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.

Pineapple Sage, Monarch and Hummingbird

The pineapple sage is blooming now.  A week or two ago the monarchs were visiting it and now it is the hummingbird.

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This monarch spent a long afternoon on the pineapple sage.  This picture was from more than a week ago.

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The monarch was also on the zinnias.

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It is so hard to get a picture of the hummingbird from the kitchen window.  Can you see it?

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The hummingbird rested on the crabapple tree branch.

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A male red-bellied woodpecker was checking out the Chinquapin oak trunk.

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Grasshopper sunning on a zinnia.

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The beautiful, messy prairie at the Little Red Schoolhouse nature preserve last week.  Asters, boltonia, and goldenrod.

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Ladybug on American plum tree.  I spotted a bunch of aphids, so I hope the ladybug finds them!

Fall Color:  I heard that the best fall color in northern Illinois is supposed to be in the next 10 days.  It is usually the second or third week of October.

Seeing Red

It has been a cold week and today a few snow flakes are falling.  Here are a few red things I saw this week, as well as  a few shots of the swans and water fowl at Lake Katherine.

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This tree caught our attention at Lake Katherine this morning.  It was a bright spot on a cold morning.

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Back in our yard the fothergilla bush still has all its leaves and was very bright this week.

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Male northern cardinal at bird bath.  Quite a few birds have visited the bird bath since it froze.  Sometime they seem a little puzzled and other times they pick at the ice or snow.

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I saw the male red-bellied woodpecker at the bird bath, but it had flown to the mulberry tree before I got my camera.

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Six swans a swimming.  The swan couple with their four cygnets.  The young swans are pretty much grown up now.  I understand that these are mute swans.  Wikipedia says that mute swans are an introduced species and not native to North America.  They are sometime considered an invasive species when they reduce the density of submerged vegetation.

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We were chatting with someone while looking at the swans and he mentioned that you can tell the adults because their beaks are a brighter orange, whereas the cygnets beaks are still a pale orange.  This man said they will fly away and only the couple will return in the spring.  The cygnets will find new homes next spring.

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There were a lot of ducks in the lake and a lot of them were busy feeding, like this.  We did see one mallard couple doing a little head-bobbing dance.  As we watched we realized it was a mating dance and soon the female dove under water and the male was on top of her for a few seconds and then they swam away together.

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When we got to the lake there was a large gathering of geese.  Maybe it was the dog on the left that chased them and they all started dashing to the water.  A lot of dog walking goes on here.

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Canada goose portrait.

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Beaver activity.  We saw quite a few places around the lake where the beavers have been busy chewing on trees.  From our observations it seemed like the staff took the wire mesh off certain trees to let the beavers gnaw at them, while other trees they want to keep are well protected.  We did not see any evidence of a beaver lodge, but maybe we were not looking in the right place.