Crabapple Tree

The crabapple tree outside the kitchen window has been catching my attention recently.

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It snowed on Halloween, but the next day the sun came out and I love the blue sky and fluffy clouds above the snow outlined crabapple tree.  On the left the chinquapin oak tree was showing its fall colors.

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Backing up, here is the view from the kitchen window.

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The dark-eyed juncos have arrived, and are winter residents in our neighborhood.

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Male house finch

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The crabapples probably get tastier after a freeze or two.  Though they probably are not terrific tasting since usually quite a few little apples persist on the branches over the winter.

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The crabapples are at various stages of ripeness.  The tree is full of crabapples this year and we hardly had any last year.

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Profusion crabapple tree this past spring.  The weather must have been just right to get the flowers pollinated and set into little apples.

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The squirrels have come a number of times for a snack.

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Golden-crowned kinglet migrating through Chicagoland.  It is always fun to look out the kitchen window and see what birds are stopping by.

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The bark of the tree does not look very healthy to me.  Does this mean the tree is dying?  The leaves get diseased and fall off early each year.  I have not diagnosed the problem yet.  We did have robins successfully nest in this tree early in the year though, when there were still leaves.

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As a side note, I saw a black swallowtail caterpillar in the fennel on November fifth, the week after the snow.  We are in cleanup mode these days and have started a big leaf and grass compost pile.  I am leaving more plants standing in place this year to provide habitat for wintering insects and other critters that are good bird food.  Insects are the foundation of the food chain, right?

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Dan and I had a fantastic walk in the woods this morning, starting at the Wolf Road Woods trail in the Palos Forest Preserve.

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At Tomahawk Slough we saw a very fluffed up great blue heron.  The temperature was below freezing last night and thin ice covered parts of the slough.

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This shot was from our walk last week at the Willow Springs Forest Preserve.  It is time to pull out the cozy jackets, wooly scarves and mittens, and warm boots and enjoy cold weather hiking.

Bluebird, Sapsucker and Tree Swallows

The yard is slowly greening up and I am doing various early spring chores.  This blog is getting to be more and more about birds, though, as I wander around the nearby forests and grasslands on birding adventures.

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Eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis)

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As Dan was taking these bluebird pictures we could actually see the bird singing.  I went to a program on birding by ear at the Sand Ridge Audubon Society on Friday, so now I am noticing bird calls more, though still can’t identify many.

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Male yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius).  I saw my first ever yellow-bellied sapsucker in our yard in the last two weeks and saw another one in the forest preserve yesterday.

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Closer look at yellow-bellied sapsucker

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This is a yellow-bellied sapsucker in our yard a week ago.  It just pecked a hole in our chinquapin oak tree.

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Female northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis).  The cardinals are nesting in our yard.

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The trail along the slough at the Little Red Schoolhouse yesterday.

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Just to the right of the trail is the slough.

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It looks like the tree swallows are back and have found a home.

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Tree swallow (Tachycineta bicolor)

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I think this is some kind of veery or thrush.

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Another shot of my mystery bird with a white eye ring, and some speckles on the chest.

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Can you see the adult bald eagle with the white head working on a fish lunch?  I watched a few eagles as Sag Slough one day, but I did not have enough zoom to get a clear view all the way across the water.

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Sunset at Orland Grasslands.  I went twice to see if I could find a woodcock, but no luck.  The first time I was in the wrong place and the second time they had completed a prescribed burn, so I am sure the woodcocks had relocated.  Still, I ended up with a gorgeous sunset!

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!

More Fall Color

It has been a cool month and we have been enjoying the fall colors this past week or so.

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I think this is the prettiest the chinquapin oak has been in the fall.  Usually the leaves are an orange brown color that is not too special, but this year the color was a little more pink/orange.  Of course, it is hard to capture in a photo.

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Carpinus caroliniana – American hornbeam.  The leaves are pinkest where they get the most sunlight.  There are lilacs on either side.  I like the lilacs, but I am tempted to get rid of the one on the right as this tree grows, to give it plenty of room.

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Zooming in from the upstairs window I was able to capture the orange/pink color a little better.

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We planted two hornbeams at the same time.  They are on either side of the lilac.  They came from Possibility Place, where we have gotten the majority of our native trees and shrubs.  I am beginning to wonder if the tree to the right of the green lilac is not really carpinus, but is ostrya, because the leaves never turn pink and always stay very yellow.  But I am not sure yet, and will need to keep researching.  The catkins and fruit do not appear to be the same on these two trees.

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Zooming in on the right side of the picture above, there is the yellow “hornbeam” on the left, the fothergilla turning bright colors in the front, and the very yellow spicebush on the right.

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The asters were some of the last flowers to bloom in the garden.

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I was surprised to see this moth still flying around in early November.  The coral mums are great places for the last pollinators.

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Saturday we took a walk on country lane in the Palos forest preserve.  The sun came out to brighten the orange leaves!

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Today we took another walk in the forest preserves.  The green leaves of the invasive bush honeysuckle really stand out, when most other leaves have fallen.  After all our years of hiking here we were amazed to walk for over an hour on a trail that was completely new to us in this area.  The thing is, some of these trails are too buggy in the heat of the summer, so this was a great day to hike here.  Part of the trail was very rugged, so it was good that it was not too muddy or too icy to go up and down the hills and through stream beds.

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A toad crossed the path in front of us.  The path was between a pond and the forest.  Where would the toad go this time of year?  It was facing away from the pond and moving slowly in the cold weather…

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Not sure of the name of this lake in the forest preserve, but I think it is the first time we have walked past it!  We did not see many waterfowl on this gray day.

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Back at home after our walk it was time to mulch up the fallen oak leaves and build up the compost pile, which you can see in the back right hand corner of the picture.  Last week we went and got some great dark colored composted manure from the nearby horse stables.  In the picture it looks like dark soil in the garden beds.  We are still eating the kale, collards and brussel sprouts from our garden.

Sandhill Cranes:  While working on the compost pile I could hear the sandhill cranes calling and looked up to see four v-shaped groups overhead flying toward those corn fields in Indiana.  Maybe there were 40 – 50.  Love it!

September Snapshots

It has been a really busy month for me.  This is the first time I am posting something for about 5 weeks, so I had a lot of pictures I took to choose from.  Here are a few pictures of what is happening now in the garden and has happened this past month.

IMG_3511Asters and goldenrod – Solidago rugosa ‘fireworks.’  I am not sure of the type of aster I have.  They are both great for late pollinators.

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This bumblebee was barely moving on the sedum on a cool morning.

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The painted lady butterfly was hanging around the giant zinnias yesterday and not too bothered by me.

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I enjoy looking at the zinnias from my office window during the day and watching the butterflies come to visit.

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This cucumber got away from me because if was hiding underneath the zinnias.  I picked a nice green, juicy cucumber last week, but not sure if I will get any more this year.  It will be hot tomorrow, so maybe!

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Here is a shot of part of the vegetable garden.  The cherry tomato quantities have been massive.  I have been getting about one zucchini per week recently.  But the peppers are really taking off now.  There are a lot of them hanging on the pepper plants.  Dan is working on the kale plants for his smoothies.  The collards are all chewed up by the cabbage worms, but still work well in soups.  I threw some swiss chard in the soup today along with oregano and parsley.

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Yesterday’s pick of cherry tomatoes.  These have been really sweet and tasty!  Great for my daily salads.

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‘Big Bertha Bell’ is the variety of pepper.  I guess it could turn red if it stays on the plant that long.


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The old raspberry canes have been cut down and the new ones tied to the fence to get ready for winter and next summer’s fruit.

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Earlier in the month it was acorn time on the chinquapin oak tree.  The squirrels, chipmunks and blue jays were so active.   Within a week or so there was not an acorn to be found on the tree or the ground.  I’m glad our yard feeds the wild creatures.

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Chipmunks are so fun to watch.

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American goldfinch on purple coneflower a few weeks ago, getting some lunch.  Just this week I was looking out the office window and saw a bright yellow goldfinch on a coneflower.  Such a cheery sight!

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The pineapple sage finally started blooming this week.  Will any hummingbirds find this late-blooming tubular flower?

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Pink turtlehead flower.  The bumblebees love to fly in and out of each individual flower.  Can you see the grasshopper on the right side of the picture? I am still looking for a praying mantis, but have not seen one this year.

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It has not been a good year for alyssum in my garden this year.  I was pleased to see a few little clumps get going.

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Dan and I took a wonderful short trip to Wisconsin and Northern Illinois before Labor Day.  This picture, taken at Illinois Beach State Park, reminds me of all the wonderful natural places we visited on sunny, warm days.  Cooler days are coming and they will have their own pleasures to offer.

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Recently, on a walk in the forest preserve, Dan took this picture of an eastern bluebird.  There are not so many around, so really fun to see.  It is migration time, so I am keeping my eyes open for different birds in the backyard and woods.

Woodpeckers and White-Breasted Nuthatches

The Downy woodpeckers have become frequent visitors, and I am coming to recognize their little calls from the chinquapin oak tree as I sit in my office.

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The suet tempted in this male downy woodpecker, who is being observed by the female downy and a white-breasted nuthatch.

IMG_1518The red-bellied woodpecker is higher in the bird feeder dominance hierarchy and the downy waits its turn.

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The red-bellied woodpecker is fluffed up in the cold weather with a little suet on her beak.  I think this is a female.

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The male red-bellied woodpecker has an eye on the downy woodpecker, who is waiting him out further up the tree.

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The downy woodpeckers were pecking on the ice and getting a drink in the frozen birdbath.

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Male and female downy woodpeckers.

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A close up of the male downy woodpecker.

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White-breasted nuthatches are cute and fun to watch as they scamper down the tree.

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Another shot of the nuthatch, who is lower than the downy in the bird feeder dominance hierarchy, so watches and waits for its turn.  I love the beautiful color combinations of black, gray and white on these birds with their long, pointy beaks.

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When the snow melted the squirrels found nuts in the ground to munch on, but soon discovered the suet.

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The squirrel managed to get the suet feeder open and run away with a chunk of suet a few times, so right now we have the feeder empty.

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Dan decided to throw a few snowballs at the squirrel!

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White snow covers the branches and contrasts with the red cyclamen.  Today there is no snow on the ground, but the weather predicts snow for tomorrow morning.

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If you are longing for spring, here is a blurry shot of the snow crocuses from two weeks ago, around January 21st.

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I just finished reading and really enjoyed 438 Days: An extraordinary true story of survival at sea, by Jonathan Franklin.  Winter evenings are nice for cozy reading!

Other fascinating current reading:  The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt.

 

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!