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.


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.


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


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


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


Male and female downy woodpeckers.


A close up of the male downy woodpecker.


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


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.


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


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.


Dan decided to throw a few snowballs at the squirrel!


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.


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


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.


Fall Clean Up

Most of the leaves are down now and we have been cleaning up the yard before winter.


Dan mowed the lawn and mulched up the leaves to add to the compost pile.


A little bit of the kale was still looking good and not destroyed by bugs, so we put some in the soup today.  The parsley is still looking green…


Some mornings have been cold and the sparrows and other birds visit the bird bath briefly, then move on.


Sometimes when I am working in the garden I will hear sandhill cranes and look up to see many flocks flying southeast.


Dan and I walked through a prairie in the forest preserve yesterday morning and the browns and oranges were beautiful!


Here is a shot from a dark, cloudy day that I visited Lake Katherine.  The kissing fish are in the front and reflections on the lake.


The cyclamen is back indoors and blooming.


Long evenings are good for reading.  Does your stack of reading material get precariously high sometimes, too?


After several months I got through this library book – Blue Highways.  It is a travelogue across America that was relaxing to read before bed.  I had my road atlas next to me and followed as the author followed small roads around the United States and I read to find out what the author would find down these roads in out-of-the-way places. I may not get to these places, but I can read about them….

Witch Hazel, Sandhill Cranes and Swans

Have you checked your vernal witch hazel lately?  As I write this the temperature is 69 degrees Fahrenheit in Chicagoland on February 18th!  Our vernal witch hazel has been blooming for a while now…


Hamamelis vernalis, vernal witch hazel.


Close-up of vernal witch hazel flowers.


Back on February 9th we had a thin layer of snow that soon melted, but we have not had much more than that since December.  The cyclamen continues to bloom in the greenhouse window all winter.

img_6971Last weekend was a good weekend for pruning dormant trees and shrubs, as it was warm during the day, but freezing at night.  We completely removed one of our two American plum trees.  You can see the little stump in the forefront.  The foliage had just gotten too thick and we wanted a little more space and sunlight.  Besides we only had plums on the tree that we left standing.


We just put all the branches and twigs on the patio.  I am not sure how soon the village will send around the truck to mulch branches in the spring.

img_6972If I had more time and energy I would do some winter gardening.  I have the fittings in place in the ground, so I would just need to put back the plastic tubing and the clear plastic cover over it to get the earth warmed up and get some lettuce planted.  Maybe when I retire….

img_6974I went out at lunch yesterday to enjoy the sun and noticed the garlic turning green.  There were a few green bottle flies that flew by.  Then I heard bird calls and looked up.


There were about 50 sandhill cranes circling above me and then they flew off to the northwest.  An hour later I saw 20 more and today I saw another 40 flying northwest over Palos Hills.


Last Sunday morning I sat in our living room and watched a Cooper’s hawk sitting at the top of the oak tree across the street from us.  I wonder what it found for Sunday brunch.


This morning we took a walk around Lake Katherine and were pleased to see two mute swans.


Most of the time the swans looked like this while they worked on breakfast.


I hope we will see some little swans before long.


Steph stopped to sit on a warm bench on a warm winter day.


A downy woodpecker perched near the lake path.


An unidentified sparrow seemed to be eating buds off the branches.


A female mallard posed for a portrait.  A little water glistened on her feathers.


A flap of her strong wings shook the water off…


The male mallard was busy working on a meal.


This afternoon the warm weather drew us outside again for a walk on the north side of the canal where we saw a lot of deer and coyote tracks.  It was great with no bugs!


Dan is always looking for some ridge to climb.  I waited below near some sunny rocks.


Where the rocks were warm small plants were emerging.  I heard the song of first red-winged blackbird I have heard this year.

Global warming:  I think this is record-breaking weather today.  Even though we really enjoyed the warm weather there was something strange about it, too.  We may have more snow storms before spring comes, though we have had mostly rain the past two months.

Snow, Cyclamen, Hawk, and Sandhill Crane

The first snowfall to stay on the ground just started.  We should have a few more inches of snow today.


First snowfall of the season in the back yard.


Snow on chinquapin oak tree.


The cyclamen started blooming to bring in the Christmas season.


We started cooking the soup before the snow fell and brought in Brussel sprouts, collards and kale.  We still have a lot of kale in the garden, so we will see how it looks next week.


When I stepped outside yesterday this hawk flew up into a nearby tree.  It was probably hunting sparrows or squirrels at the bird feeder next door.

img_4259-1We came upon a lone juvenile sandhill crane (no red marking on head) at Lake Katherine on Saturday morning.  It must have been separated from its flock as it flew south. On Friday Steph and I were taking a walk and looked up to see 80 – 90 sandhill cranes flying over us in a southeast direction.

Hiking the Ridge

We took a walk near the canal while it was snowing this afternoon.  There was one other couple out enjoying the snow.  Otherwise there were no foot prints.


After we walked on the Cal-Sag bike trail for a while we climbed up to the ridge path.


It was so quiet.  The snow was starting to frame the tree limbs.


Dressed for the weather!


Back at home the cyclamen cheers us on a snowy day.

January Lake Walk

Yesterday it was raining and the snow melted.  Today the temperature is dropping and we are headed back to the usual January weather.  We went to Lake Katherine for a walk this morning.  The sun was shining and it was a beautiful morning!


Lake Katherine was frozen except around the fountain.  The geese were on the edge of the ice and just starting to fly off.


Goose convention


The early birds were getting ready to fly and some needed a little more time to wake up…


We always like to check out the vernal or ephemeral pond, which has water in the spring that gradually dries up in the summer.  With the rains this winter it is very full.  Here is where the tadpoles, dragonfly larvae and water skimmer bugs get going in the spring.


In this shot next to the wooden bridge you can see that the water has been freezing and thawing all winter.  Usually ice would be thick this time of year.


There are cypress trees planted around the pond that attract song birds in the spring.  The cypress knees are sticking up out of the water here.  I am in the background in my winter gear.  I think the temperature was around 28 degrees, but it was not that cold, except for my hands from taking pictures!


There are a lot of youth nature programs around the lake.  It looks like someone built a teepee.  The grass is green from the thaw the past two days.


This is a closer look at the teepee that has both big branches and much smaller branches.  The internet also spells it “tipi.”


We always have to stop and take a look at the beaver lodge.  A while ago we saw fresh mud on the top.  It was hard to get a good picture this morning.  There are logs and stick spreading out into the water and a pool to the left where the ice is less frozen.  There is still snow on the ground here.


Around most of the lake the snow has melted.


By the time we got to the other side of the lake almost all the geese had flown away.


Back at home, the compost pile has not frozen hard, so it has been easy to add kitchen scraps and the squirrels check it out each day and turn the pile for us.


In the warm kitchen the cyclamen continues to bloom.


Over New Years I finished the last of my five puzzles, that take me out in nature, while I enjoy my cozy home.  I drew my garden plan for next summer, but have not ordered any tomato or pepper transplants yet this year.

Last night I added three small leaves of fresh kale from the garden to our vegetables for the evening.  That seemed pretty unusual for January 15th!

Dark-eyed Junco, Squirrel and Christmas

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


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.


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.


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.


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


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


Sometimes it is a stretch…


Squirrels are so acrobatic they keep us entertained.


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


Tiny hands, beautiful fur, playful antics…


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.


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!