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.

October Flowers and Spooky Spiders

When I started designing my garden, the first thing I worked on was autumn flowers.  I love them, and it is a wonderful time of year to have them begin to bloom after slowly growing over the summer.  My goal is to always have something blooming from March through November or the first frost. This helps the insects and pollinators and cheers me up, too!

I have only been posting about once a month this summer, so there are too many pictures to pick from!

The big attraction this week has been the asters.

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Can you see the green bee on these asters?

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I think this is some kind of sweat bee.  I see them each year on the asters.

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Hoverfly on aster

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Corn earworm moth on aster

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One day I saw a lot of fluttering on the asters from my office window.  I went out and found six to eight painted lady butterflies on the asters and they were also visiting the zinnias.

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A few monarch butterflies joined in.

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The goldenrod is mostly finished now, but it is so vibrant when it first opens.  Here with Russian sage.

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The flies love the goldenrod and seem to like it as the flowers fade.

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A few gaillardia still smiling

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Zinnias and alyssum

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Black swallowtail butterfly on marigolds

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In the foreground the red flowers of pineapple sage are starting to bloom, a favorite of the hummingbirds.  The two huge sunflowers in the garden are leaning over.  I cut off the spent flowers and new flowers keep appearing.

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Sunflowers keep blooming

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Hummingbird rests in crabapple tree.  We had almost no crabapples last year and a bumper crop this year, though the leaves fell early.

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The boltonia bloomed in mid-September.  A grasshopper enjoys the warm resting spot on the fence.

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Pink turtlehead flowers. This picture is from about a month ago, and they are just finishing up now.

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Garden spider lurking in the leaves of the pink turtlehead flowers

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The foggy morning accentuated the spider webs in the garden and this garden spider looks spooky in its web.  I did not need to buy any spooky merchandise to get this picture!

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The orb spiders have been very active on the patio.  One morning I came out to find 3 large orb spider webs near where I was going to hang laundry.

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I found a few common meadow crickets in our little “meadow.”  I still hear crickets at night.

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On a walk recently I saw this eastern shieldback katydid.  The phrase “on its last legs” came to mind.  That seems to be true of a lot of insect at this time of year, though it could just be that they are slow after a cold night.

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Dragonfly – not moving too quickly, but looking beautiful!

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It’s pepper season!  The brussel sprout and kale are great, though the last batch of tomatoes are taking their time ripening.  Organically grown food is the main focus of the garden, but I love the flowers, and all the variety keeps the garden pests under control.

Recent Reading:  Grandma Gatewood Walks

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Loved this book!

Look At That Bird!

It is bird migration season, so I have been on the lookout for birds.  I even joined in with someone, for the first time, to help on the Bird Count in the forest preserve for the global big day of birding on May 4th, 2019.  Since there are many birds I have never seen before I try to take pictures of the birds I see, if I am able to do so, so I can look them up in a bird book to verify what I have seen or try to identify a bird.  Because of that some of the pictures to follow may not be the best quality, but they are fun for me as I remember the sightings.  I put in a few wild flower pictures in at the end, because I can’t help noticing them when I am in the woods!

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Yellow Warbler

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American Redstart

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Female American Redstart

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Belted Kingfisher

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You can’t see very clearly, but I think this is a black-throated blue warbler.

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Ruby-throated hummingbird.  All the pictures above were taken at McClaughry Springs in the Palos Forest Preserves.

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Up in the woods above McClaughry Springs we saw a flurry of warblers.  This is a pine warbler.  We also black-and-white warblers and palm warblers.

Last weekend we went to Sagawau Environmental Learning Center, where they were having a special birding festival.  We checked out the woods and the feeders there.

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Baltimore Oriole

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Tree swallow

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Rose-breasted grosbeak

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Rose-breasted grosbeak

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We spent a while watching bird banding, which was fascinating.  Here a chipping sparrow is getting banded.  The lady doing this let me release the sparrow when she was finished!

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American goldfinch

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Back in my backyard – the goldfinch is a regular visitor.  You can see how the green plants are shooting up today!

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I noticed a white-throated sparrow pecking around the garden the other day.

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Male northern flicker

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I took this picture in April of the mute swan on her nest at Lake Katherine.  I have not been back to see the cygnets, so I hope they survived.

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We flushed this pileated woodpecker on our walk in the woods yesterday.  This was the best picture Dan got.  When Dan and I walk in the woods he takes the camera and I use my binoculars, so I need to credit him for a number of the bird pictures.

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Jack-in-the-pulpit.   I nearly missed this flower that was off the path in the shade.

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Trillium

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This looks like another kind of trillium.

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Virginia bluebells

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Back in our yard again – This was a bumper year for the “profusion” crabapple.  It was stunning!  It looks like the robins built a nest in it a few days ago, once the blossoms had fallen.  I am curious if they will stay there as it is quite close to the house.  A few years ago this tree lost almost all its leaves, but so far it looks healthy this year.

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Finally, I am a book worm and I loved this book.  It was entertaining and kept me interested and wondering what would happen to each person in the book.

April Blossoms and Greens

Once spring starts you can’t stop it, but today’s snow makes the gardener and garden be patient.  I think most plants should survive with no issues, though I wonder about the blossoms on the serviceberry, American plum tree and crabapple tree, and how that will affect fruiting.

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Blossoms on American plum tree.  The fragrance is wonderful and brings in little bees, red admiral butterflies, and probably lots of other tiny pollinators.  These beautiful flowers make me more forgiving of the suckers the tree throws up in the lawn far and wide.

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Pulling back to see the American plum tree.  There used to be two plums and we cut one back, then we cut off branches on this one, too.  It is a fast grower.

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This is to remind me that snow fell on April 27th!  We also had snow on April 13th.

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Looking at the snow from the kitchen window I can see all the blossoms that have not yet opened on the crabapple tree and hope they will survive.

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Not long ago the red crab apple leaves opened and they gradually turn bronze and green.

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Crabapple earlier this week.

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The kale, collard and lettuce made it fine through the snow on April 14th, so I am hoping that is the case this time.  I held off on planting tomatoes yet…  Notice how big the rhubarb is already!

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I planted 5 rows of various types of lettuce and spinach on April 3rd and they are coming along well.  I need to start thinning some of the lettuce.

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We have had a month or so of various types of daffodils, starting with the mini daffodils.

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Yesterday I was enjoying these white daffodils with the yellow trumpets.  I planted various kinds quite a few years ago and they just keep multiplying.

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Anemones are something I planted a while back that seem to be spreading a little too much.  They are very cheerful next to the daffodils, though.

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Fresh leaves on Viking black chokeberry bush

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We got rid of one of our dying lilacs last year and I replaced it with a fothergilla bush, which really does not provide privacy., though it will get somewhat bigger.  I put in some Miscanthus grass behind it which will provide some quick privacy this year.  Yesterday’s project was weeding and mulching this area, since there are not many plants to cover the ground here yet.

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Close up of fothergilla bush

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I don’t like to use herbicides so I get “weeds” like this pretty violet in the lawn.

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I have a lot of violets in the front lawn, that are pretty now, but I want to encourage the grass to grow, too.  This year I am trying not to think too much about weeds in the lawn, since I know they are good for the insects and bugs, which are the foundation of life on our planet.

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At the woods, at the end of the block, I found some cut-leaved toothwort blooming.  It is at edge of the lot where no mowing is happening.  Yay for spring wildflower diversity!

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!

Black Chokeberry and Lilacs

It was a busy week in the garden!  Dan offered to help on Saturday morning and on the spur of the moment dug up two viburnum dentatum “Chicago Lustre” bushes that were chewed up by the viburnum leaf beetle worms.  So then I had to go hunt down something new to plant in their place.  I was looking for a spicebush, but could not find one, or other native shrubs I was interested in, at the garden centers I visited.  I stumbled upon some ‘Viking’ black chokeberry shrubs and decided to get two of them.

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Aronia melanocarpa ‘Viking’ black chokeberry.  From what I read this is a small to medium shrub that suckers.  It has edible fruit and shiny green leaves that turn red in the fall.  So it seems like it will be good for the birds and I might eat a few berries myself.  To the right is the clematis getting ready to bloom soon.

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This shrub had already flowered this spring and is setting fruit.  I am not sure if it needs two plants to have fruit, so I bought one bush that had flowered and one that had not.  We will see what happens next year.

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Here are the two shrubs with the dying daffodil leaves in between.  I will put some annuals in to fill the void this summer.  Maybe some coleus…

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Syringa vulgaris, common lilac.  This flower is on our oldest lilac tree, which almost died, but has branches coming back slowly.  The fragrance was heavenly for a few weeks!

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Charles Joly lilac

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The common lilac on the right is our newest lilac and it is an excellent barrier plant to what is happening in neighbor’s yard.  However, what you can’t really see in this picture is that we have two hornbeam trees on either side of the lilac that are being crowded out and are almost invisible from this vantage point, though our neighbors can enjoy them.  I may have to drastically cut back the lilac or eventually remove it.

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The crabapple blossoms seemed to come and go very quickly this year, so not sure if much fruit will be produced.

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The red, bronze and then green leaves of the crabapple have been looking healthy this spring, so I am really hoping we can keep the disease at bay that has bothered this tree the past two years.  This spring has mostly been a nice balance of sun and rain, which helps.

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We love it when some migrating warbler stops in our crabapple, or any of the other trees, even though we often cannot identify it.

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Little blue bulbs add color to the mostly very green garden.

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The chives by the compost pile are blooming.

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Next to the chives the strawberries are blossoming and berries are starting to grow.

As I was writing this I remembered that there was an asparagus shoot coming up next to the strawberries and I went out and ate it raw!

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This buttercrunch lettuce is looking great!

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Eggplant flower

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The columbine is starting to bloom.

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Little bluestem native grass.  The unmowed “meadow” area did not look so good this spring.  We left the tall grass long in the fall and it seemed to kill a lot of the roots under the dying grass, so things were a bit bare.  I found a couple of these little bluestem grasses, put in some sunflower seeds, planted a small monkshood, and will add a wild bergamot plant soon.

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Wild bergamot and zinnias still to be planted.  As I write this the temperature is 47 degrees F.  I am not very interested in going out to plant in these cold wet conditions, but maybe later in the afternoon it will warm up.

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Yesterday we took a walk in the forest preserve and the mayapples (podophyllum peltatum) were blooming.

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A toad near a stream in the forest.

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Rose-breasted grosbeak.  We came upon a group of birders in the forest who were identifying all the warblers in the trees at McClaughry Springs Wood.  The warblers are hard to get pictures of, especially with the poor light yesterday, but Dan was able to get a picture of this bird.

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Catbird in the forest preserve

Happy Spring!

Lawn Repair, Daffodils & More Birds

A lawn is part of American life, and is the easiest way to deal with certain parts of the yard.  But I have to say I do not like lawn work, so this year we hired a landscaping crew to come in and repair a bad area on our front lawn.

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We had three low bare spots in front of the house, so on Monday we replaced that area with sod and flagstones for our mailman to walk on.  And, yes, it needs a lot of water to get the sod established and we will need a weed whip to cut the grass around the stones….  As you can see in the bottom left corner of the picture our old lawn currently has violets blooming in it, so I imagine it will infiltrate the new lawn at some point.  We could use weed killer, but so far we have avoided herbicides and pesticides on our lawn.  I don’t like lawns in general, but I think this new sod looks nice!

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Then Friday I got a hair brained idea to fix a patch of the lawn in the back yard on the north side of the house.  I pulled up all the sod, because it was mixed with some weird kind of grass that was not attractive.  It was a big mass of thatch.  I put down some EZ straw that is mixed with seeds, I guess.  So now I am watering on the front AND back side of the house twice a day or more.  As you can see part of the straw/seeds is in the sun most of the day, so that will need more water than the part in the shade.  I will give you a report in a few weeks on whether it germinated.  The sparrow are interested in the seeds and the robins in the worms in this area.

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Speaking of lawns, I have to throw in a picture of a beautiful dandelion.  I am digging them up and out wherever I see them, but they are pretty!  I noticed a small bee on a dandelion this afternoon.

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My favorite daffodils are the large yellow trumpet ones.  I think a bought these and a few other varieties from Breck’s a while ago.  We have about 10 bunches of daffodils in the back yard.

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Under the crabapple tree, and next to the daffodils, the irises are getting ready to bloom in about a month or so.  The hicksii yew shrubs are in the center back, and I think a pair of northern cardinals have a nest in there.

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New red leaves on ‘Profusion’ crabapple tree.

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The white daffodil is usually the first to bloom, though it was delayed with the snow this year.

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I like this white trumpet daffodil with a yellow center.

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Double white daffodil.  They look best when the bloom first opens.

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I am not sure if these double yellow daffodils have a name.  They are a little heavy for their stems.

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Also currently blooming is the spicebush – Lindera benzoin.  I have not figured out how to get my camera to take a good close up of a small flower yet.  This shrub is now maybe 10 -12 feet tall.  I think if there were another spicebush in the neighborhood I might get berries.

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It snowed within the last two weeks and I still had dark-eyed juncos feeding on the last of the coneflower seeds.

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I spotted a little brown creeper on the oak tree one cold day.

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I thought this might be a fox sparrow, but I really don’t know my sparrows…

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I managed to get a shot of a ruby-crowned kinglet where you can see the little red spot on the head.

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I think this is a yellow-rumped warbler.

Yesterday Dan and I visited Orland grasslands – south and did some birding.

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Greater yellowlegs shorebird at Orland grasslands – south.  Dan was shooting pictures of this shorebird when we saw a birder with binoculars come up and tell us he was looking for the yellowlegs that was seen in the area.  We told him we had just seen it, so we chatted a bit.  Always fun to talk to an expert birder.

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We noticed a killdeer along the path.

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It was a little chilly and the killdeer was resting in the grass.  I think there are a lot of different birds in these grasslands that I have never seen before, so hope to get back here sometime.

Lettuce update:  In my last post I planted lettuce and spinach seeds, covered with straw, and then it snowed.  I am glad to report that my seeds germinated and I have spinach and leaf lettuce getting going!  I can’t wait for the garden salad!