Autumn Wanderings

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  It has now been replaced by a beautiful new building that better meets the needs of nature field trips.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!

Fall Walks, Birds, and Butterflies

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!

Indigo Bunting, Skunk, and Garden Update

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.

Backyard blooms, berries and beyond

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.

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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!

 

Plum, Serviceberry and Water Striders

Plum, Serviceberry and Water Striders

Spring is happening everywhere you look now.  I took so many pictures this weekend I will try to put them in two different posts.

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The American plum tree is blooming now and the fragrance is wonderful.  This is a great native tree to attract insects and birds, and a great boost to the ecosystem.  The down side is that it suckers a lot.  But we just mow over the new shoots in the lawn or clip them back.  The fruit has sour skin, but tastes good inside.

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Red admiral butterfly on plum blossoms.

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Amelanchier laevis, Allegheny serviceberry. This is a small tree, but a favorite in our yard.  If we don’t eat the small June berries the birds will, so they are never a mess.  Serviceberries like partial shade.  I wish more people in our neighborhood had this lovely tree, but the nurseries don’t do much with native shrubs.  We got this at Possibility Place in Monee when it was less than 2 feet tall.

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We also have three small Regent’s serviceberry cultivars on the west side of the house.  They should not get over 6 feet, but they are not quite 3 feet yet.

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Close-up of Regent’s serviceberry blossoms.

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Yesterday we went to the Palos Forest Preserve at Cap Sauers Holdings, where I have been volunteering with a team to remove invasive honeysuckle.  I wanted to show Dan where we have been working, so we came in on the trail and then headed up a hill off the path.

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It was a beautiful morning and we came to this stream where we listened to the morning bird noises and observed the flowing water.  All the shrubs with green leaves are the honeysuckle bushes that we are in the process of removing to open up the forest to more sunlight and native species.

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The trees, which have not quite leafed out yet, were reflected in the stream.

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We noticed a lot of water striders in the water, and they mostly seemed to be in the process of mating.  I think I sometimes call them pond skimmers.

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Here is a closer look.  There are two of them here and you can see the extra legs….

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We wandered down a horse trail we found that was sometimes very muddy.

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This looked like a cozy hollow log for some animal.

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Can you see the moth?

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We often stopped to look at huge old trees.

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Soon these branches will be filled with leaves.

If I have time today I will put out another post with all the wildflowers and birds I saw this weekend!  Happy Easter!

Daffodils, Spicebush, and Spring Hikes

Daffodils, Spicebush, and Spring Hikes

After a very rainy week the sun appeared late on Thursday and a warm wind is blowing today.  Spring is coming on quickly now.

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Cheery yellow daffodils are all over the yard.

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Everywhere little insects are emerging with the flowers.

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White daffodil with yellow center.

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Double daffodil

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Blue anemone bulbs keep multiplying in five or six spots in the garden.

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The spicebush flowers are fully open and have been beautiful this year.  They are so small and hard to photograph.

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The camera has trouble knowing where to focus when I try to capture the spicebush, which has gotten so big.  It is maybe ten feet tall.  There is a lot of yellow in the yard, now.

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Tiny red-stemmed mosses grow out of a rotting railroad tie in the garden.

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Yesterday Dan and I found a new forest preserve trail on a ridge in the Cap Sauers Holdings.  A crew had cut down honeysuckle along much of the path, so we could see the contours of the ridges and valleys.  It was a gorgeous spring morning!

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We walked by a wetland where the frogs were peeping loudly.

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Mallards swam in the rushes.

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A week ago, the sun came through the misty morning, as we walked around Lake Katherine.

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We came across a robin with nesting material.

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Finally, it got tired of waiting for us to go away and jumped down a few feet into its snug nest.

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Can you hear the red-winged blackbird’s call?

IMG_7327Today the mute swan couple seemed to be napping on the island at Lake Katherine, so maybe they will nest here again this year.

IMG_7325The Great Blue Heron is back.  The lake was so crowded with walkers today, but the heron found a quiet spot along the canal.

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The star magnolias were blooming at Lake Katherine.  On our street the neighbor’s pink magnolia tree is getting ready to bloom.

It has been gray and gloomy for so long, that it has kind of surprised me to see spring march on in the past week or two.

Frosty New Year’s Morning

Frosty New Year’s Morning

Happy New Year!  It was 20 degrees F. when we headed off for our walk this morning in the forest preserve.

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Our walk took us by Cranberry Slough, which we often cannot see from the trail because of the summer foliage.

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Walking a little further I zoomed in on what I think are two muskrat lodges, and we saw a few others that were not in this picture.  I also read about muskrat pushups, which are holes in the thin ice that the muskrats make, where they push up stems of pond plants.  The pushups provide places to safely eat and rest after an underwater swim. I am not sure if these are pushups or lodges.  Muskrats build with cattails, while beavers would build with sticks and trees.

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A view of Country Lane as we started our walk this morning around 8:15 am.  The snow has melted, though there are a few icy patches.

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There were some leaf-shaped holes in the icy puddle areas.  The leaf froze on the ice and then the ice probably thawed under the leaf first.

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Frosty moss on bridge overlooking frozen stream.

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Earlier this week the squirrel spend some time on our birdbath trying to get a drink through the ice…

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There was snow on the ground for most of December.  This shot was on 12/18.  The dwarf fothergilla bush looks good in the winter, showing off shape and shadows, as the snow glistens.

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A sunrise shot I took on the first day of winter.

Looking forward to witnessing the wonders of nature in 2017.