Cap Sauer Holdings

One of our favorite parts of the Cook County Forest Preserves are the Cap Sauer Holdings.  We parked on the south side of the Calumet Sag Road (Route 83) and walked in on a tiny path where no dogs are allowed.  As we walked south the traffic sounds gradually faded.

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We walked uphill until we were walking on top of a ridge.  We saw no one on our morning walk but constantly heard airplanes overhead.

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We walked by a wetland where we hear frogs in the spring.  But is was cold and quiet.

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We paused to look at fungi and try to identify a bird call.  Or was it a squirrel?  I heard a woodpecker drilling on a tree.

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Then I saw a movement, and realized it was a coyote.  I tried to get Dan to see it.

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I managed to get one clearer picture.  There were actually two coyotes and they gradually slunk away from us further into the woods.  It is a good place to hide and they blend in well with the gray and brown landscape this time of year.  They looked healthy with pretty fur.

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As we walked out I could see a frozen stream flowing downhill.  It was a gray day and these pictures may seem dull, although it was a beautiful walk.  This is a wonderful place to see spring wildflowers.

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We saw a lot of these tennis ball looking fruit near the trailhead.  Looking on Google it seems like these are from an Osage Orange tree.

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Back home, my attention was drawn to a flock of starlings that were checking out the birdbath in the backyard.

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The house sparrows were attracted by the racket.  The water is off and on frozen these days.

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The male northern cardinal briefly stopped by.

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The female northern cardinal looked for a meal on the ground.

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The robin tried out a crabapple.

We are almost at the shortest day of the year.  Time for winter walks, and mostly cozy time indoors, and holiday celebrations!

 

Flowers of the Field

When I started seriously gardening over ten years ago, I was mostly interested in color schemes, height and placement of flowers, and having something blooming in all seasons.  That is still interesting to me, but since then my focus has moved to growing more food and planting as many native plants as I can.  So I still have non-natives in the yard, but I keep adding native plants, as they attract many more pollinators and provide habitat for a greater diversity of wildlife.  This time of year the abundance of flowers is really wonderful!

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Purple coneflowers, monarda – wild bergamot in the background, and Ratibida pinnata, sometimes called prairie coneflower, yellow coneflower or gray-headed coneflower.

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I bought this Ratibida – gray-headed coneflower – at the farmer’s market today and I hope it survives the heat these next few weeks, as I usually don’t plant anything this time of year.

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View from the kitchen window.

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For some reason I bought a lot of packets of sunflower seeds this year, so I planted them all over the backyard.

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Monarch on sunflower.  The goldfinches love to eat the seeds.

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Two tall varieties of sunflowers in the vegetable garden.  The two in the back are so tall that they have not even started to flower yet.  Can’t wait to see how big they get.

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Besides the sunflowers we have a lot of Echinacea purpurea – purple coneflowers. They seem to be multiplying and the goldfinches love them, too.

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Black swallowtail butterfly on purple coneflower – taken from the kitchen window.

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The monarda – wild bergamot – really took off this year, and it has been swarming with bumblebees and all kinds of pollinators.

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A hummingbird moth or clearwing moth of some sort has been visiting all the flowers.

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Liatris, blazing star.  I now have two nice clumps growing in the garden.

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Rudbeckia hirta, black-eyed susans.

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Gateway, Joe Pye weed.  I like the look of the flower as it gets ready to open.

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The pollinators like the Joe Pye weed when all the flowers are open and messy.  This is an ailanthus webworm moth.

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The fennel plant is now taller than I am and blooming, attracting a wasp and an ant to the nectar.

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The male house finch can be seen now and then snacking on the sedum, which has not started blooming yet.

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Did the robin enjoy the bath?  Sparrows never miss a chance to join the fun.

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But who is this visiting the garden at dawn?

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Is this stealthy, fat neighbor cat looking for a bird, a rabbit, a squirrel, or a chipmunk?  Salvia blue hill flowers in the background.

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I found two of these large bugs/beetles on the stalk of my new gray-headed coneflower after I planted it.  Do cats eat those kinds of bugs?  Or do birds eat them?

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Common buckeye butterfly we saw on a walk last week.  I see monarchs just about every day in the summer in my yard, but there are many butterfly species I rarely see because they like a variety of host plants that I probably don’t have in my garden.  It is just a reminder that wild habitats need protection.

June View and Midwest Vacation

I sprained my ankle, so no gardening for me.  It is a chance to post a few pictures from the past few weeks.

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Today’s view from the kitchen window.

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Looks like the squirrel came by for a drink.  I need to move the birdbath into a sunnier location as my chinquapin oak tree grows.

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Digitalis purpurea, foxglove.  This flower is not native, but it is well behaved in my garden and the bees and hummingbirds seem to like it.

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Looking at it from a different angle, the foxglove is on the left.  The grass in the “meadow” is high and the little hickory tree is shooting up. The tall tree in the back is the serviceberry, also called Juneberry.  Since it is June it is time to look for berries, though the weather has been mild, so everything is a bit late.  The raspberries on the right are starting to form.

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The cedar waxwings, who love berries, have been checking the serviceberry tree out.  You can see the berries are not quite ready, though there always might be one or two that can be eaten early.

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In the vegetable garden the clematis started blooming.  The robin came for a little bath in the bottom portion of this birdbath.  I did not get mulch down before I sprained my ankle so there are weeds everywhere.  My doctor said to just “bless the weeds” for the next few weeks while I rest and heal.  I sprained my ankle in the kitchen an hour after returning from our Memorial weekend mini-vacation…  Here are a few pictures from that time.

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Camel rock in the Garden of the Gods Wilderness in southern Illinois.

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We explored a lot of trails, like this trail at Giant City State Park.

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I got a sense of pleasure at seeing a rock pigeon nesting in the rocks instead under an overpass in a city.

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Liriodendron tulipifera – tulip tree in bloom.  There are not too many of these trees in northern Illinois, but they were common as we went south.

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The boardwalk at Heron Pond in the Cache River Wetlands.  Curiosity about this area was what motivated us to make another trip to southern Illinois.  Being on this boardwalk felt magical.  The cypress trees grow up in this swampy pond, where we could hear various birds calling.  It is a pretty wild area, but a great place for biodiversity and a buffer between the south and the north during this time of climate change, where various animals and birds can find habitat.  We did not see any water moccasins, but kept our eyes open and appreciated the boardwalk.

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We did a lot of driving, including on back roads like this.  A Swedish thriller audiobook kept us entertained in between jumping out of the car to explore the next place.

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These may be box turtles mating, or something….  This was at the Oakland Nature Preserve in Carbondale, Illinois.  It was a buggy morning so we were doing a very fast walk through these trails to keep away from the bugs, but we saw quite a few turtles and a lot of native and/or rate plants.  Our hiking boots were caked with mud on this trip.

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On the way home on Sunday we stopped at the Chinook State and Wildlife Area, east of Terre Haute, Indiana.  There were no trails, so we did not stay long, but two different units came to fish while we were there.  We had beautiful warm weather during our trip, but as we headed home the cool, wet weather began to move in again.

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We stopped to see a few of the covered bridges near Rockville, Indiana.

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On the last stretch home to Chicago we stopped to see the bison at Kankakee Sands in northwest Indiana.  Can you see the head of the little calf in the group?  This is a prairie restoration area run by the Nature Conservancy.  We did not want to take the time to go to the bird area, but we were refreshed by the wide open area we saw.  Then back in the car and back to life in the suburbs!

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!

Bird Visitors and Residents

The flowers are still blooming, but we had some brief snow flurries today….  The following photos have been taken over the past 3 weeks as I enjoy the visitors to the garden.

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Migrating yellow-rumped warbler on the bird bath.

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The way the party started was that the blue-jay came for a drink and made a racket.

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After that the sparrows came and tried to see how many could be in the bird bath at once.

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With all that noise the robins started to arrive.

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The yellow-rumped warblers hopped around on the grass until the bird bath was empty and then several of them gave it a try.  This is a side view of the bird.  A lot of these small warblers look alike to me and I am gradually learning the differences.

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Here you can see the difference between the size of a sparrow and the smaller warbler.

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Earlier this week the mourning dove came for a visit.  They are higher in the pecking order than robins and scare them away.  Once doves arrive they like to sit for a while.

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Just after I published my last post at the end of September I saw this butterfly on the ‘fireworks’ goldenrod.  It turns out it is a gray hairstreak butterfly.  I don’t remember seeing one in my garden before.

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Last week I took this picture of the zinnias and pineapple sage.  I saw the hummingbird on the pineapple sage a couple of times.

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Last Saturday morning Arrowhead Lake was beautiful with the water temperature warmer than the air temperature, causing steam to rise.

Birding adventure:  I get emails from IBET about birds that have been sighted in Illinois.  A red-necked grebe was sighted in a slough in the forest preserves near us, so on a day off Dan and I headed to the Sag Slough to see if we could see it.  We probably spent an hour looking and hiking around and finally met a young kid with a scope who pointed it out to us.  It was too far away to get a picture.  Reading emails the next day, some of the best birders in the area were not able to get a glimpse when they came looking for this bird, so we felt lucky.  I am not really keeping a life list of birds, but I am gradually viewing more species, and that is rewarding.

Monarch

Flowers are blooming and butterflies are visiting.

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From the kitchen window I caught a glimpse of a monarch butterfly on the swamp milkweed.

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Thursday morning I saw the first monarch caterpillar I have seen in the yard in a long time, chewing on the swamp milkweed flower, as far as I could tell.  However when I went back in the next hours I could not find it.  I am hoping it made it to safety….

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We have a lot of hungry juvenile robins, as well as juvenile starlings and a lot of other birds in the yard.  I read that soldier bugs are predators for monarch caterpillars, though maybe that is when the caterpillars are tiny, not huge, like the one above.

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We have had grackles in the yard this week, visiting the bird bath.

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A noisy blue jay has started visiting the yard this week, checking on the acorns on the Chinquapin oak, which are still tiny.

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On this day the bird bath was almost empty and not very clean, after a large group of starlings had a pool party.  The blue jay did not take a drink or a bath…  I have to change the water frequently in this hot weather.

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I really enjoyed the raspberries this year, but I think they are all eaten now!


April Variety Show

The week started with snow, then temperatures in the mid-60s, then a weekend of cold rain.  Meanwhile the migrant and returning birds are visiting, and the garden is greening up.

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A beautiful crocus livens up a little corner of the garden.

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I took the day off on Friday and did a little weeding in a few areas of the garden.  I cleared the creeping Charlie out of the goldenrod before it grows tall.  The mini-daffodils are holding up well in the cool weather.

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I planted a some lettuce and spinach seeds in the beds and some grass seed under the plum tree.  I know it is early!!  But we had some warm days this week and the soil seemed warm on Friday.  I put some straw from last year’s ornamental grasses on top of the seeds.  The idea was to protect it from birds and maybe from frost.  If the seed don’t germinate in 10 -14 days I can always plant another batch.  I love having early  leaf lettuce in the garden.

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We had snow this past week, though it only lasted a few hours before completely melting.

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Robins have been back in the yard for a while now.  This one is looking puffed up on a snowy day.

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A male goldfinch also posed on our crabapple tree.

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I think this is a yellow-rumped warbler checking out our neck of the woods.

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I spent a while trying to get a decent picture of what I believe is a ruby-crowned kinglet, a migrant passing through.  I deleted a blurry picture that showed the red on the top of the head.  I have a few straw piles around the garden and a few birds appear to be using them for nest building material.

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Taken earlier in the week, this little bird appears to be a golden-crowned kinglet, with a yellow patch on top of the head.  Both kinglets are very small and are always on the move, so hard to photograph and identify well.

 

Leaving my garden, below are pictures I have taken in the past two weeks of birds in the Palos area.

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American white pelicans at Maple Lake

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We heard there were American white pelicans and common loons at Maple Lake, so we went over for a look.  There were about 50 pelicans keeping their distance from photographers.

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There were a half dozen common loons swimming around and diving for fish in the lake.

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We were not the only ones taking pictures.  We saw nice cameras, binoculars and scopes, as people enjoyed the migrating birds.

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A hooded grebe between dives at Maple Lake.

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An eastern phoebe was chasing bugs along the lake at Long John Slough two weeks ago.

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At Joe’s Pond I watched male and female Redhead ducks.

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Ring-necked duck at Joe’s pond.

Once the weather gets a little warmer there will probably be plenty to do in the garden, but on raining days like today playing around with my pictures keeps me entertained!