Birds At Year End

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

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

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!

Fall Walks, Birds, and Butterflies

Fall Walks, Birds, and Butterflies

The weather stayed nice and unseasonably warm through today, when the rain and cooler weather seems to be moving in.  I was able to go on a number of beautiful fall walks this past week.

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Fall colors at Lake Katherine

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There were two pairs of mute swans at Lake Katherine this morning.

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The nuts were abundant on the bald cypress trees.

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Our little bitternut hickory tree in the front yard continues to grow more each year and it turned very yellow today.  You can see that the neighbor’s autumn blaze maple behind it is just getting ready to turn color.

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On Wednesday I had the day off and I went for a walk at the Little Red Schoolhouse in the Palos Forest Preserve.  The hickories were turning color, but most of the color was fairly muted.

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The temperature was in the mid-70s, so I sat down in the sun across from the prairie and soaked up the sun and the quietness.  The big oak trees were still very green.

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A large grasshopper was walking in circles in the grass at my feet….  So many different and complicated insects in the world, eating and being eaten.

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Nearby a migrating white-crowned sparrow looked for a snack.

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I spent some time in the shelter observing birds.  Another more experienced birder came along and she confirmed some of my sightings.

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I thought I had take pictures of a group of eastern bluebirds and she confirmed that was true.  I have not seen eastern bluebirds for a while, so that was rewarding.

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A great blue heron and a double-crested cormorant each found a resting spot on top of the solar array in the middle of the slough.  It was a very beautiful day.

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Back home in our yard two painted lady butterflies have been hanging out at the zinnias all week.

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A variety of other moths and butterflies spend the day on the flowers that are still blooming.

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I was struck by the two designs that meet in this picture.

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A week ago I took this picture of a goldfinch munching on the dried coneflowers in the garden.

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Pulling back you can see the little goldfinch on the messy coneflowers.  This is the view from our kitchen window.  This is the time of year to clean up the yard and get ready for winter.  I am always having a conversation in my mind about what messy plants to leave for the birds and insects and what clean up to do now to make it easier in the spring.  Some years I clean up more and some years I leave more mess!

Zucchini, Tomatoes, Collards and Praying Mantis

Zucchini, Tomatoes, Collards and Praying Mantis

With an inch of rain recently we have had a break in the drought.  It is a beautiful October day and here is what I saw when I looked around the garden today.

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Male zucchini flower

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Female zucchini flower.  We have had quite a few zucchini flowers over the past months, but without rain few of them developed into zucchini that I bothered to pick.  Now we might get a few if the weather stays warm.  I enjoy these magnificent but short-lived flowers.

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I have been eating these yellow pear heirloom cherry tomatoes for a few months now.  The leaves of the plant are diseased, but I just keep getting enough cherry tomatoes to have a bunch in my salad each day.

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These are tomato plants that my Arab lady friend left on the patio in my watering can, so I don’t know what kind they are, but they are finally producing the first red tomatoes.  On Thursday I made some delicious ratatouille…

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We try to throw in 2 to 10 leaves of collards into recipes when we get a chance.  This plant near the lilac bush is looking healthy.

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In the vegetable garden the inner portion of the collard plants have been eaten by cabbage moths.  We have more collards than we can eat, so I don’t worry too much about it.

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Here come the brussel sprouts.  They have been pretty small, but I think the rain will help them get a bit bigger.

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Backing up, here is what the brussel sprout plant looks like.

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The pole beans are drying on the vines and will be shelled when I pull down the bean structure.

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I looked for bugs on the bean leaves and found a grasshopper.

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Parsley is one of the plants that look beautiful all the way into December.  I have not cooked much with it this year, but it makes a great ornamental plant.  It is an essential ingredient in my fabulous spaghetti sauce recipe.

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I finally saw my first black swallowtail caterpillar for the year on one of the parsley plants.  For me, parsley is a much better host plant than dill for these caterpillars.

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All the native and ornamental grasses have seed heads now.  This is miscanthus ‘morning light.’  I have been searching them the past months to see if I could see the first praying mantis.

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This morning I found a female praying mantis in a clump of miscanthus.  Her abdomen is very  large and I wondered if she was getting ready to deposit her egg sack or if she just ate a very large grass hopper that she is digesting.  I was trying to get a better shot and she moved further into the grass, so I am no longer able to find her.  I find paying mantis egg sacks in the grasses every spring when I am doing clean up and try to put the egg sacs in a place where the ants will not get at them.

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These little zinnias are finally blooming now.  They are called ‘summer solstice’ but seem to be best in the fall.  I plant them from seeds each year, and they are cute in the garden and attractive to pollinators.

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Just to the right in the alyssum I found a little skipper resting.  I almost pulled up all the alyssum during the drought because it just looked like seed heads, but the flowers have returned after the rain and it is buzzing with small pollinators.

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The coral mums are starting to bloom…

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Some migrating warblers have been passing through.  I think this is a palm warbler, as they seem to visit every year, but not sure I can tell from this picture.

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Then there is the usual bird bath ruckus to see how many starlings or sparrows can get in the bird bath at once!

Have a beautiful autumn day!

Acorns, Spiders and More

The acorns on our chinquapin oak tree are ripe and it is entertaining to watch the wildlife go for this food source.  And one foggy morning this week we noticed spiders everywhere, so I started looking around to capture a few pictures of them.

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Chinquapin oak acorn.  There are a few caps on the ground but the acorns are already mostly eaten from this tree.

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The extremely speedy chipmunk can reach to the edge of the branches for the hard to get acorns.

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Chipmunk stuffing his cheeks with acorns.

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The squirrels are climbing the oak for acorns, too.

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A lot of the time both the squirrels and the chipmunks are running around looking for any acorns that might have fallen to the ground and stopping for a snack.

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The blue jays arrive every morning and make a lot of noise.  Once I think there were six blue jays searching for acorns in the tree.

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The chipmunk dashes about and then freezes when he or she sees me.  Here it is hiding in a messy patch of zucchini.

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The chipmunk is trying to get from the zucchini on the right to a hole it dug in the middle of the lawn.

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Here is the chipmunk hole in the lawn…

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One weekend morning we saw the neighbor cat sit by this hole for a very long time.  I am not sure, but I think it finally gave up.

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Pulling back you can see what the garden looks like from the kitchen window on September 15th.  The grass is so dry.  No need to mow it.  We have not had much rain this summer and hardly any for weeks.  The blooming flowers are still buzzing with pollinators this time of year, though.

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Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’ goldenrod

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The wasps seem to be particularly attracted to the goldenrod.

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Bees are all over the sedum.

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The sedum gets a lot less sun as the oak tree grows, leaving a less exciting sedum display.  The drought may be having an effect, too, so I have not noticed as many butterflies visiting.  We have also had unseasonably cool weather this past month, though the heat is back this week.

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All those sedum leaves are a perfect place for hiding spiders, waiting to catch a fly lunch.  This week we noticed spiders everywhere in the garden.

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Just outside our front door a spider had tied up a nice meal package.

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An orb spider has been spinning her web below the clothes line every night just outside my office window.  In the morning the web is highlighted by the fog.

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And I have to remember to always give the kale leaves a good shake to get rid of lurking spiders before bringing the kale in for soup.  Otherwise the spiders are running around the kitchen sink….

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The bean pole structure has a colony of daddy longlegs spiders.  When I pick beans they move out of the way, so they are not too scary.  I have stopped picking beans for the year, though, and will just harvest the dried beans late in the autumn.

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I picked up a prairie dropseed ornamental grass at the farmers’ market and planted it where some of the strawberries have been dying off.  I hope it will get established before winter.  The nasturtiums look tired out by the drought.  Maybe I will water the vegetable garden tomorrow morning…

Bird Bath Visitors

Bird Bath Visitors

Our bird bath is often shady now, as our chinquapin oak keeps getting bigger.  So it is sometimes harder to get the camera to focus on the birds instead of the sunny view in the background.  But these are a few of the birds we have seen in the past weeks.

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An American robin enjoys a peaceful, solitary moment to rest at the bird bath on a sunny day.

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It is not always so peaceful as there are a lot of robins and house sparrows in the neighborhood who are looking for the same thing.

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Here there are four or five robins in the bird bath and four waiting on the ground.

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It is the time of year for more blue jay visitors, as they inspect our acorns to see if they have become tasty food.

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Female northern cardinal in chinquapin oak tree.  The cardinals are not pushy, and I think they like it a little quieter when  they come to the bird bath.

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I have seen grackles in the yard a few times recently.  This one was very wary and furtive before taking a sip of water.

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A European starling joined the grackle.  The grackle is bigger, but starlings are bold birds.  The starling drank some water and jumped in to splash in the bath as the grackle watched.

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The robin deferred to the grackle, even though the robin is usually king of the castle.

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The goldfinches are often heard and seen in the yard this time of year.  They are seed eaters and especially like the cone flowers.

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This looks like a female American goldfinch.  This little bird spent a long time hopping around the edge of the bird bath cautiously.

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At one point the goldfinch removed a white feather that had been floating in the water.

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It finally jumped in and had a nice splash!

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I have been so happy to see beautiful cedar waxwings in the yard.  This one was cautious about the bird bath, also.

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Finally it made the plunge!

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Too cool!

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The hummingbird was visiting the lilies by the bird bath.  I wondered if it would stop for some water….

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But it rested on a lily flower.  A sparrow stopped at the bird bath and the hummingbird took off….

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A female northern flicker, in the woodpecker family, searches for ants or beetles near the bird bath.  She keeps looking around between foraging moments.

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The black-capped chickadee likes to preen itself on top of the laundry pole.

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A downy woodpecker came for a visit back in mid-June.

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This looked like a giant wasp or bee in the dill today.  I love providing habitat for native bees.

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Monarch on zinnia.

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Meanwhile I am picking yellow wax beans and green pole beans every day and trying to cook them to keep up.  I know this is a losing battle and might try to freeze some beans soon!