Author Archives: Stephi

A Hidden Sanctuary in Central Park: Hassett Nature Sanctuary

We had some time to pass in NYC a few weeks ago and decided to go to Central Park.

Rather than wandering aimlessly, which is easy to do, we checked out a guide for interesting things to do.  Up popped the 4 acre Hasset Nature Sanctuary in the southeast corner of Central Park. Perfect!

We didn’t even know this place existed and for good reason. It was just this past April that it opened to the public for the first time since 1934. Back in 1934, it was closed to the public and designated a protected bird sanctuary. The sanctuary was left untouched until 2001, when the Central Park Conservancy took up its restoration and maintenance. Invasive species were removed and native plants reintroduced making this little forested haven once again a healthy and diverse ecosystem.

You enter the sanctuary through this beautiful wooden gate just south of Wollman Rink (Sixth Avenue and Central Park South is the closest Park entrance). From there you enter onto meandering woodchip covered trails and you’d never know you were in the city if it weren’t for the skyscrapers peaking out.

It was early spring when we visited, so the Sanctuary was full of colorful spring flowers and shrubs. As a bonus, most specimens are labeled making identification easy. Here’s just some of what we saw.

Swamp Azalea (Rhododendron viscosum)

Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum)

Purple Trillium (Trillium erectum) and Yellow Trillium (Trillium luteum)

Yellow/Orange Azalea

In addition to wonderful plant life there’s plenty of birds to see.  Some common, like these kissing cardinals.

Others like this White Egret and Catbird, are less common in an urban setting.

I also saw an Eastern Towhee (the drink-your-teeeaa bird) and White-Throated Sparrow. Not bad for no binoculars.

If you want more information, you can take a guided tour of the Hallett Sanctuary and lots of other parts of Central Park.  Hallett Nature Sanctuary is closest to Central Park South and Sixth Avenue (find directions here) and is open daily from 10:00 am until 30 minutes before sunset. It’s informally restricted as to how many visitors can enter at one time and no dogs, bicycles, or strollers are allowed. While we were visiting, park naturalists were observing the flora and fauna and recording their observations. Hopefully the addition of people don’t spoil the environment.

What else did we do on this trip to NYC?

We visited the Freedom Tower and went up to the One World Trade Center Observation Deck.

No lines that day!

Truly amazing 360° view!

We also went to the quirky New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn. Fun and interesting for all ages!

And we went to the Brooklyn Museum to see The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago which celebrates 39 important woman from history at the table, and 999 more women who have their names inscribed in gold on the white tile floor below table.

Of course I had to find the names of the Grimke sisters, who’s fascinating story was told in the novel, The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. Really enjoyed the book and made for a great book club discussion.

What’s your favorite place to visit in Central Park?

PS Need to share photo credits on this post with my husband Steve!

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Hoping for Bats: Installing a Bat House

I have a love/hate relationship with bats. I find them a bit creepy because they carry rabies and who isn’t scared by these nocturnal flying mammals, but I also know they are vital in keeping night flying insects like mosquitoes in check.

By Marvin Moriarty/USFWS – This image originates from the National Digital Library of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8126465

 

For now, I’ll take my chances with the rabies and opt for helping our local WI bats survive by putting up a bat house. Bats are under attack from loss of habitat and the fungus causing white-nosed syndrome. In nesting areas that white-nosed syndrome has spread, 30-100% of bats have been wiped out. This has been, and still is, catastrophic to the species.

 

 

 

 

One way to help the species is to conserve existing bat habitats and provide new ones.

Bat House in Peninsula State Park, WI

When I was out at my local Wild Bird Unlimited store I happened upon bat houses for sale. How could I pass it up for our cabin in Door County, WI?

Since we are in a northern climate, it helps to paint the house black to retain heat. Using black spray paint, Steve made quick work of painting the house black.

It was so beautifully made (in the USA btw), we had to leave some if it unpainted.

Now came time to install.  Ideally the house is placed in a southern facing direction on a tall pole with no obstructions underneath or directly in front of it and at least 15 feet up. Originally I thought the best location for the house was on a utility pole along the driveway, but I realized that really wasn’t a great idea. If we ever needed a service call during nesting season, I don’t think I’ll find a repairman who’ll go up that pole! Installing a freestanding pole, tall and strong enough, is also not in our DIY repertoire.

So, while not ideal, we settled on a tree that was in a pretty open area and faced south. This became a family event with my husband and boys all pitching in to get this installed.

The house comes with a screw eye for easy hanging.  We bought a large hook, screwed it into the tree and hung the house.  To keep it from swinging, we also added a couple of screws at the bottom to secure it to the tree.

Now we’ll wait for the bats to find it. Generally takes a little longer for them to find it in a tree, but I’ve seen them in the area at dusk so I’m hopeful.

Do you have a bat habitat near you, or have a bat house? If you do, have you noticed a decline?

Any good bat stories? I’ll always remember the bat in my college attic apartment!

Since we didn’t hang the bat house on the utility pole, it became the perfect place for hanging a beautiful bluebird house handmade by my mom, Peggy.

Bat Resources:

 

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Audubon Bat Shelter Model NABAT


New From: $30.03 USD In Stock

Purple Sensation Allium

Last year, a fellow blogger (Jason at gardeninacity) wrote a post about his beautiful spring alliums. I have to admit, I was jealous of those amazing flowers in his garden. I’ve grown edible chives (Allium schoenoprasum) for years, but they are nothing compared to these other garden alliums.

Alliums like Purple Sensation, with its the 4-5″ diameter purple globes rising on sturdy 24″ to 30″ high stems, would certainly add drama to any garden! For some reason I thought they’d be hard to grow, but it couldn’t have been easier.

With prefect timing, Groupon had a special last fall on Purple Sensation Alliums that seemed like a really good deal. Groupon is not normally my go to place for gardening plants, but I thought buying bulbs from them was pretty safe.

I planted them around the yard last fall using my lightly used, but handy bulb planter.  I am not a fan of bulb planting, but this step planter really made it easy. Allium bulbs can only be planted in the fall and at a depth of about 6″.  As a bonus, they are rabbit and deer resistant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This spring some new, very large plants started sprouting around my yard. I had forgotten exactly where they were planted, so it was such a surprise when they began coming up.

Then these beautiful huge purple puffballs started to emerge.

All around the yard these purple globes emerged.

I hope they spread because they are just too fun to have in my yard. And because they are deer resistant, I’m going to add them to my cabin garden as well!

Allium bulbs aren’t always easy to find in your local garden center.  If you can’t find them, they can be found online in the fall at places like Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, White Flower Farm, Bluestone Perennials, and apparently Groupon.

 

 

Who Knew? Porcupines Climb Trees!

Porcupines are truly odd creatures, and one definitely best watched from afar.  Recently at dusk at our place in Wisconsin, one came to visit that provided an evening of entertainment!

When he realized we were watching, he headed off towards the woods.

They are not the speediest of animals, but in his own lumbering way he was hurrying.

First he tried to become invisible behind a tree. When we got a little closer he began to climb the tree.

I never really thought about where they lived, but I guess I assumed they lived on the ground.  Maybe a burrowing animal?

But, they are actually quite adept at climbing trees. They have long claws and hairless palms and soles to help them climb. Their strong gripping ability also allows porcupines to stay in trees looking a bit like a koala or sloth, using their forelimbs to reach for tender shoots.

He just kept going…

I don’t know how he didn’t fall!

Interesting porcupine facts:

  • The North American porcupine is a New World Porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum).
  • Porcupines are the second largest rodent in North America.  The largest is the beaver.
  • Porcupines don’t shoot their barbed quills, but the 30,000 quills are very loosely attached making them come off easily into the skin of an attacker.
  • Porcupine habitat varies geographically The live in open tundra, deciduous forest, and desert chaparral. Depending on their specific environment, they can vary from spending most of their time on the ground, to areas where they are found mostly in trees.
  • Porcupines are general herbivores. Their diet varies throughout the year depending on their needs and what is considered edible. They’ve also been known to kill a tree by feeding too heavily on a single tree in winter.
  • Porcupines have an antibiotic in its skin protecting itself from infection when it falls out of a tree and gets stuck with its own quills.  Apparently this is a frequent occurrence, since they often go too far out on a limb trying to get those tender spring buds.
  • A baby porcupine is called a porcupette.

This was actually our second porcupine interaction at our place in Wisconsin. I had gotten up early one morning with Daisy, only to have her run off out of sight. I quickly found her face to face with a porcupine, with a second one a couple of feet away. They did a little dance, nose to nose, nose to tail, but by some miracle no one was quilled. Always an adventure in WI

PS Thanks to my son Alex for some of the pictures!

 

Checking on the Seedlings

Why didn’t I buy grow lights before?? My seedlings have always been “fine”, but after seeing my mom’s lush healthy seedlings under her grow lights, and with a little nudge from my husband I decided to take the plunge. I am so glad I did!

I bought two 2 ft Hydrofarm T5 Grow Light Systems.

I decided against the single 4 ft light so I would have more flexibility. They came safely packed and were easy to assemble. I did have a little trouble with placement since my table is a 4 ft one and each lamp is actually 26 inches. Got it figured out with the help of a tray table.

I started the peppers back in March and then planted the rest of the seeds at the right time based on my last frost date.

I usually add a couple of weeks to the last frost date to be on the safe side, so I’m aiming to plant the week after Mother’s Day. I keep track of what I’m doing on these handy Botanical Interests Month-to Month planner sheets.

I’m growing Cosmos and Marigolds in my APS system trays, and this year all my vegetables in Botanical Interests small 1 1/2 in Recycled Paper pots and larger 3 inch Recycled Paper Pots.

I’ve always ended up with root bound squash and cucumbers in the smaller APS trays and they are really tenuous when transplanting, so I decided to grow them in the 3 inch pots this year. As a bonus, using these Botanical Interests Paper Pots they can go right into the ground when ready–just tear off the bottom strip and all set to go. The paper will just decompose and the roots aren’t disturbed when transplanting.

So far I’m really happy with the BI paper pots.  Plants have grown great and watering has been easy, even when I’ve been gone on vacations. I was a little worried about that, since I had always used self watering plant trays.

What I ended up doing while I was away was to place the paper pots in a baking pan and fill the tray up with water. The plants just soaked up what they needed. I did figure out I needed to fill the tray the day before, and again right before leaving since the soil soaked up so much water right away. That has seemed to work well for 4-5 day trips. I don’t keep them this damp too long so I don’t encourage mold/fungus to grow that could damage the seedlings. (What’s my favorite indoor watering can? The Oxo 3 liter Indoor Pour and Store)

The squash is healthier than I’ve ever grown!

Marigolds!

Cosmos!

Sunflowers are about 8 inches tall!

The kohlrabi, basil and coleus is getting there and maybe should have been started earlier.  This was a couple of weeks ago and they’ve since been thinned to one plant per pot. Best to thin by cutting the unwanted plants rather than pulling them out. Pulling one can pull them all out.

Can you tell the difference between the purple and white kohlrabi?

Can’t wait for the weather to get warm enough to think about planting. We keep having frost warnings so this year things are going to be a little delayed. In the meantime, this weekend I’ll put up the mini greenhouse and begin transitioning them to the outdoors (also known as hardening off). Seedlings have to be gently introduced to the outdoors or it’ll be too much of a shock for them.

How’s your seed growing going?  Has it been a tough year for you?

 

Chickadees Are Back in the Nestbox

While I was hoping for bluebirds this year in the nest boxes, this little chickadee popped her head out and seems to be making it her home for the spring. Luckily Steve had his camera handy and could get some pictures of this cute little bird.

She was just so entertaining to watch. It was like she couldn’t believe her good fortune in finding this amazing nesting spot.

When we came back a couple of weeks later I was happy to see that they were actually moving in.

This is a very typical chickadee nest. A base of moss and then softer material like rabbit fur for the top layer. Check out my blog post from last year that followed nesting chickadees in Who’s in my Nestboxes and Checking on the Bird’s Nests.

The Eastern Phoebe couple is also back nesting on the front porch!

Woodlink Wooden Bluebird House – Model BB1


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Orioles? Fingers Crossed!

I saw on my local Wild Bird Unlimited Facebook page today that Baltimore Orioles have been spotted in the area. I tried to attract them on their spring migration last year but no luck. They are in the area only 4-6 weeks unless they nest nearby.

But, last year I was a couple of weeks later putting the oriole feeder out with grape jelly and oranges. Also, I hung it on the feeder pole with all my other feeders and I later learned that they can be intimidated by other birds.

This year I hung it by itself and more out in the open by the hummingbird feeder. Orioles are attracted to orange and this time of year they love nectar, grape jelly and oranges. Later in the summer, they need more protein and you can switch to mealworms.

Hopefully they find my little haven and stop by.  Maybe even build a nest?

The only time I’ve seen Orioles in the area was a few years ago on a nearby golf course.  They were nesting high up in the trees and it was fun to see them each week.

Want to see if they are in your area? Check out eBird by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and Audubon Society. Journey North is another citizen science site that monitors both seasonal change and migration of a wildlife species including some birds. Or, drop by your local Wild Bird Unlimited to find out what they are seeing.

Nature Walk on Earth Day

It was a beautiful day for a walk, so I headed out to the Morton Arboretum to walk and celebrate Earth Day.  Spring flowers were in abundance!

Here’s what I saw:

White Trout Lily (Erythronium albidum)
Immature plants produce a single leaf and no flower, while mature plants produce a pair of leaves and a single flower. Colonies often have far more leaves than flowers.

Prairie Trillium (Trillium recurvatum)

This poisonous plant never really “opens” like other trilliums. The drooping sepals and stalked leaves are clues that you have this trillium and not the very similar Toad Shade.

Virginia Springbeauty (Claytonia virginica)

This small flower is a sure sign that spring has arrived! You’ll find them open on warm sunny days and closed during cloudy weather and at night. These are stunning as a sweeping sea of pink in the forest.

Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum)

Wild geraniums are easily identified by their large palmately lobed leaves and their beak-like seed capsules that point upwards.

Cutleaf Toothwort (Cardamine concatenata)

This fragrant flower is easy to spot and identify by its toothed leaf pattern. By the end of spring, both the flowers and foliage will disappear until next year.

Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia)

While I often find these as weeds in my yard, their deep purple flowers are a cheerful find amidst all the decaying fall leaves.

Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis)

This escaped ornamental plant, which can be mistaken for Wild Leeks (Spring Leeks (aka Ramps), will soon show it’s distinct white flowers.  Unlike leeks, all parts of this plant are highly toxic.  If it doesn’t smell like onions or garlic, don’t eat it!

After my hike in the spring woods, I stopped by my local Wild Birds Unlimited store to stock up on sunflower seeds and suet for the birds and to buy a bat house to encourage bats to our place in Wisconsin. The staff at WBU is a great source of info for what’s going on in your local bird world, and I find the best birding supplies there. Today, I heard the hummingbirds are back already so time to get the feeders out (Hummingbird Nectar)!

Then as a last fun nature day stop, I went by a local nursery to buy some Summer Beauty Allium (Allium tanguticum).  I have a hot, dry sunny spot where oddly nothing seems too happy to grow.  I’ve been seeing these in similar locations in public gardens so I’ll give them a try. They produce a pretty pom-pom flower display mid-summer, are sterile so aren’t invasive, are pollinator favorites, and rabbits stay away from them.  All around sounds pretty good to me.

Did you get out and enjoy this spring day!

 

 

Spring Colors Are Everywhere!

Spring in Chicago has been on and off again the last couple of months. We were teased with early warm weather and everything started popping out, but then winter seemed to come back and bring everything to a halt. But now, everything has just exploded in color.

Of all the wonderful spring blooms, my favorite is the daffodil.

After 20 years, last fall I added more daffodil bulbs to the ever dwindling display and I was not disappointed at my efforts.

   

We have two new magnolias that have done really well this year.  Unfortunately, unbeknownst to me they were reversed when planted last spring. I’ll have to have them replanted once they finish blooming and we’ll be back to square one with needing to baby them all summer again 🙁

The Jane Magnolia (Magnolia x ‘Jane) is one of the “Little Girl” Magnolias. It’s considered a late blooming magnolia and its blooms are a spectacular deep pink.

The other magnolia we planted is a Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’) which has large, fragrant, white double flowers. 

Even the bumblebees enjoyed this spring day on the rhododendron!

I love this time of year. Everything is so fresh, green and bright!

PS Photo credit goes to my husband Steve!

 

Who Won The Squirrels vs Feeder Contest?

I’ve had an ongoing issue with squirrels ravaging my bird feeders. I bought a great Squirrel Stopper pole, but because I wanted to see the birds from my kitchen window, and despite clear instructions not too, I placed it too close to a nearby tree and arborvitaes. So, those very acrobatic squirrels have had fun feasting at my feeders!

In a post earlier this winter, I wrote about finally investing in some well reviewed squirrel proof feeders to try and attract more birds than squirrels to my yard (Happy New Year’s To My Backyard Birds!).  So did they work?

I am so excited to say YES! Continue reading