Snowstorm

On February 9th the snowstorm brought approximately 13 inches of snow.  The pictures below will show how gray the days have been.

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The snow keeps falling on the birdbath and last fall’s flowers.

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A downy woodpecker works at the spicy suet on a snowy day.

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The white-breasted nuthatch pauses in the snow before checking out the suet.

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Pulling back on the picture you can see on the left that the sedum stalks are almost completely covered with snow.  On the right the yew shrubs are leaning way over with the weight of the snow.  I knocked the snow off most of the yew shrubs, but did not go far enough to reach these branches.

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Hicksii yew branches and snow after an earlier snowfall.

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Snow on goldenrod, Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks.’  I left the goldenrod up for winter interest and the insects that might be in the stems.

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I went out three times during the day for spurts of shoveling and my husband and son took their turns.  On the left you can see a few spikes of yucca poking out of the snow.  On the right, notice how high the snow is on our little bitternut hickory tree.

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This morning we walked at Lake Katherine.  It was a slog through the high snow, but great exercise and quiet beauty.  The lake was frozen except for this area where the fountain was bubbling.

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The Canadian geese were hunkered down on the lake ice.

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Snow scene at Lake Katherine.  After taking this picture my camera battery died.  It was probably best, as then I kept my cold hand in my mitten.

Earlier this morning our older neighbor was complaining because the snow plough had covered his car with snow and blocked him in.  Dan, my son, and I went over and shoveled him out so he would not have a heart attack!  We may need him to help us one day, and snowstorms can make us more neighborly or the opposite.

Woodpeckers and White-Breasted Nuthatches

The Downy woodpeckers have become frequent visitors, and I am coming to recognize their little calls from the chinquapin oak tree as I sit in my office.

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The suet tempted in this male downy woodpecker, who is being observed by the female downy and a white-breasted nuthatch.

IMG_1518The red-bellied woodpecker is higher in the bird feeder dominance hierarchy and the downy waits its turn.

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The red-bellied woodpecker is fluffed up in the cold weather with a little suet on her beak.  I think this is a female.

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The male red-bellied woodpecker has an eye on the downy woodpecker, who is waiting him out further up the tree.

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The downy woodpeckers were pecking on the ice and getting a drink in the frozen birdbath.

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Male and female downy woodpeckers.

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A close up of the male downy woodpecker.

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White-breasted nuthatches are cute and fun to watch as they scamper down the tree.

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Another shot of the nuthatch, who is lower than the downy in the bird feeder dominance hierarchy, so watches and waits for its turn.  I love the beautiful color combinations of black, gray and white on these birds with their long, pointy beaks.

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When the snow melted the squirrels found nuts in the ground to munch on, but soon discovered the suet.

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The squirrel managed to get the suet feeder open and run away with a chunk of suet a few times, so right now we have the feeder empty.

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Dan decided to throw a few snowballs at the squirrel!

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White snow covers the branches and contrasts with the red cyclamen.  Today there is no snow on the ground, but the weather predicts snow for tomorrow morning.

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If you are longing for spring, here is a blurry shot of the snow crocuses from two weeks ago, around January 21st.

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I just finished reading and really enjoyed 438 Days: An extraordinary true story of survival at sea, by Jonathan Franklin.  Winter evenings are nice for cozy reading!

Other fascinating current reading:  The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt.

 

Suet Visitors

I have never used bird feeders before.  On the spur of the moment I bought a suet feeder and put some suet in it, to see if I could interest some woodpeckers.  There have been no woodpecker visitors yet, that I am aware of.

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The weather has been so cold that for quite a few days there were no bird visitors.  Then one day I noticed black-capped chickadees exploring the suet feeder.

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It was a bit of a puzzle to get at the frozen suet.

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A male northern cardinal was among a group of birds checking it out on Friday.

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I love the bright red bird’s contrast to the winter scene.

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Sparrows and starlings came by to try their luck.

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A house sparrow looks for a snack.

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I noticed a hawk fly into one of the large trees in the neighborhood.  I suppose this is a good time to find a bird meal at a bird feeder.

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The dark-eyed juncos looked at the suet briefly, but then went off to look for seeds on the garden plants.

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The dark-eyed juncos are winter residents that are always fun to watch as they hop around on the ground looking for seeds

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We have had snow on the ground for 2 weeks and temperatures have remainder below 20 degrees Fahrenheit since December 26th, which is apparently a temperature record in Chicago.

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Last Saturday morning, with a wind chill well below zero, we took a walk at the Little Red Schoolhouse forest preserve.  There were lots of animal tracks, especially deer tracks.  We were okay with the weather, except for our feet, which seemed like ice blocks.  This morning we had a good walk inside the mall instead, so we were a little wimpy!

Food: Our son is on a two-week 1500 calorie meal plan suggested by his doctor, before he gets his annual blood test.  You can find the meal plan on the Eating Well website.  I have been cooking all kinds of interesting and delicious meals and though it is a bit of work it has been generally tasty and enjoyable.  It is one way to stay cozy in the cold weather.

Current Reading:  I am in the middle of reading several books at once – Being Mortal by Atul Gawande; Jungle of Stone: The True Story of Two Men, Their Extraordinary Journey, and the Discovery of the Lost Civilization of the Maya by William Carlsen; Disunity in Christ by Christina Cleveland.

December Morning in the Woods

We got lost in the forest preserve woods yesterday morning.  We walked about 90 minutes before we got back to our car.  But it was a mild morning and the woods were beautiful!

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When the sun finally came out yesterday morning I made a long shadow.

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It was impossible to capture in a photograph the view of all the ravines and hills we walked through.  Everything was covered with a layer of leaves and was very quiet.

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I noticed this mossy area at the top of a stream bed.  The little red speck in the back of the picture is from 3 mountain bike riders we met on the trail.

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We passed three guys on mountain bikes as we were trying to figure out which way would take us out of the forest.

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Dan pointed to six deer in the distance.

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We and the deer looked at each other.

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I came across a pile of nut shells.  It was under a shagbark hickory tree, so I am guessing they are from hickory nuts.

IMG_1193I saw this little cavity in a tree that looked like a nice place for a squirrel to sit and have a nut meal.

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This tree cavity looked like a warm place to get out of a storm.  It reminds me of the little bunny children’s book I love.  Notice the spray paint on this trunk?

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A lot of the trees in this forest had been decorated with spray paint…

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Last weekend we visited the Turtlehead forest preserve in Orland Park.  We decided we want to come again and view it in the other three seasons, too.

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Back at home I put fresh water in the bird bath when the weather was above freezing.  Then I noticed a flurry of starling and house sparrow visitors.  The northern cardinals and dark-eyed juncos looked on from nearby, but did not want to get mixed up with the crazy sparrows and starlings.

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This morning, Christmas Eve, we are getting 1 -3 inches of snow for a beautiful white Christmas.

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In our cozy kitchen, where the roast is in the oven, I noticed a ladybug in the greenhouse window.  It is hiding somewhere in the cyclamen plant….

Birds At Year End

We had snow yesterday…  These pictures were taken over the past few weeks as we move from late fall to early winter.

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Red-bellied woodpecker at Hidden Pond Forest Preserve

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Female northern cardinal at Hidden Pond Forest Preserve.  I always hope to see wood ducks in Hidden Pond, since I saw them there once, but I have never have seen them there again.

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I walked one of the trails at Hidden Pond forest preserve a few weeks ago.  Today I went back there with a crew of volunteers and we cut invasive brush and built two big bon fires to burn it up.  In this picture the late green leaves you can see are probably honeysuckle, which is an invasive shrub all over the forest preserves.

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Black-capped chickadee at Lake Katherine

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I always look at the waterfowl at Lake Katherine to see if I can see anything besides mallards and Canadian geese.  This pair look like scaup, but I can’t tell if they are the greater or lesser variety…  My picture is not the greatest.

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Back in our yard the blue jay is faced with a frozen bird bath.  In the background are sedum, which I decided to leave up for the winter.

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We have had quite a few dark-eyed juncos pecking around in the yard the past few weeks. They like to scrounge around in the leaf litter, so our yard is a good place for them. I think they prefer seeds, but will eat insect, too.

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Dark-eyed junco eating liatris seeds

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Here is what our messy meadow looked like after the snowfall yesterday.  The little bluestem grass has turned red.  Plenty of flower and grass seeds here.

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I noticed a large flock of starlings across the street and on our front lawn.  I heard that when you see starlings on the lawn that you have grubs in the lawn.  It certainly is possible.

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When a white-breasted nuthatch flew in and landed on the neighbor’s oak the starlings may have been spooked and all flew away.

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Moving from birds to mammals….  Dan and I went for a walk one Saturday morning in the forest preserve south of us on Harlem Avenue and came across this deer, who stood still for a few moments.

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The squirrels have been busy in the yard.  This one was working on the ice in the bird bath.  Don’t you love that winter fur and fluffy tail?

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The squirrel is continually running around the yard, maybe checking on the nuts that are buried here and there.

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At the end of November I went to the horse stable and loaded up the car trunk with buckets of horse manure that I spread over the vegetable gardens.  It should blended into the soil by next spring.  The manure was already fairly well composted.  The parsley and strawberries stay green until it really freezes hard and stays frozen for a while.

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I guess we are done with mowing the lawn and mulching up our leaves.  We had strong winds last week, causing the last of the leaves to fall.  We got them all mulched and then the snow fell the next day.

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The shadows are long now on the north side of the house, but when the sun comes out the grass is still green.

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You can see the kale is still hanging in here in the pictures above, so I was still able to add some fresh greens to our vegetable bean soup.

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We are getting close to the shortest day of the year.  Sometimes I think I hear a great horned owl in the trees near us, but I have not seen one yet.

Fall Clean Up

Most of the leaves are down now and we have been cleaning up the yard before winter.

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Dan mowed the lawn and mulched up the leaves to add to the compost pile.

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A little bit of the kale was still looking good and not destroyed by bugs, so we put some in the soup today.  The parsley is still looking green…

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Some mornings have been cold and the sparrows and other birds visit the bird bath briefly, then move on.

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Sometimes when I am working in the garden I will hear sandhill cranes and look up to see many flocks flying southeast.

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Dan and I walked through a prairie in the forest preserve yesterday morning and the browns and oranges were beautiful!

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Here is a shot from a dark, cloudy day that I visited Lake Katherine.  The kissing fish are in the front and reflections on the lake.

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The cyclamen is back indoors and blooming.

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Long evenings are good for reading.  Does your stack of reading material get precariously high sometimes, too?

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After several months I got through this library book – Blue Highways.  It is a travelogue across America that was relaxing to read before bed.  I had my road atlas next to me and followed as the author followed small roads around the United States and I read to find out what the author would find down these roads in out-of-the-way places. I may not get to these places, but I can read about them….

Autumn Wanderings

When I get a chance I get out in the forest preserves to enjoy the autumn days.  Even with the snow on Friday the oak leaves are still hanging on.  Here are a few shots from the past two weeks.

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Reflections in the pond at the Little Red Schoolhouse.

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Turning to face the other way I could see an oak savanna with a stately, magnificent oak.  I love it when I see that young oak trees have been planted to replace many of the ancient oaks around us.

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I stopped to read an old sign by the trail about hibernation.

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My walk eventually lead me by the original little red schoolhouse.  It has now been replaced by a beautiful new building that better meets the needs of nature field trips.  In the background you can see several doomed roofs of cages that house birds.  Maybe these are birds that have been rehabilitated or cannot survive in the wild for some reason.

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There were a lot of little kids out enjoying the day.  This little girl climbed the fence to get a glimpse of the hawk in the cage.

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Red-tailed hawk, the most common hawk in our area.

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The orange serviceberry leaves were so pretty!

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The big surprise was the working phone booth.  The sign inside says that the phone actually works and to dial 911 if needed.

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I flushed out a lot of little birds when I walked down this prairie trail.

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Everywhere the oaks were turning orange, yellow and red.

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A late dragonfly was enjoying a warm rock.  I slowly brought my finder under the dragonfly’s head.  It sat on my finger for a while, but flew away before I got a picture.

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Two weeks ago Dan and I walked in the Willow Springs forest preserve for the first time.  We keep finding trails that are new for us.

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This looks like a den that would provide shelter for some animal….

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On November 1st I parked by Arrowhead Lake in the forest perverse south of us. It was a gray day, but the walk turned out to be beautiful anyway.

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I crossed Harlem Avenue to explore a new path I had not tried before.

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The woods were very quite except for the woodpeckers.

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Downy woodpecker

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The colors caught my attention as I walked out.  Maybe you had to be there….

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Back in our yard the aphids, or something, completely covered the kale plants.  I did see a few lady bugs around.  Sometimes the kale makes it through the winter and sometimes it doesn’t.  In any case I look forward to a swarm of lady bugs and other predators in the spring.

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On a more cheery note, the pineapple sage was blooming on November 1st.  I never saw any hummingbirds on it this year, as it did not start blooming until October.  We had a hard frost this week, though, and it’s days are over…

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It snowed some on Friday, for the first time this year, and stuck for a few hours. The chinquapin oak is just changing color this week and still has its leaves.  The crab apple lost most of its leaves back in June with some disease, so I need to try to get rid of those diseased leaves from under the tree.

Compost leaf pile:  We dug out some of the compost from the bottom of the pile, and started a new leaf pile yesterday.  We used the mower to mulch the leaves on the lawn and captured them in the mower bag that we carried to the leaf pile.  Dan even went out in the easement and mowed up those leaves, too, to make the leaf pile about three and a half feet high.  When the leaves are mixed with grass clippings they get hot pretty quickly.  We will do this the next few weekends and try to get the pile as large as possible before winter.  Then I can put my kitchen scraps in the pile until it is too frozen to get them in!