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:
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:
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:
I waited as the nuts began to grow later in May:
I waited as the nuts grew all through June:
And I waited through the first weeks of July:
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:
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!)
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:
Here are two previous posts about this Wood Duck family:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.)
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.
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.
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):
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 next photo shows an unopened bud below a flower:
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:
Also on April 29, the flower buds were just beginning to form:
Back on April 8th, the leaf buds were opening below the remains of last year’s seed pods:
If you want to see what happens once the flowers fade away and seeds begin to form, go here.
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.
To learn more about Tulip Trees, you can check these websites:
Wikipedia: Encyclopedia-style information about Tulip Trees.
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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.)
This spring we’ve been tracking the overnight migration of birds using the Chicago Tribune‘s online weather radar. (For examples of earlier posts, go here and here.) Last night’s weather radar showed migrating birds headed north, but we’re afraid more birds left our area than arrived on the southerly winds. Here’s the Midwest radar image from early Sunday night:
The image shows much more migration in the Mississippi valley (on the left side of the map) than in Ohio and eastern Indiana (on the right). Looking at a map of wind patterns, we can see why:
To see why the winds blew this way, we can check the Midwest weather map for early Monday morning. It shows a high pressure area centered over northeast Indiana:
Winds blow clockwise around a high pressure area, which is why the winds blew from the south over Illinois and states to the west and north. Winds were calm near the center of the high in eastern Indiana and Ohio. Because birds in these areas did not have southerly winds to help their journey north, they stayed where they were.
Now lets look at the radar image from near sunrise. It shows migrating birds landing as sunrise shifts from east to west across the map:
The radar image shows few birds landing in our neighborhood just west of Chicago. Lots of birds took off from here last night, but few landed here this morning. It seems last night’s migration took birds away from our neighborhood, but did not replace them with new birds from the south.
So, what does this mean for bird watching in our neighborhood? For one thing, it’s been very quiet this morning. For the past few weeks we’ve been hearing warbler songs at sunrise, but I’ve heard none so far this morning. Maybe it’s the cool weather — the temperature was only 41 degrees at 6 a.m. — but I suspect we’ve got fewer migratory birds in our neighborhood this morning.
Today we’ll keep track of the birds that visit our yard in south Oak Park, and I’ll take a walk to nearby Columbus Park on the west side of Chicago. Check back tonight for a report on what birds we find — and what birds have left our area.
Note added at 9:15 a.m. the same day: As we were getting ready for school, we heard a Rose-breasted Grosbeak singing across the alley and an Eastern Towhee singing a few backyards to the south. So, there are still a few migrants around our neighborhood. However, we still have not heard a warbler singing this morning.
Note added at 8:00 p.m. the same day: Well, we never did see or hear a warbler in our yard today — they have left our block, at least temporarily.
The first warbler I heard today was a Tennessee Warbler singing in the Harrison Street Arts District at 10:20 a.m.as I walked to Columbus Park. I identified only seven species of warbler in Columbus Park this morning, plus there were a couple of warbler-like songs I could not identify with certainty. That’s compared with the 25 warbler species we found there during the Spring Bird Count nine days ago. After school we made a quick trip to Humboldt Park in Chicago to see a rare duck (Surf Scoter) — we saw only five species of warbler there.
This could all change tomorrow. Right now there are south winds blowing up from central Illinois and Indiana, and they should keep blowing overnight. If there are birds down there that didn’t migrate last night, they could take off and arrive here this morning — or maybe they’ll pass right through to Wisconsin.
Mosquitoes go through life-cycle stages as they grow: First egg, then wriggly larvae, then a make-over pupa stage, and finally a winged adult. (Go here or here to see these stages illustrated.) Last week our Mosquitoes were all larvae. This week, the larvae have grown (some as big as a grain of rice), and some larvae have shed their skins and become curled-up pupae:
Adult Mosquitoes should be appearing soon. (Don’t worry, we won’t turn them loose in the neighborhood!)
The Water Flea jar we showed last week is doing fine — some of the eggs that were inside the Water Fleas’ bodies have even hatched. To see if there were any new creatures in our outdoor pools, we filled a new jar with water from our backyard bug pond. Sure enough, there were two new creatures — both crustaceans, related to crabs and such — along with last week’s Water Fleas.
Ostacods, also called Seed Shrimp, have legs and antenna, but they’re mostly covered by their clam-shaped shells. Copepods are streamlined, with antennae, legs, and a tail-like structure. Many also carry twin egg sacs beside the tail this time of year. As we discussed last week, Water Fleas have large antennae, used as oars:
To learn more about Ostracods, please go here. To find out more about Copepods, go here or here. To learn more about Water Fleas, go here or here.
We’ll be dipping into our outdoor water every week from now through fall. We’ll post updates as we find new creatures.
Of course, if you’re inadventantly raising mosquitos in your backyard pool or birdbath, now’s the time to do something about it. If you don’t want to keep them as pets in a covered jar, it’s best to dump them on the ground (as food for ants) and start over with new water.
In mid June we added a new pond water pet: A Water Scorpion. We feed it our remaining pet Mosquito larvae. Go here to read about it.
Saturday was Spring Bird Count day in Illinois, and our family counted birds at several Chicago-area parks and west-side locations. Our most impressive finds were at Columbus Park, where we recorded 80 species for the day!
My son Ethan (aged 13) describes the Columbus Park part of our day on his new blog, nicknamed “OCB” for “Obsessive Compulsive Birding.” His first post is here:
When we returned to Columbus Park just before sunset Aaron and I found birds number 79 and 80 for our Columbus Park list: Orchard Oriole and Downy Woodpecker. Aaron also may have seen a Connecticut Warbler, but we couldn’t nail down that identification.
For the entire day of birding we found 92 species. That’s not a bad day for city birding, especially when you don’t have any large lakes, marshes, or mudflats in your count area.
So I guess this goes to show that you don’t need to travel far to see great birds during the migration season. A place like Columbus Park provides a range of small habitats where migrating birds can stop over and refuel for the rest of their journeys.