Spring Bulbs, Waterfowl, and a Snake

Spring Bulbs, Waterfowl, and a Snake

After some snow last week the weather warmed up again and it is feeling like spring.

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Cheery crocuses

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Mini daffodils

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Rhubarb emerging last week.  Already the leaves are much bigger today.

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I heard reports of common loons in our area on their way north and I went to the Sagahashkee Slough to see if I could spot any.  It was a cloudy day and I did not see loons, but enjoyed watching other waterfowl.

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There were maybe 40- 50 American coots on the west end of the slough.  A fisherman was seeing what he could catch, but he told me he had not caught any fish.

IMG_7193 American coots

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I spent a while trying to get a picture of this guy, that I think is a horned grebe with breading plumage.

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Another view of the male horned grebe.

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I wondered if this could be the female or a juvenile as it seemed nearby without the yellow head plumage.  It was continually diving for food.

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By the lake I came across a rugged path along the south side of the slough that I will have to come back and explore with Dan some time.  I continue to be amazed at how many places there are still for us to explore for the first time in the Palos forest preserves.

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Unidentified seed heads by the lake.

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Mosses on tree trunk

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There was a large patch of little blue flowers by the side of the path.

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As I walked along the path I just about stepped on this little garter snake.  It was maybe 15 inches long.  I poked the tail very gently with a stick to try to get it to move out of my way.

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It curled up and showed me its red tongue, but I had more room to get by.  I like how this picture captures the design.

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I drove to Maple lake to see if there might be loons there, but it was hard to get close enough to the birds and my camera battery was dying.  I managed to get a picture of a red-breasted merganser couple.

I was going to end with a short video of a muskrat at Lake Katherine, but I am having trouble getting it to upload, so maybe another time….

Snow Crocus

Snow Crocus

The days are getting longer…  Green shoots are coming out of the ground.  It is fun to step out into the yard and see a flower blooming at the end of February.

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Snow crocuses on February 27th in the southwest suburbs of Chicago.

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All over the yard daffodil shoots are coming up.  These ones near the north side of the house are the tallest.

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I hear new bird calls in the yard each day, and sometimes I don’t recognize the calls.  This week I noticed these birds in the yard: robins, cardinals, black-capped chickadees, mourning doves, and even a white breasted nuthatch, which I could not get a good picture of for this post.  The sandhill cranes continue to fly north over our neighborhood.

Witch Hazel, Sandhill Cranes and Swans

Witch Hazel, Sandhill Cranes and Swans

Have you checked your vernal witch hazel lately?  As I write this the temperature is 69 degrees Fahrenheit in Chicagoland on February 18th!  Our vernal witch hazel has been blooming for a while now…

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Hamamelis vernalis, vernal witch hazel.

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Close-up of vernal witch hazel flowers.

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Back on February 9th we had a thin layer of snow that soon melted, but we have not had much more than that since December.  The cyclamen continues to bloom in the greenhouse window all winter.

img_6971Last weekend was a good weekend for pruning dormant trees and shrubs, as it was warm during the day, but freezing at night.  We completely removed one of our two American plum trees.  You can see the little stump in the forefront.  The foliage had just gotten too thick and we wanted a little more space and sunlight.  Besides we only had plums on the tree that we left standing.

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We just put all the branches and twigs on the patio.  I am not sure how soon the village will send around the truck to mulch branches in the spring.

img_6972If I had more time and energy I would do some winter gardening.  I have the fittings in place in the ground, so I would just need to put back the plastic tubing and the clear plastic cover over it to get the earth warmed up and get some lettuce planted.  Maybe when I retire….

img_6974I went out at lunch yesterday to enjoy the sun and noticed the garlic turning green.  There were a few green bottle flies that flew by.  Then I heard bird calls and looked up.

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There were about 50 sandhill cranes circling above me and then they flew off to the northwest.  An hour later I saw 20 more and today I saw another 40 flying northwest over Palos Hills.

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Last Sunday morning I sat in our living room and watched a Cooper’s hawk sitting at the top of the oak tree across the street from us.  I wonder what it found for Sunday brunch.

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This morning we took a walk around Lake Katherine and were pleased to see two mute swans.

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Most of the time the swans looked like this while they worked on breakfast.

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I hope we will see some little swans before long.

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Steph stopped to sit on a warm bench on a warm winter day.

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A downy woodpecker perched near the lake path.

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An unidentified sparrow seemed to be eating buds off the branches.

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A female mallard posed for a portrait.  A little water glistened on her feathers.

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A flap of her strong wings shook the water off…

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The male mallard was busy working on a meal.

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This afternoon the warm weather drew us outside again for a walk on the north side of the canal where we saw a lot of deer and coyote tracks.  It was great with no bugs!

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Dan is always looking for some ridge to climb.  I waited below near some sunny rocks.

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Where the rocks were warm small plants were emerging.  I heard the song of first red-winged blackbird I have heard this year.

Global warming:  I think this is record-breaking weather today.  Even though we really enjoyed the warm weather there was something strange about it, too.  We may have more snow storms before spring comes, though we have had mostly rain the past two months.

Spring Day In January

I know we may still have a blizzard to two this winter, but today was in the high fifties and I was outside with just a hooded sweatshirt.

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Here is one of several groups of crocuses that have emerged from the ground.  These are snow crocuses and have the smallest flowers.

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The mini daffodils are emerging along with weeds on the south side of the back fence.

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I checked on the praying mantis sac that I moved on to the fence behind the ornamental grass last fall.

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This kale looks like it will make it through the winter, though some of the stalks of kale look ready for the compost pile.

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Looking into the neighbor’s yard it looks like he has put out some lettuce, hoping to attract a female rabbit to make her home under his deck and give him some baby bunnies to watch.  Of course, this is the opposite of what I am hoping for as they tend to squeeze into our side of the fence where the food is more plentiful in the garden.  But I am glad my neighbor likes wildlife….

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The moss continues to spread through the rocks.

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I had to pause to look at these leave on a gaillardia plant.

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I have to admit that creeping Charlie is my worst garden enemy, and it seems to love this weather.  I can’t let it stress me out.

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Most of the year the rhubarb leaves are covering this stepping stone, but not today.  I did see a few real insects flying around this afternoon, but did not manager to get any photos.

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My rabbit loving neighbor feeds the birds as well, and the squirrel was taking advantage of the dropped seeds.

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Black-capped chickadee in the spice bush.

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Starlings on the utility line.

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I am throwing in a shot of a tufted titmouse I saw near the Little Red Schoolhouse on January 8th.

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I will end with a shot from Lake Katherine where three of us took a beautiful morning walk.

Frosty New Year’s Morning

Frosty New Year’s Morning

Happy New Year!  It was 20 degrees F. when we headed off for our walk this morning in the forest preserve.

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Our walk took us by Cranberry Slough, which we often cannot see from the trail because of the summer foliage.

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Walking a little further I zoomed in on what I think are two muskrat lodges, and we saw a few others that were not in this picture.  I also read about muskrat pushups, which are holes in the thin ice that the muskrats make, where they push up stems of pond plants.  The pushups provide places to safely eat and rest after an underwater swim. I am not sure if these are pushups or lodges.  Muskrats build with cattails, while beavers would build with sticks and trees.

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A view of Country Lane as we started our walk this morning around 8:15 am.  The snow has melted, though there are a few icy patches.

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There were some leaf-shaped holes in the icy puddle areas.  The leaf froze on the ice and then the ice probably thawed under the leaf first.

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Frosty moss on bridge overlooking frozen stream.

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Earlier this week the squirrel spend some time on our birdbath trying to get a drink through the ice…

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There was snow on the ground for most of December.  This shot was on 12/18.  The dwarf fothergilla bush looks good in the winter, showing off shape and shadows, as the snow glistens.

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A sunrise shot I took on the first day of winter.

Looking forward to witnessing the wonders of nature in 2017.

What Happened to the Bird Bath?

What Happened to the Bird Bath?

It is snowing today and the weather will turn cold this week.  I’m getting my snow shoveling muscles strengthened these days.

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A mourning dove and a sparrow were among the birds pecking at the ice in the bird bath one morning earlier this week.

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It has been snowing since last night and we may have a few more inches yet.

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It is a good time to be creative inside!  Steph and I baked Christmas cookies for an event she was going to today.

There is something peaceful about winter…..

Snow, Cyclamen, Hawk, and Sandhill Crane

The first snowfall to stay on the ground just started.  We should have a few more inches of snow today.

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First snowfall of the season in the back yard.

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Snow on chinquapin oak tree.

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The cyclamen started blooming to bring in the Christmas season.

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We started cooking the soup before the snow fell and brought in Brussel sprouts, collards and kale.  We still have a lot of kale in the garden, so we will see how it looks next week.

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When I stepped outside yesterday this hawk flew up into a nearby tree.  It was probably hunting sparrows or squirrels at the bird feeder next door.

img_4259-1We came upon a lone juvenile sandhill crane (no red marking on head) at Lake Katherine on Saturday morning.  It must have been separated from its flock as it flew south. On Friday Steph and I were taking a walk and looked up to see 80 – 90 sandhill cranes flying over us in a southeast direction.