Neighborhood Nature

Our Family's Nature Blog

Catching up with Spring April 17, 2009

Spring is about change, and right now change is happening so fast that it’s hard to keep up. Yesterday we showed one Dwarf Iris flower and two buds — today there were three flowers:

All three Dwarf Iris buds have opened!
All three Dwarf Iris buds have opened!

The Trout Lily bud we showed two days ago has not yet opened, but more flower buds have appeared, and most bud stems are no longer nestled in protective leaves:

Most Trout Lily buds were standing free, not wrapped in protective leaves.
Most Trout Lily buds were standing free, not wrapped in protective leaves.

Two fruit trees have burst into bloom along Garfield Street, east of Ridgeland Avenue:

I'm not sure what kind of tree this is, but it did attract the first honey bee I've seen this spring.
I don’t know the name of this tree, but I think it’s an ornamental fruit.

So, some flowers are already blooming; others are catching up with their first buds of spring. Here’s a Lily of the Valley from the Oak Park Arts District, along Harrison Street:

As usual, the first Lily of the Valley buds formed along a south-facing wall.
As usual, the first Lily of the Valley buds formed along a south-facing wall.

After watching for more than a week, I finally spotted the first Virginia Bluebell of the year in Columbus Park:

Virginia Bluebell is a native wildflower, although these may have been planted by the Park District.

Virginia Bluebell is a native wildflower, although these may have been planted by the Park District.

Now let’s move from flowers to fruits, and the animals that eat them. In late February we posted photos of Staghorn Sumac fruits, which added color to the winter woods. We saw squirrels eat some sumac fruits this winter, but most remained on the trees until last week. That’s when I noticed Northern Flickers and Downy Woodpeckers eating sumac fruits. By today the sumac trees were stripped bare:

It seems the Flickers and other woodpeckers had eaten all the sumac berries. Perhaps it was for wood, but the may have also used the red sumac pigments to brighten the colors of their feathers.

Flickers and other woodpeckers ate all the sumac berries. Perhaps it was for food, or maybe they used red sumac pigments to brighten up their feathers.

Here’s more news of animals in our neighborhood: I heard my first Columbus Park Bullfrog of the spring — it croaked as it jumped into the lagoon, too fast for me to see. I also watched Painted Turtles sun themselves on lagoon logs, and I spotted my first Cabbage White Butterfly of 2009 in a meadow near Austin Boulevard. And my first Honey Bee of 2009 was feeding on the fruit tree flowers on Garfield.

Finally, back in early March we started following hummingbird migration on hummingbirds.net. According to the online map, the first Ruby-throated Hummingbirds reached our area more than a week ago. We finally put out our hummingbird feeder yesterday:

Our backyard hummingbird feeder. We use a mix of one part sugar to 4 parts water, and we don't add any dye.

Our backyard hummingbird feeder. We use a mix of one part sugar to four parts water, heated to boiling, and we don't add any dye.

Why the wait? No matter what we see on hummingbirds.net, we don’t know any birders who’ve seen Ruby-throats this year in Illinois. There have been no reports on IBET, and none on eBird, either. According to eBird, last year’s earliest Ruby-throat for our County was April 27. Last year we saw our first in Columbus Park on May 23.

So, these days we don’t have much faith in hummingbirds.net. It’s possible those folks are seeing a different species — perhaps Rufous Humingbirds, which wander here in colder weather — or maybe something else is going on. Anyway, our feeder’s out, and we’ll keep it filled and fresh until next fall.

And that’s the news. We’re caught up — until the next time we walk outside. There’s sure to be some new sign of spring tomorrow!

 

Last Night’s Weather Radar Showed More Birds on the Move

Last night Aaron called me over to look at his computer. He showed me the Chicago Tribune’s Midwest regional weather radar, which showed birds taking flight and migrating north. The green wash of migrating birds spread from east to west as sunset fell across the continent:

Watch the green wash of migrating birds shift from east to west as the sun sets.

Chicago Tribune weather radar from Thursday evening, April 16, 2009. Watch the green wash of migrating birds expand from east to west as the sun sets.

So, now we spend the day looking and listening for new birds in the neighborhood. Will we see White-throated or White-crowned Sparrows? Or maybe our first Palm Warbler of spring? We’ll watch our yard, our block, Columbus Park, and the walk home from school.

Last night birds migrated though winds were from the east over Illinois. Tonight’s winds should blow from a more southerly direction. There may be even more new migrants by Saturday morning!

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Note added the same day at 6:45 p.m. (then updated at 9 p.m.): Contrary to our hopes and expectations, our on-the-ground birding did not reveal dramatic changes in our neighborhood birds. At home we got a reminder that some birds migrate away from us in spring: For the first time in almost six months we did not see a single Junco in our yard today, although we did see two at Columbus Park. Also, Robin numbers in Columbus Park have decreased to 150 (from a peak of 250), and Flicker numbers were down to 30 (from a peak of 55). The golf course and lawns provide lots of feeding space for these species. Go here to read more about our Columbus Park sightings.

One happy note: On IBET an Oak Park birder reported Red-eyed Vireos at Thatcher Woods, which is about two miles northwest of us. That would be a year bird for us. (Red-eyed Vireos frequent Columbus Park — and perhaps breed there — from late spring through the summer.)

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Note added the same day at 9:15 p.m.:  As predicted, the winds here are shifting to the southeast. Tonight’s Midwest weather radar is shaping up just like last night:

Friday night's Midwest weather radar. Just like yesterday, the green wash of migrating birds expands from east to west.

Chicago Tribune weather radar from Friday evening, April 17, 2009. Just like yesterday, the green wash of migrating birds expands from east to west.

We should had a fun day of birding tomorrow! (It’s a Saturday, so the kids are home from school.)

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Note added the next morning (Saturday) at 6:20 a.m.: Here’s the Chicago Tribune‘s weather radar from this morning. It shows the green wash disappearing from east to west as migrating birds come in for a landing. That’s a real rainstorm moving in from the southwest:

Chicago Tribune weather radar from Saturday morning, April 18. The donut-shaped green shows birds migrating. The green and yellow in the southwest is a real rain storm.

Chicago Tribune weather radar from Saturday morning, April 18, 2009. The doughnut-shaped green shows birds migrating. The green and yellow in the southwest is a real rain storm.

So, this morning we plan to go first to Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary and then North Park Village Nature Center (where Eagle Optics is having a special sale). Who knows where we’ll go this afternoon?

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You can study bird migration using radar images from WeatherUnderground (the source of the Tribune’s images) and the National Weather Service radar website. The Minnesota Bird Nerd blog posts versions of these images during peak migration.

To learn more about using weather radar to track bird movements: The Badbirdz – Reloaded blog includes a primer on using weather radar to track bird migration. For more explanations of birds and radar, try the New Jersey Audubon website.