March Birds, Witch-hazel and Crocus

It has been very birdy recently.  We enjoyed the winter birds, and this month have been starting to notice the spring birds, which are much more vocal.  Some will be nesting locally and some will just be migrating through.  I also took a closer look in the yard today to find the first flowers.

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Resident robin resting late in the afternoon in the oak tree.  Where will the nest be this year?

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Another robin picture.  This time in the maple tree next door that is about to flower.

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The male northern cardinal has been singing a lot recently.  This is not a great picture, but you can see the daffodils in the background that are slowly nudging up.

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I love it when the mourning dove visits.

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The vernal witch-hazel has been blooming for a while now.

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The first yellow snow crocus blooms are so cheery.

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I noticed another crocus blooming near the house.  On closer inspection it looks like the rabbit ate the green shoots right off.

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I had noticed this flower from my office window and thought it was an anemone, until I took a closer look today and saw this purple crocus, which I don’t think I planted here….

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One more crocus picture!

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I have been hearing sandhill cranes every day around noon over the past week.  Large flocks of them tend to circle in our area, catching an updraft before moving on.

Our Saturday walks last week and this week have given us a glimpse of quite a few migrating birds.

Little Red Schoolhouse – March 16

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Common mergansers

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Hooded mergansers – a little blurry

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Song sparrow?

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A white-tailed deer on the path watched us as we watched it.

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Ice crystals on the river last week.  Now most ice has melted.

McGinnis Slough – March 23

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The air was filled with the sound of red-winged blackbirds this morning.

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Male northern shoveler.

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The paths around the slough were flooded.  We had worn our winter boots, but still had to head into the thicket to go around the water.  Dan fearlessly pushed through the brush.

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Ring-necked ducks

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Lesser scaup

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Buffleheads

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Mallard couple nesting.  I hope the ducks and geese did not lose eggs in the flooded waters.

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It was a gorgeous sunny morning as we walked down the path in the other direction toward the open water.  We paused to listed to the chickadees and woodpeckers.

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Finally we came to the view where we could see hundred and hundred of ducks.  A muskrat was swimming around in the reeds near us as we listened to the red-winged blackbirds overhead and enjoyed the sun on our backs.

Spring is on the way!

Mid-Winter Images

Here are a few pictures since my last post a month ago.  We are in the middle of winter.  We have warm days that melt the snow, rainy days, and then more snow and lots of cold.  The lakes are frozen.  But the days are getting longer….  Here are a few pictures from the last month.

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Stream flowing at Lake Katherine

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The stream ends in the lake that is kept from freezing with a bubbling fountain.  In the morning the geese and ducks are gathered before flying away for the day.

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Mallard couple

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Walking on the trail around Lake Katherine on February first.

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Grab a book or add one you are finished with to share with the community.

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The alder tree caught my attention today with all the hanging catkins.

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On the alder tree the male catkins are the long thin one.  The mature female catkins look like tiny pine cones.

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The bench reminds us of other times of the year when this is the perfect place to sit and enjoy the magic of the moment.

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One of the problems with hiking this time of year is icy trails.  The show starts to melt on warm days, then freezes up and gets icy.  We ended up on a walk at Cranberry Slough in the forest preserve yesterday where we spent most of the walk on the side of the trail or looking for places to walk that were not icy.  Luckily we made it with no falls.  It ended up being a beautiful walk, though we were looking down at our feet more than usual.

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Another cold Saturday recently took us down this hill with helpful log steps and no ice. In previous years we found it to be a dangerous decent when it was snowy or icy!

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February has brought snow off and on to our yard, along with the polar vortex.

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One day I noticed that a downy woodpecker was completely fluffed up, I guess to keep warm.

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A flock of dark-eyed juncos have been visiting the yard throughout the winter.

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The rabbit visits too.  We also see rabbit footprints in the snow.

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The snow crocuses have been pushing up through the ground since January, though they will need some warmer weather to bloom.  I have seen daffodil shoots too!  It won’t be long now.

Foggy Trails and Trumpeter Swans

Nothing needs to be done in the garden, so we can headed out to the forest preserve for a hike on a mild, foggy December morning….

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After some very cold weather it turned mild this week and the fog filled the woods Saturday morning.

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The trails are not bad, since the ice and mud are still frozen in many places.

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We experimented with shots of the fog as well as the rising sun.  In the wild areas of the woods the black-capped chickadees were hopping around.

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Though we generally were not successful shooting into the sun, I liked this picture.

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This shot, taken later in the morning, shows the trouble with trying to photograph the rising sun.  Dan had such a nice smile so I put it in.

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The camera decided to focus on the branches in the foreground.  Little streams were quietly running through this beautiful woods.

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Moss on log

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Fungi

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As the fog burned off the sun came out near Boomerang Lake.

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Sunny December morning on the Spears Woods trail in the Palos Forest Preserve.

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Mourning doves gather in the morning

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This morning we noticed two trumpeter swans as we walked around Lake Katherine.  I don’t think I have ever seen them here before.

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Close-up of trumpeter swan with a black beak

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There was a pair of mute swans nearby. The mute swans are often seen here.  Notice the difference in this species from the trumpeters.  I included the goose here so you can see the size difference.

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Last night’s sunset….

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.