Look Closely Along The Trail

Dan and I love to walk together.  Sometimes when we are walking we are talking a mile a minute about any topic that is important at the moment.  But sometimes, like yesterday, we stop every other minute to look at an old log, some weird fungi, or try to identify a tree or bird.  So today’s post is not about my backyard, but about yesterday’s Palos forest preserve discovery walk.

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Trail at the Little Red Schoolhouse, with Long John Slough in the distance.  It was a gray, sometimes sprinkling day.  The leaves were almost all down.

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Here are two logs, with the left one covered with fungi and the right one mostly just moss.

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Fungi and moss on a log

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It looks like someone has been sawing logs throughout the forest.  Logs are down everywhere and left to decay.  I am curious about the forest maintenance plan here.  I know there are controlled burns all over the forest preserve in the spring.  The bark is green in a different way on this log.

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Here is a tree that is still standing and covered with moss.

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Moss on fence posts

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We are always looking for Shagbark hickory trees, which I think this one is.  The bark looks pretty green…

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What is the story with this rock?  We are in the moraine valley as the bottom of the area where the rocks pushed down from Wisconsin in the last ice age…

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We passed one other hiker who said he saw a big buck in this part of the trail.  We were talking, so I am sure the buck could hear us and kept his distance.

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I love the color of the big bluestem grass in the prairie.

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I tried taking pictures of damp, decaying leaves.  Not sure it was successful, but it was an idea about looking closer.

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We passed this oak leaf in the clay mud.  Maybe some kind of a red oak leaf?  I am not an expert…

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A downy woodpecker looks for food in a dead tree.

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We noticed a great blue heron across from us a Joe’s pond, busy fishing.  Can you see what it caught?

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Zooming in, the heron was shaking a frog around for a while.  Maybe it was too big to eat directly.  Who knows?

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We stopped by Saganashkee Slough to see if we might see some bald eagles.  I guess they are more common when there is ice on the slough.  All we saw were a lot of gulls.  Are the trees in the back sycamores, another favorite of ours?

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Anyway, we sometimes end our walks with more questions than we started with, but we enjoy looking around at our beautiful, fascinating world.

Moon, Mums and Fall Colors

Does the moon go with Halloween?  The harvest moon caught my attention on an evening walk this week!

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Our beautiful moon!

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The moon behind the oak trees

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We have not had many sunny days to capture these coral mums. They managed to brighten up a dreary corner of the garden this time of year.

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Zooming back to see the whole patch of mums on another cloudy day a few days later.  If you look closely a lot of the mums have a pollinator sitting on them.  They are an attractive place for the last pollinators of the year.

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Fly on coral chrysanthemum

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Yesterday Dan, Steph and I took a walk at the Little Red Schoolhouse forest preserve.  It was so hard to capture the fall colors, but when the sun was shining I got this shot of the oaks.

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The wood duck couple in the distance were swimming away from us.

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Another distant wood duck shot.  I have not seen many wood ducks this year, so this was fun for me.

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Beautiful fall colors by the original little red schoolhouse.  As we were leaving a lot of families with small children were arriving, so I hope they had a great activity going for them to enjoy nature!

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Back in our yard I am happy to say that the new Viking black chokeberry bushes survived the summer.  The older leaves turned red and purple, but there were quite a few newer shoots that grew in the last months with the leaves still green.  So this is one of two bushes that looks to be growing well in the coming years. The berries were consumed very quickly!

American Plum Blossoms

We have a native American Plum Tree.  The plums are not great, but the blossoms are so fragrant and beautiful.  That is a perfume I would wear!

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Blossoms on American plum tree.

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Each branch is full of fragrant plum blossoms.  The petals are starting to fall now.

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This was taken when the blossoms were just starting.  I would not recommend this tree if you are really hoping for plums.  It attracts a lot of bugs, so it takes some effort to get plums that are edible, and then they are a bit sour, so I have to peel off the skin to eat them.  But the bugs are what the birds love.  This is one native tree that is recommended as really helpful to the bugs and birds in the neighborhood.  I often have a good number of lady bugs taking advantage of the smaller bugs during the summer.  Also, this tree suckers, but you can mow most of the suckers down quite easily.

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Across the street we enjoyed the magnolia tree and the mighty oak that is starting to leaf out.  I like the dark sky on this picture.

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The EZ straw project worked great and we have a lot of grass coming up now.  It took exactly 7 days before I started seeing the first grass come up.

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I was not so sure how things would turn out when I saw this big raccoon digging in the straw one day!

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Time to plant vegetables!  I started the lettuce and spinach before the last snowfall and just had the ground covered with straw.  Now I have planted a lot of other plants including the swiss chard, lettuce, parsley, basil and kale in this picture.  Next week I will get some bean and zucchini seeds in the ground.

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There have been a lot of migrating birds.  This is a palm warbler and they regularly visit the garden in spring and fall, hopping around to catch bugs.

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Most of the time we miss getting pictures of the birds as they jump and fly out of the picture.

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I think this is the first yellow warbler I have ever seen and I was glad to get a quick shot of it in the spicebush.

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Sometimes I can’t identify the birds, or do not have time to thoroughly investigate what I am seeing.  Can anyone identify this bird?

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Here is another shot of the mystery bird.  Pretty cute, huh?

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On Sunday we did some birding at Lake Katherine and there were a lot of interesting birds there.  This was the best shot Dan could get of the Baltimore Oriole that was singing.

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A black and white warbler was hoping around the tree trunk searching for bugs.

This is a busy time of year for me, so I will stop here.  Hope you are enjoying spring!

Autumn Wanderings

When I get a chance I get out in the forest preserves to enjoy the autumn days.  Even with the snow on Friday the oak leaves are still hanging on.  Here are a few shots from the past two weeks.

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Reflections in the pond at the Little Red Schoolhouse.

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Turning to face the other way I could see an oak savanna with a stately, magnificent oak.  I love it when I see that young oak trees have been planted to replace many of the ancient oaks around us.

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I stopped to read an old sign by the trail about hibernation.

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My walk eventually lead me by the original little red schoolhouse.  It has now been replaced by a beautiful new building that better meets the needs of nature field trips.  In the background you can see several doomed roofs of cages that house birds.  Maybe these are birds that have been rehabilitated or cannot survive in the wild for some reason.

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There were a lot of little kids out enjoying the day.  This little girl climbed the fence to get a glimpse of the hawk in the cage.

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Red-tailed hawk, the most common hawk in our area.

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The orange serviceberry leaves were so pretty!

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The big surprise was the working phone booth.  The sign inside says that the phone actually works and to dial 911 if needed.

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I flushed out a lot of little birds when I walked down this prairie trail.

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Everywhere the oaks were turning orange, yellow and red.

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A late dragonfly was enjoying a warm rock.  I slowly brought my finder under the dragonfly’s head.  It sat on my finger for a while, but flew away before I got a picture.

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Two weeks ago Dan and I walked in the Willow Springs forest preserve for the first time.  We keep finding trails that are new for us.

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This looks like a den that would provide shelter for some animal….

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On November 1st I parked by Arrowhead Lake in the forest perverse south of us. It was a gray day, but the walk turned out to be beautiful anyway.

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I crossed Harlem Avenue to explore a new path I had not tried before.

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The woods were very quite except for the woodpeckers.

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Downy woodpecker

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The colors caught my attention as I walked out.  Maybe you had to be there….

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Back in our yard the aphids, or something, completely covered the kale plants.  I did see a few lady bugs around.  Sometimes the kale makes it through the winter and sometimes it doesn’t.  In any case I look forward to a swarm of lady bugs and other predators in the spring.

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On a more cheery note, the pineapple sage was blooming on November 1st.  I never saw any hummingbirds on it this year, as it did not start blooming until October.  We had a hard frost this week, though, and it’s days are over…

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It snowed some on Friday, for the first time this year, and stuck for a few hours. The chinquapin oak is just changing color this week and still has its leaves.  The crab apple lost most of its leaves back in June with some disease, so I need to try to get rid of those diseased leaves from under the tree.

Compost leaf pile:  We dug out some of the compost from the bottom of the pile, and started a new leaf pile yesterday.  We used the mower to mulch the leaves on the lawn and captured them in the mower bag that we carried to the leaf pile.  Dan even went out in the easement and mowed up those leaves, too, to make the leaf pile about three and a half feet high.  When the leaves are mixed with grass clippings they get hot pretty quickly.  We will do this the next few weekends and try to get the pile as large as possible before winter.  Then I can put my kitchen scraps in the pile until it is too frozen to get them in!

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.

Palos Forest Preserve

This morning we took a walk at the Palos forest preserve and took the trail at Wolf Road Woods.  This was the first time we walked this 3 mile trail and found it really enjoyable.

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Tomahawk Slough in the Cook County Forest Preserves.  As the trail started to go by this small lake we could hear the deep resounding calls of bull frogs.

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Bullfrog and lily pad.

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The lily pad leaves and flowers seemed to be a bigger species on this lake.  The flowers were facing away from us to the south.

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I heard a new bird call I did not recognize and zoomed in on this bird, which I believe is an Eastern Towhee.  This is the first time I have seen one of these birds.

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Intricate spider’s web in the woods.

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Can you see the katydid on the oak leaf?  Dan and I have been fascinated with hickory trees ever since we planted one in our yard.  As we were looking at hickory leaves I wondered out loud what was chewing up these oak leaves nearby.  And then I noticed the katydid.  Otherwise I would have walked right by.

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We thought we had come upon an old cemetery with one tombstone.  A closer look showed that this was related to the atomic testing done in this area from 1943 – 1949.  The sign says there is no danger to visitors and someone has scratched out the “no.”

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Unidentified hawk

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Eastern Kingbird.  This was taken yesterday at Lake Katherine.  I think it is an eastern kingbird because of the  white at the bottom of the tail.

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I couldn’t resist getting a shot of this little goldfinch.

We feel so blessed to be near such beautiful natural places with an abundance of bird life and other biodiversity.

Autumn Garden Color

I have quite a few fall blooming plants, so I am really enjoying the color now.

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Zinnias – summer solstice – keep spreading by the east fence.

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Dwarf cushion mums – bronze.  These have been slowly blooming since I planted them in the spring, but seem to be happier and healthier now in the fall.

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I love nasturtiums and am glad that they are finally growing well and seemed to have survived the frost.

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The pink mums are finally starting to open.

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A fly for each flower.  These pink mums have always attracted pollinators.  The leaves in the background are from the fothergilla bush that is a blaze of color.

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This is what the fothergilla bush looked like about a week ago.  It is really hard to capture the beauty in a photo.  This is the second year this little bush is in the garden, I think.  It definitely did better with the cooler summer this year.

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The American hornbeam on the left is turning yellowish with a bit of orange.  The spice bush is turning yellow behind it.  In between them the goldenrod’s yellow color is fading.  In the front is the other fothergilla bush.  It changes color later, maybe because it is a different cultivar or maybe because it gets more sun.  The pink color in the back is from the red miscanthus seed heads.  All the ornamental grasses have their seed heads now.

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Leaves turn from green to yellow on the spice bush.  This bush lost a lot of branches during the long winter, but has come back strong.

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The leaves on the chinquapin oak were beautiful today.

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Many of the oaks in the neighborhood are a pretty orange color.  Our town has declared ‘oak wilt’ a nuisance and has started cutting down oaks that are infested.  I think it is spreads through the roots to nearby oaks, so many yards have to cut down multiple trees.  Not good.  The burning bushes are bright red now.

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Last night was a significant frost, so yesterday I brought in most of the tomatoes and peppers.  I cleared the dried beans off the pole bean stand.  I need to shell those beans.  I brought in a little more parley to chop and freeze.  We still get a few strawberries if something does not eat them before me.

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Of course, some vegetables can handle the frost.  There are three kinds of kale here.  I picked some today for my pasta, beans, and greens dish that I cooked up.

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The robins did a lot of harvesting/feasting on the viburnum berries this week.  Sometimes I would see six robins working over the bushes.  This is ‘raspberry tart’ viburnum.  In front are the seed heads from panicum-switch grass.

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Often the robins looked up at the berries and then made a little jumping, flying motion to nab a hard to reach berry.

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On the left you can see a lot of blue berries on the Chicago Lustre viburnum bushes.  Those are almost all eaten now.  And yes, the rabbit is still with us.  I hope it is “Peter” and not one of his sisters, Flopsy or Mopsy.

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One day I looked out of my office window to see the rabbit stretched out for a nap in the lawn after a good lunch.