Monday, December 5, 2016

Let it Snow!

Yesterday's snowfall, which lasted from about 9 am until after dark, had some pretty impressive numbers (and broke official records for Dec. 4)... over 6 inches reported in most places (6.5 at O'hare) and over 8 in some places.  However, the snow fell on earth that wasn't that cold yet, so it didn't start sticking right away.  My driveway, which, being black, held out the longest, had less than 2 inches this morning.  The deck, on the other hand, with air flowing under it, has over 4 inches... I didn't measure, but it doesn't look like 6 to me!  At any rate, while it lasts, it's lovely.  It was a sticky snow so the branches (and berries!) all have white coatings. 

Meanwhile, there is some ice on the lake, but very little, less than 25% cover.  

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Improbable Flowers

It's 35 and windy and precipitating ice... but these honeysuckles don't seem to notice!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Witch hazel

Last flowers of the year... (or not, it turns out!)

Saturday, November 19, 2016

It's C-c-c-cold

Yesterday it was in the 60s, but brutal winds carried in a cold front... this morning there are snow flurries swirling all over, even starting to stick. Welcome, winter!

(And happy birthday to Chris!)

Tuesday, November 1, 2016


November 1 and it was in the mid 70s today. I saw butterflies and grasshoppers and bees and dragonflies... here's one:

Thursday, October 13, 2016

First Frost

It was 38 degrees when I left for school today. Patchy frost... ugh!

Sunday, October 9, 2016


Our ash tree is wearing its purple fall crown... lovely color!

Saturday, October 1, 2016


Jewelweed seed pods pop if you touch them, their spring loaded seed spreading devices sending seeds flying.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

All Things Equal...

Autumn officially begins today (9:21 pm local time) as the equinox means that the sun enters the southern hemisphere and our days will now be shorter than our nights.**  And so we begin our 6 months of darkness.  Our 6 months of cold.  Our 6 months of reflection.

But for this one day, we are balanced, and as we celebrate the balance of light and dark in our world, we can contemplate balance in other ways.  This is a good time to think about our time... do we make enough time for our families?  For our pleasures and for our work?  Can we balance our fun side with our responsible side, our hedonistic side with our industrious side?  Our social side with our reflective side?

And, on a purely physical note, do we do enough yoga (or whatever) that we can stand on one foot without falling over?  That's important too.

**Actually, that's only sort of true... We measure sunrise and sunset times by the time the sun first comes over the horizon (rise) and when the last bit disappears behind the horizon (set).  There will still be longer than 12 hours between those times until Sunday, when we have equilux (equal light).  On the equinox, it's 12 hours between when the sun's midline appears on the horizon and hits that point again at night.

Another interesting thing about the equinox -- they are the only days when the sun rises exactly in the east and sets exactly in the west (not southwest or northwest...)

Monday, September 19, 2016

A Little Color

Ok, I'll admit it... I've been strategically ignoring the early adopters -- those few trees that are turning colors earlier than their peers.  But it turns out I can't stop the forward momentum of the seasons by simply ignoring or not writing about it, so it's time to acknowledge... things are starting to turn colors.  Here, a sugar maple starting to become vibrant orange.  The sugar maples (as always) have a great variety in their phenophases -- many are still green as June, while others are further gone than this!
Here, a close-up of chokeberry bushes, which seem to consistently have about 1 in every 20 leaves turning orange... 
Still summer for 3 more days, right?????

Friday, September 16, 2016

Happy Harvest

Tonight is the Harvest Moon -- the full moon closest to the fall equinox next week.  These full moons are often big and orange and lovely as they rise... yesterday's full-minus-one moon was lovely rising large to the east just as the sun set in the west.  Tonight's could be even better... if it's not covered in clouds (as predicted)... we'll see!  This year's Harvest moon also will have a penumbral lunar eclipse, though it won't be visible here at all, or anywhere very much.  It will just appear as a slight faintening of the moon as the moon passes through the very edge of the earth's shadow.  (A full lunar eclipse occurs when the moon passes through the earth's shadow, and they line up perfectly, so the earth itself blocks the sun's rays from reflecting off the moon.)

At any rate... a good night for a moonlit evening stroll!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Teenager Bird

This cute fellow is a baby cedar waxwing -- or a teenager one -- that has fledged the nest, but can't do a whole lot yet.  So we were able to get right up close to him or her... I hope s/he makes it through the next few days OK while s/he learns to be a grown-up bird!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Times, They Are A-Changin'

As we approach the Harvest Moon on Friday and the Equinox on Thursday next, things have been feeling different... while days have been lovely, nights have dropped into the 50's.  It is a noticeably un-summer-like cool when I leave in the morning.  Plus, the shortening days -- which change the drastically around the equinoxes, about 3 light minutes lost per day -- are really noticeable.  It's dark before I'm ready (and we haven't even fallen back)!

Ugh. I see the beauty in all seasons and weather, but I do love summer.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

On the Shady Side

These lovely sky blue asters (both their common name and an apt description of their unique color) are starting to bloom profusely in my yard's shade garden.  

Another shade-dweller -- mistflower -- is coming into full bloom now as well!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016


Brown-eyed Susans are one of the most common flowers right now -- mighty in both numbers of plants and numbers of blooms per plant.  There are actually several species which we sort of interchangeably call black- or brown-eyed Susans.  This one is the Rudbeckia triloba, but R. hirta is actually the most common, and my yard is dominated right now by R. submentosa, commonly called sweet black-eyed Susan.  

Tuesday, August 30, 2016


Plant Profile: Buttonbush
Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), commonly named, I assume, for the fastener-like apperance of the spherical flowers/seedheads, is simultaneously blooming and going to seed.  The flowers started blooming in June, but are still going!  They are white, tiny and four-petaled with rather showy sexual parts that stick out like pincushions and are attractive to a variety of insects and hummingbirds.  There are almost always bumble bees hovering around them.  The nutlets that will eventually form are also a food source for a variety of animals, especially birds and waterfoul.  Birds also love to nest in the dense shrub, which is well-camouflaged by the leaves.  The seed clusters change from green to red to brown as they ripen, are around through the winter, making this a plant that has aesthetic appeal throughout the year.  
Buttonbush grows throughout the eastern part of the country, though we're nearing the northern part of its range.  It prefers wetter areas -- by ponds and wetlands -- and won't flower if the soil is too dry or the conditions too shady.  

Monday, August 29, 2016

Just... WOW!

OK, argiope spiders are pretty awesome whenever you see them... the photo may not convey that the body of this bright yellow spider is about an inch, probably larger -- that's not counting the legs.  And the colors and patterns are just lovely.  The markings reflect UV light and help attract prey to the orb webs.  I've seen them with some interesting things in their web, even thrown the occasional grasshopper in to see what happens.  But this one had something I've never seen:
A big old blue darner dragonfly caught in its web.  (Yeah, I was a little saddened by that, but... it's the circle of life, people.  Let's all sing along...)  Anyhow, here they are together:
Nearby, we saw a pair.  This photo illustrates another interesting argiope phenomena.  The smaller spider in the foreground is the male.  The big one is the female.  As Chris aptly put it, the males will only hang around the females if they're really... we'll say "interested in mating," since this is a family-friendly blog.  Because she must be scary, if you're that size.  The male makes a parallel web by the female's; he vibrates her web to alert her of his presence.  After mating, she makes a brown, papery egg sac containing between 300 and 1400 eggs, and places it usually off to the side of the web.  The female will actually watch her eggs as long as she can, but she will die at the first hard frost.  The spiderlings (or whatever) hatch in the fall.   However, they don't come out of the protective egg sac until spring.  
Pretty cool, no? 

Firsts and Lasts in Purple

The very first of the New England Asters are starting to bloom (though most aren't yet)... I see these, I think fall!
The very last of the purple coneflowers are still hanging on, though most are to seed like the one on the left!

Friday, August 26, 2016

Pretty in Pink

The pond is dressed in pink today... 
Last year, this slender false foxglove was a new plant for me -- it's great to see its delicate blooms again!  And swamp milkweed, a late-blooming Asclepias, is flowering!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Rough Blazingstar

Plant Profile: Rough Blazingstar
Rough blazingstar (Liatris aspera)* are distinguished from prairie blazingstar, by me, at least, because the composite flowers are arranged in very distinct clusters that look like individual pompoms sticking off of the stem.  (This is as opposed to continuous purple all down the stem.)  They are also late-bloomers; these ones are just starting.  They bloom from the top to the bottom; you can see below that the flowers on the top of the stem are in full bloom, but the ones further down haven't opened yet.  We have many more days of blazing, starry loveliness to look forward to!
*(and thankfully, these have kept the genus Liatris!)

Munch Munch Munch

During yesterday's explorations we found a couple of these -- (future) monarchs munching milkweed!  Always an exciting find.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Stiff Goldenrod

Plant Profile: Stiff Goldenrod
Stiff goldenrod is in peak bloom in the prairies, along with many of its weedy and less desirable goldenrod cousins.  The flowers differ in arrangement from other goldenrods, with flat-topped clusters of flowers.  They flowers themselves are also quite large for goldenrods -- though they are still very tiny little daisy-like composites.  The leaves are stiffer, smaller, stouter and thicker than most other goldenrod species as well.  They are attractive to a variety of insects; I see assassin beetles on them pretty frequently.  Stiff goldenrod thrives in hard clay and generally not great soil conditions. I've actually heard tell that in really good garden soil with regular watering, the plants will bend over and suffer.  My kind of garden plant!

An interesting (to me) note on this and several other goldenrod species... I learned them as Solidago, (Solidago rigida in this case) but apparently, they have been reclassified as Oligoneuron.  No idea why.  Learning latin names is hard enough without them going and changing on me!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Grass Flowers

The flowering of prairie grasses is one of my favorite phenological occurrences.  They are full of contradictions... subtle by nature of their size -- in my experiencemost people don't notice them, or even realizes that grasses have flowers... and yet they dangle almost provocatively (flowers are, after all, sexual organs... and grasses put it all out there!)  They are delicate and fragile-looking, and yet they are mighty in numbers.  Mostly they are, if you look closely at them, just incredibly beautiful, with varied colors and textures... 

Here, Indian grass flowers:
Big bluestem flowers, not close-up, but you can see that they're hanging there, right?

And switchgrass flowers, which were so small I had to put my hand there to get the camera to focus at all.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Migration Madness?

Today, the skies were filled with black saddlebags dragonflies.  At first I noticed a few, and by the afternoon we were literally seeing hundreds of them at a time - they don't perch much so no photo... I know they migrate, but I don't know the timing of that.  It seems early, but... it was crazy how many there were.  Really neat.  Kids were just pointing in every direction.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Berry Bliss

There's a rainbow of berries out there:
Red-orange native honeysuckle.

Blue-green cedar.

White red osier dogwood.

Deep purple elderberry.
And crimson Cornelian cherry dogwood.  

Wednesday, August 3, 2016


I know... I have been terribly remiss this summer at posting.  No excuse other than inertia, or lack thereof.  (And a foot injury limiting my walking, but really?  I don't need to leave my yard to photograph most of this stuff.)  We missed the prairie clover and blazing star, ironweed and a whole host of yellow composites that are coloring the prairie.  We missed the grasses starting to earn their late summer dominance.  We'll get to some of that, I assume... But I noticed this trailside sight last night, and couldn't resist taking a few photos, so I figured I'd share!

It's been about a week -- maybe a few more days than that -- since the loud, insistent hum of cicadas has become the background noise for the late summer afternoons and evenings.  These, I think, are a phenological harbinger to me.  When does summer become late summer?  It's the cicadas that make it feel like summer is waning.  Well, the cicadas and the yellow, I suppose.  The prairie has so much yellow, and the light just gets a yellower quality to it that I can't quite quantify, but I feel it.  It's funny, because technically, astronomically, we're not even half way through the interval between summer solstice and the autumnal equinox.  And yet.  

Despite the heat, despite the fact that school doesn't start for a little while yet, this part of summer has such a different flavor than the earliest and middle parts.  Ah well, enough of that!  Instead, time for some interesting cicada information.  Anyone familiar with cicadas knows that while they're quite large insects, they also seem pretty clumsy and slow.  So how does such a plump tasty treat avoid being bird prey?  It turns out their mating call is also a defense!  Only make cicadas make noise; they do it to attract a mate.  Their instruments are tiny but powerful -- over 120 decibels.  This is loud enough to be painful to humans... and to birds.  The noise of a group of calling cicadas is both unpleasant to birds and also disrupts their own communications.  This makes it hard for them to pick off the delicious (I'm assuming, to a bird) insects!  

Now we've all learned something, we can get on with our day!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Queen Reigns

Queen of the prairie blooms.

Friday, July 1, 2016

I'm Back!

I've been in England nearly three weeks... A whole different experience in terms of plants, weather, etc... Like while we were gone it was in the 90s here and didn't rain at all -- so dry! -- whereas England we were lucky to go a day without rain and it never topped 70. Not complaining, it was lovely. But I returned to a whole different prairie!

A few long shots to show the main characters: here, purple coneflower and coreopsis.
Here, the compass plants tower over everything...
Many yellow composites are starting; in addition to the Susan's (pictured) there were some sunflowers and even the first yellow coneflowers.

Butterfly weed:
Culver' root:
Common milkweed:
That's only a partial list and doesn't include any of the invasives, of which there are many... But I'll leave some for tomorrow!

Friday, June 10, 2016

It Prickles

To hearken back to the last couple of posts... here's another weed that's started blooming, that I'm somewhat sad is not desirable because these thistles are quite lovely.  To look at.  They are decidedly unlovely to touch, and heaven help you if you have to pull one.   
They are also another flower that I find quite fascinating right before they bloom.  They get this green-to-purple effect that I'm just really taken with.  

Thursday, June 9, 2016


I am somewhat captivated by these purple coneflowers in their almost stage... Their skinny (and fuzzy!) necks popping up out of the surrounding prairie like periscopes, their Fibonacci spirals so prominent in the perfectly round disc, their petals so sparse and spindly as to seem, at this point, like a pale pink afterthought to the flower... they keep catching my eye.  I decided to try and draw one.  (I'm out of practice.  I should sketch more.  Mid-year resolution.)  

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

In the Weeds

A weed is just a good plant in a bad place, really.  But the result is a bad plant.  Some of my least favorite flowers are blooming now... a lot of "weeds," including these, can be pretty.  A lot of people call some of the native plants I treasure "weeds" because they move into their yards without being invited.  But invasive species that threaten the biodiversity of the ecosystem... no matter how pretty they seem, when I see them, I can't get past the ugliness of what they're doing.
Here, crown vetch (purple) and birds' foot trefoil (I was sad when I learned that one was invasive):
Yellow sweet clover (with other clovers as well...):
And, everyone's favorite, bindweed.  Just try to get that off a plant it's decided to climb up...