Bulbs and Duck Identification

Spring is holding off except for some cute bulbs that are making small splotches of color in the garden.  This post combines pictures of a few flowers with a birding adventure I had at McGinnis Slough today.

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Little blue anemones come up from bulbs each year.

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Another blue anemone with the yellow center slightly less open.  You can see bunches of daffodils in the background.  Very tiny bugs were flying around the garden yesterday, so they can get some nectar from these flowers.

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My regular large yellow daffodils are still waiting to open.

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The  mini daffodils are at their peak now.

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Purple snow crocuses

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My other purple crocuses are getting starting now, too.

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Praying mantis egg sac.  I took the day off yesterday and one of my projects was to cut down the clumps of dried ornamental grasses that have stood up over the winter.  This was the third praying mantis sac I found this year.  The other two were on the goldenrod stalks.

Today was cool and rainy in the morning.  Around noon I made it to McGinnis Slough to do some birding, since I had heard of a number of duck species seen there recently.  It would really help to have a scope, since the lake is pretty large, but I did my best with my binoculars and camera.  After taking the pictures I came home to try to identify the ducks I took pictures of.  Not all the pictures are great, but the more I do this more I learn what the different species of ducks look like.  If I misidentified any of them please let me know.

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Male blue-winged teal duck

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A female and two male blue-winged teal ducks

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Here is one more shot of the blue-winged teal near an American coot.  There were a lot of coots today, though I did not get any great pictures.

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Across the slough I could see a goose guarding a nest on high ground.  There are two blue-winged teal ducks on the right and a male northern shoveler duck on the left.

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Male northern shoveler duck

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This couple was hard to identify because of the poor picture, but I think they are green-winged teal ducks, though not positive.

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The great blue heron blended into the dull landscape and I almost missed it.

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Ring-necked duck

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Blurry picture of a female bufflehead duck

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Male and female bufflehead.  I took this picture last weekend, but throwing it in here…

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I headed down one of the paths and came across a pair of mallards.

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Mallards and reflections in pond

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I walked around to the front view of the mallards.  They were aware of me but enjoying a nice place to preen.

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Mallard ducks and reflections

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Just one more look at the female mallard duck with her beautiful feathers spread out.

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The sun came out for a moment then and even the bare woods looked pretty with the trees reflecting in the pond.

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Walking back along the path I looked out at the rushes, which provide so many hiding places for the ducks.

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I saw another goose on a nest high above the water line.

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A red-tailed hawk landed in a nearby tree with a squirrel lunch.  It was watching me.

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The red-tailed hawk flew across the slough to an oak tree to eat the squirrel, without me nearby…

Reading:  One reason I have more blog posts recently is that my son, Phil, has been reading to me on the weekend, and I enjoy sorting through my pictures while he reads.  He has been reading Middlemarch by George Eliot.  I also just finished reading Unseen World by Liz Moore.

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!

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!

 

Daily Wonders

When you wake up you never know what you might see.  I am often surprised when I take time to look around.

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Double-crested cormorants rest between diving for a meal at the Saganashkee Slough last Sunday morning.

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Double-crested cormorant

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This was our first time hiking on the south side of the slough in the Palos forest preserve, and we walked under this flock of cormorants who had found a dead tree branch to rest on and dry their wing on this sunny morning.  It took a while to find a place to photograph the birds that was not blocked by trees and had the right angle for the light.

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View from the west side of Saganashkee Slough.  The great blue heron flew across the lake as a fisherman sits with a few bobbers in the water.  The cormorants were in a tree somewhere on the right side of this picture further down the lake.

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A sandpiper was hopping along on the shore.

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Back in our yard the white-crowned sparrows visited for a few days in their migration.  This one was in the Chinquapin oak tree among the fresh catkins.

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The white-crowned sparrow visits the birdbath.

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Raspberry getting ready to flower.  All the berries are in progress now, just needing rain and sun.

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The chive flowers were spilling over the strawberries.

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Red romaine lettuce.  We have been eating lettuce from the garden each day.  The little bean and zinnia seeds have sprouted, but I see the bunny has arrived, so I am not sure that they will survive.

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No more need to buy expensive kale at the supermarket until December….

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I planted a few coleus to fill the space of the viburnum we cut down, due to the invasive viburnum beetles we had last year.  Maybe next year I will have more time to find a shrub replacement.

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Ajuga reptans.  So much blue in the garden now.  The hostas are growing up in the shade.

IMG_7812Clematis jackmanii.  I love seeing these big flowers across the yard from the kitchen window.

Blueberries, Birds, and Wildflowers

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Female mallard on log in pond

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Great blue heron

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

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Fluffy gosling

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

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

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

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The dwarf fothergilla bush is in bloom now.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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….

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Huechera ‘plum pudding’

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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.

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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.

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

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

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.