Blue Beauty

Sometimes you have to stop and smell or take time to enjoy the flowers!

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Baptisia australis, blue false indigo.

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Close up of blue false indigo flowers

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Veronica spicata Royal Candles (spike speedwell)

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‘May Night’ sage, in the salvia family

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The sage is often in the shade, but gets some sun in the morning.  The yarrow is just starting to turn yellow.

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‘Blue Hill’ sage, max frei geraniums, and penstemon digitalis (foxglove breadtoungue)

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Digitalis purpurea foxglove

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Meadow sage

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Clematis jackmanii

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The birds hang out on the tomato cages near the bird bath.  The clematis, virginia creeper, and soon the tomato vie for climbing space on the fence and cages.

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The garden is planted.  The zucchini, which just popped out of the ground, the cucumber, and the zinnias will fill up the open space on the right.

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Enjoying fresh greens each day

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Tomato flower

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Ajuga and coleus

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Blue fescue ornamental grass. In the background are cone flowers, coreopsis verticillata ‘Zagreb’, and asclepias incarnate – swamp milkweed.  Those flowers should be blooming before long.  The Russian sage is trying to pop up everywhere, too….

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I just planted the little bluestem grass on the right, and the sunflower seed I planted is getting going on the left.  I have another little bluestem grass that is more established and the grass looks bluer.  The great part  of this grass is the orange/red color in the fall.

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Blue damselfly on rhubarb leaves

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The day I took this picture Dan said:  “This is the most beautiful day of the year!”

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Iris.  I think I got rid of my blue irises because I really like these red ones best.

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We pulled out Rick’s old tent, that we have never used on a trip, and it looks like it will work for Stephanie’s first camping trip.

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Last weekend, on our walk around Lake Katherine, we watched this turtle laying her eggs.  She was on a mission and dug a hole on the side of the path where people were walking and running.

 

American Plum Blossoms

We have a native American Plum Tree.  The plums are not great, but the blossoms are so fragrant and beautiful.  That is a perfume I would wear!

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Blossoms on American plum tree.

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Each branch is full of fragrant plum blossoms.  The petals are starting to fall now.

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This was taken when the blossoms were just starting.  I would not recommend this tree if you are really hoping for plums.  It attracts a lot of bugs, so it takes some effort to get plums that are edible, and then they are a bit sour, so I have to peel off the skin to eat them.  But the bugs are what the birds love.  This is one native tree that is recommended as really helpful to the bugs and birds in the neighborhood.  I often have a good number of lady bugs taking advantage of the smaller bugs during the summer.  Also, this tree suckers, but you can mow most of the suckers down quite easily.

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Across the street we enjoyed the magnolia tree and the mighty oak that is starting to leaf out.  I like the dark sky on this picture.

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The EZ straw project worked great and we have a lot of grass coming up now.  It took exactly 7 days before I started seeing the first grass come up.

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I was not so sure how things would turn out when I saw this big raccoon digging in the straw one day!

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Time to plant vegetables!  I started the lettuce and spinach before the last snowfall and just had the ground covered with straw.  Now I have planted a lot of other plants including the swiss chard, lettuce, parsley, basil and kale in this picture.  Next week I will get some bean and zucchini seeds in the ground.

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There have been a lot of migrating birds.  This is a palm warbler and they regularly visit the garden in spring and fall, hopping around to catch bugs.

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Most of the time we miss getting pictures of the birds as they jump and fly out of the picture.

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I think this is the first yellow warbler I have ever seen and I was glad to get a quick shot of it in the spicebush.

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Sometimes I can’t identify the birds, or do not have time to thoroughly investigate what I am seeing.  Can anyone identify this bird?

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Here is another shot of the mystery bird.  Pretty cute, huh?

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On Sunday we did some birding at Lake Katherine and there were a lot of interesting birds there.  This was the best shot Dan could get of the Baltimore Oriole that was singing.

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A black and white warbler was hoping around the tree trunk searching for bugs.

This is a busy time of year for me, so I will stop here.  Hope you are enjoying spring!

Lawn Repair, Daffodils & More Birds

A lawn is part of American life, and is the easiest way to deal with certain parts of the yard.  But I have to say I do not like lawn work, so this year we hired a landscaping crew to come in and repair a bad area on our front lawn.

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We had three low bare spots in front of the house, so on Monday we replaced that area with sod and flagstones for our mailman to walk on.  And, yes, it needs a lot of water to get the sod established and we will need a weed whip to cut the grass around the stones….  As you can see in the bottom left corner of the picture our old lawn currently has violets blooming in it, so I imagine it will infiltrate the new lawn at some point.  We could use weed killer, but so far we have avoided herbicides and pesticides on our lawn.  I don’t like lawns in general, but I think this new sod looks nice!

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Then Friday I got a hair brained idea to fix a patch of the lawn in the back yard on the north side of the house.  I pulled up all the sod, because it was mixed with some weird kind of grass that was not attractive.  It was a big mass of thatch.  I put down some EZ straw that is mixed with seeds, I guess.  So now I am watering on the front AND back side of the house twice a day or more.  As you can see part of the straw/seeds is in the sun most of the day, so that will need more water than the part in the shade.  I will give you a report in a few weeks on whether it germinated.  The sparrow are interested in the seeds and the robins in the worms in this area.

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Speaking of lawns, I have to throw in a picture of a beautiful dandelion.  I am digging them up and out wherever I see them, but they are pretty!  I noticed a small bee on a dandelion this afternoon.

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My favorite daffodils are the large yellow trumpet ones.  I think a bought these and a few other varieties from Breck’s a while ago.  We have about 10 bunches of daffodils in the back yard.

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Under the crabapple tree, and next to the daffodils, the irises are getting ready to bloom in about a month or so.  The hicksii yew shrubs are in the center back, and I think a pair of northern cardinals have a nest in there.

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New red leaves on ‘Profusion’ crabapple tree.

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The white daffodil is usually the first to bloom, though it was delayed with the snow this year.

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I like this white trumpet daffodil with a yellow center.

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Double white daffodil.  They look best when the bloom first opens.

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I am not sure if these double yellow daffodils have a name.  They are a little heavy for their stems.

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Also currently blooming is the spicebush – Lindera benzoin.  I have not figured out how to get my camera to take a good close up of a small flower yet.  This shrub is now maybe 10 -12 feet tall.  I think if there were another spicebush in the neighborhood I might get berries.

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It snowed within the last two weeks and I still had dark-eyed juncos feeding on the last of the coneflower seeds.

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I spotted a little brown creeper on the oak tree one cold day.

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I thought this might be a fox sparrow, but I really don’t know my sparrows…

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I managed to get a shot of a ruby-crowned kinglet where you can see the little red spot on the head.

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I think this is a yellow-rumped warbler.

Yesterday Dan and I visited Orland grasslands – south and did some birding.

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Greater yellowlegs shorebird at Orland grasslands – south.  Dan was shooting pictures of this shorebird when we saw a birder with binoculars come up and tell us he was looking for the yellowlegs that was seen in the area.  We told him we had just seen it, so we chatted a bit.  Always fun to talk to an expert birder.

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We noticed a killdeer along the path.

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It was a little chilly and the killdeer was resting in the grass.  I think there are a lot of different birds in these grasslands that I have never seen before, so hope to get back here sometime.

Lettuce update:  In my last post I planted lettuce and spinach seeds, covered with straw, and then it snowed.  I am glad to report that my seeds germinated and I have spinach and leaf lettuce getting going!  I can’t wait for the garden salad!

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.

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.

December Morning in the Woods

We got lost in the forest preserve woods yesterday morning.  We walked about 90 minutes before we got back to our car.  But it was a mild morning and the woods were beautiful!

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When the sun finally came out yesterday morning I made a long shadow.

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It was impossible to capture in a photograph the view of all the ravines and hills we walked through.  Everything was covered with a layer of leaves and was very quiet.

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I noticed this mossy area at the top of a stream bed.  The little red speck in the back of the picture is from 3 mountain bike riders we met on the trail.

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We passed three guys on mountain bikes as we were trying to figure out which way would take us out of the forest.

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Dan pointed to six deer in the distance.

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We and the deer looked at each other.

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I came across a pile of nut shells.  It was under a shagbark hickory tree, so I am guessing they are from hickory nuts.

IMG_1193I saw this little cavity in a tree that looked like a nice place for a squirrel to sit and have a nut meal.

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This tree cavity looked like a warm place to get out of a storm.  It reminds me of the little bunny children’s book I love.  Notice the spray paint on this trunk?

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A lot of the trees in this forest had been decorated with spray paint…

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Last weekend we visited the Turtlehead forest preserve in Orland Park.  We decided we want to come again and view it in the other three seasons, too.

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Back at home I put fresh water in the bird bath when the weather was above freezing.  Then I noticed a flurry of starling and house sparrow visitors.  The northern cardinals and dark-eyed juncos looked on from nearby, but did not want to get mixed up with the crazy sparrows and starlings.

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This morning, Christmas Eve, we are getting 1 -3 inches of snow for a beautiful white Christmas.

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In our cozy kitchen, where the roast is in the oven, I noticed a ladybug in the greenhouse window.  It is hiding somewhere in the cyclamen plant….

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!