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.

January Happenings

We finally got snow in 2019.  It seems more like winter now!

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Today we trimmed the chinquapin oak tree on the left.  Each year we have cut off a few lower branches and this may be the last year to do that.  We will see.  We like to keep some privacy, but don’t want to deal with the mosquitoes in the shade when changing the birdbath water or mowing the lawn under the low branches.

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Shadows on the snow

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Female northern cardinal on a snowy day.

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While I was putting together this post I saw this picture and remembered that we were going to prune back the left side of this American plum tree that is crowding into our yew bushes.  So we just went out and cut that off now.  We keep fighting for sunlight.

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On the last warm day, before the cold and snow, Dan turned the compost pile and mixed up all the very wet stuff, very dry stuff and kitchen scraps, so that it will keep decomposing as soon as we get a little more warmth.

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We smeared some peanut butter on a knot on the crabapple tree and the squirrel is working on it.

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This morning we watched hundreds of Canadian geese on the open waters on Lake Katherine.  We watched one group after another taking off and flying to the east.

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Several groups were landing on the grass nearby for their morning munch.

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A week ago Dan surprised me with a bouquet of roses and chrysanthemums.  We rarely buy flowers at the store these days, but it was a nice treat for January!

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Also, this is the time of year when vendors from work send holiday gifts.  We got one box of chocolates around Thanksgiving and two this week.  I had to take a picture of the beautiful way it was wrapped.

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I sure love chocolate!

Cap Sauer Holdings Nature Preserve

We took another walk in the Palos forest preserves today, entering the trailhead for Cap Sauer Holdings at the pull-off on the south side of Route 83.  It was a mild January morning, and we were immediately awed by the beauty of the forest.  Last summer when we were here we did not stay long as the bugs were attaching us.  But this time of year the temperature was just around freezing as the sun was starting to come up.

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The path goes by a wetland where frog make loud noises in springtime.  But we headed off the path to the left to where I have occasionally helped with cutting back and burning invasive honeysuckle bushes with a group of volunteers.

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We came upon the ashes of a recent fire by the volunteers.  I thought I saw some smoke rising and wondered if someone had been working there this week.

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The different kinds of fungi caught our attention.  I love the colors on this one.

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Here is another view of a frosty fungus.

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Orange fungi

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I love the brilliant green of this moss as the sun came up.

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Near the end of our walk Dan saw two bucks.  One ran away, but one stood still for a while and Dan was able to get this photo.

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As we walked through the words we came to this stream, which was only frozen here and there because of the recent warm weather.

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Water flowing over blockage in the stream

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Coming up from the stream we followed a small path through the woods.  We were not sure where it would lead.

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After a while we came to a large prairie area that was surrounded by woods.  The grasses must have fallen down from earlier snows.  The path eventually led us to a larger trail, though we did not know what trail it was or where it would lead, so we retraced our steps and went back out the way we came in.  In the springtime the floor of the forest in this nature preserve is covered with woodland wildflowers.

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Back home again, it does not look like January outside.  Yesterday I saw little bugs flying around in the warm air.

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The blue fescue grass looked like it was growing and enjoying the sun.

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I heard a bird song and it was this starling singing on top of a pole.  We have had more woodpeckers and white-breasted nuthatches at the suet feeder along with the squirrels….

New Year’s Birding at Montrose

I started the new year with a birding adventure at Montrose Bird Sanctuary in Chicago!  The event was sponsored by the Chicago Ornithological Society.  Because of the holiday the morning traffic was light on the freeway, so I braved the brisk weather to join a group of 20 – 30 beginners to seasoned birders who were eager to identify birds together.

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This location has dune grasses, prairie, hedges and woods, and the beach, so multiple habitats for birds along Lake Michigan.  The first order of business was to see if we could find the piping plover, who did not fly south for the winter.  This is an uncommon shorebird, which is unbanded, and I have been following its story over the past months as it continued to be seen at this location.

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The waves were choppy and the pounding sound of the surf greeted us.

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We headed out into the icy winds looking for the piping plover.

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Can you see the small piping plover in the picture above?  I included the ring-billed gull so you can compare the size.

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Close-up of piping plover on New Year’s Day at Montrose Beach.

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Next we took a trail heading to the “magic hedge” where many migrants stop during spring and fall migration.

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I saw my first ever red-breasted nuthatch. This bird was hopping around close to us, but did not stay still long enough for a very good picture.

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The red-bellied woodpecker was flying around in the same area.

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Some experienced birders pointed out the American Tree Sparrow eating seeds in a brushy area.

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Close-up of American Tree Sparrow

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Next, someone pointed out an Eastern Towhee sitting quietly in a bushy area.  I could see it, but my camera refused to focus on the right object… Still, I think this might be only the second time I have seen one.

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Another new bird for me was a hermit thrush.

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Hermit thrush eating sumac seeds

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We wandered on through the woods, stopping to look and listen.

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In the harbor I spotted my first mallards for 2019.

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There were many red-breasted mergansers in the harbor and on the lake.

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Close-up of red-breasted merganser.

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There were also quite a few common goldeneye ducks.  Sorry for the fuzzy pictures as they were quite far away.

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A herring gull was resting and watching on this gray morning.

Happy New Year!  May this be a year full of adventure in whatever way most suits you!

Below is the list of what I saw today, modified from the list sent to us from the COS after the walk, as others saw birds I did not see, and I took those birds off my list.

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)
Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula)
Common Merganser (Mergus merganser)
Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator)
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) (Columba livia (Feral Pigeon))
Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus)
Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)
Herring Gull (Larus argentatus)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)
Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)
Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis)
Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus)
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)
American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)
American Tree Sparrow (Spizelloides arborea)
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)
Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus)
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)

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….

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.