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.

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.

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

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

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This little moth was taking shelter under a nasturtium leaf.

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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.

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Nearby a grasshopper was moving slowly.

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

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

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

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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.

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

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

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Seed heads of ‘little bunny’ pennisetum grass

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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Such beautiful details on the monarch butterfly.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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The nasturtiums are starting to thrive now.

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Marigolds with basil flowering in the background.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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Plum pudding huechera and Korean feather reed grass Calamagrostis brachytricha.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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Also visible in our yard this week are palm warblers.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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Male northern cardinal in the ‘Profusion’ crabapple tree.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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Sometimes it is a stretch…

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Squirrels are so acrobatic they keep us entertained.

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

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Tiny hands, beautiful fur, playful antics…

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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.

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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!

Summer Birds, Flowers, and Travel

Starlings, robins, house sparrows, and house finches are pretty common in our yard this summer.  It has been fun to see other birds, too.  If I have identified them incorrectly please let me know.

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I believe this is an eastern kingbird, because of the white terminal tail band.

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At first I thought the eastern kingbird was eating crabapples, but I think it is just the red color in his mouth.  Those crabapples are not very good this time of year, but there may be some good bugs around.  There were two of these birds flying between the viburnum and the crabapple tree.

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I took a picture of a brown bird making noise at the kingbirds, and now that I have it on the screen it looks like a female rose-breasted grosbeak.

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These are the two birds mentioned in my last blog that I think are Baltimore orioles.  The bird bath has really been fun to watch recently.

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Every morning the house wren has been singing up a storm.  I have not been able to zoom and get a good picture, since my zoom can’t get a good picture of this small bird singing way up in a tree.  Here the house wren is looking for a meal in the garden bed.

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Here is a shot of the backyard recently, where the birds have been visiting.

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The rudbeckia – black-eyed susans – are at their peak this week. In the back is miscanthus morning light and Russian sage.

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Agastache hyssop blue fortune is attracting the bees now.

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Sunrise through a collard leaf.  I took this last week.  This week many of the leaves have small holes where they have been chewed.  Those worms are good bird food.

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We visited Spokane for a wedding this past weekend.  Many places were very brown and dry, but the clouds were really fun during the weekend and the evergreens were everywhere.  It would be fun to visit again when we have more time to explore.  I believe this was Palisades Park.

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This wheat field was right next to the wedding venue and we watched a beautiful sunset as the young people danced away the evening.

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I read Orphan Train on the plane and just finished it.  I really enjoyed it!

Bird sighting:  I just saw a great egret wading near the shore at Lake Katherine.  I did not have a camera with me, but enjoyed watching it catch its supper.