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Monthly Archives: April 2012

I’m not sure why but this spring I have seen more Red Admiral butterflies than I have ever seen at any time of the year. It has been an early spring and it’s possible that there are so many because the dandelions and fruit trees are in full bloom early. With abundant food the migration seems to have stalled in this area. Just about everywhere I go I’ve been encountering them in large numbers.


About a month ago I started seeing Eastern Phoebes around the farm. For a six year run we had phoebes nesting on top of a light located above the back door to the garage. We really enjoyed watching them raise their two broods every year. One year we looked out the window early in the morning and found that all of the fledgling phoebes were lined up on our deck swing. A year ago phoebes returned but did not use the nest. We would occasionally see them around but never did figure out where they were nesting. This is a photo of the garage nest taken several years ago. 

This spring, my brother-in-law said he had some phoebes trying to build a nest on his chimney. Since I had seen phoebes around and they were not looking at the nest above the garage I decided to remove the nest thinking they might reuse the spot. 

A couple of days later I was in my bird blind watching the Eastern Bluebirds working on their nest. I had the back of the blind open because it was so warm out. As I looked out the back of the blind I noticed there was quite a bit of phoebe activity around my deck. I watched as a pair of phoebes were making frequent trips under the deck. As I watched the two phoebes flew over to the debris remaining from the next I knocked down and were gathering nesting material. 

When I checked later it was clear they had started a nest under the deck. I’ve been watching them now for over a week. The nest has been completed and I’m waiting for them to start nesting.



I’ve been walking on the Red Cedar State Trail several times this week. The big thing is the number of flowers blooming along the trail. In an earlier post I had mentioned that the False-Rue-Anemone, Marsh Marigolds, and Spring Beauty were blooming. They are continuing to bloom in large numbers. The Marsh Marigolds are now in full bloom all along the trail.

This week a number of new flowers are blooming along the trail.

The White Trout Lilies are just starting to bloom. They should be in full bloom by this weekend

Wild Blue Phlox are starting to be seen along the trail in small bunches.

Common Blue Violets can be seen all along the trail and are in full bloom.

Swamp Buttercups are also starting to bloom all along the trail.

There are many more flowers blooming along the trail including Wild Ginger, Gooseberry, Ostrich Ferns, Ground Ivy, Cut-leaved Toothwort and Early Meadow Rue.

In addition to the wildflowers there were large numbers of butterflies on the trail. Swallowtails, Red Admirals, Mourning Cloaks, Fritillaries, Sulphurs, Whites and Blues.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

While the flowers are early this year the bird migration is not. I’ve seen a few American Redstarts but it doesn’t appear that the Warbler migration has started yet. Unfortunately the trees will likely be leafed out by the time the migrations is underway making it difficult to see the birds.

American Redstart

In the past month, on my blog,  I’ve been documenting the arrival and house hunting activities of a pair of Eastern Bluebirds. They are now in their nest building phase. I usually go out into bird blind in the morning for a couple of hours and watch them work on the nest. They are quit diligent. Even the fact that my cat came out to the blind and was outside whining to get into the blind didn’t deter  them although activity slowed a bit. I put the cat in the house and bird activity picked up a bit. 

The female seems to be doing most of the nest building. She doesn’t have to go far to find dried grass and can make a trip to the nest every few minutes. Periodically she takes a break before resuming her activities. When she first started she would land on top of the birdhouse and pause before trying to get into the house. As time passed she was much more sure of herself and frequently just headed for the opening in the house. Sometimes she is a little too ambitions and has trouble getting the larger pieces of grass into the house although I’ve been amazed at the amount of grass she can bring in on one trip. Usually she is able to make it into the house with a full load but occasionally she has to drop part of the load in order to get into the house. 

I haven’t quite figured out what the male is up to. He seems to show up periodically during the morning. I don’t know what the male bluebird version  of sitting on the couch and watching TV is but he seems to be doing it. If the female is in the house he usually waits around on top of the house until she exits. He is much more unsure of himself and almost always lands on top of the house. He seems to spend a lot of his time trying to decide if he can make it into the house. When the female leaves he goes in the house and when he exits he usually is bringing nesting material out of the house. For the most part is small pieces of dried grass but occasionally he has a larger piece. I haven’t figured out why he brings material out. Occasionally l both the male and female will be in the house at the same time. 

Nest building has gone on now for a couple of weeks. They only seem to work on nice days. If the weather is cold or it’s raining out I don’t see them at all. We are having snow this morning and there are no birds in sight.


More Eastern Bluebird photos can be found on my website.



Prairie Smoke

This past week I’ve had an opportunity to visit Hoffman Hills Recreation Area several times. There are quite a few things going on now. A number of the wildflowers are starting to bloom in both the woodland and prairie areas. In the prairie the Pussytoes and the Prairie Smoke are just starting to bloom. In the woodlands there are several types of violets blooming.

Tree Swallow

The birds are really active now. The Tree Swallows and the Eastern Bluebirds are looking to setup housekeeping in the houses scattered throughout the prairie areas. In the ponds a pair of Canada Geese have started nesting. There are also a number of Mallards and Wood Ducks in the ponds.

Hoffman Hills

The spring foliage is still in full color. The views from the tower are spectacular. Many of the fruit trees are in bloom. Large numbers of Red Admirals can be found feeding on the blooms.

Believe me getting up at 5 am is not on my to do list this time of year. I’m retired and usually don’t drag myself out of bed until after sunrise. The lone exception is the morning of the Midwest Sandhill Crane Count which runs from 5:30 am to 7:30 am. I’m fortunate that my counting area is only 5 minutes from my home so I just need to drag myself out of bed and grab some coffee. This is also the only day of the year that I treat myself to two long johns which I bring along and devour during the count.

As I drove down to the Gilbert Creek Wildlife area, where I count, I noticed a couple of trucks parked in fields with their lights on. I couldn’t figure out who would be up this time of morning and out in a field and then remembered that the Wild Turkey spring hunt was underway.

Canada Goose

As I drove into the valley I could see there was quite a bit of fog although it was perfectly clear up on the ridges. The Gilbert Creek Wildlife Area is strung out and surrounded by roads so I’m usually able to do my counting from the car. Normally it is cold out for the count but this year it was almost 50 degrees out. I usually drive around the area stopping at various locations to listen for the cranes calling. This year, for the first time, the frogs were out and the noise was so loud I don’t think I could have heard the cranes even if they were calling. This is a shot of one of the Canada Geese taken earlier in the week. It is making a path through the thin ice for its mate.

Sandhil Cranes switching places on the nest

I never did hear any cranes but the frogs, blackbirds, geese and ducks were making quite a bit of noise. I’ve counted in this area for about 5 years and never have heard any cranes calling. Normally I see cranes in one small pond and this year was no exception. Just as it was starting to get light out I noticed a bird walking in the water. At first I thought it was one of the Canada Geese but soon noticed the distinctive walking gate of the Sandhill Crane. There were two of them walking among the grasses. It was too dark to take any photos of the cranes. This was taken on another visit.


After the crane count I came home and sat it my bird blind for a couple of hours watching a pair of nest building Eastern Bluebirds. This was followed by a three mile hike on the Red Cedar State Trail. Lunch at Culver’s with a two for one coupon for turtle sundaes. With my five cups of coffee, two long johns and a turtle sundae I am ready to crash this afternoon. This is a shot of a Mallard also taken earlier in the week. It was able to walk on the thin ice.

I’ve had a chance to walk portions of the Red Cedar State Trail this week. A few Skunk Cabbage continue to bloom along the trail mainly in areas that were shaded. However, most of the cabbage is leafing out now along the trail.

Skunk Cabbage

The False-Rue-Anemone are out in force along the trail. You can see large patches of them all along the trail.

False Rue Anemone

Spring Beauty are starting are also starting to bloom along the trail.

Spring Beauty

Marsh Marigolds are in full bloom in sunny areas but in shady areas they are just starting to bloom.

Marsh Mariogld

I was also looking for birds but was surprised not to find many around. A couple of weeks ago there were numbers of Yellow Throated Warblers but I didn’t see a single one today. If the warblers don’t migrate through soon it will be very difficult to spot them because the trees will have leafed out.


The short answer is not much. After a frantic start to spring where we had 70-80 degree temperatures for almost two weeks in March things have slowed down. Most of the Bloodroot bloomed during those two weeks although there are a few still out. There are lots of flowers growing but we will need some warm weather to bring them along.

Common Blue Violet

Walking through the woods this morning I was able to find a few Common Blue and Downey Yellow violets but they are just starting and it will be a couple of weeks before they can be found in any numbers.

Large-flowered Trillium

The last few days we have had freezing overnight temperatures which has really slowed the flowers down. Normally the Large Flowered Trillium are right behind the Bloodroot but I only found one lonely trillium starting to bloom.

Wild Ginger

The Wild Ginger are starting to bloom on the south facing slopes. They should be in full bloom this next week.

Eastern Bluebird male

About three weeks ago I posted a blog indicating that the Eastern Bluebirds had returned and had started house hunting. During the first few days they checked out  six birdhouses that I can see from the house. They finally seemed to hone in on two houses that are about ten feet apart.

Eastern Bluebird male

In addition to the houses I have a number of perches setup around the houses including a barbed wire fence, a branch suck in the ground and some Sumac which they love to perch on and eat. All of the perches are off of the high grass around the houses so it gives them a good place to perch while hunting bugs. I also provides a place for them to land while feeding their young. Of course their real purpose is to provide an interesting place for them to sit while I photograph them.

Bird Blind

Since these two houses are close together and are located just outside my yard I decided to try and document their efforts to select a house and raise their young. I have a turkey blind that I bought several years ago so I installed it near the two houses. I left it up for several days to see if the birds would be bothered by its presence so close to the houses. They didn’t appear to be and were back checking out the houses a few hours after it was put up. This is a photo of the blind and the two houses.

Eastern Bluebird female

Eastern Bluebird male

I’ve watched them now for three weeks and the pattern was the same for the first two weeks. On nice days they would come to the houses and fly from one to another as well as stop at the perches I have set up near the houses. They would check out each of the houses during the morning. After about 15 minutes they would leave for a half an hour or so and then return to check things out.  By late morning they would disappear and I wouldn’t see them for the rest of the day. On cold or rainy days I don’t see them much at all. Fortunately I’ve been reading several great Michael McGarrity  novels so I bide my time reading in the blind between bluebird visits.

Eastern Bluebird female

The pattern changed this past week. We have had a really early spring and it was time to mow the lawn. This was the earliest I have ever mowed my lawn. It was late in the day so I didn’t expect to see any bluebirds. Once I started mowing and had gone past the bluebird houses just once they both turned up and perched on each of the houses. They stayed around the houses during the entire time I was mowing. The next day they were around in the morning but gone all afternoon until I got the tractor out and drove it past the bluebird houses on the way to the garden. Sure enough they were right back at the houses. I’m not sure if they view the tractor as a threat to their territory or hope that I stir up some bugs for them to eat.

I’ve kept the turkey blind up for the entire three weeks moving it occasionally so that I don’t kill the lawn. The birds don’t seem to mind and on a number of occasions they haven’t moved from the houses when I come out to get into the blind. They also don’t seem to be bothered by the clicking of the camera although they do look at it with great intensity.

More Eastern Bluebird photos can be found on my website.

This past weekend we drove down along the Mississippi River to Perrot State Park. I was really surprised at the number of wildflowers that were blooming in the park. Most of them were at the lower elevations and on the south facing slopes. In all we saw over a dozen wildflowers in bloom. Things are really early this year, at least 3-4 weeks ahead of a normal year.

This is a shot of the Dutchman’s Breeches that were out in large numbers. In fact many of them were already in decline which is unusual for this time of year.


False Rue Anemone was out along the trail but not in large numbers.




In addition to the large number of flowers the trees were just starting to get their leaves. Emerging leaves are one of my favorite subjects early in the spring.











More spring photos can be found on my website.