Autumn Wanderings

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  It has now been replaced by a beautiful new building that better meets the needs of nature field trips.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!

Backyard blooms, berries and beyond

Backyard blooms, berries and beyond

Following on in the “B” theme, look in this blog post for a bull frog, blue damselfly and Indiana dunes beach….

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The butterfly weed is in bloom.  We are waiting for the monarch butterflies to visit…

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Veronica spicata Spike speedwell ‘Royal Candles’ a little bit past its prime.  Red hot poker flowers in the background.

IMG_8523Kniphofia red hot pokers in front of miscanthus ‘morning light’ ornamental grass.

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The view from the patio.

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Aruncus goat’s beard does well on the north side of the house.

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The first gaillardia blooms.

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Bright yellow yarrow, and in the background salvia ‘blue hill.’

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The alyssum re-seeds itself each year and is starting to bloom now.

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Does cauliflower count as a flower?  I cooked this up in a soup today!

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The collards are looking nice and we are trying to keep up with eating them before the cabbage worms do their munching.  This plant does not look too chewed on.

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We haven’t had to buy lettuce for a few weeks.  This leaf lettuce is nice, but the romaine is starting to bolt with the hot weather.

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In a bowl this morning from our yard – serviceberries, strawberries, mulberries and raspberries.  I enjoyed them with my oatmeal.

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Ripening serviceberry.  I am competing with the birds for these now.  The robins are often in the serviceberry tree.

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A downy woodpecker has been visiting the birdbath.

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There seem to be a lot of wasps in the yard this year.

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Blue damselfly on miscanthus ornamental grass.

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We visited Indiana Dunes State Park last weekend.  We hiked for a couple of hours in the dunes before enjoying our lunch with the crowd on the beach.

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A little cactus along the prairie trail.  This state park has quite a few endangered species.

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Tomahawk Slough in the Palos Forest Preserve, where we hiked last Sunday.

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One of many bullfrogs at Tomahawk Slough.

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There were also a ton of little toads or frogs hoping around near the water and on the trail.  I guess it is time for them to head out on their own and see if they survive.

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Great blue heron at Tomahawk Slough.

Birding:  I signed up for a birding blitz in the Palos Forest Preserve for June 17th.  I am just an amateur birder, so I was looking forward to going out with someone who could identify a ton of birds.  I showed up in the parking lot at 5:30 am and then remembered to check my email on my phone.  The blitz had been canceled for weather reasons, as thunderstorms were predicted.  I could hear all the birds around me, but the expert birders were not there.  We did not get any rain on Saturday as I guess the rain fell somewhere else.  But it was probably a good thing that I was not involved, as my foot has been giving me some trouble after all that hiking last weekend.  So it is a good weekend to just rest and recover and get this blog post done!

 

June Garden and Illinois Waterways

June Garden and Illinois Waterways

Everything is growing and green now!  The trees have leafed out, the flowers are taking their turns blooming, the vegetables are getting going and the weeds are doing what weeds do…  The birds and the bees are active!

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The chinquapin oak tree is on the left and the crabapple tree on the right.  The crabapple is having another bad year, with the leaves turning brown and falling.  Last year we did not have any crabapples and that might happen again this year.  But we are enjoying the irises blooming this week.

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Red iris

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The male northern flicker was hanging out looking for an ant meal.

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The yarrow flowers have finally turned yellow.  In the back you can see the first pink foxglove flower.

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Foxglove in foreground, on the left the lady’s mantle is blooming, and in the back penstemon – beardtongue – is getting ready to bloom.

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The grasses in the unmowed “meadow” catch the morning sunlight.  The grasshoppers and damselflies love this area.  The robins are starting to visit the serviceberry bush for a berry snack.  The raspberries on the fence are forming and will ripen in a few weeks.

Road Trip

10 days ago we headed out for a four-day vacation in central Illinois.  The day we took off was rainy, so we spent time driving down to Alton, IL.

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The fields were just getting started.  We enjoyed being out in the country.

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Thursday morning we visited the Audubon Center at Riverlands in Alton, where we spotted this Eastern Kingbird.

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The male indigo bunting kept its distance, but the color is wonderful!

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Many areas along the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers were flooded.  We went hiking at Pere Marquette State Park.  Climbing the hills got us away from the flooding and provided wonderful views of the Illinois River.  Can you see the little brown ribbon of a trail we took to get us up to this hilltop where a few benches provided a rest area?

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Dan on the Pere Marquette State Park trail.

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The next morning we visited the Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish and Wildlife Area and enjoyed a walk around this little pond.

We did not stay long as our goal was to visit Emiquon, run by the Nature Conservancy.

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Emiquon is a Nature Conservancy project in a flood plain along the Illinois River, and a lot of migrating birds stop over here.  However, migration season is mostly over and this time of year is when the flooding is the highest.

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We tried, without much luck, to zoom in on birds across the water that looked like pelicans.

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We drove by a snapping turtle, but did not get too close.

Then we crossed the Illinois River and went over to take a look at Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge, where the flood waters were high as well.

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A lot of drift wood came to rest on the shore at Chautauqua Lake.

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Red-headed woodpecker at Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge.

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On Saturday we visited Matthiessen State Park on the Vermillion River.  Since it was Memorial Day weekend the crowds were large and the trails had turned into muddy pits, that took a lot of skill to navigate!

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Cedar waxwings were in the tree above the river.  I have seen them in our yard this week, too, looking for serviceberries or other ripe berries.

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Sunrise view from the hotel in Yorkville, where we stayed Saturday night.

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We visited Silver Springs State Fish and Wildlife Area on Sunday morning.  There were several lakes as well as a trail along the Fox River.

We enjoyed all the places we saw and now will get back to hiking in our wonderful neck of the woods.

Plum, Serviceberry and Water Striders

Plum, Serviceberry and Water Striders

Spring is happening everywhere you look now.  I took so many pictures this weekend I will try to put them in two different posts.

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The American plum tree is blooming now and the fragrance is wonderful.  This is a great native tree to attract insects and birds, and a great boost to the ecosystem.  The down side is that it suckers a lot.  But we just mow over the new shoots in the lawn or clip them back.  The fruit has sour skin, but tastes good inside.

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Red admiral butterfly on plum blossoms.

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Amelanchier laevis, Allegheny serviceberry. This is a small tree, but a favorite in our yard.  If we don’t eat the small June berries the birds will, so they are never a mess.  Serviceberries like partial shade.  I wish more people in our neighborhood had this lovely tree, but the nurseries don’t do much with native shrubs.  We got this at Possibility Place in Monee when it was less than 2 feet tall.

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We also have three small Regent’s serviceberry cultivars on the west side of the house.  They should not get over 6 feet, but they are not quite 3 feet yet.

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Close-up of Regent’s serviceberry blossoms.

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Yesterday we went to the Palos Forest Preserve at Cap Sauers Holdings, where I have been volunteering with a team to remove invasive honeysuckle.  I wanted to show Dan where we have been working, so we came in on the trail and then headed up a hill off the path.

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It was a beautiful morning and we came to this stream where we listened to the morning bird noises and observed the flowing water.  All the shrubs with green leaves are the honeysuckle bushes that we are in the process of removing to open up the forest to more sunlight and native species.

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The trees, which have not quite leafed out yet, were reflected in the stream.

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We noticed a lot of water striders in the water, and they mostly seemed to be in the process of mating.  I think I sometimes call them pond skimmers.

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Here is a closer look.  There are two of them here and you can see the extra legs….

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We wandered down a horse trail we found that was sometimes very muddy.

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This looked like a cozy hollow log for some animal.

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Can you see the moth?

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We often stopped to look at huge old trees.

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Soon these branches will be filled with leaves.

If I have time today I will put out another post with all the wildflowers and birds I saw this weekend!  Happy Easter!

Berries and Goat’s Beard

Berries and Goat’s Beard

After a poor start on the strawberries, I got ahead of the birds and bugs by picking strawberries once or twice a day.  We ate out first raspberry on Friday.  We are working through the cool weather vegetables now, eating a lot of lettuce and kale, starting on the collards, and enjoying a few peas.

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I picked this small bowl of berries yesterday and ate them with a little vanilla ice cream.  Yummy!  It includes strawberries, raspberries, mulberries and service berries, also called June berries.

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We tied the raspberries canes to the fence and they are just getting started bearing fruit.  Once the raspberries are eaten we will cut back those canes and tie up this year’s new canes that will have raspberries next year.

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Aruncus dioicus Goat’s Beard.  Since we have moved the goat’s beard to this location it keeps getting bigger each year and I can enjoy it from my office window.

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Close up of the goat’s beard flowers which have been attracting a lot of pollinators, especially some really big bees.

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So far it looks like we have one red hot poker flower coming.  A month ago in Washington state I saw a lot of these blooming, so maybe that climate is better for them.  You can see one small blue petunia on the ground.  The rabbit nibbled down all the petunias when we first planted them.  We finally got rid of the rabbit, for now, so the flowers are getting going again.  Also in the picture are gaillardia, spike speedwell, ‘little bunny’ pennisetum fountain grass and Russian sage.

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Spike Speedwell Veronica spicata ‘Royal Candles.’   These plants are on the decline in my garden, but I enjoy them for a little while each year.

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We have a little bit of leaf lettuce in the yard, but we are mostly eating romaine lettuce these days.  I love eating fresh lettuce in my daily salad.

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Curly kale.  We just made some bean and vegetable soup.

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Wild kale.  I bought the seeds for the wild kale from Seed Savers Exchange.  I don’t like the flavor of all the types of kale so I weeded out those and was left with the mild kale I like.  It is blooming now, since I planted it last fall, but I just keep taking off the flowers.

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Pea flower.  I think these are sugar peas.

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The pole beans are just starting to climb.  We should have flowers on those before long.  The compost pile in the back has shrunk way down.  It is probably soon ready to spread around the garden.

Plum Blossoms and Cow Birds

Plum Blossoms and Cow Birds

There is so much going on in the garden now it is impossible to capture it all.  Here are a few things that caught my attention this week, as spring enters the Chicago area with gusto.

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The two American plum trees, native trees, have put on a fantastic fragrant show this week in the yard.

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All kinds of tiny pollinators swarmed to the blossoms.

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We had quite a few plums develop last summer.  The skin was sour, but the inside flesh was very good.  There are many suckers growing around the base of the trees that need to be cut back or they would form a thicket.

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I noticed a spider making a web between the plums trees and the yew bushes nearby, hoping to snag some of the pollinators.

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Looking out the kitchen window we can just see the plum trees between the crab apple tree, that is just starting to bloom now, and the yew shrubs.  The yews have formed a nice privacy area in front of the patio.

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The serviceberry Amlanchier laevis finished blooming last week.  Now that it is taller it is a little harder to reach the berries in June, but the birds have no trouble with that.

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The three Regent Saskatoon serviceberry bushes, Amalanchier alnifolia ‘Regent’, are blooming now on the west side of the house.  When we planted them they had the shade of the silver maple, but now with that gone they get more sun, so we will need to water them now and then.  They are supposed to get no taller than six feet.

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One day I looked out the kitchen window and saw a bunch of cow birds in the chinquapin oak, that is just barely beginning to leaf out.

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Handsome male cow birds interested in something in the chinquapin oak tree.  Notice the bird in the bottom left.  Is it a female cow bird?  Or some other bird?

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Here is another shot of that bird.  Since it was in the tree with the male cow birds I assumed it was a female cow bird.  They lay their eggs in other birds’ nest.  The eggs hatch early and tend to get more food from the foster mother bird than the smaller baby birds in the nest.

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I got 21 heads of romaine lettuce planted in the garden last week along with a dozen kale and collard plants.  Organic vegetables are expensive to buy in the grocery store, so hopefully these will keep me supplied with greens for a while.

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The grass is growing quickly.  After Dan mowed I swept up just the grass on the sidewalk and threw if on the compost pile, where Dan mixed it in to get the pile heated up.  To the right you can see strawberries starting to blossom.  I finally finished cleaning up all the strawberry patches and putting straw from last year’s ornamental grass under them.  It looks like we have a bumper crop of strawberries coming.

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The house sparrows keep trying to build a nest in this bird house.  But this house is not for them….

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Shagbark hickory at the end of the block starting to leaf out.  I am trying to bet better at identifying different native trees.

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Spring Beauty Claytonia virginica.  These wildflowers are also blooming in the green space at the end of the block.

Forest Preserve Event:  Yesterday I went to the Palos Paddock area of the Forest Preserve for a special event that the Friends of the Forest Preserve put on.  They are looking for volunteers to help in the restoration of the forest.  Invasive plants, such as honeysuckle, have filled in the undergrowth and suppressed native plants.  We went on a walk in small groups and it was a fantastic time with like minded people as we identified plants, saw butterflies, and discussed conservation.  I would love to join them now and then and learn more about native plants, the forest, and how best to do restoration, though my schedule and garden keep me very busy.  But it was so much fun because they were a group of “my people” who love plants, nature, and being outdoors!

Serviceberry, Lettuce, and Wild Creatures

It’s that busy time…  There is the lawn I am trying to overseed and water, weeds to pull and mulch to put down, and of course it is time to start planting some vegetables.  But each day it’s fun to watch the trees that are starting to bloom.  The first shrub is the serviceberry, or Juneberry.

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Serviceberry amelanchier laevis.  I can’t wait for the yummy berries in June.

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The petals were starting to fall today.  It is easier to see the beauty of these blossoms when there is a dark background like an evergreen.  I have a hard time getting good pictures of the whole bush in the spring, when the surrounding vegetation is sparse and the background is a white garage.

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American plum trees ready to bloom.  Last year I had only one blossom on both plum trees!!  The previous year the bugs had really been chewing on the brand new shrubs.  Now they have obviously recovered and are getting ready for a show.

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Last year I planted asparagus for the first time.  Maybe the plant was not in such good shape because this year I only got one shoot that has survived so far!   A few other shoots are trying a little, but don’t look so good.  In the back the chives are going strong and will bloom before long.  The strawberries are doing their thing and the oregano is coming back to life on the right.

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Romaine lettuce and rhubarb.  I have big plans for the vegetable garden this year, so I have to pace myself.  While the weather is cool I try to get some lettuce going.  I planted a few spinach seeds yesterday.  I have some tiny leaf lettuce starting to grow from seed also.  It won’t be long before I will make some scrumptious rhubarb sauce.

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I picked up a 6 pack of Georgia collards and planted three of them here in the new bed I created from the silver maple mulch from the tree we cut down.  I just dug three holes and put soil around the seedlings.  Eventually the roots should go through the newspapers at the bottom and penetrate the soil below.  Hopefully…

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Looking through the front window I saw a brown bird pecking in the lawn.  After zooming in I saw that it was a female northern flicker, a type of woodpecker that apparently does a lot of pecking on the ground.

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This picture of the female northern flicker is not much better, but it was really fun for me to see her in the yard.  I saw a flicker couple at the bird bath once last year.

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This morning I saw a bug I did not recognize on the lawn chair.  I believe it is a western conifer seed bug.  Since we have conifers in neighboring yards that makes sense.  So many intricate details…

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Last week when we went for a walk at Lake Katherine along the new Cal-Sag bike route we came across this dead snake.  My guess is that it hibernated before all this netting was put down over grass seed next to the newly paved path.  Then when the snake came out in the spring it got caught in the netting.  Maybe someone killed it at that point.  I believe it is a northern water snake, which are apparently fairly common.

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Male northern shoveler duck at Lake Katherine.  The green head looks like a mallard, but the rest doesn’t, so I tried to zoom in and get a picture.  They stay in the middle of the lake and seem more shy than mallards.  This morning I saw a couple of northern shovelers again.  I also saw the pied-billed grebe again.  It is fun to start being able to identify different waterfowl.

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Common cattail gone to seed.  Apparently this fluff was once used in pillows…

It is raining this evening.  April showers bring May flowers!

If you have any interest in seeing how my garden has developed over the past five years you can visit pardonmygarden.wordpress.com.