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.

IMG_0924

Reflections in the pond at the Little Red Schoolhouse.

IMG_0935

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.

IMG_0929

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

IMG_0987

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  It has now been replaced by a beautiful new building that better meets the needs of nature field trips.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.

IMG_0974

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.

IMG_0975

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

IMG_0973.JPG

The orange serviceberry leaves were so pretty!

IMG_0972.JPG

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

IMG_0964

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

IMG_0953

Everywhere the oaks were turning orange, yellow and red.

IMG_0942

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.

IMG_0845

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.

IMG_0842

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

IMG_0854

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.

IMG_0863

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

IMG_0875.JPG

The woods were very quite except for the woodpeckers.

IMG_0884

Downy woodpecker

IMG_0897

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

IMG_0904

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.

IMG_0909

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…

IMG_0991

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!

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.

Golden-Crowned Kinglet and Moths

Golden-Crowned Kinglet and Moths

Birds are migrating.  Insects are slowing down.  The last flowers are blooming.  The last vegetables are being harvested.  Here are a few pictures.

img_6018

Two weeks ago I saw this golden-crowned kinglet hopping around the crabapple tree.

img_6091

I am not sure what kind of moth this was, but it let me get close as it gathered nectar from the marigolds today.

img_6118

This little moth was taking shelter under a nasturtium leaf.

img_6077

We still have a monarch butterfly hanging around the zinnias.  When the zinnias are covered with fall shade for a while in the afternoon the monarch moves to the pole beans.

img_6093

Nearby a grasshopper was moving slowly.

img_6112

I think this is a black cricket, also on the pole beans.

img_6045

The coral mums have been blooming for a while, attracting a lot of bees and flies.

img_6047

A closer look at the mums.  I think that is a hover fly, though it could be a bee…

img_6043

The pineapple sage is blooming wonderfully, but the hummingbirds have left to fly south now.  I think there are still a variety of small pollinators enjoying these red tubular flowers.

img_6135

Just a few gaillardia flowers are still blooming, but the bumble bees really love them.  The white flowers are alyssum.

img_6061

The ‘morning light’ miscanthus grass is at its peak now and is at least 6 feet tall this year.

img_6137

Seed heads of ‘little bunny’ pennisetum grass

img_6125

Strawberry flower and little strawberry.  You never know what you will find around the garden.

img_6079

We are gradually adding brussel sprouts to our soup each Sunday.

img_6143

I took a look today and there are a lot of green tomatoes in the garden!  I don’t see frost in the forecast, but I will keep my eye on the weather report.

IMG_6064.JPG

My Arab neighbor friend is back from Jordan and came to gather a bag full of collard leaves.  Quite a few of the collard leaves are chewed by worms, and she did not want those, because I think she uses them to roll up a spicy meat dish.  We totally welcome someone to share these greens with.

IMG_6036.JPG

Last Saturday was my first day with a volunteer team of around 20 people that were cutting brush and burning.  We were almost exclusively cutting back Eurasian bush honeysuckle.  We had two big bonfires going.

img_6073

Today Dan and I just took a wonderful early morning walk through the prairie and forest at Spears Woods in the Palos forest preserve.  We bumped into the volunteer crew as we were leaving. They were getting ready for another productive day.  By clearing the invasive shrubs they are opening up the ground for native plants to thrive, which in turn provides habitat for a greater variety of birds, insects, and other wildlife.  With habitats diminishing everywhere for so many species this is valuable work, in order to maintain healthy ecosystems.

Butterflies, Birds and Blooms

Butterflies, Birds and Blooms

I am starting to see beautiful butterflies in the garden each day now.

IMG_5189

Black swallowtail butterfly on pink zinnia.  It looks like there is a bee under the zinnia, too.  Besides all the pollinators, the gold finches pull these flowers apart to get at the seeds in the middle.

IMG_5196

I can see this zinnia patch from my office window during the day and notice when the butterflies arrive.

IMG_5204

Monarch butterfly sipping nectar.  I saw a monarch once in the beginning of August, but now it looks like they are in the garden more often.

IMG_5216

Such beautiful details on the monarch butterfly.

IMG_5143

I snapped this grainy picture of the monarch on my red milkweed, a host plant for the caterpillars.  I have not seen any caterpillar eggs on the milkweed yet, but I will keep watching.

IMG_5180

Speaking of caterpillars…each year I have at least one tomato hornworm on my tomato plants.  I love the designs on the hornworm, which will turn into a clearwing moth that looks a lot like a hummingbird.  These orange cherry tomatoes are the best I have ever had.  Week after week they are amazingly sweet.

IMG_5231

I think there are some hummingbirds nesting in the mulberries near our house.  I see them flying around quite a bit, but this is the only picture I have gotten of one of them as it sipped on the Russian sage this morning.

IMG_5146

This is the second year I have seen this kind of bird in the yard.  I am guessing that it is a female Baltimore oriole in our crabapple tree, but if anyone has a better idea please let me know.

IMG_5233

A group of chickadees were in the crabapple this morning.  All I could get was this silhouette.

IMG_5163

One morning I noticed the neighbor cat sitting very quietly looking at the area where both the bunny and the chipmunk often hide.  We left the gate open one night and have not seen the bunny since, thankfully.

IMG_5172

The chipmunk is very active and has a hole in the ground right at this spot, so it can disappear and come out on the other side of the fence.

IMG_5199

The nasturtiums are starting to thrive now.

IMG_5219

Marigolds with basil flowering in the background.

IMG_5223

We have a lot of peppers in the yard now.  I just picked this bell pepper today after it got a little more orange/yellow.

IMG_5226

Dan was eager to remove these two Chicago Lustre viburnum bushes that were infested with viburnum leaf beetles.  Digging the stumps and roots out is a big job for another day.  I am not sure what to replace them with.

IMG_5171

What Elephants Know, by Eric Dinerstein, is a really fun children’s book that I read recently.  It is fun for adults, too!  It takes you into the jungles of Nepal….

Have a great week and get out and enjoy the rest of summer!

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!

Red-headed Woodpecker at Indiana Dunes State Park

Red-headed Woodpecker at Indiana Dunes State Park

The weather was gorgeous and Dan and I had the day off so we headed to the Indiana Dunes State Park, which is about an hour away.  It turns out that there is a birding festival going on there this weekend, though we did not know that before we got there.  We climbed the bird observation tower where we ate our lunches and looked at the scenery.

IMG_3422

We saw this red-headed woodpecker gradually coming closer to us.  This was the first time I have seen one of these birds, but I understand that this is a common location for them and a breeding ground this time of year.

IMG_3427

We headed off on the trails through the dunes and into a wooded area.  We climbed Mt. Tom, a sand dune that is 192 feet high.  This is just a shot at the beginning of the trail as we left the beach at Lake Michigan.

IMG_3443

I believe these are large white trillium, which were blooming throughout the woodland above the lake.

IMG_3401

And now for a few shots from our yard – While in my office this week I saw this indigo bunting outside the window, though I did not get a great shot.  This is the first one I have seen in my yard.  They are passing through in spring migration.

IMG_3411

Also visible in our yard this week are palm warblers.

IMG_3360

I also captured this shot of a palm warbler at Lake Katherine this week, as they pass through in spring migration.

IMG_3368

Song sparrow at Lake Katherine.  It was nesting in the same place this year as last year.  My pictures are not all great, but I have a lot of fun taking them.

IMG_3410

Back in our yard again – the goldfinches are back and making a lot of cute noises these days.

IMG_3372

I was not sure what this bird was, but I wonder if it is not a female red-winged blackbird.  I hear and see male red-winged blackbirds in the neighborhood everyday, so maybe this is the female.  If anyone knows better please let me know.

IMG_3370

Male northern cardinal in the ‘Profusion’ crabapple tree.

IMG_3291

Our two fothergilla bushes have been blooming the past few weeks.  I did not get any pictures, but the lilacs are blooming now, too!

IMG_3375

Occasionally we see rabbits, but not yet in our garden this year!  Which is great because I just planed out a lot of vegetables and herbs recently.  I have gotten in the tomatoes, peppers, parsley, dill, basil, peas, and today I planted some pole bean seeds in a warm spot.

Dark-eyed Junco, Squirrel and Christmas

Dark-eyed Junco, Squirrel and Christmas

It’s Christmas Eve and there is no snow on the ground.

IMG_2531

The cyclamen is starting to bloom.  The grass is green and we have had a lot of rain recently.  It was 60 degrees earlier this week.

IMG_2460

We have had a lot of dark-eyed juncos in the yard this year.  Maybe it is all the leaf litter under the Chinquapin oak tree that they like.  Sometimes I have seen six of these little birds poking in the leaves in the morning at once.

IMG_2466

This picture is a little fuzzy, but I like how soft the feathers look.  Dark-eyed juncos are primarily seed-eaters, so there is a lot of pecking and scratching going on.

IMG_2462

The bird bath has been freezing and thawing this autumn.  The birds peck at the ice and sometimes get a drink or a bath.

IMG_2450

It seems like each morning around 9 am the squirrel comes to the crabapple tree for a snack.

IMG_2457

Sometimes it is a stretch…

IMG_2471

Squirrels are so acrobatic they keep us entertained.

IMG_2522

The birds don’t seem too interested in these crabapples, so glad someone is enjoying them!

IMG_2511

Tiny hands, beautiful fur, playful antics…

IMG_2505

One day Dan brought home some nuts from the airport that were pretty stale.  I put them out on the ground and three squirrels were enjoying them.  This guy is eating an almond, which is maybe out of his usual diet.  The other squirrels had a pecking order and could only get near the nuts when the big squirrel let them.

IMG_2474

The last of the collards have survived the cold so far.  I might pick a few leaves for dinner tonight.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!