Blueberries, Birds, and Wildflowers

Spring just keeps progressing day after day.  Plants are blooming and birds are migrating in.


Duke Blueberry.  Just when I had sort of given up on getting many blueberries in the garden we had a lot of blossoms this year.


The little Top Hat Blueberry was full of blossoms, too.  We will see if the blueberries turn out well.  These blueberry pictures are from about two weeks ago.


Today all the strawberries are blooming.  I went around to try to put some straw under each plant to keep the berries out of the dirt.  I can also see that we are going to have a bumper crop of serviceberries before long, so I am looking forward to berry season.


Common Lilac.  This photo was taken about two weeks ago, but the lilacs have been pretty for a long time, since it has been cool the past two weeks.

IMG_7605.JPGI never got good pictures of the crabapple blossoms this year.  It seemed to rain right after they opened, or I must have been busy….

Last weekend I took a few bird shots when we walked around Lake Katherine.


Female mallard on log in pond


Great blue heron


The end of April seemed pretty early to see goslings, but we had some warm weather early in the spring.


Fluffy gosling


Back in our yard the Chinquapin oak tree is full of catkins.  Can you see the palm warbler in the tree?


I tried to zoom in a little on the palm warbler.


Here the palm warbler is looking for a bug snack among the strawberry and anemone plants.


The dwarf fothergilla bush is in bloom now.

IMG_7616And there is the palm warbler again next to the fothergilla bush.


There are a lot of little brown birds like this in the yard.  It could be just a house sparrow or it could be some wonderful migrating bird.  I have not had much time to get out and observe, but even going outside for 5 or 10 minutes can be rewarding.  I had heard the goldfinch song in the yard and today I saw the yellow bird for the first time this year.


I was sitting listening to an unfamiliar bird song this morning way up in a tall tree and then I saw the orange color.  A Baltimore Oriole was busy singing and getting some kind of food from the top of this tree.


It was so much fun to watch this Baltimore Oriole from my patio.


The kale and romaine lettuce have been in the ground for 2 weeks.  There is a frost warming for tonight, but it looks like 37 degrees, which I think is fine in my yard.  I put up the bean pole structure and am waiting for the soil to warm up to plant pole beans.  You can see the mound of rhubarb in the back.  I made rhubarb sauce for the first time this season today.  I think my tomato and pepper plants should be coming from Seed Savers in the mail some time this week….


Huechera ‘plum pudding’


I threw some dwarf sunflower seeds in the meadow a week or two ago and was very excited to see they sprouted.  Can’t wait for these small sunflowers.


Dark blue salvia is blooming next to the yarrow that will start up soon.

Yesterday our family went for a walk in the forest preserves.  I was looking forward to seeing spring wildflowers.  I did, but they were different from the ones I saw a few weeks ago.


Dodecatheon meadia Shooting Star wildflower in the Cap Sauers Holdings of the Palos Forest Preserve.


I am not sure what this is, but it was pretty.  No need to know the name, really.  We can just enjoy the beauty!

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.


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


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.


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.


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.


Frosty moss on bridge overlooking frozen stream.


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


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.


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

Looking forward to witnessing the wonders of nature in 2017.

Thankful For Pleasant Autumn Days

It is a good time of year to be thankful for the growing season and the harvest.  The garden is ready for winter now.  We have had such a pleasant, warm autumn, but now I am looking forward to the quiet and rest of winter.


We mowed the lawn as short as possible.  The fothergilla bush still has red leaves, on the left.  These pictures of the whole yard are always interesting to me, when I compare how things look from season to season and year to year in these blog posts as trees and bushes grow.  It still looks pretty green today and I just watched some sparrows and dark-eyed juncos fighting for space at the bird bath, that is not frozen.


The fothergilla bush on 11/21.


The grass clippings and mulched leaves went into the compost pile, which it pretty hot today.  We have eaten almost all of the Brussel sprouts.  The rhubarb is winding down.  I pulled out a lot of the strawberry runners and babies, but they like the cool weather, and will be green for a while.


Last Sunday I went to the horse stables and brought back manure to spread around the garden and blend into the soil over the winter.  Still active at this time of year are kale, collards, garlic, parsley, mint, and oregano.


On 11/16 this common buckeye butterfly was warming itself on our driveway.


The green tomatoes are gradually ripening.


Sometimes while working in the garden I hear the sandhill cranes flying overhead on their way to an Indiana sandhill crane gathering.


At Lake Katherine the beaver has been getting ready for winter, too.  The lodge is well covered with mud and trees have been brought in close for easy access in cold weather.


Last weekend we took a walk at Pioneer Woods in the Palos Forest Preserve, where restoration work has been going on.  The green leaves are probably mostly on invasive honeysuckle bushes.  Winter is a good time to cut those down and build some big bon fires to clear out the forest undergrowth.


Harvest moon.

Autumn Colors, Grasses and Birds

It has been fun watching the fall colors peak in the yard this past week.  We had our first frost last night on November 11th.  I don’t remember such a long growing season before, and the frost may not have been a killing frost for the tomatoes and peppers.


Carpinus caroliniana, with common names American hornbeam, blue beech or musclewood.  The top leaves turned pink/orange a few weeks ago and fell off earlier.  This picture was taken on November 8th.  The other American hornbeam we bought from Possibility Place Nursery turns yellow in the fall, so maybe they are variations of some type.


American hornbeam fall color.


Dwarf fothergilla bush, possible ‘beaver creek.’  I replanted this bush at this location in the spring and hope it will settle in to its new location this coming year.  This bush started turning color weeks ago.


On November 6th the other fothergilla bush was still green, with the second American hornbeam, on the left, and the spice bush, on the right, very yellow.


By November 8th the yellow leaves had mostly fallen and the chinquapin oak leaves on the right were turning color as well.


Today, November 12th, the fothergilla leaves are just starting to turn.  They should turn brilliant colors over the next week.  I enjoy watching these changes out my office window.


Quercus muehlenbergii, chinquapin oak tree, starting to turn color on November 3rd.  I put these date up so that I can compare year by year as the weather gradually warms.


Here is a close up of the chinquapin oak leaves on November 10th.  Today we mulched up a lot of them when we mowed the lawn and started the fall compost leaf pile.


The American plum trees are nothing special in the fall, though stunning when they blossom in spring.


The neighbor’s maple tree is always beautiful in the fall.


MIscanthus ‘morning light.’  The was a great growing season and this miscanthus ornamental grass is well over 6 feet this year.  The seed heads on our zebra grass seemed to be 8 or 9 feet high.


Out the kitchen window I caught a glimpse of the little blue stem grass that has turned red in the fall.


When I finished working in the garden today a few dark-eyed juncos got to work poking around on the ground.  They are winter residents.  The garlic plants I did not harvest earlier have grown back in bright green shoots.


On Wednesday morning I did a little birding and managed to capture this sparrow in a picture.  I am not sure if it is an American tree sparrow or another kind of sparrow.


I think this is a pied-billed grebe, though the bill does not look quite right.  Anyway, I love the fluffy feathers and the reflection! This was at Lake Katherine on a morning walk.


The nasturtiums and marigolds have been so beautiful in the yard this year.


I have had a fresh pepper for my lunch salad every day and there are still quite a few left to eat, so I feel blessed.


Beans soaking for tomorrow’s soup.  These were from the pole beans that I left to dry on the vine.  After we had a ton of green beans in the fridge, and the mosquitoes were killing me, I stopped picking the rest of the beans.  This past week I finally pulled down the pole bean structure and shelled a lot of beans.


I am really enjoying reading this fascinating history book about Alexander Von Humboldt and his exploration of nature.

Hope you enjoy these weeks and it won’t be long before the snow flies!

Fall Clean Up and Florida Birds

It was down to 32 degrees last night.  Yesterday was the big chance to get the leaves cleaned up, though there are still a few colorful leaves on trees and shrubs here and there.  I have also included some pictures below to let my minds wander back to warmer days we had not too long ago in Florida.


With our big trees cut down we had to get some leaves from the neighbors to make our fall compost pile.  We will be able to put our kitchen scraps in the pile most of the winter, if we can reach the pile and it is not too frozen.  We took the picture yesterday while the zinnias were still pretty.  They took their last bow with the frost last night.


The fothergilla bush is still pretty.


The brussel sprouts have been small and grown slowly, since we have had little rain this fall.  Maybe they will get a little bigger in the next few weeks before the hard frosts come.

Moving to some warm weather pictures! Here are some glimpses of birds we saw recently in Florida.

Black Skimmer

A black skimmer on the Miami beach.

Royal Tern in Florida

Royal tern facing into the wind on Miami beach.

Female painted bunting

Female painted bunting at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park on Key Biscayne.

Mangroves at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park

Mangroves at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park.  We went down some beautiful, but very mosquitoey, trails to get to this area where herons were fishing at sunset.  We ran back to our car pretty quickly.


The next morning we visited the Loxahatchee national wildlife refuge, the northern most part of the everglades.

Boat-tailed grackle

I think this is a boat-tailed grackle with the setting moon.  It was just before Halloween so a fun picture.

Common Egret at Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge

Great Egret at Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.

Anhinga at Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge

This Anhinga was making noise about something for a while as we watched.


In the afternoon we were in the Big Cypress National Preserve, just north of the Everglades, and saw this great blue heron near a pond at the Kirby Storter Roadside Park.  We followed a boardwalk through some wetlands and woods until we got to this pond.

Alligator at Kirby Storter Roadside Park

It took us a while before we spotted the alligator in the pond at the Kirby Storter Roadside Park.  It was a very quite spot, though we could hear the cars driving by not far away.

Green Heron at Oasis Visitor Center

We saw this hunting green heron at the oasis visitors center at the Big Cypress National Preserve.  The canal there seemed to be well stocked with fish, so there were many gators, herons, anhinga, and turtles for easy viewing of those who popped out of their cars to walk the boardwalk.


We were surprised to see quite a few large green iguanas.  This one was sunning itself just off the road in the Upper Florida Keys.  After a little research I learned that they are not native to Florida, but came to Florida as exotic pets. Now they are well established if I understand correctly.

Beach Entrance Blowing Rocks Preserve

A final shot of the entrance to the beach at Blowing Rocks Preserve, owned by the Nature Conservancy.  There was some type of raptor flying in the sky when I shot this picture.  What a beautiful place!  After that we went and splurged on big ice cream cones and watched some beginning surfers at Jupiter Beach as sunset approached.

Well, back in autumn in the Midwest…  Most of the vegetable plants are cleaned out of the garden and we are just eating collards, kale, brussel sprouts, and cabbage out of the garden until the snow flies….  Time to enjoy the cozy warmth of the house for a while, except for good walks with a jacket and gloves!

Crabapple, Fothergilla, and Lilacs

I have been busy planting all the cool weather vegetables like collards, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, kale, along with lettuce, spinach, potatoes, dill, thyme, basil, parsley, garlic and eggplant…..  While I am busy cleaning up and planting I get wafts of lilac, which is just starting to bloom in the garden.  I love the shrubs that don’t need any work right now, but put on such a great show, and keep the pollinators happy.  In the center stage this week is the crab apple malus profusion.

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Malus profusion crabapple blossom

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As we look out the kitchen window we see the bright colors of the crabapple.  The American plum on the right still has some blossoms, but they are falling quickly.

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Fothergilla flower.  I think this is from my older bush that is about 3 feet tall.

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This is my little fothergilla bush, beaver creek I think, that is finally settling in.  I need to get some fresh mulch down to make it look a little nicer, but this has the most beautiful fall color.  I love it!

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Common lilac.  Can you smell them?  I have three lilac bushes and they are wonderful, but just getting started!

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I planted my first hellebore last spring – peppermint ice.  It had a tough year last year, but hopefully will get established this year.   I have not had any flowers yet, though I see what looks like a flower bud.

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Walking around Lake Katherine this week I noticed that all the lily pads start out red.  I did not know that.

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The turtles are big entertainment for all the children on field trips that visit Lake Katherine.  Here they are soaking in the morning sun rays.

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Is this king of the mountain?  Or family harmony?

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I thought this bird I was trying to take pictures of might be a yellow warbler, but I think it is just a goldfinch, which are common here.  He is sitting in a bald cypress tree that is starting to get needles, and all those branches kept interfering with the focus on my camera.  I am on the look out for migrating birds now.  I got a CD from the library with bird songs and have started listening to that.

Vegetables:  We should have a rainy, hot week, so I have planted seeds and need to be sure a lot of vegetables get established now, throwing in lettuce seeds wherever I can fit them!  I think my tomatoes and peppers should be coming in the mail this week.

Bitternut Hickory:  We planted it three weeks ago and have been watching it every day to see if it is coming out of dormancy.  I just went out to check again and it looks like the buds are opening up and leaves will be arriving!  It is about the last tree in the neighborhood to get leaves so we are really glad it is not dead! Yay!