Saturday, September 25, 2010

Salt Marsh Caterpillar

salt marsh caterpillar (Estigmene acrea)
My potted tomato plants are gone now.  The other day the leaves were all eaten.  I wondered who did it, but being the end of the season, I just dumped the soil and what was left of the poor plants onto the compost piles. This morning as I watered some  scented geraniums, I noticed this caterpillar.  Looking so cute and fluffy, I asked the resident photograher to photograph it.  It was not until tonight as I was looking up what it actually was that I realized it had eaten the  tomato leaves!  I  think it is a salt marsh caterpillar, the mature larval form of the salt marsh moth (Estigmene acrea).  The larvae are well known for their ability to skeletonize foliage of vegetable plants, one of which is tomato plants.  Doesn't look so cute and fluffy any more.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Migrating Monarchs

Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus)Last year, we removed most of the bush honeysuckle from the edge of the path adjoining the woods at the northwest corner of the bottom field near the orchard. This year, this cleared area is awash with volunteer brown-eyed susans (Rudbeckia triloba) and wingstem (Actinomeris alternifolia, image below). While we routinely observe Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) through the summer, this area has been visited by hundreds of monarch butterflies in the past two weeks; at any visit to the site now there are usually 20 or more present, both on the flowers and in the trees. These images were taken in the early evening, essentially standing still and rotating in place.

Monarchs (the State Insect of Illinois) are present in the state all summer, having up to three broods. But those that have become adults by September are ready to migrate south, either to the gulf coast or all the way to "traditional" breeding grounds in the highlands of central Mexico. These fall migrant Monarchs were born in Illinois or points north into southern Canada, probably three or more generations removed from their ancestors that left the winter roosting grounds last winter/spring. They have never made this trip south before, yet somehow they know when and where to travel. As many as 300 million will congregate in Mexico's Transvolcanic Plateau. How and why they pull off this feat is a mystery. Monarchs are the only butterfly that has such a fixed migration pattern; the migration behaviors of other butterfly species are much more erratic.

It's nice to see all these flowers still blooming and providing these Monarchs with some nectar as a source of energy for the next leg of their long flight ahead!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Trumpet vine

Trumpet vine (Campsis radicans)
Campsis radicans is doing a fine job of attracting hummingbirds this summer with the large number of flowers it is producing. With its lovely orange flowers, lush foliage, and interesting seed pods this is a very ornamental native vine to grow. However, the vine is very aggressive and can take over an area, so be careful where you plant it. Often in the country one sees it growing in full sun on sign posts and old fence posts where it freely creeps over the whole fence. In addition to attracting hummingbirds, several insects are attracted to the flower, and a variety of songbirds will nest in the tangle of branches where they are hidden by the dense foliage.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Gray Treefrog

Gray treefrog (Hyla versicolor)
This little creature, Hyla versicolor, joined us for breakfast the other morning.  It was a sunny morning and the wooden deck had warmed up when what should appear but a tiny treefrog.  It sat there for quite a while.  Long enough for us to run and get the camera and take a few photos.  It then hopped off onto the trumpet vine by the deck.  Treefrogs are great to have around as they eat all manner  of insects like crickets, grasshoppers, flies and moths.  They are also interesting in that they will change colors gray, green or brown depending on the temperature and background.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Burr Oak

These beautiful acorns are not growing here at Habitat Home. These acorns are growing on trees planted in Millennium Park in the heart of Chicago. These Burr oaks are planted just outside the Lurie Garden that is also located in Millennium park. This garden is full of native plants and designed by one of my favorite designers, Piet Oudolf. The diversity of plants and the way in which they are planted has made me wonder about redesigning the meadow area at Habitat Home. When I first started gardening I wanted one of every plant, now after seeing this garden, I want hundreds of just a few native plants. The massive plantings were quite impressive especially when viewed against the city skyline. It was also interesting to sit on the benches and watch as the dragonflies and other insects flew above the plantings.
The last photo is of Cloud Gate, a sculpture, also located in Millennium Park. No photo can do this interactive piece of art justice. It was so engaging to all who viewed it. I would be very satisfied to have just one of these!
'Cloud Gate' (a.k.a. 'The Bean') sculpture, Millennium Park, Chicago, Illinois