Sunday, June 27, 2010

Wild Petunia

Wild petunia (Ruellia humilis)

Ruellia humilis is a native plant that grows well in several different habitats.  It is blooming all over Habitat Home now and will continue to bloom for most of the summer.  I will trim it in the fall and scatter the seeds about. From the book Nature's Garden(published 1915) I found and quote this interesting information about the use of the flower.
One frequently finds holes bitten in these flowers, as in so many others long of tube or spur. Bumblebees, among the most intelligent and mischievous of insects, are apt to be the chief offenders; but wasps are guilty too, and the female carpenter bee, which ordinarily slits holes to extract nectar, has been detected in the act of removing circular pieces of the corolla from this ruellia with which to plug up a thimble-shaped tube in some decayed tree. Here she deposits an egg on top of a layer of baby food, consisting of a paste of pollen and nectar, and seals up the nursery with another bit of leaf or flower, repeating the process until the long tunnel is filled with eggs and food for larvae. Then she dies, leaving her entire race apparently extinct, and living only in embryo for months. This is the bee which commonly cuts her round plugs from rose leaves.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Japanese beetles

Japanese beetles on summer grape leaves (Vitis aestivalis)
I have been hearing reports that the Japanese beetles have arrived. I have not seen any. But last evening, while weeding amongst the Joe-pye weed plants, bottlebrush and river oats grasses I found them. My reaction was one of amazement. The way these beetles chew the interior of the grape leaves to produce these lacy leaves. I left this situation as it was. In a few day I will go and remove what is left of the summer grape plant (Vitis aestivalis) that was smothering the plants I was weeding amongst. Could this even be a case of the Japanese beetles being the good guys and removing the grape plants before they smother everything else? But even grape plants have merit. Tasty dishes can be made with their leaves and jellies and jams with their fruits. The fruits are also eaten by many birds, the leaves are browsed by deer, and the bark is used by some birds in their nests.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Butterfly Milkweed

pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor) and monarch (Danaus plexippus) on butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa)
The rains have stopped, at least temporarily, and the butterflies and dragonflies are seemingly everywhere. This butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) in the back garden is always very popular, as seen above with visitors pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor) and monarch (Danaus plexippus).

We have seen many pipevine swallowtails this year, which is perplexing as we have no pipevine family plants, to our knowledge. We have white snakeroot, although that is not a reported larval host.  There is plenty of wild ginger here, which some have reported being used, but this is sharply contradicted (as "certainly incorrect") by Bouseman and Sternburg in their book Field Guide to Butterflies of Illinois.Anyway, the adults are here and enjoying the milkweed and other flowering plants, and we enjoy seeing them around.

Monday, June 21, 2010

American Goldfinch

male and female American goldfinches (Carduelis tristis) on rudbeckia maximaA small band of goldfinches (Carduelis tristis) were eagerly examining the Rudbeckia maxima. The plant has grown tremendously over the last weeks and has sent up shoots that are about ready to flower (see post from last July). The stems are still rather weak and not even strong enough to support the finches that were examining it. Notice how bent they are in the photo. I have seen finches ride the branches all the way to the ground. They are quite amusing to watch with all their upside down antics. However, they will have to wait a bit long for these seeds to ripen and even longer for their favored thistle seeds.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Widow Skimmer

While in Chicagoland last week, we spent some time at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Joan attending a workshop on sedges and me occasionally walking around. Although hot and muggy, I wanted to take advantage of the different geographical location (northern Illinois) and habitat (small lake) to photograph and identify some new dragonflies. So Friday afternoon I braved the sun, the 95 degrees, and the humidity to walk around Meadow Lake, staying close enough to the visitor center to be able to scurry back into climate control as necessary. The lake is very nice (as is the rest of the arboretum) with well maintained and labeled plants along the banks and, in some cases, in the lake. But to my surprise and disappointment, I saw only two dragonflies, and they were buzzing in a line from some distant point A to some equally distant point B and did not stop to let me examine or photograph them.

Back home Saturday, I saw only these two dragonflies, male and female widow skimmers (Libellula luctuosa). These are very common in Illinois, the male especially easily recognizable with the large dark dark and white patches on all wings. While the book would say that the male is usually found defending its territory near the water, I saw both of these in the savanna and prairie, about 200 yards from the river or nearest pond.
male widow skimmer (Libellula luctuosa)female widow skimmer (Libellula luctuosa)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Nesting continues

eastern phoebe eggseastern phoebeeastern phoebe nest

There has been a nest built by an eastern phoebe, located under the deck above my den window, for the past six weeks or more. I have checked a couple times in May and never saw any eggs or chicks, but this past weekend the activity of the pair going in and out of the nest has increased markedly, and sure enough, there were four eggs in the nest yesterday. This nest is quite solidly constructed, built on a foundation of coax cables going to the internet satellite dish (three photos above, the image of the eggs is taken with the aid of a mirror). It's good to have another pair of flycatchers in residence.

eastern bluebird nest/eggsOn a related note, I cleaned out the empty bluebird nest from the house about ten days after the May 23 post/photo of the chicks. A check yesterday revealed another nest and another five eggs (photo below). I'll try to get a photo of the newly hatched young, since I missed that stage when we were out of town last month.


There have been times when we have been flooded in here at Habitat Home. Will this be such a time? The culvert under the driveway drains the savanna area and is sometimes not adequate to drain heavy rains, so the water washes over the driveway. Although still able to drive through this, the creek further down the road has a similar problem and floods the road. This we can not get through. It is not a wise idea to go though deep moving water on the country roads.
We are also watching as the river rises and floods the back tall grass prairie. The whole area may be covered with flood waters from the Salt Fork River by tomorrow morning.

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Closer Look

foxglove penstemon (Penstemon digitalis)
In order to accurately identify the penstemon in a recent post, a close-up photo was taken of the flower. The photo revealed the pretty purple lines (nectar guides for pollinating insects) on the lower lips of the flower. Also, the plant is not hairy. Thanks to the information from a new (to me) site I found on line, I was much more confident of my previous identification. I have added this site to the side bar and encourage you on this very rainy afternoon to explore it. It has great photos and information about Illinois wildflowers.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Damsels and Dragons

ebony jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata)Dragonflies and damselflies (together comprising the order Ordonata) make up one of those classes of living things that I see all the time but have paid little attention to, at least beyond noting them flying about and the different colors of their wings. So because they are quite abundant around here this month, I decided to take a closer look. A single trip around the bottom field path figuratively netted three very different species, two dragonflies and one damselfly. It was easy to identify the guy to the left here as a damselfly, because he is holding his wings folded high when stationary, while dragonflies sit with their wings stretched out. Damselflies tend also to be distinguishable from dragonflies by their lacy, fluttering style of flight. This is a quite colorful example (probably because he's in the sun) of an ebony jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata).

I'm no dragonfly biologist, let alone a card carrying member of the International Odonatological Society, so please correct me, but using James R. Curry's beautiful and informative book Dragonflies of Indiana,I have tentatively identified the dragonfly below as a female blue dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis). Note the stretched and slightly downfolded wings, the white face, eyes close together and double row of yellow markings on the abdomen.

female blue dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis)
Dragonflies are amazing. Their larval stage is spent under water for a year or more, after which they emerge and go through a metamorphosis for a brief but frenzied few days or weeks as a flying adult, focused exclusively on eating and mating. And dragonflies are big eaters, they can consume their weight in flies and mosquitoes in an hour. Their compound eyes are composed of as many as 30,000 individual lenses each, and it is a testament to the wonder of life that their small, literally pin-head size brain can both coordinate their beautiful and intentional movements as well as interpret the rapidly changing visual scene in order to hunt prey and find a mate. Although some dragonflies get along almost anywhere near water, many species are adapted to very specific environments. This is another reason to conserve, recreate, or manage the specific habitats we find ourselves living in.

Finally, as an aside, I was reminded by the blue dasher image of why I like to take photographs. Click on her image immediately above to open a full resolution image in a separate browser window. OK, sure, taking pictures is something I can actually do. But it ends up as both a motivation and a path to examining the natural world. Examining almost any photograph (yes, sometimes even family snapshots) can reveal startling, unexpected, and beautiful details that aren't available in "real time," and force you to consider the differences, the commonalities, the "something new" present in those details. As stated above, I had never thought much about dragonflies, never having had the opportunity to look at them in the way we can look at butterflies or even birds, let alone a tree or blade of grass.  But these images do something extra for me beyond the also enjoyable walk in the woods, and I hope they do for you as well.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Baptisia alba

White wild indigo (Baptisia alba)
White is the predominant flower color of the prairie now. The penstemons have been blooming for awhile, fleabane daisies are blooming and now the white baptisia is starting to flower. What a majestic plant this is. It shoots straight up from the surrounding grasses and then starts to branch out. This plant will be of interest for the rest of the season due to the curious black seed heads that will eventually form from the flowers. These plants take about five years to reach maturity but when they do they make a fasinating scene. Baptisia alba is both an important caterpillar host and nectar source for many of the sulfur and blue butterflies.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Foxglove Penstemon

foxglove penstemon (Penstemon digitalis)?
The penstemons are blooming in the prairie. This is a smaller plant about two feet tall. I think it is Penstemon digitalis but there are at least 8 white or whitish species in our area and it is difficult to tell them apart. Penstemons are also blooming along the river corridor and here again I am unable to distinguish between the species. Penstemons are one of the largest plant groups native to the United States. Most species prefer a drier climate and are found in abundance out west but this showy little plant is abundant in our area and seems more prevalent than in past years.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Eastern Box turtle

Eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina)
Notice the eyes. If they are red, it's a male, if brown a female. She may look a bit upset but if she were, I think she would have withdrawn into her shell. Box turtles (Terrapene carolina carolina) can shut themselves completely into their shells. In the spring or fall of the year, they are usually out walking around looking for food as this one was. If it is hot you can find them under logs and leaves and if it is really hot, they will seek out a shallow mud puddle. In winter they hibernate in two foot tunnels in the ground that they dig. They like open woodlands and pastures by streams; this one was not far from the little creek that runs from the upper savanna to the lower prairie. Box turtles can live 100 years and I hope she can live that long at Habitat Home.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Happy Birthday!

Sunday, June 13 marks the first birthday of Habitat Home (the blog). What better excuse than that to have a party? We don't know of one, so we welcome friends, neighbors, and blog followers to Habitat Home (the place). Join us for an evening of food, fellowship, geography (real and cyber), and (weather permitting and you stay long enough) some telescope views of the planets.
  • When: Sunday, June 13 Any time after 5:00pm, we'll eat at 6:30pm
  • What: summer grill fare: hamburgers, hot dogs, potato salad, birthday cake, drinks of all kinds
  • Where: Habitat Home (the place)
  • Bring: maybe a lawn chair
Plan to join us as we usher in summer and Habitat Home(the blog)'s second year! Please RSVP by reply email or blog comment.