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.

Suet Visitors

I have never used bird feeders before.  On the spur of the moment I bought a suet feeder and put some suet in it, to see if I could interest some woodpeckers.  There have been no woodpecker visitors yet, that I am aware of.

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The weather has been so cold that for quite a few days there were no bird visitors.  Then one day I noticed black-capped chickadees exploring the suet feeder.

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It was a bit of a puzzle to get at the frozen suet.

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A male northern cardinal was among a group of birds checking it out on Friday.

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I love the bright red bird’s contrast to the winter scene.

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Sparrows and starlings came by to try their luck.

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A house sparrow looks for a snack.

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I noticed a hawk fly into one of the large trees in the neighborhood.  I suppose this is a good time to find a bird meal at a bird feeder.

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The dark-eyed juncos looked at the suet briefly, but then went off to look for seeds on the garden plants.

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The dark-eyed juncos are winter residents that are always fun to watch as they hop around on the ground looking for seeds

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We have had snow on the ground for 2 weeks and temperatures have remainder below 20 degrees Fahrenheit since December 26th, which is apparently a temperature record in Chicago.

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Last Saturday morning, with a wind chill well below zero, we took a walk at the Little Red Schoolhouse forest preserve.  There were lots of animal tracks, especially deer tracks.  We were okay with the weather, except for our feet, which seemed like ice blocks.  This morning we had a good walk inside the mall instead, so we were a little wimpy!

Food: Our son is on a two-week 1500 calorie meal plan suggested by his doctor, before he gets his annual blood test.  You can find the meal plan on the Eating Well website.  I have been cooking all kinds of interesting and delicious meals and though it is a bit of work it has been generally tasty and enjoyable.  It is one way to stay cozy in the cold weather.

Current Reading:  I am in the middle of reading several books at once – Being Mortal by Atul Gawande; Jungle of Stone: The True Story of Two Men, Their Extraordinary Journey, and the Discovery of the Lost Civilization of the Maya by William Carlsen; Disunity in Christ by Christina Cleveland.

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.

Acorns, Spiders and More

The acorns on our chinquapin oak tree are ripe and it is entertaining to watch the wildlife go for this food source.  And one foggy morning this week we noticed spiders everywhere, so I started looking around to capture a few pictures of them.

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Chinquapin oak acorn.  There are a few caps on the ground but the acorns are already mostly eaten from this tree.

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The extremely speedy chipmunk can reach to the edge of the branches for the hard to get acorns.

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Chipmunk stuffing his cheeks with acorns.

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The squirrels are climbing the oak for acorns, too.

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A lot of the time both the squirrels and the chipmunks are running around looking for any acorns that might have fallen to the ground and stopping for a snack.

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The blue jays arrive every morning and make a lot of noise.  Once I think there were six blue jays searching for acorns in the tree.

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The chipmunk dashes about and then freezes when he or she sees me.  Here it is hiding in a messy patch of zucchini.

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The chipmunk is trying to get from the zucchini on the right to a hole it dug in the middle of the lawn.

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Here is the chipmunk hole in the lawn…

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One weekend morning we saw the neighbor cat sit by this hole for a very long time.  I am not sure, but I think it finally gave up.

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Pulling back you can see what the garden looks like from the kitchen window on September 15th.  The grass is so dry.  No need to mow it.  We have not had much rain this summer and hardly any for weeks.  The blooming flowers are still buzzing with pollinators this time of year, though.

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Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’ goldenrod

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The wasps seem to be particularly attracted to the goldenrod.

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Bees are all over the sedum.

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The sedum gets a lot less sun as the oak tree grows, leaving a less exciting sedum display.  The drought may be having an effect, too, so I have not noticed as many butterflies visiting.  We have also had unseasonably cool weather this past month, though the heat is back this week.

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All those sedum leaves are a perfect place for hiding spiders, waiting to catch a fly lunch.  This week we noticed spiders everywhere in the garden.

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Just outside our front door a spider had tied up a nice meal package.

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An orb spider has been spinning her web below the clothes line every night just outside my office window.  In the morning the web is highlighted by the fog.

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And I have to remember to always give the kale leaves a good shake to get rid of lurking spiders before bringing the kale in for soup.  Otherwise the spiders are running around the kitchen sink….

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The bean pole structure has a colony of daddy longlegs spiders.  When I pick beans they move out of the way, so they are not too scary.  I have stopped picking beans for the year, though, and will just harvest the dried beans late in the autumn.

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I picked up a prairie dropseed ornamental grass at the farmers’ market and planted it where some of the strawberries have been dying off.  I hope it will get established before winter.  The nasturtiums look tired out by the drought.  Maybe I will water the vegetable garden tomorrow morning…

Bees, Fungi, Grasshoppers and Hummingbirds

This is always a fun time to be taking pictures in the garden.  There are too many mosquitoes to want to do much weeding, but the garden it packed with pollinators on all the September flowers.

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Bee on Caryopteris.

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I have two caryopteris bushes that are covered with bees these days.  My best guess is carpenter bees.  I can count 6 bees in this picture.  They love the sedum, too.  The ornamental grass in the background is miscanthus ‘morning light.’

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The sedum has turned pink.  On the back left is the other caryopteris bush and on the right is the blue hill salvia that is blooming again after a hair cut earlier in the summer.  The sedum is most active when the sun is shining, attracting a lot of flies, skippers and bees.

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I zoomed in to take a closer look at the bold-faced hornet.  My research says this critter is in the yellowjacket wasp family that live in those big hanging nests in trees.  I wonder where the nest is.  If you are not in danger from bothering the nest these are considered beneficial insects due to their predation of flies, caterpillars and spiders.  Wikipedia says that adults also drink nectar which they feed to their larvae.  The designs on the body are really fascinating.

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I moved over to the blue hill salvia to photograph the busy bees there.

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But my camera wanted to focus on this mystery mushroom instead.

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Funky fungus

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Recently I noticed a large area of fungi.  I am not sure if they are the result of the deterioration of our old silver maple tree or if it is just from wood chips breaking up or what.  I am not really an expert on fungi, but the fungi area is five or six times larger than this picture.  It looks a little bit like wasp nests….

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Unknown critter on my plastic chair this morning.  Is it a wasp or a moth or something else?  There are so many unknown small creatures in the yard now.

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When I went to pick pole beans I found these two grasshoppers next to each other.

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In the little messy meadow there are a lot of little grasshoppers and damselflies these days.

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Next to the meadow the turtlehead flowers are in bloom and behind them the coral mums are getting ready to bloom in October.

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Russian sage and solidago rugosa goldenrod ‘fireworks.’

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Monarch on Russian sage.  I have not seen monarch caterpillars on my milkweed yet, but realize that some of the monarchs that have been visiting recently have been male.  I noticed that when I looked back at some of the pictures I posted in previous blogs that show the pattern when the wings are open.

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There have continued to be two monarch on the zinnias each afternoon this past week.  The goldfinches have continued to pick the petals off to get at the zinnia seeds.  There is a butterfly festival at Lake Katherine tomorrow, 9/18/16.

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Hummingbird at neighbor’s feeder.  There have been at least two hummingbirds very active in the yard the past weeks, as they live in the mulberry tree behind our backyard.  At least five times I have seen a hummingbird chase after a monarch to scare it away.  I suppose they share the same nectar in the flowers.  I did not believe it at first, but after multiple times I saw that the hummingbirds thought they were the boss and were trying to enforce it, not very successfully.  I think the ones I am seeing are female or immature as they have not had ruby throats.  We do not have a hummingbird feeder, like the neighbors on both sides of us, but the hummingbirds are busy in our yard every day.

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The flowers on the east fence are prettiest this time of year.  In bloom in orange, yellow and white are nasturtiums, alyssum, zinnias, marigolds and mums.

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I thought all of these mums I planted two years ago, I think, had died, but some have come back and started blooming now.

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Butterfly bush flower and nasturtiums.

If you have lasted through all these pictures, thank you!  I don’t blog as often now, so I seem to accumulate a lot of photos between each post.

Cucumbers, Butterflies and Mosquitoes

It is harvest time in the garden.  I have made spaghetti sauce twice with all the tomatoes.  We had a zucchini dish last night.  I can see a lot of peppers that I need to do something with.  I have picked buckets of beans.  The refrigerator has been stuffed with cucumbers!

img_5293Here are 30 cucumbers that were being stored in the fridge.  Some did not last and I threw them out but we have eaten most of them.

img_5421Every evening after work I have gone out to the garden to harvest for the day.  Recently it has mostly been buckets of pole beans.

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We set up a structure in the spring and the bean vines have completely covered it now.  I have to harvest when it is sunny or the mosquitoes eat me alive.  I have learned to wear long sleeves.

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The peppers are ripening.

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Clearwing moth.  In my last post I showed a picture of a tomato hornworm.  Clearwing moths develop out of hornworms.  When they are flying they look a bit like a hummingbirds as they sip nectar.

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A pair of goldfinches were harvesting seeds from the cone flowers in our yard.

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Here is a shot from the tomato patch and the zinnias back toward the house.

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Today three monarch butterflies spent the afternoon in the zinnias.  I caught two of them in this picture.  I have seen two monarchs on the zinnias every day all week.

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Monarch on orange zinnia.  On the left a little skipper was sipping on the white zinnia.

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The sedum is starting to turn pink now and here a little skipper is enjoying the delicate flowers.

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Over the Labor Day weekend I visited Minnesota.  Here my 91-year-old Uncle Bob is feeding corn to his hens.  He also has bee hives, several cows and calves, and a vegetable and flower garden.

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The Chippewa River near Eau Claire.  I took a little break here on my drive back to Chicago.  On my trip I also stopped by the Rum River, Mississippi River, Wisconsin River and had a short stop at Mirror Lake State Park.

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A few weeks ago I was walking around Lake Katherine and I met an older man carrying one of these flowers.  I said to him, “You have some purple loosestrife.”  He thought he had some lavender that he was getting to bring to the lady next door who has trouble sleeping.  He had heard that if you put some under your pillow you sleep better.  I explained that loosestrife is an invasive plant so it is fine to pick it, since we don’t want it around the lake.  He was disappointed that he could not find lavender at Lake Katherine.  In general it is too humid in Chicago for lavender. We had a short discussion about invasive plants.

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Before I met this man I had just taken a picture of the berries that were ripening on the buckthorn bushes that have completely invaded the understory around the lake.  When I mentioned buckthorn, he said he had heard of them.  He pulled a very small plastic bag out of his pocket and said it was buckthorn bark.  He had ordered it online, because it is supposed to give you help in legal issues and his neighbor had some legal issues.  Someone is making some money off this invasive plant!  This man had no idea that there was buckthorn bark all around him.  Maybe if Lake Katherine finishes up some of its other restoration projects they will be able to tackle getting rid of some of the buckthorn and replacing it with native shrubs.

Sedum, Skippers and Plums

The cool days and rain this past week have greened up the grass again.  Many plants are dying out in the garden, but some plants are at their peak or will be getting going soon.

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Silver-spotted skipper on sedum.  I noticed that last September I had a picture of a silver-spotted skipper on sedum as well.  One of the host plants for this butterfly is false indigo, which I have planted close by.

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There have been quite a few of these very small skippers around the yard this week.  The proboscis is the long sucking mouthpart that drinks the nectar.

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Sedum in dappled light.  I don’t know if you can see all the flies, bees, wasps, etc. that are hanging out on this plant.  In the background on the left are the two American plum trees and in the center are the yew bushes.

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I remembered to check on the American plums and found a number of ripe ones and many on the ground.  I tasted one that was between red and purple and was no longer hard.  The skin was too tart to eat, but the flesh inside was sweet!  I picked a dozen and brought them in to see if I could keep them from just falling on the ground.  I picked a few up off the ground, too, that seemed fine.  It would be a lot of trouble to make anything from them, but eating a few a day is fun!

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Red berries for the birds on the Hicksii yew bushes.  They won’t last long.  The viburnum bushes are heavy with purple fruit and I am waiting for the day the birds start feasting.

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Pink zinnia.  The annual Monarch Festival is at Lake Katherine today, and at the end of the day I think the monarchs are released.  I am hoping a few will wander to my neighborhood and take an interest in the zinnias.

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One lone chamomile flower.

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Moss roses re-blooming this year in an old planter, with no help from me.

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Still thankful for cucumbers.  This type is “Marketmore,” and is very dependable and tasty for my salads.

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One of three large collard patches.  6 – 10 leaves head into our weekly pot of soup.  We have a lot of cabbage moths in the yard!

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How many house sparrows can hang out at the bird bath at the same time?  The bird bath has been generally quiet these days, but once in a while there is a party.

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Grasshopper on pineapple sage.  It looks like the leaf below has been chewed on by something.  The pineapple sage will start blooming with bright red tubular flowers, maybe in a few weeks, and will be visited by the hummingbirds.  It was cool at noon today and I just heard one cricket trying to make a few noises.  Now at 4 pm it has warmed up and the full summer chorus of grasshoppers, crickets, cicadas, and other noise makers are going at it.  We expect hot summer weather this week!

Vacation:  We took a long weekend trip to central Indiana over labor day and had a great time at Shades State Park in Indiana.  I have been too busy to post anything from that trip, but here are a few bird pictures that we saw in other places on our trip.

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We visited Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area, where tens of thousands of migrating sandhill cranes stop during migration in spring and fall.  Through our zoom lens from the observation deck we saw two sandhill cranes in the shade and later another flew out of the trees.  We probably won’t get back here to see the spectacle in the fall, but we could imagine these muddy fields filling with birds.

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Is this a killdeer?  It was in the same muddy field.  That is the best we could do with our zoom.  We need to get another camera as ours is having some troubles.

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Belted Kingfisher.  I think it was along Walnut Creek.

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Butterfly on thistle.