Neighborhood Nature

Our Family's Nature Blog

A January Walk through Columbus Park January 17, 2010

As I monitored birds this morning in Columbus Park, I did an experiment. I took photos with my iPhone and uploaded them live to Facebook. It was kind of like a virtual nature walk!

Here the link to the public Facebook album with this morning’s photos:  A January Walk through Columbus Park.

Please let me know what you think!

 

Last of the Fall Wildflowers at Columbus Park? November 20, 2009

Earlier this year Neighborhood Nature showed the earliest examples of spring flowers we could find. Now that November’s two-thirds gone, I guess it’s time to show the last wildflowers still blooming in Columbus Park. (I’ll do my best to give their names, but bear with me — I’m not a botanist!)

It was sunny and almost warm during this morning’s bird monitoring in Columbus Park. However, some parts of the Park were devoid of birds, so I had time to look down as I listened hard for any birdlike sounds. These nickle-sized flowers caught my eye — I’m pretty sure they’re Daisy Fleabane. (You can see a photo of the entire plant here.)

I'm guessing Daisy Fleabane, Columbus Park, Chicago, November 20, 2009.

Although these look like daisies, the flowers are much too small. So I think it's Daisy Fleabane.

The small patch of prairie habitat beside the lagoon held two plants in flower. The first one looked like a very small example of Queen Anne’s Lace (aslo called Wild Carrot) — the flower head was less than two inches across. (You can see a photo that shows the leaves here. Please use the comments, below, to correct me if I’m wrong.)

I think this one is Queen Anne's Lace, Columbus Park, Chicago, November 20, 2009.

This one looked like a very small example of Queen Anne's Lace (also known as Wild Carrot).

I’m also uncertain what this plant is called. I’m guessing this might be False Dragonhead, a kind of mint. Another name for this species is Obedient Plant, since if you push the flowers to one side, they stay there until you push them back. However, I forgot the try that test today, so my identification has not been physically confirmed. Also, this flower looked more pinkish in the field — I’m not sure why the photos don’t do justice to the color. (You can see a photo of the entire plant here.)

I'm guessing this is False Dragonhead, Columbus Park, Chicago, Illinois, November 20, 2009.

I'm guessing this is False Dragonhead, a kind of mint. (Again, use the comments, below, to help me out!)

My final flowers were just hanging on — most of the others on this plant had gone to seed. It was a kind of thistle, found in Austin woods — but don’t ask me what kind of thistle, I wouldn’t have a clue. (Again, these looked more pinkish in the field. You can see a photo that shows some leaves here.):

Thistle flowers, Columbus Park, Chicago, Illinois, November 20, 2009.

A few thistle flowers remained, but the rest had gone to seed.

“Gone to seed” is where all these flowers are bound. Food for birds, and sometimes a feast for the eyes despite the lack of color. Check out these goldenrod seeds, which may be Showy Goldenrod, one of the most beautiful of its kind. (You can see a photo that shows more of the plant here.)

Gone-to-seed goldenrod, Columbus Park, Chicago, Illinois, November 20, 2009.

Even gone to seed, goldenrods are beautiful.

So, are these the last wildflowers I’ll see this year in Columbus Park? I’ll keep looking for more on future visits. (And I’ll also try to tame that possible Obedient Plant.)

 

Pokeweed Berries Ripening, Catbirds and Thrushes Coming Soon! September 3, 2009

On the first Friday in September I noticed ripe Pokeweed berries in our backyard:

These are the first ripe Pokeweed berries I've seen this year, and they are in our backyard!

These are the first ripe Pokeweed berries I've seen this year, and they are in our backyard!

Soon there will be catbirds, thrushes, and many other birds with purple-stained beaks!

Gray Catbirds have spent the last five summers in backyards on our block. They stopped defending their breeding territory weeks ago, but I’ve seen a Catbird visit our Pokeweed once or twice since then. I think they keep track of berry bushes in the neighborhood so they can be the first to feast once the berries are ripe.

Swainson’s Thrushes breed up north, and then migrate south through our area starting late summer. Yesterday I saw two in the woods at nearby Columbus Park. Last September a Swainson’s Thrush stuck around our neighbor’s yard for two weeks feeding on her Pokeweed berries. A few weeks later a Hermit Thrush stopped by to eat its fill.

One nice thing about Pokeweed is that it keeps producing berries for many weeks, September through October. In this photo you can see ripe berries and a tiny flower stalk just starting, plus all stages of flowers and green berries in between:

The ripe Pokeweed berries are hidden among the leaves. A newly opening white flower stalk is to the left and above the berries, and inbetween stages are scattered elsewhere on the plant. By the way, the oval leaves are Pokeweed; the larger heart-shaped leaves are a type of Morning Glory.

The ripe Pokeweed berries are hidden among the leaves. A newly opening white flower stalk is to the left and above the berries, and in between stages are scattered elsewhere on the plant. By the way, the oval leaves are Pokeweed; the larger heart-shaped leaves are a type of Morning Glory.

So, this fall’s backyard catbird and thrush watch starts today, and then continues for almost two months!

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Note added Friday, September 4, at 2 p.m.: Early this morning we saw the first bird of the season feeding on our Pokeweed. It was an American Robin (which is a kind of thrush). Then, while monitoring birds at Columbus Park (less than a mile from our house), I saw about a dozen Swainson’s Thrushes and three Catbirds. Three of the Thrushes and one of the Catbirds were feeding on Pokeweed berries.

Note added Sunday, September 6, at 3 p.m.: We just saw three Swainson’s Thrushes in our Pokeweed patch! Aaron got the following for-the-record photo through our back window:

One of the three Swainson's Thrushes we saw on our backyard Pokeweed. Photo by Aaron Gyllenhaal (shot through a sunlit back window).

One of the three Swainson's Thrushes we saw on our backyard Pokeweed. Note the olive-brown back, lots of spots on a pale breast, and big buffy "spectacles" around its eyes. Photo by Aaron Gyllenhaal (shot through a sunlit back window).

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You can find more information about Pokeweed on Wikipedia. Cooked Pokeweed greens can be eaten, but raw Pokeweed can be poisonous to humans, as described on this National Institutes of Health web page.

The All About Birds website has more information about how Gray Catbirds, Swainson’s Thrushes, and Hermit Thrushes live their lives

 

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!

 

Flower Buds: What’s Blooming Next? April 15, 2009

Some neighborhood plants have produced new flower buds among leaves that appeared a few days earlier. On Tuesday we found flower buds in a patch of Trout Lily leaves at Columbus Park:

The Trout Lily flower bud seems nestled in a folded leaf.

The Trout Lily flower bud seems nestled in a folded leaf.

Today we found flower buds on our neighbor’s Dwarf Iris plants:

We found a flower buds among these Dwarf Iris leaves.

We found a flower buds among these Dwarf Iris leaves.

Iris plants grow either from underground stems, called “rhizomes,” or from bulbs. Erosion has exposed the rhizomes from which these Dwarf Iris grew:

These Drawf Iris plants grew from underground stems, called rhizomes.

These Drawf Iris plants grew from underground stems, called rhizomes.

As we’ve found many times this spring, these first buds and flowers were on plants with southern exposure. The first Trout Lily buds appeared on a south-facing slope near Columbus Park lagoon, and the first Iris buds were on the south side of a parkway tree.

We should have photos of the flowers soon, since temperatures may reach seventy later this week.

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Note added the next day: At least one Dwarf Iris had bloomed by the next morning. Go here to see photos of the flower.

 

Leaves of Native Wildflowers Are Emerging at Columbus Park April 13, 2009

On Sunday, April 12, while birding in the woods beside Columbus Park lagoon, we discovered the emerging leaves of native wildflowers. We found the first Mayapple leaves we’ve seen this spring:

There were several stages of opening Mayapple leaves. Soon we'll see flower buds below some of the leaf umbrellas.

There were several stages of opening Mayapple leaves. Soon we'll see flower buds below some of the leaf umbrellas.

And also the first Trout Lily leaves:

The purplish marked Trout Lily leaves had emerged, but no sign of flower buds so far. This plant is also called.....

The purple-marked Trout Lily leaves had emerged, but no sign of flower buds so far.

We had seen Cutleaf Toothwort blooming earlier this spring at Clinton Lake in central Illinois, so we weren’t surprised to see both leaves and flower buds at Columbus Park:

Cut-leaved Toothwort leaves and buds, Columbus Park, Illinois, April 12, 2009.

Toothwort flowers look like tiny white teeth when they first open, and the leaves look like they've been cut out by tiny scissors.

We also made a slightly more ominous discovery. Back on March 23rd, we showed photos of a cultivated flower which we identified as Siberian Squill, but others know as Scilla (its scientific name). On Sunday we discovered that this garden flower has escaped its intended bounds and invaded the woods beside Columbus Park lagoon. Because this also happens elsewhere, Scilla is listed in the Global Compendium of Weeds and on some web documents about invasive plants. Some folks who track invasive species suggest that Scilla may not harm native wildflowers, like Trout Lily and Mayapple. But another wrote, “the jury is still out whether this is a harmless garden escapee or something to worry about.” So, we’ll keep an eye on the Park’s woodland Scilla this spring and beyond.

 

Flowers in the Snow April 6, 2009

Filed under: Plants,Seasons,Spring,Wildflowers — saltthesandbox @ 5:45 pm
Tags: , , , ,

It snowed, again, last night. It was our second spring snowfall — it also snowed eight days ago. When I took my morning walk through south Oak Park, the sidewalks were still crunchy, and globs of snow rained from the trees, even as the the skies began to clear.

The flowers, though, bloomed on, as if they barely noticed. These Periwinkles were on the south side of a home:

These Periwinkle flowers and new shoots survived despite the snow.

These Periwinkle flowers and new shoots survived despite the snow.

Our Periwinkles are on the east side of our home, so they won’t bloom for awhile.

I think of Magnolias as southern trees, but Star Magnolia bushes are planted in our area. This bloom was photographed this morning, with the temperatures in the mid thirties:

This Star Magnolia flower grows on a small buish.

Star Magnolia flowers bloom despite our cold winters and variable spring weather.

And Tulip buds promise that more spring flowers are on the way:

There were Tulip buds on the south sides of many homes along my route -- but no blooms so far.

There were Tulip buds on the south sides of many homes along my route -- but no blooms so far.

Temperatures will rise through the rest of the week, so maybe we’ll see Tulip flowers by the weekend.

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Nancy, who also lives in south Oak Park, took photos of her Magnolia tree after the previous snowstorm, on March 29th:

Magnolia buds in the snow during our March 29 snow storm.

Magnolia buds in the snow during our March 29 snow storm. Photo by Nancy S.

Magnolia buds in the snow. Photo by Nancy Soro.

Magnolia buds in the snow. Photo by Nancy S.

I wonder how they survived their second snowstorm of the spring?