from behind the early morning clouds, they were singing everywhere. And they were not shy.

Below is a young Gray Catbird.

And I managed to find an Eastern Kingbird.

More photos of the prairie plants: Ironweed, Blazing Star, Prairie Coneflower and Partridge Pea, which is a new one for me.

Insects enjoying the Rattlesnake Master.

Apologies if I am repeating one of these Dickcissel images from the last post…

Below are a few other individual Dickcissels looking more like females and/or juveniles.

Still searching for Sedge Wrens and finding two more House Wrens…

I made my way over to one of the lakes, but with all the vegetation it was difficult to see much of anything. I did find what appeared to be a female or immature Hooded Merganser.

The photos below stumped me for a day and a half for whatever reason until I realized it was a Red-winged Blackbird.

I was happy to see three American Crows and managed to follow one as it flew over.

Below is a bird I did not expect to see. She’s a female Scarlet Tanager.

Sharing a bush, below, a Dickcissel and yes, a House Wren…

Common Yellowthroat male

I took notice of another Gray Catbird.

Rabbits seem to be ubiquitous this summer.

That’s it for August 1 at Goose Lake Prairie.

On the home front, the day before, I noticed a Monarch caterpillar on a small milkweed plant in the front yard. The next day when I came home from Goose Lake Prairie, I noticed all the leaves off the original plant were gone, and the caterpillar had moved to another small milkweed plant nearby. I have since lost track of it. I hope it is safe and thriving somewhere in the front yard. After years of Common Milkweed appearing in my yard, this is the first Monarch caterpillar I have ever seen. I can only hope there will be more.

And lastly, John L. from the Friends of the Chicago Portage contacted me a couple days ago to tell me about an organized 350-year celebration of sorts of the Chicago Portage National Historic Site, to occur this Saturday, August 12. He has asked me to participate in some fashion, which I envision might include talking to visitors about birds at the Portage, and I guess I could volunteer a little information on the plants I’ve become familiar with too if necessary. I am not contemplating a formal presentation, but I am starting to gather a few facts to have handy. From what John has told me, it sounds like it is going to be quite interesting, including actors reenacting explorers Marquette and Joliet following the lead of Native Americans through the site and representatives from the National Park Service, the Cook County Forest Preserves and others with booths and activities. Needless to say, I will be arriving much earlier to check on the birds before all this occurs.

Below are quick photographs I took this morning of a sign that is now posted by the Harlem Avenue entrance, the famous statue, and one of the storyboards that was added when the shelter was built a few years ago. If nothing else, all this explains the completion of the asphalt trail and the native plantings by the parking lot. Maybe I can find out what the numbers on the trees were for. I promise to (try to) give a full report afterward.

I have since been over to the “other” Goose Lake, a few visits to Riverside, and back to the Portage again. I will try to get caught up with some of these visits. Fall migration is just starting and it almost seems like every day, even in the middle of heat and not a lot of activity, there is always something new.

Paved at the Portage

The paving over of the inside trail appears to be complete. Remnants of fencing and barriers remain but will likely disappear shortly. Each visit to the Chicago Portage remains slightly different as the plants and the wildlife continue in spite of everything,

We have noticed numbers posted on some of the trees by the paved trail and wonder what the significance is. Yesterday I asked Rick, a foreman of the volunteers, and he said he and his dad were speculating as well. He texted his contact with the environmental team for an answer. Maybe we will eventually find out. I ran into José later yesterday and he speculated that it had something to do with which trees had to be preserved as a few were removed in the pavement process. No. 15 is one of my favorite hackberries, for what it’s worth.

These photos are from my visit on July 24. I have been back a few times since but as quiet as things seem, I can’t fit all the visits into one post.

I have taken to walking straight out the grassy area to the paved trail, beyond the shelter, to check the water for herons first. On that day I saw this rabbit…

and what appeared to be an Eastern Wood-Pewee with its offspring. I always hear this bird but rarely see it. The adult is on the left.

The youngster was very cooperative with my camera.

I saw no herons that day. But as I walked there were other things to catch my attention, like two Ladybugs on a plant I have not identified.

A European Starling lost in mulberries.

A Downy Woodpecker investigating a dead tree.

The view from the bridge closest to Harlem Avenue.

Plants demanding attention. The White Vervain is starting to bloom. It looks oh-so-weedy but it is actually quite beneficial to wildlife. A large Common Elderberry is ripening its berries. What appear to be a couple willow trees are growing beside Tadziu’s bridge. And I cannot resist the Squirrel-Tailed Grass in full bloom.

I won’t begin to try to explain what these Vespids are up to.

Faraway birds…

Baltimore Oriole
American Goldfinch

Another young woodpecker, this one a Red-bellied Woodpecker.

A young Red-winged Blackbird perfecting the art of preening.

I have seen this behavior several times this summer. An American Robin sitting on the gravel trail. I don’t expect to see one sitting on the asphalt, however.

The turtles are in place.

One more of the Downy Woodpecker above.

I will be back shortly with some Green Heron photos from yesterday’s visit that proved interesting.

A Garden Tour for Wild Ones

Advanced warning: There are no birds in these photographs. Also, as much as I tried to organize this, it jumps around anyway. Hang in there.

The West Cook Wild Ones 2023 Garden Tour took place the afternoon of Saturday, July 22. My garden was one of four in Berwyn. There were also five individual gardens in Riverside, and also two municipal gardens in Riverside. The next day we gardeners got to take a self-guided tour of the other gardens. In all, 350 tickets were sold. I was surprised that some people came from as far away as Indiana. I had two wonderful volunteer docents in two shifts, to greet people and tell them about the front yard – I handled the back.

Luckily we escaped the predicted rain – which graciously came later – and while it was warm, it wasn’t unbearably hot.

The Tour Sign posted in my front garden
The Wild Ones sign I get to keep

Back in 2013 I hired Art and Linda’s Wildflowers to plant a native semi-rain garden in the front yard. At the time there was more shade from one neighbor’s tree on the parkway, but that tree was removed a few years ago. Art was maintaining the garden until he died in 2017. After hiring his helpers once or twice to maintain it, I decided to handle the maintenance myself. The plants have made their preferences known.

My backyard is more complicated than the front, but the front has become wilder over the last few years. I was very busy removing invasive plants from the backyard last fall and in the spring. After all the anticipation and preparation for this event, I feel like I have my work cut out for me next year.

Below is a view of the front yard looking south. The Black-eyed Susans really took over this year. The area underneath the tree, which revealed itself to be an apple tree about five years ago, was sparsely planted until this year.

The tall plants on the other side of the front, mainly Common Milkweed and Canada Goldenrod, were not part of the original design. They came in by themselves and while I tolerate their presence because the pollinators adore them, they are also pretty bossy and I think I’m going to try to contain them going forward more than I was able to this year.

The crazy apple tree – squirrels paradise. If only I was into baking pies…

Below is a little video I took of a Black Swallowtail Butterfly in the garden a few days before the tour.

It seems like the drought we had earlier only inspired more growth than normal as soon as we got some rain. Below are some of the wild petunias that grow along the sidewalk.

Below is a plant that did not do well this year. Normally very abundant, this Prairie Cinquefoil had a hard time of it with the drought conditions.

A favorite of the hummingbirds, the Royal Catchfly, just started to open up right before the tour.

Below is Beak Grass, which I never saw in the yard until a few years ago. Now it seems to be intent on taking over. Since it is rare in the state, I will try to relocate some of that which I remove. But I’m not going to plant it in wild places other than my own backyard. I am trying to offer it to anybody who wants some since it seems I don’t have to worry about it coming back.

Along the side of the house near the front yard, cozying up to the gas meter, Sand Coreopsis seems to have planted itself when the Black-eyed Susans took over in front.

The rest of the walkway on the side of the house is relatively tame. I have left the sumac although it is not native, it is naturalized and relatively harmless. I removed a lot of hostas and planted Prairie Smoke and Rattlesnake Master in between the sumacs. The Prairie Smoke is okay, some of it was even blooming earlier, but the Rattlesnake Master didn’t make it. But I just planted a lot of it in a cleared area of the backyard. All I have to do is defend it from everything else that grows back there…

The gate to the backyard displays my old National Wildlife Federation sign and a new certification from Illinois Audubon as a Bird & Butterfly Sanctuary.

There is no great way to take a photograph of the backyard, as it is just too densely packed with trees and plants vying for sunlight in between them. When I moved into the house over 20 years ago, there was nothing but lawn all the way to the alley, except for a big Ohio Buckeye at the alley. It was a beautiful tree, but it died several years ago and I had most of it removed – cut off level with the fence. Just this past year when my fence fell into the alley and I had to have it repaired, I had the rest of the Ohio Buckeye removed, which left me with a lot of growing material in the form of wood chips.

It’s too hard to describe the placement of the trees in the photos below. I am just including them to give a sense of the density. Basically, I wanted birds in the yard, and I didn’t want a lawn, so I planted trees. Years later, it turns out, the birds were right. I have a sanctuary in the summer. It feels about 10 degrees cooler in temperature walking into the backyard from the front. This has been my biggest selling point with the two garden walks I have participated in. The other selling point, less visible, is that I have never had any flooding in my basement. I just followed the birds. And as always, they were right.

It’s hard to capture the Big Bluestem, a native grass that I planted in the backyard by the sidewalk a long time ago. But it has done exceedingly well and multiplied.

One favorite of the bees is Wild Senna which has grown very tall and expanded in area.

I haven’t seen a lot of Milkweed Beetles yet this year but that could change.

The day of the tour someone noticed this Bold Jumper spider on the Common Milkweed in the front yard. I have never seen one before.

Below is Joe Pye Weed, a real favorite of the bees.

Close to the Joe Pye Weed is the original Bur Sedge plant, which has since cropped up in a couple other spots in the front yard.

Back to the backyard, where at the back of the house I have some Tall Bellflower and Culver’s Root.

This is a lovely wind chime that my friend Linda Rios gave me before my last garden show. I save it for special occasions.
I planted some Short-toothed Mountain Mint by the neighbor’s fence to see if I can prevent the return of Lesser Celandine.

Several visitors were impressed with the currant bushes. I planted three originally and the birds planted a few more under my hawthorn and scotch pine. One day all the berries will magically disappear.

Asters are starting to bloom. The one on the left and below is a Wide Leaf Aster. I only know that because I still have the original marker that came with the plant. I can’t decide what the second one is, might be Heath Aster.

But I was excited to see this beautiful Blue Mud Wasp yesterday and decided to include it in this post.

The flowers from the Cupplant are proving popular with pollinators.

I don’t know what’s more confusing species-wise, goldenrod or asters. Goldenrod might be worst. anyway, whatever variation on Canada Goldenrod this is, it’s starting to bloom.

I had cleared and planted a portion of my back bed weeks ago. The new plants are doing well and I don’t have to water them anymore. Right before the garden tour, I emptied and spread out the rest of my last bag of mulch. to add protection and distinguish the plants. But I didn’t envision anyone walking back there until one elderly man did walk through, albeit carefully. So that evening I decided my strategy in the future would be to fashion a “Managed Area” sign. I put it out on Sunday morning.

The (very) Tall Ironweed is just starting to bloom. It has taken advantage of just about every free inch of soil in the yard. Last year I saw that hummingbirds were attracted to it, so that observation strengthened its case that much more.

What’s coming is the contrast of the Tall Ironweed with the Canada Goldenrod, my favorite August-into-September color combination in the yard.

I have planted several Red Milkweed plants over the past couple years and they are finally starting to thrive.

Below is a sunflower planted from the black oil sunflower seeds I feed to the birds. I used to get a lot of it growing, but the past few years it wasn’t coming up at all. I’m okay with leaving one or two that have nice big flowers as the goldfinches love them.

Planted for me, jalapeño and serrano chiles.

Below is a different variety from the Black-eyed Susan in the front yard. I have to see if I can find the original list that came with this plant which was a gift, so I can identify the variety correctly.

Also new in my “Managed Area” is a little Spikenard, a bush that will provide berries. It’s already trying to do something.

That’s not all, but I’m getting dizzy from all of this. Back to the front yard just for a moment, and then I promise to return with photos from the garden from time to time. Below is some of the Bergamot I put in last year that is doing well in the front yard. I planted some in the back just recently, so I am eager to see what happens.

This was a great year for Purple Coneflower and all the butterflies and bees are still enjoying it.

Thank you for bearing with me through a virtually exhausting garden tour. I was quite exhausted after the weekend but it was great fun to be a part of the tour and to see what other people are up to in the area. There will be much more to explore. I only hope that we reached and inspired more people to get rid of their useless lawns and plant natives for wildlife.