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

August at the Chicago Portage: Finale

Green Heron

Green Heron

I did not make it¬†to the Chicago Portage this past weekend to check on the possibility of¬†hummingbirds again. But maybe it’s still worth commenting on the remaining creatures I encountered on the 17th.

Juvenile Red-Winged Blackbird

Juvenile Red-Winged Blackbird

Juv RWBB Portage-8-17-2014-3822

It’s that¬†confusing time of year again. Young birds are as big as their parents, but distinguishing them is sometimes difficult, especially in poor light. Often¬†I take a picture I know will be lousy just to blow it up later, adjust the exposure and see if I can figure out what it was I was looking at. As it is, the “sparrowy” looking birds all turned out to be Song Sparrows (except for the Red-Winged Blackbirds). There were several Indigo Buntings too but due to poor light and whatever else they hid themselves within, they did not make the cut.

Juvenile Song Sparrow

Juvenile Song Sparrow

Now that you’ve seen both the juvenile Red-Winged Blackbird and the Song Sparrow, see if you can figure out what the bird is below. You could almost make a case for either one, I think.

What's this?

What’s this?

Then there are the group photos. The birds don’t always cooperate but sometimes the challenge of how many you can fit in the frame takes over.

European Starling Tree

European Starling Tree

Cedar Waxwing Tree

Cedar Waxwing Tree Рtoo far away, really, but good enough for numbers.

Mourning Dove Tree

Mourning Dove Tree

There was a group congregating in the water too. A family of Wood Ducks getting ready to depart.

Wood Ducks

Wood Ducks

Shorebird migration is in full force, but the Portage isn’t a hot spot. Still I had the two most likely suspects in attendance.

Solitary Sandpiper

Solitary Sandpiper

Killdeer

Killdeer

I love the look of juvenile European Starlings. Until they turn mostly black, it’s possible to see they do have eyes.

Juvenile European Starling

Juvenile European Starling

Another black bird, but instead of a shiny navy blue head, this juvenile Common Grackle is a rich dark chocolate brown.

Juvenile Common Grackle

Juvenile Common Grackle

The Cedar Waxwing below strikes me as an adult, but chances are some of those in the Waxwing Tree above, if only we could see them, were youngsters.

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

Down by the second bridge was a very friendly Eastern Phoebe enjoying flying off his perch for insects,

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Now comes the moment you’ve all been waiting for. The bugs that I cannot identify. This beetle looked to me like it would be easy to find in my Big Beetle Book (not the title) but so far I have been unable to identify it. While I don’t think I’ve discovered a new species, I am beginning to understand this confusion is often the way it is with insects. Period.

Unidentified Beetle

Unidentified Beetle

The ladybug could be the most common native species, but I’m not going out on any limb.

I know this is a Ladybug, but what kind I don't know

I know this is a Ladybug, but what kind I don’t know

More birds–and bugs — pardon me, insects — to come.

Sunday at Orland Grassland

Field Sparrow, Orland Grassland

Field Sparrow, Orland Grassland

I envisioned another two-locale outing yesterday¬†morning, but never made it to the second spot, since there was quite enough to keep me busy at Orland Grassland. This is another reclaimed farm property becoming restored habitat, and it’s not far from Bartel, so if there were not quite so many strip malls and subdivisions in between you could almost envision a habitat corridor for grassland birds.

(The Field Sparrow above was friendly, but not singing. Although there were several others singing I was unable to record them. The closest one stopped singing the minute I turned on the recorder, of course.)

Juvenile Eastern Meadowlark

Juvenile Eastern Meadowlark

Juvenile Eastern Phoebe

Juvenile Eastern Phoebe

Indeed driving just farther south than McGinnis Slough to reach Orland the feeling is never-ending suburban sprawl. Although Orland Grassland is much better established than it was last time I visited which was several years ago, and it is possible to look in at least one direction without seeing a building or utility tower on the horizon, I still could not escape the feeling of fragility, whether it was the helicopters overhead reminding me of civilization or the huge Ace Hardware warehouse looming at one corner of the preserve as I headed back to the parking lot.

Field of Bergamot Orland 8-3-14-2247

A field of Bergamot

Monarda at Orland 8-3-14-3660

Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)

I managed to walk the perimeter of barely half of the 960 acre preserve, which I estimate to be about a mile one way, before turning around and heading back. I was stopped at every turn either by a bird, an interesting insect, or a wildflower. For the time being the trails are mown paths, often restructured with dried tire ruts from the last rainstorm, but I understand a paved trail is in the offing. I would rather stumble along a mown path. With the exception of a couple people walking their dogs, I was the only person at Orland yesterday morning.

Blazing Star

Blazing Star

Fields of Monarda seemed to attract butterflies, bees, and of particular interest to me, a hummingbird. This was my first good look at a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird this season. The welcome mat has been out in my backyard for months: I hope to see them soon at the feeders.

Juv Female RTHU Orland 8-3-14-2268

Juvenile Female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

Juv Female RTHU Orland 8-3-14-2264 Juv Female RTHU Orland 8-3-14-2263 Juv Female RTHU Orland 8-3-14-2254

It was difficult to get a good image of the Katydid below but my, what long legs you have, and long antenna, and, well, a miniature marvel. The pondhawks and skimmers were more accommodating.

Meadow Katydid at Orland 8-3-14-3775

Meadow Katydid, I think…

White-Faced Meadowhawk Male at Orland 8-3-14-3706

White-Faced Meadowhawk Male

Widow Skimmer Orland 8-3-14-2239

Widow Skimmer

Colorful beetles, dragonflies…

Goldenrod Soldier Beetle on Rattlesnake Master at Orland 8-3-14-3672

Goldenrod Soldier Beetles on Rattlesnake Master

Eastern Pondhawk female

Eastern Pondhawk female

After a while other plants interrupted the field of Bergamot and sadly, so far, I can identify only one of them.

Wildflowers at Orland 8-3-14-3758

Yellow Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata)

Wildflowers at Orland 8-3-14-3759

Heal-All (Prunella vulgaris)

Wildflower at Orland 8-3-14-3687 Wildflower at Orland 8-3-14-3738 Wildflower at Orland 8-3-14-3717

Then of course there were butterflies. I think the first one below is some sort of Checkerspot but I cannot seem to locate it readily. I have to look harder.

Update: thanks to Mary Lee’s comment below I finally looked up the Crescents and I think I have identified this butterfly. Thanks, Mary Lee!

Thanks to Linda Padera I now have the correct ID for the Crescent – it is a Pearl.

Pearl Crescent per Linda Padera

Linda says this is a Pearl Crescent

Not a butterfly but always a welcome sighting, this Northern Flicker was one of four or more. Now that nesting is over they are perhaps a bit less shy. In all I had 30 bird species on my list but I probably saw only 20.

Male Northern Flicker

Male Northern Flicker

There were a lot of Viceroy Butterflies. I may have seen one Monarch but it was at a distance and it disappeared before I could be sure of the identification

Viceroy Butterfly

Viceroy Butterfly

Walking through Orland this morning was magical and mournful at the same time. Whenever I have a fleeting moment of superb reality, I seem to focus more on the fleeting than the moment itself.

It’s time to go back to work. It’s been a nice weekend, but there’s a lot more to be done.