The weather is cool again this week, going down into the 40s tonight.  The garden is very green, with the trees leafing out and the grass vibrant green.

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Lilac bushes on a sunny day.  The smaller common lilac in the front grew so quickly that the branches have been bent over after the heavy rains recently, since they have such heavy flower heads.  I need to prune off the flowers in a few weeks.

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Crabapple – malus profusion.  The crabapple was late in blooming, then once the blossoms were open the weather was hot, followed by strong storms, so the blossoms only lasted a few days.  I hope we have a good batch of crabapples for the birds later.

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Blossoms of the Duke blueberry bush.

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The two fothergilla bushes are blooming now with their funky flowers.  The green leaves, which are starting to emerge, are beautiful, too.

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I don’t pay much attention to hostas, but they caught my eye this week with their fresh green leaves.  The slugs usually enjoy nibbling on them, so they don’t stay good looking that long in my garden.  They are good ground covers, though, in the shade.

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Male goldfinch sipping water at the birdbath.  I finally left my camera by the kitchen window to try to capture a goldfinch before it flew away.  These birds are so quick.  The little brown bird is typical in that I can’t really tell all the little brown birds apart.  I assume it is some kind of female sparrow, though it looks different from the female house sparrow in the bird book.  It looks sort of like the female indigo bunting in the bird book, but it could be some kind of baby or immature bird, too.  Can anyone identify this brown bird?

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Male house finch at the birdbath.  These birds love to chew on the sedum seen in the background of this picture.

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This female northern cardinal took a nice bath and then flew up to the oak tree to fluff her feathers.  Then she flew back down to the bath and splashed around again!

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Handsome male northern cardinal hunts in the grass.  There are a lot of birds poking around in the grass these days.  Dan let the grass grow long before mowing it the first time and now it is growing quickly again with all the rain.  Such a pretty bird!

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Ducks in a Row

March 9, 2014

I took an afternoon walk down by the Village of Worth canal area.  Here’s what I saw…

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The ducks are in a row at the edge of the canal.  Or this could be called “duck dating.”  Once the water warms up there will be a little waterfall here.   In the foreground a swan is sleeping and in the left corner a gull is checking out the ducks.

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The swans sipping some water.  Several swan pairs live in the area.

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After sipping the water the swans settled down for another snooze.

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The gulls were lined up, too, facing the wind.  I love seeing the gulls gliding through the blue sky on these cold winter days.  According to my bird book these seem to be ring-billed gulls.  My bird book also says they commute into the city of Chicago every day during early morning hours.  Is this true of these birds that already enjoy the canal waterfront here?

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I was taking this walk by the water reclamation plant.  Once the weather warms up this will become a little lake.  Water from the water reclamation facility will pass through the lake on its way to the canal.  A lot of people come here to feed bread to the ducks, geese, and gulls.  There are no signs discouraging this, as there are at Lake Katherine.

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I took a walk along the canal and was grateful that there was no ice on the sidewalk.  I was hoping to find birds here, but it was very quite in the middle of the afternoon.  Just tall bare trees and a big sky.

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Back in our yard a female cardinal worked on a crabapple.

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Tonight will be the first night in a long time that the temperatures will be above freezing.  I decided I finally had to dig in and try to lift the plastic on the low hoop.  The kale leaves inside all looked very yellow.  It look me about 10 minutes to loosen the ice enough to lift some of the plastic and open a crack for air.  Tomorrow the temperature is predicted to be 54 degrees Fahrenheit, so I would like to get a little more of the plastic rolled back if possible.

Amateur Birdwatching

February 23, 2014

When the weather keeps me out of the garden, but I really need to get outside, it’s time to combine some amateur birdwatching and amateur photography.  It was a cold but sunny morning and I headed out to see what birds lived in our neighborhood.

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In a stand of old trees at the end of the block I saw this male red-bellied woodpecker.  I heard his bird call first and then spotted him on some dead wood.

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In this shot of the red-bellied woodpecker you can see the long beak for pecking on the wood, his red forehead, and his zebra back.  I love the very blue sky!

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I was taking pictures of another red-bellied woodpecker down the block and realized when I got in the house that I had taken a picture of a female bird, with a gray forehead.

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This is the only shot I was able to get of a downy woodpecker.  The red patch means that it is a male.  Yesterday I had a great shot of a downy woodpecker all focused and the battery on my camera died, so I had to venture out today and see what I could see.

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I snapped a shot of this mourning dove all fluffed up to withstand the cold winds. It seems to be enjoying the sunny day.

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This was as close as I got to getting a shot of the male cardinal, though I could hear the bird song.

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The sparrows really love my bluebird house.  I have only had one pair of bluebirds in the yard and they were unsuccessful in raising their little birdies during a very hot summer.  I keep having to push the sparrows out each spring, to see if I can get bluebirds to come back.

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I see the sparrows peeking out of the birdhouse every day now, especially when it is cold, windy, and snowy.

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The berries are hanging on the Chicago lustre arrowwood viburnum shrub.  I wonder when they will be tasty enough to attract the attention of cedar waxwings or some other birds.

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At the bottom of the viburnum I spotted this junco, I think.  The picture is not clear, since I was zooming in from the kitchen window, but the bird seems to have found a cozy place to sit in the sun.  Maybe the junco tried the berries or maybe they are too frozen yet.

Other birds seen in the neighborhood:  A big hawk flying high in the sky, a robin, and other small common birds.  I read an article yesterday that there is a bald eagle pair who have been nesting in the forest preserve a few miles from us the past two summers.

The weather was bitterly cold this week and now this weekend it looks like we have had about 6 inches of snow.  This is quite a change from last December, when the weather was so mild.  To compare this year with last year look in the archives for last year’s pictures.

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Female northern cardinal that has just eaten a crabapple.  We are so glad to have this tree, malus ‘profusion’ crabapple, right outside our kitchen window.

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Male northern cardinal on a snowy day.  It is always fun to see these red bird flying through on a drab winter day.

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Dan took this picture of some kind of sparrow, I think.  I am not very good at identifying these small birds.

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Many leaves remain on the viburnum bushes.  That gives a hiding place for the small birds.  I have seen them poking out of the bird house at times, too.  The grasses and echinacea of the meadow stand out in the snow.  The tall grass behind the bird house is a giant sacaton, with very tall seed heads, and the miscanthus is bent over with snow.

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German thyme in the snow, not far from the kitchen door, if needed.

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After about 6 inches of snow here is what the low hoop looks like.  Earlier in the week the temperature got down to -3 F.  I wondered what was happening inside.

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Inside the hoop things did not look great.  The healthiest plants are the winterbor kale, though they look a little yellow.  I harvested a bucket of it.  The tatsoi are fine, but I don’t seem to use them much in recipes.  The lettuce was mostly mushy.  I think the onions and turnips are fine and there are a few pak choi that could be harvested.  There is still edible kale outside the hoop, as it is incredibly hardy, but just a few collard leaves are still usable.

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This is a cyclamen plant we got as a house-warming gift eight years ago.  It spends the summers outside, but its bright flowers warm up the house each winter as it sits in our greenhouse kitchen window.

Seasonal adventure:  This morning we went to a Swedish Christmas Breakfast and Lucia Pageant at Hope Covenant Church.  It was great to enjoy traditional Swedish food, reminding us of our heritage.

Plant Resurrections

April 7, 2013

Following last week’s Easter theme, it is fun to see green mounds and shoots pressing up out of the cold ground.  I have been planting more bulbs each year so that my garden is starting to look cheerier in the spring as I wait for the garden to green up.  If there is something blooming then I am not as impatient for the coming of the lush green of spring.

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I love these dwarf daffodils!  Other daffodils are coming up and will be blooming soon, but these early ones are the most welcome.

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I have two patches of these dwarf daffodils naturalizing by the back fence.  Later the goldenrod and viburnum will hide them as their leaves fade.

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All the way across the yard I see the bright yellow daffodil blooms from the kitchen window.  I put water in the bird bath and took this picture this morning as a cardinal came for a drink.  The robins and sparrows actually line up on the railroad tie and in the oak tree for their turn in the bath.

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With such a long winter the crocuses have been lasting a lot longer.  I love the detailed design in this purple crocus.

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Another group of cheery crocuses dressed in their choir robes and singing joyfully!

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Rhubarb shoots.  A very small start, but soon to come are the giant leaves and then maybe some strawberry rhubarb treats.

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While in Wal-Mart I noticed a nine-pack of romaine plants.  I know it is early, but I put three in a container that I can bring inside if it freezes and put six in the ground.  I can always cover them on cold nights.  I am planning to grow a lot more lettuce this year, so I need to get started!

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Back inside I grow a few house plants.  I almost killed this one, but then I must have done something right as it seems very happy now.  I love all the hair on the leaves and the pink stems and undersides of the leaves.

Cooking news:  Dan is back to cooking a lot of greens.  Some of the most nutrient dense greens are kale, collard greens, mustard greens, swiss chard, bok choy and watercress.  We bought a bunch of organic greens this week and Dan keeps trying new recipes to find out how to cook all of these in tasty ways.

For the Birds

December 2, 2012

At Lake Katherine there were plenty of birds today including geese, ducks, woodpeckers, cardinals, robins and of course swans.

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Sleeping swan family at Lake Katherine.  It was a beautiful warm day.

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I saw a number of cardinals today.  Can you see the two on this tree?  When I zoomed in with my little camera the birds were larger in other pictures I took, but they looked out of focus or fuzzy, so I chose this one without the zoom.

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Back in our yard… Yesterday I was in the backyard with my camera when a hawk landed on this tall pole in our easement.  I think it’s a red-tailed hawk.  It flew away into a neighbor’s yard hunting for something tasty.

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Foxglove is a biennial plant, so the larger plant on the left will die over the winter.  However they always drop a lot of seeds and you can see the babies on the right.  These will come back next year and bloom.  If I am organized maybe I can move a few of them in the spring. I just bought one plant many years ago, but I have had foxgloves in my garden each year.

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I bought “sedum carpet” from Spring Hill in the mail.  It is six different ground covers that are supposed to mix together and be multicolored.  I planted them in my new bed and five survived, though the one on the left looks the strongest.  The dragon’s blood sedum, not on this picture, did fine as well.  To be fair, the three that don’t look so well on the right were under foliage of other plants much of the summer and did not get much sun.  I will see if they survive through the winter and come back next year.

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I found this strawberry in my strawberry patch on December 1st and it was sweet and yummy, despite the frosts of the last weeks.  It was well hidden.

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Old plow near Harvest Garden at Lake Katherine.  Behind is prairie that is being restored.

Activist Thought 1:  I have been watching “The Dust Bowl,” a documentary by Ken Burns that has been on PBS. It struck me that ordinary people caused this destruction of the environment, by the big plow up, just hoping to get ahead and make a prosperous home for their families.  In our generation, too, people don’t mean to hurt the environment, but especially in our consumer society in the west, which we have exported around the world, we are hurting the environment in ways that will come back to hurt us.

Activist Thought 2: I sometime send contributions to causes that plant trees or help poor communities improve their environment.  At the same time, through my IRA and 401K I am investing in companies that hurt the environment.  That doesn’t make sense.  Is it time to divest and find green mutual funds?

Autumn Explorations

November 18, 2012

I have always been curious, whether I’m looking at a plant or bug or exploring a new place.

Taking a walk is a great way to let my thoughts wander around my head.  I think about the past and the future, meditate, and observe anything that catches my attention.

My hour long walk took me down by the I&M canal this afternoon.  Straying off the path I found this riverbed that feeds into the canal.  I saw a very red cardinal that hid behind one of the trees.

We have had a lot of frosty mornings recently.  There is something peaceful about it.  It means the garden work is almost done.

I don’t know much about shallots, but I planted some in the spring and noticed that they were green now.

Here is what it looked like when I pulled one up.  I asked Dan to cook it up in something…  I think if I leave them in the ground they will multiply for next year.

We threw a broccoli stalk in the compost pile and in October I noticed that is was growing leaves, so I put it in the ground and it seems to have started growing a little broccoli head, though maybe it has stopped growing with the frost.

On frosty mornings there is no frost on the compost pile.  If you dig into the pile steam rises and the pile is quite hot.  The hot spot looks like ashes that have burned.

One hot day this summer I was at the arboretum at lunch and saw a man checking on the bird houses there.  I struck up a conversation with him and he told me that the Gilbertson PVC Nesthouses are the best for bluebirds, as they discourage sparrow usage.  I went to the website today, but it looks like the company took a winter break so I will have to order one next spring.

Winter Wonderland

January 22, 2012

Sometimes winter is hard to take.  Like the two hours and forty five minutes it took me to drive home from work on Friday, instead of just forty five minutes.  But then I went for a long walk around Lake Katherine in the snow today and it was so beautiful, quiet and peaceful.  There is almost nothing to be done in the garden now except shovel, put food scraps in the compost pile, and plan for spring.

Here I shot a quick picture of a male and female cardinal checking out the little red crab apples before they flew away.

I bought this teacup and succulent plant at a garage sale I visit each year.

I have been thinking about garden planning and hope to do more once I finish my  taxes and FAFSAS for both kids…

Morning Exercise

February 13, 2011

The temperature is supposed to reach 42 degrees today.  With so much snow on the ground it will take a while for it to melt.  I decided to take a walk around Lake Katherine this morning.

I love this little stream that bubbles along all winter and flows into the lake.

A little history and art surrounded by tall grasses.

I walked around the lake twice, starting at 8:15 am, and did not meet a soul until 9:15 as I headed for the parking lot.  I did see a lot of birds, though!  I was trying to capture the robins in the sumac, but could not get a good picture.  The robins seemed to be eating the sumac flowers.  I guess there are not many worms to eat now.

I counted 17 robins and there may have been 20-30 of them.  Then I started to see cardinals and even a woodpecker pecking away.

The ducks and geese were in residence, as usual.

People have been walking on the lake this past month during the cold weather.  Today I noticed a sign which says:  “Dangerous ice – stay off.”