Suet Visitors

I have never used bird feeders before.  On the spur of the moment I bought a suet feeder and put some suet in it, to see if I could interest some woodpeckers.  There have been no woodpecker visitors yet, that I am aware of.

IMG_1290

The weather has been so cold that for quite a few days there were no bird visitors.  Then one day I noticed black-capped chickadees exploring the suet feeder.

IMG_1284

It was a bit of a puzzle to get at the frozen suet.

IMG_1297

A male northern cardinal was among a group of birds checking it out on Friday.

IMG_1296

I love the bright red bird’s contrast to the winter scene.

IMG_1293

Sparrows and starlings came by to try their luck.

IMG_1315

A house sparrow looks for a snack.

IMG_1263

I noticed a hawk fly into one of the large trees in the neighborhood.  I suppose this is a good time to find a bird meal at a bird feeder.

IMG_1310

The dark-eyed juncos looked at the suet briefly, but then went off to look for seeds on the garden plants.

IMG_1305

The dark-eyed juncos are winter residents that are always fun to watch as they hop around on the ground looking for seeds

IMG_1257

We have had snow on the ground for 2 weeks and temperatures have remainder below 20 degrees Fahrenheit since December 26th, which is apparently a temperature record in Chicago.

IMG_1271

Last Saturday morning, with a wind chill well below zero, we took a walk at the Little Red Schoolhouse forest preserve.  There were lots of animal tracks, especially deer tracks.  We were okay with the weather, except for our feet, which seemed like ice blocks.  This morning we had a good walk inside the mall instead, so we were a little wimpy!

Food: Our son is on a two-week 1500 calorie meal plan suggested by his doctor, before he gets his annual blood test.  You can find the meal plan on the Eating Well website.  I have been cooking all kinds of interesting and delicious meals and though it is a bit of work it has been generally tasty and enjoyable.  It is one way to stay cozy in the cold weather.

Current Reading:  I am in the middle of reading several books at once – Being Mortal by Atul Gawande; Jungle of Stone: The True Story of Two Men, Their Extraordinary Journey, and the Discovery of the Lost Civilization of the Maya by William Carlsen; Disunity in Christ by Christina Cleveland.

December Morning in the Woods

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

IMG_1243

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

IMG_1236

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

IMG_1232

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

IMG_1233

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

IMG_1213

Dan pointed to six deer in the distance.

IMG_1210

We and the deer looked at each other.

IMG_1247

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

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

IMG_1205

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

IMG_1209

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

IMG_1175

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

IMG_1183

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

IMG_1257

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

IMG_1251

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

Zucchini, Tomatoes, Collards and Praying Mantis

With an inch of rain recently we have had a break in the drought.  It is a beautiful October day and here is what I saw when I looked around the garden today.

IMG_0549

Male zucchini flower

IMG_0548

Female zucchini flower.  We have had quite a few zucchini flowers over the past months, but without rain few of them developed into zucchini that I bothered to pick.  Now we might get a few if the weather stays warm.  I enjoy these magnificent but short-lived flowers.

IMG_0542

I have been eating these yellow pear heirloom cherry tomatoes for a few months now.  The leaves of the plant are diseased, but I just keep getting enough cherry tomatoes to have a bunch in my salad each day.

IMG_0560

These are tomato plants that my Arab lady friend left on the patio in my watering can, so I don’t know what kind they are, but they are finally producing the first red tomatoes.  On Thursday I made some delicious ratatouille…

IMG_0567

We try to throw in 2 to 10 leaves of collards into recipes when we get a chance.  This plant near the lilac bush is looking healthy.

IMG_0543

In the vegetable garden the inner portion of the collard plants have been eaten by cabbage moths.  We have more collards than we can eat, so I don’t worry too much about it.

IMG_0534

Here come the brussel sprouts.  They have been pretty small, but I think the rain will help them get a bit bigger.

IMG_0554

Backing up, here is what the brussel sprout plant looks like.

IMG_0553

The pole beans are drying on the vines and will be shelled when I pull down the bean structure.

IMG_0538

I looked for bugs on the bean leaves and found a grasshopper.

IMG_0562

Parsley is one of the plants that look beautiful all the way into December.  I have not cooked much with it this year, but it makes a great ornamental plant.  It is an essential ingredient in my fabulous spaghetti sauce recipe.

IMG_0518

I finally saw my first black swallowtail caterpillar for the year on one of the parsley plants.  For me, parsley is a much better host plant than dill for these caterpillars.

IMG_0563.JPG

All the native and ornamental grasses have seed heads now.  This is miscanthus ‘morning light.’  I have been searching them the past months to see if I could see the first praying mantis.

IMG_0527

This morning I found a female praying mantis in a clump of miscanthus.  Her abdomen is very  large and I wondered if she was getting ready to deposit her egg sack or if she just ate a very large grass hopper that she is digesting.  I was trying to get a better shot and she moved further into the grass, so I am no longer able to find her.  I find paying mantis egg sacks in the grasses every spring when I am doing clean up and try to put the egg sacs in a place where the ants will not get at them.

IMG_0581

These little zinnias are finally blooming now.  They are called ‘summer solstice’ but seem to be best in the fall.  I plant them from seeds each year, and they are cute in the garden and attractive to pollinators.

IMG_0585

Just to the right in the alyssum I found a little skipper resting.  I almost pulled up all the alyssum during the drought because it just looked like seed heads, but the flowers have returned after the rain and it is buzzing with small pollinators.

IMG_0576.JPG

The coral mums are starting to bloom…

IMG_0507

Some migrating warblers have been passing through.  I think this is a palm warbler, as they seem to visit every year, but not sure I can tell from this picture.

IMG_0494

Then there is the usual bird bath ruckus to see how many starlings or sparrows can get in the bird bath at once!

Have a beautiful autumn day!

Bird Bath Visitors

Our bird bath is often shady now, as our chinquapin oak keeps getting bigger.  So it is sometimes harder to get the camera to focus on the birds instead of the sunny view in the background.  But these are a few of the birds we have seen in the past weeks.

IMG_9910

An American robin enjoys a peaceful, solitary moment to rest at the bird bath on a sunny day.

IMG_9648

It is not always so peaceful as there are a lot of robins and house sparrows in the neighborhood who are looking for the same thing.

IMG_9643

Here there are four or five robins in the bird bath and four waiting on the ground.

IMG_9900

It is the time of year for more blue jay visitors, as they inspect our acorns to see if they have become tasty food.

IMG_9927

Female northern cardinal in chinquapin oak tree.  The cardinals are not pushy, and I think they like it a little quieter when  they come to the bird bath.

IMG_9958

I have seen grackles in the yard a few times recently.  This one was very wary and furtive before taking a sip of water.

IMG_9968

A European starling joined the grackle.  The grackle is bigger, but starlings are bold birds.  The starling drank some water and jumped in to splash in the bath as the grackle watched.

IMG_9982

The robin deferred to the grackle, even though the robin is usually king of the castle.

IMG_0026

The goldfinches are often heard and seen in the yard this time of year.  They are seed eaters and especially like the cone flowers.

IMG_9988

This looks like a female American goldfinch.  This little bird spent a long time hopping around the edge of the bird bath cautiously.

IMG_0007

At one point the goldfinch removed a white feather that had been floating in the water.

IMG_0021

It finally jumped in and had a nice splash!

IMG_0037

I have been so happy to see beautiful cedar waxwings in the yard.  This one was cautious about the bird bath, also.

IMG_0042.JPG

Finally it made the plunge!

IMG_0047

Too cool!

IMG_9930

The hummingbird was visiting the lilies by the bird bath.  I wondered if it would stop for some water….

IMG_9935

But it rested on a lily flower.  A sparrow stopped at the bird bath and the hummingbird took off….

IMG_9946

A female northern flicker, in the woodpecker family, searches for ants or beetles near the bird bath.  She keeps looking around between foraging moments.

IMG_9954

The black-capped chickadee likes to preen itself on top of the laundry pole.

IMG_8517

A downy woodpecker came for a visit back in mid-June.

IMG_0050

This looked like a giant wasp or bee in the dill today.  I love providing habitat for native bees.

IMG_0054

Monarch on zinnia.

IMG_0068

Meanwhile I am picking yellow wax beans and green pole beans every day and trying to cook them to keep up.  I know this is a losing battle and might try to freeze some beans soon!

Daily Wonders

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

IMG_7757

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

IMG_7755

Double-crested cormorant

IMG_7754

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.

IMG_7743

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.

IMG_7736

A sandpiper was hopping along on the shore.

IMG_7731

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.

IMG_7713

The white-crowned sparrow visits the birdbath.

IMG_7772

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

IMG_7794

The chive flowers were spilling over the strawberries.

IMG_7785

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?

IMG_7789

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

IMG_7783.JPG

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.

IMG_7782

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.

Frosty New Year’s Morning

Happy New Year!  It was 20 degrees F. when we headed off for our walk this morning in the forest preserve.

img_6770

Our walk took us by Cranberry Slough, which we often cannot see from the trail because of the summer foliage.

img_6773

Walking a little further I zoomed in on what I think are two muskrat lodges, and we saw a few others that were not in this picture.  I also read about muskrat pushups, which are holes in the thin ice that the muskrats make, where they push up stems of pond plants.  The pushups provide places to safely eat and rest after an underwater swim. I am not sure if these are pushups or lodges.  Muskrats build with cattails, while beavers would build with sticks and trees.

img_6760

A view of Country Lane as we started our walk this morning around 8:15 am.  The snow has melted, though there are a few icy patches.

img_6767

There were some leaf-shaped holes in the icy puddle areas.  The leaf froze on the ice and then the ice probably thawed under the leaf first.

img_6765

Frosty moss on bridge overlooking frozen stream.

img_6758

Earlier this week the squirrel spend some time on our birdbath trying to get a drink through the ice…

img_6701

There was snow on the ground for most of December.  This shot was on 12/18.  The dwarf fothergilla bush looks good in the winter, showing off shape and shadows, as the snow glistens.

img_6706

A sunrise shot I took on the first day of winter.

Looking forward to witnessing the wonders of nature in 2017.

What Happened to the Bird Bath?

It is snowing today and the weather will turn cold this week.  I’m getting my snow shoveling muscles strengthened these days.

img_6677

A mourning dove and a sparrow were among the birds pecking at the ice in the bird bath one morning earlier this week.

img_6688

It has been snowing since last night and we may have a few more inches yet.

img_6685

It is a good time to be creative inside!  Steph and I baked Christmas cookies for an event she was going to today.

There is something peaceful about winter…..