Author Archives: Stephi

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


New From: $22.15 USD In Stock

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

What Am I Growing-2017

It’s always fun to spend time in January and February going through all the seed and garden catalogs to see what I am going to grow this year.

It’s also during that time, I wish I had bigger gardens and more sun to really plant huge vegetable and flower gardens. But I have what I have, so I’m limited in what I can plant and can honestly barely take care of that. After many years of experimenting, I’ve settled into growing particular vegetables we like best, but often changing up the varieties, and then throwing in a few new things for fun.

Now’s the time to get started with any indoor sowing that needs to be done to give plants a head start in my northern climate. As in prior years, I’ve printed out my very handy planting guides from Botanical Interests and noted the sowing dates by counting the weeks backwards from my average last frost date.

If you don’t know your average last frost date, you can find it easily on Dave’s Garden.

Like usual, I’ll get my tomatoes and sweet peppers from a local nursery (shout out to Vern Goers Greenhouse) who grows multiple varieties of both. Pretty much any variety I want I can get from them, and they’ll be stronger and healthier than anything I’d grow.

So what am I growing this year? I usually get my seeds from Botanical Interests and Burpee, depending on who has my favorite varieties. This year, I have also ordered some seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds since I was already ordering leek plant sets and seed potatoes from them.

Inside, I will be starting:

Vegetables that I will starting outdoors directly:

I’m also trying something new this year, seed tapes. Seed tapes are supposed to make it easier to plant small seeds and reduce the need for thinning. It’s biodegradable and can be cut to fit your space. Looks handy! I’m going to try it for spinach and radishes this year.

Since we don’t have any spring parties scheduled, I’m going to grow more of my own annuals from seed.   As always, I’m growing marigolds and plenty of my new favorite cosmos.

I’ve described how I start seeds using the Gardener’s Supply Company APS System (which has been replaced by the GrowEase System) in “Time to Sow Seeds Indoors“. This year I’m also adding some new recycled paper pots from Botanical Interests which look perfect for the plants that don’t like to transplant so well.

Plants can be grown right from seed and when time to transplant, the bottom tears off and the remaining pot and plant go right in the ground.  Sounds great for my cucumbers and squashes.

I’m also finally investing in a grow light. I tend to grow very leggy seedlings that do ok, but a grow light is going to help the seedlings grow faster, healthier and better for transplanting. My mom Peggy bought the Hydrofarm JumpStart JSV2 2-Foot T5 Grow Light System a couple of years ago and had great luck with it. Her plants looked great when I was visiting last week, so I just ordered the same light set. Looking forward to not having a leggy, tangled mess of plants 🙂

 

 

Creeping Thyme Update

A couple of years ago I wrote a post, Creeping Thyme Problems“, about my patch of creeping thyme that was totally a disaster. This post has also become one of my most popular, so I must not be alone in having ugly creeping thyme!

Creeping Thyme

After some scary, severe winter pruning, it came in the next spring healthy and lush.

Creeping Thyme

A couple years later, I’ve pruned it a bit more each year to keep it fresh and it’s still looking great. Except for the grass that has crept in.

If you’ve tried to get the grass out of ground cover mid-summer, it’s a thankless job.  I tried to bribe the kids, but to no avail.

While walking around the yard checking everything out a few days ago, I noticed that the grass was greening up and was easy to spot and pull out while the creeping thyme was still dormant.

Definitely easier than pulling it out mid-summer when everything is green and thick. You need to get right down to the grass roots, otherwise you’ve just “cut” the grass and it’ll come right back. Since the thyme is dormant, it’s easy to find the roots and not have to dig around and disturb everything.

This is a new job I’m adding to my spring garden prep list that will hopefully save me weeding time in the heat of the summer. It’s also a useful time to pull out the creeping charlie that is starting to green up and “creep’ its way around the garden.

Looking forward to thick lush creeping thyme that smells great when I walk on it this summer!

 

 

Gallery

Spruce Down :(

This gallery contains 2 photos.

Like many across the Midwest and Northeast, we had an extremely windy week last week. On Wednesday at O’Hare airport, they measured gusts of 58 mph which was the highest since 1991, coincidentally the year we moved to Chicago. In … Continue reading

Up Close With A Pileated Woodpecker

We were out winter hiking in Peninsula State Park, when we thought it’d be fun to take a short cut through the interior on the little used Trail Trampers Delight trail.  Someone had fun naming that trail!  Just beautiful and so quiet after a fresh overnight snowfall. Yes, there’s a trail there 🙂

Lots of animal trails snaking through the fresh snow…like this coyote catching up to friends.

and this Canadian Goose apparently taking a trip to the outhouse 🙂

But the most exciting part of the trip was the Pileated Woodpecker that didn’t show any fear of us and just went about his business. We had seen one earlier on the walk, but he was a little too far and high to really get a good look.

But this one flew in front of us and landed about about 30 feet away at eye level.  He went hungrily to work. You can see all the large chunks of wood that he’s been pecking out suggesting a lot of very recent activity.

Steve headed in for a closer look. Wish he had bought his good camera but in this case the handy iphone will have to do.

Getting ready. There’s a lot of power behind that hit.

They also carve out the distinctive rectangular hole quite purposefully. We watched him at times pecking from the side to wedge out a loose shaving.

The male Pileated has an entirely red crest, and the female a dark forehead. The male also has a red stripe on his face that is missing on the female. So this one is we’ve been watching is a male. There was another nearby, probably his mate. Pileated Woodpeckers stay together as a pair all year round, and rarely tolerate others in its territory.

I decided I wanted a closer look and the Pileated and I began a little game of hide and seek. I wasn’t quite as stealthy so he moved around back and kept poking his head out to see if I was there.

Movie time!

Watching this makes my head hurt and would certainly give me a concussion, or kill me, if I tried to strike a tree with that kind of force. Scientists estimate that a woodpecker may strike the tree with forces greater than 1000 G’s, far more than a human can withstand. We can certainly learn some things from a woodpecker.

To begin with, their strong neck muscles diffuse the blow and a third eyelid protect their eyes.  A woodpeckers brain and skull and also specially designed to withstand the G forces. The brain is surrounded by trabeculae, tiny beamlike projections of bone that form a spongy bone mesh that protects the brain, and the brain fills the skull so there is no “sloshing around” on impact. There’s also a hyoid bone, which in humans it is found in the middle of the neck. In a woodpecker, this bone wraps around the skull to act as a seatbelt to keep it in place and further minimize the impact on the bird’s brain.  Even the beak itself helps in minimizing brain injury. While the outer beak appears longer than the lower, the actual bone structure of the lower is longer and stronger, sending much of the impact to the lower parts of the skull, away from the brain.  Scientists are continuing to study these amazing birds and hopefully learn from them to protect human brains who sustain repeated impacts, like football players.

Of course, I have to show one of my mom Peggy’s backyard photos.  This female (note the gray on the cap and no red cheek bar) was visiting her suet feeder. How lucky she is to have these spectacular visitors to her backyard.

Photos by Peggy

Photo credits:  most photos by Steve; last picture is a Photo by Peggy

A Hawk at My Feeders

As I was reading comfortably on the couch one afternoon, out of the corner of my eye something BIG went by the window. Now there’s always a gaggle of birds out there because of the feeder I have hung in that area, but they don’t usually make me think, “What was that!” Of course I have to investigate, hoping whatever it was remained nearby. It did!

A beautiful Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) had landed on the top of my feeder pole and sat there surveying the area. Presumably looking for food, but smartly everyone had scattered. He posed for a while so I could see his beautiful blue gray back and get a good look at his tail. The rounded tail is a pretty strong marker that it’s a Cooper’s Hawk and not the very similar Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus) which has a straight, squared off tail.

Then it turned around so I could see it’s breast which was mottled rust and white.

It’s actually can be pretty difficult to tell the difference between the Cooper’s Hawk and Sharp-shinned Hawk.  Cooper’s Hawks tend to be larger, more the size of a crow, Sharp-shinned, more the size of a Blue Jay.  Cooper’s Hawks have a much bigger, distinct head in proportion to their body and look as though they are wearing a dark cap because of the light coloring of their nape. They are typically woodland birds, but are increasingly likely to be found in suburban areas.  Sharp-shinned Hawks nest almost exclusively in conifers and heavily wooded forests and are less frequent visitors to the suburbs.

A Cooper’s Hawks main diet is primarily small to medium birds and occasionally mammals like chipmunks, rabbits, mice, squirrels, and bats. They can be an unwelcome visitor to in a yard if they seem to have taken up residence because of the abundance of birds attracted to feeders. Removing the feeders for a few days should be enough to have them move on. But, honestly if having a hawk around  helped reduced the squirrel population, I may not mind having it visit occasionally.

Fortunately this one didn’t stick around long, although I know it lives somewhere in the area since it’s been to my yard a few times this winter.  Luckily, I saw it in the neighborhood over the weekend and could report it as part of the Great Backyard Bird Count.

After flying off the pole, it rested on a patio table, then moved on.

It was fun to see, but I hope I’m not providing dinner by attracting songbirds to my yard with feeders.

Wondering what I’m reading? See the latest list of books I’ve read (and liked) on the right.

Any Hawks in your yard?  Or a favorite book you’ve read lately?