Snowstorm

On February 9th the snowstorm brought approximately 13 inches of snow.  The pictures below will show how gray the days have been.

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The snow keeps falling on the birdbath and last fall’s flowers.

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A downy woodpecker works at the spicy suet on a snowy day.

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The white-breasted nuthatch pauses in the snow before checking out the suet.

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Pulling back on the picture you can see on the left that the sedum stalks are almost completely covered with snow.  On the right the yew shrubs are leaning way over with the weight of the snow.  I knocked the snow off most of the yew shrubs, but did not go far enough to reach these branches.

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Hicksii yew branches and snow after an earlier snowfall.

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Snow on goldenrod, Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks.’  I left the goldenrod up for winter interest and the insects that might be in the stems.

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I went out three times during the day for spurts of shoveling and my husband and son took their turns.  On the left you can see a few spikes of yucca poking out of the snow.  On the right, notice how high the snow is on our little bitternut hickory tree.

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This morning we walked at Lake Katherine.  It was a slog through the high snow, but great exercise and quiet beauty.  The lake was frozen except for this area where the fountain was bubbling.

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The Canadian geese were hunkered down on the lake ice.

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Snow scene at Lake Katherine.  After taking this picture my camera battery died.  It was probably best, as then I kept my cold hand in my mitten.

Earlier this morning our older neighbor was complaining because the snow plough had covered his car with snow and blocked him in.  Dan, my son, and I went over and shoveled him out so he would not have a heart attack!  We may need him to help us one day, and snowstorms can make us more neighborly or the opposite.

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.

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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.

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

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

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

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Male and female downy woodpeckers.

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A close up of the male downy woodpecker.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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Dan decided to throw a few snowballs at the squirrel!

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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.

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

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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.

 

Autumn Wanderings

When I get a chance I get out in the forest preserves to enjoy the autumn days.  Even with the snow on Friday the oak leaves are still hanging on.  Here are a few shots from the past two weeks.

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Reflections in the pond at the Little Red Schoolhouse.

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Turning to face the other way I could see an oak savanna with a stately, magnificent oak.  I love it when I see that young oak trees have been planted to replace many of the ancient oaks around us.

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I stopped to read an old sign by the trail about hibernation.

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My walk eventually lead me by the original little red schoolhouse.  It has now been replaced by a beautiful new building that better meets the needs of nature field trips.  In the background you can see several doomed roofs of cages that house birds.  Maybe these are birds that have been rehabilitated or cannot survive in the wild for some reason.

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There were a lot of little kids out enjoying the day.  This little girl climbed the fence to get a glimpse of the hawk in the cage.

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Red-tailed hawk, the most common hawk in our area.

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The orange serviceberry leaves were so pretty!

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The big surprise was the working phone booth.  The sign inside says that the phone actually works and to dial 911 if needed.

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I flushed out a lot of little birds when I walked down this prairie trail.

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Everywhere the oaks were turning orange, yellow and red.

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A late dragonfly was enjoying a warm rock.  I slowly brought my finder under the dragonfly’s head.  It sat on my finger for a while, but flew away before I got a picture.

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Two weeks ago Dan and I walked in the Willow Springs forest preserve for the first time.  We keep finding trails that are new for us.

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This looks like a den that would provide shelter for some animal….

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On November 1st I parked by Arrowhead Lake in the forest perverse south of us. It was a gray day, but the walk turned out to be beautiful anyway.

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I crossed Harlem Avenue to explore a new path I had not tried before.

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The woods were very quite except for the woodpeckers.

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Downy woodpecker

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The colors caught my attention as I walked out.  Maybe you had to be there….

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Back in our yard the aphids, or something, completely covered the kale plants.  I did see a few lady bugs around.  Sometimes the kale makes it through the winter and sometimes it doesn’t.  In any case I look forward to a swarm of lady bugs and other predators in the spring.

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On a more cheery note, the pineapple sage was blooming on November 1st.  I never saw any hummingbirds on it this year, as it did not start blooming until October.  We had a hard frost this week, though, and it’s days are over…

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It snowed some on Friday, for the first time this year, and stuck for a few hours. The chinquapin oak is just changing color this week and still has its leaves.  The crab apple lost most of its leaves back in June with some disease, so I need to try to get rid of those diseased leaves from under the tree.

Compost leaf pile:  We dug out some of the compost from the bottom of the pile, and started a new leaf pile yesterday.  We used the mower to mulch the leaves on the lawn and captured them in the mower bag that we carried to the leaf pile.  Dan even went out in the easement and mowed up those leaves, too, to make the leaf pile about three and a half feet high.  When the leaves are mixed with grass clippings they get hot pretty quickly.  We will do this the next few weekends and try to get the pile as large as possible before winter.  Then I can put my kitchen scraps in the pile until it is too frozen to get them in!

Bird Bath Visitors

Our bird bath is often shady now, as our chinquapin oak keeps getting bigger.  So it is sometimes harder to get the camera to focus on the birds instead of the sunny view in the background.  But these are a few of the birds we have seen in the past weeks.

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An American robin enjoys a peaceful, solitary moment to rest at the bird bath on a sunny day.

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It is not always so peaceful as there are a lot of robins and house sparrows in the neighborhood who are looking for the same thing.

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Here there are four or five robins in the bird bath and four waiting on the ground.

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It is the time of year for more blue jay visitors, as they inspect our acorns to see if they have become tasty food.

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Female northern cardinal in chinquapin oak tree.  The cardinals are not pushy, and I think they like it a little quieter when  they come to the bird bath.

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I have seen grackles in the yard a few times recently.  This one was very wary and furtive before taking a sip of water.

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A European starling joined the grackle.  The grackle is bigger, but starlings are bold birds.  The starling drank some water and jumped in to splash in the bath as the grackle watched.

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The robin deferred to the grackle, even though the robin is usually king of the castle.

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The goldfinches are often heard and seen in the yard this time of year.  They are seed eaters and especially like the cone flowers.

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This looks like a female American goldfinch.  This little bird spent a long time hopping around the edge of the bird bath cautiously.

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At one point the goldfinch removed a white feather that had been floating in the water.

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It finally jumped in and had a nice splash!

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I have been so happy to see beautiful cedar waxwings in the yard.  This one was cautious about the bird bath, also.

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Finally it made the plunge!

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Too cool!

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The hummingbird was visiting the lilies by the bird bath.  I wondered if it would stop for some water….

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But it rested on a lily flower.  A sparrow stopped at the bird bath and the hummingbird took off….

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A female northern flicker, in the woodpecker family, searches for ants or beetles near the bird bath.  She keeps looking around between foraging moments.

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The black-capped chickadee likes to preen itself on top of the laundry pole.

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A downy woodpecker came for a visit back in mid-June.

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This looked like a giant wasp or bee in the dill today.  I love providing habitat for native bees.

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Monarch on zinnia.

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Meanwhile I am picking yellow wax beans and green pole beans every day and trying to cook them to keep up.  I know this is a losing battle and might try to freeze some beans soon!

Backyard blooms, berries and beyond

Following on in the “B” theme, look in this blog post for a bull frog, blue damselfly and Indiana dunes beach….

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The butterfly weed is in bloom.  We are waiting for the monarch butterflies to visit…

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Veronica spicata Spike speedwell ‘Royal Candles’ a little bit past its prime.  Red hot poker flowers in the background.

IMG_8523Kniphofia red hot pokers in front of miscanthus ‘morning light’ ornamental grass.

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The view from the patio.

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Aruncus goat’s beard does well on the north side of the house.

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The first gaillardia blooms.

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Bright yellow yarrow, and in the background salvia ‘blue hill.’

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The alyssum re-seeds itself each year and is starting to bloom now.

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Does cauliflower count as a flower?  I cooked this up in a soup today!

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The collards are looking nice and we are trying to keep up with eating them before the cabbage worms do their munching.  This plant does not look too chewed on.

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We haven’t had to buy lettuce for a few weeks.  This leaf lettuce is nice, but the romaine is starting to bolt with the hot weather.

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In a bowl this morning from our yard – serviceberries, strawberries, mulberries and raspberries.  I enjoyed them with my oatmeal.

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Ripening serviceberry.  I am competing with the birds for these now.  The robins are often in the serviceberry tree.

IMG_8530Unfortunately this berry loving cedar waxwing died after crashing into our kitchen window!  I saw a big serviceberry in its mouth before it died.

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A downy woodpecker has been visiting the birdbath.

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There seem to be a lot of wasps in the yard this year.

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Blue damselfly on miscanthus ornamental grass.

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We visited Indiana Dunes State Park last weekend.  We hiked for a couple of hours in the dunes before enjoying our lunch with the crowd on the beach.

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A little cactus along the prairie trail.  This state park has quite a few endangered species.

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Tomahawk Slough in the Palos Forest Preserve, where we hiked last Sunday.

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One of many bullfrogs at Tomahawk Slough.

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There were also a ton of little toads or frogs hoping around near the water and on the trail.  I guess it is time for them to head out on their own and see if they survive.

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Great blue heron at Tomahawk Slough.

Birding:  I signed up for a birding blitz in the Palos Forest Preserve for June 17th.  I am just an amateur birder, so I was looking forward to going out with someone who could identify a ton of birds.  I showed up in the parking lot at 5:30 am and then remembered to check my email on my phone.  The blitz had been canceled for weather reasons, as thunderstorms were predicted.  I could hear all the birds around me, but the expert birders were not there.  We did not get any rain on Saturday as I guess the rain fell somewhere else.  But it was probably a good thing that I was not involved, as my foot has been giving me some trouble after all that hiking last weekend.  So it is a good weekend to just rest and recover and get this blog post done!

 

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…

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Hamamelis vernalis, vernal witch hazel.

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Close-up of vernal witch hazel flowers.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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I hope we will see some little swans before long.

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

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A downy woodpecker perched near the lake path.

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

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

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A flap of her strong wings shook the water off…

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The male mallard was busy working on a meal.

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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!

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

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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.

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!