Sunday, May 18, 2014

Expanding the Balcony Garden and Visiting More Forest Preserves

We had lows in the 30's most nights this week, so the greenhouse cover has had to stay on, but it looks like it can come off sometime this week.  In the meantime, I had to make some modifications to the feeder, as it was at the same height as the balcony top rail and birds apparently couldn't see it.  I bought a metal plant stand, ziptied to the feeder base to the stand and put a planter onto the base by cutting a hole in the bottom of the planter, then slipping it down the feeder pole.  I filled it with soil and sowed Forget-Me-Nots for a nice punch of color.  I also bought some Korean Hot Pepper seedlings at the local Korean market, sowed some lettuce and spinach and planted the orange tree seedlings I sprouted from seeds; the orange came from my in-law's tree in Yuma.  This weekend I found four planters, bought four strawberry plants and two bags of potting soil, paying $1 for each item, so for $10 I was able to plant two pots of strawberries and sow one of the others with Takanotsume Pepper seeds I brought from my home in Arizona.  The other one needs a little more soil, which I'll pick up tomorrow on the way home from work, then I'll sow sage in it.  To add a punch of color, I bought a pot full of petunias, which are one of my favorite flowers.  The lemon grass I've been rooting also got potted and put on the balcony.

Petunias, rose, bird feeder.

Korean Hot Peppers

Orange seedlings

Strawberries and a planter of Takanotsume (I hope)

Lemon Grass

I spent this weekend enjoying the first decent weather in some time and spent some time visiting two more of the DuPage County Forest Preserves, Danada and McDowell Grove.  Saturday was spent at Danada and it was well worth the trip.  Not only did I add some birds to my life list, I found a Great Blue Heron rookery and spent at least half an hour observing the herons coming and going, with the parents taking turns hunting and sitting on the nest or feeding the chicks.  The additions to my life list from Danada were a Bobolink, a Spotted Sandpiper, a Gray Catbird, a Bank Swallow, a Chipping Sparrow and an Indigo Bunting.

Great Blue Heron rookery

A close up of a few heron nests.

A heron getting ready to feed its chick.

Mixed among the herons was a nesting Double-crested Cormorant.

Dolichonyx oryzivorus, Bobolink, breeding male

Actitis macularius, Spotted Sandpiper

Dumetella carolinensis, Gray Catbird

Riparia riparia, Bank Swallow

Spizella passerina, Chipping Sparrow

Passerina cyanea, Indigo Bunting

Danada also has an equestrian center and the horses were out to pasture, so I had to take a picture of the bucolic setting.

There was plenty of flora to be seen at Danada, including wildflowers and fungi.

Mayapple blossom.


Wild grapes getting ready to bloom

Dodecatheon meadia, Shooting Star

Polemonium reptans, Jacob's Ladder

Prunus serotina, Wild Black Cherry

Smilacina racemosa, False Solomon's Seal

McDowell Grove Forest Preserve wasn't quite as productive in terms of additions to my life list, but there were a few notable ones.

Hirundo rustica, Barn Swallow, pair

And here's their nest underneath a freeway bridge.

Piranga olivacea, Scarlet Tanager, male

Piranga olivacea, Scarlet Tanager, female

I also saw numerous Nighthawks, but they fly so fast and so high, I couldn't get a good photo.

Friday, May 9, 2014

First Weekend in May

There still isn't much happening on the gardening scene, but Spring wildflowers are in full bloom, the birds are returning and critters are starting to take advantage of sunny spots to warm up their winter weary bodies.  I spent Saturday the 3rd at Hidden Lake and Herrick Lake Forest Preserves checking out the wildlife and the wildflowers, then went to Greene Valley Forest Preserve on Sunday.  With over 50 Forest Preserves in DuPage County, I've just barely scratched the surface and fully itend to visit all of them before the year is over.

Let's start with the critters, then move on to the birds, followed by the flowers.  Here's the first amphibian that was willing to sit still long enough for me to get a photo, an American Toad.  I've seen its cousins in Arizona plenty of time, but they get quite a bit larger than this guy.

Anaxyrus (Bufo) americanus ssp americanus, American Toad

Coyotes, while evoking pictures of the American West, are now found from coast to coast.

Canus latrans, Coyote

Another common critter in the area is the Eastern Chipmunk and I saw several over the course of the weekend.

Tamias striatus, Eastrern Chipmunk

I was surprised that it was warm enough for the Chicago Garter Snakes to be out and about, but I saw two in a semi-swampy meadow within 30 feet of each other.  This is a new species for me.

Thamnophis sirtalis semifaciatus, Chicago Garter Snake

Six-spotted Tiger Beetles were rather numerous on the paths where the ground warmed up much faster than the surrounding forest.

Cicindela sexguttata, Six-spotted Tiger Beetle

This guy wouldn't let me get very close, so I had to use the telephoto mode on my camera to be this shot; if you know what it is, please let me know.

A butterfly I wasn't able to identify

I saw this little guy floating on a strand of silk and interupted his journey to get this photo.

Inch worm

This was one of several tent caterpillar colonies I saw over the weekend.

Tent caterpillar colony

I saw a number of millipedes on the path at Hidden Lake.


Thius little scarab (1/4") was in the leaf litter on the forest floor next to a pond where I was trying to get a photo of Spring Peepers.  I didn't get the photo, but I at least saw a few as they jumped into the pond.

A scarab, unsure of species

I saw this interesting litlle fly on one of the dandelions that were everywhere and thought it would make for a more interesting photo than just the flower by itself.

Fly on a dandelion

After seeing lots, and I mean lots, of male Red-winged Blackbirds over the past month, I finally saw females this past weekend.

Agelaius phoeniceus, Red-winged Blackbird, female

While I didn't see them together, I did see both a female and a male cardinal.

Cardinalis cardinalis, American Cardinal, female

Cardinalis cardinalis, American Cardinal, male

This Veery was a new species for me and it landed on the path about 5 feet in front of me.

Catharus fuscescens, Veery

This blue jay was the only one that sat still long enough for a photo, which is a recurring issue with the birds aroud here.  It was sitting in a tree 40 feet above me an was oblivious to my presence.

Cyanocitta cristata, Blue Jay

This Rose-breasted Grosbeak was another new bird for me and was one of several I saw.

Pheucticus ludovicianus, Rose-breated Grosbeak

I finally managed to get a photo of a Downy Woodpecker, as they tend to hop about a lot, flitting from tree to tree.

Picoides pubescens, Downy Woodpecker

Another new bird for me, I was lucky enough to have one land on the path ahead of me while I already had the camera set up.

Setophaga palmarum, Palm Warbler

Yet another new bird for me, the American Goldfinch is quite a bit larger than the Lesser Goldfinches that I used to see outside my window every day back at Dove Manor.

Spinus tristis, American Goldfinch

It took me three trips before I finally was able to get a pictue of a Tree Swallow at rest, and it was worth it as their coloring is spectacular.

Tachycineta bicolor, Tree Swallow

The first time I saw these, I thought they were Bluebird houses, but once I saw a Tree Swallow fly into one, I realized my error.

Tree Swallow Nesting Box
The last of the new species for me, this guy took me on quite a ride before I finally got this photo.

Mniotilta varia, Black-and-white Warbler

Wildflowers are really coming into their own and I wasn't disappointed by the variety of species that were in bloom.  Even though I'd never seen one in the wild, I immediately knew what this was, some of the others took me longer to identify.

Arisaema triphyllum, Jack-in-the-Pulpit

Barbarea vulgaris arcuata, Yellow Rocket

Claytonia virginica, Spring Beauty

Dentaria laciniata, Cutleaf Toothwort

Epimedium species

Fragaria virginiana, Wild Strawberry

Isopyrum biternatum, False Rue Anemone

Malus species, Crabapple

Ranunculus repens, Creeping Buttercup

Trillium recurvatum recurvatum, Prairie Trillium

Vinca minor, Lesser Periwinkle

Viola pubescens, Downy Yellow Violet

viola species

moss flower buds