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!

Snow Crocus and Vernal Witch Hazel

I can’t resist taking pictures of the first signs of spring.

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Yellow snow crocus opens on a sunny afternoon.

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I love the lines and design on the outside of the snow crocus.  These flowers get a lot of afternoon sun.  I don’t think it will be too long before the other crocuses start to form flowers.

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The vernal witch hazel flowers have been blooming for a while.  I had a lot of trouble getting a picture that focused on the flowers and not the background, but I think that just shows that I need to learn more about my camera.

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What crazy looking flowers.  I really like the leaves on this shrub, but looking back through my pictures it does not look like I took many pictures of the leaves.  My witch hazel shrub is often hidden behind the lilac or the ornamental grass.  I will have to make a point to take pictures of the leaves this year.

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We pruned the American plum tree to get rid of branches that hung down when trying to mow the lawn.  I think we did the final pruning to get  rid of lower branches on the chinquapin oak tree.  We try to prune when the temperature is above freezing, but it freezes at night.

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I bought six different kinds of sedum plants a few years ago and the dragon’s bloom sedum is mixing with this other variety now.

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Among the dead Alchemilla mollis lady’s mantle leaves a new fan-shaped green leaf appeared.

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I thought the curly parsley finally died at the end of January, but it does not look quite dead yet.  During the fall and winter I tried to chew a little piece of parsley whenever I went into the garden, just because the green seemed like winter vitamins.

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Hardy strawberries look like they need some thinning and straw around them in order to have good fruit this spring and summer.  It is not quite time to do that yet.

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Dan went out and completely turned the compost leaf pile.  There were some wet spots from kitchen scraps and quite a few dry spots where it had burned to ash, and it really needed a good mix to speed it up again.

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The mini daffodils have a sunny spot and we should have tiny, yellow flowers blooming before long.

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.

Vernal Witch-Hazel and Red-Winged Blackbirds

It’s the end of February and it has been a very spring-like weekend.  We know that more snow is on the way, but signs of spring are popping up.

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Hamamelis vernalis, vernal witch-hazel.  I have had this shrub for a few years and this is the best flower show I have ever had.

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Here you can see what the flower buds look like before they open.

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The vernal witch-hazel is not very striking from a distance, so I almost forget to check on it.  There are still brown leaves on the branches from last fall.  But all the branches are covered by these tiny yellow and red flowers.  It is just so cheery this time of year when you come in for a closer look.  I suppose then it gets bigger the flowers will be more at eye level.

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Dan and I watched these two mourning doves going through a mating ritual this morning.  It all started with some neck bobbing….

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A little later we headed out to the forest preserve, where we saw and heard red-winged blackbirds everywhere.  They are back from their travels south.

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At the Little Red School House forest preserve we stopped to watch the waterfowl.  We thought we were seeing common merganser ducks.

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We wandered along on the forest paths, which were quite muddy today.  On this straight stretch we heard woodpeckers and chickadees.  I need to learn more bird calls…

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A few times we sat down on the benches and just listened quietly.  Although it looks gray, the sky cleared up and turned beautifully blue.

Just enjoying Illinois!