Snowstorm

On February 9th the snowstorm brought approximately 13 inches of snow.  The pictures below will show how gray the days have been.

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The snow keeps falling on the birdbath and last fall’s flowers.

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A downy woodpecker works at the spicy suet on a snowy day.

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The white-breasted nuthatch pauses in the snow before checking out the suet.

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Pulling back on the picture you can see on the left that the sedum stalks are almost completely covered with snow.  On the right the yew shrubs are leaning way over with the weight of the snow.  I knocked the snow off most of the yew shrubs, but did not go far enough to reach these branches.

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Hicksii yew branches and snow after an earlier snowfall.

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Snow on goldenrod, Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks.’  I left the goldenrod up for winter interest and the insects that might be in the stems.

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I went out three times during the day for spurts of shoveling and my husband and son took their turns.  On the left you can see a few spikes of yucca poking out of the snow.  On the right, notice how high the snow is on our little bitternut hickory tree.

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This morning we walked at Lake Katherine.  It was a slog through the high snow, but great exercise and quiet beauty.  The lake was frozen except for this area where the fountain was bubbling.

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The Canadian geese were hunkered down on the lake ice.

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Snow scene at Lake Katherine.  After taking this picture my camera battery died.  It was probably best, as then I kept my cold hand in my mitten.

Earlier this morning our older neighbor was complaining because the snow plough had covered his car with snow and blocked him in.  Dan, my son, and I went over and shoveled him out so he would not have a heart attack!  We may need him to help us one day, and snowstorms can make us more neighborly or the opposite.

Woodpeckers and White-Breasted Nuthatches

The Downy woodpeckers have become frequent visitors, and I am coming to recognize their little calls from the chinquapin oak tree as I sit in my office.

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The suet tempted in this male downy woodpecker, who is being observed by the female downy and a white-breasted nuthatch.

IMG_1518The red-bellied woodpecker is higher in the bird feeder dominance hierarchy and the downy waits its turn.

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The red-bellied woodpecker is fluffed up in the cold weather with a little suet on her beak.  I think this is a female.

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The male red-bellied woodpecker has an eye on the downy woodpecker, who is waiting him out further up the tree.

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The downy woodpeckers were pecking on the ice and getting a drink in the frozen birdbath.

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Male and female downy woodpeckers.

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A close up of the male downy woodpecker.

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White-breasted nuthatches are cute and fun to watch as they scamper down the tree.

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Another shot of the nuthatch, who is lower than the downy in the bird feeder dominance hierarchy, so watches and waits for its turn.  I love the beautiful color combinations of black, gray and white on these birds with their long, pointy beaks.

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When the snow melted the squirrels found nuts in the ground to munch on, but soon discovered the suet.

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The squirrel managed to get the suet feeder open and run away with a chunk of suet a few times, so right now we have the feeder empty.

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Dan decided to throw a few snowballs at the squirrel!

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White snow covers the branches and contrasts with the red cyclamen.  Today there is no snow on the ground, but the weather predicts snow for tomorrow morning.

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If you are longing for spring, here is a blurry shot of the snow crocuses from two weeks ago, around January 21st.

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I just finished reading and really enjoyed 438 Days: An extraordinary true story of survival at sea, by Jonathan Franklin.  Winter evenings are nice for cozy reading!

Other fascinating current reading:  The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt.

 

Birds At Year End

We had snow yesterday…  These pictures were taken over the past few weeks as we move from late fall to early winter.

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Red-bellied woodpecker at Hidden Pond Forest Preserve

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Female northern cardinal at Hidden Pond Forest Preserve.  I always hope to see wood ducks in Hidden Pond, since I saw them there once, but I have never have seen them there again.

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I walked one of the trails at Hidden Pond forest preserve a few weeks ago.  Today I went back there with a crew of volunteers and we cut invasive brush and built two big bon fires to burn it up.  In this picture the late green leaves you can see are probably honeysuckle, which is an invasive shrub all over the forest preserves.

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Black-capped chickadee at Lake Katherine

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I always look at the waterfowl at Lake Katherine to see if I can see anything besides mallards and Canadian geese.  This pair look like scaup, but I can’t tell if they are the greater or lesser variety…  My picture is not the greatest.

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Back in our yard the blue jay is faced with a frozen bird bath.  In the background are sedum, which I decided to leave up for the winter.

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We have had quite a few dark-eyed juncos pecking around in the yard the past few weeks. They like to scrounge around in the leaf litter, so our yard is a good place for them. I think they prefer seeds, but will eat insect, too.

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Dark-eyed junco eating liatris seeds

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Here is what our messy meadow looked like after the snowfall yesterday.  The little bluestem grass has turned red.  Plenty of flower and grass seeds here.

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I noticed a large flock of starlings across the street and on our front lawn.  I heard that when you see starlings on the lawn that you have grubs in the lawn.  It certainly is possible.

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When a white-breasted nuthatch flew in and landed on the neighbor’s oak the starlings may have been spooked and all flew away.

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Moving from birds to mammals….  Dan and I went for a walk one Saturday morning in the forest preserve south of us on Harlem Avenue and came across this deer, who stood still for a few moments.

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The squirrels have been busy in the yard.  This one was working on the ice in the bird bath.  Don’t you love that winter fur and fluffy tail?

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The squirrel is continually running around the yard, maybe checking on the nuts that are buried here and there.

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At the end of November I went to the horse stable and loaded up the car trunk with buckets of horse manure that I spread over the vegetable gardens.  It should blended into the soil by next spring.  The manure was already fairly well composted.  The parsley and strawberries stay green until it really freezes hard and stays frozen for a while.

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I guess we are done with mowing the lawn and mulching up our leaves.  We had strong winds last week, causing the last of the leaves to fall.  We got them all mulched and then the snow fell the next day.

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The shadows are long now on the north side of the house, but when the sun comes out the grass is still green.

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You can see the kale is still hanging in here in the pictures above, so I was still able to add some fresh greens to our vegetable bean soup.

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We are getting close to the shortest day of the year.  Sometimes I think I hear a great horned owl in the trees near us, but I have not seen one yet.

Spring Wildflowers and Birds

When we went to the Palos Forest Preserve yesterday we noticed all the spring woodland wildflowers starting to open up.

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Claytonia virginica spring beauty

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Pollinator on spring beauty wildflowers.

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Toothwort

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Trillium

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There are two or more different sets of leaves here which may produce flowers, but not sure what they will be…

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Male red-bellied woodpecker

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We saw a bird fly in and out of this knot hole, but did not see what kind of bird it was.

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Northern flickers.  The female is on the left and the male on the right.

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This morning we went to the Sagawau Environmental Learning Center, where we saw this white-breasted nuthatch, right near the sign for snake crossings.

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Mertensia virginica Virginia bluebells

IMG_7556In the wetlands there were large swaths of marsh marigolds.

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IMG_7548Podophillum peltatum mayapples.  We came across this patch of mayapples starting to come up as we walked along on to the Sagawau trail.

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Back in my yard I have started to plant the vegetable garden.  Curly kale and romaine lettuce in this picture, but also, cauliflower, collards and eggplant.

Nasturtiums, Goldenrod and the Forest Preserve

We have had beautiful fall weather! Here is a little of what is happening in the yard.

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Nasturtiums and alyssum.  I never seem to have enough nasturtiums in the garden, but thankful for what I have!

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Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’ goldenrod.  It is that time of year again, and I still have three stands of this goldenrod.

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Wasp on goldenrod.  I tried to figure out what kind of wasp this is, but was not successful.  The goldenrod is covered by flies, bees and wasps.

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Zebra grass at sunrise from kitchen window.

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Viburnum dentatum ‘Chicago lustre’ bushes loaded with berries.  Bird food.

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Pink turtlehead flower.  Bee food.

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Daddy Longlegs spider in the pole beans.  Every time I have gone to pick green beans I see the daddy longlegs spiders scurrying away.  This must be their home.  When I looked for them to take pictures today I found three of them.  Creepy!

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When it rains the toad comes out.  This guy came all the way up on the patio.

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We went for a walk in the Cook County Forest Preserve on this cloudy morning.  They are celebrating 100 years.  This was at the Little Red School house trail and we stopped to watch the birds in the prairie.  I believe the yellow flowers are compass plants.

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The goldfinch was getting some seeds for breakfast.

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We spent some time looking out at the Long John Slough, which was covered with lily pads in many places.  There was a cormorant and a variety of skittish ducks that we spooked.

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We saw two beavers.  This beaver swam across the slough toward us and kept an eye on us while it munched on lily pads.

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We came across a nuthatch as we walked through the woods.  We had trouble trying to get pictures of it as it climbed the tree.

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We spent a while trying to get bird pictures, but we were not very successful.  I put this picture in because I think it is a male hairy woodpecker, and I think this is the first time I have gotten a picture of one.

Enjoy autumn!!

Thanksgiving Wanderings

For Thanksgiving we took a trip to Minnesota to visit family.  There was some fresh snow on the ground so I walked out to the woods, but the birds were too elusive that morning, so I took some tree pictures.

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Two grand trees.  Red Wing, Minnesota.  In the background you can see the snow on top of Barn Bluff.

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Here you can see Barn Bluff again under another weathered tree, with a nice evergreen tree in the background.

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The structure of this tree is silhouetted in snow.

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Red (pine) squirrel.   These squirrels are about half the size of gray squirrels and this one was chattering quite loudly at me.

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I managed to get one, not so great, nuthatch picture.  This past week I saw a nuthatch in our yard at home, too.

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As we drove home I was trying to take some pictures through the car window.  The Mississippi river was mostly frozen and had a very geometric design on the snow and ice.

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Across the road from the Mississippi river were the bluffs.  Highway 61 is a beautiful drive.

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A few hay bales in the snow.  It was nice to be in the country for a little bit.

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Wisconsin farm and corn field.

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Back in our yard…  I caught the chickadee working on getting a little crabapple this week.

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There seem to be at least two cats in the neighborhood this year.  Since we seem to have an over-abundance of sparrows this year, maybe it is not such a bad thing…  As long as they aren’t getting the native birds!

Winter:  Winter seemed to come early this year.  We have had many days below freezing already.  Today we got up over 50 degrees, though, so the snow is gone.  The compost pile is steaming hot.  We still eat a little kale from the yard.  But now it is time to relax, get cozy, ready some good books, and of course, shovel some snow!