Monday, October 8, 2012

Mushroom Log

So many of the decaying logs at Habitat Home have this fungus growing on them this fall. It is classified as a puffball and Lycoperdon pyriforme is its name. One reference book says it is "presumed edible" and another source says "edible". However, I do not think I will try cooking any but rather choose to enjoy their unique forms on the old logs. I did notice after a closer examination of the fruiting bodies that something has been nibbling on them, perhaps mice or squirrels?

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Dead Heading

Dead heading may not be a kind thing to do, especially this year.  The birds have had a long hot summer devoid of a lot of moisture.  Scarce rain and  extreme temperatures have made for a reduced production of plant material and insects. The scrawny gold finch pictured below was really working over the dried purple cone flower seed head. If ever you wanted to forgo deadheading this is a good year to do so. Leave the dead plant material standing and you will be helping birds and various other wildlife. 

Friday, August 31, 2012

Fallen Tree

 Most dead trees at Habitat Home are left standing till they fall. So, we often have to spend a morning or afternoon cleaning up a dead fallen tree that happens to fall across a path.  The job is made easier with a chain saw and the decision to leave most  fallen wood on the ground close to where it fell (but off the path).  The discussion this morning was whether to leave the fallen logs along the bank or move them farther from the river.  We decided to leave them along the  river bank as we noticed more vegetative growth along banks with fallen logs than those without woody debris.  The river path at Habitat Home is shown below.  Before and after our morning's workout. Maybe the remainder of the dead tree will just fall towards the river next time.


Friday, August 17, 2012


Gray hairstreak (Strymon meli)Cloudless sulfur (Phoebis sennae)
We have not seen a lot of butterflies this summer.  The drought and being away on vacation are two good reason why.  So, it was nice to see these two butterflies  out and about today.  A gray hairstreak Strymon melinus and a cloudless sulfur Phoebis sennae.  Besides being photographed on the same day do you know what else these butterflies have in common?  They share a host plant, wild senna Cassia hebecarpa, which grows at Habitat Home.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Iron Weed

They don't call Vernonia noveboracensis Iron Weed for just any odd  reason.  It is tough as iron.  Blooming beautifully despite the severe  drought we are experiencing here in East Central Illinois. We had been vacationing out West.  We grew more and more concerned with the lack of rain reported back home.  When we did return we found a parched and brown lawn, some dead shrubs, but as expected, the prairie plants were blooming, liatris, butterfy weed, sunflowers, and rattlesnake master to name a few others.  One noticeable difference in the prairie is the grasses, mostly Big Blue, Switch and Indian.  They are not nearly as tall as in previous years, but still green and growing.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Echinacea tennesseensis

Echinacea tennesseensis
If you can find this endangered plant for your garden, make sure you plant it away from the more common Echinacea purpurea. Otherwise, it will be crowded out. This plant is growing with others of its kind amongst Prairie Dropseed grass in the flower bed along the walk to the front door of our home. The only problem is the gold finches which pluck off some of the petals, disfiguring the flower. The finches also eat the seeds as soon as they appear. Echinacea tennesseensis has petals that turn upward not downward like Echinacea purpurea..

Sunday, May 6, 2012


No rest for the pollinators this Sunday afternoon at Habitat Home.
Bumblebee on yellow wild indigo Baptisia sphaerocarpa
Bumblebee on yellow wild indigo Baptisia sphaerocarpa
Pearl crescent on mouse ear coreopsis Coreopsis auriculata nana
Pearl crescent on mouse ear coreopsis Coreopsis auriculata nana
Summer azure on golden alexander Zizia aurea
Summer azure on golden alexander Zizia aurea

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Habitat Manager's Dilemma

Thanks to a donation, installation, and encouragement from a local group of bird folks, we added three new bluebird houses to the upper savanna area and have been more diligent in monitoring them. We have felt no angst in years past in removing the occasional sparrow nest from bluebird boxes we have maintained, and have often had at least one bluebird family successfully fledge young.

This year, however, we were faced with a new situation, as shown in two photos immediately below. On April 5, a couple of Carolina chickadee eggs were observed in one of the old nest boxes located in the southwest corner of the savanna. We followed our usual practice when finding eggs of any bird species in a box and left them alone. But six days later, on April 11, the regular check of the box discovered an additional chickadee egg plus five bluebird eggs! This raised the stakes on a decision as to how, or if, to intervene.
April 5, 2012
April 11, 2012
The long term strategy of Habitat Home has been to recreate and/or enhance a few habitat-worthy areas of the property to encourage occupation and success among a wide range of plant and animal species. While we have favored native plant species and removed some non-natives, in particular invasive species, we have generally had no interest in playing favorites. A notable exception has been the introduction of nest boxes, more or less intended to encourage bluebirds. These boxes have been occupied by bluebirds, tree swallows and nuthatches, often resulting in successful families of young birds.

In this case of two native bird species, the question is whether to let nature run its course or if it is better to remove the chickadee eggs. Would we be crossing a line in "natural" selection, intervening in support of not the "fittest" but the "preferred"? Would the chickadee and bluebird compete for nest "rights"? One might expect the female bluebird to begin to sit on the nest and incubate the eggs since she was probably the most recent egg layer here. But if she did, the chickadee eggs would almost certainly hatch first, since they have a shorter gestation time. What would happen then? Would the female bluebird feed the newly hatched chickadees? Would the chickadees destroy the bluebird eggs before they hatched? It's difficult to imagine a scenario which results in all the birds living happily ever after. But hey, this is how it works; I'm sure this is not the first time a nest has been simultaneously used by two birds.

We decided that since we received a donation and installation of nest boxes this year, specifically intended to promote the local bluebird population, that we would intervene and remove the chickadee eggs, which we did on April 12 (see photo below). We expect this to increase the odds of success of any of the eggs (now only the bluebird eggs) to hatch and the young to fledge.
April 12, 2012
(after human intervention)
Addendum 4/23/2012: Following yesterday's post (above), it has been pointed out to me that there are reported cases of birds raising young of different species, or even multiple parents raising young in the same nest. Plus, by removing the chickadee eggs, I have violated both state and federal laws covering protected species, which include chickadees. While I am not planning to turn myself in to the sheriff's office, I will likely not so over-think this issue if it presents itself again. I guess this is what we meant by "challenges and frustrations" in the blog's upper right sidebar introduction.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Red Fox

Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes)
We've noticed this red fox (Vulpes vulpes) around the property or on the road the past few days. The size of a small dog, they are pretty easy to spot in the shorter grass of the upper field where this one made a complete circuit this afternoon, passing the house twice, seeming not to mind (or notice) me hanging out by the front door snapping photos. Definitely in hunting mode, couple of pounces, but didn't see it take anything. Since foxes are primarily nocturnal, it is kind of surprising to see so much of this fox lately, but Habitat Home is ideal habitat as they like open woodland and forest/grass edges. This is the time that pups are born, so we'll keep an eye out in four or five weeks when they would emerge from their den.
Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Spring Flowers = Spring Pollinators

It was difficult yesterday not to notice the front yard crabapple tree (probably a Prairie Fire) which was ablaze in red and pink. Also noticing and attracted to it were hundreds of bees, ranging from very small bees to a large bumblebee or two. The bee pictured above is probably a mining bee (family Andreninae), but I have no experience identifying them. Notice the amount of yellow pollen grains as well as the hairs on the bee's thorax, abdomen, and legs which make her entire body a pollen collecting tool. This bee will visit many flowers of many plants and "share" some of the pollen thereby pollinating them, a wonderful example of mutual benefit in nature. The mining bees burrow in the ground, laying their eggs in small chambers along with a ball of pollen and nectar for the hatched larval bees to feed on. This image is worth clicking on to open the full resolution version in a separate window.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Trout Lily

So many of the spring ephemerals are blooming now.  Today I found several Trout Lilies in bloom.  Most sources claim that the yellow flowering variety is more common, however, the ones at Habitat Home are white.  The flower is extremely sensitive to the sunlight and will turn on its stalk to follow the sunlight.  At night it nearly closes.  Another interesting feature is the mottled leaves which some say look like a trout, hence the name Trout Lily.  But others call this the Dog-tooth "Violet"because the petals look like dog's teeth.  I think violet is very misleading and so it is Trout Lily to me or Erythronium albidum  to really identify it.

Sunday, March 25, 2012


The river path is awash in bluebells Mertensia virginica
Bluebells go thought several color changes as they grow.  The first to emerge are the deep blue purple buds.  The buds then open into blue bells but not before they shift though various shades of pink to turn this beautiful bright shade of blue.  Occasionally one can find a bluebell with white flowers.  Notice in the photo above that our beavers are still around..

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Prairie Burn #17

And what a burn it was. Even thought the wind was stronger than we ever burned with before, we decided to go ahead and try. There were only four of us but we were all experienced prairie burners, had our flappers, and thought we should at least try a small section first.

And so we burned the western-most area with ease, using the wedding circle as our fire break. The wind was not that strong, the grasses were dry and burned nicely, although there did seem to be more smoke than usual.

Since the wind was strong the backfire was managed with care as we started to burn the rest of the prairie. The backfire slowly burned against the wind. Once a significant area was burned the fire was set with the wind and within a matter of minutes the fire swept across the tall grasses, met up with the backfire and extinguished itself. The roar and smoke and leaping flames were gone. All that remained was black ground and the bones of a deer long since dead.

This was the best burn yet!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Garden Blitz

A takeaway from our time spent attending the recent Garden Blitz at the Missouri Botanical Garden was that if you want to have bluebirds, you have to have caterpillars, although perhaps not quite like this one (above) at the entrance to the Butterfly House. Bluebirds can take over 300 caterpillars a day while feeding their young! The day was well spent learning more about native plants, birds, pollinators and sustainable gardening. The keynote address by Doug Tallamy alone was worth the drive. He had beautiful photos of many many caterpillars and insects that need native plants and which are then eaten by our native birds. Do read his book "Bringing Nature Home" if you have not done so.

Another takeaway: reduce the amount of yard you mow and plant more oaks. Oaks are the #1 plant species when it comes to supporting Lepidoptera. They support 534 species.

The talk given by Mike Arduser, a research assistant specializing in solitary bees at the University of Missouri, was very good. There are over 3,500 bee species in North America most of which are native and seasonal, unlike the honey bee Apis mellifers, which is what most people think of when one mentions bees. Mike also explained how to build nesting boxes for some of the native bees and had nesting boxes for us to physically take away!

Below is one of MANY photos taken that day of the beautifully displayed orchids at the Missouri Botanical Garden Orchid Show occurring simultaneously at the garden.
On the way home, a dinner stop at Firefly in Effingham was a great way to end the Blitz.

Friday, February 10, 2012

A Sign

Habitat Home now has an offical sign.
Thanks to our wonderful hunter, friend and artist, Cory. 
He is a man of many talents.

Cory made this sign and also these lovely flowers now blooming at Habitat Home.

Thank you Cory for making Habitat Home a home for some art too.
NOTE..the log in the first photo was artfully carved by one of the beavers at Habitat Home.

Monday, February 6, 2012


Hoarfrost is basically very small pieces of white ice that cover plants and outside objects. It develops like dew, when there is more moisture in the air than the air can carry. Today's conditions have allowed the frost to last all morning and into the afternoon. Hoarfrost has given a stunning look to the grasses and seed heads standing in the prairie at Habitat  Home. Another good reason to leave seed heads and grasses standing during the winter months.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Bluebird houses

On Monday, January 30, our neighbor and bird expert Jim came over and set up three new bluebird houses at Habitat Home.  The houses are located in the savanna area along the northern path. Savanna areas are excellent habitat for other birds as well such as Blue Jays, Hawks, and Orioles to name a few.  These houses will have to be monitored to remove any house sparrow nests.  House sparrows will attack and kill both young and adult bluebirds and destroy their eggs. Another pest of the bluebirds are raccoons, snakes and opossums.  The white tubing should  prevent any of them from climbing the pole and getting into the boxes.  Yet another pest of bluebirds living in boxes is the blowfly.  Their larva will suck the blood of nestlings at night.  But a natural control of blowflies are parasitic wasps which will over winter in the boxes.  So it is a good idea to leave old nesting material in the boxes until just before the new breeding season begins.  Also bluebirds often roost in nest boxes in winter and the nesting material will add insulation.
We have not seen any bluebirds on these warm winter days but soon we will. Hopefully there will be nesting pairs in each of the boxes our expert bird neighbor installed here. Thanks Jim!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Today (January 18 only), Habitat Home's header is blacked out in sympathy with the internet protests of the proposed SOPA/PIPA legislation in Congress. While not normally political in nature, Habitat Home is engaged in information exchange. We worry that any legislation which allows the creation of a federal framework for regulation and control (the real intent of this legislation, stated copyright/piracy feel-good intentions notwithstanding) with vague directives and likely no real oversight, is too dangerous for the future of unfettered information exchange in particular and digital innovation in general. Is it too paranoid to say that the futures of Habitat Home and its parent Blogger are at stake? It's less paranoid, and not unreasonable, to imagine that this legislation is designed to allow the federal government to create new winners and losers, seemingly its big business these days.

Learn about what's going on, and write your Congressional representatives.

Saturday, January 14, 2012


If you live in the country you need a tractor.  Here at Habitat Home it mows the savanna area every year, maintains the driveway, transports rocks, and enables us to be neighborly country folks.  Tractors are just the thing for towing city folk who end up in the ditch on their drive out to see beauty in a snowy countryside.