Summer wrap up

Late season monarch on Aster

Late season monarch on Aster, seen Sept 25

Ok, it’s October 1 and finally time to concede that summer is over. As usual I’ve been slacking in the blog post department, so I have a lot to catch up on here. It’s officially autumn, but it didn’t feel like it this past weekend with highs in the mid 80’s. I went out bird watching at Hyland Park Preserve, but there were so many trail runners that I didn’t see much in the way of birds. I did see/hear a few migrants like flickers, catbirds, bluebirds, white-throated sparrow, etc. Also saw a nice looking coyote! Now it is cool and rainy, leaves are coming down and it’s really starting to feel like fall.

Back at home, we had a pretty good summer. I attended a Wild Ones garden tour and got to see some other native plant gardens in the area, which was really cool. It’s interesting to see all the different things that people are doing in their yard. Some people are very experienced gardeners and you can really tell by how well planned things are. Others are like me, someone who doesn’t come from any gardening background, and just goes outside and starts digging. A few people from Wild Ones came over and visited our yard, and I got some really good compliments and feedback. They are always looking for new gardens to showcase so it sounds like we will be on the tour next summer!

SW corner

Garden bed at the SW corner of the yard by the street.

It’s really motivated me to work on some things that I’ve been meaning to. For example in the front yard, on the SW corner by the street, I finally got some planting done there. Several years ago in that spot, I got rid of an old neglected (hideous) brick garden bed that was full of buckthorn. Last year we had Ecoscapes create a new garden bed as part of the front yard work they did, and add some rocks, but otherwise we left it empty. This area gets partial sun during the day. Now I’ve got some gray dogwood, wild geranium, fragrant hyssop, bottle brush grass, prairie pussytoes, aster, goldenrod, etc. I also put up a Monarch Watch sign because I want to highlight our efforts to anyone passing by. It’s worked because I’ve gotten several comments and compliments from neighbors who have seen it. I plan to include the neighborhood in our garden tour next year.

Pileated woodpeckers

Female pileated woodpecker (left) and her begging male fledgling

In the back I’ve cleared out all of the buckthorn around the pine tree area, and started a path through there as well as planted a few things that will grow under those trees like common ninebark, American bladdernut, and bear berry. There are some additional things I’d like to plant but that will be an ongoing process. I wanted to plant some gooseberry but the folks at Out Back Nursery told me that it can carry pine rust which would be bad for our white pines.

We didn’t have anything too unusual in the yard as far as birds, but we did have a lot of fun watching a family of four pileated woodpeckers coming to the feeders. It was an adult pair and a juvenile male and female. There were times when all of them would be out there in the bur oak tree, and the parents would go to the suet feeder and then take it back to their fledglings. I sat outside sometimes and watched them. It was interesting to hear the begging noises that the juveniles would make and watch their behavior.

Wandering glider, seen Sept 27

Wandering glider, seen Sept 27

With all the rain through the spring and early summer, we of course had a lot of mosquitos and consequently, many damselflies and dragonflies. Recently with the weather becoming cooler, there have been fewer of them but I caught this one snoozing on the false indigo in the garden the other day. I was able to put my phone right next ot it and get a photo. A knowledgable person told me that this is a wandering glider. They are our most plentiful species of dragonfly, are found on every continent except Antarctica, and have the longest migration of any insect (twice as long as the monarch butterfly.) One reason I enjoy having a native wildlife garden is that it gives me such great opportunities to learn things I wouldn’t have otherwise known about!

Tiger swallowtail

Tiger swallowtail on Joe Pye weed

Also we had a lot of butterflies in the garden over the summer. Many tiger swallowtails and monarchs. I found 3 monarch caterpillars on our butterfly weed, and I found some at work that I brought home. I raised them and successfully released 5 in the garden! That was a first for me, a fun process and I learned a lot. I kept them in a cage outside so they would have natural light and temp/humidity. When they emerged I’d leave the door open and let them leave on their own. We have plenty of Joe Pye weed, cup plant and aster for them to nectar on. Also many monarchs moving through, I counted 16 in the garden at one time!

Monarch butterfly just emerged from its chrysalis, and ready to enjoy the garden

A few other cool things that have happened more recently as we transition to fall. I’ve seen a ton of baby toads in the yard over the last month or so. Also this past weekend we were cleaning out the gutters (full of leaves from the ash tree) and I found a tree frog in the gutter. I took it down and put it in the garden and then turned on the sprinkler since it’s been dry lately. While the sprinkler was running I watched a mourning dove, a goldfinch and a chipping sparrow take baths, which was really cute. Also the same day I was out grilling on the patio and a white-line sphynx moth made an appearance. It was only the second time I’ve seen one, and they are noticably larger than the clear wing hummingbird moth. It was about the same size as an actual hummingbird, and very difficult to follow it with the camera. But I did manage to get one photo of it, on flowers between the patio and deck.

White lined sphynx moth

White lined sphynx moth seen on Sept 28

Lastly, at work there have been crazy numbers of woolly bear caterpillars. I’ve seen them over the years in the past but never really thought too much about them. We have walking trails at work, and they are crossing the trails, curbs, and parking lots. I always try to move them so they aren’t stepped on or run over. Since there are so many and they have really caught my attention, I started reading up on them and learned that they will overwinter in caterpillar form, and are looking for a place to burrow under leaf litter.

Woolly bear caterpillar

Woolly bear caterpillar, one of many I took home from work

We leave our garden up all winter and let the leaves remain in the garden where they fall, so I decided to start taking some of them home and release them. Next spring they will emerge as a yellow moth called the Isabella tiger moth. I’ve become quite attached to them, they are cute and I’ve probably taken a couple dozen of them home (my coworkers think I have a problem…)

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