Bulbs and Duck Identification

Spring is holding off except for some cute bulbs that are making small splotches of color in the garden.  This post combines pictures of a few flowers with a birding adventure I had at McGinnis Slough today.

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Little blue anemones come up from bulbs each year.

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Another blue anemone with the yellow center slightly less open.  You can see bunches of daffodils in the background.  Very tiny bugs were flying around the garden yesterday, so they can get some nectar from these flowers.

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My regular large yellow daffodils are still waiting to open.

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The  mini daffodils are at their peak now.

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Purple snow crocuses

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My other purple crocuses are getting starting now, too.

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Praying mantis egg sac.  I took the day off yesterday and one of my projects was to cut down the clumps of dried ornamental grasses that have stood up over the winter.  This was the third praying mantis sac I found this year.  The other two were on the goldenrod stalks.

Today was cool and rainy in the morning.  Around noon I made it to McGinnis Slough to do some birding, since I had heard of a number of duck species seen there recently.  It would really help to have a scope, since the lake is pretty large, but I did my best with my binoculars and camera.  After taking the pictures I came home to try to identify the ducks I took pictures of.  Not all the pictures are great, but the more I do this more I learn what the different species of ducks look like.  If I misidentified any of them please let me know.

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Male blue-winged teal duck

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A female and two male blue-winged teal ducks

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Here is one more shot of the blue-winged teal near an American coot.  There were a lot of coots today, though I did not get any great pictures.

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Across the slough I could see a goose guarding a nest on high ground.  There are two blue-winged teal ducks on the right and a male northern shoveler duck on the left.

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Male northern shoveler duck

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This couple was hard to identify because of the poor picture, but I think they are green-winged teal ducks, though not positive.

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The great blue heron blended into the dull landscape and I almost missed it.

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Ring-necked duck

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Blurry picture of a female bufflehead duck

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Male and female bufflehead.  I took this picture last weekend, but throwing it in here…

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I headed down one of the paths and came across a pair of mallards.

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Mallards and reflections in pond

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I walked around to the front view of the mallards.  They were aware of me but enjoying a nice place to preen.

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Mallard ducks and reflections

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Just one more look at the female mallard duck with her beautiful feathers spread out.

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The sun came out for a moment then and even the bare woods looked pretty with the trees reflecting in the pond.

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Walking back along the path I looked out at the rushes, which provide so many hiding places for the ducks.

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I saw another goose on a nest high above the water line.

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A red-tailed hawk landed in a nearby tree with a squirrel lunch.  It was watching me.

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The red-tailed hawk flew across the slough to an oak tree to eat the squirrel, without me nearby…

Reading:  One reason I have more blog posts recently is that my son, Phil, has been reading to me on the weekend, and I enjoy sorting through my pictures while he reads.  He has been reading Middlemarch by George Eliot.  I also just finished reading Unseen World by Liz Moore.

Yellow and Red

Daffodils are a transition between winter and spring.

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The first mini daffodils are making an appearance!

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These mini daffodils will be a welcome place for the first tiny bugs and pollinators.

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The yellow crocuses are fully opened and the purple crocuses will appear soon.

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Male northern cardinal at the frozen birdbath.  For mating season males show their brightest colors and sing beautiful songs.

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We noticed a male house finch singing in the oak and moving back into the neighborhood with some bright red feathers…

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The rhubarb plant is popping out of the earth!  It is almost April!

Eared Grebe and March Soil

I planned to have this blog be about my back yard, and there are a few pictures at the bottom of this post about that.  But when I hear that a bird that is not common for Illinois is in the neighborhood I sometimes decide to go birding instead of focusing on the garden.

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Eared Grebe at Saganashkee Slough.  I get frequent emails from IBET – Illinois Birders Exchanging Thoughts.  They inform the birding community of what interesting birds have been seen that day.  I particularly pay attention when the birds are seen in the Palos area. So I headed out to the slough to see if I could find this bird.  After taking quite a few pictures I noticed some birders and approach them and they said it looked like my picture was of the eared grebe they were looking for.  Yay!  This is a bird that is migrating through Illinois.

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Saganashkee Slough.  I understand that the water is only about 6 feet deep and that may make it a good fishing place for waterfowl.

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Horned grebes.

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A horned grebe that caught a fish.

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Red-breasted mergansers diving for fish.

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As I was watching through my binoculars it looked like mating season, as a group of male red-breasted mergansers were following a female.

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Two male common mergansers with a female.

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I kept hearing the sandhill cranes flying overhead during the afternoon.  Sorry the photo is not more zoomed in!

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Dormant trees at Long John Slough.  We are still having freezing temperatures at night, but today the weather was warm and beautiful.

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I noticed insects flying around today.  A moth landed on the Hicksii yew shrub.

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Daffodils were pushing up along the east fence.  I guess the soil is kind of heaving now due to the ice freezing and thawing in the soil.  I think this is good for the soil and the soil is damaged when we walk on this soft soil this time of year.

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Another view of soft, thawing, spring soil that is pushed up here and there.

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Earlier this week it was snowing hard, though we only got about an inch.  It snowed and sleeted Friday night, too.  I think we can use the moisture, so no complaints.  Spring is coming, but winter has not quite left us.

Snow Crocus and Vernal Witch Hazel

I can’t resist taking pictures of the first signs of spring.

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Yellow snow crocus opens on a sunny afternoon.

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I love the lines and design on the outside of the snow crocus.  These flowers get a lot of afternoon sun.  I don’t think it will be too long before the other crocuses start to form flowers.

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The vernal witch hazel flowers have been blooming for a while.  I had a lot of trouble getting a picture that focused on the flowers and not the background, but I think that just shows that I need to learn more about my camera.

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What crazy looking flowers.  I really like the leaves on this shrub, but looking back through my pictures it does not look like I took many pictures of the leaves.  My witch hazel shrub is often hidden behind the lilac or the ornamental grass.  I will have to make a point to take pictures of the leaves this year.

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We pruned the American plum tree to get rid of branches that hung down when trying to mow the lawn.  I think we did the final pruning to get  rid of lower branches on the chinquapin oak tree.  We try to prune when the temperature is above freezing, but it freezes at night.

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I bought six different kinds of sedum plants a few years ago and the dragon’s bloom sedum is mixing with this other variety now.

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Among the dead Alchemilla mollis lady’s mantle leaves a new fan-shaped green leaf appeared.

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I thought the curly parsley finally died at the end of January, but it does not look quite dead yet.  During the fall and winter I tried to chew a little piece of parsley whenever I went into the garden, just because the green seemed like winter vitamins.

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Hardy strawberries look like they need some thinning and straw around them in order to have good fruit this spring and summer.  It is not quite time to do that yet.

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Dan went out and completely turned the compost leaf pile.  There were some wet spots from kitchen scraps and quite a few dry spots where it had burned to ash, and it really needed a good mix to speed it up again.

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The mini daffodils have a sunny spot and we should have tiny, yellow flowers blooming before long.

Florida Birds and More

I saw the first yellow flowers on our snow crocuses today and the green daffodil shoots are starting to come up.  But while we are waiting for spring to come to Chicagoland, Dan and I took a short trip to Florida and enjoyed the sunny weather!  I did my best to identify some of the birds we saw on this trip.

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Reddish egret on Sanibel Island.  One day we visited the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge.  Looking at the bird guide they gave us this picture looks like a reddish egret.

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Nearby were several groups of white pelicans.

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I believe this is a willet resting on a stump near the shore.

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This shot shows that many of the birds were on sand bars or in shallow waters, where they were resting or fishing.  These lakes or bays were surrounded by tall mangroves.

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We walked on an observation boardwalk into one of the red mangrove areas.  I love the reflections on this picture.

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We observed a tiny snake on one of the mangrove branches.

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Looking closely we noticed little mangrove tree crabs crawling on the branches.

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We almost missed the yellow-crowned night heron in the shade of the mangroves.  They like to eat the mangrove tree crabs!

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Can you see the tail on the male horseshoe crab?  We saw a larger female horseshoe crab near the mangrove boardwalk, but could not get a picture.

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Dan saw this hawk fly into the trees and was trying to get a picture.  We thought it was a red-shouldered hawk, which would be a first for me.

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Dragonfly resting in stream.

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We spent some time visiting beaches and the shorebirds seemed to be visiting some of the beaches, too.  Besides the herring and ring-billed gulls, this shot includes a black skimmer and some royal terns.

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We saw osprey nesting wherever we went.

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This great blue heron had found a nice perch in a pond at the Lemon Bay Park in Englewood, where we visited one afternoon.

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Also seen at the pond was this bird, which I think is an eastern phoebe.

We saw some really fun birds when we visited the Six Mile Cypress Slough on our last full day in Florida.

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Starting at Gator Pond we saw many sunning double-crested cormorants, along with egrets, herons, and osprey.

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It was a cool, but beautiful morning in the cypress woods and the ferns were wonderfully verdant.  We saw a downy woodpecker and heard that someone had seen a pileated woodpecker.  I had never seen one, so was on the look out.

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Pileated woodpecker at Six Mile Cypress Slough near Fort Myers, Florida.

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A barred owl was sleeping away the morning.

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At Otter Pond a green heron was looking for breakfast.

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From this angle you can see the minnows swimming in the water.  The heron was intently watching for just the right fish to swim by.

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Nearby a white ibis had something in its bill it was working on as we watched.

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Apparently these are apple snail eggs, that are an introduced species.

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Nesting near Otter Pond was a limpkin, another first ever bird for me.  Limpkins eat apple snails, so help to keep a check on this species, and that is why they are nesting here.

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An alligator found a sunny place to digest its breakfast.

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A turtle was warming up on a log.  I like the way the back feet are stretched out.

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One of the magnificent, old cypress trees was putting on fresh green leaves.

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We practiced trying to get shots of warblers, but missed more than we were successful.  Once we got a picture we were not sure what kind of warbler it was.  Maybe this is a palm warbler, but not sure.

We decided to fit in one last visit to the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, which we visited a few years ago.

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A female anhinga was drying its wings in the sun at the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.

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A great egret was fishing as it stalked between giant old cypress trees.  We saw a number of giant trees blown down due to hurricane Irma.  One part of the boardwalk was broken and closed down, but there were wood storks nesting there, so that was a good reason to keep visitors out.

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I zoomed way out to catch a little blue heron hunting on lettuce lake.

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At that point I was distracted by an alligator swimming up near to the boardwalk.  The little kids near us were thrilled.

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We looked into a scope on the side of the boardwalk and saw this snake.

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One of the posted signs explained that first people were afraid of the swamp, then greed made them exploit it for feathers and lumber, and to drain it for land.  But now there is a greater understanding of the function the swamp plays in our ecosystem, as water purification, flood control and habitat.

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I am thankful for those who have preserved places like this for us to enjoy and for the trees and swamp to provide habitat for so many species that have decreased rapidly.  I see that there is a need for the millions (billions?) of domesticated cows, chickens, dogs, and cats, but surely these other wild species are valuable as well.