Neighborhood Nature

Our Family’s Nature Blog

Ethan Has Posted Photos from Camp Chiricahua 2009 July 22, 2009

Filed under: Amphibians,Animals,Birds,Bugs,Mammals,Reptiles,Seasons,Summer — saltthesandbox @ 12:25 pm
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My 14-year-old son, Ethan, spent early July at Camp Chiricuhua, an Arizona birding camp for teens. It’s run by Victor Emanuel Nature Tours and co-sponsored by the American Birding Association. (Go here for more information.)

He had a really great time! He saw or heard 69 life birds, plus four kinds of Rattlesnakes, a Black Widow Spider, and a really big Tarantula. He took his camera along, and he’s been posting photos online, including dozens of kinds of birds, snakes, spiders, scorpions, insects, flash floods, and  “a caustic pit of death.”

Here are two samples. First, an Acorn Woodpecker (original here):

Acorn Woodpecker, Portal, Arizona. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

Acorn Woodpecker, Portal, Arizona. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

Next, a mother scorpion with babies on its back (original here):

Mother scorpion with babies on its back, Portal, Arizona. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

Mother scorpion with babies on its back, Portal, Arizona. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

There are lots more photos in Ethan’s Flickr photostream. Here’s the link to his Camp Chiricahua, Arizona, set: http://www.flickr.com/photos/36997518@N03/sets/72157621780821598/

Ethan’s complete photo stream, including Midwestern and (soon) California photos can be found here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/36997518@N03/

We hope you enjoy them!

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Ethan’s fellow camper, Benjamin, has also posted about Camp Chiricahua, 2009, on his blog: http://warblings.wordpress.com/2009/07/26/camp-chiricahua-2009/

 

Columbus Park: New Ducklings Have Hatched, Old Goslings Have Learned to Fly July 21, 2009

We’ve got lots of news to share about the ducks and geese at Columbus Park on Chicago’s Westside. First, two families of Mallards have appeared within the past week. One family has two ducklings that are at least a week old:

This Mallard family had two ducklings that were more than a week old.

This Mallard family has two ducklings that were more than a week old.

The other family has seven babies that are just a few days old:

The mother Mallard led her brood to safety, but one duckling was already lagging behind.

The mother Mallard leads her brood to safety, but one duckling is already lagging behind

We were getting worried about our Mallards. The female Mallards had gone into hiding months ago, building nests and trying to hatch some young. They must have had a rough time with predators and such, since it took them so long to be successful.

Meanwhile, the ducklings in the Wood Duck family are now about six weeks old. We have not seen them fly yet, but they are becoming much more independent of their mother. She still keeps an eye on me when I try to take their photo:

A mother Wood Duck watches me while five of her young hide in the leafy branches around here. The other four seem to have wandered off.

The mother Wood Duck watches me while five of her young hide in leafy branches around her (you can't really see them). The other four ducklings seem to have wandered off.

However, at least some of the young Wood Ducks wander off as I approach, and she can no longer call them all together into a tight bunch to swim for cover.

Here are three previous posts about this Wood Duck family:

The young Canada Geese we’ve been following are now eleven weeks old. A few weeks ago they learned to fly, and now we see them every other time we go to the Park. (Today we did not see them.) Here’s our last photo of this family, taken on July 11, right after they had flown in from another part of the lagoon:

The three young Canada Geese in this photo are nine-and-a-half weeks old.

The three young Canada Geese in this July 11 photo are nine-and-a-half weeks old. They are almost as big as their parents!

Here are links to five previous posts about this Canada Goose family:

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To learn more about Mallard families, you can check these websites:

  • All About Birds – Basic information about Mallard natural history, including nesting.
  • Wikipedia – Encyclopedia-style information about Mallards.

To learn more about how Wood Ducks raise their young, you can check these websites:

  • All About Birds – Basic information about Wood Duck natural history, including nesting.
  • YouTube – First of a series of videos of Wood Ducks hatching and leaving the nest.
  • Wikipedia – Encyclopedia-style information about Wood Ducks.
  • Daily Herald – Story about how Wood Ducks are becoming more common in urban areas.
  • Squidoo. Great video of baby Wood Ducks jumping out of nest (half way down the page).

To learn more about Canada Goose families, you can check these websites:

  • All About Birds – Basic information about Canada Goose natural history, including nesting.
  • Wikipedia – Encyclopedia-style information about Canada Geese.

 

Buckeyes Are Ripening, But They Aren’t Ready Yet July 20, 2009

Filed under: Plants,Seasons,Spring,Summer,Trees — saltthesandbox @ 4:13 pm
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For more than 10 years our family has been collecting Buckeyes from a tree near our home. Why? Well, Buckeyes are just great things to have, and to hold, and to rub with your thumb and carry around in your pocket! So, I got really excited when I found the first of the new crop laying on the street:

The Buckeye nuts are inside a leathery hunk. Squirrels had started chewing on them, but given up.

The Buckeye nuts are inside a leathery husk. Squirrels had started chewing through the husk, but given up. The husks are an inch or two in diameter.

I took them home and cut into the husk, hoping I could peel it off to find the shiny brown nut inside. No such luck! The husk was really thick, and when I cut all the way through, I could see the nuts were nowhere close to ripe:

I cut one in half. The white thing inside would have become a nut if the squirrels and I had waited.

I cut a Buckeye in half. The white thing inside would have become a nut if the squirrels and I had waited.

So, I guess I should have waited, and the squirrels must have reached the same conclusion once they tasted what was inside the husk. But it doesn’t seem fair, because I have been waiting on this tree for more than two months! I waited while the Buckeye flowers bloomed in mid May:

The Buckeye flowers looked like this way back on May 19, 2009.

The Buckeye flowers looked like this way back on May 19, 2009.

When you looked closely, they were very beautiful! But they weren't much fun to play with.

When you look closely, Buckeye flowers are very beautiful, but they aren't much fun to play with.

I waited as the nuts began to grow later in May:

The Buckeye nuts looked like this after the flowers had faded away, on May 27, 2009.

The Buckeye nuts looked like this after the flowers had faded away, on May 27, 2009.

I waited as the nuts grew all through June:

Developing Buckeye nuts, Oak Park, Illinois, June 18, 2009

By June 18, only a few Buckeye nuts survived on this old flower stalk.

And I waited through the first weeks of July:

The growing Buckeyes looked like this on July 2, 2009.

The growing Buckeyes looked like this on July 2, 2009.

And now, as the Buckeyes finally are approaching ripeness, we are preparing to leave on vacation! So, just to remind me of what I was missing, I cracked open an old Buckeye that had sat on a shelf since last summer:

This Buckeye sat, unopened, since last summer, until I cracked it open with a pair of plyers.

This Buckeye sat, unopened, since last summer, until I cracked it open with a pair of pliers. Don't you want to pick up a Buckeye and rub it with your fingers (or throw it at your brother)?

I guess the squirrels will have this year’s Buckeye crop all to themselves. Unless, of course, you want to collect a few Buckeyes of your own. (This tree is in the northeast corner of Rehm Park in south Oak Park — but leave a few for the squirrels!)

Update added October 30, 2009: Buckeyes trees are similar to Horse Chestnut trees. Here’s a blog post from Scotland about collecting conkers, which look like buckeyes but come from Horse Chestnut trees: http://childrenandnature.ning.com/profiles/blogs/conkers-1

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Here are links to web pages with more information about this species of Buckeye:

  • Ohio Division of Forestry: Information about the Yellow Buckeye, which I think is the species in my photos, (because the husk is pretty smooth, not spiky).
  • Wikipedia: Encyclopedia-style entry about the Yellow Buckeye.

 

 

Another Annual Cicada, Revving Up its Song

Filed under: Animals,Bugs,Seasons,Summer — saltthesandbox @ 7:59 am
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A week ago we heard our first Annual Cicada of the year (read about it here). Then the weather turned cool, and once again cicada silence descended on our neighborhood. We had not heard a single cicada since that first one. Finally, this morning at 8:30 a.m., I heard a low pitched, halting buzz about 2 blocks south of our home in south Oak Park, Illinois. It sounded like a cicada revving up its song for the day. Then it stopped abruptly, and I wondered if a bird had caught it. But a minute later it started up again.

It sounded like the cool weather version of a Tibicen linnei song — like the beginning of this recording, but even buzzier, lower pitched, and only a few seconds long. (Go here to see photos of this species and hear other versions of its song.)

If we finally see some shed cicada skins or a real live cicada, we’ll post the photos here.

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4:00 p.m. the same day. So far, the temperature has only reached 75 degrees. I have heard NO more cicadas singing, or buzzing, or even warming up. As my friend Jane said on Facebook, “Doesn’t quite feel like summer without them.”

8:15 p.m. the same day. A few minutes before sunset I finally heard another Annual Cicada. However, this time it was a Tibicen pruinosus. That’s the species we first heard a week ago. To read see photos and link to its song, go here.

11:40 a.m. the next day (July 21): It finally sounds like summer, because I heard my first MID-day cicada! It was the warm-weather version of Tibicen linnei (go here to hear it).

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You can read more about cicadas on our Kids’ Cicada Hunt website. Please go here to see it.

On August 12, Aaron finally found our family’s first shed cicada skin of 2009. Go here to see a photo.

 

Turkish Filbert? That’s a New Tree to Me! July 18, 2009

Filed under: Plants,Seasons,Spring,Trees — saltthesandbox @ 4:30 pm
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This morning, while walking past Eastgate Cafe on my way to Columbus Park, I noticed some strange green things on one of the outdoor tables:

These strange green things had me stumped until I check the Oak Park Tree Inventory.

These strange green things had me stumped until I checked the Oak Park Tree Inventory.

I looked up into the tree they seemed to have fallen from, and I saw heart-shaped leaves with lots of teeth. Some teeth looked bigger than others:

The leaves were heard-shaped and had lots of teeth.

The leaves were heard-shaped and had lots of teeth.

I was stumped! I had walked past this tree dozens of times and assumed it was something familiar, like maybe a kind of basswood. Obviously I had not been paying close enough attention!

Fortunately, the Village of Oak Park has published an inventory of trees planted along Village streets (2009 version available here as a large PDF file). I couldn’t find the Eastgate Cafe’s exact address in the Inventory, but I did come across an unfamiliar tree name–Turkish Filbert–that was found at other places along Harrison Street. So I googled around until I found some photos of Turkish Filbert fruits. Some of the photos looked kind of similar to what I found, and some looked like exact matches, like the photos found here and here.

Those photos came from an Oregon State University web page (here), which also listed several other species in the same genus (Colylus). Some of those had similar fruits, so I can’t say for certain that the Eastgate Cafe tree is Corylus colurna, the Turkish Filbert. However, it does seem to be of that genus. (Another name for this species is Turkish Hazel, but there are other kinds of bushes and trees called Hazels, so I’ll stick with the common name Filbert for now.)

You may recognize “filbert” as a kind of nut, also known as the “hazelnut,” and Turkish Filbert trees really do produce nuts that people can eat. However, Wikipedia says that Turkish Filbert nuts are too small and their shells are too thick for them to have much commercial value. (Other Corylus species, like Common Hazel, probably produced the nuts you’ve eaten.) Regardless, I’m going to visit this tree throughout the summer, hoping to find some ripe nuts that I can eat!

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Here are some additional web sites with information about the Turkish Filbert:

 

Hackberry Fruits Are Ripening July 17, 2009

Filed under: Fossils,Geology,Plants,Seasons,Summer,Trees — saltthesandbox @ 3:06 pm
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Hackberries are one of my favorite street-side trees. Their warty bark is entertaining year ’round, and I always enjoy the assortment of galls and growths found on their leaves and twigs. (I blogged about Hackberry Nipple Galls here.) On yesterday’s walk through south Oak Park, I noticed that Hackberry fruits are ripening on a few neighborhood trees:

Ripening Hackberry fruits (dark green) with pale Nipple Galls.

Ripening Hackberry fruits (dark green to purple) with pale, fuzzy Hackberry Nipple Galls.

Only a few fruits on this tree were ripe, but there were many raisiny purple Hackberry fruits on the sidewalk (perhaps knocked there by recent storms).

If you bite gently on a ripe Hackberry fruit, you’ll often taste a bit of sweetness (which varies tree to tree). That’s why some folks call these “Sugarberry” trees. Just don’t bite too hard! Inside the thin fruity coating is a seed that’s hard as rock. The seed actually contains a bit of calcium carbonate, which makes up limestone rock. That’s one reason Hackberry seeds are readily preserved in soils. I’ve even found 40-million-year-old Hackberry seeds buried in ancient soils in the Badlands of South Dakota and Nebraska (see examples here).

Like me, many birds eat Hackberry seeds in south Oak Park, including Robins, Cedar Waxwings, and Starlings. Last fall I watched a flock of Crows feeding in a Hackberry tree along Oak Park Avenue near Lincoln School.

Galls, fruits, fossils, and birds — no wonder I love Hackberries!

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Here are links more information about Hackberries:

 

We Just Heard Our First Annual Cicadas of 2009! July 12, 2009

Filed under: Animals,Bugs,Seasons,Summer — saltthesandbox @ 7:42 pm
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At 8:20 this evening, Aaron and I heard the year’s first Annual Cicadas for our block in south Oak Park, Illinois!

It was this song: http://bit.ly/A08Wu (link to a WAV file). However, this evening’s cicada was singing much slower than the recording, as would be expected when the temperature is mid 70s (which is cool for a cicada). As has happened most years, we heard the first cicada songs in our neighborhood near sunset. Later in the summer Annual Cicadas will be singing from late morning through early evening, then quit as the sun sets.

The scientific name of this species is Tibicen pruinosus. (Sorry, cicada species don’t have common names, the way birds do.) Go to this University of Michigan website to see and hear examples of Tibicen pruinosus:
http://insects.ummz.lsa.umich.edu/fauna/michigan_cicadas/Michigan/Index.html#Tibicen_pruinosus

Now we’ll look for our first live nymphs, first shed nymphal skins, and first live adults of the year. When we find them, we’ll post photos here.

You can read about our earlier adventures with cicadas at our Kids’ Cicada Hunt website (go here to see it).

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As I was writing this post, my friend Joel, who lives about three or four blocks southeast of us, sent me a Facebook comment. He also heard his first Annual Cicadas this evening, at almost the exact same time we did!

 

Have You Heard Cicadas Yet This Summer?

Filed under: Animals,Bugs,Seasons,Summer — saltthesandbox @ 3:25 pm
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Aaron pointed out that we haven’t heard an Annual Cicada yet this year. Last year we heard the first one on July 14, but in other years we’ve heard them as much as a week or two earlier. Of course, there have been several weeks of very cool weather this spring and summer, and that might have delayed things.

Have you heard a cicada yet this summer? Usually the first species to appear in the Chicago area makes this song: http://bit.ly/A08Wu (this is a University of Michigan WAV file). Once Annual Cicadas start singing, they keep it up until at least early October.

Our family has taken a special interest in cicadas for many years. One of the first websites I developed was Kids’ Cicada Hunt (go here to see it). My first blog also was about cicadas (go here). I started the cicadablog in 2007, the year that large numbers of Periodical Cicadas emerged in the Chicago area.

Anyway, we’re on the look out for any evidence of cicadas in our neighborhood. We’ll let you know when we find them!

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I just checked Dan Century’s Cicada Mania website (here) to see if he had news of Annual Cicadas. His Community section (here) did have reports of Annual Cicadas from Virginia and New York. He also had a useful post about the most common cicadas of summer in the eastern and midwestern United States, the genus Tibicens (here).

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For Twitter users: Here are some TwitterFolk who’ve tweeted about hearing cicadas: @petitealamode (Ohio); @bikeonastick (Minnesota); @EnnuiPrayer (Texas); @cyenobite (East Coast USA). (I’m a Twitter user, too: http://twitter.com/NearbyNature.)

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Update posted the same day:  At 8:20 this evening, Aaron and I heard our first Annual Cicadas of 2009. Go here to read more.

 

A Baby Blue Jay in Our Back Yard! July 5, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — saltthesandbox @ 10:26 am

Remember the baby Blue Jay that Dad rescued down the street? It looked like this:

Here's a photo of the baby Blue Jay that Dad rescued from our street more than two weeks ago (on June 19).

Here's a photo of the Blue Jay that Dad rescued from our street more than two weeks ago (on June 19).

Go here to read more about it. That day we said we hoped the fledgling Blue Jay would eventually join the other Blue Jays that visit our backyard feeders to eat peanuts in the shell. Well, this morning Aaron spotted a young Blue Jay on our back fence. He grabbed Ethan’s old camera and took these photos:

The young Blue Jay saw us watching it thorugh the back window, but it didn't fly away.

The young Blue Jay saw Aaron through the back window, but it didn't fly away. Photo by Aaron Gyllenhaal.

Instead, the young Blue Jay turned away and spread its tail. Photo by Aaron Gyllenhaal.

Instead, the young Blue Jay turned away and spread its tail. Photo by Aaron Gyllenhaal.

The young Blue Jay calmly preened (cleaned its feathers with its beak). Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

The young Blue Jay calmly preened (cleaned its feathers with its beak). Photo by Aaron Gyllenhaal.

A crowd gathered in our kitchen as all four family members came to watch. The young Blue Jay took notice. Photo by Aaron Gyllenhaal.

A crowd gathered in our kitchen as all four family members came to watch. The young Blue Jay took notice. Photo by Aaron Gyllenhaal.

Unfortuantely the Blue Jay took off before Ethan could focus his telephoto lens, so our photo series ends here.

However, Blue Jays kept coming through the morning until the peanuts were all gone. We’re glad we’ve been helping the local Blue Jay population recover from West Nile Virus.

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Too true not to pass on: “Why Young Blue Jays Are Like Teenagers

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To learn more about Blue Jays, check these websites:

  • All About Birds – Basic information about Blue Jays.
  • Wikipedia – Encyclopedia-style information about Blue Jays.
  • Birdscope – An article about West Nile Virus in birds. For a related article, go here.
 

We Found Our First June Beetle on the Third of July! July 3, 2009

Filed under: Animals,Bugs,Seasons,Summer — saltthesandbox @ 1:29 pm
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It was cool early in June, and it’s been cool for much of this week. Perhaps that’s set back insect life cycles in our neighborhood, because we didn’t find our first June Beetle until today, July 3rd:

This June Beetle had fallen into a bucket of water. I found it, then Aaron took its photo. Photo by Aaron Gyllenhaal.

This June Beetle had fallen into a bucket of water. I found it, then Aaron took its photo. Photo by Aaron Gyllenhaal.

June Beetles come in several sizes, and they are pretty common around here in summer. Usually they fly around at night. Young June Beetles — called larvae — are white grubs. Many June Beetle larvae live in lawns and feed on the roots of grasses and other plants. (Go here to see a photo of two June Beetle larvae.)

This is Aaron’s first published photo. He took it with Ethan’s old camera (a Sony DSC-H50). Since Ethan is going off to birding camp in less than a week, I may be publishing more of Aaron’s photos this month and beyond.

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Try these websites for more information about June Beetles:

Texas A&M Extensions: June Beetles

Wikipedia: Phyllophaga (the scientific name for one group of June Beetles).

University of Maryland: Integrated Pest Management Control Options for June Beetles

 

 
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