Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Some things I forgot from yesterday:

This waterlily pad showed up yesterday.  I'm not sure why there's just one... I expect many to come, with flowers in the summer.
Students found this egg on the trail.  They all assume it's a robin's egg, but it's actually a bit more pale of a blue.  Starling?

Today's additional birds:
cardinal.  That's all we saw today that we didn't see yesterday.

1 part of 1 precocious linden/basswood.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

List of lists

Bird Sightings Today (I had two classes out birding today, for a total of about 2.5 hours actual birding time.  This is what we saw):
yellow-rumped warbler (yeah, I'm starting with the most impressive-sounding)
common tern
unidentifiable brown diving duck
mallard duck
Canada goose
sandpiper (the most common kind, I'm sure)
brown-headed cow bird
red-tailed hawk
turkey vulture
mourning dove
house sparrow
tree swallow

Notable leaf outs: 
American hazel
2 crazy maples at school that are ahead of the rest

Really swollen buds:

First flowers:
service berry
a few other ornamental flowering bushes I didn't stop to ID

Almost theres:
crab apple
wild strawberry

Also notable:
my shooting stars have flower buds -- they are going to flower!  Success!
my queen of the prairie is going nuts


Garden emergences:
snap peas (over the weekend)
(spinach and radishes also progressing nicely)

I took photos of most of this, but decided there were too many to download...

And a sad, totally non-phenological tragedy (except as it relates to weather):
The winds must have been strong today.  I had a lovely [expensive] glass windchime that I got in Boulder a few summer ago.  Over the winter it lives in the kitchen, and when it's warm enough I put it on the porch.  It went out last weekend (along with the glass mushrooms).  Today I came home and found the string broken and the colorful glass plates shattered all over the deck.  So sad.  I guess I am in the market for a new windchime.  

Monday, April 27, 2009

Tired of me yet?

OK, it would certainly be ridiculous to complain about a self-imposed mandate... but it is hard to upkeep a phenology blog at this time of year.  So much is happening so quickly!  Certain things I have just entirely written off.  I figure that gives me something to write about next year, when my loyal readers have read all about the bloodroot and the may apples... they will have read nothing of the pussy willow of the birch!  Anyhow, I had planned to write about some of the things I observed in my mom's yard last night (I still will), but then this morning, I saw several other noteworthy things to write about as well.

As I believe I have previously mentioned, my parents' yard in Highland Park contains a wealth of native woodland stock.  Without trying, they get wildflowers popping up -- right in the middle of the lawn, (and sometimes, unfortunately, under the blade of the lawnmower).  It's their whole area.  The house across the street... when I was growing up, it was a blue house and the whole front yard was a little forest.  No grass at all.  It had bloodroot and black raspberries and I don't remember what all else.  The house was totally remodeled and new people moved in; the yard for a little more tailored over time but kept its natural qualities.  About a year ago, the house sold again.  The new owners have destroyed everything but the trees.  Under and around them is all wood chips.  There were bloodroot in there that were in huge clumps, like how I dream of mine someday being.  Criminal.  And speaking of criminal... I should have dug it up in the middle of the night when I had the chance!  Would have, if I'd known the new people would destroy them.

So without doing any sort of planting or thieving, searching for woodland natives (which are much harder to come by than prairie natives), or any work at all, my mom's yard has a field of trout lilies, which are blooming.  They have spread into the lawn and survived living under canoes. (Last year, we transplanted several to my yard, due to the canoe factor.  Only one tiny leaf came back in my yard.  Where the canoes used to be, you can't even tell we took any.  (The canoes now have a lovely rack, btw.)) Embedded parentheses, how about that?!?

Their yard also has spring beauties by the hundreds, anemones in large numbers (pictured below left), trillium, and Virginia waterleaf.  Later it will have jewelweed, and I always remember wild onions but I don't know if those still come back.
Of course, they also have their problems.  Buckthorn stayed away for a long while, but recently made its debut and is there in full force.  They have poison ivy by the side of the house!  And, as seen above right, they gots the garlic mustard -- which I did pull after photographing.  This particular invasive biennial is not a problem in my yard, and I count myself lucky.  (When I moved in, I had a small clump of it.  I pulled it out and haven't seen any more since!)  You might think that since it's not a perennial and since it's pretty easy to weed with the root included, that it wouldn't be that much of a problem.  Wrong.  It makes a million seeds, and that's hardly an exaggeration.  But worse, it poisons the soil where it lives.  Mustards are some of the only plants that don't rely upon tiny invisible fungi in the soil for survival.  Our native mustards don't need them, but live among them.  Garlic mustard, on the other hand, lets out a fungicide from its roots, killing the stuff that makes the soil hospitable to other plant life.  Not a good neighbor.  And the only thing that really eats it?  People.  That's how it got here in the first place, as a culinary herb.  Oops.  And people aren't eating it anymore.  So in a week or so, all the roadsides will be decorated with this innocent-looking but evil white flower.  Time for a weeding party!

On to my own digs.     

The fern forest that takes over part of my yard made its emergence sometime this weekend.  (This is just the cutest stage in a fern's life cycle, no?)  These ferns take over the area, out-competing almost everything else -- including other native ferns I have planted.  But they are pretty and low maintenance, so I'm not complaining.  They thrive in the shade of my box elders, and they actually do an OK job at keeping the buckthorn in check. 

And each day, I notice other emergences in the yard, such as, this morning, Joe Pye Weed (pictured below), some blazing stars (not below because, honestly, all these emerging plants look really similar), Bellwort (also below).  Also trillium almost flowering (below) and prairie alumroot (emerged awhile ago...)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Rain, rain again...

We're at just about 2 inches of rain since yesterday afternoon.  Doesn't seem like a lot, really... and yet, parts of our yard and garden are flooded.  Now that it's finally stopped raining, I wanted to go out and do some weeding... but it's too wet to even walk in the yard without wrecking it!

Too bad we didn't have the rain barrels out. 

More rain predicted for tomorrow. 

Rain, rain...

This weather -- chilly and alternately pouring rain and drizzle -- is great for watching movies or snuggling up with a book... and apparently for marsh marigolds.  This one in my yard opened up today; with the sump pump pumping away, it is nearly submerged!

Over 1.5 inches of rain in the last 24 hours, with more falling fast!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A million things to say.

Lilac leaves.

As I sit and write this, I listen to the steady patter of rain through the window, punctuated by an occasional distant thunderclap.  This morning, we got up and worked in the garden, savoring the warm weather that had hung on since yesterday.  We went to the farmer's market, and the car thermometer read 72 degrees (this was 10:30 or so).  As we finished our shopping there, huge, splattering raindrops began to fall -- and soon were mixed with hailstones!  I saw lightning streak across the sky.  By the time we got home from several errands, the temperature was 54 degrees.  But from inside it is actually pleasant, the sound calming.  And the world 
looks green and almost summery.  

This is, in reality, an illusion.  A lot of the green that is starting to pop out is not the leaves emerging, but rather the trees flowering (see photo of maple flowers at right).  These flowers are what gave Crayola the color "spring green," in my opinion.  This shade that hugs the tree branches now won't appear at any other time of the year.

After all the anticipation, my bloodroot is essentially finished flowering,  Spring ephemerals, they call this group of wildflowers.  Ephemeral.  Fleeting, short-lived.  An appropriate name, but even more appropriate for the connotation than the denotation.  To me, the very word has a shimmering quality.  Like a mirage.  You see it, it is beautiful, but if you reach out to touch it, you will find it isn't there at all.  

In other spring ephemeral news, I thought that my Dutchman's Breeches were not coming back.  Turns out, they emerged yesterday or the day before, but they are quite small and definitely
 won't flower this year.  I don't know if they are growing bigger by the year, or smaller by the year, but I am hoping for the former.  My May apples (seen emerging at right) have been spreading like wildfire, apparently.  Where one used to be, I now have a circle of 5 emerging; another one has turned to a circle of 4.  (And 2 others continue to be solo acts.  Perhaps they don't have such prime locations.)  I am not sure if a circle of 5 constitutes a fairy circle yet, but I am on my way in the future!  I quite like the idea of tiny fairies dancing around my spring
 ephemerals, perhaps napping under the colorful glass mushrooms that I put back into the yard yesterday...

I am also happy to report that my silphium is coming back. 
 For days I have been looking and not seen it; today I pulled back the leaves and found that there are as many as 10 tiny, deeply lobed leaves that are already probably 6 inches tall.  This compass plant just may be my favorite thing in my yard... maybe... so I am thrilled and relieved to have it returning.  (See photo at right.)  Other updates to briefly
  1. the ash tree in my yard has swelling buds, but no leaves to speak of; just three houses down, there are emerging leaves from an ash tree.  Don't ask me...
  2. Honey locust buds and redbud buds (the flower ones) are also swelling and ready.  As compound leaves tend to leaf out late, these are notable!
  3. Oak buds continue to swell, but no leaves there, either.

Below are a few photos from previous updates:  The first tulip, pasqueflower, some cool mushroom gills, emerging wild ginger,two turtle shells, and Virginia bluebells almost flowering.  

Thursday, April 23, 2009


No time for photos, drawings, or even good writing... just a list of today's happenings:
  1. Wild ginger emerged. In shadiest places, it's just now peaking out. In slightly lighter shady spots, the whole leaves are out and big (but wrinkled).
  2. Pasqueflower blooming (1 in my yard is open, the other is not, and the third is dead...)
  3. Mayapples emerging, but still all folded up (and one got chewed already!)
  4. First tulip opened at school, but none in my yard even look close.
  5. Virginia bluebells have big purple buds, and will flower any day now.
  6. Lilacs have fully leafed out. Many shrubs are learing away, actually...
  7. Lilies of the valley are emerging.
  8. Cattails are about 6 inches above the water's surface (and the water is pretty high); visible where dead plants are now.
  9. Purple Coneflower emerged a few days ago, but is now looking robust.
  10. I have confirmed the happy suspicion that the mystery plants in my yard are shooting star! (Not flowering yet).
  11. In the garden, spinach planties and radish planties emerged. Also, a large crop of weeds...
  12. Tomorrow may hit 8o degrees! (SO happy I get to spend it in an institute day.)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day

Happy Earth Day!!!

A busy, sunny, windy day.
Observations and happenings:
  1. Bur Oak buds beginning to swell.
  2. Cattails poking new green leaves in burned areas.
  3. Student found very large egg shell cracked open. Of what, I do not know.
  4. Student also found two dead turtles. One just a shell, one rotting inside with maggots and everything. Took photos, but no time to download them now.
  5. Many tree swallows nesting in bluebird boxes.
  6. Moths on my garage door when I got home tonight.
  7. Planted potatoes in garden (not me, personally).

A Sad Day

Yesterday was grey and rainy and blustery and, overall, icky.  (So much for embracing the weather, whatever it is!)  The day ended in over 3 hours of school board meeting, on the way to which I came across this guy.  A vole, who was alive but not doing at all well.  I couldn't tell why, he had no apparent injuries.  He was breathing.  But he was just laying there, waiting, I guess, to die.  How sad, to make it through the cold winter and then kick it just as spring makes its entrance.  Yesterday was cold, but I can't imagine it was cold enough to do in a vole, so I have no idea what ailed him.  And I thought about putting him out of his misery but couldn't do it because I wanted him to make a miraculous recovery, or at least make some hawk very happy. 

I love voles.  I know that sounds like an odd thing to say, but I really do.  They are the unglorified base of the prairie food chain.  Thousands of them, even in very small prairies, live hidden from view, providing food for owls and hawks, coyotes and foxes.  They tunnel, but not underground.  In the winter, they live in the subnivean zone, insulated by the snow.  You can see their chimneys and exit holes all over.  A lot of people don't even care, they're so common, but I love seeing them.  Knowing they're there and safe.  (Or, people think you really meant to say mole, which is a totally different creature...and go totally unaware of the voles all around them, totally distinct from house mice.)  

In the warmer months of the year, they tunnel under the matted grasses.  They have kitchens, where they cache and eat their seeds.  They have bathrooms, where they, well... duh.  They have bedrooms where they sleep in their family groups.  Under-appreciated and disorganized in their messy way.  

So I thank this one and I mourn him (while I hope against hope that he made it OK).  

Monday, April 20, 2009

My Morning.

Despite my lovely poem, we awoke this morning to cold rain -- which the weather channel assured us would continue into tomorrow and mix with snow. As you can imagine, I was somewhat grumpy at this, knowing, as I did, that I would still be out this morning setting up the Earth Week scavenger hunt -- which many classes would probably not even do in this weather. And so, at 6:50 in the morning, I set off on my bicycle with the signs that I had carefully enclosed in zipper bags and my trusty clothespins. Riding a bicycle on a day like today means that not only was there water pouring down from the sky, but also splashing up, mixed with mud, from below. And that's being optimistic. I should probably say it was mixed with mud and worm guts, because there were so many worms seeking refuge from the deluge that the whole world smelled wormy. So I was grumpy. And muttering obscenities as I had to take my hood off (needed the peripheral vision, you see), exposing my head and neck to the water.

And then... and then things started to happen. I saw movement and slowed my riding. A coyote was walking across the trail. I stopped to hang a sign; she walked closer and closer to me. Finally, about 15 feet from where I stood, she froze and turned her head to look at me. I stared at her. She stared at me. We shared a moment between human and wildness. Finally, she turned and trotted on in her direction of travel and, having several more signs to hang, I rode on in mine.

A trickster in Native American mythology, and a bane on suburban existence, these
canines maybe get a bad reputation that they don't deserve. The are just like us, doing what they need to do to survive in a world that is changing fast. Everything, it seems, that does well with the changes we humans have made becomes a problem species for us. The tricksters are the only ones that can thrive. This coyote was not at all mangy looking; she was smallish, and fluffy and very healthy looking. She didn't seem like a pest, or a dog-killer or a baby-eater. And she opened my eyes to the world on a rainy morning.

Anyhow, the morning was transformed. What would happen next? I noticed ducks landing on the pond, their wings pointed down and showing their blues and whites, the water splashing and sparkling. Songbirds abounded. A red tailed hawk swooped down right in front of me -- I could see his orange tail and speckled belly, I could see the power in his wing stroke and the genius in his hollow-boned, aerodynamic design.

Magic. There is magic in everything. Beauty in every rainy grey day. Opportunity in every moment. Open your eyes and look.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Why I am not a poet.

Rain, rain, go away,
We have to celebrate Earth Day
And even though you help the plants
You wet our hair and soak our pants
And all the classes want it to be sunny
So they can have lots of fun-ny.
So please take a break
While I'm not awake
Then we can have our ribbon cutting.

Steady rain for 24 hours. Also dropping temperatures. Not the weather we want going into Earth Week.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A million things

So much is happening that it's hard to remember it all, and even harder to do more than just list it all! My bloodroot fully opened this morning (but now has closed up like in the drawing above). Also two hepatica plants, which I'm told are pretty sensitive, so yea!

In bittersweet plant news, the buckthorn has leafed out (see photo)... bitter because buckthorn is a terribly invasive plant. It poisons the soil around it, making the areas it lives uninhabitable for native species. It creates a mono-culture. And it's berries aren't really a great food source for birds; nothing really eats it. The only sweet aspect is, now that they've leafed out, I can see them really well. I pulled about 50 out of my yard. (Although I just realized that I left the one in the photo!) That was pretty dumb.

I have a few flowers on my celandine poppies! I got those from a friend a few years ago. She had them in her yard and they had such beautiful yellow flowers, and she dug up some small ones for me. But for years, I got no yellow flowers. This year, I will have many and I am so happy.

The box elders are progressing -- see how different they look from the sketch I made last weekend! I am also pretty sure willows have leafed out and are flowering (but I made this diagnosis through a car window, which means it may not be accurate.)

Our raspberry bushes have also leafed out. We got two more and planted them today. This was all we got done in the yard, though. We spent the day helping a friend install raised beds. I am glad we did this -- he's helped up a lot in the past and it's just, in general, good to help friends. But it is a little bit frustrating to work all day and then get home and realize that... um... nothing got done in my yard. And it has clouded over and is supposed to rain, and I think also get cold. Which will make getting yard stuff dome tomorrow unlikely. (The house will be sparkling clean, though!)

Bumble bees bumbling, spiders spidering today. The sky seems exciting and I keep waiting for crazy weather, but it's been the same grey since the clouds blew in a few hours ago. (Before that is was sunny and in the 70s and perfect).

Friday, April 17, 2009

A+ Day

Alders are leafing out. (Their flowers are now dried and spent).
Apples, crab are leafing out.
The green is coming!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

First Tick

This bugger was on Chris' neck when he got home tonight. Embedded and everything. He probably got it when he was out before lunch. Creepy. Now we have to watch out for these things for the next 2 months...

Things my yard is making

Crap day (week? month?) at work made up for by what I discovered while planting wild garlic generously given to me -- one of many wonderful gifts today, a high point of my workday -- by fivecrows . Here are some new discoveries.

1. Emerging pasqueflower.
2. Prairie Smoke.
3. Trillium.
4. Emerging red baneberry.
5. Bloodroot. My one plant has friends. I have discovered 2 more plants. The one shown here has 2 leaves and 2 flowers!!!!
6. Hepatica. Can you believe it!!!!
7. Spring beauties, transferred from my mom's house. Trout lily transfer not successful, but these survived.
Also, celandine poppies have many buds, and I will get flowers for the first time this year.
Basil and tomato seedlings popping up inside, and lots of sunflowers. Late to class!!! But so excited!!!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Baseball phenology

The ivy at Wrigley is still brown.

It was chilly but not terrible (probably low 50s, but with no sun and not moving at all); cloudy until inning 7; 10 mph wind from the north. I made it through the game without wearing my snow pants. But I did have long underwear, my winter coat, a fleece, hat, gloves, and boots. But this may not be a phenological observation, it turns out, because the girl next to me was wearing capris and a t-shirt. In the third inning she put on the light spring jacket that she had been sitting on.

Honestly, it was like I was in the tundra and she was in Florida but somehow we had been beamed together.

Rock doves abounded. (Doesn't that sound more bird-nerdy than pigeons?)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Calling the sun!

It is an excellent time of year for studying bird nests. Old ones are completely visible due to the lack of leaves; new ones are being constructed. I have noticed birds of several species carrying straw or other materials. Some classes at school are studying birds. I got a bird nest identification book so that we could study nests and learn which birds made them. Turns out, even with a guide and a bird nest right in front of you, this is hard. I would love to go on a walk with someone who was expert in that area. Yes, that entire paragraph was mainly an excuse to put the drawing in there that I did in my nature journal a few weeks ago.

In plant news. There is a trillium emerging in my yard in a place where we did not plant one. I am not complaining about this, mind you. I'm thrilled. But I am a little miffed that the ones we did plant are not coming back. Is this a joke? Did Chippy cleverly move them just as he and I were getting to like each other?

One of the bloodroots I planted 2 years ago is hanging on. Last year, it came up with 1 pathetic leaf. This year, it appears it will have 1 pathetic (and I mean small) flower to go with its one pathetic leaf. I guess we're moving in the right direction. I wish we were moving faster. I want one of those huge clumps, with over 10 flowers and so many leaves that you don't mind picking one to show people why it's called "bloodroot."

I wish I had rescued the ones across the street from my mom's before the new neighbors -- not realizing or not caring that they had a goldmine of native plant materials -- destroyed it all and put plain mulch. They probably thought they had weeds, and now they have the clean look of trees and wood chips. Makes me grumpy.

Other things that I am pretty sure are not coming back in my yard: Dutchman's breeches. I keep meaning to go to OO and check the ones there for comparison, but I expect to have something by now...

In closing, Naomi is going to the Cubs game tomorrow, so let's all cross our fingers that the weather is better than it's been. (Tomorrow night marks an important phenological event -- after this game, I will be able to put away my snow pants, boots, etc. for the year.)

Monday, April 13, 2009

A dwarf iris...

A bright spot in an otherwise dreary day.  Rainy and dark and in the 30s... I'd rather have snow!

It's a beautiful day for baseball -- I wouldn't normally say this, but I'm sure glad I didn't have tickets for opening day at Wrigley.  

Two goldfinches...

yellow as lemons, fluttering around the backyard birdfeeders this morning. 

Sunday, April 12, 2009

In the cultivated world

This little guy opened up today in my garden. Many others will be right behind it, but are buds now. It's another purple flower that lives right in my midst and yet I do not know its name. (Input appreciated.) I didn't plant them, but the people who lived here previously may have. At any rate, they pop up every year quite early in the bed where I plant annuals. By the time I am ready to plant the other flowers, they are gone. They come back the next year regardless of what I put there in the summer or where I put it. Good for them.

In the garden, I planted sugar snap peas, radishes, lettuce, spinach, cilantro and carrots today. These should be able to withstand the cold so long as we don't have a major snowfall. Started hardening off the onion seedlings that we started too late, hoping to put them, and potatoes, in the ground next weekend. Yea!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Yard Ramblings

My scanner adds a whole new dimension to blogging. Actually, I quite prefer carrying a sketch book and a pencil to carrying a camera... or, I guess I should say, I prefer sketching to taking pictures... but it is a lot slower, and surely less accurate as well.

Above is a sketch of the tiny white violets that are blooming in several locations of my yard. Despite being violets, they are not purple except for the very base of the bottom petal -- the part that cups the pistil and is, in my drawing, cupped under the stem at the right side. The reproductive parts, which I tried to show in the small sketch to the right, are orange and yellow, coming to a triangular point. They are almost enclosed in the soft petals; yet the way the petals fold back at the top makes the whole thing seem inviting. Come in, it says... and if you do, a faint sweet smell will greet you, almost sticky. I am also quite taken with the fringe that surrounds the pistil, making this ordinary lawn plant seem exotic and special. The delicate, irregular flowers grow in clumps, with several flowers and many basal leaves originating from the same place. The clumps themselves grow in clumps... To many, they are weeds, since they manage to grow in lawns among the grass. I take the opposite view, that grass is the interloper that doesn't belong here. That the yard would be better off if the wildflowers took back over.

So each year, a little bit more of my lawn becomes garden. This year, the new garden space is mostly in vegetables, but a few natives will find their way into the edges as well. And meanwhile, conflicted, I will continue to care for the turf grass that is so poorly adapted to this area that, unwatered, it turns yellow midsummer. (This is the fate of my lawn. We will mow and feed; I will stress out about bare patches and having a yard that doesn't look like a magazine picture. But I draw the line at watering that stuff.) One day, perhaps my whole yard will be a small island of native wilderness in the midst of an ordinary subdivision...

But that day will not come soon, because native plants can be expensive at first. In some places -- like my mom's yard -- native seeds remain under the soil and come up without prompting. If I were to leave my yard alone, the only native plants that would grow would be progeny of those I have nurtured over the last five years; and only those that were strong enough to fight through the multitudes of buckthorn and box elder seedlings.

Box elders. The "black" sheep of the maple family (tee-hee). Another yard-dweller about which I am firmly ambivalent. My yard, and my neighbor's, have several ginormous ones growing between them. Based on the number and size of the box elders and buckthorns growing in a line, I am fairly certain this was once a hedge row between two fields. Now, it is a pain. I removed the buckthorns from my yard before I even moved in. No ambivalence there -- those things had to go. The neighbors still have theirs, including the largest single buckthorn I have ever seen, poisoning the soil just two doors down. I spend a lot of time fighting with the seedlings, which sprout all over, planted by birds who think they have hit the jackpot but are actually getting a strong laxative which causes them to, um... plant the seeds before they can get much nutrition out of the berries. Anyhow...

I didn't remove the three huge box elders on the edge of my yard. They're not particularly desirable trees. Actually, I rather dislike them. Their little seedlings sprout everywhere. They grow fast and therefore aren't very strong, so they're a storm danger. Their fast growth also means I have to pay someone to trim them pretty often so they don't hurt the roof or other trees. On the other hand, they provide shade for my garden of lush ferns, which also has May apples, jack-in-the-pulpit, wild ginger, a shooting star that actually comes back, wild geranium and lilies of the valley (not native, I know, but they remind me of my grandmother and they smell so delicious). If I got rid of the box elders, these would probably all die of scorching. Even if I replanted something I wanted, it would take years to reach a size that shaded the area again. Not to mention how much this whole endeavor would cost.

So for now they're here, waiting to be trimmed again, but meanwhile starting to bloom. As the twig sketch above shows (or is trying to show), they're covered in clusters of burgundy stamen. They're still tightly packed together, but within a day or two they will spread out and start to make the million seeds that will go everywhere. Curled up and wrinkly, the compound leaves are also emerging, but are still teeny-tiny.

Why do so many of the plants I hate so much show up so early? (I could actually write paragraphs in answer to that, but right now it is meant more as a lament than a scientific question...) And why, if I claim to be a nature-lover, do I have such negative feelings toward so many of the organisms that share my yard with me?

Thursday, April 9, 2009


Last night's practically full moon gave a spectacular show in the early evening. The full moon occurs each month on a night when I have class; I left the building at about 8 pm to see the orb hanging low in the sky with whispy clouds surrounding it. As the clouds move through, the moon's shape changes; the edges of the clouds are illuminted from behind in constantly changing patterns. Quite beautiful.
ps -- guess who got a scanner?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Today I took some kids to the pond to catch critters. Air temp, about 50. Water temp, colder. My hands, ice blocks, which smell like pond scum.

But we caught some good stuff. Like a million snails, some wrigglers, several damselfly mymphs, a couple dragonfly nymphs, lots of eggs, a fish, and some beetles.

More on them later.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

2 buds

First, lilac buds, swelling with the promise of purple fragrance inside.  Second, a slightly blurry* image of a serviceberry (Juneberry, Saskatoon) bud.  Call them what you will, I call them delicious and eagerly anticipate their June bounty. 

*It was way too cold and windy this morning to stand around fiddling with the camera focus.  

Monday, April 6, 2009

Looking Back

Some past phenology dates to compare with this year:
  • Snow.  In 2007 we had about 6 inches of snow on April 11; last year our last big snowfall was the day before spring break (late March) causing me to miss my friend's wedding due to air travel being impossible.
  • Daffodils.  In 2008, the first one didn't bloom on the side of my house until April 14, which is over a week later than this year.  But in 2007, it was Mar 26.
  • Herps.  In '07 and '08, there were turtles and/or garter snakes on April 5 (possibly earlier and I didn't see them) which is right in line with this year's timing.  I noted the first Chorus frogs on April 2 last year, much later than this year; in '07 it was Mar 22.  
  • Ticks.  The first ticks were found on April 16 and 14 in 'o7 and '08, respectively.  So we'll be looking out for those shortly.  
  • Ephemerals.  In 2007, bloodroots were blooming nearby (OO) on April 5.  I haven't checked this specific location yet, but I would be really surprised if they were blooming now. 
So there are just some interesting points of comparison.  It appears things happened late in 2008 (or early in '07, but in general, we're closer to 2007 this year.) 

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Snow Falling on Daffodils

My yard's first daffodils say, "Welcome, spring!"
And the spring responds, "%#$@ you." (Hey, this is a family blog.)
On Friday, I noticed that the first few daffodils were swollen yellow orbs, and I knew for certain that by Saturday, I would have at least three flowers. The first picture was taken Saturday. It was a chilly day, but sunny and when working in the yard, which we did for about 8 hours, it got hot enough to take coats off.
Not today. The day got colder and greyer as time went on, and the snow started to fall in earnest by late afternoon. It has accumulated on non-paved surfaces, though thus far, it's only about 1/2 inch. I can only hope against hope that this time, it really is old man winter's last hurrah.
My trip south really messed with my head regarding plants. I have several spring wildflowers in my yard, and after seeing them in Ohio and North Carolina, I expect to see them in my yard. On Friday I ranted about how my bloodroots aren't coming back; then on Saturday I discovered a tiny bit of life -- so small I can't actually confirm it is a bloodroot -- growing where the bloodroots should be. So my hope is restored. (Others, I am still confident, are not coming back. I have heard that trout lilies are emerging in the woods. I dug some up in my mom's yard last year where they were being killed by a canoe; they are definitely not emerging yet. I think the transplant may have been unsuccessful.)
Jacob's ladder and golden Alexander are both getting to be little leafy blobs; and mountain mint is about 1/2 inch tall, still all purple.
In animal news, my chipmunk is back! Chipmunks awakened a while ago, so I thought that, perhaps, the one who seems to make his home on my back patio had moved (either physically or to a new spiritual plane). But on Friday, I saw him, up to his old tricks, which mainly include tunneling around in the huge flower pots on the porch and torturing the cats with his so-close-yet-so-far-ness. We keep a small garden of potted plants on the patio; the largest pot is about 3 feet tall with a 2 foot diameter, so it's quite large. It houses native grasses. Slightly smaller pots contain herbs and annuals and whatnot. This particular chippy likes to burrow into them. It used to drive my crazy, and I'd spend a lot of time filling the holes and plotting how to get rid of chippy. But the flowers never really got hurt. And chippy is really darn cute, with his puffy cheeks and his inquisitive poses. And I actually enjoy his chirp in the morning. loud but reminiscent of warm weather. Plus, he steals birdfood from the neighbors and buries sunflower seeds in my yard, many of which become volunteer flowers, which I quite enjoy. (Although he also sometimes also digs up the ones I have planted; but now I plant them in pots and transplant). So in the end, my love-hate relationship with my local chipmunk leans toward love.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Southland in the Springtime

We have returned from our Journey South; I have tasted spring and returned to the starving almost-north. While we were gone, on Mar 28-29, 6 inches of snow fell on Chicago's northern suburbs; some of it remains in the corner of the yard. But we missed all that...

We left on Friday night and drove pretty much straight south. Past Chicagoland, it was night time, and so I could not see changes as they occurred. (Interesting sighting in Chicago, though... tents in the forest preserves, not in any sort of sanctioned campsites. Is nature now the place to look for signs about the economy, as well? Are these the newly homeless victims of forclosure? Crazy.) Anyhow.

We drove until quite late, stopped in Louisville, KY, and awoke to resume our drive while it was still dark. The sun rose while we were somewhere between Louisville and Lexington; although perhaps I should say the day broke (we did not see the sun at all on Saturday). The hills of Kentucky were wonderfully green, even through the mist. The roadside grass was verdant; yellow daffodils swayed in the wind. The understory of the forest -- the layer that here we might call the buckthorn-and-honeysuckle later, and there seems to be absent of buckthorn but still has honeysuckle -- was leafy. The taller trees had no leaves yet, but almost all were flowering or seeding, having already flowered (as in the case of maples). From a distance, this had a hazy coloring effect. It was like a subtle fall. Rather than the bold crimson and gold of autumn, the trees were coated in the muted burgandy and chartreuse of tree flowers. Understated. Beautiful more in the hopeful sense of things to come than anything else.

As we continued into West Virginia, Virginia, and finally North Carolina, we saw more showy flowering trees polka dotting the woods, like redbud, dogwood and some sort of fruit trees. Some tall trees were actually leafing out, though the leaves were tiny.

It seemed leaves actually grew larger and more plentiful each day of our trip. There were many factors in play, here... time, elevation, latitude, and possibly my imagination. But actually, once leaves emerge, they grow measurably each day, so it is quite likely that there were more and larger leaves every day. Even in Ohio, there was a lot of green. Until, of course, we returned here, where the only leaves I've seen are on honeysuckles. (Boo.)

The best part of the trip, nature-viewing-wise, was the wildflowers. Spring ephemerals... their name says it all. Who wouldn't be thrilled to happen upon something ephemeral? Here are some photos...
1. Bloodroot (Ohio, also blooming in NC)
2. Dutchman's breeches (Ohio)
3. Spring Beauties (N. Carolina)
4-5. Hepatica (Ohio). Note color variations, which range from purple to pink to white.
6. Mayapple (NC; some were fully umbrella-ed, but I like this photo)
7. Trillium (Ohio, at similar stage in NC)
8. Naomi sketching ephemerals. I quite wish I had a scanner so I could put sketches in; I am a better plant sketcher than photographer, but... oh, well.
Also seen, but now shown, because, really, who wants to look at too many photos... rue anenome, cutleaf toothwort, violets, trout lilies (leaves only), some yellow flower that wasn't fully open and therefore I couldn't ID, and probably more that I am not thinking of now.
Meanwhile, back in Illinois:
A friend saw the first garter snakes, 4/1. Turtle, 4/1. Trout lilies emerging, 4/1. Wild garlic emerging, 4/1?.
And, I planted many seeds indoors for that day, 6-8 weeks in the future, when frost danger is over and veggies can go outside. Planned to plant cold season crops outside today, but it is supposed to possibly snow again so I will wait a few days.