Lake Katherine Reflections and a Raptor

Yesterday morning I had a quiet walk around Lake Katherine in Palos Heights.

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The still water reflected the trees and the clouds.

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It was a cold morning and the mute swans seemed to be sleeping with occasional grooming.

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Mute swan

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Mute swan

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There were not many people out, but two women were laughing and taking picutres on the bridge at the pond surrounded by cypress trees in autumn colors.

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Water is high in the pond this year.

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I see that invasive phragmites are taking root in the pond.

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When I first arrived at the lake it was birdy and I was trying, mostly unsuccessfully, to take pictures of white-breasted nuthatches, cardinals, downy woodpeckers, goldfinches, and some unknow sparrows.

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Then I noticed a red-tailed hawk land in a nearby tree.

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After a while it flew over to another tree.  Can you see it?

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I got a closer look at this predator.  I wondered if he had already had his breakfast or was hunting.

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Here is a view of the back feathers.  I understand that red-tailed hawks don’t get red tails until they are two years old.  The tail did not appear to be red.

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One more shot of the red-tailed hawk.  can you see the yellow at the base of the beak?

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Other than the swans there were only mallards in the lake.  There was plenty of quacking.  The geese must have already flown away for the day before I arrived.

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Duck getting breakfast.

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Parts of the lake were still frozen.  The temperatures have been swinging above and below the freezing point these past weeks.

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Fungi on a log were covered with a pretty frost.

Books:  I am currently reading Troubled Water: What’s Wrong with What We Drink, by Seth Siegel.  Lots of food for thought and a pretty interesting read.  Do you drink water from the tap?  A lot of us don’t trust it.  The book it not out to get villains, but says there are a lot of bystanders.  It is a complicated issue, but a serious one.  I am just on the fourth chapter but I understand more about why no one is taking action to solve the problem, which is getting worse each year. (I think it might involve taxes and getting re-elected.)  I am looking forward to what suggestions and solutions I will find in the book.

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June View and Midwest Vacation

I sprained my ankle, so no gardening for me.  It is a chance to post a few pictures from the past few weeks.

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Today’s view from the kitchen window.

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Looks like the squirrel came by for a drink.  I need to move the birdbath into a sunnier location as my chinquapin oak tree grows.

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Digitalis purpurea, foxglove.  This flower is not native, but it is well behaved in my garden and the bees and hummingbirds seem to like it.

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Looking at it from a different angle, the foxglove is on the left.  The grass in the “meadow” is high and the little hickory tree is shooting up. The tall tree in the back is the serviceberry, also called Juneberry.  Since it is June it is time to look for berries, though the weather has been mild, so everything is a bit late.  The raspberries on the right are starting to form.

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The cedar waxwings, who love berries, have been checking the serviceberry tree out.  You can see the berries are not quite ready, though there always might be one or two that can be eaten early.

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In the vegetable garden the clematis started blooming.  The robin came for a little bath in the bottom portion of this birdbath.  I did not get mulch down before I sprained my ankle so there are weeds everywhere.  My doctor said to just “bless the weeds” for the next few weeks while I rest and heal.  I sprained my ankle in the kitchen an hour after returning from our Memorial weekend mini-vacation…  Here are a few pictures from that time.

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Camel rock in the Garden of the Gods Wilderness in southern Illinois.

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We explored a lot of trails, like this trail at Giant City State Park.

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I got a sense of pleasure at seeing a rock pigeon nesting in the rocks instead under an overpass in a city.

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Liriodendron tulipifera – tulip tree in bloom.  There are not too many of these trees in northern Illinois, but they were common as we went south.

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The boardwalk at Heron Pond in the Cache River Wetlands.  Curiosity about this area was what motivated us to make another trip to southern Illinois.  Being on this boardwalk felt magical.  The cypress trees grow up in this swampy pond, where we could hear various birds calling.  It is a pretty wild area, but a great place for biodiversity and a buffer between the south and the north during this time of climate change, where various animals and birds can find habitat.  We did not see any water moccasins, but kept our eyes open and appreciated the boardwalk.

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We did a lot of driving, including on back roads like this.  A Swedish thriller audiobook kept us entertained in between jumping out of the car to explore the next place.

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These may be box turtles mating, or something….  This was at the Oakland Nature Preserve in Carbondale, Illinois.  It was a buggy morning so we were doing a very fast walk through these trails to keep away from the bugs, but we saw quite a few turtles and a lot of native and/or rate plants.  Our hiking boots were caked with mud on this trip.

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On the way home on Sunday we stopped at the Chinook State and Wildlife Area, east of Terre Haute, Indiana.  There were no trails, so we did not stay long, but two different units came to fish while we were there.  We had beautiful warm weather during our trip, but as we headed home the cool, wet weather began to move in again.

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We stopped to see a few of the covered bridges near Rockville, Indiana.

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On the last stretch home to Chicago we stopped to see the bison at Kankakee Sands in northwest Indiana.  Can you see the head of the little calf in the group?  This is a prairie restoration area run by the Nature Conservancy.  We did not want to take the time to go to the bird area, but we were refreshed by the wide open area we saw.  Then back in the car and back to life in the suburbs!

November Snow Beauty

Happy Thanksgiving!  I did not get around to posting on Saturday, 11/17, when the snow was on the ground and now it is gone, but here are a few pictures to record what has been a cooler than usual month of November in Illinois.

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On Saturday we opened the kitchen curtains to see the snow lining the trees branches in the backyard.

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Snow on Hicksii yew bushes and on the mulberry tree in the background.

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Miscanthus ‘morning light’ ornamental grass.  I cut off some of the seed heads already to get ahead of the spring duties.  I use this grass, minus the seeds heads, as mulch around the garden in the spring.

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We walked around Lake Katherine on Saturday morning and loved the reflections.

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Across the lake a woman in a red coat walking her dog caught my eye.

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Snow on pine needles

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The cypress tress by the ephemeral pond had changed color but not lost their needles yet when the snow covered them.

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We were the first ones to come to the snowy bridge over the pond.

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We noticed a white waterfowl in the lake.  Was it a goose or a duck?  At home I did an internet search and I think it is an American Pekin, which is a domesticated duck.  I suppose it has joined a wild flock or something, not sure how that works.  Apparently these domesticated ducks originally were bred from mallards in China.

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Back at home, we put up a suet feeder about a ten days ago and the male red-bellied woodpecker came to feed.

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Here is another shot of the red-bellied woodpecker on a snowy day.

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The white-breasted nuthatch watched a flock of sparrow at the bird feeder and kept its distance.

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A male house sparrow can be aggressive for its small size.

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The white-breasted nuthatch eventually got its turn, looking around between each nibble.

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The downy woodpecker came, too.  I need to put another block of suet in the feeder today.

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A week ago we were walking in another part of the forest and stopped to admire the moss on an old log.

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Our walk took us by this grassy prairie.  The reason we ended up on this path is that we could see two coyotes on the path we planned to take.  They were relaxing by a stream, but we really did not feel like walking toward them to see what they would do….

I am thankful for so many things and thank you for reading this far today!

Florida Birds and More

I saw the first yellow flowers on our snow crocuses today and the green daffodil shoots are starting to come up.  But while we are waiting for spring to come to Chicagoland, Dan and I took a short trip to Florida and enjoyed the sunny weather!  I did my best to identify some of the birds we saw on this trip.

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Reddish egret on Sanibel Island.  One day we visited the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge.  Looking at the bird guide they gave us this picture looks like a reddish egret.

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Nearby were several groups of white pelicans.

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I believe this is a willet resting on a stump near the shore.

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This shot shows that many of the birds were on sand bars or in shallow waters, where they were resting or fishing.  These lakes or bays were surrounded by tall mangroves.

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We walked on an observation boardwalk into one of the red mangrove areas.  I love the reflections on this picture.

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We observed a tiny snake on one of the mangrove branches.

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Looking closely we noticed little mangrove tree crabs crawling on the branches.

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We almost missed the yellow-crowned night heron in the shade of the mangroves.  They like to eat the mangrove tree crabs!

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Can you see the tail on the male horseshoe crab?  We saw a larger female horseshoe crab near the mangrove boardwalk, but could not get a picture.

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Dan saw this hawk fly into the trees and was trying to get a picture.  We thought it was a red-shouldered hawk, which would be a first for me.

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Dragonfly resting in stream.

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We spent some time visiting beaches and the shorebirds seemed to be visiting some of the beaches, too.  Besides the herring and ring-billed gulls, this shot includes a black skimmer and some royal terns.

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We saw osprey nesting wherever we went.

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This great blue heron had found a nice perch in a pond at the Lemon Bay Park in Englewood, where we visited one afternoon.

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Also seen at the pond was this bird, which I think is an eastern phoebe.

We saw some really fun birds when we visited the Six Mile Cypress Slough on our last full day in Florida.

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Starting at Gator Pond we saw many sunning double-crested cormorants, along with egrets, herons, and osprey.

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It was a cool, but beautiful morning in the cypress woods and the ferns were wonderfully verdant.  We saw a downy woodpecker and heard that someone had seen a pileated woodpecker.  I had never seen one, so was on the look out.

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Pileated woodpecker at Six Mile Cypress Slough near Fort Myers, Florida.

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A barred owl was sleeping away the morning.

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At Otter Pond a green heron was looking for breakfast.

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From this angle you can see the minnows swimming in the water.  The heron was intently watching for just the right fish to swim by.

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Nearby a white ibis had something in its bill it was working on as we watched.

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Apparently these are apple snail eggs, that are an introduced species.

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Nesting near Otter Pond was a limpkin, another first ever bird for me.  Limpkins eat apple snails, so help to keep a check on this species, and that is why they are nesting here.

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An alligator found a sunny place to digest its breakfast.

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A turtle was warming up on a log.  I like the way the back feet are stretched out.

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One of the magnificent, old cypress trees was putting on fresh green leaves.

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We practiced trying to get shots of warblers, but missed more than we were successful.  Once we got a picture we were not sure what kind of warbler it was.  Maybe this is a palm warbler, but not sure.

We decided to fit in one last visit to the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, which we visited a few years ago.

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A female anhinga was drying its wings in the sun at the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.

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A great egret was fishing as it stalked between giant old cypress trees.  We saw a number of giant trees blown down due to hurricane Irma.  One part of the boardwalk was broken and closed down, but there were wood storks nesting there, so that was a good reason to keep visitors out.

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I zoomed way out to catch a little blue heron hunting on lettuce lake.

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At that point I was distracted by an alligator swimming up near to the boardwalk.  The little kids near us were thrilled.

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We looked into a scope on the side of the boardwalk and saw this snake.

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One of the posted signs explained that first people were afraid of the swamp, then greed made them exploit it for feathers and lumber, and to drain it for land.  But now there is a greater understanding of the function the swamp plays in our ecosystem, as water purification, flood control and habitat.

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I am thankful for those who have preserved places like this for us to enjoy and for the trees and swamp to provide habitat for so many species that have decreased rapidly.  I see that there is a need for the millions (billions?) of domesticated cows, chickens, dogs, and cats, but surely these other wild species are valuable as well.

Fall Walks, Birds, and Butterflies

The weather stayed nice and unseasonably warm through today, when the rain and cooler weather seems to be moving in.  I was able to go on a number of beautiful fall walks this past week.

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Fall colors at Lake Katherine

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There were two pairs of mute swans at Lake Katherine this morning.

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The nuts were abundant on the bald cypress trees.

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Our little bitternut hickory tree in the front yard continues to grow more each year and it turned very yellow today.  You can see that the neighbor’s autumn blaze maple behind it is just getting ready to turn color.

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On Wednesday I had the day off and I went for a walk at the Little Red Schoolhouse in the Palos Forest Preserve.  The hickories were turning color, but most of the color was fairly muted.

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The temperature was in the mid-70s, so I sat down in the sun across from the prairie and soaked up the sun and the quietness.  The big oak trees were still very green.

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A large grasshopper was walking in circles in the grass at my feet….  So many different and complicated insects in the world, eating and being eaten.

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Nearby a migrating white-crowned sparrow looked for a snack.

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I spent some time in the shelter observing birds.  Another more experienced birder came along and she confirmed some of my sightings.

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I thought I had take pictures of a group of eastern bluebirds and she confirmed that was true.  I have not seen eastern bluebirds for a while, so that was rewarding.

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A great blue heron and a double-crested cormorant each found a resting spot on top of the solar array in the middle of the slough.  It was a very beautiful day.

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Back home in our yard two painted lady butterflies have been hanging out at the zinnias all week.

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A variety of other moths and butterflies spend the day on the flowers that are still blooming.

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I was struck by the two designs that meet in this picture.

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A week ago I took this picture of a goldfinch munching on the dried coneflowers in the garden.

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Pulling back you can see the little goldfinch on the messy coneflowers.  This is the view from our kitchen window.  This is the time of year to clean up the yard and get ready for winter.  I am always having a conversation in my mind about what messy plants to leave for the birds and insects and what clean up to do now to make it easier in the spring.  Some years I clean up more and some years I leave more mess!

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!

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

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Goose convention

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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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

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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.

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Around most of the lake the snow has melted.

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

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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.

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In the warm kitchen the cyclamen continues to bloom.

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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!