Asters’ Last Stand

Autumn is such a beautiful season. It evokes nostalgia, I guess, for the spring and summer seasons preceding it, and then comes up with its own color palette on the way to the grays and browns of dormancy. That very transformation may be why it’s my favorite season. I also love the cool, crisp mornings and the angle of the light. And now I will be loving the cool that much more because it will be outside my house instead of inside. I began writing this post tonight during my new furnace installation.

Common Yellowthroat (female)

This is a short, discombobulated tribute to my native garden that continues to evolve with all the visitors it attracts.

I stepped out the front door a few days ago and found the asters buzzing with activity…

I don’t know how many Northern Cardinals are here, as I have not seen more than one at a time lately. But it was nice to have one that seemed more curious than shy.

I haven’t been birding enough lately to report about fall migrants. I did find the two warblers featured in this post right outside two weekends ago. I hope to lead a bird walk at Columbus Park this coming Saturday and maybe we will see some more birds. The House Finch and Downy Woodpecker are regulars in my yard.

Cabbage White Butterfly

This was the very last Monarch Butterfly in my backyard garden on October 5.

Goodbye to all the butterflies, and it seems most of the bees and other pollinators are done for the year as well. The leaves are taking on their fall colors. The evenings are colder and the days are much shorter. Halloween is on the horizon. The New England Asters in the backyard have grown back over the sidewalk. And my new furnace is working.

Late Summer in the Yard

AMGO 09-07-17-5224

American Goldfinch (female)

I had a couple extra days off last week after the holiday, in between jobs, which gave me more time to spend in the backyard. I think the wild birds were starting to get used to my presence, so it is with reluctance that I go back to being The Scary Human Who Fills The Feeders.

A female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird spent perhaps a week in the area, and she would generally show up just before sundown which made it difficult to take pictures of her. One morning early when I went out to fill the feeders I saw her sitting in the redbud tree so I suspect she came more often than I was aware. I did have a beautiful male show up one afternoon but he was gone by the time I got my camera.

The yard has a lot of yellow going on with several varieties of goldenrod which I planted, for the most part, last fall. There is also one almost terrifyingly humongous sunflower which is more like a tree than a plant. I think the reason why it is so huge and still going strong is because it’s very close to the compost heap. I may need an axe to cut it down but for the moment I still find it cheerful and entertaining as it spreads out onto the cement slab.

The goldfinches have been busy chowing down on seed heads. They are probably responsible for a lot of the echinacea taking over the back bed. But that’s the original reason why I started the wildflowers years ago anyway, to attract birds, so I’m happy my yard has now become a destination.

After years of trying to outsmart squirrels I have given up and they seem to be a bit less annoying as long as they get their daily peanuts.

House Sparrows never get much photographic attention from me, but they eat most of the birdseed and are such a presence I felt I should take a few pictures.

DOWP 09-07-17-5206WBNH 09-06-17-5110The two birds who capitalize most when the House Sparrows have left the yard are the Downy Woodpecker and the White-Breasted Nuthatch.

Above, two photos of a couple House Finches for the record. They were not in the best of light or feather.

Bees have been constant if not as numerous as previous years.

The Mourning Doves are usually very skittish and whenever I find a pile of feathers from one the local Cooper’s Hawk has made off with, I wonder how many are left.

Even after you click on the picture above, it may be difficult to see the spider web on the left. I saw the garden spider in the middle of it once, but it has proved to be camera-shy. The web spans the narrow sidewalk running along the south fence. I am not going to be the one to destroy it by walking through. On the right, a bee on a remaining purple coneflower.

Squirrel Yard 09-02-17-4054As long as the squirrels can drink upside down hanging from a tree, they won’t knock over the birdbaths. If I wake up tomorrow to overturned bird baths the yard was likely visited by a nocturnal creature.

NCA09-06-17-5137

Male Northern Cardinal finding his feathers

My first full week with my new employer starts tomorrow. The new job and choir commitments likely require me to tweak my schedule to figure out where and when I can fit the blog in. Fall migration also demands attention. Drum roll, please.

Bees, Butterflies and Birds in the Backyard

Bee on Wild Senna 07-15-17-1468Have I ever said I adore bumblebees? If not, now I am proclaiming it, and they are some of the friendliest creatures in my yard. Last weekend the one in these pictures was definitely enjoying the Wild Senna, making me take extra notice of the brown spots on the blooms which make the flowers almost look like bees themselves.

I’ve managed to spend some time the last two weekends in the yard, which is more an exercise in discovery and meditation than it is management of what decides to grow there. With all the rain we have had this year everything seems determined to grow tall and abundant.

At first the most common butterflies were the Red Admirals above. Below, a Milkweed Beetle on its namesake plant and what I suspect is a Soldier Beetle on the Rattlesnake Master. I was just happy to see somebody else enjoying my first season for Rattlesnake Master in the yard.

Saturday I was graced with the first Tiger Swallowtail that spent some time in the yard while I was out there. For whatever reason, the butterflies seem to be attracted to my field of Echinacea more than anything else.

Tiger Swallowtail 07-15-17-1688And just as I had had enough and was about to go inside, this lovely Black Swallowtail showed up. I had seen one in the yard before but leaving, not hanging around.

Black Swallowtail 07-15-17-1746Black Swallowtail 07-15-17-1747I had a staring match with the Fox Squirrel. The sunflowers growing from spilled seed are too numerous to photograph, so here’s a close-up of one.

Not sure if I have more female House Finches or if half of them are immatures. It was nice to see a Black-Capped Chickadee too. In general, when I’m in the yard, the birds aren’t.

The moon was still visible.

Moon 07-15-17-1514I’ve discovered one or two Snow on the Mountain flowers in the yard, not where it was coming up for years, but now scattered, after it disappeared entirely. Glad to have it back.

Snow on the Mountain 07-15-17-1539And if you made it this far you might recognize the flower below as the invasive monster I was trying to eradicate earlier. I discovered the name of this nefarious plant yesterday while scrolling through the Audubon Wildflower App on my cell phone. The app isn’t new, but my use of it now is a new diversion. I’ve decided to scroll all the way through everything from A to Z to find things that I can’t remember, can’t identify otherwise, or discover new. So far, this was a fortuitous decision because I was close to the beginning of the alphabet with this one. And it is every bit as terrible as I suspected. Well, maybe not where it belongs, but it’s from Europe, and here’s part of the description from the app: “spreads by underground stems and forms sizable colonies. The plant contains poisonous sapnonins (soap-like substances) that inspired the genus name (from the Latin sapo, meaning ‘soap’) and the alternate common name Soapwort. Lather can be made from its crushed foliage. The common name Bouncing Bet is an old fashioned nickname for a washerwoman.”

I think maybe I’ll start calling it Soapwort.

Bouncing Bet 6-24-17-0419

Bouncing Bet, or Saponaria officinalis

So with those roots running under the soil I’m never going to get rid of this stuff, I’ll just look upon it as a nasty plant on which to take out all my frustrations every spring. And I’ll be sure never to eat it. I wonder if it’s as poisonous to wildlife. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the bees attracted to it. They’re pretty smart.

Bumblebee and Wild Senna 07-15-17-1751Still wishing for a Monarch Butterfly and/or a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird or Sphinx Moth to show up on a weekend when I’m in the yard…with the camera. ūüôā

Back in the Yard

Mining Bee Yard 7-26-14-3335

The last two Saturdays have been great mornings to work in the yard, last Saturday in particular as it was cool and cloudy, but I have slept in so that by the time I do¬†get out, the heat and humidity begin to creep in, and the day is replete with the rest of Saturday’s routine. But I have managed to¬†take a few more yard pictures before playing piano, swimming, grocery shopping…

The one bloom on the Swamp Milkweed was visited by a Monarch Butterfly last Saturday. I saw the Monarch again yesterday but it did not stay, only flying over the entire yard and right past me a few times, I suppose because the one milkweed blossom is spent and there was little else of interest. Next year, I promise, will be different.

Monarch on Swamp Milkweed Yard 7-26-14-3228

Milkweed Yard 7-26-14-3420There were two Eastern Tiger Swallowtails in the purple coneflowers last Saturday. They wouldn’t pose together but this one was available.

Tiger Swallowtail Yard 8-2-14-2002

And yesterday I finally managed to get a Red Admiral to cooperate.

Red Admiral Yard 8-2-14-2029 Red Admiral Yard 7-26-14-3380

Young birds are now in the yard in droves. Last Saturday, they were still begging a lot.

Juvenile House Sparrow

Juvenile House Sparrow

Juv House Finches Yard 7-26-14-3197

Juvenile House Finches

Juv House Finch Yard 8-2-14-2127

Juvenile House Finch

Adult Male House Finch

Adult Male House Finch

Last Saturday I had the windows open and heard Chipping Sparrows in the yard. I could not photograph them outside, as they were right by the back door and I would have scared them away, but I managed to get a few pictures through the kitchen window.

Juvenile Chipping Sparrow

Juvenile Chipping Sparrow

I suspect there is more than one pair breeding in south Berwyn.

Chipping Sparrow Yard 8-2-14-2086

Adult Chipping Sparrow

Someone else I can only photograph through the window, as she is well attuned to the squeaks of my back doors…

Cat Yard 8-2-14-1982

I discovered this spider last weekend in a shady spot.

Garden Spider Yard 7-26-14-3302

Garden Spider

The front yard is more established this year, one year after its planting. This is the main section, the other smaller portion being on the other side of the front walk. I have seen butterflies now and again but the biggest hit lately was the Sweet Joe-Pye Weed: the bees were literally bathing in it. But this weekend it’s looking rather spent and frazzled. I watered it last night and am hoping we get some rain.

Front Yard

Front Yard

Bee in the Joe-Pye Weed

Bee in the Joe-Pye Weed

I seem to have two types of cardinal flower. The first photograph is from the ones that have been in the backyard for years, and the second from the new one in the front.

Cardinal Flower Yard 7-26-14-3438 Cardinal Flower Front Yard 7-26-14-3496

Below is a plant that mystifies me. I have no idea where it came from but it planted itself between two bricks. I don’t recall if it flowered last year but this year it has done a nice job. Even if it is an invasive, it doesn’t appear to be spreading. It’s in one shady spot under the hawthorn. If anybody knows what this is, please let me know.

I don't know what this is but it is growing between two bricks for the second year in a row

I don’t know what this is but it is growing between two bricks for the second year in a row

I thought there was something a bit different about this fox squirrel. For sure, it’s a she. The one I am¬†used to seeing all the time has been a male. She is a bit shy, but every bit as polite as he is.

Female Fox Squirrel Yard 7-26-14-3268 Foxy Lady Squirrel Yard 7-26-14-3447

Invariably dill comes up here and there in the yard. I thought I planted some this year but it didn’t come up where I put it. Nevertheless a few plants have managed to grow and I leave them hoping they will attract female Eastern Black Swallowtail Butterflies to¬†lay eggs. I was very happy to see this caterpillar yesterday. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen one of these in the yard. I’m going to plant more dill for next year too.

Eastern Black Swallowtail Caterpillar on dill

Eastern Black Swallowtail Caterpillar on dill

I did manage to¬†work in the yard even though it was nearly midday: it wasn’t buggy and my trees keep me cool. At any rate, it’s looking a little tamer I suppose because we haven’t had too much rain lately so the weeds actually stay pulled for a while. I think I will start photographing and cataloguing all the weeds before I yank them out next weekend, in part because I see them often enough elsewhere, and in the process of looking them up I will learn about others. I know a lot of them by sight but have forgotten some of their names. The macro lens is making a nerd out of me.

I will be back later with a few photos from my weekend excursion.

 

Goose Lake Prairie and Copley Nature Park

Blue Dasher

Blue Dasher

I don’t know what it is about Goose Lake Prairie, but I like going there, so that was my destination on the Fourth of July. I didn’t get out as early as planned but after the hour-plus drive I was walking the gravel trail from the Visitor’s Center around 7:45 AM. The Visitor’s Center is always closed on the Fourth of July. One of these days I’ll have to go when it’s open.

Pollen Orgy: Bee in the Bergamot

Pollen Orgy: Bee in the Bergamot

Not seeing a lot of bees these days so¬†I try to pay attention when I do. This bee appears to be virtually bathed in pollen. I think it’s the little hairs on the flower petals that make it look that way. Click on the picture to see.

The first bird I managed to photograph was a Common Yellowthroat. From the coloring it looks like a juvenile.

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

Female Common Yellowthroat 7-4-14-0520

But there were still plenty of males singing on territory, like the one below. A sample of his song is in the link between the pictures. You might also hear a Song Sparrow and an Eastern Meadowlark singing in the background of the recording: the Common Yellowthroat is the one singing in triplets.

Male Common Yellowthroat

Male Common Yellowthroat

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Common Yellowthroat 7-4-14-0569

I also saw a male Northern Harrier soon after I started out, but only because it had been chased into and then out of a tree by a flock of Red-Winged Blackbirds. It was the only raptor I had until I saw a Turkey Vulture from the car as I was driving away.

Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier

Below, some of the many juvenile Red-Winged Blackbirds hanging out in groups.

Juvenile Red-Winged Blackbirds

Juvenile Red-Winged Blackbirds

The Tree Swallows below were probably too far away to photograph, but I like the tandem effect of this picture anyway.

Tree Swallows

Tree Swallows

For the record, here’s a juvenile Song Sparrow. I could not seem to locate the adults that were singing.

Juvenile Song Sparrow

Juvenile Song Sparrow

This is the time of year when anything that flies catches my eye. One thing I’ve noticed is the different dragonflies as they occur in different habitats. Butterflies, anywhere, are entirely another matter; they seem to be scarce and do not like to be photographed except from far away.

Widow Skimmer Male

Widow Skimmer Male

Female Twelve-Spotted Skimmer

Female Twelve-Spotted Skimmer

Viceroy Butterfly

Viceroy Butterfly

The other prominent singer yesterday was a Dickcissel. The bird below eventually tolerated my presence so I could get these pictures. One version of his song is in below his pictures.

Dickcissel

Dickcissel

Dickcissel 7-4-14-0833

Although the weather was relatively cool starting out, the sun was hot and by 10:00 a.m. or so I felt¬†I had probably seen all I was going to see. It’s not the kind of place you want to go off trail.Hunting Sign 7-4-14-2356

Hunting Sign 7-4-14-2367

I decided to stop by Lake Renwick on the way back home, which has a heron rookery. There is a small viewing area at¬†Copley Nature Park, accessible from Route 30 at the edge of Lake Renwick. Lake Renwick rookery¬†itself is closed during the breeding season. This is another place I need to check out when it’s open for business.

A distant family of Great Blue Herons tempted me to shoot a few fuzzy pictures.

Great Blue Heron Nest, Lake Renwick

Great Blue Heron Nest, Lake Renwick

Great Blue Nest Lake Renwick 7-4-14-0895

And birds flying by, like this Double-Crested Cormorant, with its distinctive silhouette.

Double-Crested Cormorant

Double-Crested Cormorant

Perhaps the most numerous species of the day besides Red-Winged Blackbird was Eastern Kingbird. There were many at Goose Lake and several at Copley Nature Park, this one being particularly cooperative.

Eastern Kingbird Lake Renwick 7-4-14-0950

In case I had any doubt about the heron rookery, this Great Egret flew overhead after I had been out of the car only a few minutes.

Great Egret Lake Renwick 7-4-14-0885

Oh well, one¬†more early morning and then it’s back to business as usual. I’m joining Chicago Ornithological Society at Bartel Grassland in Tinley Park tomorrow. It’s an early start and an hour’s drive away, so I should¬†be turning in very soon. After three days off I feel like I’m just beginning to get the hang of it. Being off, that is.

Today also marks my third year blogging with WordPress. I feel like I’m just beginning to get the hang of that too. Thanks to you all for making it fun! ūüôā

Bees are Musicians Too

Bee on Cone Flower, Lurie Garden

Bee on Coneflower, Lurie Garden

Okay, this is slightly off-topic, but I found it pretty interesting. I read an article in The New York Times¬†science section about how bees get certain flowers to release their pollen by buzzing at a certain frequency which releases the pollen. It’s a fascinating article. At one point the researcher compares bees to “little tuning forks.” All that buzzing has a reason. Music to my ears.

Bee in Cone Flower IMG_5115_1

Of course I have been bemoaning the lack of bees in my yard. Somebody else must be pollinating my tomato plants because they are bearing fruit, but I am not seeing the hoards of bees I used to have on my flowers. And my coneflowers don’t look as lush as usual. Now I know it must be because there are no bees to turn them on.

Another Bee

Another Bee

These pictures were taken yesterday afternoon at the Lurie Garden in Millennium Park. I confess I have been avoiding the parks since The Taste of Chicago began on Wednesday, but the weather was beautiful and I wanted to try out my new Canon 70-300mm lens. I sent the old one away to be fixed because it had stopped focusing after balking and acting up for about a year, but now I’m wondering if I’ll ever want to use it again. Never hurts to¬†have a spare, but this new lens has spoiled me already.

The Taste IMG_5079_1

I had to check and see how the new park is coming along…

Daley IMG_5082_1

Lurie was full of flowers, and here are some of my favorites. I also took pictures of the identification boards they update regularly, depending on the season. But the Compass Plant, one of which I photographed, doesn’t appear on either side of the board. Maybe there wasn’t room for everything and they had to leave the Compass Plants out, but they are big and blooming all over Lurie and on the restored prairies too.

Queen of the Prairie

Queen of the Prairie

Rusty Foxglove

Rusty Foxglove

Rattlesnake Master

Rattlesnake Master

Blazing Star

Blazing Star

Pale Coneflower

Pale Coneflower

Compass Plant

Compass Plant

Lurie Flowers 1 IMG_5126_1

Lurie Flowers 2IMG_5128_1

Not many breeding birds were available for photographs, but I did catch this female Red-Winged Blackbird running an errand, and when she flew away the camera caught her reddish epaulets which don’t show very often.

Female RWBB Lurie IMG_5086_1

Female RwBB Lurie IMG_5087_1

Female RWBB Lurie Garden IMG_5088_1

Maybe the subtitle of this post should be “Prairie in the City.”

Prairie in the City IMG_5084_1

At the south end of the park, the sculpture garden still blooms.

Sculptures IMG_5061_1

And as I waited for the light to change on Michigan Avenue on my way back to the office, a saxophonist I have never heard was playing very well with a band recording.

Summer in the City IMG_5138_1

Summer in the City

There are no crows in this post, and that is no accident. They are keeping a very low profile with the summer crowds. But I bet they know where the Waste From The Taste is.

The Three Bs

In music, The Three Bs are known as Bach, Beethoven and Brahms.¬†In Nature, I nominate¬†the 3 Bs¬†to be Birds, Bees and Butterflies. Sorry, Barracuda did not make the list this time (it was hard for me to write that without hearing Heart’s Ann Wilson in my head).

I took the weekend off from the pursuit of birds so I could get some extra sleep, take a more relaxed approach to household chores and work in the yard. The weather continues to be hot and dry, but rain was in the forecast and I envisioned something lovely like thunder and a downpour.

I found my¬†butterfly books so I could identify¬†the butterflies I got pictures of a couple weeks ago at¬†Lowden-Miller. Here’s a sample.

Eastern Comma

Red-Spotted Purple

Downtown in the park this week, after a brief rain, I saw this Clouded Sulphur. We usually get loads of Monarchs, but I have only seen a few this year, sporadically. It rained downtown on Wednesday, but not at home.

Clouded Sulphur

The drought we are in has the benefit of keeping mosquitoes away, but the pollinators have been scarce too. I thought I’d been missing a lot of bees, and¬†I dreaded another dry forecast.

Then yesterday I looked out my kitchen window and saw bees buzzing around in the sumac flowers.

There were also these tiny little bees in the rudbeckia. At least I think they’re bees. They may be something new that came in with the hot, dry weather. They have bright golden lower wings, but they don’t like the camera.

After working in the yard this afternoon, I was graced by the presence of visiting butterflies. First was this Eastern Black Swallowtail. He was somewhat ragged-looking.

Eastern Black Swallowtail

I was about to go inside when his cousin, a Tiger Swallowtail, flew right in front of me and began sampling the Purple Coneflowers. I engaged him in conversation as I grabbed the camera. I kept telling him how beautiful he was, how glad I was to have him visit, and he responded to my praise by letting me take more pictures of him than I have time to go through! I promised him I would keep watering the coneflowers, something I would never do in normal weather.

Tiger Swallowtail

A Red Admiral stopped by to show off too.

Red Admiral

The chance of rain this weekend has evaporated into thin air (sorry), but I’m glad I can still provide food for the Three Bs.