Friday, April 30, 2010

Time for Eggs

white-breasted nuthatch eggs (Sitta carolinensis)
eastern bluebird eggs (Sialia sialis)
I belatedly checked the birdhouses this morning, and results were somewhat as expected and somewhat surprising. The tree swallows we covered last week did not take occupancy of the bottom field west birdhouse. However, those bluebirds they were keeping their eye on did establish a nest in the house to the east, and this morning, after opening the top of the house and then finally getting mom to temporarily leave the nest, the five pale blue eggs were visible (image above left). Five is very common for bluebirds, and incubation time is 13-15 days, so although I'm not sure how long it has been since she laid these, let's say hatching might occur in about a week.

Moving to the upper field, I approached the house there and a nuthatch flew out before I got very close. Apparently, she is a bit more nervous than the bluebird. The nest (image above right) is a two tier affair, with a deep mass of short green grass pieces (I've mowed a couple times around there recently) and some drier grass and hair(?) on top. Looked pretty soft to me! A count of five eggs is in the lower range for the nuthatch (usually 5-10, commonly 8), and incubation time is 12 days. Unlike bluebirds, the nuthatch pair will only have one brood this season. We'll keep looking, and maybe catch a picture of some newborns.

Spring is such an amazing season. These things happen every year, and it's new each time!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Shooting Star

Common shooting star (Dodecatheon meadia)
This is common shooting star, Dodecatheon meadia. Although there is nothing common about it anymore. There are very few areas left where they can grow naturally. One such place is along the sandy Salt Fork River bank under tall trees that are just leafing out. In this particular spot, the river is cutting away the bank and the plants are falling into the river. So after getting permission from the landowner to remove the falling plants, I transplanted a few to Habitat Home. Shooting star is a small plant about 12 to 15 inches high when it is blooming and can also have pink blossoms. Once the plant is done blooming it produces seeds and then goes dormant for the rest of the season.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Prairie Trillium

Trillium (Trillium recurvatium)
Today while walking in the woods, I noticed that there were just a few trilliums still blooming. At Habitat Home, we only have one species of trillium, Trillium recurvatium. I would like to add more species but they are so expensive to buy. They are not that hard to grow, it is just that a plant takes about seven years before it blooms, so they are not economical for growers to raise. Trillium seeds are myrmecochorous, which means they have a mutually beneficial relationship with ants. The seeds have an edible lipid rich appendage called an elaiosome. The ants carry the seeds to their nests and eat this appendage but leave the rest of the seed unharmed and buried, ready for germination.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Pasque Seed Head

pasque flower (Anemone patens)On Easter Sunday I posted about the blooming pasque flower, Anemone patens. Today, several weeks later, this is what has happened to it. It has developed into a beautiful silvery seed head. The attractive seed head will remain for several more weeks until the ripe seed is dispersed by the wind.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Woodland Blue Phlox

woodland blue phlox (Phlox divaricata)
Some seventy species of phlox can be found in various North American habitats. This is Phlox divaricata, a very common one. Note the five pale blue petals radiating from a central tube, opposite leaves and a sticky hairy stem. Also notice that blue phlox's bisexual flower components are hidden inside the central corolla tube. These flowers are pollinated mainly by bumblebees who have the specialized mouth parts to reach down into the tube. This native plant is found in rich moist woods and has a nice scent. Woodland phlox produces two types of growth, short sterile stems that form a low year round leafy ground cover and a leafy upright stem that supports the flowers. This simple little flower is actually much more complex that it looks.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Managed Earth

Today is Earth Day. The map below illustrates what the earth at Habitat Home is looking like. I have found it very helpful to name the areas that we are recreating here. This is not restoration work as there was nothing to restore here but corn and beans. This land had either been farmed, mowed or grazed for many years prior to our ownership. We decided to manage for types of areas that had existed in east central Illinois prior to settlement. We are recreating a tall grass prairie, a savanna, the riparian woodlands, an orchard, and a meadow. We have also created the landscape around the house.

Most of the land in Illinois has been disturbed and that is why we must manage. In well established prairies and woodlands and meadows, invasives are not able to get a foothold. But when the area is small and not established many plants can grow there and they will. I have added a new sidebar link to the Midwest Invasive Plant Network. Please check it out. The site does a much better job than I do of explaining why we should be concerned about invasive species and gives lots of information about how to manage your property.

This earth day is a good time to consider what type of earth you want, and then manage your property accordingly. Large or small acreage or yards can be used to grow native plants that in turn attract native insects, birds and mammals. And that is what makes us uniquely east central Illinois...and, of course, the corn and beans.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Tree Swallows

tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor)
tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor)
The west bird house in the bottom field is being thoroughly checked out by this pair of tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor). They've been in and out several times, but we've not seen them bringing nest material in yet. Although these boxes are occupied by combinations of bluebirds and sparrows every year, this is the first time we have seen tree swallows on and in them. But the neighborhood is big enough for everybody and, like the bluebirds, we welcome more bug eaters!

In the next couple of days we (like the swallows in the photo below) will be checking out the pair of bluebirds that are in the house next door, about 150 feet east (left in the photo).
tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor)

Sunday, April 18, 2010


dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
The last post was all about taking the time to view the beauty of spring beauties up close. So while you are down on hands and knees examining the flowers, move over and look at a dandelion. They too are spring beauties.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Spring Beauties

spring beauties (Claytonia virginica)
Claytonia virginica, spring beauties, are so common now that we often do not give them much attention. But here at Habitat Home, they are covering the woodland floor with white and demanding attention. Taking time to bend over and really look at them can be delightfully surprising. The flowers are actually quite colorful with their pink striped petals. The flowers then develop into seed capsules. And here again, you will be rewarded with a closer inspection. The seed capsules when ripe will explosively eject the  tiny seeds up to two feet. But by late spring the leaves have died back and the plant lives underground as a corm for the rest of the year. But here again, you can be rewarded if you know that the corm is edible and some say almost as tasty as a potato. But who would want to dig up and eat such potential?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Yellow violets

Downey yellow violet (Viola pubescens)
There are several varieties of yellow violets. I think I have correctly identified this one as Downey Yellow Violet (Viola pubescens). This native variety has heart shaped leaves, dark center lines and is found in dry woodlands.
Habitat Home also has many blue violets blooming in the front flower beds. Violets of all colors attract fritillary butterflies that lay their eggs on or near the violets, which later serve as caterpillar food. Birds will eat the violet seeds and rabbits like to eat the leaves. So please do not spray or remove the violets, they are an important wildlife food source. Also, violets that are not subjected to herbicides or pesticides can be eaten in salads or sugared for desserts.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Collins Pond

We left Habitat Home and took the short quarter mile walk to Collins Pond, part of the Champaign County Forest Preserve District's Homer Lake Park.  The spring ephemerals are in more abundance and variety than we've seen on our property, as in the scene above showing lots of spring beauties and dutchman's breeches in the woods just above the Salt Fork River.  Several other photos of the flora and fauna are included below.
American toad (Bufo americanus)
American toad (Bufo americanus)

American toad (Bufo americanus)
another American toad (Bufo americanus)

Slider (Trachemys scripta)
Slider (Trachemys scripta)

White Trout-Lily (Erythronium albidum)
White Trout-Lily (Erythronium albidum)

Dutchman's breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)
Dutchman's breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)
Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

Left: Great waterleaf (Hyfrophyllum appendiculatum), basal variegated
Right: False hellebore (Veratrum viride)

easily uprooted small honeysuckle

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Pasque Flower

pasque flower (Anemone patens)
Anemone patens or pasque flower is actually blooming this Easter Sunday. Pasque is derived from the French word Pasques which means Easter. This is a native plant of the prairies, open grasslands and dry areas which usually blooms around Easter. The entire plant has a covering of soft hairs. The bright purple flowers develop into a very attractive feathery seed head giving this plant a long season of interest in the garden.

Added 4/26/2010: See the Pasque flower seed head of this plant in a subsequent post.

Saturday, April 3, 2010


toothwort (Dentaria diphylla)
Another  native spring ephemeral Dentaria diphylla is blooming at Habitat Home. This woodland plant was found not far from the bloodroot plants in the previous post. The roots of this plant have tooth shaped projections hence the common name, toothwort. A less common name is pepperroot because, as you might guess from that name, the root has a peppery taste. The flowers are very delicate, early blooming and the leaves have a fine texture. These attributes make this plant a great addition to a native woodland garden.