Neighborhood Nature

Our Family's Nature Blog

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.

 

 

Columbus Park Goslings and Ducklings: Not Really Babies Anymore June 22, 2009

Filed under: Animals,Birds,Seasons,Summer — saltthesandbox @ 8:54 pm
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On Sunday morning — the first day of summer — I returned to Columbus Park to monitor breeding birds.  I also visited the families of Canada Geese and Wood Ducks we’ve been following since May.

The seven-week-old Canada Geese had adult-like feathers on their bodies. From a distance, they looked like smaller versions of their parents:

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The Canada Goose family was more mobile and more nervous than before -- they headed for the lagoon as I approached.

They still looked like miniature adults when I zoomed a bit closer:

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The new-grown body feathers made this gosling look like a miniature adult.

But when a gosling flapped its wings, it was clear it still had a way to go before becoming an adult:

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The seven-week-old Canada Goose had not grown full-length flight feathers.

Here are four previous posts about this Canada Goose family:

I also found the family of one-month-old Wood Ducks on a tree-lined shore of the lagoon. As usual, the mother Wood Duck eyed me nervously and led her brood to cover. I couldn’t get a clear photo of the entire family. I counted nine ducklings instead of the usual eleven, but the last two may have been hiding in the leaves:

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The month-old Wood Ducks were almost as big as their mom, but their feathers still looked babyish.

Here are two previous posts about this Wood Duck family:

We’ll keep watching both families as they grow, and we’ll post more photos on this blog.

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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.

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.
 

Following Families of Canada Geese and Wood Ducks at Columbus Park June 8, 2009

Filed under: Animals,Birds,Seasons,Spring — saltthesandbox @ 11:30 am
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Late last week I returned to Columbus Park to check on the families of Canada Geese and Wood Ducks. The five-week-old Canada Goose goslings were bigger than ever and starting to replace their downy coverings with some adult-like feathers:

This five-week-old Canada Goose is starting to look like its parents.

This five-week-old Canada Goose is starting to look like its parents.

The goslings are growing fast because they almost never stop eating. Even as they rest, they continue to nibble on green grass at the edge of the lagoon:

The young Canada Geese rarely stop feeding on grass. One parent kept an eye on me as the other chased off another goose.

The young Canada Geese rarely stop feeding on grass. One parent kept an eye on me as the other parent chased off another goose.

Unfortunately, I saw only four young geese that day. Sometime during the previous week a gosling was lost, perhaps to a predator like a dog or raccoon.

Here are four additional posts about the Canada Goose family:

There was better news about the Wood Duck family — I saw all eleven ducklings last week. When I first saw them, the two-week-old ducklings were resting in the sun beside some turtles:

The two-week-old Wood Duck babies were resting on a log beside some turtles.

The two-week-old Wood Duck babies were resting on a log beside some turtles.

Later their mother took them for a meal in the shallow southwest part of the lagoon. Of course, once she saw me, she called them together, and they headed for cover:

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The mother Wood Duck guided her family to safety when I got too close.

Here are two other posts about this Wood Duck family:

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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.

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.

We’ll keep watching both families as they grow, and we’ll post more photos on this blog.

 

A Dickcissel in Our Backyard! June 1, 2009

Filed under: Animals,Birds,Seasons,Spring — saltthesandbox @ 9:09 am
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Dickcissels are small birds usually found in tallgrass prairies and unplowed farm fields. (As my friend Jane reminded me, “The character Laura in the book Little House on the Prairie watches Dickcissels flit in the tallgrass.”)

So this morning I was quite surprised to find one feeding in the brushy corner of our pocket-sized backyard in south Oak Park, Illinois! With their yellow-and-black breasts and stripy brown backs, Dickcissils look like miniature Meadowlarks:

The balck and yellow breast, yellow-and-white eye stripe, and gray on the side of the neck identify this as an adult male Dickcissel.

The back-and-yellow breast, yellow-and-white eye stripe, and gray on the side of the head and neck identify this bird as a male Dickcissel.

However, our Sibley Guide groups Dickcissels with the tanagers, grosbeaks, and cardinals. Sibley also says that Dickcissels sometimes hang with House Sparrows, as this one was today. In fact, when they turn away, Dickcissel backs look a lot like House Sparrow backs:

The Dickcissel back reminds me of a House Sparrow's back, but the yellow on the eye stripe and the gray coloring on its half-turned neck give it away.

The Dickcissel's back reminds me of a House Sparrow's back. However, the yellow on the eye stripe and the gray coloring on its half-turned neck give it away.

I guess it pays to look at every bird that visits your yard — you never know what will show up! It also pays to have a brush pile in your yard, however small. (Ethan repaired our brush pile earlier this spring.)

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Note added at about noon the same day:

I checked the eBird website to see where Dickcissels have been seen in our county. The closest location to us is Miller Meadow, a few miles west of here, where they have been seen in June and July the past two years. I wonder if they have nested there, since the habitat seems appropriate? (See this Illinois Birders’ Forum post for more information about Miller Meadow and nearby locations.)

And wouldn’t it be cool if this male Dickcissel found his way to the meadow habitats in Columbus Park, less than a mile east of our yard?

Note added 2 p.m. the same day:

Jill Anderson, who monitors Miller Meadow for eBird, just posted a report on IBET. She said she stopped by Miller Meadow today and saw a male Dickcissel — the first one she’s seen there this year. She also confirmed that Dickcissels have nested there the past few years.

Note added a week later: On Saturday, June 6, we made our first to Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, south of Joliet, Illinois. The place was packed with singing Dickcissels, especially near the Explosives Road Trailhead! (See this map. Midewin used to be part of the Joliet Army Ammunition Plant.)

We hope our backyard Dickcissel found a place like Midewin to spend the summer.

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To learn more about Dickcissels, please visit these websites:

All About Birds: For a basic description of this species, with photos and song recordings, go here.

Wikipedia: For an encyclopedia-style entry, go here.

Dickcissel Conservation in Venezuela: Because they migrate to South America during our winter, protecting this species is an international issue. Go here to read more.

 

Tulip Tree Flowers May 29, 2009

Filed under: Plants,Seasons,Spring,Trees — saltthesandbox @ 12:07 pm
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Our neighborhood Tulip Tree is finally blooming! Lots of other trees flower first and then open their leaves, but Tulip Trees do the opposite. So, here’s a side view of the flower, which reminds me of a subtly colored garden tulip (if there is such a thing):

Our neighborhood Tulip Tree is finally flowering!

Our neighborhood Tulip Tree is finally flowering!

Now, let’s peek inside a flower. Because Tulip Trees are a kind of magnolia, there are lots of pollen-producing parts surrounding a cone-like mass of seed-producing parts. They say this is what some of the first flowers looked like, back during dinosaur times:

The Tulip Tree flower has lots of male parts surrounding a cone-shpaed mass of female parts.

The Tulip Tree flower has lots of male parts surrounding a cone-shaped mass of female parts.

The next photo shows an unopened bud below a flower:

Some of the buds are not yet open -- that means you have a few more days if you want to see this Tulip Tree in bloom.

Some of the buds are not yet open -- that means you have a few more days if you want to see this Tulip Tree in bloom.

Oak Parkers and other who want to see Tulip Tree flowers can find this tree on the south side of Rehm Park, where Scoville deadends into the park. It’s a young tree, so some flowers are at eye level for adults. There are other Tulip Trees in town, but they’re so tall that you need binoculars to appreciate the flowers.

We’ve been following this tree since early spring. In case you missed those posts, here’s what a Tulip Tree twig looked like on April 29, when the leaf buds had just opened:

The Tulip Tree buds have opened, revealing expanding leaves around the remains of last year's fruits.

On April 29, the Tulip Tree buds had opened, revealing expanding leaves around the remains of last year's fruits.

Also on April 29, the flower buds were just beginning to form:

On April 29 the flower buds were still rather small.

In late April the Tulip Tree's almond-shaped flower buds were rather small.

Back on April 8th, the leaf buds were opening below the remains of last year’s seed pods:

Back on April 8th, the leaf buds were just beginning to open.

On April 8th, the Tulip Tree's duckbill-shaped leaf buds were just beginning to open.

If you want to see what happens once the flowers fade away and seeds begin to form, go here.

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Can you tell I like Tulip Trees? They remind me of my younger days, when I first explored the woodlands of southern Ohio and Indiana. I saw huge Tulip Trees in some of the old growth forests. I also love the link Tulip Trees provide to Early Cretaceous flowers (that’s the later part of dinosaur times). So, I’m glad that the Parks Department and Village Forester have planted at least a few Tulip Trees in our parks and along our streets.

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To learn more about Tulip Trees, you can check these websites:

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This post is our contribution to this month’s Festival of the Trees. This blog carnival includes several other Tulip Tree posts, plus posts on other tree flowers, tree fruits, knots and gnarls, and more. Go here to read the festival entries.

 

Now We Have Baby Wood Ducks, Too! May 28, 2009

Filed under: Animals,Birds,Seasons,Spring — saltthesandbox @ 4:39 pm
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This spring we’ve seen baby robins and baby geese at nearby Columbus Park. Late last week, while I was out town, the boys found baby Wood Ducks at Columbus Park. When I went back today, I found the mother duck with her week-old babies:

The mother Wood Duck watched her eleven babies -- and me.

The mother Wood Duck watched her eleven babies -- and me.

When I got too close, she gathered them together.

When I got too close, she gathered them together.

Then they headed for cover under bushes at the edge of the lagoon.

Then they headed for cover under bushes at the edge of the lagoon.

Mother Wood Ducks are small and not too strong. When danger threatens, they protect their babies by swimming away and hiding them. (Compare this to the larger, stronger Canada Geese — they protect their young by attacking anything that threatens them.)

We’re so happy to have a Wood Duck family at Columbus Park this year! We’ve been watching the parents since early March, when they first returned after spending the winter somewhere south of here. (Go here to see Ethan’s first Wood Duck photos of the year.) In mid April the mother Wood Duck disappeared, but we still saw the male on the lagoon most days. We hoped she had found a hollow tree to nest in — and it seems she did! And now, finally, the mother duck has brought her babies to the lagoon.

Here are two later posts about this Wood Duck family:

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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.

We’ll keep watching the Wood Duck family as they grow, and we’ll post the photos on this blog.

 

Update on Bird Migration: This Morning’s Radar May 19, 2009

Filed under: Animals,Birds,Seasons,Spring — saltthesandbox @ 6:48 am
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Yesterday’s Chicago Tribune weather radar showed birds migrating away from our neighborhood. (Go here to see it.) Today’s early morning radar showed birds landing in Chicago:

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The green "doughnuts" are night-migrating birds flying north near radar installations. The green disappears as the sun rises and the birds land for the day. Image from the Chicago Tribune's online weather page. (The radar shows a real storm system over northern Michigan.)

Notice how, after all the green disappears over land, there is still green over Lake Michigan. That’s because birds who find themselves migrating over water at sunrise have no place to land. This next image shows what happens on the radar as these birds head for the closest shore:

Wtahc the green over Lake Michigan slowly disappear as birds migrating over water head for the closest land. This radar image ends an hour later than the one above.

Watch the green over Lake Michigan slowly disappear as birds migrating over water head for the closest land. This radar image ends an hour later than the one above -- the over-water migrants will be extra tired once they come to Earth.

So, our neighborhood should have some newly arrived migrants this morning, and parks and neighborhoods along the Lake Michigan shoreline should be packed with newly arrived birds. It will be interesting to read today’s online reports from places like Montrose Park in Chicago.

As always, we’ll let you know what we see and hear in our neighborhood.

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Note added at 7:45 a.m. the same day: So far we have heard no warblers singing in our yard. We did just hear a Gray Catbird singing one or two backyards to the south — they had been gone from our neighborhood for several days.

Note added at 9:45 a.m. the same day: The day’s first report on Montrose birds has been posted on the Illinois birders e-mail list. It stated, “Montrose was pretty good this morning, finally. Obviously last night’s southwest winds did some good.” The report listed 21 species of warblers. (A report from yesterday listed 17 species.)

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To learn more:

You can study bird migration using radar images from WeatherUnderground (the source of the Tribune’s images) and the National Weather Service radar website.

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

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