Daily Wonders

Daily Wonders

When you wake up you never know what you might see.  I am often surprised when I take time to look around.

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Double-crested cormorants rest between diving for a meal at the Saganashkee Slough last Sunday morning.

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Double-crested cormorant

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This was our first time hiking on the south side of the slough in the Palos forest preserve, and we walked under this flock of cormorants who had found a dead tree branch to rest on and dry their wing on this sunny morning.  It took a while to find a place to photograph the birds that was not blocked by trees and had the right angle for the light.

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View from the west side of Saganashkee Slough.  The great blue heron flew across the lake as a fisherman sits with a few bobbers in the water.  The cormorants were in a tree somewhere on the right side of this picture further down the lake.

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A sandpiper was hopping along on the shore.

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Back in our yard the white-crowned sparrows visited for a few days in their migration.  This one was in the Chinquapin oak tree among the fresh catkins.

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The white-crowned sparrow visits the birdbath.

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Raspberry getting ready to flower.  All the berries are in progress now, just needing rain and sun.

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The chive flowers were spilling over the strawberries.

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Red romaine lettuce.  We have been eating lettuce from the garden each day.  The little bean and zinnia seeds have sprouted, but I see the bunny has arrived, so I am not sure that they will survive.

 IMG_7803 Wax bean sprouts.  Will they survive the bunny?

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No more need to buy expensive kale at the supermarket until December….

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I planted a few coleus to fill the space of the viburnum we cut down, due to the invasive viburnum beetles we had last year.  Maybe next year I will have more time to find a shrub replacement.

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Ajuga reptans.  So much blue in the garden now.  The hostas are growing up in the shade.

IMG_7812Clematis jackmanii.  I love seeing these big flowers across the yard from the kitchen window.

Blueberries, Birds, and Wildflowers

Spring just keeps progressing day after day.  Plants are blooming and birds are migrating in.

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Duke Blueberry.  Just when I had sort of given up on getting many blueberries in the garden we had a lot of blossoms this year.

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The little Top Hat Blueberry was full of blossoms, too.  We will see if the blueberries turn out well.  These blueberry pictures are from about two weeks ago.

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Today all the strawberries are blooming.  I went around to try to put some straw under each plant to keep the berries out of the dirt.  I can also see that we are going to have a bumper crop of serviceberries before long, so I am looking forward to berry season.

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Common Lilac.  This photo was taken about two weeks ago, but the lilacs have been pretty for a long time, since it has been cool the past two weeks.

IMG_7605.JPGI never got good pictures of the crabapple blossoms this year.  It seemed to rain right after they opened, or I must have been busy….

Last weekend I took a few bird shots when we walked around Lake Katherine.

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Female mallard on log in pond

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Great blue heron

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The end of April seemed pretty early to see goslings, but we had some warm weather early in the spring.

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Fluffy gosling

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Back in our yard the Chinquapin oak tree is full of catkins.  Can you see the palm warbler in the tree?

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I tried to zoom in a little on the palm warbler.

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Here the palm warbler is looking for a bug snack among the strawberry and anemone plants.

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The dwarf fothergilla bush is in bloom now.

IMG_7616And there is the palm warbler again next to the fothergilla bush.

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There are a lot of little brown birds like this in the yard.  It could be just a house sparrow or it could be some wonderful migrating bird.  I have not had much time to get out and observe, but even going outside for 5 or 10 minutes can be rewarding.  I had heard the goldfinch song in the yard and today I saw the yellow bird for the first time this year.

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I was sitting listening to an unfamiliar bird song this morning way up in a tall tree and then I saw the orange color.  A Baltimore Oriole was busy singing and getting some kind of food from the top of this tree.

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It was so much fun to watch this Baltimore Oriole from my patio.

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The kale and romaine lettuce have been in the ground for 2 weeks.  There is a frost warming for tonight, but it looks like 37 degrees, which I think is fine in my yard.  I put up the bean pole structure and am waiting for the soil to warm up to plant pole beans.  You can see the mound of rhubarb in the back.  I made rhubarb sauce for the first time this season today.  I think my tomato and pepper plants should be coming from Seed Savers in the mail some time this week….

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Huechera ‘plum pudding’

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I threw some dwarf sunflower seeds in the meadow a week or two ago and was very excited to see they sprouted.  Can’t wait for these small sunflowers.

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Dark blue salvia is blooming next to the yarrow that will start up soon.

Yesterday our family went for a walk in the forest preserves.  I was looking forward to seeing spring wildflowers.  I did, but they were different from the ones I saw a few weeks ago.

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Dodecatheon meadia Shooting Star wildflower in the Cap Sauers Holdings of the Palos Forest Preserve.

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I am not sure what this is, but it was pretty.  No need to know the name, really.  We can just enjoy the beauty!

Spring Wildflowers and Birds

Spring Wildflowers and Birds

When we went to the Palos Forest Preserve yesterday we noticed all the spring woodland wildflowers starting to open up.

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Claytonia virginica spring beauty

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Pollinator on spring beauty wildflowers.

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Toothwort

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Trillium

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There are two or more different sets of leaves here which may produce flowers, but not sure what they will be…

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Male red-bellied woodpecker

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We saw a bird fly in and out of this knot hole, but did not see what kind of bird it was.

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Northern flickers.  The female is on the left and the male on the right.

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This morning we went to the Sagawau Environmental Learning Center, where we saw this white-breasted nuthatch, right near the sign for snake crossings.

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Mertensia virginica Virginia bluebells

IMG_7556In the wetlands there were large swaths of marsh marigolds.

IMG_7554Close-up of marsh marigolds

IMG_7548Podophillum peltatum mayapples.  We came across this patch of mayapples starting to come up as we walked along on to the Sagawau trail.

IMG_7543Violets were blooming here and there.

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Back in my yard I have started to plant the vegetable garden.  Curly kale and romaine lettuce in this picture, but also, cauliflower, collards and eggplant.

Plum, Serviceberry and Water Striders

Plum, Serviceberry and Water Striders

Spring is happening everywhere you look now.  I took so many pictures this weekend I will try to put them in two different posts.

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The American plum tree is blooming now and the fragrance is wonderful.  This is a great native tree to attract insects and birds, and a great boost to the ecosystem.  The down side is that it suckers a lot.  But we just mow over the new shoots in the lawn or clip them back.  The fruit has sour skin, but tastes good inside.

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Red admiral butterfly on plum blossoms.

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Amelanchier laevis, Allegheny serviceberry. This is a small tree, but a favorite in our yard.  If we don’t eat the small June berries the birds will, so they are never a mess.  Serviceberries like partial shade.  I wish more people in our neighborhood had this lovely tree, but the nurseries don’t do much with native shrubs.  We got this at Possibility Place in Monee when it was less than 2 feet tall.

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We also have three small Regent’s serviceberry cultivars on the west side of the house.  They should not get over 6 feet, but they are not quite 3 feet yet.

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Close-up of Regent’s serviceberry blossoms.

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Yesterday we went to the Palos Forest Preserve at Cap Sauers Holdings, where I have been volunteering with a team to remove invasive honeysuckle.  I wanted to show Dan where we have been working, so we came in on the trail and then headed up a hill off the path.

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It was a beautiful morning and we came to this stream where we listened to the morning bird noises and observed the flowing water.  All the shrubs with green leaves are the honeysuckle bushes that we are in the process of removing to open up the forest to more sunlight and native species.

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The trees, which have not quite leafed out yet, were reflected in the stream.

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We noticed a lot of water striders in the water, and they mostly seemed to be in the process of mating.  I think I sometimes call them pond skimmers.

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Here is a closer look.  There are two of them here and you can see the extra legs….

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We wandered down a horse trail we found that was sometimes very muddy.

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This looked like a cozy hollow log for some animal.

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Can you see the moth?

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We often stopped to look at huge old trees.

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Soon these branches will be filled with leaves.

If I have time today I will put out another post with all the wildflowers and birds I saw this weekend!  Happy Easter!

Spring Bulbs, Waterfowl, and a Snake

Spring Bulbs, Waterfowl, and a Snake

After some snow last week the weather warmed up again and it is feeling like spring.

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Cheery crocuses

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Mini daffodils

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Rhubarb emerging last week.  Already the leaves are much bigger today.

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I heard reports of common loons in our area on their way north and I went to the Sagahashkee Slough to see if I could spot any.  It was a cloudy day and I did not see loons, but enjoyed watching other waterfowl.

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There were maybe 40- 50 American coots on the west end of the slough.  A fisherman was seeing what he could catch, but he told me he had not caught any fish.

IMG_7193 American coots

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I spent a while trying to get a picture of this guy, that I think is a horned grebe with breading plumage.

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Another view of the male horned grebe.

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I wondered if this could be the female or a juvenile as it seemed nearby without the yellow head plumage.  It was continually diving for food.

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By the lake I came across a rugged path along the south side of the slough that I will have to come back and explore with Dan some time.  I continue to be amazed at how many places there are still for us to explore for the first time in the Palos forest preserves.

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Unidentified seed heads by the lake.

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Mosses on tree trunk

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There was a large patch of little blue flowers by the side of the path.

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As I walked along the path I just about stepped on this little garter snake.  It was maybe 15 inches long.  I poked the tail very gently with a stick to try to get it to move out of my way.

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It curled up and showed me its red tongue, but I had more room to get by.  I like how this picture captures the design.

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I drove to Maple lake to see if there might be loons there, but it was hard to get close enough to the birds and my camera battery was dying.  I managed to get a picture of a red-breasted merganser couple.

I was going to end with a short video of a muskrat at Lake Katherine, but I am having trouble getting it to upload, so maybe another time….

Witch Hazel, Sandhill Cranes and Swans

Witch Hazel, Sandhill Cranes and Swans

Have you checked your vernal witch hazel lately?  As I write this the temperature is 69 degrees Fahrenheit in Chicagoland on February 18th!  Our vernal witch hazel has been blooming for a while now…

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Hamamelis vernalis, vernal witch hazel.

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Close-up of vernal witch hazel flowers.

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Back on February 9th we had a thin layer of snow that soon melted, but we have not had much more than that since December.  The cyclamen continues to bloom in the greenhouse window all winter.

img_6971Last weekend was a good weekend for pruning dormant trees and shrubs, as it was warm during the day, but freezing at night.  We completely removed one of our two American plum trees.  You can see the little stump in the forefront.  The foliage had just gotten too thick and we wanted a little more space and sunlight.  Besides we only had plums on the tree that we left standing.

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We just put all the branches and twigs on the patio.  I am not sure how soon the village will send around the truck to mulch branches in the spring.

img_6972If I had more time and energy I would do some winter gardening.  I have the fittings in place in the ground, so I would just need to put back the plastic tubing and the clear plastic cover over it to get the earth warmed up and get some lettuce planted.  Maybe when I retire….

img_6974I went out at lunch yesterday to enjoy the sun and noticed the garlic turning green.  There were a few green bottle flies that flew by.  Then I heard bird calls and looked up.

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There were about 50 sandhill cranes circling above me and then they flew off to the northwest.  An hour later I saw 20 more and today I saw another 40 flying northwest over Palos Hills.

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Last Sunday morning I sat in our living room and watched a Cooper’s hawk sitting at the top of the oak tree across the street from us.  I wonder what it found for Sunday brunch.

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This morning we took a walk around Lake Katherine and were pleased to see two mute swans.

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Most of the time the swans looked like this while they worked on breakfast.

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I hope we will see some little swans before long.

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Steph stopped to sit on a warm bench on a warm winter day.

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A downy woodpecker perched near the lake path.

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An unidentified sparrow seemed to be eating buds off the branches.

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A female mallard posed for a portrait.  A little water glistened on her feathers.

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A flap of her strong wings shook the water off…

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The male mallard was busy working on a meal.

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This afternoon the warm weather drew us outside again for a walk on the north side of the canal where we saw a lot of deer and coyote tracks.  It was great with no bugs!

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Dan is always looking for some ridge to climb.  I waited below near some sunny rocks.

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Where the rocks were warm small plants were emerging.  I heard the song of first red-winged blackbird I have heard this year.

Global warming:  I think this is record-breaking weather today.  Even though we really enjoyed the warm weather there was something strange about it, too.  We may have more snow storms before spring comes, though we have had mostly rain the past two months.

Autumn Colors, Grasses and Birds

Autumn Colors, Grasses and Birds

It has been fun watching the fall colors peak in the yard this past week.  We had our first frost last night on November 11th.  I don’t remember such a long growing season before, and the frost may not have been a killing frost for the tomatoes and peppers.

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Carpinus caroliniana, with common names American hornbeam, blue beech or musclewood.  The top leaves turned pink/orange a few weeks ago and fell off earlier.  This picture was taken on November 8th.  The other American hornbeam we bought from Possibility Place Nursery turns yellow in the fall, so maybe they are variations of some type.

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American hornbeam fall color.

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Dwarf fothergilla bush, possible ‘beaver creek.’  I replanted this bush at this location in the spring and hope it will settle in to its new location this coming year.  This bush started turning color weeks ago.

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On November 6th the other fothergilla bush was still green, with the second American hornbeam, on the left, and the spice bush, on the right, very yellow.

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By November 8th the yellow leaves had mostly fallen and the chinquapin oak leaves on the right were turning color as well.

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Today, November 12th, the fothergilla leaves are just starting to turn.  They should turn brilliant colors over the next week.  I enjoy watching these changes out my office window.

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Quercus muehlenbergii, chinquapin oak tree, starting to turn color on November 3rd.  I put these date up so that I can compare year by year as the weather gradually warms.

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Here is a close up of the chinquapin oak leaves on November 10th.  Today we mulched up a lot of them when we mowed the lawn and started the fall compost leaf pile.

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The American plum trees are nothing special in the fall, though stunning when they blossom in spring.

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The neighbor’s maple tree is always beautiful in the fall.

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MIscanthus ‘morning light.’  The was a great growing season and this miscanthus ornamental grass is well over 6 feet this year.  The seed heads on our zebra grass seemed to be 8 or 9 feet high.

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Out the kitchen window I caught a glimpse of the little blue stem grass that has turned red in the fall.

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When I finished working in the garden today a few dark-eyed juncos got to work poking around on the ground.  They are winter residents.  The garlic plants I did not harvest earlier have grown back in bright green shoots.

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On Wednesday morning I did a little birding and managed to capture this sparrow in a picture.  I am not sure if it is an American tree sparrow or another kind of sparrow.

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I think this is a pied-billed grebe, though the bill does not look quite right.  Anyway, I love the fluffy feathers and the reflection! This was at Lake Katherine on a morning walk.

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The nasturtiums and marigolds have been so beautiful in the yard this year.

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I have had a fresh pepper for my lunch salad every day and there are still quite a few left to eat, so I feel blessed.

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Beans soaking for tomorrow’s soup.  These were from the pole beans that I left to dry on the vine.  After we had a ton of green beans in the fridge, and the mosquitoes were killing me, I stopped picking the rest of the beans.  This past week I finally pulled down the pole bean structure and shelled a lot of beans.

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I am really enjoying reading this fascinating history book about Alexander Von Humboldt and his exploration of nature.

Hope you enjoy these weeks and it won’t be long before the snow flies!