December Morning in the Woods

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

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

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

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

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

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Dan pointed to six deer in the distance.

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We and the deer looked at each other.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fall Clean Up

Most of the leaves are down now and we have been cleaning up the yard before winter.

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Dan mowed the lawn and mulched up the leaves to add to the compost pile.

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A little bit of the kale was still looking good and not destroyed by bugs, so we put some in the soup today.  The parsley is still looking green…

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Some mornings have been cold and the sparrows and other birds visit the bird bath briefly, then move on.

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Sometimes when I am working in the garden I will hear sandhill cranes and look up to see many flocks flying southeast.

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Dan and I walked through a prairie in the forest preserve yesterday morning and the browns and oranges were beautiful!

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Here is a shot from a dark, cloudy day that I visited Lake Katherine.  The kissing fish are in the front and reflections on the lake.

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The cyclamen is back indoors and blooming.

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Long evenings are good for reading.  Does your stack of reading material get precariously high sometimes, too?

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After several months I got through this library book – Blue Highways.  It is a travelogue across America that was relaxing to read before bed.  I had my road atlas next to me and followed as the author followed small roads around the United States and I read to find out what the author would find down these roads in out-of-the-way places. I may not get to these places, but I can read about them….

Praying Mantis, Spider, and Forest Restoration

I have been looking around the yard for a praying mantis this summer and I finally found my first one.

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Yesterday I noticed this praying mantis in the tall Miscanthus ornamental grass. Its head was following me as I tried to get a good photo.  I am not sure if this is a Chinese mantis or a praying mantis that is native to Illinois.

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There are a lot of little grasshoppers like the one in this picture in our little unmowed meadow.  That was why I started looking for a hungry praying mantis.

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While I was looking around in the meadow I saw this black and yellow garden spider.

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Here is the view of the spider from the other side.  If you look closely you can see the spider web.

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Today I went looking for the praying mantis again.  It was not in the miscanthus, but I found if in the mums that are  getting ready to bloom.

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I will have to keep an eye out for her egg sac when I clean up the garden this fall.  I enjoy having these mostly beneficial insects around.

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I have not seen any monarch caterpillars on the swamp milkweed, but the aphids are certainly invading.  I guess something will be interested in an aphid lunch…

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Yesterday was such a rainy day.  It has been dark, cool and rainy all week.  I guess the house sparrow was able to sit out in the rain.

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The rain seemed to benefit the nasturtium leaves that are gorgeously green.

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This picture is taken through the screen on the office window.  I can watch the hummingbirds on the pineapple sage, though they are too fast to capture in a picture.  The tall plant in back is brussel sprouts.

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Here is a little closer look at the brussel sprouts plant.  The zinnias continue to attract the hummingbird and butterflies.

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Painted lady butterfly on pink zinnia

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A century old oak tree was but down across the street from us this week, as it was too close to their house.  There will be fewer leaves to rake, but fewer leaves for the compost pile, too.

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I have not had many chances to get out and look for migrating birds this week.  But I barely captured this hawk flying over the neighborhood.

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A group of ten of us volunteered today to clear out honeysuckle bushes at the Palos Forest Preserve.

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Here is a cleared out area surrounded by brush piles on either side.  We were not able to burn the brush piles today, because there was not enough wind to blow the smoke away, so someone will have to have a bonfire another time.

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This is an area of the forest that was cleared earlier.

Plum Blossoms and Cow Birds

There is so much going on in the garden now it is impossible to capture it all.  Here are a few things that caught my attention this week, as spring enters the Chicago area with gusto.

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The two American plum trees, native trees, have put on a fantastic fragrant show this week in the yard.

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All kinds of tiny pollinators swarmed to the blossoms.

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We had quite a few plums develop last summer.  The skin was sour, but the inside flesh was very good.  There are many suckers growing around the base of the trees that need to be cut back or they would form a thicket.

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I noticed a spider making a web between the plums trees and the yew bushes nearby, hoping to snag some of the pollinators.

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Looking out the kitchen window we can just see the plum trees between the crab apple tree, that is just starting to bloom now, and the yew shrubs.  The yews have formed a nice privacy area in front of the patio.

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The serviceberry Amlanchier laevis finished blooming last week.  Now that it is taller it is a little harder to reach the berries in June, but the birds have no trouble with that.

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The three Regent Saskatoon serviceberry bushes, Amalanchier alnifolia ‘Regent’, are blooming now on the west side of the house.  When we planted them they had the shade of the silver maple, but now with that gone they get more sun, so we will need to water them now and then.  They are supposed to get no taller than six feet.

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One day I looked out the kitchen window and saw a bunch of cow birds in the chinquapin oak, that is just barely beginning to leaf out.

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Handsome male cow birds interested in something in the chinquapin oak tree.  Notice the bird in the bottom left.  Is it a female cow bird?  Or some other bird?

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Here is another shot of that bird.  Since it was in the tree with the male cow birds I assumed it was a female cow bird.  They lay their eggs in other birds’ nest.  The eggs hatch early and tend to get more food from the foster mother bird than the smaller baby birds in the nest.

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I got 21 heads of romaine lettuce planted in the garden last week along with a dozen kale and collard plants.  Organic vegetables are expensive to buy in the grocery store, so hopefully these will keep me supplied with greens for a while.

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The grass is growing quickly.  After Dan mowed I swept up just the grass on the sidewalk and threw if on the compost pile, where Dan mixed it in to get the pile heated up.  To the right you can see strawberries starting to blossom.  I finally finished cleaning up all the strawberry patches and putting straw from last year’s ornamental grass under them.  It looks like we have a bumper crop of strawberries coming.

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The house sparrows keep trying to build a nest in this bird house.  But this house is not for them….

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Shagbark hickory at the end of the block starting to leaf out.  I am trying to bet better at identifying different native trees.

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Spring Beauty Claytonia virginica.  These wildflowers are also blooming in the green space at the end of the block.

Forest Preserve Event:  Yesterday I went to the Palos Paddock area of the Forest Preserve for a special event that the Friends of the Forest Preserve put on.  They are looking for volunteers to help in the restoration of the forest.  Invasive plants, such as honeysuckle, have filled in the undergrowth and suppressed native plants.  We went on a walk in small groups and it was a fantastic time with like minded people as we identified plants, saw butterflies, and discussed conservation.  I would love to join them now and then and learn more about native plants, the forest, and how best to do restoration, though my schedule and garden keep me very busy.  But it was so much fun because they were a group of “my people” who love plants, nature, and being outdoors!