Vernal Witch-Hazel and Red-Winged Blackbirds

It’s the end of February and it has been a very spring-like weekend.  We know that more snow is on the way, but signs of spring are popping up.

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Hamamelis vernalis, vernal witch-hazel.  I have had this shrub for a few years and this is the best flower show I have ever had.

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Here you can see what the flower buds look like before they open.

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The vernal witch-hazel is not very striking from a distance, so I almost forget to check on it.  There are still brown leaves on the branches from last fall.  But all the branches are covered by these tiny yellow and red flowers.  It is just so cheery this time of year when you come in for a closer look.  I suppose then it gets bigger the flowers will be more at eye level.

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Dan and I watched these two mourning doves going through a mating ritual this morning.  It all started with some neck bobbing….

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A little later we headed out to the forest preserve, where we saw and heard red-winged blackbirds everywhere.  They are back from their travels south.

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At the Little Red School House forest preserve we stopped to watch the waterfowl.  We thought we were seeing common merganser ducks.

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We wandered along on the forest paths, which were quite muddy today.  On this straight stretch we heard woodpeckers and chickadees.  I need to learn more bird calls…

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A few times we sat down on the benches and just listened quietly.  Although it looks gray, the sky cleared up and turned beautifully blue.

Just enjoying Illinois!

Birding at Jackson Park

On Saturday at 8:00 am we met real birders for the first time at Jackson Park in Chicago.  We met near Wooded Island and Bobolink Meadow for an observation walk, followed by a trip to the nearby harbor.  Apparently this walk near Wooded Island has been happening weekly for the past 35 years or so.  It was a new adventure for us.

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The birders each came equipped with binoculars and there was one scope that was shared to get a better zoom.  We brought a pair of ancient binoculars, which turned out to be helpful, despite being on their last leg and a bit dusty.  Our camera could not really zoom out far enough and fast enough to catch much.

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Canvasback duck.  One of many species that were identified by the group.  Other species included Wood Duck, Redhead Duck, Scaup, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Red-Breasted Merganser, Ruddy Duck, and of course Mallards.  We also saw a Northern Harrier hunting in the meadow.

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American Coot in the inner harbor at Jackson Park.

I think I have reached the limit on this blog unless I reduce the size of my pictures or make some other changes, so just three pictures today!

Gardening Update:  Today was a pruning day.  We pruned the Chinquapin Oak and the American Plums and a few branches off some shrubs.  The daffodils are pushing out of the ground with the warm weather we just had.  Spring is around the corner, but it looks like we will be having some snow this week first!

Hiking the Ridge

We took a walk near the canal while it was snowing this afternoon.  There was one other couple out enjoying the snow.  Otherwise there were no foot prints.

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After we walked on the Cal-Sag bike trail for a while we climbed up to the ridge path.

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It was so quiet.  The snow was starting to frame the tree limbs.

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Dressed for the weather!

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Back at home the cyclamen cheers us on a snowy day.

Garfield Park Conservatory

Yesterday was a cold, wind-chilling kind of day, so I decided to visit the Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago for the first time.  Although a lot of other people had the same idea it did not feel crowded.  There was plenty of room for us to spread out, and yet share the wonder of the space, as a community of northern winter dwellers reveling in the lush green warmth for a few hours.

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Lipstick Palm from Sumatra.

There were a number of different palms in this large room, but this one caught my eye.

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Entering the Palm House was a piece of art called “portal,” made of mirrors.  Everything was planted so beautifully.

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At a little pool the coins had been arranged in such a cute way.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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This is just one example of all the amazing kinds of foliage you could see at every turn.

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This pink flower was blooming in the Show House.  I could not find the label on the tree.  Please identify it if you can.  The show house was full of bulbs in bloom and Azaleas.

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The next room was the Aroid House.  I loved this cute pool with a bench.  There were benches everywhere where one could chat or just relax and take it all in.  Some of the leaves in this room were huge.

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The Desert House had a fantastic collection of cacti and succulents.  The dry heat felt great and made you want to hang around and look at the crazy plants.

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In the Children’s garden the paths were just the right size for kids, so they were discovering that area on their own.  So cute!

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The next room was “Sugar from the Sun.”  There was a little red mangrove area where the kids were fascinated by the gold fish.  This room was full of vines and fruit bearing trees.

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Bananas

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Papayas

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Finally, my favorite, the Fern Room.

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A cute couple were getting their picture taken in a beautiful setting.

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This picture talks about the carboniferous age.  I looked it up and that was between around 3.6 and 3 million years ago.  A time when coal beds were formed.

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I loved all the moss and the wide variety of ferns.

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This is looking back across the lagoon from the other side.  Behind me would be the waterfall and various streams that feed the lagoon.  This conservatory was constructed between 1906 and 1908.  Recently the ceiling had to be repaired after a storm, I believe.

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I know that red roses are standard for Valentine’s day, but I love the variety of flowers that capture the eye.

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

And I hope you are rejuvenated by connecting with nature today.  It looks like we are getting several inches of snow today, so I might go out and check that out, as well!