A cool morning warms up nicely…

This morning was sort of a mixed bag. The weather was beautiful, but the pictures got off to a slow start. There were even a few mallards at the pond, when I arrived, along with the wood duck hen and ducklings, but nobody was feeling very photogenic, so I let them be. There was also one male belted kingfisher, but they’re very skittish, and this is the best I could do. No raccoons again today.

At the river, I also missed the beaver, but when I reached the falls, our regular was already there, and it looked like it was going to try a good-sized fish someone had left behind.

It found the fish about 6-10 feet inland and walked it over to the water. I don’t know if that was to rinse it off, to wash it down, or it just has a rule that it can “only eat fish it takes out of the water.” In any case, after several false starts, it did eventually get the whole thing down, and I hope that works out. Oh sure, I’ll drink a park beer and enjoy a can of park beans when I can find one, but I draw the line at fish left behind.

Above the falls, I finally found a nice grouping of geese that shows off how far the goslings have come. The big one in the middle and keeping its eye on me is the adult.

As I neared the north end, I came across this pretty little moth that maybe got leaf tops and bottoms mixed up, happily for us, and it appears to be a large lace-border (Scopula limboundata).

At the north end, the water is still loaded with geese, mallards, and even a few sand pipers. Plus, there were several cedar waxwings hunting flying insects over the water, and here’s one that paused for a second.

Right below the waxwings, a young blue heron was trying to do the same with fish but wasn’t having much luck.

Keep practicing, buddy! You’ll get the hang of it.

Meanwhile, on shore, this finch seemed to be having a much easier time with the mulberries.

Back on the water, these mallard ducklings looked tuckered out from foraging and beyond ready for their nap.

On my way back south, I spotted a wood duck hen with her duckling crossing paths with a mallard hen with hers.

At the falls, the mature blue heron was still fishing, but Lisa said it hadn’t caught anything in 10 minutes, so I took this and kept moving.

Below the falls, the raspberries along the path are becoming ripe.

At the soccer fields, this wren kept popping in and out of this nesting hole in between verses of its song.

A blue jay stopped by.

Another goldfinch, a female this time, was feasting on a bull thistle blossom.

Lastly, as I was about to call it a morning, this beautiful black swallowtail stopped by to warmup in the sun, and I would say he’s a male, based on how “large and bright” his yellow spots are.

A blue heron day…

When I glanced out the window this morning, I was thrilled to see not a cloud in the pre-dawn sky, so I hustled out the door. I don’t know where the deer have gone, but I seldom see them anymore, unlike last summer when they seemed ubiquitous. Thus, I made it to the pond in record time, at which point a fog bank rolled in off the lake and I enjoyed a brief lake-effect shower.

The usual contingent of ducks and ducklings were about, but still no raccoons. Maybe they’re taking a little break from crayfish for breakfast. We did have one young blue heron, however, still experimenting with “hairstyles” it seems, up in one of the birch trees along the east shore.

At the river, I spotted just one beaver today, and I think that’s Ma or Pa.

And even before I reached the falls, I saw another blue heron, an adult this time, fishing in the small stream that drains the small pond on the west side into the river just below the old bridge abutment.

Above the falls, I was surprised to spot yet another brood of very fresh-looking mallard ducklings.

As I was taking their picture across the river, I accidentally spooked these three, older ducklings who then shot out onto the water on their own.

They quickly paddled over to the far shore as one intermittently chirped, as if calling for Mom.

One mallard hen, who was dabbling with some others near that far shore, approached, but they shied away from her.

Finally, Mom, who must have been off on an errand just a bit upstream, finally heard their call, and flew diagonally across the water to reunite with them.


At the north end, there are a ton of geese about, and the goslings are starting to look all grown up, but I failed to capture a decent image.

On my way back south, a third blue heron was in the usual spot at the falls.

Meanwhile, the second one was still at the mouth of the stream when I went by, so I’m pretty sure there were at least 3 distinct blue herons in Estabrook this morning.

Finally, as I approached the weeds beside the soccer fields in hopes of a pretty butterfly, this busy little nuthatch reminded me that we haven’t seen much of them for a while, and we have a beautiful blue sky for a change.

At the weeds, sure enough, there were two monarchs. One flew off right away, but the second must have still been hungry for some of that sweet, sweet Canada thistle nectar.

Oh yeah! I almost forgot to mention that I heard my first cicada yesterday afternoon on my walk back from the grocery store. Happy July, everybody!

Success at last!

It was a nice enough morning in Estabrook, if a little humid at 87%, but not too warm, no rain for a change, a little bit of sun, and even some patches of blue sky. The critters, however, were not as cooperative as they’ve been lately, and perhaps it was all my gushing about the “amazing” turkey yesterday, but I barely saw a rabbit this morning, let alone a raccoon, a beaver, or even a deer.

The ducklings on the pond, at least, were unphased and up to their usual activities. Four were on break.

And the fifth was still on the hunt. As I tried to get a pretty picture, look what it caught. Yup, more crayfish. It took a little wrasslin’, but it eventually went down the pipe, and all in one piece.

As I was about to bid the pond adieu, this sweet little downy woodpecker stopped by to see me off.

If you’ve been near the pond lately, or maybe even a location near you, for that matter, I’m sure you’ve noticed a super sweet aroma in the air recently, and I think I’ve located the culprit: linden tree blossoms (or basswood in North America, supposedly). On a still day, wow that stuff gets thick.

I was told once upon a time, and just have confirmed on the interwebs, that in Ukraine, the month of July is named for these trees because “the smell of [linden tree] in the middle of the summer is everywhere.

Anyway, I did eventually make it to the river, and the only action today, besides a trio of green herons that successfully evaded me several times, is our old buddy, the blue heron fishing at the falls. On my way north, it was actually taking a break to preen a bit in the morning sun on a downed tree just above the falls.

On my way back south, however, it was back to work, and this time, I finally got to see it catch something.

Now, closer…
And down the hatch it goes.

So maybe it does know what it’s doing.

After all that excitement, I took one more swing by the pond, just in case, and I’d have nothing new to show for it if it weren’t for a visit by this cute little catbird getting ready to sing his 10-minute song.

And that’s the show for today, Ladies and Gentlemen. Here’s hoping that the wild things come out to play tomorrow, eh?

Gobble gobble

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, at long last my quest has borne fruit, and we now have photographs, such as they are, of a female wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) in Estabrook Park. I have searched high and low for over a year, and once thought I heard their call across the river, but never once have I spotted one until this morning when I came across this beauty calmly foraging for her breakfast on the lawn to the east of the pond.

If you live nearby, you might be wondering “What’s the big deal? Aren’t they everywhere?” Yes. Yes, they are, and one was even a nuisance to some on the UWM campus a few years ago, but still it’s nice to finally see them, or at least one, pay Estabrook a visit. I sure hope she finds it to her liking and stays a while. Maybe we’ll even get poults next spring. Can you even imagine!?!?

Meanwhile, on the pond, I didn’t see the raccoons this morning, but the ducks were out.

At the river, a pair of beaver were in their usual spot. One who appears smaller and younger was munching away until someone walked by on the path.

Then it appeared to tug a couple of fresh branches to a more-secluded location while another one, who appears to be larger and older, gave me this look.

At the falls, the blue heron was taking a break from fishing as I passed by.

While at the north end, I spotted another, younger one, without all the showy feathers, intently fishing in calmer waters.

By the time I made my way back south, the older one had resumed staring at the rushing water.

It was a slow morning for critters, boys and girls, and you know what that means? That’s right! It’s time for some flower pictures. Woo hoo!

First, we have this handsome little blossom growing along the river path, that looks like a strawberry, but grows at the end of a stem over a foot tall. Instead, it’s tall cinquefoil, prairie cinquefoil, or sticky cinquefoil (Drymocallis arguta), with up to 6 extra leaflets in addition to the 3 that look like strawberry leaves, and no red berries, tasty or otherwise, just seeds in a little pod. We saw its yellow cousin, common cinquefoil (Potentilla simplex), last summer.

Next, I wish this were American bellflower (Campanulastrum americanum), but it is probably the invasive creeping bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides). At least it’s pretty and seems much better behaved than garlic mustard or even dame’s rocket.

And lastly, here’s some nice, native, northern bush honeysuckle, low bush honeysuckle, dwarf bush honeysuckle, or even yellow-flowered upright honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera), which is supposed to be an important source of nectar for bumblebees. Yay!

Then the rain came, I hid under an oak tree for a bit, and then I hurried home for some breakfast.

The masked bandits are back…

It was cool, still, and dark this morning, but dry for a change, so a perfect time to spot those critters who prefer not to be spotted, and sure enough, our little masked bandits at the pond did not disappoint. I’m guessing that’s fresh crayfish on the menu this morning. Tasty.

I only got a couple of glimpses before they slunk away, again, but this time as I tried to get some nice duckling pictures, they came back out. The possibility exists, based on a vast dataset of two anecdotes, that my dark grey long pants and long sleeves act as better camouflage than my lily white legs and arms sticking out of black short pants and a black t-shirt. Duly noted.

Junior even lingered for a better look after Mom decided that she had seen enough. “What is that thing?”

Anyway, here’s your duckling picture, and yes, it appears that now there are only five. Besides raccoons and possibly mink, there are a variety of raptors that we’ve seen, with mouths of their own to feed, and don’t forget that giant snapping turtle lurking under the surface. It’s tough out there, but Mom seems to take it all in stride.

As I began to make my way to the river, I was treated to this little show on the path into the woods at the north end of the pond.

Could they be any less unnerved by me? Yet, another anecdote supporting my camo theory.

At the river, I think we’ve got our best evidence yet, that there is a size and probably age difference among the beaver population. Here’s a smaller, younger one.

And here’s big ol’ Ma or Pa wondering “what you lookin’ at?”

Just the difference in their facial expressions speaks volumes to me, even if pure anthropomorphization on my part, and yes, I sure did have to look how to spell that one.

Anywho, you’ll never guess who was fishing at the falls again. I’d like to think that they would be excellent judges of how good the fishing is at any spot, but they sure seem to spend a lot of time staring at the rushing water and not much time gulping down fish, compared to what we’ve seen them do in still water.

North of the falls, I was thrilled to see this mallard hen with three ducklings in tow confidently steam right across the river right towards me. Perhaps they are the quartet we’ve seen several times at the north end, and she has concluded that I’m harmless.

No owls today, I’m sorry to say, but I sure bet the mallards prefer it that way.

Lastly, just as I reached the top of the bluff on my way home, this female oriole sure made it seem like I was harshing her mellow, but she still didn’t make it easy to take her picture.

Her behavior, though, reminded me of red-winged blackbirds, and a quick check revealed what you might think obvious: they are indeed cousins, and the Pedia of Wik explains:

Icterids or New World blackbirds make up a family, the Icteridae, of small to medium-sized, often colorful, New World passerine birds. Most species have black as a predominant plumage color, often enlivened by yellow, orange, or red. The species in the family vary widely in size, shape, behavior, and coloration. The name, meaning “jaundiced ones” (from the prominent yellow feathers of many species) comes from the Ancient Greek ikteros via the Latin ictericus. This group includes the New World blackbirdsNew World orioles, the bobolinkmeadowlarksgracklescowbirdsoropendolas, and caciques.”

Well, that explains a lot.

The sun returns, sort of…

At least it was dry this morning, for a change, and when the sun did peak through the clouds, even if only for a moment, it was magnificent.

Right off the bat, as I was crossing Wilson Drive on my commute to the park, I spotted a young deer peaking out from behind the cedars at the edge of the Shorewood Police Station parking lot, as if she hoped to sample some of the fine decorative vegetation across the street. I suggested, however, that even though those suburban shrubberies may be delicious, she’d be better off staying in the park, and she seemed to take my word for it.

Then I headed to the pond, where you will never guess who I found as I slowly circled the island looking for our ducks.

Yup, a whole family of little masked bandits, well a trio anyway, were busily washing and, I presume, eating their breakfast. I wonder what they found there. It sure wasn’t ducklings this time. Plus, they look pretty dry for having swum over. This whole scene raises more questions than it answers, and I thought I have plenty of time to research further, based on their initial non-reaction to me, but without looking up or otherwise indicating that they had spotted me, they all simply sauntered inland and out of sight. Rascals! Maybe next time.

Speaking of ducks, I did spot Mom and her six ducklings, and the American black duck hen was still there, but there was no sign of Mom’s new friend. Maybe that was just a one-time thing.

Wood duck hen with her six ducklings (there are two on the log behind her)
American black duck hen

On to the river, where all the beaver seemed to be already snug in their beds for the day and nowhere that I could find. I did see a blue heron fishing on the other side, but at a wide part of the river, so we’ll just let that go.

Happily, at the southern island, where the river get’s quite narrow, our old pal the great horned owl was back for another bath. I missed the actual bathing part, but this time it picked a nice close branch on which to perch, preen, and dry out.

Give all the feathers a good shake,
squeegee some on the front individually,
and fluff them up to air dry.

After a good fifteen minutes, it appeared that I was not going to see anything new, so I pressed on.

There was nothing new to report at the north end, so I came back south and again spotted the blue heron, who had kindly moved closer to the falls to give me a better shot. Here it is landing a little fish.

And here it is on the way to the lower side of the falls when the sun mercifully cast its warm glow upon the scene. Fine, but where where you 45 seconds ago when that would have really helped with those action shots?

As I continued south, I heard a catbird making its plaintive cat-call, “meow, meow, meow“, and quickly spotted it hopping around on branches close overhead. I’m not sure what message it was trying to convey, but I sure hope it eventually found satisfaction.

Further south, over the now-verdant mudflats, I spotted another wren boldly claiming his territory. They sure like those prominent perches.

Lastly, as I was searching for butterflies in the tall weeds by the soccer fields, look who I finally spotted.

Cedar waxwings at last! There were two on that branch, and a couple more nearby, but this is the one who was willing to pose for me a bit. Even the sun came out for a few seconds.

Ah! Now that’s a morning.

The rain persists…

I could hear it pouring out when I woke up, and I thought at first that I’d have to skip the park today. The radar showed a nice big gap, however, after the dawn downpour, so out to the park I went.

I didn’t see a thing until I got to the pond, and there the story gets interesting. Mrs. Wood Duck has a new friend, and even the American black duck hen is fascinated. Here they go, like a little conga line, with the new arrival in the middle. She also keeps her head down and bill against her chest, compared to Mom.

Meanwhile, the ducklings were still abed.

Then it was time for everyone to meet.

And off to breakfast they all went with Mom’s new friend in the lead. Maybe it was her idea: trying to make a good first impression with the kids.

Anyway, here’s one duckling explaining that this is not where they usually eat, as Mom tries not to hover.

But everyone seemed to be getting along fine, so I went to check in on the river.

One of our new beaver buddie swam by, on its way home I thought, but either it stopped on the way, or there’s a back door, because I did not see it arrive. In fact, it appeared that nobody was home, or they were all sleeping in, so I continued north.

I spotted the first common evening-primrose (Oenothera biennis) blossom I’ve seen in the park this season. Just one so far, but I expect there’ll be many more soon.

A blue heron was fishing at the falls again. I saw it make one attempt, which looked unsuccessful, but it was getting really foggy, and I can make plenty of blurry pictures on my own, thank you very much, so I pressed on.

At the north end, another pretty blossom is open, and this one appears to be hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium), big cousin of the little field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis) that is already blossoming in the lawn in many places.

The mallard family with three ducklings was resting right near shore, and one duckling looked to be fixin’ to get back to feeding.

I spotted another blue heron in the middle of the river, and this one appeared to be on break.

On my way back south, I spotted the wood duck hen with just one duckling, and a mallard hen with at least six.

Lastly, along the parkway on my way back home, I spotted this colorful critter.

That’s a eastern tiger swallowtail caterpillar, and I’m sure glad to see it because I haven’t yet managed to spot one of the butterflies in the park this season, but they were plentiful last summer. Maybe it’s just too early still.

Almost too dark to see…

I was hoping for a repeat of yesterday, but it stayed dark, and I got rained on instead. Oh well. I didn’t melt.

Before the rain came, I did spot this sweetheart grabbing a bite by the pond. The shutter speed was 1/25 second with the aperture wide open at f/4.5 and the ISO cranked up to 6400, so you know it was dark, and I’d have nothing to show you without that monopod.

The usual duck contingent was there, but the more interesting sight was this trio of red-winged blackbirds fledglings crowding around Mom in hopes of getting fed.

At the river, I glimpsed the wren again and managed not to spook any herons this time because they must have all stayed home this morning. Can’t grab what you can’t see, I guess.

I did spot one beaver cruising home, but nobody came out to greet it, and it didn’t dawdle at the door, so pictures today.

Then the rain came, I waited it out under a tree, and once it let up, I headed home in hopes of not getting any wetter. On my way, I spotted this little cutie, whom I just couldn’t resist.

Lastly, here’s an image that didn’t make yesterday’s post.

Yup, the pavement ants (Tetramorium caespitum) are at it again. Researchers have even developed and explored “an agent-based model that conceptualizes how individual changes in brain concentrations of 5-HT and OA, paired with a simple threshold-based decision rule, can lead to the development of colony wide warfare.” Furthermore, “model simulations do lead to the development of warfare with 91% of ants fighting at the end of 1 h.” Fascinating stuff, I tell you!

Oh, and here’s one more. The common mullein (Verbascum thapsus) is starting to blossom. Remember that this is a two-year effort.

Breakfasts of Champions!

The forecast last evening was for the rain to start at 7am, so I got up early in the hopes of staying dry for a lap, and boy, did it pay off. I might have to try that more often, but not every day. It’s pretty dark before sunrise on a cloudy day, and my camera struggled, even with the new monopod. In fact, I didn’t even try at the pond. The wood duck hen and her six ducklings plus the American black duck hen were all foraging already, and I just let them be.

As I approached the river, I could hear the little incessant chirping that I’ve come to associate with baby chicks in a nesting hole, and as I scanned the dead trunk were we saw the wren a few weeks ago, I almost missed this little guy or gal on the branch about a foot below the hole with a delicious looking morsel.

I’m not sure what the wait was for, maybe to let breakfast stop wriggling, but soon enough, into somebody’s crop it went. Yum!

With that out of the way, I continued to the river, and completely failed to sneak up on the great blue heron fishing just off shore. As I watched it go, I managed also to spook the green heron nearby. Doh! Come on, man. Focus!

Well, I brushed off those setbacks, but my game face back on, and checked in the the beaver.

Sure enough, it was breakfast time for them, too, and I’m pretty sure there were three of them about again. Here’s two.

Just north of there, I spotted this mourning dove, who didn’t appear to be having breakfast at the time, but who could refuse this sweet pose? I did not realize that they have such pretty blue eyeliner, and I read that they “eat roughly 12 to 20 percent of their body weight per day.” Further, they swallow seeds and store them in their crop, and “once they’ve filled it (the record is 17,200 bluegrass seeds in a single crop!), they can fly to a safe perch to digest the meal.” So, either you’ve got a full crop, or you’d better get busy, sweetie.

North of the falls, I came across this character just daring me to take its picture.

At the north end at last, our regular trio of mallard ducklings were busy working the rocks, under Mom’s watchful care, and one little enterprising duckling managed to catch itself a crayfish. They seem to be popular these days, and this one put up a struggle, but the duckling prevailed in the end. Yay!

On my way back south, I spotted one critter helping to pick up the mulberries from the boardwalk below the beer garden. Thanks, Buddy!

This oriole looked to be trying to cut out the middleman and go right to the source. From the looks of the feathers on its face, it’s been going right to the source a lot lately.

South of there, near where I flushed the herons, a wood duck hen with a single duckling had just caught something, maybe a tadpole, and the duckling hadn’t quite managed to choke it down yet. Good luck, Kiddo!

Finally, I interrupted the grazing of this sweetheart, and it moseyed into the woods behind it to breakfast without interruption. Sorry!

That’s the breakfast roundup for today, and it still hadn’t rained. Ha!

More beaver!

I went to bed last night expecting to sleep in this morning during the rain, but the rain didn’t come, and so off to the park I went. I spotted one deer, who just wasn’t in the mood, and so continued on straight to the pond.

All the ducks, the wood duck hen and her six ducklings plus the American black duck hen, were on the lawn when I arrived. Unfortunately, it was still pretty dark, and they were all spread out and moving around anyway, so you get a picture of this red-winged blackbird posing on the “Please don’t feed the ducks or geese” sign instead.

The river, I am happy to report, was a different story. The beaver were out again, and this time I can assert that I saw at least three distinct animals, but I couldn’t detect if any were noticeably smaller than any others.

Individual 1
Individual 2 or 3

I read about the beaver home life that they “usually mate for life, forming familial colonies. Beaver “kits” are born precocious and with a developed coat. The young beaver “kits” typically remain with their parents up to two years.

If hunches were bunches, then “individual 1” is actually Mom, with a tendency to project the tip of her tail out of the water and slightly lighter color than Dad, whom we saw yesterday, who was absent this morning, and whom I’ve never seen project the tip of his tail out of the water. And “individuals 2 & 3” are the youngsters, with visibly more-matted fur than “individual 1”.

Here’s a shot of that tail tip sticking out of the water, which I have not yet seen before.

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how the mystery of who is who unfolds.

At the falls, I spotted this catbird hunting around on the ground and was surprised by its willingness to let me get so close, which made me think that maybe it was a youngster whose flying was not yet so good. In the viewfinder, however, I could see that it was collecting nesting material, not food, and it eventually flew across the river just fine. I read that catbirds have “2 broods per year,” and that nests are “built mostly by [the] female.” Good luck, sweetie!

As I approached the north end, I finally spotted one of these striking little white-spotted sable moths (Anania funebris) who didn’t quite manage to hide itself under a leaf for a change.

While I was there, I spotted a handsome blossom I don’t believe I seen before, and it appears to be (with 79.01% confidence) marsh hedgenettle or marsh woundwort (Stachys palustris). The Pedia of Wik reports that “it is used to promote the healing of wounds,” and it adds, helpfully, that “wort is a middle English word for a herb or vegetable.” Good to know!

When I finally reached the water, I could only find one set of ducklings, but there’s a lot of water to check, so chances are that the others were about somewhere.

On my way back south, I spotted this ginormous bull frog chillin’ just off shore. It’s hard to tell for sure, because I didn’t have a ruler with me, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that it’s six inches long, which I read is really possible “in snout–to–vent length.” This is the sort of individual I would believe is capable of consuming ” rodents, small lizards and snakes, other frogs and toadsamphibianscrayfish, small birds, scorpionstarantulas and bats.”

Hardly much bigger than the frog, but not for long, was this little cutie beside the walking path.

Finally, some new equipment arrived in the mail yesterday, namely a monopod and related accoutrements, that I was anxious to try out, and which I have a hope will help me improve image quality, so here are a couple of sightings from yesterday afternoon.

First up, is a monarch butterfly, whom I’ve seen less of this season than I’d like, and who sure took his sweet time finding just the right milkweed blossom to pose upon.

Ah, but pose he did!

Lastly, this little red-eyed vireo was much bolder and lower to the ground than usual, and made me wonder if it was a recent fledgling, a matter on which the Cornell Lab of Ornithology appears to be silent.

In any case, the monopod seems to work, so watch this space!