Sunday, April 13, 2014

Tramping Through The Woods

The weather yesterday was forecast to be perfect for spending time in the great outdoors, so in preparation, I went on-line to research recreation areas around Lisle and found that DuPage County has 60 Forest Preserves encompassing 25,000 acres, with 145 miles of trails.  One of the closet ones to me is Herrick Lake, with 896 acres of land that includes four different habitats, Lake/Pond/Waterway, Prairie or Grassland, Wetland and Woodland and 7 miles of trails, so Saturday morning I headed out.  After a short 15 minute drive I pulled into the parking lot, grabbed my camera and binoculars and headed off on a paved trail that quickly gave way to a gravel path.  The path was 6' - 8' wide in order to accommodate hikers, runners, bikers and horseback riders; I didn't see anyone on horseback, but there were families on bikes, runners of all ages, even a youth group picking up litter.  The air was filled with the calls of Spring Peepers, a scene that was repeated at almost every bog or swamp within the Preserve.  At Herrick Swamp, their calls were so loud, there must have been hundreds of them, but they were so deep in the tules that I never saw a single one.  It was hard to believe a frog that only gets 1.5" long could be responsible for the cacophony of sound emanating from the swamp.

This is a recording of the call of Pseudacris crucifer, Spring Peeper

The system of trails is well marked, with a map at each point where they intersect showing the trail name, length and direction.  I went off trail a few times on unmarked side trails, some of which were easy to traverse and some a little more difficult, though none of them overly strenuous.  By getting off the beaten path, I saw some flora and fauna I would have missed from the main trail.  Unfortunately, about half an hour after I arrived it turned cloudy and the lighting for photos, other than closeups, poor at best.  I saw vultures, a Blue Jay and several Cardinals, but the quality of the photos was such that they were unusable.  I did manage to get photos of several different types of mushrooms, but I have been unable to identify them.  I also got a photo of a Pied-billed Grebe, a Song Sparrow and a Red-eared Slider.

Podilymbus podiceps, Pied-billed Grebe

Melospiza melodia, Song Sparrow

Trachemys scripta elegans, Red-eared Slider


Trillium cuneatum, Toadshade

A boggy area that attracted several Spring Peepers

A hollowed out tree

Twisted vine climbing a tree trunk.

This morning I went out for a walk around one of the lakes on the property and found an Eastern Spiny Softshell turtle taking advantage of the sunshine before the rainclouds moved in, it's shell was about 20" long and it was one of the largest softshell turtles I've ever seen and my first Eastern Spiny Softshell.

Apalone spinifera, Eastern Spiny Softshell

Monday, April 7, 2014

A Walk Around The Neighborhood and Even More Stapeliads

The apartment building I'm living in here in Lisle is located in a three hundred acre development the includes four lakes and enough undeveloped space that it attracts quite a bit of wildlife.  Since the weather was fairly nice Sunday afternoon, I grabbed the camera and headed out to explore my surroundings.  There were lots of birds, some of which refused to pose for a photo, while others were more obliging.  Among those that were camera shy was a Downy Woodpecker, Picoides pubescens, who despite my bet efforts kept going around the tree whenever I tried to move into position for a photo.  I also saw a couple of chipmunks, but again, no photos.  Squirrels and robins were plentiful, as were mallards and Canada Geese.  I did manage to get photos of Common Grackles, a Red-winged Blackbird, a Double-crested Cormorant, a pair of Mallards, a Mourning Dove and a Great Blue Heron, but the grackles were the only birds that were new to me, as they are not found in Arizona.  

Common Grackle, Quiscalus quiscula

Double-crested Cormorant

Great Blue Heron

A pair of Mallards

Mourning Dove

Red-winged Blackbird

Fauna wasn't the only thing that caught my attention, there was also a bit of flora, even though it hasn't been very warm here yet.  The first crocuses were in bloom, the crab apple trees are still full of last year's fruit and I found a tree with several Artist's Conk mushrooms on it. Some of the trees are starting to show signs of budding and it shouldn't be too long before the landscape is full of the greens of Spring.

The first crocus of Spring

Last year's crab apples still fill the trees.

Artist's Conk mushrooms, Ganoderma applanatum; they may eventually kill this tree.

Leaf buds about to open.

Old habits die hard and I've started to root some celery ends and some lemon grass (I finally found Korean Market nearby).  The seeds I sowed haven't sprouted yet, but the forecast is for highs in the 50's and 60's later this week, so maybe they'll come up soon.

One of the celery is 2 weeks old, the other about 2 days.

I've added another thirteen stapeliads to my collection, and as usual, the plants from Miles2Go are really nice looking and well sized.  I wish I'd noticed the slip of paper in my mailbox sooner, as the box sat in the management office holding area for three days.  When I got into the apartment, I opened the package like a kid at Christmas, even though I knew what was in the box.  I bought Baynesia lophophora, Caralluma foetida, Caralluma schweinfurthii, Duvalia angustiloba, Duvalia sulcata ssp. seminuda, Echidnopsis cereiformis, Huernia macrocarpa ssp. concinna, Huernia keniensis, Huernia oculata, Orbea chrysostephana, Orbea wissmannii, Rhtidocaulon macrolobum ssp macrolobum and Stapelianthus madagascariensis.

Baynesia lophophora from Namibia

Caralluma foetida from Uganda

Caralluma schweinfurthii from Zimbabwe

Duvalia angustiloba from Karoo National Park, South Africa

Duvalia sulcata ssp. seminuda from Saudi Arabia

Echidnopsis cereiformis from Eritrea

Huernia macrocarpa ssp. concinna from Somalia

Huernia keniensis from Lake Naivasha, Kenya

Huernia oculata from Africa

Orbea chrysostephana 

Orbea wissmannii ssp eremastrum

Rhtidocaulon macrolobum ssp macrolobum from Saudi Arabia

Stapelianthus madagascariensis from Madagascar

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Spring Fever

The snow and ice have melted, temperatures are slowly climbing into the 40's and the days are getting longer, so I'm getting a case of Spring Fever.  Actually, this will be my second Spring this year, as it came early to Dove Manor and it's slowly coming to Four Lakes, here in Lisle.  This past weekend I did some shopping, as I needed to replace the folding bookcase the stapeliads were on, since the top shelf broke in half lengthwise.  I decided to relocate the plants in front of the window in the bedroom, so I needed something that was at least 18" tall and 5' wide, yet didn't cost an arm and a leg.  I did some research on-line and decided that IKEA had the best options at the lowest prices.  After going there and debating whether to buy two TV stands for $15 each or three end tables for $8 each, I went with the TV stands, thinking the end tables were too big at 20.5" x 20.5" a piece.  When I got home and assembled them, then loaded the plants on them and realized I should have gone with the end tables, as there's no room for any more plants on the two TV stands.  I'll buy three of the end tables this weekend and move the TV stands to where the bookcase used to be, giving me an excuse to buy more plants.

Fully loaded; I had to put a few on the windowsill.

While at IKEA I also bought a couple of succulents, since they were reasonably priced at $3 each and IKEA seemed to be the only place I could find any that interested me.  I bought an Aloe aristata, which I already have in the wheelbarrow planter back at Dove Manor, and a Euphorbia lactea compacta, which is a new one for me, and they joined the gang in front of the window.  Stapelia kwebensis, which started blooming shortly after I arrived in Lisle, has continued to do so and this morning there were three flowers greeting me.

Euphorbia lactea compacta

Stapelia kwebensis

I went to Big Lots on Saturday and bought a four shelf mini greenhouse for $30 to put on the balcony, as it was a much cheaper option than my original plan, which was to use a baker's rack.  The greenhouse has the added advantage of having a clear plastic cover with a zippered front flap, giving easy access, yet allowing the soil to warm up faster when the flap is closed.  I also bought a Marchesa Bocella bare root rose for $4 and a pot to put it in but didn't buy any planters for the greenhouse, as the ones at Big Lots were $6.50 each.  
I went home, got on-line and shopped the dollar stores and big box garden centers looking for the cheapest planter option for the greenhouse and found rectangular planters for just $1 each at Dollar Tree.  They also had seed packets 4/$1 and I bought a dozen since I had left all my seeds back in Arizona.  I also bought a dozen of the planters, then went to Home Depot to buy some planting medium.  I got two 1 cubic foot bags of mushroom compost, which is a new medium to me, as I'd never seen it for sale in AZ.  It turns out two bags weren't enough, so I need to buy two or three more to finish filling the planters I bought.  I also need to go buy 4 more planters, as they fit perfectly four across on each shelf.

I sowed seeds in the six planters I was able to fill, sowing petunias, marigolds and radishes, and still need to sow carrots, parsley, green onions, Swiss chard, lettuce and spinach.

Mini greenhouse, with room for one on the other side of the balcony.

Marchesa Bocella rose

Really hope it looks like this.

The flowers I sowed


Veggies yet to be sown

Salad in the making

Even though I don't have a plot of land to till, it won't keep me from gardening, not even seven stories off the ground.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Birding in the Neighborhood

Took some time this past weekend to venture out with the camera and do a little birding, since it's still too cold to think about a garden.  The cold didn't deter the birds, as I saw a number of robins, the harbinger of Spring and even though the robins are here, spring-like weather is not.  Canada geese are abundant throughout the property, which is over 300 acres with lots of open space.  Saturday there were flocks of Cedar Waxwings flitting about eating crab apples, a couple of chickadees and a woodpecker that I wasn't able to identify.  A few fat squirrels were running around, looking for the cache of food they had stored in the fall.  Sunday there was a huge flock of gulls circling one of the lakes on the property, so I took a short hike and found that they were attracted to dead fish that were being exposed in the melting ice.  The gulls were squabbling over the fish, creating quite a racket and then suddenly something would startle them and they would all take to the sky, wheeling about until they were certain whatever danger there was had passed and they would settle back on the ice again.  

American Robin, Turdus migratorius

Canada Geese, Branta canadensis

Cedar Waxwing, Bombycilla cedrorum

Eastern Fox Squirrel - Sciurus niger

Larus argentatus, Herring Gull, Adult and Juvenile, 3-23-14

Herring Gull, Larus argentatus

Ring-billed Gull, Larus delawarensis