View From The Window

On cloudy, gray days there are a lot of pictures that look black and white.

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Dark-eyed junco

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Dark-eyed junco on snowy birdbath

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Down woodpecker

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Red-bellied woodpecker getting a suet snack

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A female house sparrow, I think

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The snow is mostly melted now.  The squirrel is often seen at the suet feeder.

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On a cold morning this week we visited Lake Katherine.  There were a few spots with open water where the ducks and geese were gathered.

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The mute swans were present among the hundreds of geese and ducks on the lake.

Look Closely Along The Trail

Dan and I love to walk together.  Sometimes when we are walking we are talking a mile a minute about any topic that is important at the moment.  But sometimes, like yesterday, we stop every other minute to look at an old log, some weird fungi, or try to identify a tree or bird.  So today’s post is not about my backyard, but about yesterday’s Palos forest preserve discovery walk.

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Trail at the Little Red Schoolhouse, with Long John Slough in the distance.  It was a gray, sometimes sprinkling day.  The leaves were almost all down.

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Here are two logs, with the left one covered with fungi and the right one mostly just moss.

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Fungi and moss on a log

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It looks like someone has been sawing logs throughout the forest.  Logs are down everywhere and left to decay.  I am curious about the forest maintenance plan here.  I know there are controlled burns all over the forest preserve in the spring.  The bark is green in a different way on this log.

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Here is a tree that is still standing and covered with moss.

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Moss on fence posts

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We are always looking for Shagbark hickory trees, which I think this one is.  The bark looks pretty green…

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What is the story with this rock?  We are in the moraine valley as the bottom of the area where the rocks pushed down from Wisconsin in the last ice age…

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We passed one other hiker who said he saw a big buck in this part of the trail.  We were talking, so I am sure the buck could hear us and kept his distance.

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I love the color of the big bluestem grass in the prairie.

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I tried taking pictures of damp, decaying leaves.  Not sure it was successful, but it was an idea about looking closer.

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We passed this oak leaf in the clay mud.  Maybe some kind of a red oak leaf?  I am not an expert…

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A downy woodpecker looks for food in a dead tree.

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We noticed a great blue heron across from us a Joe’s pond, busy fishing.  Can you see what it caught?

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Zooming in, the heron was shaking a frog around for a while.  Maybe it was too big to eat directly.  Who knows?

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We stopped by Saganashkee Slough to see if we might see some bald eagles.  I guess they are more common when there is ice on the slough.  All we saw were a lot of gulls.  Are the trees in the back sycamores, another favorite of ours?

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Anyway, we sometimes end our walks with more questions than we started with, but we enjoy looking around at our beautiful, fascinating world.

November Snow Beauty

Happy Thanksgiving!  I did not get around to posting on Saturday, 11/17, when the snow was on the ground and now it is gone, but here are a few pictures to record what has been a cooler than usual month of November in Illinois.

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On Saturday we opened the kitchen curtains to see the snow lining the trees branches in the backyard.

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Snow on Hicksii yew bushes and on the mulberry tree in the background.

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Miscanthus ‘morning light’ ornamental grass.  I cut off some of the seed heads already to get ahead of the spring duties.  I use this grass, minus the seeds heads, as mulch around the garden in the spring.

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We walked around Lake Katherine on Saturday morning and loved the reflections.

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Across the lake a woman in a red coat walking her dog caught my eye.

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Snow on pine needles

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The cypress tress by the ephemeral pond had changed color but not lost their needles yet when the snow covered them.

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We were the first ones to come to the snowy bridge over the pond.

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We noticed a white waterfowl in the lake.  Was it a goose or a duck?  At home I did an internet search and I think it is an American Pekin, which is a domesticated duck.  I suppose it has joined a wild flock or something, not sure how that works.  Apparently these domesticated ducks originally were bred from mallards in China.

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Back at home, we put up a suet feeder about a ten days ago and the male red-bellied woodpecker came to feed.

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Here is another shot of the red-bellied woodpecker on a snowy day.

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The white-breasted nuthatch watched a flock of sparrow at the bird feeder and kept its distance.

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A male house sparrow can be aggressive for its small size.

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The white-breasted nuthatch eventually got its turn, looking around between each nibble.

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The downy woodpecker came, too.  I need to put another block of suet in the feeder today.

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A week ago we were walking in another part of the forest and stopped to admire the moss on an old log.

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Our walk took us by this grassy prairie.  The reason we ended up on this path is that we could see two coyotes on the path we planned to take.  They were relaxing by a stream, but we really did not feel like walking toward them to see what they would do….

I am thankful for so many things and thank you for reading this far today!

More Fall Color

It has been a cool month and we have been enjoying the fall colors this past week or so.

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I think this is the prettiest the chinquapin oak has been in the fall.  Usually the leaves are an orange brown color that is not too special, but this year the color was a little more pink/orange.  Of course, it is hard to capture in a photo.

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Carpinus caroliniana – American hornbeam.  The leaves are pinkest where they get the most sunlight.  There are lilacs on either side.  I like the lilacs, but I am tempted to get rid of the one on the right as this tree grows, to give it plenty of room.

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Zooming in from the upstairs window I was able to capture the orange/pink color a little better.

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We planted two hornbeams at the same time.  They are on either side of the lilac.  They came from Possibility Place, where we have gotten the majority of our native trees and shrubs.  I am beginning to wonder if the tree to the right of the green lilac is not really carpinus, but is ostrya, because the leaves never turn pink and always stay very yellow.  But I am not sure yet, and will need to keep researching.  The catkins and fruit do not appear to be the same on these two trees.

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Zooming in on the right side of the picture above, there is the yellow “hornbeam” on the left, the fothergilla turning bright colors in the front, and the very yellow spicebush on the right.

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The asters were some of the last flowers to bloom in the garden.

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I was surprised to see this moth still flying around in early November.  The coral mums are great places for the last pollinators.

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Saturday we took a walk on country lane in the Palos forest preserve.  The sun came out to brighten the orange leaves!

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Today we took another walk in the forest preserves.  The green leaves of the invasive bush honeysuckle really stand out, when most other leaves have fallen.  After all our years of hiking here we were amazed to walk for over an hour on a trail that was completely new to us in this area.  The thing is, some of these trails are too buggy in the heat of the summer, so this was a great day to hike here.  Part of the trail was very rugged, so it was good that it was not too muddy or too icy to go up and down the hills and through stream beds.

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A toad crossed the path in front of us.  The path was between a pond and the forest.  Where would the toad go this time of year?  It was facing away from the pond and moving slowly in the cold weather…

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Not sure of the name of this lake in the forest preserve, but I think it is the first time we have walked past it!  We did not see many waterfowl on this gray day.

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Back at home after our walk it was time to mulch up the fallen oak leaves and build up the compost pile, which you can see in the back right hand corner of the picture.  Last week we went and got some great dark colored composted manure from the nearby horse stables.  In the picture it looks like dark soil in the garden beds.  We are still eating the kale, collards and brussel sprouts from our garden.

Sandhill Cranes:  While working on the compost pile I could hear the sandhill cranes calling and looked up to see four v-shaped groups overhead flying toward those corn fields in Indiana.  Maybe there were 40 – 50.  Love it!

Moon, Mums and Fall Colors

Does the moon go with Halloween?  The harvest moon caught my attention on an evening walk this week!

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Our beautiful moon!

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The moon behind the oak trees

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We have not had many sunny days to capture these coral mums. They managed to brighten up a dreary corner of the garden this time of year.

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Zooming back to see the whole patch of mums on another cloudy day a few days later.  If you look closely a lot of the mums have a pollinator sitting on them.  They are an attractive place for the last pollinators of the year.

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Fly on coral chrysanthemum

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Yesterday Dan, Steph and I took a walk at the Little Red Schoolhouse forest preserve.  It was so hard to capture the fall colors, but when the sun was shining I got this shot of the oaks.

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The wood duck couple in the distance were swimming away from us.

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Another distant wood duck shot.  I have not seen many wood ducks this year, so this was fun for me.

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Beautiful fall colors by the original little red schoolhouse.  As we were leaving a lot of families with small children were arriving, so I hope they had a great activity going for them to enjoy nature!

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Back in our yard I am happy to say that the new Viking black chokeberry bushes survived the summer.  The older leaves turned red and purple, but there were quite a few newer shoots that grew in the last months with the leaves still green.  So this is one of two bushes that looks to be growing well in the coming years. The berries were consumed very quickly!

Bird Visitors and Residents

The flowers are still blooming, but we had some brief snow flurries today….  The following photos have been taken over the past 3 weeks as I enjoy the visitors to the garden.

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Migrating yellow-rumped warbler on the bird bath.

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The way the party started was that the blue-jay came for a drink and made a racket.

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After that the sparrows came and tried to see how many could be in the bird bath at once.

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With all that noise the robins started to arrive.

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The yellow-rumped warblers hopped around on the grass until the bird bath was empty and then several of them gave it a try.  This is a side view of the bird.  A lot of these small warblers look alike to me and I am gradually learning the differences.

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Here you can see the difference between the size of a sparrow and the smaller warbler.

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Earlier this week the mourning dove came for a visit.  They are higher in the pecking order than robins and scare them away.  Once doves arrive they like to sit for a while.

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Just after I published my last post at the end of September I saw this butterfly on the ‘fireworks’ goldenrod.  It turns out it is a gray hairstreak butterfly.  I don’t remember seeing one in my garden before.

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Last week I took this picture of the zinnias and pineapple sage.  I saw the hummingbird on the pineapple sage a couple of times.

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Last Saturday morning Arrowhead Lake was beautiful with the water temperature warmer than the air temperature, causing steam to rise.

Birding adventure:  I get emails from IBET about birds that have been sighted in Illinois.  A red-necked grebe was sighted in a slough in the forest preserves near us, so on a day off Dan and I headed to the Sag Slough to see if we could see it.  We probably spent an hour looking and hiking around and finally met a young kid with a scope who pointed it out to us.  It was too far away to get a picture.  Reading emails the next day, some of the best birders in the area were not able to get a glimpse when they came looking for this bird, so we felt lucky.  I am not really keeping a life list of birds, but I am gradually viewing more species, and that is rewarding.

September Snapshots

It has been a really busy month for me.  This is the first time I am posting something for about 5 weeks, so I had a lot of pictures I took to choose from.  Here are a few pictures of what is happening now in the garden and has happened this past month.

IMG_3511Asters and goldenrod – Solidago rugosa ‘fireworks.’  I am not sure of the type of aster I have.  They are both great for late pollinators.

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This bumblebee was barely moving on the sedum on a cool morning.

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The painted lady butterfly was hanging around the giant zinnias yesterday and not too bothered by me.

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I enjoy looking at the zinnias from my office window during the day and watching the butterflies come to visit.

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This cucumber got away from me because if was hiding underneath the zinnias.  I picked a nice green, juicy cucumber last week, but not sure if I will get any more this year.  It will be hot tomorrow, so maybe!

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Here is a shot of part of the vegetable garden.  The cherry tomato quantities have been massive.  I have been getting about one zucchini per week recently.  But the peppers are really taking off now.  There are a lot of them hanging on the pepper plants.  Dan is working on the kale plants for his smoothies.  The collards are all chewed up by the cabbage worms, but still work well in soups.  I threw some swiss chard in the soup today along with oregano and parsley.

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Yesterday’s pick of cherry tomatoes.  These have been really sweet and tasty!  Great for my daily salads.

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‘Big Bertha Bell’ is the variety of pepper.  I guess it could turn red if it stays on the plant that long.


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The old raspberry canes have been cut down and the new ones tied to the fence to get ready for winter and next summer’s fruit.

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Earlier in the month it was acorn time on the chinquapin oak tree.  The squirrels, chipmunks and blue jays were so active.   Within a week or so there was not an acorn to be found on the tree or the ground.  I’m glad our yard feeds the wild creatures.

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Chipmunks are so fun to watch.

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American goldfinch on purple coneflower a few weeks ago, getting some lunch.  Just this week I was looking out the office window and saw a bright yellow goldfinch on a coneflower.  Such a cheery sight!

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The pineapple sage finally started blooming this week.  Will any hummingbirds find this late-blooming tubular flower?

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Pink turtlehead flower.  The bumblebees love to fly in and out of each individual flower.  Can you see the grasshopper on the right side of the picture? I am still looking for a praying mantis, but have not seen one this year.

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It has not been a good year for alyssum in my garden this year.  I was pleased to see a few little clumps get going.

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Dan and I took a wonderful short trip to Wisconsin and Northern Illinois before Labor Day.  This picture, taken at Illinois Beach State Park, reminds me of all the wonderful natural places we visited on sunny, warm days.  Cooler days are coming and they will have their own pleasures to offer.

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Recently, on a walk in the forest preserve, Dan took this picture of an eastern bluebird.  There are not so many around, so really fun to see.  It is migration time, so I am keeping my eyes open for different birds in the backyard and woods.