Tuesday, September 29, 2009

What a Difference a Day Makes

Today, the cattails and water are perfectly still... but the seeds are beginning to fly off of the seedheads.
And, with almost no wind and even patchy sun, the grasshoppers are back, woolly bears are gone, and we found several spring peepers! (Although... these frogs can be frozen alive and survive, and tend to be heard in cool weather, so that sighting confirms the fall-ness of it all...

Monday, September 28, 2009

Still Blown Away

First, I would like to note... I was correct. My first class this morning had 21 students. Four kids wore shorts, and 1 kid wore capris. I would say half the class had a sweatshirt as their only coat, which did nothing to block the wind. And the wind was so LOUD, I had to shout at the top of my lungs and I still think the kids across the circle couldn't hear me very well.
Milkweed seed pods have not split open yet, for the most part. But some seeds were blowing past (at a very fast speed foe something with a parachute to slow it down) so at least one pod split open, either naturally or with the help of a child.
Saw 2 woolly bears already today. These caterpillars seem to thrive in chilly weather -- I haven't seen one all summer, and now that it's cooler, here they are!
This heron spent the morning crouched down, either stalking a fish or a frog, or trying to stay warm...
Nothing is actually happening to the cattails... their seeds aren't spreading or anything. I just wanted to show how bent over they were in the wind; and note that the lilypad in the background is blowing out of the water. The lake (and this is not a big lake) actually had whitecaps this morning.

Blown Away

Well, yesterday was sunny (until thunderstorms in the evening) and warm... today? Cloudy, extremely windy (they're saying gusts of up to 50 mph!), and probably won't hit 60 degrees F. And it's spitting.

I bet most students are totally unprepared to be outside.

It may not be the first official day of fall, but it seems like the first weather-day of fall.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Upside Down World

Today's bugs have been upside down...
Milkweed bugs are a fall treat with their orange and black backs. (Also perfect for finding shapes in nature, which my kindergartners were doing today.) They do not seem to enjoy being
photographed, and would circumnavigate the plant to be on the opposite side as my camera at all times.

These are the baby milkweed bugs. The eggs are laid and hatched in a crack in the pod, which you can see in the bottom left of the picture. They go through five instars before the adults emerge from the final molt, looking like the fellows above. (Or possibly ladies. You can actually tell the sex of them by the patterns on the underside of their bodies... but I didn't check.) These are early instars -- you can hardly see wings. They mature fast; it is the adults that overwinter. Their whole lifespan is only a month (and a female can lay thousands of eggs in that time!) Like monarchs, they become poisonous by eating the milkweed sap, which is also poison.

What praying mantises have made it this far seem to have turned brown.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Today's crosshatching exercise, I sketched this sumac leaf. I sketched it nearly life-sized -- it went from the paper's edge to the spirals. (With forethought, I'd have turned the book the other way...) I noted that the leaves toward the bottom of the plants are starting to turn colors; as my students often do, I tried to show the red and orange colors of these leaves by rubbing one on the page (that being the color scribbles at the bottom) but they didn't turn out as bright as real life, so I also took a quick photo.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Bugaboo (Running Out of Bug Puns)

As the Veteran has pointed out, frogs seem to be multiplying. I'm not saying we're about to repeat biblical plague number 2, but in the past couple of days we have found 5 leopard frogs in the lawn. This doesn't count all the frogs we've seen in the pond...

Perhaps their numbers are due in part to the large insect populations. Most of today's discoveries have to do with these:
This fellow, which I believe I have identified as an Amish bug, has fascinatingly fat front legs. With his flatness and his yellow/brown coloration, my first and second grade students astutely pointed out that it is camouflaged as an autumn leaf.
This is one of 2 monarchs I saw today.
Also, unpictured, we found:
  • a big green cicada, near the end of its life.
  • A very fuzzy caterpillar, about 2 inches long, grey and orange, on a sweet white clover plant. I have seen this same species on the same plant in previous years (8/25/06, to be precise. I sketched it then). My caterpillar field guide fails ID it, however, and I didn't get a photo.
  • Another argiope spider.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Somewhere, Over the...

Today's intermittent rain and sun brought forth this lovely rainbow (pictured over some not-too-lovely scenery. But when fleeting things occur, you take the picture where you are!)


Well, it's almost that time. At 4:18 pm CDT on Sept 22, we lose our sunshine. The autumnal equinox marks the moment when the sun crosses over the equator and enters the skies above the southern hemisphere. OK, If you want to get technical about it, the sun does nothing at all. It's earth that does the moving, relative. In its orbit around Sol, the earth remains tilted in the same direction. That means for half the year, the northern hemisphere points toward the sun, and for the other half the southern hemisphere does so. And us northerners are losing our reign. The angle of our rays will become more and more depressing -- we will have long shadows even mid-day. Our days will become so short that Monday through Friday, working folk will hardly see the light of them.

The winter solstice is a celebratory time... We have reached the bottom and are on our way out, slow as the ride will be. The vernal equinox, also happy. After all, we get the sun in our hemisphere again. Summer solstice, despite marking the beginning of day-light shortening, is also celebratory... especially if you're a teacher and a plant-lover, as I am, the start of summer is nothing but good. But the autumnal equinox... no celebrating on my end. I mean, I do love a crisp fall day, bright colors and all. And I appreciate all the seasons -- cold and heat, wetness and dryness. But I do like sun. I like to wake up when it's light. And I those low sun angles really make me gloomy. So in the end, beautiful as snow can be, I'm happiest when the sun's on our side.

Monday, September 21, 2009

I'm Back...

I'm back... Today I learned how dependent we've become on technology. At school, we had no internet, email, copier or printing. There were a lot of things I could not do. I can still sketch, though! This sketch of a bergamot was part of an exercise students were doing on cross-hatching. Cross-hatching is not my preferred sketching style, and I tend to sacrifice good cross-hatching for good drawing... thus not really getting practice in the technique. But oh, well. Notes next to the sketch were "covered in powdery mildew; no seedhead; leaf tips turning brown (especially on lower leaves)." I also noted that cicadas -- the ones with the droning noise -- were extremely loud this afternoon. There's a sign of late summer for ya.
And here is a sign of fall. The hazels are turning orange and burgundy.
Coneflowers, both yellow and purple, are long blooming. There are still just a few hangers on of each type at this point. But most have lost their eponymous colors and dried up into seedheads, ready to propagate new plants... as seen in the photos.

ps -- After about three bone-dry weeks, it rained hard and steady last night.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Minty Fresh (and Ribbit II)

This Nature Nerd is quite stressed out. With working full time, grad school stuff, feverishly preserving enough food to last the winter and avoid waste at this time of bounty, plus all those other little details that happen in life -- not to mention trying to do some enjoyable stuff once in a while... Stress. Actually, the most relaxing times of the day are when I am teaching, which is when I take most of the photos for, and do all of the drawings in, this blog. Students were quite excited to find this large bullfrog -- several times larger than yesterday's featured frog -- and deemed him very photo-worthy. So here he is!

More Love Bugs

Soldier beetles seem to be mating. Also grasshoppers are mating, but I didn't get a photo. What a privacy invasion!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Seeing Seeds

Seed pods from indigo... some have opened and spilled their seeds, some are dry, with seeds rattling around inside, and others are still closed but make no noise... why? I'm not sure, but little bugs inside may be the key to the answer.

This is a busy, crazy week!...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


This frog has been sitting in the exact same spot for 2 days (at least, the three times I've been there.) Today a heron was quite near to it, but flew away when my class of kids approached.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

This afternoon we took what will certainly be our last trip to the Chicago Botanic Gardens of the 2009 (official) summer. Here are some of the photos... Above, a branch dons its fall colors.
Pumpkins ready in the garden. Although we use them for Halloween and Thanksgiving -- and they will store very well until then -- my experience growing pumpkins always has them ready well before that. (And a side note: today I ate the melon that we brought inside to ripen; it did ripen. It was small and not as tasty as my melons were last year, but still delicious.)
It is also apple season, with many varieties ripe for picking.
Cool tiny flowers on a tree.
Acorn cap on the path. Squirrels were eating the nuts overhead and dropping these onto the ground!
Berries on false Solomon's Seal.
Cardinal flower's brilliant red plumage.
Solomon's seal wears its fall colors, with blue berries and leaves turning to yellow, then crispy brown.

This sign, I think, represents some interesting phenological data, and proof that I'm not alone in the world of plant-bloom record keeping.

I love dahlias, I've decided. They come in so many spectacular colors and they last a long time. This one is a lovely deep purple, and the yellow ones had many bees on them.

This crazy spider has a web outside my mom's house. That triangle thing is actually his abdomen!
And this orange fungus was in the neighbor's yard. From the photo you can't tell that it's about 18 inc hes across. People just moved into that house -- for me, that would be a wonderful treat in a new lawn. But I'm certain they don't see it that way. Oh, well.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Summer's Still On!

Every day for the past few weeks, the cool night-time temperatures have caused the early mornings to be dewey, if not completely foggy. Every morning the world is weighed down with water, heavy drops that will burn off by about 10 am. But for a while, its magical -- although it makes for wet walking. The spider webs are among the most beautiful parts; here are two from this morning, taken in front of a friend's house. Above is a crazy web that covered every part of the seed head of a foxglove; and to the right, a perfect orb web.

Gentian has gotten its purple color, making it the last new flower of 2009 (at least in my yard). I do expect the color to deepen some... I find them to be especially interesting because even when the flowers are in full bloom, they look like a bud that is getting ready to open. They never do. But they are insect pollinated, mostly by bees or other large bugs that can force their way into the closed-up petals. Later, these petals will dry up and become a pouch containing a bag-full of little seeds!

A late-summer surprise... Each year I plant cosmos. They are not, honestly, in my normal gardening style, but I cannot resist them. They seem almost whimsical to me, laughing in color and slender leaves. And they seem somehow untamed, despite their non-wild-ness. So this year, as in past, I bought some babies at our school/farm's organic plant sale, and they bloomed earlier but I didn't really mention them here, because I don't really think you can count, as a phenological occurrence, the blooming of a plant that was started in a greenhouse. They could bloom at any time. But we had three hearty ones that self-seeded from last year's dead heads. They emerged and grew taller than anything else in that garden, including the sunflowers. But had no flowers. Until this morning. This opened! (And there are many more buds tinged with pink where that came from.) So, after most of my annuals are past their prime, a little present for the end of summer. Yea!

Seeds on bigleaf aster.

ps -- went raspberry picking today. Made raspberry vanilla jam, which I hope will be very spectacular, since, even at the relatively low price of $3.50 per pint, one recipe used over $17 of berries, (not to mention a whole vanilla pod) and netted 9 1/2-pint jars of jam. I was excited to make it, though; I got the recipe for vanilla raspberry jam from the preserves of English heritage sites I got when I was there. I have never tasted such a jam... intriguing concept...

Friday, September 11, 2009

Dog Days

  • Etymology: from their being reckoned from the heliacal rising of the Dog Star (Sirius)

1 : the period between early July and early September when the hot sultry weather of summer usually occurs in the northern hemisphere 2 : a period of stagnation or inactivity

(from Webster's)

Although this isn't the hottest part of the summer,* and early September has passed into mid-month, I feel like we are in the dog days -- at least by definition 2. For the past two weeks, each and every day has been the same... warm, sunny -- actually, quite perfect, weatherwise. A scant few new things have bloomed or passed out of their prime. Autumn hangs over our heads, always just around the corner, but still... it almost seems we could go on, with every day being like this, indefinitely... lethargy.

*Actually, it's pretty close to the hottest part of summer. Only because summer has been cool. But at this point, nights are becoming distinctly cool regardless of the day's high temp.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Melon Query (with Alder)

Speckled alder, with parts both male and female. The male flowering parts, the catkins, hang down in an, um, traditionally masculine way. At this point they are green and tiny, preparing for spring's early bloom. The female cones adorn the tree in both green (new) and brown (old), making it a fascinating specimen to students, who can't understand why a "pine cone" resides on a broadleaf tree...

In sad garden business, the melons seem to have left their holding pattern of not ripe-not growing and died. The plants, leaves, at least, have turned crisp and brown and mildewed, while the melons themselves... still small and unripe. We picked one to see if it would ripen inside. Does anyone know? Should we harvest more? Please advise!!!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Another Day...

There are grasshoppers everywhere. Green ones, brown ones, orangish ones... so many grasshoppers, like the grass is moving independently just a step or two before I actually get there.

The asters at work are just pinkier than anywhere else. No idea why.
One linden tree that thinks its fall, although all its friends are still green.
Seed pods on prairie mimosa.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Labor Day Sketches

A tomato sitting on my counter.
Ironweed seeds not quite ready to fly off.

An Alternate View

I decided today that the back of a sunflower -- with its sand-papery, curling sepals creating caves and shadows, with the light shining through the petals -- is every bit as spectacular as the front.