Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sideoats grama

Sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula)Bouteloua curtipendula or Sideoats grama has gone to seed. A few years ago I purchased several of these plants from Grand Prairie Friends at their yearly plant sale and planted them in the front entryway garden. These seeds are easy enough to collect and scatter elsewhere. So it now also grows in the back butterfly garden. It is a medium sized prairie grass with flower heads that are purple and orange followed by decorative seeds all in a row. Wild turkeys, finches, sparrows and rodents all eat the seeds so if you want to collect seeds do so quickly before they are all eaten.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Rainbow

After all the rain we finally got a rainbow and some sunshine. This rainbow was visible across the whole eastern sky except for some cloudy interruptions. Although the grasses look rather brown in the photo, they are actually quite green and lush. Perhaps it is the sun shining on the seed heads of the grasses that produce the look.

Lex never tires of telling me about rainbows - he used to build multiple scattering computer models for remote sensing studies of clouds. René Descartes (in 1637) was perhaps the first to give a satisfactory explanation of how rain and sunlight produce the rainbow. How the primary rainbow results from rays of direct sunlight that pass into the raindrop, are reflected once inside, and pass back out in a direction 42 degrees from the anti-sun point. Then there's Keats, who, in his poem Lamia, reacted to this kind of understanding:
   There was an awful rainbow once in heaven:
We know her woof, her texture; she is given
In the dull catalogue of common things.
Philosophy will clip an Angel's wings,
Conquer all mysteries by rule and line,
Empty the haunted air, and gnomed mine -

Friday, August 21, 2009

Red Admiral

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) I realize that this week all we have posted about is butterflies! Well, that is because they just seem to be everywhere this week. Has the weather been just right for butterflies? Have the rains produced an abundance of food for the larvae? Are there more nectar plants around this year?

This Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) is feeding on the butterfly bush. They also feed on overripe fruit, sap and animal feces. They are fast and agile flyers, making them one of the more difficult butterflies to photograph.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Painted Lady

Painted lady (Vanessa cardui)Painted lady (Vanessa cardui)The painted lady (Vanessa cardui) has a greater world distribution than any other butterfly. It is found almost everywhere, except South America. It goes through multiple generations during the season in Illinois, but like many other Illinoisans, cannot tolerate freezing temperatures, migrating to warmer climes for the winter. Both larvae and adults will feed on a wide variety of plants, seen in these photos on the ever-popular butterfly bush. Note the underside of the hind wing, which blends in with a variety of flowers, or as naturalists seem to like to say, is cryptic.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Summer Azure

Summer Azure butterfly(Celastrina neglecta)
At one time the Azures were regarded as just one species but now it has been decided that there are several species of Azures. Some are the Spring Azures, the Summer Azures and the Dusky Azures. But Dusky azures are common only where there is the larval host plant Goat's beard (Aruncus dioicus). We have none here, but we do have the host plants of Summer Azures: dogwoods, wild black cherries, New Jersey tea, viburnums and sumacs. This delicate little summer Azure butterfly(Celastrina neglecta) is fairly common in our area. Here it is feeding on a Bottle Brush Buckeye flower

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Pearl Crescent Butterfly

Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos) On this hot humid day, this Pearl Crescent(Phyciodes tharos) was basking in the sun. It is a common feature of pearl crescents to bask with their wings spread. And where is it basking? On the driveway of course. It is but one of many varieties of butterflies that likes to gather in moist areas in the driveway forming puddle clubs. Here at Habitat Home we have a long gravel driveway which we never blacktopped and I am so glad we did not.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Spicebush Swallowtail

Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly (Papillo troilus) on a Bottlebrush Buckeye (Aesculus parviflora)In case you need another reason to plant some Bottlebrush Buckeyes (Aesculus parviflora), here it is, the Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly (Papillo troilus). Both the bush, whose flowers have attracted the butterfly, and the butterfly are large and beautiful. We planted three of these bushes in our back yard to help hide our septic system. They have grown and spread to cover a large area, so when they bloom they are quite a sight.

Friday, August 14, 2009

White Snakeroot

White coneflower(Echinacea purpurea 'White Swan') and White snakeroot (Eupatorium rugosum) White snakeroot (Eupatorium rugosum) and white coneflower(Echinacea purpurea 'White Swan' ) look great together. They share the same preference for partial sun and not too dry conditions. I planted the white coneflowers but the white snake root grows naturally all over the forest edges. It looks so dainty and delicate but it is a killer. It was the plant that killed Abe Lincoln's mother. It is the cause of milk sickness. Horses and cows die from eating it and so if you ingested the milk from a cow who had eaten this plant you too would become deathly ill. It took awhile for people to figure this all out. If you are interested in reading more, I reccomend the book Wicked Plants by Amy Stewart. Needless to say, this plant is now eradicated in pasture lands. Habitat Home has no cows or horses and the deer do not seem to browse it so I am free to enjoy its beauty.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

I'm Dying!

Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum)Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum)This jack-in-the-pulpit's (Arisaema triphyllum) leaves seem to be waving farewell. They are indeed dying. However, it is wonderful to see what else is happening. A beautiful seed head is growing and maturing. Once the seeds turn bright red they can be collected cleaned and planted. This is another great native plant. Beautiful in the spring when it blooms and very noticeable in the fall with a bright red seed head. But every year does not produce a female flower that produces the seed head. The nice moist spring and summer have produced and nourished this one along.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Orange Sulfurs (Colias eurytheme)

Orange Sulfurs (Colias eurytheme)We like to think that we are encouraging butterflies by our use of selected native and non-native plants, both around the house as well as in the meadow and prairie. But, as usual, this morning there were easily 60-80 of these Orange Sulfur butterflies concentrated around three spots in the gravel driveway. These butterflies appreciate clover and alfalfa (hence their other common name, alfalfa butterfly) but males are often found in large groups puddling or congregating around wet or even, as here, no longer damp spots on bare dirt or driveways. They are after minerals and salts, especially sodium which they pass to the females by way of their sperm package, increasing the viability of her eggs. These butterflies are multivoltine with many generations each year. Very common in Illinois, usually the most abundant by number at Habitat Home.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Eupatorium purpureum

Purple Joe-Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum) Commonly called Purple Joe-Pye weed. Why the word weed? I do not know. It is a beautiful tall native plant. The large pink flower heads turn from pink to brown as they grow older and fuzzier. This plant occurs naturally on the property along the forest edges. Besides being a beautiful plant, it is also a nectar source for butterflies.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Hydrangea paniculata "Greenspire"

Hydrangea paniculata 'Greenspire' This large, beautiful shrub is blooming in our front yard. The flower heads are very showy and they can be left on for winter interest. There is a native hydrangea in our area and it too has bright white flowers. But like most native plants, it is not as showy as the cultivars. Even though not a native, this shrub does blend beautifully with the native grasses that are starting to bloom and native cone flowers that are still blooming.

Friday, August 7, 2009

A different buzzing

Yesterday it was the buzz of airplanes, today the buzz of hummingbird wings. The hummingbird can beat its wings up to 80 times per second in forward flight. It can also fly vertically and backwards. I moved the hummingbird feeder recently and there has been a lot of activity around it. Perhaps it is just that the feeder is easier to view in its new location. It is truly amazing the way these birds maneuver and hover about the feeder. Note also the tongue action as she gets ready to feed.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Ag Spraying

Today the house was repeatedly buzzed at low altitude by a crop dusting biplane. He first sprayed a field to the southeast across the river, and then did a corn field about one quarter mile to the north. Mostly north-south passes (finishing a southward pass above) and then a couple of east-west passes, probably to get as close as possible to the electric power lines along the road. You can see the wires in front of the plane in the photo above and the poles along the south edge of the field below.

According to a farmer friend, this was probably an application of either a fungicide (such as Headline) to control diseases in the corn or an insecticide (such as Sevin) to control Japanese beetles or corn rootworm beetles. Farmers select from a range of corn varieties for various reasons and some are more susceptible to diseases than others. Also, this has been a pretty wet year, and corn may respond well to fungicide treatment. Not all fields are sprayed, and spraying may not continue much past this week.

One of our goals for Habitat Home (the place, not the blog) has been to extend and protect a little piece of wildlife habitat that joins a county forest preserve with the Salt Fork River corridor. These corridors form the basis for many of the Conservation Opportunity Areas (COAs) in Illinois (see, for example, Prairie Rivers Network article), which are identified in the federally-mandated Illinois Wildlife Action Plan. Aside from the occasional but inevitable drift from neighboring crop spraying activities like shown above, and our occasional spot application of Roundup for invasive species control, the property has had no other chemicals applied in the 20 years since row crops were last planted here. It's a good thing for the birds, the insects, the animals, the plants, and us.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


In this case it is Butterfly and Bird. The Red-Spotted Purple and the Hummingbird were not the only ones to visit this butterfly bush today. On this warm, sunny and humid day, various other butterflies and insects were all over this bush. It is located on a south facing slope so it is very sunny and protected from whatever wind there might be. It has become a great place to watch butterflies and hummingbirds!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Praying Mantis Silhouette

Praying mantis (Mantis religiosa)
This praying mantis (Mantis religiosa) was inside on our kitchen trash can lid. He would have had to wait there a long time before he would be able to reach out those long spiny arms to capture an insect (I hope). So we moved him outside but not before letting him pose on the lid and then running up and down my arm. This silhouette makes him look so big but he was very young and quite small, about one inch long.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Squirrel Season

Watch out now. It's Squirrel season! August 1st marks the beginning of the squirrel hunting season. Squirrel hunters complain that it is hard to get a good shot at a squirrel. Squirrels are busy now gathering nuts and usually up in the trees. But here at Habitathome, they are still sitting quietly on the picnic table eating the shed antlers.