Friday, July 31, 2009

Hummingbird Moth

Hummingbird moth (Hemaris diffinis)There are several hummingbirds that regularly visit the flowering plants and our feeder. Then there is this guy, Hemaris diffinis, which as far as we can tell (not being lepidopterists), goes by a number of common names including snowberry clearwing, or more generically, hummingbird moth, bumblebee moth, hawk moth, sphinx moth (family Sphingidae), etc. Although somewhat smaller, they do resemble the hummingbirds by their movements, their ability to hover and that they are always beating their wings, even when feeding. Their long proboscis can be easily seen in these two images, extended into the flowers of the butterfly-bush (Buddleja davidii).Hummingbird moth (Hemaris diffinis)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Doe and Fawn

Just two weeks ago (see July15th post) this fawn was running and curious about everything. Today it seems much more aware of its surroundings but Mom is still ever watchful. I have not noticed nearly as much deer damage on the plants around the house this year. I wonder if this is perhaps because it has been such a rainy season. Everything is still so green and lush.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Just visiting, I hope!

Garter Snake (Thamnophis) I went out the back door and there he was. This garter snake (Thamnophis) was right on the door mat. Garter snakes are easily identified by the three yellowish stripes running the length of the body. He was probably just sunning himself. I don't think he appreciated me staying around and observing him!

Garter Snake (Thamnophis)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Harvest at Habitat Home

Here at Habitat Home I gave up any real attempts at vegetable gardening long ago. I just do not have the time to tend a real vegetable garden. Also, I do not want to have to use any pesticides. I understand that there are good reasons for using pesticides but I do not think (especially with insecticides) that the unknown risks are worth it. Perhaps fencing would work for some of the bigger vegetable pests but for Habitat Home I like the open look. So I do my vegetable gardening in containers. We have a south facing brick patio close to the kitchen where some vegetables are grown in containers. I thought that perhaps they are safer close to the house. But, do you think he ate the whole thing?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Shed Chew

Fox squirrel (Sciurus niger)We share our local area with numerous whitetail deer. We see them every day. After taking up residence and walking around the property a lot, I often wondered why I didn't see more shed antlers. The bucks lose them every spring, they're hard and bonelike and don't decay easily, they turn white fairly quickly if exposed to the sun and thus pretty easily spotted. It's kind of like thinking too long about the question of why the earth has not (according to at least some people) been visited by aliens (the Fermi Paradox). You end up asking "Where are they?"

The short answers are that sheds do decay in the sun, and, more importantly, they are a source of calcium, phosphorus and other minerals for squirrels, porcupines, and other small mammals. Still, how much effect could a few small animals have on these bony appendages?

Well, as it turned out, seeing (and hearing) is believing! We left a found shed on the picnic table about 100 feet behind the house, and one day I heard a strange scrunch, scrunch, scrunch. There was the answer: a fox squirrel (Sciurus niger) gnawing away at the old antler. The squirrels sometimes work at it for five to ten minutes before, apparently, getting their minimum daily requirement and running off.

Shed antler hunting has become quite an activity, too. There are features that make antlers more (for example, a matched pair) or less (bleached, chalky, chewed) valuable, and hunters are familiar with Boone and Crockett scoring. A recent innovation in the "sport" is the use of specially trained "antler dogs"!

So while I enjoy finding the occasional shed antler while walking around the park or property, I also enjoy watching the squirrel demonstrating the maxim that nature makes use of, or recycles everything.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Purple Prairie Clover

Purple prairie clover (Petalostemum purpureum)

Purple prairie clover (Petalostemum purpureum) is a great plant that I seldom see in gardens but should. It is a tough little plant tolerant of various conditions. It blooms for up to two months and then has interesting seed heads. Perhaps it is the huge taproot the plant produces, making it hard to transplant. The root can grow 5 feet long. But more likely it is the fact that rabbits are particually fond of the plant's foliage.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Mourning Cloak

Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)We have been seeing more and more butterflies. However, this is one that we do not see a lot of, Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa). It is one of the longest lived butterflies, living up to eleven months. It will overwinter in hollow logs, tree holes and other such places. It takes nectar from some flowers but it also likes overripe fruit and feces.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Fox snake

fox snake (Elaphe vulpina)
This fox snake (Elaphe vulpina) was crawling out of the wood pile that is stored under our deck. He was enjoying the patio. He did not seem to mind us and I really don't mind him (or her?). He eats small mammals like mice, chipmunks and young rabbits. The downside is that he also eats birds, their eggs and nestlings. fox snake (Elaphe vulpina)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Monarda and Monarchs

wild bergamot (monarda fistulosa)
The wild bergamot (monarda fistulosa) is in full bloom now. We have a lot of it in our upper savanna region. I planted just a few plants several years ago and they have spread nicely. The monarch will visit a wide variety of flowers for the nectar.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


whitetail deer fawn We are starting to see fawns. They are so cute and so inquisitive and so playful. We have seen this one a few times. There is also a pair of twins that are hanging around the southwest corner of Homer Lake Park. The spots will only last a few months because like all children they grow up all too soon.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


We have had so much rain lately that mushrooms are sprouting all over the place. I have tried to identify some but have had little luck. To identify a mushroom one must notice several things: the color of its spores, odor, surface texture, gills, shape of cap, certain characteristics of the stalk (if one is present). Some people make spore prints, some even examine certain features under the microscope. If I were going to eat these mushrooms, I certainly would want to make a definite identification, but I will not eat them. I get enough joy out of just finding them.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Red-winged Blackbird

red-winged blackbird
Surprisingly, we do not see a lot of red-winged blackbirds on the property. I don't understand this. Perhaps now that the savanna trees are getting bigger and we have had so much rain that the savanna is much wetter, this bird bird will stay around here. Although the way it complained about our presence and started to defend the area, I wonder if he will make a good neighbor.

Friday, July 10, 2009

July Prairie

Our Prairie has this beautiful patch of rattlesnake master
(Eryngium yuccifolium) that is now blooming amongst the big bluestem (Andropogon gerandi). As the gardeners, say it is a great combination!
These plants are 5 to 6 feet tall now. Amazing when you consider this area was burned in March.

rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Bumble Bee?

The butterfly weeds are blooming and they are covered with Bumble Bees. A friend brought me a poster that enables one to identify Bumble Bees. This poster is entitled Bumble Bees of Illinois and Missouri pub. by the Univ. of Illinois Dept. of Entomology. Look for females in late April through August. Don't look for males until August and September. (So this must be a female.) Then one has to look for a yellow thorax or a yellow thorax with a black spot. Then on down the chart one goes, noticing such things as black or yellow hair on top of head, the color of the segments, side view of head, eyes and so much more. Eventually one gets to identify the Bumble Bee. BUT, there is a little box off to the side, with red lettering! It says watch out for this one, the Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa virginica for it is often confused with the Bumble Bee. So is it Bombus impatiens the bumble Bee or Xylocopa virginica the Carpenter Bee?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Black-eyed Susans

The Black-eyed susans (Rudbeckia hirta) are abundant this year. The entry way garden has never looked so good. I would almost say it has curb appeal, except we have no curb! This walkway is about 350 feet from the road. The area between here and the road also has black-eyed susans in it. There are a whole host of insects that feed upon this plant. Often the plant starts to wilt because a stalk borer (Papaipema nebris) is feeding on it or it could be caused by a fungi (Verticillium dahliae). The only good thing about this wilting is the Japanese beetles don't get to eat the plant!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Rudbeckia Maxima

Giant Coneflower, Rudbeckia MaximaGiant Coneflower is a standout in the garden. It stands over seven feet tall, has beautiful blue grey leaves and bright yellow flowers. It attracts bees and butterflies. But, I wish I had not planted it. It is left over from my floral gardening days. It is so pretty I just can not get rid of it. I have replaced many other plants and shrubs with plants native to this area. I should replace this one with an equally beautiful and native Prairie Dock. Rudbeckia maxima is native to many southern states just not Illinois. It's only problem.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Black Raspberries

Every year around the 4th of July the black raspberries (Rubus occidentalis) ripen. We have several patches on the property. There have been more but as the trees get larger, the berry patches are shaded out. The black raspberries, however, are much more tolerant of shade than the red raspberries. About 15 years ago, there was a huge patch of both red and black raspberries across the street in Homer Lake Forest Preserve. But as the honeysuckle grew and took over the area, the raspberries disappeared. The berries (they are not really berries but rather aggregates or drupes) are very tasty and eaten by many animals and birds. The wild turkey is especially fond of them as are blue jays, robins, cedar waxwings, cardinals,and the grosbeaks to name a few.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Wild Turkey

wild turkey and poult
and her poults! There were seven of them, four are brown and three are yellow. We notice her walking slowly along the old fence row in the meadow area. Then one yellow poult was visible and slowly the others started appearing. We were quite a distance away taking the pictures as we did not want to alarm her and scatter the group. They have been sighted again, this time along the wooded river path. The National Wild Turkey Federation web site says that "varied habitat of both open and covered area is essential for wild turkey survival." The poults eat insects, berries and seeds.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Celebrating Neighbors

We all have neighbors. Sometimes our neighbors build fences, sometimes they play loud music, sometimes they have dogs and cats, and sometimes they are just quiet and unassuming, tipping their hat when passing you on the street. But sometimes, our neighbors are licensed fireworks operators, and simply by geographic proximity, we get to enjoy their celebration, too. Like last night!

Here's to neighbors everywhere. May we enjoy and express our appreciation for their talents, their thoughtfulness, their sharing of our immediate vicinity, and, yes, for their eccentricities!