June Garden and Illinois Waterways

June Garden and Illinois Waterways

Everything is growing and green now!  The trees have leafed out, the flowers are taking their turns blooming, the vegetables are getting going and the weeds are doing what weeds do…  The birds and the bees are active!

IMG_8324

The chinquapin oak tree is on the left and the crabapple tree on the right.  The crabapple is having another bad year, with the leaves turning brown and falling.  Last year we did not have any crabapples and that might happen again this year.  But we are enjoying the irises blooming this week.

IMG_8333

Red iris

IMG_8330

The male northern flicker was hanging out looking for an ant meal.

IMG_8345

The yarrow flowers have finally turned yellow.  In the back you can see the first pink foxglove flower.

IMG_8346.JPG

Foxglove in foreground, on the left the lady’s mantle is blooming, and in the back penstemon – beardtongue – is getting ready to bloom.

IMG_8350

The grasses in the unmowed “meadow” catch the morning sunlight.  The grasshoppers and damselflies love this area.  The robins are starting to visit the serviceberry bush for a berry snack.  The raspberries on the fence are forming and will ripen in a few weeks.

Road Trip

10 days ago we headed out for a four-day vacation in central Illinois.  The day we took off was rainy, so we spent time driving down to Alton, IL.

IMG_7850

The fields were just getting started.  We enjoyed being out in the country.

IMG_7871

Thursday morning we visited the Audubon Center at Riverlands in Alton, where we spotted this Eastern Kingbird.

IMG_7914

The male indigo bunting kept its distance, but the color is wonderful!

IMG_8018

Many areas along the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers were flooded.  We went hiking at Pere Marquette State Park.  Climbing the hills got us away from the flooding and provided wonderful views of the Illinois River.  Can you see the little brown ribbon of a trail we took to get us up to this hilltop where a few benches provided a rest area?

IMG_8021

Dan on the Pere Marquette State Park trail.

IMG_8089

The next morning we visited the Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish and Wildlife Area and enjoyed a walk around this little pond.

We did not stay long as our goal was to visit Emiquon, run by the Nature Conservancy.

IMG_8134

Emiquon is a Nature Conservancy project in a flood plain along the Illinois River, and a lot of migrating birds stop over here.  However, migration season is mostly over and this time of year is when the flooding is the highest.

IMG_8156

We tried, without much luck, to zoom in on birds across the water that looked like pelicans.

IMG_8133

We drove by a snapping turtle, but did not get too close.

Then we crossed the Illinois River and went over to take a look at Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge, where the flood waters were high as well.

IMG_8177

A lot of drift wood came to rest on the shore at Chautauqua Lake.

IMG_8194

Red-headed woodpecker at Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge.

 IMG_8277

On Saturday we visited Matthiessen State Park on the Vermillion River.  Since it was Memorial Day weekend the crowds were large and the trails had turned into muddy pits, that took a lot of skill to navigate!

IMG_8269

Cedar waxwings were in the tree above the river.  I have seen them in our yard this week, too, looking for serviceberries or other ripe berries.

IMG_8288

Sunrise view from the hotel in Yorkville, where we stayed Saturday night.

IMG_8299

We visited Silver Springs State Fish and Wildlife Area on Sunday morning.  There were several lakes as well as a trail along the Fox River.

We enjoyed all the places we saw and now will get back to hiking in our wonderful neck of the woods.

Blueberries, Birds, and Wildflowers

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

IMG_7576

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.

IMG_7599

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.

IMG_7693

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.

IMG_7601

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.

IMG_7584

Female mallard on log in pond

IMG_7587

Great blue heron

IMG_7592

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

IMG_7595

Fluffy gosling

IMG_7610

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

IMG_7606

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

IMG_7618

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

IMG_7704

The dwarf fothergilla bush is in bloom now.

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

IMG_7686

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.

IMG_7670

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.

IMG_7674

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

IMG_7692

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….

IMG_7698.JPG

Huechera ‘plum pudding’

IMG_7701

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.

IMG_7689

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.

IMG_7643

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

IMG_7657.JPG

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

Snow, Cyclamen, Hawk, and Sandhill Crane

The first snowfall to stay on the ground just started.  We should have a few more inches of snow today.

img_6667

First snowfall of the season in the back yard.

img_6668

Snow on chinquapin oak tree.

img_6670

The cyclamen started blooming to bring in the Christmas season.

img_6666

We started cooking the soup before the snow fell and brought in Brussel sprouts, collards and kale.  We still have a lot of kale in the garden, so we will see how it looks next week.

img_6663

When I stepped outside yesterday this hawk flew up into a nearby tree.  It was probably hunting sparrows or squirrels at the bird feeder next door.

img_4259-1We came upon a lone juvenile sandhill crane (no red marking on head) at Lake Katherine on Saturday morning.  It must have been separated from its flock as it flew south. On Friday Steph and I were taking a walk and looked up to see 80 – 90 sandhill cranes flying over us in a southeast direction.

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.

img_6476

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.

img_6465

American hornbeam fall color.

img_6448

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.

img_6462

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.

img_6475

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

img_6545

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.

img_6442

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.

img_6515

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.

img_6440

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

img_6444

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

img_6548

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.

img_6550

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

img_6534

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.

img_6484

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.

img_6500

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.

img_6420

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

img_6422

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.

img_6522

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.

img_6556

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!

Spring Variety and the Great NW

Spring Variety and the Great NW

The bio-diversity in our yard and the beauty of spring make us happy!

IMG_3738

Chestnut-sided Warbler.  I looked out the window and saw a different looking bird and I could hear a bird call that was new to me.  The little warbler was flitting around the Chinquapin oak tree.

IMG_3749

I zoomed in, but had trouble getting a clear picture of the warbler.

IMG_3754

This shot is a little blurry, but shows the clear markings on the bird so I could identify it.

IMG_3732

While I was scanning the trees for better shots of the warbler I spotted the chipmunk in the crabapple tree.  Cute!

IMG_3788

Here is the drain pipe where the chipmunk runs to hide when I come out into the yard.

IMG_3764

Next to the drain is a little garden where I have planted some romaine lettuce and parsley.  I just love the blue fescue grass that is like a crazy hairdo.  The pink prairie phlox – phlox pilosa – is pretty now.  Other plants are butterfly weed, dragon’s blood sedum, and lady’s mantle.

IMG_3790

I think I got most of the vegetables planted.  Thank you Dan for digging the grass out of the beds!  The seeds have been watered.  Now we just need sun and rain to get things going.

IMG_3768

If you zoom in from the last picture you can see our little meadow, where we let the grass grow and have a few native flowers and a tiny hickory tree.  We keep expanding it or shrinking it each year.

IMG_3777

Looking across the garden another way you can see the giant rhubarb patch.  It looks like it is time to make some rhubarb sauce!

IMG_3787

Sage is blooming.  It might be ‘May Night’ or some other cultivar.

IMG_3784

Plum pudding huechera and Korean feather reed grass Calamagrostis brachytricha.

IMG_3635

Lupine in Spokane, WA.  We took a trip to the state of Washington last week for a wedding and enjoyed all the lupine in Beth and Todd’s garden.

IMG_3655

The wedding was outside and the marmots kept us entertained while waiting for the main event.

IMG_3711

We drove from Spokane to Seattle and stopped at a rest area for this gorgeous view.

IMG_3714

In Seattle this pink climbing rose was blooming outside Tim and Andrea’s place.  I don’t have roses in my yard, so maybe I have forgotten how nice they are, but this was one of the most beautiful roses I have seen.

Slugs:  I was asked about slugs in the garden.  This used to be a big issue for us and I tried various solutions.  I just realized that I no longer really have this problem.  I think the reason is that the little brown snake lives in our yard, probably attracted by our open compost pile full of insects and worms.  The snake probably roams at night and takes care of the slugs!

Plum Blossoms and Cow Birds

Plum Blossoms and Cow Birds

There is so much going on in the garden now it is impossible to capture it all.  Here are a few things that caught my attention this week, as spring enters the Chicago area with gusto.

IMG_3238

The two American plum trees, native trees, have put on a fantastic fragrant show this week in the yard.

IMG_3242

All kinds of tiny pollinators swarmed to the blossoms.

IMG_3233

We had quite a few plums develop last summer.  The skin was sour, but the inside flesh was very good.  There are many suckers growing around the base of the trees that need to be cut back or they would form a thicket.

IMG_3212

I noticed a spider making a web between the plums trees and the yew bushes nearby, hoping to snag some of the pollinators.

IMG_3261

Looking out the kitchen window we can just see the plum trees between the crab apple tree, that is just starting to bloom now, and the yew shrubs.  The yews have formed a nice privacy area in front of the patio.

IMG_3204

The serviceberry Amlanchier laevis finished blooming last week.  Now that it is taller it is a little harder to reach the berries in June, but the birds have no trouble with that.

IMG_3244

The three Regent Saskatoon serviceberry bushes, Amalanchier alnifolia ‘Regent’, are blooming now on the west side of the house.  When we planted them they had the shade of the silver maple, but now with that gone they get more sun, so we will need to water them now and then.  They are supposed to get no taller than six feet.

IMG_3217

One day I looked out the kitchen window and saw a bunch of cow birds in the chinquapin oak, that is just barely beginning to leaf out.

IMG_3218

Handsome male cow birds interested in something in the chinquapin oak tree.  Notice the bird in the bottom left.  Is it a female cow bird?  Or some other bird?

IMG_3221

Here is another shot of that bird.  Since it was in the tree with the male cow birds I assumed it was a female cow bird.  They lay their eggs in other birds’ nest.  The eggs hatch early and tend to get more food from the foster mother bird than the smaller baby birds in the nest.

IMG_3229

I got 21 heads of romaine lettuce planted in the garden last week along with a dozen kale and collard plants.  Organic vegetables are expensive to buy in the grocery store, so hopefully these will keep me supplied with greens for a while.

IMG_3228

The grass is growing quickly.  After Dan mowed I swept up just the grass on the sidewalk and threw if on the compost pile, where Dan mixed it in to get the pile heated up.  To the right you can see strawberries starting to blossom.  I finally finished cleaning up all the strawberry patches and putting straw from last year’s ornamental grass under them.  It looks like we have a bumper crop of strawberries coming.

IMG_3173

The house sparrows keep trying to build a nest in this bird house.  But this house is not for them….

IMG_3257

Shagbark hickory at the end of the block starting to leaf out.  I am trying to bet better at identifying different native trees.

IMG_3250

Spring Beauty Claytonia virginica.  These wildflowers are also blooming in the green space at the end of the block.

Forest Preserve Event:  Yesterday I went to the Palos Paddock area of the Forest Preserve for a special event that the Friends of the Forest Preserve put on.  They are looking for volunteers to help in the restoration of the forest.  Invasive plants, such as honeysuckle, have filled in the undergrowth and suppressed native plants.  We went on a walk in small groups and it was a fantastic time with like minded people as we identified plants, saw butterflies, and discussed conservation.  I would love to join them now and then and learn more about native plants, the forest, and how best to do restoration, though my schedule and garden keep me very busy.  But it was so much fun because they were a group of “my people” who love plants, nature, and being outdoors!

Pineapple Sage, Monarch and Hummingbird

The pineapple sage is blooming now.  A week or two ago the monarchs were visiting it and now it is the hummingbird.

IMG_1347

This monarch spent a long afternoon on the pineapple sage.  This picture was from more than a week ago.

IMG_1349

The monarch was also on the zinnias.

IMG_1410

It is so hard to get a picture of the hummingbird from the kitchen window.  Can you see it?

IMG_1417

The hummingbird rested on the crabapple tree branch.

IMG_1395

A male red-bellied woodpecker was checking out the Chinquapin oak trunk.

IMG_1364

Grasshopper sunning on a zinnia.

IMG_1391

The beautiful, messy prairie at the Little Red Schoolhouse nature preserve last week.  Asters, boltonia, and goldenrod.

IMG_1495

Ladybug on American plum tree.  I spotted a bunch of aphids, so I hope the ladybug finds them!

Fall Color:  I heard that the best fall color in northern Illinois is supposed to be in the next 10 days.  It is usually the second or third week of October.