Playtime before raintime…

It was another beautiful morning in Estabrook Park, perhaps the last one for a while, and the deer appeared to be especially frisky. There were just the four regulars today, and the youngsters were running and playing like puppies. They even provoked Mom at one point. The teenager seemed especially fascinated by the sensation of running across the soft sand in the volleyball court.

Ducks were on the river, and the group comprising one mallard and some wood ducks that we saw in the pond recently seem to be still sticking together. If it’s not the same group, then perhaps it’s a common inter-species arrangement.

The beaver continue to work on felling that huge cottonwood tree further north along the river trail. You can see that they are really starting to make a dent on the east side and are through the layer of very light-colored wood and back into some darker stuff in a couple of spots. The pile of chips around the base of the tree is getting bigger every day.

The goldfinches, this time a female, are still working on those bull thistle seeds.

And new blossoms continue to appear. Here’s a pretty little yellow flower just coming into bloom on the mudflats, and it turns out to be another beggarticks, this time nodding beggarticks or nodding bur-marigold (Bidens cernua)

Finally, it appears that another aster is coming into bloom, mostly along the river, and there are a lot to choose from, but I’m going to go with Awl Aster (Symphyotrichum pilosum).

The forecast looks pretty soggy for tomorrow, so here’s hoping there’s a break in the rain at some point. I can’t wait to see how far the beavers get this time.

Is eight enough?

What a stunning morning! Cool, clear, crisp, and just crawling with deer. Here are six at once on the western edge of the southern soccer field. I think you can clearly see the darker color, which I mentioned yesterday, of both does, the second and fourth from the left.

It started slowly. First there were just three, a doe, a youngster, and a fawn with spots. Then a second fawn joined the group, and I believe we’ve seen those four before. Next, another doe and fawn joined the herd. Here’s a crazy blurry shot of that fawn still nursing or trying to nurse, something that I have not yet seen in the park. The fawn was wagging its tail like a puppy.

The initial pair of fawns, the siblings, were playing with each other, and one eventually jumped a couple of feet straight up, but you’ll have to take my word on that. You know the drill: dim light, far away, old camera, blah, blah, blah.

The teenager eventually noticed me, sitting on the parkway curb as still as I could be, and walked all the way across the field for a closer look. It even crossed the parkway and was over my right shoulder, about 15 feet away, on the lawn of the Benjamin Church house. I didn’t even try to take a picture, in hopes of not ruining the moment.

I probably sat and watched them for about 20 minutes before I headed north, leaving them still out on the field. And so there I was, strolling along the parkway, thinking about how I would write up seeing six deer at once, when I approached the middle parking lot, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were two more, probably another doe with her fawn, enjoying the glorious morning. Ach du lieber!

So that makes eight documented individuals, and if you count the two bucks I’ve seen, the calm one with big and growing antlers, and the excited one with small and pointy antlers that nearly impaled me earlier this week, that makes a total of at least ten deer in little ol’ Estabrook Park. Nice, right?

Anywho, moving along, I did glimpse the wood duck hen on the pond, but no heron this morning.

Along the river, the beaver continue to work on that cottonwood tree. Note the freshly exposed wood, lightest in color, now extends all the way around the east side, compared to just yesterday. The pile of huge chips is growing.

Also along the river, I think I’ve finally spotted my first sky-blue aster (Symphyotrichum oolentangiense) of the season. Yay! One last boost of calories to help the monarchs fly all the way to Mexico.

Finally, as I approached the mudflats, I spotted this nicely posed blue heron as the morning sun was beginning to light up the scene.

One last note. I read that “Consider permanent closure of Estabrook Parkway” is on the Shorewood “Village Board Agenda for September 8”. If you’d like to see the new peace and quiet of Estabrook Park preserved, as I do, and you haven’t yet signed the petition, now might be the perfect time. I’d sure like to be able to present at least 200 signatures, just 1.5% of Shorewood’s population, and we’re almost there.

The day of the mammals…

I got to the park just around 6am where the air was cool and dry, the wind was strong enough already that I could hear it roaring through the towers, and the full moon was bright and clear in the western sky.

With the wind like that, I didn’t expect to find much, but I needed the walk anyway, so here we are. I did see a deer scampering around the southern lot, but there’s no way I can get an action shot in light that dim.

Further north along the parkway, I was happily surprised to encounter three more, a doe with two fawns. Her coat looked noticeably darker and browner than her fawns, in a way I don’t recall seeing before, so I wonder if she’s new here. The DNR explains that coats turn brown in the winter and deer that spend their time in the forest have darker coats than deer that regularly get more sun. Anyway, she acted as we’ve seen fawns behave before, and came across the parkway and then straight towards me to get a better look. I get that a lot.

I actually sat down on the pavement, in hopes that I would appear even more harmless than usual, and after she was satisfied that I was harmless and that I had nothing good to eat, they all went back across the parkway. Then she stood on her hind legs to sampling a maple tree branch, as I and her fawns looked on in amazement, decided that they had all seen enough, and took off down the path with her fawns in tow. Finally, they tucked into the woods between the parkway and the Oak Leaf Trail about 100 yards south of me. Remember what I said about this not getting old?

I marveled at that encounter as I continued north to the pond, where I saw one wood duck hen, but left her in peace.

I headed west, heard a munching sound in a tree, and looked up to find two squirrels in the same small tree busily husking and eating fresh walnuts. Mmmm, fresh walnuts, right?

Along the river, I did see fresh work done by beavers to fell another large cottonwood tree, which they had already girdled some time ago, but I did not manage to catch a glimpse of the culprits themselves this time.

Also along the river, I accidentally spooked another wood duck but did not get a picture, and I think I glimpsed a heron on the wing just as it went around a bend in the river, so no picture there, either.

On the mudflats by the river, I finally managed to capture an image in a natural setting of what appeared to be a healthy raccoon. It was ambling through the tall grass when I came upon it, and luckily for me, it chose to freeze for a few seconds before guessing correctly that I wouldn’t chase it.

Let me wrap up this celebration of all things brown and grey with at least one dash of color from yesterday. Here’s a monarch butterfly tanking up on nectar from a cutleaf coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata) growing near the river. I’ve been seeing these flowers for a while, they’re bright yellow, grow quite tall, and so are hard to miss, but I just haven’t found a good reason to look up yet another yellow flower until now.

Every single time I think to myself “Well, that’s the end of that. There’s finally nothing new to see here.” I end up with a day like today, just chock full of surprises. When will I ever learn, eh?

All the usual suspects…

I got a nice late start this morning, the weather was beautiful, as usual, and all the usual suspects were out and about.

A wood duck hen and a blue heron were on the pond. The heron even caught a fish, which it handily swallowed in one clean gulp.

A monarch, which seem to be ubiquitous these days, stopped by to sample the goldenrod.

On the river, another heron kept tabs on me while I captured images of this cabbage white (Pieris rapae) sampling a new flower on the mudflats, which I had been ignoring till now, but apparently can ignore no more.

That little orange blossom, not much bigger than a pencil eraser, appears to belong to the Devil’s Beggarticks (Bidens frondosa), also known as devil’s-pitchfork, devil’s bootjack, sticktights, bur marigold, pitchfork weed, tickseed sunflower, leafy beggarticks, and common beggar-ticks.

I suspect all the “devily” and “pitchforky” names are due to the shape of the seed.

Finally, as I walked back south along the parkway late in the morning, a couple of deer were still on the move, heading towards the Oak Leaf Trail, and here’s an image I managed to capture of one of them.

UWM classes start today, so wish us luck, eh?

A two blue heron morning!

What a nice way to start September. I went to the park early in hopes of spotting a large mammal that three separate individuals have now reported seeing. It was quite cool with not a cloud in the sky. The nearly full moon (waxing gibbous, illumination 99%) was just setting in the west, Venus was high and bright in the east, Mars was high overhead, and Orion and the dog star, Sirius, were still visible to the south.

I never did see the mammal I’m hoping to spot, but I did come across this deer just chillin’ beside the parkway. It was so dark out that my camera could not tell the difference between the lens cap on or off, so I had to use my phone, which is 7 years more sensitive to light. It was still resting there when I continued northward.

I also spotted a couple of raccoons ambling across the parkway north of the pond, but they were even further away and not near a street light, so I didn’t even bother to hold up a device.

As it got a little lighter out, I spotted this very young, small, and cold bullfrog trying to cross the parkway, and I gave it a hand after the photoshoot.

Once dawn broke, I stopped by the pond again to find the blue heron, who seems to be a regular these days, thinking about getting ready to start fishing from the west side.

I headed west and was treated to the sights and sounds of dozens of Canada geese landing in, taking off from, and cruising over the river. They sure are getting restless.

And there on the river, I spotted the second blue heron of the morning. I guess they could be the same bird, but this one appears to have a lighter blue color and a lot more of those fancy, stringy neck feathers than the one on the pond does.

Further south along the river, it seems that the damselflies are not yet done for the season. This one, with a bright red patch at the base of its wings, appears to be an American rubyspot (Hetaerina americana).

Finally, I’ve got one more fanciful-looking fruit for you. These are immature berries of Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum), which we saw blossom back in the beginning of May.

Per usual, the Pedia of Wik explains that “the oxalic acid in jack-in-the-pulpit is poisonous if ingested,” so DO NOT EAT THESE! The park raisinets are probably better for you.

Again! And this time, with feeling!

Today must have heard me yesterday talking smack about it and so said to tomorrow, “hold my beer.” Wow, what a show! And I even managed to capture images of some of it.

First up, a young Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) tried three times to catch a squirrel at the north edge of the soccer fields, but had no luck that I could see. It could be the same one from beside the pond a week and a half ago. Here it is, between attempts one and two, hiding from me in a tree and showing off those big feet.

This time, I’m confident it is a Cooper’s hawk based on the comparison pictures here and especially here.

Soon after all that excitement, I met a fellow park visitor and long-time reader who reported seeing as many as 6 deer cavorting on the west edge of the soccer field, and she had just heard confirmation from another visitor and reader. Now, I have no reason to doubt either one, plus, how can I say “no” to Anne, so we headed back to see them. Sadly, they had moved on be the time we arrived. Dang, that would have been fun to see, right?

I continued north to see if there might be any more flower-of-an-hour (Hibiscus trionum) blossoms, and Holy Smokes, they’re up like mushrooms after a rain! I counted over a dozen blossoms right on the verge of opening, and as I was counting, there was a ruckus to the east that sounded like someone dragging a garbage can down the Oak Leaf Trail. I couldn’t see anything, so I continued counting, and next thing I knew, a young buck with a small rack full of nice pointy antlers charged out of the brush not 10 feet from me. Luckily for me, he still had his wits about him, he missed me, and he shot south instead. I did not manage even to reach for my camera. I was too busy grabbing my heart and stuffing it back into my chest! Man, it was like Wild Kingdom out there this morning.

I vowed to return later to see if some blossoms might actually open and pressed onward.

At the pond, the young blue heron was fishing on the west side again and this time nicely lit by the morning sun, so that was a picture even I could get.

We’ve seen a lot of it, so I let it fish and once more forged ahead. Just on the other side of a little copse of trees and bushes, right beside the road, this little critter was busy getting its fill.

And then I thought to myself, “What’s the rush? Why not go back, sit on the bench, let the heron catch something, and maybe get a nice action shot for a change.” So I go back, sit on the bench, and look at the little armada that came swimming down the pond.

My best guess, from right to left, is a mature female wood duck with her distinctive white teardrop around her eye, a young wood duck with its distinctive facial markings, and a young mallard with its distinctive single stripe across its eye. Man, I haven’t seen four birds on the pond at the same time in weeks!

Finally, I did eventually make it to the river, walked south on most of the river trail, saw nothing new, came back up to check on the flowers, and Ta Da! A few were open. Here’s a nice fresh one, and one that a bee has already gotten to and made a mess of. Worth the wait, I’d say.

Lastly, it looks like one last batch of monarchs are emerging, and here’s a nice-and-crisp-looking one warming up in the morning sun.

I can’t wait to see what September brings.

A fine farewell to August.

What a stupendous morning in Estabrook Park. I know there is one more day of August left, but it will be hard pressed to provide a better send-off than today. Might as well just call tomorrow September 0.

The sky was clear and the air was cool, dry, and calm.

The deer were grazing on the front lawn of the Benjamin Church House.

A great blue heron was fishing in the pond.

A bunny was on the river trail.

A goldfinch was in the sumac hiding behind a stick.

A young mallard was on the river by the mudflats.

Yesterday was nice too, if a little breezy, and a slightly-roughed-up painted lady was sipping from a bull thistle blossom in the bright afternoon sun.

And a roughed-up clouded sulphur finally, if inadvertently, showed off the dark strip on the top side of its wing(s).

The one new thing I’ve spotted is this rough cocklebur or large cocklebur (Xanthium strumarium) growing on the mudflats by the river.

As always, the Pedia of Wik helpfully explains, “the plant may have some medicinal properties and has been used in traditional medicine in South Asia and traditional Chinese medicine.

However, while small quantities of parts of the mature plants may be consumed, the seeds and seedlings should not be eaten in large quantities because they contain significant concentrations of the extremely toxic chemical carboxyatratyloside. The mature plant also contains at least four other toxins.”

Probably best to leave this one alone. Instead, if you’re hungry, it looks like someone dropped a bunch of raisinets on the soccer field.

Just kidding. Don’t eat those either. The five-second rule has long expired, Silly.

The oddities continue…

What a nice change in the weather yesterday evening’s thunderstorm ushered in, right? Once again everything looked fresh and clean, the pond was full, and the river was high.

As I’ve been seeing a lot lately, a flight of Canada geese flew over with great fanfare, and a youngish-looking great blue heron visited the pond. It was nice to catch the heron on the west side of the pond for a change.

A doe and fawn were on the soccer fields again, but I let them be.

The fun, new, and surprising guest this morning is this sharp-looking, even if a little beat up, Hermia underwing (Catocala hermia) that was out and about a little after its bedtime, i.e. dawn. In the first image (top/left), it is in its daytime/hiding configuration. In the second image (bottom/right), it has just landed and is still showing a little bit of its orange and black striped hindwing or underwing. Click here for an image that better shows the striking underwing.

The Pedia of Wik exhaustively explains that “it is believed that the bright colors, arranged in usually roughly concentric markings, at a casual glance resemble the eyes of a predatory animal, such as a cat. An underwing moth, well camouflaged in its daytime resting spot on a tree trunk or branch, will suddenly flash open the hindwings when disturbed. A bird or other small predator that is not used to this display is likely to be frightened, allowing the moth to escape. However, unlike some other bright-colored moths which are bad-tasting or even poisonous to predators, underwing moths are well palatable at least to some birds (e.g. the blue jayCyanocitta cristata). To assist in avoiding nocturnal predators such as bats, these moths also possess (like many of their relatives) fairly well-developed hearing organs.”

There are dozens and dozens of species of these underwing moths that all look amazingly similar. For a brief peek at the rabbit hole I’ve been down this morning trying to ID this particular one, click here, here, or here. I’ve sequentially thought it was a bride underwing, a youthful underwing, and a once-married underwing, but finally settled on hermia underwing based on this photo by Jim Moore. Note the distinct circular shape with a dark outline halfway along the leading edge of each wing. I think it is a good match.

Finally, in case you were wondering, the Pedia of Wik also explains that “Hermia is a fictional character from Shakespeare‘s play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. She is a girl of ancient Athens named for Hermes, the Greek god of trade.”

Phew! Time for one more? This one is a lot easier. The crazy looking contraption pictured below is a raceme of doll’s-eyes or white baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) berries growing in the woods just north of the maintenance yard, east of the middle parking lot.

As tasty as they look, DO NOT EAT THEM! As always, the Pedia of Wik helpfully explains, “both the berries and the entire plant are considered poisonous to humans. The berries contain cardiogenic toxins which can have an immediate sedative effect on human cardiac muscle tissue, and are the most poisonous part of the plant. Ingestion of the berries can lead to cardiac arrest and death.”

“The berries are harmless to birds”, however, who are “the plant’s primary seed dispersers.”

Okay, that’s enough for today, eh? I’ll save the rest for tomorrow in case I come up dry after my walk.

Some oddballs…

I got a late start in the park this morning, and it was plenty hot and muggy by the time I arrived. The closest thing to excitement was watching a young-looking great blue heron fly in low from the west, headed for the pond. By the time I caught up, it was already settled in and busy fishing.

Huh. I didn’t even realize it had caught a fish, visible in the third image, until I got home and could look at the pictures on the big screen.

Meanwhile, by the river, a bunch more purple giant hyssop (Agastache scrophulariifolia), which may occasionally have white blossoms, has come up since I first tried to identify it back at the start of August. This morning it caught my I again because there were several silver-spotted skipper (Epargyreus clarus), who we’ve seen plenty of times before, busily feeding on it.

Nearby was yet another daisey-shaped yellow flower, but this one was a little unusual. The long stalk to the flower had no leaves, as most sunflower looking plants do. Instead, the leaves were huge, almost a foot long and grew straight out of the ground on their own short stems instead. This turns out to be prairie dock or prairie rosinweed (Silphium terebinthinaceum), a native “member of the Asteraceae family that includes sunflowers” and asters. 

The Pedia of Wik gives more details about this interesting variety: “The leaves are … oriented vertically and in a north-south direction, providing special adaptations for survival in the prairie climate. The combination of north-south and vertical arrangement seems to provide a mechanism for maintaining lower leaf temperatures at midday, thus conserving water. Additionally, this unique trait grants the plant better access to sunlight for photosynthesis.” Fancy! Furthermore, “this dicot also has a characteristically large taproot able to penetrate to depths of at least 14 feet (4 m) in search of the water table.” Holy Moly! A 14 foot tap root!

On the dirt pile in the middle parking lot, of all places, I finally found another flower-of-an-hour or bladder hibiscus (Hibiscus trionum), “an annual plant native to the Old World tropics and subtropics”, which we first saw a couple of weeks ago across the road from the pond, where it got clipped by the lawn more. Sadly, I still have not managed to catch one when it is fully open, even though I stopped by three times this morning. Instead, all I got were these tantalizing looks.

Finally, also growing from the same dirt pile is this curiosity: velvetleaf, Chinese jute, buttonweed, or Indian mallow (Abutilon theophrasti), which “has been grown in China since around 2000 BCE for its strong, jute-like bast fibre,” and “is considered a damaging weed to agricultural crops, especially corn and soybeans.”

And that’s a slow, late-August day in the park for ya.

Episode 150

That’s right, this is our 150th day of continuous reporting, since all the way back to March 30, and the heat and humidity are definitely back. The river has risen again, too, due to the heavier rain they received upstream on Tuesday, I suppose, and taking its sweet time to get here.

The new find for today is actually a threefer, if you can believe it. I stumbled across this amazing scene on the river trail just south of the falls, and what we have here seems to be:

  1. a long, narrow, and colorful ailanthus webworm moth (Atteva aurea), an ermine moth. Yes, a moth that resembles a beetle when not in flight, but a wasp in flight, which I didn’t think to witness;
  2. a slew of tiny, triangular bold medicine moths (Chrysendeton medicinalis). Their wingspan isn’t even 1/2 an inch;
  3. and they all are crowded onto the just opening blossoms of some grass-leaved goldenrod or flat-top goldentop (Euthamia graminifolia), a native member of the daisy family, and that second common name isn’t even a typo.

Another astounding sight I got to witness this morning is our striking female black and yellow garden spider (Argiope aurantia), whom we just saw on Monday in the bull thistle, quickly handling a fresh catch in her web, some sort of small cricket or katydid. And, once she had it all wrapped up, in just a minute or so, she immediately went back to her post on the stabilimentum she created down the center of her web. If you look closely at the middle image, you can even see the wide band of silk strands she is secreting to wrap her prey way more efficiently than she should could with just one strand at a time.

Meanwhile, the bull thistle continues to do a yeoman’s job of keeping everyone fed. This gallery of familiar faces include a couple of Peck’s skippers, a female eastern black swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes), and, of course, a couple of bumblebees.

That’s it for today, I’m afraid. Just bugs and blossoms. Sorry about that. I’ll try for some bigger critters next time. Maybe a salamander. We haven’t seen one of those yet, and who doesn’t want to see a salamander, right? I know I sure would like to.