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. 🙂

Lake Katharine

Black-Crowned Night Heron

Black-Crowned Night Heron

Last Sunday morning I managed to get up early and find Lake Katharine, which is directly south from where I live. Dick Riner mentioned it to me when I visited Bartel Grasslands, so I decided to check it out. It’s part of the Cook County Forest Preserve system. Although it’s surrounded by suburban sprawl, it has a variety of well-managed habitats and I will return.

Cabbage White

Cabbage White

I started out walking east from the parking lot to take in the prairie/grassland portion. It was overcast and a bit cool so there wasn’t a lot of activity yet, but I was not planning on staying long anyway since I had a cousins’ lunch to attend in the afternoon.

Is this Purple Loosestrife?

Is this Purple Loosestrife?

Japanese Beetle on Thistle

Japanese Beetle on Thistle.

I didn’t manage to visit the Nature Center this time but I will on my next visit. According to the website, Lake Katharine has many educational and volunteer programs in place to get people involved with nature. I was just enjoying the scenery like this huge sunflower and imagining how many goldfinches would be hanging upside down on it as soon as the seeds ripen.

Sunflower 7-13-14-2732Sunflower Seeds 7-13-14-2735

Out of the wildflowers and heading toward the west end of the lake, I walked a path with a wooded area which is where I encountered the Black-Crowned Night Heron at the beginning of the post. It landed in a tree not too far away, but when it saw me it spent time trying to hide behind whatever branches were between us. I guess when he figured out I wasn’t going to leave until I got a picture with all of his head in it, he gave in.

Dragonflies were one reason why I came, but I was able to barely photograph only this one and I don’t know what it is, fledgling dragonfly observer that I am. I don’t think the picture offers enough detail to be absolutely certain.

Dragonfly - Pond Hawk 7-13-14-1312

Male Blue Dasher – thanks for the ID, Linda!

Grass 7-13-14-2712

Unknown Grass

Froggies 7-13-14-1314


I’m also soliciting identification of the grass – I gave up after clicking on a list with links to pictures and descriptions of maybe 100 different grasses that occur in Illinois.

When I got to the water and stopped to look, the shallows seemed to be bubbling with life. Occasionally I did see bubbles but for the most part I felt as if I was being watched by a couple hundred eyes from submerged frogs. I am not good at identifying frogs so I have no idea if they were really frogs or my overactive imagination.

American Robin

American Robin

Robins are everywhere, busy with their nests and most likely working on a second clutch. I have seen juvenile Robins but this adult felt like posing with a grub. A few robins are still singing a phrase here and there.

Caspian Tern

Caspian Tern

Caspian Tern

Caspian Tern

I saw the Great Egret before the Caspian Tern. I went around the trail to get a closer look at the egret and started talking with another Dick who was also taking pictures. He works at Lake Katherine and maintains the grounds, which is too huge a task for me to imagine. The tern flew over us as we were talking. According to Dick the tern has been making an appearance daily.

GREG 7-13-14-1398When I did finally get close enough for a better picture of the egret, it decided it had had enough of posing and scratched an itch.

GREG 7-13-14-1407I am going to sleep early so I can get up and join the Evanston North Shore Bird Club’s field trip to Rollins Savanna in Grayslake, Illinois. It will take me an hour to get there, even at 5:30 in the morning. Rollins was on my list of places to visit, I haven’t been there in a couple years, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen the entire place, but a four-hour field trip should cover it all and satisfy my curiosity. (Oh, and it’s good for the car to get some exercise beyond running local errands. I need motivation to get up at 3:00 a.m.)

Sunflower Cycle

Sunflowers are blooming early this year. Planted by the birds and squirrels from the seeds spilled from the feeder, they grow tall and, depending on how much rain we’ve had, they can produce huge flowers that weigh them down. But since it’s been very hot and dry, the sunflowers are of a smaller variety. No matter, for they still attract the goldfinches.

Male American Goldfinch

I took the day off to take care of an accumulation of errands around the house that would have decimated a normal weekend’s worth of time. Before I left for my first stop,  I was delighted to be out in the yard when goldfinches were flitting around in the sunflowers. I ran back in the house to get the camera and was rewarded by their stay.

Juvenile American Goldfinch

Even the goldfinches are nesting early this year. I did not expect to see a juvenile so soon.

Sunflower seeds feed the squirrels too. I don’t mind when they eat the spilled seeds on the ground, but keeping them off the feeders is an increasing challenge as the trees start forming a low canopy in my yard. Here’s one of my nemesis Gray Squirrels who likes to raid the feeders.

And here’s the Fox Squirrel who has much better manners and does not seem to be spending all his energy trying to outsmart me.

Fox Squirrel

While I was trying to get pictures of the goldfinches, I caught a Mourning Dove leaving.

Mourning Dove

A female House Sparrow on a bare branch of the ailing Horse Chestnut Tree.

The ubiquitous House Finches are all paired up and they’ve fledged clutches by now. They may be working on a second batch.

The goldfinches still visit the thistle socks too. I will have to fill them up again tomorrow morning.