Autumn sticks its toe in the door…

Well, autumn is unofficially off to a cool, dark, damp, and breezy start. The silver lining, for me at least, was that the park was empty with not a car in all three lots. Sweet. Not that I don’t want to share! You are more than welcome to join me, but sometimes a little solitude can be nice, if you can get it, right?

Anyway, I saw no deer, but the geese that were noticeably absent yesterday were back in force this morning. There were probably 4 or 5 dozen on the river, and as I continued south, small flocks would take off and fly past me on their way south as well. Safe travels as you Fly Away Home, my friends!

In the meadow by the boat launch, I spotted this little critter trying to hide in the grass. I don’t know what’s up the the raccoons lately, but after seeing nary a hair on their head all summer, now they seem to be everywhere.

It seems that the beaver are not making much progress on their first cottonwood tree and have focused their energies on the second. I sure hope they succeed with both. I’m not the biggest fan of losing these big trees, but leaving the trees dead and standing seems to be the worst option of all. The trees are dead either way, and if they don’t fall the beaver don’t get the calories they need. Come on guys! You can do it!

A little further south, the pheasant back mushroom, on the other hand, is making good progress and is noticeably larger and less pig-nosed than just yesterday.

On the mudflats, the magnificent spotted orb-weaver from yesterday was gone, along with its web, but a blue heron was back to fishing along the river. I had initially written “I wonder how long they’ll stick around,” but then I looked up their migration map only to see that we might enjoy such sights all winter. All of Wisconsin is within their “year-round” range. Woo Hoo!

Also on the mudflats were a few damselflies, and this one on a knotweed blossom might be the same American rubyspot (Hetaerina americana) we saw back at the start of September.

Finally, just so you’re not left with only shades of blue and grey, here’s one more flower-of-an-hour I caught open yesterday. Enjoy your last dash of Labor Day color!

Happy Labor Day.

It was cooler and breezier this morning than yesterday, the park was just about empty, and this young deer took advantage of the moment to fill up on acorns in front of the Benjamin Church House. I’m sure the squirrels up in the tree busily knocking down the acorns were thrilled about that.

The beaver continue to make some progress on the couple of cottonwood trees, but it is not as obvious as on previous mornings.

Perhaps they’ve been too busy harvesting arrowhead roots (Sagittaria) instead, which I read have been “prized for millennia as a reliable source of starch and carbohydrates.” Apparently “Indian people [sic] often sought caches of Sagittaria tubers stored by muskrat and beaver.” At least I hope that’s what’s going on. Here’s what patches of arrowheads, just off the mudflats, look like after a harvest.

Also along the river, our old buddy, the dryad’s saddle, aka pheasant’s back mushroom (Cerioporus squamosus) looks like it’s going through “the “pig nose” stage” one more time.

Back on the mudflats, yet another knotweed, this one goes by the names lady’s thumb, spotted lady’s thumb, Jesusplant, and redshank (Persicaria maculosa), is in full bloom and feeding the bumblebees.

Finally, this good-sized spider, perhaps a spotted orb-weaver (Neoscona crucifera), has woven quite an impressive web, easily 2 feet in diameters, strung between a tree branch and the tall grasses below. It’s in the same family, Araneidae, as our black and yellow garden spider (Argiope aurantia), and we’ll have to wait for a nice heavy dew for a decent picture of the web.

And that’s that. Nary a bird today, well except for robins and chickadees, of course. Perhaps the rest all took advantage of the stiff breeze out of the north today and are well on their way to warmer destinations. Bon Voyage!

The show seems to never end…

Wow, oh wow! What a fabulous morning! It was raining and blowing hard when we got up, but the rain moved out over the lake by 9am, the winds died down, and I could have heard a pin drop on the mudflats by the river as the sun tried to come out. The Farmers Market sure lucked out, eh?

Before I got to the mudflats, however, I was treated to this spectacle right on the path behind the soccer fields. I guess the robins really felt the need for a bath.

Then, on the mudflats, look who gave a second chance. That’s right, a giant ichneumon wasp (Megarhyssa atrata), which we first saw back in July, posed perfectly.

Further north along the river, the beaver have been busy since yesterday! Not only have they made noticeable progress on the first tree, they’ve even started on a second!

On my way back south again, I spotted this little painted turtle, not even 3 inches long, doing its best superman impersonation. It looks like the one we saw on a lilypad about three weeks ago, and it’s even in just about the same spot.

Also on the mudflats, this pretty little butterfly caught my eye, an eastern tailed-blue (Everes comyntas) in the same subfamily, Polyommatinae, as the ‘summer’ spring azure (Celastrina ladon neglecta) we saw about a month ago.

Finally, still on the mudflats, I spotted this little guy, who for all the world appears to be a northern waterthrush (Parkesia noveboracensis), a warbler. They’re baaaack. Their breeding grounds start a bit north of here, and so this one is enroute to its wintering grounds in Central America. Woo Hoo! Our first fall migrator!

Lastly, nearly over the spot where the robins were bathing a couple of hours earlier, this little eastern wood-pewee (Contopus virens) also sat still for a second on its way to SOUTH AMERICA! Our second fall migrator!

This morning turned out to be like cutting open a geode. Nothing but grey at the start, on the outside, but an absolute sight to behold once I get into it.

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.