Thursday, December 30, 2010

American Robin

These robins along with about 20 more were foraging in our back yard this afternoon. The weather has turned warmer and the snow cover is melting. The snow was practically gone on this south facing slope that is our backyard. These over-wintering robins did not seem to find many larvae, insects or earthworms in their search, but they certainly were busy looking under all the dead leaves.

Sunday, December 26, 2010


Today was a perfect day for getting out the snowshoes and hiking about the prairie path. We have had a lot of snow but today was sunny and not very windy. While walking along the bottom prairie path we noticed various animal tracks and that the river was not frozen over yet. But mostly I just enjoyed the beauty of the season and the company.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Ground Feeders

The back brick patio at Habitat Home (once it is shoveled) is just perfect for throwing a scoop of cracked corn and sunflower seeds on to feed the birds. A few of the partaking birds are a blue jay, junco, mourning dove and sparrow.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Bird Feeders

Bird feeders are so important this time of year. Deep snow, cold winds and ice all make it difficult for the birds to find food. Not only will you help the birds survive this time of year but you will benefit also from watching the beautiful birds at the feeders. These are just a few that visited our feeders this afternoon.

A tufted titmouse, the downy woodpecker and the little chickadee.tufted titmouse (Parus bicolor)downy woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)black-capped chickadee (Parus atricapillus)My friend reminds me that: Tomorrow [12/18/2010] is the annual Champaign County Christmas bird count. The circle of territory runs from approximately Flicker Woods Trail at Homer Lake to the east and Busey Woods to the west, so if you are within that area please consider counting a few birds tomorrow, either at your feeder, on a special trail, in your car, or at Homer Lake with some of the Champaign Co Audubon folks. Folks will be at the Homer Lake Nature Center at 7AM and the building will be open from 11-1 for indoor bird watching at the feeders.

Happy Birding!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Ring-necked Pheasants

ring-necked pheasant (Phasianus colchicus)
We were pleasantly surprised to see an unusual sight today, a group of about eight ring-necked pheasants wandering through the back yard.  There has been quite a bit of snow recently, with the latest inch or two falling last night.  These birds, six males and two females (plus or minus), walked in from the bottom prairie, explored and foraged among the trees behind the house, and then flew in a rush a couple hundred feet to the east for some additional searching for something to eat.

We frequently remark about the apparent decline in the number of pheasants we've seen in recent years.  Ten years ago, it was an almost daily occurrence to see or hear one of these beautiful birds flying into the prairie, moving around in the upper savanna, or running across the road in front of the car. Today, it is rare that we see a pheasant anywhere in the area.  Apparently, this is not an isolated situation; pheasants are having a hard time throughout much of North America.  Although not native (pheasants were introduced from Asia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries), pheasants thrived here.  However, their population peaked around 1950 and has been declining since.

Loss of habitat heads the list of reasons for the decline, likely locally as well as regionally.  These birds like hay and grain agricultural areas, especially where there are grassy borders and pockets of tall grass and trees (sound familiar?).  They historically did well in the agricultural Midwest, but the changes from small multi-crop farms to large monoculture farming practices have taken their toll.  Alas.  Anyway, it was so fun to see this "large" group, that I have to include another photo.
ring-necked pheasant (Phasianus colchicus)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Marcescent oak leaves

Even in today's blizzard with snow and 35+ mph wind gusts, the oak leaves are still hanging on. Withered and dry they are, but they will not fall off till spring when the spring buds push them off. Marcescent leaves, leaves that hang on even though they are dead, are a characteristic of younger oak tress. This particular tree was planted about 20 years ago. That is young for an oak tree. Another characteristic of marcescent leaves is that they occur on the lower branches as exemplified here. There are various theories about why certain trees, mostly oak, hornbeams, and beech do this and but not a lot of research has been done.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Dawes Arboretum

On a recent trip out to Boston, we decided to stop and visit the Dawes Arboretum in Newark, Ohio. We were certainly glad we did. It is a wonderful combination of trees, history and nature. Although the Dawes family's country home was closed to visitors that day, there was plenty else to do. The friendly person at the gift shop informed us of the Dutch Fork Wetlands just down the road. It was a sunny cool day, perfect for hiking around the arboretum and wetlands. We barely got to see everything before the place closed at dusk.

There is a nice Bonsai collection at the visitor's center. On the lower level of the visitors center is the nature center that has this really nice observational bird feeding station.

Holly Hill is where you will find a mature collection of hollies. The hollies were really nice to view this time of year with all their red berries.

The rare tree and oak collection was a good place to collect nuts.
Perhaps my favorite place to view was the Cypress swamp, even though it was dry at this time. This would be a great place to see in the spring.
One of the nice things about this place is that you can drive to all the various collections and sites to see. We did not spend much time at the Japanese garden. the Azalea Glen and Rhododendron Glen were not at optimal viewing, nor did we take the time to hike the "Deep Woods." There is also a nice observation tower that overlooks the lake and hedge lettering if you like that sort of thing!

We took the short drive over to Dutch Fork Wetlands and hiked the trail to the bog and back.
Perhaps one of the unexpected delights of the place was seeing many really old Beech trees which we do not have in East Central Illinois.