Lake Katherine Reflections and a Raptor

Yesterday morning I had a quiet walk around Lake Katherine in Palos Heights.

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The still water reflected the trees and the clouds.

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It was a cold morning and the mute swans seemed to be sleeping with occasional grooming.

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Mute swan

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Mute swan

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There were not many people out, but two women were laughing and taking picutres on the bridge at the pond surrounded by cypress trees in autumn colors.

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Water is high in the pond this year.

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I see that invasive phragmites are taking root in the pond.

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When I first arrived at the lake it was birdy and I was trying, mostly unsuccessfully, to take pictures of white-breasted nuthatches, cardinals, downy woodpeckers, goldfinches, and some unknow sparrows.

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Then I noticed a red-tailed hawk land in a nearby tree.

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After a while it flew over to another tree.  Can you see it?

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I got a closer look at this predator.  I wondered if he had already had his breakfast or was hunting.

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Here is a view of the back feathers.  I understand that red-tailed hawks don’t get red tails until they are two years old.  The tail did not appear to be red.

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One more shot of the red-tailed hawk.  can you see the yellow at the base of the beak?

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Other than the swans there were only mallards in the lake.  There was plenty of quacking.  The geese must have already flown away for the day before I arrived.

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Duck getting breakfast.

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Parts of the lake were still frozen.  The temperatures have been swinging above and below the freezing point these past weeks.

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Fungi on a log were covered with a pretty frost.

Books:  I am currently reading Troubled Water: What’s Wrong with What We Drink, by Seth Siegel.  Lots of food for thought and a pretty interesting read.  Do you drink water from the tap?  A lot of us don’t trust it.  The book it not out to get villains, but says there are a lot of bystanders.  It is a complicated issue, but a serious one.  I am just on the fourth chapter but I understand more about why no one is taking action to solve the problem, which is getting worse each year. (I think it might involve taxes and getting re-elected.)  I am looking forward to what suggestions and solutions I will find in the book.

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March Birds, Witch-hazel and Crocus

It has been very birdy recently.  We enjoyed the winter birds, and this month have been starting to notice the spring birds, which are much more vocal.  Some will be nesting locally and some will just be migrating through.  I also took a closer look in the yard today to find the first flowers.

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Resident robin resting late in the afternoon in the oak tree.  Where will the nest be this year?

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Another robin picture.  This time in the maple tree next door that is about to flower.

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The male northern cardinal has been singing a lot recently.  This is not a great picture, but you can see the daffodils in the background that are slowly nudging up.

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I love it when the mourning dove visits.

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The vernal witch-hazel has been blooming for a while now.

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The first yellow snow crocus blooms are so cheery.

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I noticed another crocus blooming near the house.  On closer inspection it looks like the rabbit ate the green shoots right off.

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I had noticed this flower from my office window and thought it was an anemone, until I took a closer look today and saw this purple crocus, which I don’t think I planted here….

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One more crocus picture!

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I have been hearing sandhill cranes every day around noon over the past week.  Large flocks of them tend to circle in our area, catching an updraft before moving on.

Our Saturday walks last week and this week have given us a glimpse of quite a few migrating birds.

Little Red Schoolhouse – March 16

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Common mergansers

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Hooded mergansers – a little blurry

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Song sparrow?

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A white-tailed deer on the path watched us as we watched it.

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Ice crystals on the river last week.  Now most ice has melted.

McGinnis Slough – March 23

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The air was filled with the sound of red-winged blackbirds this morning.

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Male northern shoveler.

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The paths around the slough were flooded.  We had worn our winter boots, but still had to head into the thicket to go around the water.  Dan fearlessly pushed through the brush.

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Ring-necked ducks

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Lesser scaup

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Buffleheads

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Mallard couple nesting.  I hope the ducks and geese did not lose eggs in the flooded waters.

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It was a gorgeous sunny morning as we walked down the path in the other direction toward the open water.  We paused to listed to the chickadees and woodpeckers.

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Finally we came to the view where we could see hundred and hundred of ducks.  A muskrat was swimming around in the reeds near us as we listened to the red-winged blackbirds overhead and enjoyed the sun on our backs.

Spring is on the way!

Mid-Winter Images

Here are a few pictures since my last post a month ago.  We are in the middle of winter.  We have warm days that melt the snow, rainy days, and then more snow and lots of cold.  The lakes are frozen.  But the days are getting longer….  Here are a few pictures from the last month.

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Stream flowing at Lake Katherine

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The stream ends in the lake that is kept from freezing with a bubbling fountain.  In the morning the geese and ducks are gathered before flying away for the day.

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Mallard couple

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Walking on the trail around Lake Katherine on February first.

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Grab a book or add one you are finished with to share with the community.

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The alder tree caught my attention today with all the hanging catkins.

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On the alder tree the male catkins are the long thin one.  The mature female catkins look like tiny pine cones.

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The bench reminds us of other times of the year when this is the perfect place to sit and enjoy the magic of the moment.

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One of the problems with hiking this time of year is icy trails.  The show starts to melt on warm days, then freezes up and gets icy.  We ended up on a walk at Cranberry Slough in the forest preserve yesterday where we spent most of the walk on the side of the trail or looking for places to walk that were not icy.  Luckily we made it with no falls.  It ended up being a beautiful walk, though we were looking down at our feet more than usual.

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Another cold Saturday recently took us down this hill with helpful log steps and no ice. In previous years we found it to be a dangerous decent when it was snowy or icy!

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February has brought snow off and on to our yard, along with the polar vortex.

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One day I noticed that a downy woodpecker was completely fluffed up, I guess to keep warm.

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A flock of dark-eyed juncos have been visiting the yard throughout the winter.

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The rabbit visits too.  We also see rabbit footprints in the snow.

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The snow crocuses have been pushing up through the ground since January, though they will need some warmer weather to bloom.  I have seen daffodil shoots too!  It won’t be long now.

New Year’s Birding at Montrose

I started the new year with a birding adventure at Montrose Bird Sanctuary in Chicago!  The event was sponsored by the Chicago Ornithological Society.  Because of the holiday the morning traffic was light on the freeway, so I braved the brisk weather to join a group of 20 – 30 beginners to seasoned birders who were eager to identify birds together.

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This location has dune grasses, prairie, hedges and woods, and the beach, so multiple habitats for birds along Lake Michigan.  The first order of business was to see if we could find the piping plover, who did not fly south for the winter.  This is an uncommon shorebird, which is unbanded, and I have been following its story over the past months as it continued to be seen at this location.

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The waves were choppy and the pounding sound of the surf greeted us.

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We headed out into the icy winds looking for the piping plover.

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Can you see the small piping plover in the picture above?  I included the ring-billed gull so you can compare the size.

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Close-up of piping plover on New Year’s Day at Montrose Beach.

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Next we took a trail heading to the “magic hedge” where many migrants stop during spring and fall migration.

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I saw my first ever red-breasted nuthatch. This bird was hopping around close to us, but did not stay still long enough for a very good picture.

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The red-bellied woodpecker was flying around in the same area.

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Some experienced birders pointed out the American Tree Sparrow eating seeds in a brushy area.

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Close-up of American Tree Sparrow

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Next, someone pointed out an Eastern Towhee sitting quietly in a bushy area.  I could see it, but my camera refused to focus on the right object… Still, I think this might be only the second time I have seen one.

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Another new bird for me was a hermit thrush.

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Hermit thrush eating sumac seeds

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We wandered on through the woods, stopping to look and listen.

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In the harbor I spotted my first mallards for 2019.

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There were many red-breasted mergansers in the harbor and on the lake.

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Close-up of red-breasted merganser.

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There were also quite a few common goldeneye ducks.  Sorry for the fuzzy pictures as they were quite far away.

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A herring gull was resting and watching on this gray morning.

Happy New Year!  May this be a year full of adventure in whatever way most suits you!

Below is the list of what I saw today, modified from the list sent to us from the COS after the walk, as others saw birds I did not see, and I took those birds off my list.

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)
Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula)
Common Merganser (Mergus merganser)
Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator)
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) (Columba livia (Feral Pigeon))
Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus)
Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)
Herring Gull (Larus argentatus)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)
Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)
Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis)
Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus)
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)
American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)
American Tree Sparrow (Spizelloides arborea)
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)
Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus)
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)

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.

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.

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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!