After a replenishing rain…

The park feels shiny and new this morning after yesterday’s rain. The pond is full and clear, and the flowers have perked up nicely. With the pond full, the stream to the river is running again, and those little fish, maybe darters, were already in it by the middle of yesterday afternoon. The river went up about a foot, based on the fresh strandline location, and has already receded much of that distance.

The wild evening primrose (Oenothera biennis), which we’ve been seeing for over a month, looked especially crisp this morning. The brown-eyed susans and jewelweed also appeared rejuvenated.

I finally found a red-spotted purple (Limenitis arthemis astyanax) that was willing to work with me and show off both its underside red spots and its topside purple patches.

Here’s a striking red and black dragonfly that might be a cherry-faced meadowhawk (Sympetrum internum) or a ruby meadowhawk (Sympetrum rubicundulum) on the mudflats, and another painted lady butterfly (Vanessa cardui), which seem to be everywhere all of a sudden, warming up in the morning sun on the parking lot pavement.

Here’s yet another pink-edged sulphur (Colias interior) contentedly, for a change, sipping nectar from a bull thistle blossom, and yet another eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus), a male this time, doing the same.

Speaking of sipping nectar, did anyone see the blurb in yesterday’s NYT Science Times on the recent discovery about how honey bees drink nectar? It turns out that they can either sip it or lap it, depending on how viscous it is. “Once again, insects prove to be more complicated than scientists thought they were.” Well, these aren’t technically “honey bees”, but perhaps they are just as versatile. Man, that bull thistle sure is popular these days.

Finally, continuing with the nectar sipping theme, I have at long last captured a recognizable image, if just barely, of a hummingbird feeding on the jewelweed growing along the river trail and recently revived by the rain. Our location, the green back, white throat, and white tips on her tail feathers all suggest a female ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris).

She visited about a half dozen blossoms as I did my best to aim, zoom, and focus. Sadly, the light was low, and this is the best I’ve managed to do so far. I’ve spotted hummingbirds several times before in the park, but they have usually been zipping through the air at the time, so I’ve captured only one other picture, from back in May, before now.

Wonders just never cease, eh?

Rain at last…

We’re finally getting the soaking we’ve needed for a while. Plus, the storm is moving southeast, so it should be raining here through 10am, and so no pictures this morning. It’s kinda fun, for me at least, to sit here at the breakfast table, for a change, and watch the lightning and listen to the thunder, but Anne’s bummed about having to skip her sunrise bike ride today.

As luck would have it, though, I was in the park yesterday afternoon and thought I had found us a new butterfly flitting about the middle of the southern soccer field in the blazing sun. It prefered to park with its wings closed, but they weren’t plain white or plain yellow, as we usually see.

When it took off or landed, I could see glimpses of a colorful topside, but it always managed to return to the closed pose before I could line up a shot. It probably moved a dozen times, but never went very far, and never stayed very long. And then it finally relented. Ta da!

Awe, it’s a common buckeye, just like the one we saw by the pond back on June 22, although this one is a little worse for the wear, eh? Oh, that little stinker made me work for it.

Anyway, I read in the Pedia of Wik that buckeye caterpillars commonly feed on broadleaf plantain (Plantago major), a common lawn weed that some of you may know well. In that case you probably recognized the spike of flowers and/or fruits that our rascal is resting on in the first of the three pictures above or the leaves that make up part of the background in the third picture. Maybe it was looking for just the right plantain plant, and I left it on the one it finally selected.

Since we’re on reruns, it seems, I also did spot on the bull thistle a couple of the little skipper butterflies we saw back on July 31. On the left/top, we’ve got a Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phyleus) with light yellow wings, and on the right/bottom, we’ve got a Peck’s skipper (Polites peckius) with light and dark checkered wings.

And that’s it, I’m afraid. That’s the whole show for today. I can’t wait to get into the park to see what, if anything, this rain will entice to come out and pose for us, right?

Summer isn’t done with us yet…

Oof! It was warm, still, and steamy in the park this morning, and I read that 90°F is in our forecast for this afternoon. Unfortunately, yesterday’s rain didn’t amount to much, the paths were still dry this morning under the bigger trees, and the brown-eyed susans looked no less thirsty than before.

The pond was empty of birds, and only the three most-common critters (chipmunks, grey squirrels, and rabbits) were about, but a heron was fishing on the river, a slew of mallards were grazing on the river bottom, and a V of Canada geese flew overhead.

The more-photogenic activity took place yesterday afternoon before the storm rolled in.

Here’s a pretty female eastern black swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes), “the state butterfly of Oklahoma and New Jersey,” sipping on one of many bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) blossoms at the edge of the soccer fields. We’ve seen both before, but I don’t believe we’ve seen them together like this.

The stand of thistle also attracts bumblebees in droves, and sometimes it can get crowded.

And it isn’t just pollinators attracted to the thistle. Here’s another female black and yellow garden spider (Argiope aurantia), but this time she appears already to have several meals in “storage”. Yummy!

So the thistle is a tall and very thorny plant, perhaps the closest thing we have to cactus this far north, covered in bumblebees, an occasional butterfly, and big spider webs full of big spiders and their future meals, and the goldfinch be like “you had me at ‘thistle’.”

Finally, I did get to witness some fascinating behavior this morning by a trio of northern flickers (Colaptes auratus), whom we’ve seen many times before, but of whom I have really struggled to get a descent photograph. This time, at least two of them were occupied by a bobbing dance and “wakka wakka” song, the likes of which I’ve never seen or heard before. Here’s a nice video of the dance, and the song is the third one down here. They are both worth experiencing.

My three images attempt to show the most exposed bird bobbing up and down and side to side for another bid on the branch just above it. Oddly, I cannot find a video showing both the song and the dance simultaneously, as I observed this morning. I guess if I had the right equipment, I could be posting some exciting, new, and never-before-seen behavior, eh?

Oh well, next time.

Starting to winding down…

It was a pleasant morning in Estabrook Park. Signs of fall are starting to show, and some are probably being accelerated by the long stretch of dry weather we’ve been having. I’ve seen flocks of Canada geese flying out of the river valley in v-formations, and some of the sumac leaves by the falls are starting to turn red. I’m still waiting for more asters to bloom, which got a nice mention, along with monarchs and the painted lady we just saw yesterday, in the NYT this morning, of all places.

The only critters I saw this morning were chipmunks, rabbits, grey squirrels, and one wood duck on the river. Oh, and a slew of robbins and cabbage white butterflies. The river is lower than I’ve seen it this year, and the jewelweed and even brown-eyed susans are starting to struggle with the lack of water.

My one new find for the day is this big bracket fungus, which appears to be Chicken of the Woods or Sulphur Shelf (Laetiporus sulphureus), growing from a log laying on the “island” formed when the river is high enough to flood the oxbow pond north of the falls, where mallard ducklings swam for a while. The muddy bottom of the “pond” has finally dried out enough for me to walk across without sinking in.

It’s big like the dryad’s saddle, aka pheasant’s back (Cerioporus squamosus) we’ve seen several times before, but distinctly yellow-orange, and not off-white like the white-pore version we might have seen once.

I read that “due to its taste, Laetiporus sulphureus has been called the chicken polypore and chicken-of-the-woods (not to be confused with Grifola frondosa, the so-called hen-of-the-woods).

Many people think that the mushroom tastes like crab or lobster leading to the nickname lobster-of-the-woods. The authors of Mushrooms in Color said that the mushroom tastes good sauteed in butter or prepared in a cream sauce served on toast or rice. It is highly regarded in Germany and North America.”

Maybe it would go well with some fava beans and a nice Chianti, eh?

Along came a painted lady…

It was a quiet and slow morning in Estabrook today, and it appears that our cormorant has finally moved on from the pond, like the grebe, mergansers, teals, geese, mallards, and herons before it. The only one left there this morning was this single wood duck hen.

The river was full of Canada geese, mallards, and this single heron.

The monarchs and bees were mobbing the bull thistle for its sweet, sweet, nectar.

And this pretty painted lady butterfly (Vanessa cardui), whom I don’t believe we’ve seen before, was sipping on drops of sap on this leaf. It looks very similar to the American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis) that we saw back in June.

I read in the Pedia of Wik that it “is one of the most widespread of all butterflies, found on every continent except Antarctica and South America.” Furthermore, across the pond, “it migrates from North Africa and the Mediterranean to Britain and Europe in May and June, and from the Red Sea basin, via Israel and Cyprus, to Turkey in March and April.” And, “after heavy rain produced an abundance of vegetation in the deserts, Southern California saw these butterflies migrating by the millions across the state in March 2019.” Quite the travelers, eh?

Finally, thanks to everyone who has already signed my petition to keep the parkway through Estabrook Park closed to motorized traffic. We’re up to 150+ signatures this morning, and if you’ve been to the park recently, you may have noticed that the parks department did move the northern barricade to the southern edge of the middle parking lot, providing access to the ADA parking spaces near the dog park. Here’s hoping we can help make that the last time they need to move them.

Oh, and before I forget, I’m sure you’ll be thrilled to know that my park beer was nice and tasty last evening, as one would expect, right?

Short and sweet.

It was another morning in paradise, the cormorant was on the pond, a few birds were chirping, the crickets were singing, and this little guy, who we may have seen before, seemed beside himself with curiosity about me. For all I know, maybe he just wanted to play, and as before, he would approach me cautiously, bobbing his head around, and then scamper away. He repeated that twice before he must have had enough and simply tucked back into the woods as though this happens every day. I sure wouldn’t mind if it did.

The cicadas have been singing less lately, and I’ve been finding them laying on the parkway more frequently, too. Perhaps they are nearing the end of their season.

The other big news of the morning is that I finally scored my first can of park beer! It was hiding in the bushes along the river trail just south of the falls. I figured it was empty as I reached in for it, and you can imagine my surprise when I first felt the weight of it. The date on the bottom says “Aug3120” so it should still good, right? We’ll know soon enough when Miller Time comes around later this afternoon.

Finally, thanks to all of you who signed the petition to keep the parkway through Estabrook Park closed to motorized traffic. We’ve already got 133 signatures! Woo Hoo! If you didn’t get a chance to sign yet, it’s still not too late.

A late arrival…

It was just a little warmer this morning than recent days so there was no photogenic mist on the river or over the falls and the grass was not wet with dew. Although it has cleared up now, there was also some overcast, but it was still another beautiful day in a long string of beautiful days at Estabrook Park.

A youngish-looking great blue heron was hunting on the river between nice green lily pads and arrowhead leaves instead of against a grey bank of mud and dried sticks for a change.

The young cormorant is still on the pond for the 14th straight day and was drying out after what I hope was a successful fishing expedition when I came by this morning.

As I was trying to capture the perfect cormorant image, I could hear a new incessant chirp in the trees across the pond, so I put the lens cap back on and walked around to investigate. I never did find out who was chirping, but I sure found out why it was chirping. Say hello to our newest arrival, what I believe to be a Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) and a young one by the looks of those brown feathers on its back.

I hope none of you are thinking that I’m claiming this is the first Cooper’s hawk in Estabrook Park or even that this one has just arrived. All I’m claiming is that it has taken me all summer to finally find and photograph one. Heck, it might even be a juvenile sharp-shinned hawk, but the two features we’re supposed to check, skinny legs and belly streaks are conveniently concealed from our view in the one image I managed to capture before it took off. Oh well. I’m doing the best I can.

Finally, this little cutie really wanted to meet you all, so here he or she is. I know rabbits are a dime-a-dozen these days, in the park and probably your yards, but when they try so hard to get me to take their picture, I can hardly resist, and who could, right?

Lastly, and I realize I’m going out on a limb here, but I’ve started a petition on MoveOn.Org urging Milwaukee County Parks to “keep the parkway through Estabrook Park closed to motorized traffic.” You can read the details here, if you want, and even add your name, if you agree with me. Thank you for your consideration.

Couldn’t think of a good title…

Imagine a broken record, but with the break perfectly placed so that your favorite line of your favorite song repeats just as if the artist had recorded it that way. That’s what the weather has been like lately. Holy Moly! Why would anyone ever leave Wisconsin, right?

Oh yeah. I almost forgot.

Technically, these images aren’t from in Estabrook Park, and I don’t have any good winter pictures from there yet. Instead, they’re from a block east on Glendale Avenue. Just something to look forward to, eh? Actually, I like the winter here, and I expect that I will have some nice winter pictures from the park soon enough for you. (Shout out to Maren for helping with the shoveling and for posing for the picture!)

Anyway, back to the gorgeous here and now. My one new sighting in Estabrook for today is this pretty, native, late-summer wildflower, the blue cardinal flower, aka great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) growing in the shade along the now-closed road from the parkway down to the meadow and boat launch.

The river was pretty as well this morning, with a nice mist rising from the falls, but the beaver were nowhere that I could find. Maybe they’ll be back tomorrow. Fingers crossed!

One pretty little wood duck was still dabbling through the lily pads by the mudflats.

On the pond, the cormorant still reigns as the current apex predator, well except maybe for the snapping turtle, but I’ve seen no indications that the snapper is anywhere near as active. This morning the cormorant was willing to model a behavior I haven’t managed to photograph until now. This appears for all the world to be a great big yawn, perhaps instigate by my arrival with my camera yet again. It sure looks like this could be the call of the wild, but our hero has been quiet as a ghost so far.

I did see one deer on the soccer fields at the south end this morning, but none in the meadow at the north end. I did take a few pictures, but the light was pretty low, and the deer was pretty far away, so the images aren’t worth posting. Sorry about that. We’ve seen plenty of deer pictures anyway.

That’s it for today, and I hope you get a chance to enjoy this weather while it lasts!

The mammals stage a comeback…

Man, we are in some kind of beautiful weather pattern lately, and it’s just been one gorgeous day after another. The cormorant was fishing in the pond, and a wood duck was dabbling on the river.

The surprise in the park this morning was not a new critter but critters in a new spot. The doe and her two fawns, which we’ve often seen on the soccer fields at the south end, were visiting the north end, perhaps to sample the vegetables in the wildflower meadow, were we saw the buck back in July.

A beaver, but just one this time, was back at the same downed cottonwood as yesterday munching on bark again. It would dive under the water, the branch would jiggle a little bit, and then it would come back up with a new piece of bark to work on.

A chipmunk was making quite a racket in a tree right beside the stairs from the beer garden to the falls, and I know I’ve shown you a few pictures of them before, but this one was trying so hard to get my attention and then posing so nicely that I just couldn’t resist.

I don’t have good data on the fluctuations in nectar production by the various flowers in the park from day to day or week to week, but it has been dry lately, and perhaps we’re in a little bit of a low spot because this looks like some serious competition on a bull thistle blossom. The female dark morph eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) didn’t stick around long after the bumblebee showed up.

This monarch was just sitting it out for now on what look to be sow thistle blossoms that have long gone by.

Finally, I spotted yet another fish in the river that is new to me. Can you help me identify it? I’d say it was about 3 inches long. Maybe a young bass?

Cottonwood bark anyone? Anyone?

It was yet another gorgeous morning in Estabrook Park; cool, still, and pretty dry; and I saw several of the regulars during my usual rounds. A deer was grazing at the edge of the soccer field, the cormorant was fishing in the pond, and a pair of wood ducks were dabbling on the river.

The big news, however, is that I finally managed to spot another good-sized mammal, of which I’ve been seeing signs all summer, but never an actual glimpse until now. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, friends and countrymen, children of all ages, give a warm Wisconsin welcome to our very own North American beaver (Castor canadensis), right here on the Milwaukee River and contentedly munching on a strip of cottonwood (probably Populus deltoides) bark that it had just peeled off that branch you can see in the background.

When I first came around the corner, it was pulling on the strip of bark, and in the dim light, the first interpretation that popped into my head of the image I was seeing was of a duck tangled in fishing line, and my heart sank into my shoes. Happily for us, however, also the beaver, and even the duck I had imagined, my initial impression turned out not to be the case. Instead, it was a honest-to-goodness beaver, it got about a foot-long section of bark loose, and you can see it begin to munch on it in the picture above. It seemed quite undisturbed by me, and I took about 50 pictures as it proceeded to ingest the entire strip. Here’s a close up showing its nearly unbearably cute little paws clasping the bark.

After a while, it slowly swam away while it finished off the strip of bark, and a second beaver swam up. That’s right, a second one! In all the excitement, I failed to capture an image showing both of them at the same time, so you’ll just have to take my word on that. The second beaver calmly pulled off its own bark strip and started to munch on it in exactly the same way as the first one. Here’s a picture of that.

I think you can clearly see that they are two completely different individuals, right? Anyway, I thought I felt a mosquito on my leg, I waved at it, this second beaver took exception to that, and it took off with a big splash of its tail. The show was over, but what a show it was, eh?

Let me leave you with a not-too-bad and nicely-soothing picture of the wood duck pair amongst the lily pads on the river.