March Birds, Witch-hazel and Crocus

It has been very birdy recently.  We enjoyed the winter birds, and this month have been starting to notice the spring birds, which are much more vocal.  Some will be nesting locally and some will just be migrating through.  I also took a closer look in the yard today to find the first flowers.

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Resident robin resting late in the afternoon in the oak tree.  Where will the nest be this year?

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Another robin picture.  This time in the maple tree next door that is about to flower.

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The male northern cardinal has been singing a lot recently.  This is not a great picture, but you can see the daffodils in the background that are slowly nudging up.

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I love it when the mourning dove visits.

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The vernal witch-hazel has been blooming for a while now.

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The first yellow snow crocus blooms are so cheery.

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I noticed another crocus blooming near the house.  On closer inspection it looks like the rabbit ate the green shoots right off.

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I had noticed this flower from my office window and thought it was an anemone, until I took a closer look today and saw this purple crocus, which I don’t think I planted here….

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One more crocus picture!

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I have been hearing sandhill cranes every day around noon over the past week.  Large flocks of them tend to circle in our area, catching an updraft before moving on.

Our Saturday walks last week and this week have given us a glimpse of quite a few migrating birds.

Little Red Schoolhouse – March 16

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Common mergansers

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Hooded mergansers – a little blurry

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Song sparrow?

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A white-tailed deer on the path watched us as we watched it.

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Ice crystals on the river last week.  Now most ice has melted.

McGinnis Slough – March 23

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The air was filled with the sound of red-winged blackbirds this morning.

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Male northern shoveler.

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The paths around the slough were flooded.  We had worn our winter boots, but still had to head into the thicket to go around the water.  Dan fearlessly pushed through the brush.

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Ring-necked ducks

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Lesser scaup

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Buffleheads

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Mallard couple nesting.  I hope the ducks and geese did not lose eggs in the flooded waters.

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It was a gorgeous sunny morning as we walked down the path in the other direction toward the open water.  We paused to listed to the chickadees and woodpeckers.

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Finally we came to the view where we could see hundred and hundred of ducks.  A muskrat was swimming around in the reeds near us as we listened to the red-winged blackbirds overhead and enjoyed the sun on our backs.

Spring is on the way!

Cap Sauer Holdings Nature Preserve

We took another walk in the Palos forest preserves today, entering the trailhead for Cap Sauer Holdings at the pull-off on the south side of Route 83.  It was a mild January morning, and we were immediately awed by the beauty of the forest.  Last summer when we were here we did not stay long as the bugs were attaching us.  But this time of year the temperature was just around freezing as the sun was starting to come up.

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The path goes by a wetland where frog make loud noises in springtime.  But we headed off the path to the left to where I have occasionally helped with cutting back and burning invasive honeysuckle bushes with a group of volunteers.

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We came upon the ashes of a recent fire by the volunteers.  I thought I saw some smoke rising and wondered if someone had been working there this week.

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The different kinds of fungi caught our attention.  I love the colors on this one.

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Here is another view of a frosty fungus.

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Orange fungi

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I love the brilliant green of this moss as the sun came up.

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Near the end of our walk Dan saw two bucks.  One ran away, but one stood still for a while and Dan was able to get this photo.

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As we walked through the words we came to this stream, which was only frozen here and there because of the recent warm weather.

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Water flowing over blockage in the stream

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Coming up from the stream we followed a small path through the woods.  We were not sure where it would lead.

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After a while we came to a large prairie area that was surrounded by woods.  The grasses must have fallen down from earlier snows.  The path eventually led us to a larger trail, though we did not know what trail it was or where it would lead, so we retraced our steps and went back out the way we came in.  In the springtime the floor of the forest in this nature preserve is covered with woodland wildflowers.

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Back home again, it does not look like January outside.  Yesterday I saw little bugs flying around in the warm air.

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The blue fescue grass looked like it was growing and enjoying the sun.

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I heard a bird song and it was this starling singing on top of a pole.  We have had more woodpeckers and white-breasted nuthatches at the suet feeder along with the squirrels….

December Morning in the Woods

We got lost in the forest preserve woods yesterday morning.  We walked about 90 minutes before we got back to our car.  But it was a mild morning and the woods were beautiful!

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When the sun finally came out yesterday morning I made a long shadow.

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It was impossible to capture in a photograph the view of all the ravines and hills we walked through.  Everything was covered with a layer of leaves and was very quiet.

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I noticed this mossy area at the top of a stream bed.  The little red speck in the back of the picture is from 3 mountain bike riders we met on the trail.

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We passed three guys on mountain bikes as we were trying to figure out which way would take us out of the forest.

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Dan pointed to six deer in the distance.

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We and the deer looked at each other.

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I came across a pile of nut shells.  It was under a shagbark hickory tree, so I am guessing they are from hickory nuts.

IMG_1193I saw this little cavity in a tree that looked like a nice place for a squirrel to sit and have a nut meal.

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This tree cavity looked like a warm place to get out of a storm.  It reminds me of the little bunny children’s book I love.  Notice the spray paint on this trunk?

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A lot of the trees in this forest had been decorated with spray paint…

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Last weekend we visited the Turtlehead forest preserve in Orland Park.  We decided we want to come again and view it in the other three seasons, too.

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Back at home I put fresh water in the bird bath when the weather was above freezing.  Then I noticed a flurry of starling and house sparrow visitors.  The northern cardinals and dark-eyed juncos looked on from nearby, but did not want to get mixed up with the crazy sparrows and starlings.

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This morning, Christmas Eve, we are getting 1 -3 inches of snow for a beautiful white Christmas.

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In our cozy kitchen, where the roast is in the oven, I noticed a ladybug in the greenhouse window.  It is hiding somewhere in the cyclamen plant….

Birds At Year End

We had snow yesterday…  These pictures were taken over the past few weeks as we move from late fall to early winter.

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Red-bellied woodpecker at Hidden Pond Forest Preserve

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Female northern cardinal at Hidden Pond Forest Preserve.  I always hope to see wood ducks in Hidden Pond, since I saw them there once, but I have never have seen them there again.

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I walked one of the trails at Hidden Pond forest preserve a few weeks ago.  Today I went back there with a crew of volunteers and we cut invasive brush and built two big bon fires to burn it up.  In this picture the late green leaves you can see are probably honeysuckle, which is an invasive shrub all over the forest preserves.

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Black-capped chickadee at Lake Katherine

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I always look at the waterfowl at Lake Katherine to see if I can see anything besides mallards and Canadian geese.  This pair look like scaup, but I can’t tell if they are the greater or lesser variety…  My picture is not the greatest.

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Back in our yard the blue jay is faced with a frozen bird bath.  In the background are sedum, which I decided to leave up for the winter.

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We have had quite a few dark-eyed juncos pecking around in the yard the past few weeks. They like to scrounge around in the leaf litter, so our yard is a good place for them. I think they prefer seeds, but will eat insect, too.

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Dark-eyed junco eating liatris seeds

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Here is what our messy meadow looked like after the snowfall yesterday.  The little bluestem grass has turned red.  Plenty of flower and grass seeds here.

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I noticed a large flock of starlings across the street and on our front lawn.  I heard that when you see starlings on the lawn that you have grubs in the lawn.  It certainly is possible.

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When a white-breasted nuthatch flew in and landed on the neighbor’s oak the starlings may have been spooked and all flew away.

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Moving from birds to mammals….  Dan and I went for a walk one Saturday morning in the forest preserve south of us on Harlem Avenue and came across this deer, who stood still for a few moments.

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The squirrels have been busy in the yard.  This one was working on the ice in the bird bath.  Don’t you love that winter fur and fluffy tail?

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The squirrel is continually running around the yard, maybe checking on the nuts that are buried here and there.

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At the end of November I went to the horse stable and loaded up the car trunk with buckets of horse manure that I spread over the vegetable gardens.  It should blended into the soil by next spring.  The manure was already fairly well composted.  The parsley and strawberries stay green until it really freezes hard and stays frozen for a while.

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I guess we are done with mowing the lawn and mulching up our leaves.  We had strong winds last week, causing the last of the leaves to fall.  We got them all mulched and then the snow fell the next day.

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The shadows are long now on the north side of the house, but when the sun comes out the grass is still green.

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You can see the kale is still hanging in here in the pictures above, so I was still able to add some fresh greens to our vegetable bean soup.

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We are getting close to the shortest day of the year.  Sometimes I think I hear a great horned owl in the trees near us, but I have not seen one yet.

Indigo Bunting, Skunk, and Garden Update

We enjoy the garden this time of year, but also like to venture out in the many natural areas near where we live.

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Dan got a picture of a male indigo bunting singing in a tree at Lake Katherine last Saturday morning.

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The dragonflies are active this time of year.  This might be a blue darner.  I am seeing fireflies at night in the garden now, too.

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This monarch was at Lake Katherine on the thistle plants last week.  I may have seen one Monarch in our yard this year, but that is about all.  My zinnias are just about to start blooming, so that will attract them.

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I am going to sneak in this very blurry picture of an eastern bluebird that we saw in the Palos forest preserve yesterday.  The mosquitoes were after us when I was trying to take this picture, so that is my excuse for the poor picture!

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On our walk yesterday we passed this stump with interesting fungi.  I don’t know if you can see the hole in the log just below the top fungi, which looks like a nice home for some critter.

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Back in our yard, the monarda, bee balm, that I planted two or three years ago finally bloomed for the first time.  We have it growing in our tall grass area.

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One day this week I was working at my desk and looked out of the window to see something black and white that caught my eye.  We had left the back gate open and the skunk must have come in, snooped around for a minute, but then went back out the gate, which we then closed.

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Here is a closer look at one of the marigolds that was behind the skunk in the picture.

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A peek into my garden where things are getting going.  The cucumber is just starting to take off on the right.  Behind that I just planted two little tomato plants that my Arab neighbor lady gave me.  I don’t really need more tomatoes, but I am curious to see how they will do and I seem to have room right now for them.

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I took this picture of the zucchini plant about a week ago.  Since then it rained a little and there were a few flowers and the first small zucchini is coming along. Get ready for zucchini!

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We have been picking and eating a lot of raspberries in the garden this week.  Dan and I have each had a couple of good handfuls a day.  I throw in some mulberries and service berries into my morning oatmeal, too.

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There were quite a few blueberries on the Duke blueberry bush, but it seems to take forever for them to turn blue.  I think this bush is dying.  Our soil is not acidic and this bush does not really get enough sun.  But it has made a great effort to produce this year.

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Pink hydrangea.

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This morning we went to the McGinnis slough in the forest preserve in Palos Park.  As we were looking at the great blue herons and egrets we noticed a deer walking in the slough.  It seemed to be eating lily pads.

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Its ears were perked up and it looked our way a long time as we looked at it.

Rain:  As I was writing this post we just had a nice rain shower.  It was just over a tenth of an inch, so not a lot, but even that should help everything in the garden, as it has been a bit dry recently.  It cooled the temperature down, too.

September Birding and Wildlife

The fall bird migration season is a great time to get out and do birding in our area between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River in Illinois.  I recently joined IBET (Illinois Birders Exchanging Thoughts) and I get numerous emails each day from birders who are announcing what birds they are seeing around Illinois.  This has given me ideas about new areas to explore.  This morning we ended up at McGinnis Slough in Orland Park and never got to the other places we planned to explore.  It amazes me how many beautiful natural areas there are right around us that we have not even explored yet!

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Wood ducks and American coots at McGinnis Slough.  We walked very quietly down the path in order not to scare the waterfowl and saw quite a few beautiful wood ducks, but the pictures I took of them were not the greatest.

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Most of the brown ducks are mallards, but I wondered if the brown one in front is an American wigeon or something other than a mallard.

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I didn’t really count how many coots there were.  I would say at a minimum there were 40, but maybe quite a few more.

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Great egret up in a tree above McGinnis Slough.

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McGinnis Slough.  This time of year there are high marsh grasses surrounding the water as well as a beautiful forest area.

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Orange sulphur along the path

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Can you see the dragonfly?  I think it is a darner, but after some research I am hesitant to clearly identify what type of darner.

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Female yellow-rumped warbler at Lake Sedgewick in Orland Park, IL.  She is just migrating through…

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I made a quick stop at Lake Sedgewick yesterday and hope to explore here soon.  One of my IBET emails said that a group of 25 American white pelicans stopped for a bit on one of the islands in the lake as they migrated through this week.

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Male downy woodpecker.  These birds stay in Illinois year round.

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Another place where I made a quick stop yesterday was Orland Grasslands.  An IBET email mentioned that a mink had been seen here several times this week.  The grasses are tall now and I hope to get back to explore soon.

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Male northern flicker searching for ants at Cranberry Slough Nature Preserve.  We sat in our car for a while and watched the little meadow filled with morning bird activity early last Sunday morning.

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Deer in morning light.  Restoration has been going on at Cranberry Slough Nature Preserve and much of the overgrown shrub undergrowth has been cleared out to restore sunlight for more native plants to flourish.

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Back in our yard the goldfinch was snacking on coneflower seeds.

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Mystery bird in our chinquapin oak tree.  Can anyone identify this bird?

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Hummingbird on clothesline.

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Mute swans at Lake Katherine last week.

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Stephanie walked around the lake with me last week and she tried out the new giant adirondack chair in the back meadow.

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The forbes at Lake Katherine were tall and attractive.

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Aster

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Back home again, this is a painted lady butterfly, I think, on an orange zinnia.

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Common green bottle fly on yellow mum.  Yesterday when Dan and I were walking at Lake Katherine we saw for the third time a man with his camera in the weeds.  We stopped for a while and he is a specialist at insect photography.  We had a fun time talking about insects and the best ways to take pictures of them.  He recommended some reading for me.

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Huge bee on the nasturtiums.  I am not sure if these big bees are bumble bees.  They are much bigger than the other bumble bees in the yard.  Rather than entering the flowers from the front they just bite the outside of the flower and sip the nectar that way.

Hope you enjoy your little corner of the world this week!

Autumn Walk Near Hidden Lake

There are a lot of trails in the forest preserves near us.  Last week I tried a new trail near hidden lake.

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After my walk I sat in the car and ate some lunch watching the deer grazing nearby.  Behind the grasses on the left-hand side is a lake hidden by tall rushes.

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Walking around the lake I took a picture of some distant ducks.  On the screen now I think these are wood ducks, that I have only seen on TV.  Sorry the picture is so small.

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Walking through the fall colors with my jacket and gloves on a beautiful day made me really happy.

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The path led me by this small lake.  Quite a few birds were rustling around the shore.

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With some effort I managed to get this bird picture near the lake.  Is it a swamp sparrow?

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I saw this deer along the trail.  We looked at each other for about a minute, while I took various pictures.

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The trail is near some horse stables.  This was the only horse I saw that day.

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Hope you have been able to enjoy some fall colors these days!