Friday, October 30, 2015


Oh, what a difference a day makes!  I described yesterday as cold, damp and windy -- those were the objective terms... I left out unpleasant, etc.  Today, however, was perfectly lovely.  Though I woke up to ice on the porch (tried to take a photo, too dark), it has warmed nicely and turned into a brisk fall day... it's sunny, lightly breezy, and altogether pleasant!  Here is a picture of the prairie with the woods in the background.  Though past prime in the color department, they were still looking remarkably pretty.  
Today's wildlife sightings were increased over yesterday, too... I did see a woolly bear yesterday, but that was it for the creepy crawlies.  Today, in addition to woolly bears, I saw dragonflies, grasshoppers, bees, and butterflies (a sulfur and a monarch, though there's not much left for them to eat.  The monarch landed on a dandelion in a lawn.)

I also noticed, walking along, a great many deer tracks on the trail.  I was just thinking in my head how there were really a lot today when this young buck charged across the ag field, saw me, stopped abruptly and stared at me for a minute, then took off leaping again, tail lifted in warning.  
Among the birds I saw, the red-tailed hawks were most notable.  They were soaring and circling, and calling out to each other like eagles in an old western (which, of course, used recordings of red-tails dubbed over footage of eagles).

Thursday, October 29, 2015

When Green is Bad

This time of year, if you're walking through the woods and everything is still verdantly green, you might be tempted to celebrate the what's left of summer... But on closer inspection, you'll see that things aren't well.  The last trees/shrubs to hold stubbornly onto their green color are always the undesirables -- the buckthorn and the honeysuckle.  In this photo from my cold, damp, windy lunch walk, the trail is surrounded by a buckthorn monoculture.  It will pretty much be just as green at Thanksgiving.  The few taller trees are silver maples (their leaves, to the extent that they're still hanging around, are not green). Silver maple isn't the most desirous tree species in the world, either, but with all that buckthorn, neither they nor anything else will be able to reproduce anyhow.  

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Peak Color

Well, I'm back!

Over the past weekend, we did some traveling... First we attended the Midwest Environmental Education Conference in Madison, WI; then we went the opposite direction for a funeral in Indiana. After all that driving, I'm going to go ahead and declare that this past weekend was peak fall color in this region.  In both directions, we got stunning colors...

The russets and burgundies, scarlets and browns of the oaks, the bright golds, oranges and reds of the maples, the purple-and-yellows of the ashes... It was like an artists palette of every warm color on the color wheel -- with some left-over green thrown in.  All of it was framing the classic Midwestern landscape of rolling farm fields, so it was very picturesque.  (Not that I took a picture, mind you...)

Upon arriving home, I discovered that the ash tree in our yard was bare nekked, no leaves left at all... it looks ready for winter.  By yesterday late afternoon, I looked across the prairies and saw a lot more empty branches.  We really did our driving at the perfect time!

And speaking of the prairies... they are BROWN.  Solidly and pretty much only brown, though there are many different shades of brown with all the seeds.  But no asters or green leaves left (except grasses near the ground).  

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Puffball World

This morning I came across several logs just covered in puffballs. 
They are at that place where if you touch them, clouds of spores come out like a brown plume of smoke.  I tried to capture that in a photo with less success than I'd have liked...
In other news, serviceberries are looking lovely this time of year, no? 

Sunday, October 18, 2015


That's some frost...

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Getting the Chills

Though it's not actually that cold at this moment, we are officially in a "freeze watch" until 9 am on Saturday.  According to the National Weather Service, "freezing temperatures are possible Friday night through Saturday morning... high pressure sliding south from Canada... may allow temperatures... to fall to around 30 degrees..."  As always with cold extremes this time of year, warmer near the lake!

So monitor your thermometers and watch for frost, people!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


I put a sumac leaflet next to this tiny snapping turtle so you could tell how small it was -- body inch and a half, maybe? 
Here is a list of things I saw this weekend that might be "lasts" for 2015:
  • a monarch butterfly
  • a dragonfly
  • a turtle
  • a snake
  • a cicada (saw it, not heard it.  It looked fine, but technically, I didn't check for signs of life and it might have been dead.)
  • a toad and a frog (which I don't think will be the last...)
  • weather in the 70's (upper 70's on 10/10/15)
I would also like to say a word about red-wing black birds.  I certainly don't associate them with fall... I think of their distinctive shrill calls piercing the March chill as signs of spring-to-come.  I think of the constant threat of being dive-bombed as mid-summer perils.  But they fade away in the fall.  I noticed a lot of them this weekend, though, in flocks, even.  They were vocalizing but not a lot or loudly/distinctively.  They were near the trail but didn't appear at all interested in harming me (thank goodness!).  I guess they're getting ready for their winter retreat... 

Saturday, October 10, 2015


It's supposed to be a lovely weekend but I'm just noting... The temperature now is 39, which I think is the first dip into the 30s this fall... Cold run to look forward to!

Friday, October 9, 2015

Ash Tree Musings, etc.

The ash tree in my front yard is changing color -- deep purple with yellow hiding underneath.

I shall miss these lovely fall colors with the decline of ash trees.

As you can see, the one in my yard is robust and healthy.  We've been treating it for about 6 years now, long before the borers were even in the area.  My arborist applauds me for this foresight, as my tree is healthier even than others that started getting treatments later.  Of course, my arborist is making a small fortune off this decision, and I find myself wondering... how long can my ash tree, and the others being treated, survive?  Will it become some sort of relic, a living fossil almost?  How much money will I end up spending on it, and will it be worth it?  In 25 years, will I look out at my yard, think of the thousands of dollars I've spent over the years, and see, in my mind's eye, the sugar maple I could have planted back in 2010 and how big it would be 30 years later?

Am I just delaying the inevitable?  Am I providing some sort of service to nature and humanity by preserving this species?  Will it ever become unnecessary to treat the trees -- will the borers run out of food, move away, and make my ash tree safe again?  Or will they adapt, find new food sources, or keep living off the baby ash-lings produced by treated trees like mine?  (Isn't that ironic, don't ya think?)

Can you tell, dear readers, that I am conflicted about my ash tree?

As for all the others... I haven't been reporting ash tree phenology this fall.  I have no idea if the ones that are losing their leaves are doing so because of borers or because of the season.  A lot of the yellow color we've been seeing is ash trees changing, though, and more recently the purple... (The green ash trees turn yellow, I think, and ours is a white ash that turns the purple color).
In other tree news, most locusts have yellowed (the color is off in this photo -- it's yellow) and are promptly losing leaflets almost as soon as they change color. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Aphid Uprising and Other Updates

These little guys are just covering the stem of this milkweed plant... Aphids are considered to be a pest.  (Look them up on the internet, and the vast majority of the search results will be about aphid control or how to get rid of them).  They can be extremely destructive to plants.  But they're SO COOL!*  I mean, they're so tiny but they come in such bright colors -- in addition to this beautiful orange shade, I've seen them in red and yellow and greenish.  They're fascinating to watch, the way they wiggle and their black legs move even as they're attached to their host plant.  If you get a chance, observe them through a hand lens...

Aphids basically puncture the plant and tap into the phloem, which provides their food source.  They don't need to move, and their sugary drink basically just flows into them.  (Like every couch potato's dream...)  I think it's obvious why this would be harmful to the plant, if you look at the sheer quantity in the photo, but they can also spread diseases to plants when they attach on. 

Notice in the left of the picture there are some ants.  Ants often protect aphids; they benefit from the relationship because they eat the sap the aphids release.  (Don't actually know if that's occurring here, but it does happen!)  Ladybugs, on the other hand, are one of those beneficial insects known for eating aphids.  They're a great natural method of control!

*I will note that I have never found aphids in my yard, and may not think they're as cool if I did... 

Fall is a seedy time of year... 
Blazing star seeds were literally blowing off as I stood watching.  I tried to actually snap a photo with the flying seeds in it, but timing was hard.  Maybe that is one on the very left, in the middle there... 
Onion seeds are falling out, and the least bit of rustling causes some to fall. 
It's also the time of year when people start to celebrate bugs -- they may be the last ones! -- instead of fearing or being annoyed by them. 
For a while we were seeing multiple monarchs every day, but I haven't seen one at all for a while... until this one!
Just a really awesome grasshopper guy!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Wonderful Woolly Bears and Water Bugs

I noticed that there were a LOT of woolly bears today, so at one point during my run, I decided to count.  The rate of woolly bears was approximately 1 every 20 (running) steps.  The one pictured was one of the tiniest ones -- about an inch -- but most were big and fat and fuzzy!

Also, check out this awesome water scorpion I caught this morning with kindergarten students.  It was rather a slow day, macroinvertebrate-wise... I was getting the typical dragonfly and damselfly larvae, snails, scuds... but slower than usual.  And then, right at the end -- this fellow!  I didn't even see him (or her) at first, due to his excellent camouflage as a stick. 
Water Scorpions have a name that's worse than their bite... you hear that, you're thinking that the long tail is maybe some sort of poisonous stinger. In fact, it's a sort of snorkel.  These true bugs breathe air, though they live under water!  Another interesting factoid... it looks like a 4-legged insect (which wouldn't be an insect) with some crazy mouth parts.  Actually, those are modified front legs, used for grabbing prey and pulling it in to their mouths.  Said mouths, called rostrums, are like suckers, which pierce prey and inject digestive juices.  The remaining four legs are used for movement, though they're not especially fast or graceful.  Water scorpions spend most of their time clinging to plant material (which those back legs also do) and not moving at all, except when prey (smaller water critters) pass by.  Then those back legs will straighten, springing the scorpion towards its prey with those "pincer" legs.   And that's your aquatic macroinvertebrate lesson of the day!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015


After days of wind and chill, cloud and drizzle, today is a beautiful, sunny (and, I should add, windless) fall day.

Today is one of those days when, as you walk , swarms of grasshoppers jump out of the way, a constant wave of motion preceding you by a foot or two... 

Also still around: dragonflies (though green darners aren't so common anymore, mostly the red ones), butterflies (not monarchs, but sulphurs and whites), bees and wasps.
In the bird world, there are grebes on the lake (above, tiny) and goldfinches are officially brown, not gold.  This happened a few days ago but today I was watching a few eat seeds.  (No photo, though, they don't sit still!)

The prairie is looking autumnal, with lovely colors in the grasses.  The only flowers left in full bloom out there are the asters... New England a vibrant purple, and also the little weedy white ones. 
Bluestem shows its true colors... red.  (This is little bluestem.  Big bluestem is purpler, but neither is blue!
 In the tree world, sugar maples are turning... I'd estimate about 30% of them have gone orange.  The rest are still thinking about it.  Red maples look like this:

Sunday, October 4, 2015


There are several of these on our screen this morning... I'd id them as mayflies but it seems like they should be called Octoberflies at this point... At any rate, seeing multiple of them today and another a few days ago sure makes me believe there's some sort of emergence going on right now...

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Original Helicopter Parent...

Was a Maple Tree!  HA!  This seed was especially eye-catching -- red and orange and greenish on the wing tips. 

Now.  I would like to say a word about the weather... and the long-term weather (dare I say... climate?)  It is windy.  Today is is extremely windy, like, if you let go of your paper it's in the next county windy.  Lean into it when you walk windy.  The turbine looks like it's going to take off windy.

Yesterday was windy.  Tomorrow is predicted to be windy.  The thing is, it seems like, for the last 2 years (approximately), windy has been the norm.  A day like today isn't remarkable, it's the few days when it's not windy that are remarkable.  I don't remember this being the case before last year.  Am I wrong about that? 

The other thing is, I really don't like wind.  There's no time when it's redeeming.  In the winter it's brutal.  Even in the summer, we're not talking about a nice breeze that cools you down... this wind is strong enough to be bad even when it's hot.  You can't put anything down, it makes it very had to teach outside -- for the noise, for the fact that papers won't stay put... I really don't like these strong winds.  (My trainer actually took up kites -- like those big ones that require both arms -- because otherwise wind made everything worse -- running, biking, swimming, paddling, etc... but the kite was a thing that made all the windy days seem like not such a big negative.  I don't kite.  Still don't like wind.) 

Sorry to be a complainer.  But I had to get it out there.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Prairie Sunrise

We had (another) lovely sunrise this morning, with spectacular clouds turning beautiful colors... they always make me feel lucky to be at the right place at the right time, because they end so quickly.  In fact, when I took this picture, I thought to myself, "that will be an even better picture at the top of the hill" but by the time I got there in less than 10 minutes, the clouds, though still lovely, had returned to more mundane shades of grey.