Autumn Wanderings

Autumn Wanderings

When I get a chance I get out in the forest preserves to enjoy the autumn days.  Even with the snow on Friday the oak leaves are still hanging on.  Here are a few shots from the past two weeks.

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Reflections in the pond at the Little Red Schoolhouse.

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Turning to face the other way I could see an oak savanna with a stately, magnificent oak.  I love it when I see that young oak trees have been planted to replace many of the ancient oaks around us.

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I stopped to read an old sign by the trail about hibernation.

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My walk eventually lead me by the original little red schoolhouse.  It has now been replaced by a beautiful new building that better meets the needs of nature field trips.  In the background you can see several doomed roofs of cages that house birds.  Maybe these are birds that have been rehabilitated or cannot survive in the wild for some reason.

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There were a lot of little kids out enjoying the day.  This little girl climbed the fence to get a glimpse of the hawk in the cage.

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Red-tailed hawk, the most common hawk in our area.

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The orange serviceberry leaves were so pretty!

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The big surprise was the working phone booth.  The sign inside says that the phone actually works and to dial 911 if needed.

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I flushed out a lot of little birds when I walked down this prairie trail.

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Everywhere the oaks were turning orange, yellow and red.

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A late dragonfly was enjoying a warm rock.  I slowly brought my finder under the dragonfly’s head.  It sat on my finger for a while, but flew away before I got a picture.

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Two weeks ago Dan and I walked in the Willow Springs forest preserve for the first time.  We keep finding trails that are new for us.

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This looks like a den that would provide shelter for some animal….

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On November 1st I parked by Arrowhead Lake in the forest perverse south of us. It was a gray day, but the walk turned out to be beautiful anyway.

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I crossed Harlem Avenue to explore a new path I had not tried before.

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The woods were very quite except for the woodpeckers.

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Downy woodpecker

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The colors caught my attention as I walked out.  Maybe you had to be there….

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Back in our yard the aphids, or something, completely covered the kale plants.  I did see a few lady bugs around.  Sometimes the kale makes it through the winter and sometimes it doesn’t.  In any case I look forward to a swarm of lady bugs and other predators in the spring.

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On a more cheery note, the pineapple sage was blooming on November 1st.  I never saw any hummingbirds on it this year, as it did not start blooming until October.  We had a hard frost this week, though, and it’s days are over…

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It snowed some on Friday, for the first time this year, and stuck for a few hours. The chinquapin oak is just changing color this week and still has its leaves.  The crab apple lost most of its leaves back in June with some disease, so I need to try to get rid of those diseased leaves from under the tree.

Compost leaf pile:  We dug out some of the compost from the bottom of the pile, and started a new leaf pile yesterday.  We used the mower to mulch the leaves on the lawn and captured them in the mower bag that we carried to the leaf pile.  Dan even went out in the easement and mowed up those leaves, too, to make the leaf pile about three and a half feet high.  When the leaves are mixed with grass clippings they get hot pretty quickly.  We will do this the next few weekends and try to get the pile as large as possible before winter.  Then I can put my kitchen scraps in the pile until it is too frozen to get them in!

Acorns, Spiders and More

The acorns on our chinquapin oak tree are ripe and it is entertaining to watch the wildlife go for this food source.  And one foggy morning this week we noticed spiders everywhere, so I started looking around to capture a few pictures of them.

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Chinquapin oak acorn.  There are a few caps on the ground but the acorns are already mostly eaten from this tree.

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The extremely speedy chipmunk can reach to the edge of the branches for the hard to get acorns.

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Chipmunk stuffing his cheeks with acorns.

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The squirrels are climbing the oak for acorns, too.

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A lot of the time both the squirrels and the chipmunks are running around looking for any acorns that might have fallen to the ground and stopping for a snack.

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The blue jays arrive every morning and make a lot of noise.  Once I think there were six blue jays searching for acorns in the tree.

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The chipmunk dashes about and then freezes when he or she sees me.  Here it is hiding in a messy patch of zucchini.

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The chipmunk is trying to get from the zucchini on the right to a hole it dug in the middle of the lawn.

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Here is the chipmunk hole in the lawn…

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One weekend morning we saw the neighbor cat sit by this hole for a very long time.  I am not sure, but I think it finally gave up.

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Pulling back you can see what the garden looks like from the kitchen window on September 15th.  The grass is so dry.  No need to mow it.  We have not had much rain this summer and hardly any for weeks.  The blooming flowers are still buzzing with pollinators this time of year, though.

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Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’ goldenrod

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The wasps seem to be particularly attracted to the goldenrod.

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Bees are all over the sedum.

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The sedum gets a lot less sun as the oak tree grows, leaving a less exciting sedum display.  The drought may be having an effect, too, so I have not noticed as many butterflies visiting.  We have also had unseasonably cool weather this past month, though the heat is back this week.

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All those sedum leaves are a perfect place for hiding spiders, waiting to catch a fly lunch.  This week we noticed spiders everywhere in the garden.

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Just outside our front door a spider had tied up a nice meal package.

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An orb spider has been spinning her web below the clothes line every night just outside my office window.  In the morning the web is highlighted by the fog.

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And I have to remember to always give the kale leaves a good shake to get rid of lurking spiders before bringing the kale in for soup.  Otherwise the spiders are running around the kitchen sink….

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The bean pole structure has a colony of daddy longlegs spiders.  When I pick beans they move out of the way, so they are not too scary.  I have stopped picking beans for the year, though, and will just harvest the dried beans late in the autumn.

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I picked up a prairie dropseed ornamental grass at the farmers’ market and planted it where some of the strawberries have been dying off.  I hope it will get established before winter.  The nasturtiums look tired out by the drought.  Maybe I will water the vegetable garden tomorrow morning…

Bird Bath Visitors

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.

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

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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.

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

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

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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.

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

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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.

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

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

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

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

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It finally jumped in and had a nice splash!

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

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Finally it made the plunge!

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Too cool!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monarch on zinnia.

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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!

Summer Flowers Bring Pollinators

Summer Flowers Bring Pollinators

The information below was originally posted last weekend.

A lot of flowers are blooming in the garden now and they are looking pretty good because we have not had many thunderstorms to knock them over nor have we had drought. This is the time of year that you can hear the cicadas and crickets, and start seeing more butterflies and bees on the flowers.

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Monarch butterfly depositing eggs on swamp milkweed.

IMG_9611Swamp milkweed in bloom. I am watching for the Monarch caterpillar, but am not too hopeful as we have a lot of predators around, such as wasps, that hopefully keep a check on the cabbage moth worms

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Agastache ‘blue fortune’ giant hyssop’ in the front, with a visiting bee. The yellow flowers are Heliopsis helianthoides false sunflower ‘summer sun.’

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Black-eyed Susans are cheery in front of the ornamental grass Miscanthus ‘Morning Light.’ The Russian sage on the right is flowering a lavender color and the pink hydrangeas are having their best year.

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Close up of Black-Eyed Susans

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A view of the yard mid-summer. The chinquapin oak tree has tiny acorns on it and it keeps growing each year. The pole beans are climbing the bean structure and starting to produce. Vegetables and flowers are doing their thing around the yard.

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The coneflowers seem to have multiplied around the yard and I love it. Liatris spicata blazing star flowers are blooming in the background.

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Joe Pye weed and coneflowers in a pink part of the garden.

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I have not had time to investigate what insect is sitting on this coneflower. I can see its little claws and it has wings as well.

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A question mark butterfly sunning on the laundry rack.

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Closed wings on question mark butterfly.

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The first and only nasturtium flower in the garden so far this year. I planted two packets full of seeds, but some of the other plants are very small, probably due to lack of rain. I am too lazy to water this time of year….

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Pink flowers of the yellow wax bean plants.

IMG_9608Zinnias and dill. Both are great butterfly plants. The dill is a host plant for black swallowtail caterpillars and the zinnias attract butterflies, bees and goldfinches.

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!

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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.

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Red iris

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

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

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

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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.

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

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

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

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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?

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Dan on the Pere Marquette State Park trail.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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Red-headed woodpecker at Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge.

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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!

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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.

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

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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.

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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!

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.

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First snowfall of the season in the back yard.

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Snow on chinquapin oak tree.

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The cyclamen started blooming to bring in the Christmas season.

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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.

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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.