Black Chokeberry and Lilacs

It was a busy week in the garden!  Dan offered to help on Saturday morning and on the spur of the moment dug up two viburnum dentatum “Chicago Lustre” bushes that were chewed up by the viburnum leaf beetle worms.  So then I had to go hunt down something new to plant in their place.  I was looking for a spicebush, but could not find one, or other native shrubs I was interested in, at the garden centers I visited.  I stumbled upon some ‘Viking’ black chokeberry shrubs and decided to get two of them.

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Aronia melanocarpa ‘Viking’ black chokeberry.  From what I read this is a small to medium shrub that suckers.  It has edible fruit and shiny green leaves that turn red in the fall.  So it seems like it will be good for the birds and I might eat a few berries myself.  To the right is the clematis getting ready to bloom soon.

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This shrub had already flowered this spring and is setting fruit.  I am not sure if it needs two plants to have fruit, so I bought one bush that had flowered and one that had not.  We will see what happens next year.

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Here are the two shrubs with the dying daffodil leaves in between.  I will put some annuals in to fill the void this summer.  Maybe some coleus…

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Syringa vulgaris, common lilac.  This flower is on our oldest lilac tree, which almost died, but has branches coming back slowly.  The fragrance was heavenly for a few weeks!

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Charles Joly lilac

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The common lilac on the right is our newest lilac and it is an excellent barrier plant to what is happening in neighbor’s yard.  However, what you can’t really see in this picture is that we have two hornbeam trees on either side of the lilac that are being crowded out and are almost invisible from this vantage point, though our neighbors can enjoy them.  I may have to drastically cut back the lilac or eventually remove it.

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The crabapple blossoms seemed to come and go very quickly this year, so not sure if much fruit will be produced.

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The red, bronze and then green leaves of the crabapple have been looking healthy this spring, so I am really hoping we can keep the disease at bay that has bothered this tree the past two years.  This spring has mostly been a nice balance of sun and rain, which helps.

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We love it when some migrating warbler stops in our crabapple, or any of the other trees, even though we often cannot identify it.

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Little blue bulbs add color to the mostly very green garden.

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The chives by the compost pile are blooming.

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Next to the chives the strawberries are blossoming and berries are starting to grow.

As I was writing this I remembered that there was an asparagus shoot coming up next to the strawberries and I went out and ate it raw!

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This buttercrunch lettuce is looking great!

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Eggplant flower

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The columbine is starting to bloom.

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Little bluestem native grass.  The unmowed “meadow” area did not look so good this spring.  We left the tall grass long in the fall and it seemed to kill a lot of the roots under the dying grass, so things were a bit bare.  I found a couple of these little bluestem grasses, put in some sunflower seeds, planted a small monkshood, and will add a wild bergamot plant soon.

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Wild bergamot and zinnias still to be planted.  As I write this the temperature is 47 degrees F.  I am not very interested in going out to plant in these cold wet conditions, but maybe later in the afternoon it will warm up.

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Yesterday we took a walk in the forest preserve and the mayapples (podophyllum peltatum) were blooming.

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A toad near a stream in the forest.

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Rose-breasted grosbeak.  We came upon a group of birders in the forest who were identifying all the warblers in the trees at McClaughry Springs Wood.  The warblers are hard to get pictures of, especially with the poor light yesterday, but Dan was able to get a picture of this bird.

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Catbird in the forest preserve

Happy Spring!

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!

April Variety Show

The week started with snow, then temperatures in the mid-60s, then a weekend of cold rain.  Meanwhile the migrant and returning birds are visiting, and the garden is greening up.

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A beautiful crocus livens up a little corner of the garden.

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I took the day off on Friday and did a little weeding in a few areas of the garden.  I cleared the creeping Charlie out of the goldenrod before it grows tall.  The mini-daffodils are holding up well in the cool weather.

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I planted a some lettuce and spinach seeds in the beds and some grass seed under the plum tree.  I know it is early!!  But we had some warm days this week and the soil seemed warm on Friday.  I put some straw from last year’s ornamental grasses on top of the seeds.  The idea was to protect it from birds and maybe from frost.  If the seed don’t germinate in 10 -14 days I can always plant another batch.  I love having early  leaf lettuce in the garden.

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We had snow this past week, though it only lasted a few hours before completely melting.

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Robins have been back in the yard for a while now.  This one is looking puffed up on a snowy day.

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A male goldfinch also posed on our crabapple tree.

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I think this is a yellow-rumped warbler checking out our neck of the woods.

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I spent a while trying to get a decent picture of what I believe is a ruby-crowned kinglet, a migrant passing through.  I deleted a blurry picture that showed the red on the top of the head.  I have a few straw piles around the garden and a few birds appear to be using them for nest building material.

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Taken earlier in the week, this little bird appears to be a golden-crowned kinglet, with a yellow patch on top of the head.  Both kinglets are very small and are always on the move, so hard to photograph and identify well.

 

Leaving my garden, below are pictures I have taken in the past two weeks of birds in the Palos area.

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American white pelicans at Maple Lake

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We heard there were American white pelicans and common loons at Maple Lake, so we went over for a look.  There were about 50 pelicans keeping their distance from photographers.

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There were a half dozen common loons swimming around and diving for fish in the lake.

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We were not the only ones taking pictures.  We saw nice cameras, binoculars and scopes, as people enjoyed the migrating birds.

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A hooded grebe between dives at Maple Lake.

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An eastern phoebe was chasing bugs along the lake at Long John Slough two weeks ago.

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At Joe’s Pond I watched male and female Redhead ducks.

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Ring-necked duck at Joe’s pond.

Once the weather gets a little warmer there will probably be plenty to do in the garden, but on raining days like today playing around with my pictures keeps me entertained!

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.

Eared Grebe and March Soil

I planned to have this blog be about my back yard, and there are a few pictures at the bottom of this post about that.  But when I hear that a bird that is not common for Illinois is in the neighborhood I sometimes decide to go birding instead of focusing on the garden.

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Eared Grebe at Saganashkee Slough.  I get frequent emails from IBET – Illinois Birders Exchanging Thoughts.  They inform the birding community of what interesting birds have been seen that day.  I particularly pay attention when the birds are seen in the Palos area. So I headed out to the slough to see if I could find this bird.  After taking quite a few pictures I noticed some birders and approach them and they said it looked like my picture was of the eared grebe they were looking for.  Yay!  This is a bird that is migrating through Illinois.

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Saganashkee Slough.  I understand that the water is only about 6 feet deep and that may make it a good fishing place for waterfowl.

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Horned grebes.

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A horned grebe that caught a fish.

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Red-breasted mergansers diving for fish.

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As I was watching through my binoculars it looked like mating season, as a group of male red-breasted mergansers were following a female.

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Two male common mergansers with a female.

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I kept hearing the sandhill cranes flying overhead during the afternoon.  Sorry the photo is not more zoomed in!

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Dormant trees at Long John Slough.  We are still having freezing temperatures at night, but today the weather was warm and beautiful.

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I noticed insects flying around today.  A moth landed on the Hicksii yew shrub.

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Daffodils were pushing up along the east fence.  I guess the soil is kind of heaving now due to the ice freezing and thawing in the soil.  I think this is good for the soil and the soil is damaged when we walk on this soft soil this time of year.

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Another view of soft, thawing, spring soil that is pushed up here and there.

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Earlier this week it was snowing hard, though we only got about an inch.  It snowed and sleeted Friday night, too.  I think we can use the moisture, so no complaints.  Spring is coming, but winter has not quite left us.

Snow Crocus and Vernal Witch Hazel

I can’t resist taking pictures of the first signs of spring.

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Yellow snow crocus opens on a sunny afternoon.

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I love the lines and design on the outside of the snow crocus.  These flowers get a lot of afternoon sun.  I don’t think it will be too long before the other crocuses start to form flowers.

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The vernal witch hazel flowers have been blooming for a while.  I had a lot of trouble getting a picture that focused on the flowers and not the background, but I think that just shows that I need to learn more about my camera.

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What crazy looking flowers.  I really like the leaves on this shrub, but looking back through my pictures it does not look like I took many pictures of the leaves.  My witch hazel shrub is often hidden behind the lilac or the ornamental grass.  I will have to make a point to take pictures of the leaves this year.

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We pruned the American plum tree to get rid of branches that hung down when trying to mow the lawn.  I think we did the final pruning to get  rid of lower branches on the chinquapin oak tree.  We try to prune when the temperature is above freezing, but it freezes at night.

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I bought six different kinds of sedum plants a few years ago and the dragon’s bloom sedum is mixing with this other variety now.

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Among the dead Alchemilla mollis lady’s mantle leaves a new fan-shaped green leaf appeared.

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I thought the curly parsley finally died at the end of January, but it does not look quite dead yet.  During the fall and winter I tried to chew a little piece of parsley whenever I went into the garden, just because the green seemed like winter vitamins.

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Hardy strawberries look like they need some thinning and straw around them in order to have good fruit this spring and summer.  It is not quite time to do that yet.

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Dan went out and completely turned the compost leaf pile.  There were some wet spots from kitchen scraps and quite a few dry spots where it had burned to ash, and it really needed a good mix to speed it up again.

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The mini daffodils have a sunny spot and we should have tiny, yellow flowers blooming before long.