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!

More Fall Color

It has been a cool month and we have been enjoying the fall colors this past week or so.

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I think this is the prettiest the chinquapin oak has been in the fall.  Usually the leaves are an orange brown color that is not too special, but this year the color was a little more pink/orange.  Of course, it is hard to capture in a photo.

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Carpinus caroliniana – American hornbeam.  The leaves are pinkest where they get the most sunlight.  There are lilacs on either side.  I like the lilacs, but I am tempted to get rid of the one on the right as this tree grows, to give it plenty of room.

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Zooming in from the upstairs window I was able to capture the orange/pink color a little better.

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We planted two hornbeams at the same time.  They are on either side of the lilac.  They came from Possibility Place, where we have gotten the majority of our native trees and shrubs.  I am beginning to wonder if the tree to the right of the green lilac is not really carpinus, but is ostrya, because the leaves never turn pink and always stay very yellow.  But I am not sure yet, and will need to keep researching.  The catkins and fruit do not appear to be the same on these two trees.

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Zooming in on the right side of the picture above, there is the yellow “hornbeam” on the left, the fothergilla turning bright colors in the front, and the very yellow spicebush on the right.

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The asters were some of the last flowers to bloom in the garden.

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I was surprised to see this moth still flying around in early November.  The coral mums are great places for the last pollinators.

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Saturday we took a walk on country lane in the Palos forest preserve.  The sun came out to brighten the orange leaves!

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Today we took another walk in the forest preserves.  The green leaves of the invasive bush honeysuckle really stand out, when most other leaves have fallen.  After all our years of hiking here we were amazed to walk for over an hour on a trail that was completely new to us in this area.  The thing is, some of these trails are too buggy in the heat of the summer, so this was a great day to hike here.  Part of the trail was very rugged, so it was good that it was not too muddy or too icy to go up and down the hills and through stream beds.

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A toad crossed the path in front of us.  The path was between a pond and the forest.  Where would the toad go this time of year?  It was facing away from the pond and moving slowly in the cold weather…

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Not sure of the name of this lake in the forest preserve, but I think it is the first time we have walked past it!  We did not see many waterfowl on this gray day.

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Back at home after our walk it was time to mulch up the fallen oak leaves and build up the compost pile, which you can see in the back right hand corner of the picture.  Last week we went and got some great dark colored composted manure from the nearby horse stables.  In the picture it looks like dark soil in the garden beds.  We are still eating the kale, collards and brussel sprouts from our garden.

Sandhill Cranes:  While working on the compost pile I could hear the sandhill cranes calling and looked up to see four v-shaped groups overhead flying toward those corn fields in Indiana.  Maybe there were 40 – 50.  Love it!

Eared Grebe and March Soil

I planned to have this blog be about my back yard, and there are a few pictures at the bottom of this post about that.  But when I hear that a bird that is not common for Illinois is in the neighborhood I sometimes decide to go birding instead of focusing on the garden.

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Eared Grebe at Saganashkee Slough.  I get frequent emails from IBET – Illinois Birders Exchanging Thoughts.  They inform the birding community of what interesting birds have been seen that day.  I particularly pay attention when the birds are seen in the Palos area. So I headed out to the slough to see if I could find this bird.  After taking quite a few pictures I noticed some birders and approach them and they said it looked like my picture was of the eared grebe they were looking for.  Yay!  This is a bird that is migrating through Illinois.

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Saganashkee Slough.  I understand that the water is only about 6 feet deep and that may make it a good fishing place for waterfowl.

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Horned grebes.

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A horned grebe that caught a fish.

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Red-breasted mergansers diving for fish.

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As I was watching through my binoculars it looked like mating season, as a group of male red-breasted mergansers were following a female.

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Two male common mergansers with a female.

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I kept hearing the sandhill cranes flying overhead during the afternoon.  Sorry the photo is not more zoomed in!

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Dormant trees at Long John Slough.  We are still having freezing temperatures at night, but today the weather was warm and beautiful.

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I noticed insects flying around today.  A moth landed on the Hicksii yew shrub.

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Daffodils were pushing up along the east fence.  I guess the soil is kind of heaving now due to the ice freezing and thawing in the soil.  I think this is good for the soil and the soil is damaged when we walk on this soft soil this time of year.

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Another view of soft, thawing, spring soil that is pushed up here and there.

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Earlier this week it was snowing hard, though we only got about an inch.  It snowed and sleeted Friday night, too.  I think we can use the moisture, so no complaints.  Spring is coming, but winter has not quite left us.

Fall Clean Up

Most of the leaves are down now and we have been cleaning up the yard before winter.

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Dan mowed the lawn and mulched up the leaves to add to the compost pile.

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A little bit of the kale was still looking good and not destroyed by bugs, so we put some in the soup today.  The parsley is still looking green…

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Some mornings have been cold and the sparrows and other birds visit the bird bath briefly, then move on.

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Sometimes when I am working in the garden I will hear sandhill cranes and look up to see many flocks flying southeast.

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Dan and I walked through a prairie in the forest preserve yesterday morning and the browns and oranges were beautiful!

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Here is a shot from a dark, cloudy day that I visited Lake Katherine.  The kissing fish are in the front and reflections on the lake.

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The cyclamen is back indoors and blooming.

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Long evenings are good for reading.  Does your stack of reading material get precariously high sometimes, too?

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After several months I got through this library book – Blue Highways.  It is a travelogue across America that was relaxing to read before bed.  I had my road atlas next to me and followed as the author followed small roads around the United States and I read to find out what the author would find down these roads in out-of-the-way places. I may not get to these places, but I can read about them….

Witch Hazel, Sandhill Cranes and Swans

Have you checked your vernal witch hazel lately?  As I write this the temperature is 69 degrees Fahrenheit in Chicagoland on February 18th!  Our vernal witch hazel has been blooming for a while now…

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Hamamelis vernalis, vernal witch hazel.

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Close-up of vernal witch hazel flowers.

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Back on February 9th we had a thin layer of snow that soon melted, but we have not had much more than that since December.  The cyclamen continues to bloom in the greenhouse window all winter.

img_6971Last weekend was a good weekend for pruning dormant trees and shrubs, as it was warm during the day, but freezing at night.  We completely removed one of our two American plum trees.  You can see the little stump in the forefront.  The foliage had just gotten too thick and we wanted a little more space and sunlight.  Besides we only had plums on the tree that we left standing.

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We just put all the branches and twigs on the patio.  I am not sure how soon the village will send around the truck to mulch branches in the spring.

img_6972If I had more time and energy I would do some winter gardening.  I have the fittings in place in the ground, so I would just need to put back the plastic tubing and the clear plastic cover over it to get the earth warmed up and get some lettuce planted.  Maybe when I retire….

img_6974I went out at lunch yesterday to enjoy the sun and noticed the garlic turning green.  There were a few green bottle flies that flew by.  Then I heard bird calls and looked up.

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There were about 50 sandhill cranes circling above me and then they flew off to the northwest.  An hour later I saw 20 more and today I saw another 40 flying northwest over Palos Hills.

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Last Sunday morning I sat in our living room and watched a Cooper’s hawk sitting at the top of the oak tree across the street from us.  I wonder what it found for Sunday brunch.

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This morning we took a walk around Lake Katherine and were pleased to see two mute swans.

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Most of the time the swans looked like this while they worked on breakfast.

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I hope we will see some little swans before long.

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Steph stopped to sit on a warm bench on a warm winter day.

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A downy woodpecker perched near the lake path.

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An unidentified sparrow seemed to be eating buds off the branches.

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A female mallard posed for a portrait.  A little water glistened on her feathers.

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A flap of her strong wings shook the water off…

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The male mallard was busy working on a meal.

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This afternoon the warm weather drew us outside again for a walk on the north side of the canal where we saw a lot of deer and coyote tracks.  It was great with no bugs!

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Dan is always looking for some ridge to climb.  I waited below near some sunny rocks.

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Where the rocks were warm small plants were emerging.  I heard the song of first red-winged blackbird I have heard this year.

Global warming:  I think this is record-breaking weather today.  Even though we really enjoyed the warm weather there was something strange about it, too.  We may have more snow storms before spring comes, though we have had mostly rain the past two months.

Snow, Cyclamen, Hawk, and Sandhill Crane

The first snowfall to stay on the ground just started.  We should have a few more inches of snow today.

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First snowfall of the season in the back yard.

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Snow on chinquapin oak tree.

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The cyclamen started blooming to bring in the Christmas season.

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We started cooking the soup before the snow fell and brought in Brussel sprouts, collards and kale.  We still have a lot of kale in the garden, so we will see how it looks next week.

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When I stepped outside yesterday this hawk flew up into a nearby tree.  It was probably hunting sparrows or squirrels at the bird feeder next door.

img_4259-1We came upon a lone juvenile sandhill crane (no red marking on head) at Lake Katherine on Saturday morning.  It must have been separated from its flock as it flew south. On Friday Steph and I were taking a walk and looked up to see 80 – 90 sandhill cranes flying over us in a southeast direction.

Thankful For Pleasant Autumn Days

It is a good time of year to be thankful for the growing season and the harvest.  The garden is ready for winter now.  We have had such a pleasant, warm autumn, but now I am looking forward to the quiet and rest of winter.

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We mowed the lawn as short as possible.  The fothergilla bush still has red leaves, on the left.  These pictures of the whole yard are always interesting to me, when I compare how things look from season to season and year to year in these blog posts as trees and bushes grow.  It still looks pretty green today and I just watched some sparrows and dark-eyed juncos fighting for space at the bird bath, that is not frozen.

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The fothergilla bush on 11/21.

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The grass clippings and mulched leaves went into the compost pile, which it pretty hot today.  We have eaten almost all of the Brussel sprouts.  The rhubarb is winding down.  I pulled out a lot of the strawberry runners and babies, but they like the cool weather, and will be green for a while.

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Last Sunday I went to the horse stables and brought back manure to spread around the garden and blend into the soil over the winter.  Still active at this time of year are kale, collards, garlic, parsley, mint, and oregano.

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On 11/16 this common buckeye butterfly was warming itself on our driveway.

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The green tomatoes are gradually ripening.

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Sometimes while working in the garden I hear the sandhill cranes flying overhead on their way to an Indiana sandhill crane gathering.

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At Lake Katherine the beaver has been getting ready for winter, too.  The lodge is well covered with mud and trees have been brought in close for easy access in cold weather.

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Last weekend we took a walk at Pioneer Woods in the Palos Forest Preserve, where restoration work has been going on.  The green leaves are probably mostly on invasive honeysuckle bushes.  Winter is a good time to cut those down and build some big bon fires to clear out the forest undergrowth.

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Harvest moon.