Monday, December 31, 2007

Bear Lake

This is a Christmas present for my dear friend Sharon.'s a surprise. If she's reading this before Wednesday, well, she stumbled upon her own surprise!
This is a pastel painting I did today of her cottage on Bear Lake in Wisconsin. She loves this place and I don't blame her. What a peaceful setting. I was kinda missing autumn lately so I decided to give this picture a try.
Why this place looks so pretty that it could be used for a movie location! Maybe a nature movie!!!
I would like to spend some time at this cottage in 2008. Hahemm...Sharon...hint...hint!

I want to wish everyone a Happy New Year! A happy and healthy one.

I also want to leave you with a saying from Saint Therese of Lisieux, that really helped me out when I was feeling low. Use it for 2008.

"May today there be peace within.
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts you received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be content knowing you are a child of God.
Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.
It is there for each and every one of us."
Saint Therese of Lisieux

She rocks.
Happy New Year!

PS Prints for this painting will be made available sometime in January at Christine Kane Art.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Waterfall Glen in Winter Field Trip

Yesterday I took a road trip to beautiful Waterfall Glen, located in Darien, IL., part of the DuPage County Forest Preserves. This mega forest preserve and hiking Disneyland is the land all around Argonne National Laboratory, made available by the federal government to DuPage County in 1973. The land is a total of 2,488 acres and contains a main hiking/biking trail of 9.5 miles!!! Argonne National Laboratory is a nuclear energy research center that claims, "Argonne is not and never has been a weapons laboratory." Even so I admit, sometimes a little creepy, I think there's radiation all around...but I know there's not. I hope. If I start to glow, somebody give me a heads up!

Here is the beginning of our trail by one of the parking areas. Doesn't it remind you of Morton Arboretum's Spruce plot? It does for me.
Today is a cool 30 degrees with a bit of a wind, completely cloudy with some flurries.
I do not know the total history of this area, whether these were planted by man or natural, probably the first. Right by these pines there is a small creek and it looks as if someone did some restoration because there were several large twig mounds all over the place.
Well, that made it bird heaven! I stayed here for about 20 minutes while being visited by several chickadees, sparrows with stripes on their heads, downy and hairy woodpeckers, also cardinals.

Here it is, 5 more minutes of walking and you arrive at the waterfall. It's beautiful even in the winter time! I love the sounds of the falls, even though these falls aren't very large they still are loud. See video below.

This is a man made waterfall created by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. It provided work for many unemployed men and we are still enjoying it today. Thanks guys!

Oooo, let's zoom in on some icicles hanging off the stones. Chilly Willy. Awesome!
Speaking of stones, this area was mined for it's rich dolomite limestone and used to build the Chicago Water Tower in the 1860's by builder, Edwin Walker. How's that for a history lesson!

What's by the water? Why it's bittersweet! Boy did these colors stick out, let me tell you! Everywhere you look it's white, gray, blue, and brown...then WHAM...bright red and orange! Nice contrast on a winter afternoon.

This is sawmill creek, you can't tell but it's a long, steep way down. I like this picture because you cannot see the sky. Because of that fact the horizon now becomes the edge of the stream. This picture will become a pastel painting one day.

One concerning note...a few feet from this picture there are two large pipes which empty out into the steam. I don't know why I didn't think to take a picture, but it raises a few questions....What comes out of those pipes and leaks into the steam? Hmmm...laboratory grounds......hmmm...don't drink the water!

Any who, here is a 3 minute video I took of the waterfall, panning left, then right, then an upclose of the falls.
Am I glowing yet? Just kidding!!!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Exploding Cattail

Ooooh how I love an exploded cattail! But then again, I also love a non exploding cattail too.
This first picture is a close up of some tails I found at Country Lane Woods. It is a typical scene near any body of wetland around. This time of year you will find the seed head to have "exploded" (my term, not a smart scientific term), they start to do this in late fall and continue through winter. What a neat plant it is and with so many uses, it's very functional to humans and wildlife alike.

Here is where they live, near water. I love to watch them sway in the wind, it's very tranquil. Who uses them? Let's learn about it.

Let's Learn About Cattail:

Where does it grow? Marshes, swamps, ditches, stagnant water, ponds, lakes...clusters around any wetland, all over the Northern Hemisphere.
How tall can it be? Very tall, can be 10 feet tall!
Other names for it? Bulrush, punks, duck tails, candlewicks.
Wildlife that use it? Muskrats, beavers and geese eat it. Red-wing black birds, bitterns, coots, marsh wrens, and many others nest in it. Many birds also use the fluffy material as lining for their nests.
Humans use it? Yes, root stems are edible and early leaves, but I wouldn't touch it unless you know what your doing and I don't. Baskets can be weaved out of the leaves, the Indians also use to dry it out and make a flour.

Don't worry, there's a scientific name for the cattail which I won't make anyone know. Let's just enjoy the cattail for what it is!

Junco in the Pines

Just a cute little picture of my junco friend. He's looking right at us. Don't you love his little black beady eyes? His white tummy shows off quite well against the dark green of the pine.
Oh Boy, it's snowing out right now, must go for a walk soon!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas Birdies

Well, I hope nobody is tired of looking at my birdies...because I sure do love them and can look at them everyday of the year!

The top low resolution photo shows Stella, the female downy woodpecker, and a male cardinal. I just love the bright red of the male cardinal especially in the winter. I don't know why the male cardinal doesn't molt into a drab wardrobe like so many other male birds do in the winter time? He makes for a really bright target! Maybe a smart naturalist knows the answer to that question.

Here is the beautiful Ms. Cardinal. I really like her pose. I think she must become a watercolor painting soon. Now the female cardinal is drab, but she's drab all year round. Drab but still beautiful!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Afternoon Walk

Today I went back to Country Lane Woods to burn off some Christmas cookies. It was a perfect day for a hike, a mild temperature of 45 degrees and very little wind with a sunny sky.

To my surprise early on, I ran into a gentleman walking his horse. Now horses are not uncommon on this trail, but people are usually riding them. His horse was gently grazing on the side of the trail.

Meet Breezy. He is a 24 year old retiree. Too old to be ridden so his owner lovingly walks him everyday. I asked if I could pet him which the owner allowed, but was warned about the mud on Breezy's back from rolling around. Rolling around! That's what I'm going to do when I'm a retiree, too old to go to work but never too old to enjoy life rolling around!

This is Cranberry Slough. What's a slough? A slough is a muddy, marshy, swamplike region. There are many in this area. I had to walk just a little off the path to get a good picture. Cranberry Slough is surrounded by millions of oak trees. I kept walking around the oaks looking for owl droppings or a pellet. How neat it would have been to dissect a pellet. I will keep on wishing for one.

You can see the evening clouds have arrived. It is a peaceful picture of a peaceful afternoon. Much needed after the holiday stress. I know this is where I belong...far, far, far away from a mall with crowds of people. I belong with the trees.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas Have Fun with These Pictures!

If you love space, stars, and the sky like I do, you must visit NASA's picture of the day site!

Holy Cow! When I found this site I must have spent hours looking at all the breathtaking photos. The NASA site has hundreds of archived pics taken from cameras, satellites, and telescopes. Some pictures are original, some are time lapsed, some look doctored...but who cares they're beautiful! Each picture comes with a description of what you're looking at which helped me out a lot.

Merry Christmas and enjoy!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Spaz's Hawk

Look what Spaz got in her yard now! I'm jealous again.

So I'm sitting here with a slice of Baker's Square French Silk Pie, listening to Gregorian Chant (really quite soothing at 11:45pm) and reading through 2 bird books: Birds of Illinois, by Stan Tekiela and Birds of Chicago, by Chris C. Fisher and David B. Johnson, trying to determine whether Spaz's hawk is a Sharp-Shinned or a Cooper's Hawk.

Both books say they are quite similar, but Sharp-shinned is smaller with a squared off tail. I cannot really tell the scale of the bird and his tail is hiding. When frustrated, I just take another bite of pie. Darn those Baker's Square bakers.

I'm going to assume it's a Cooper's for two reasons. 1) It looks exactly like the picture in Birds of Chicago. 2) Birds of Illinois claims that the Sharp-Shinned is rarely seen in winter.

OK...push the pie away. Far away.

Spaz, thank you for yet another beautiful bird picture! Makes me want to move out to your neck of the woods. Keep up the great photography work. Nature loves your yard :)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Spaz's Titmouse

Ooooh, I'm so jealous! My friend spaz, has a titmouse that visits her wreath peanut feeder. Isn't it beautiful?
I don't have no titmouse visit my at my house!

Spaz bought this wire wreath peanut feeder at Wild Birds Unlimited. What a cute feeder and really not expensive at $11.00, although their 5lb peanuts @ $14.00 is a little high! Folks, look for unsalted peanuts in the shell for much less at the grocery store! Make sure it's unsalted for our feathered friends, we don't need to give them high blood pressure!

Since the female and the male titmouse looks the same, we can't tell if this is a he or she, but fortunately the titmouse is an all year bird in the Illinois area, that means if Spaz keeps her wreath full, she can expect this bird in all months. I can't because the titmouse doesn't visit my house!

She did inform me that a "heifer" took the wreath down recently. That's probably a squirrel that jumped on the wreath to eat the nuts and his weight broke the hook that connected the wreath to the porch roof.
Stupid heifer squirrel!
I have terrible squirrel problems, so making peanuts available is not a great idea at my house, but don't you give up Spaz..... sprinkle your nuts with cayenne pepper or something...they mustn't win...we will out smart them yet!

Dear Titmouse:
I love you, little birdie, even if I can't provide the best food for you. Please continue to visit my friend, Spaz. She's trying to provide the best for you. If you shall see a "heifer" on your wreath, nip him in the behind and teach him a lesson. If you find the courage and strength come over to my house, bring a legion of your buddies and get all of my squirrels too! That way I can provide the best for you too!
Chicago Nature Lady

PS: Thank you Spaz for your beautiful pictures!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Nature Product Review - Birdbath Heater

My Dilemma: Frozen water in my oasis for the birdies here!

Every year I leave my concrete birdbath out and every winter the water freezes over. This isn't so good because birds need water in winter. They need water that is not in the form of snow and not frozen for two good reasons: 1) To drink. 2) For good feather maintenance. When these needs are met, your birdies are happy and healthy and they might just spread the word.

Here is the problem.
I guess I'm just too lazy to carry this million ton birdbath into the garage, you may even be able to see some hair-line cracks (it still holds water), so I just leave it out. Then every winter when the water freezes over, I feel terribly guilty, especially when a little feathered friend lands on the ice looks down, maybe pecks a little, then flies away.
OK...I'm tired of disappointing them, so this year I've invested in a birdbath de-icer.

This is not jiffy pop.
This is the heater, it is by Farm Innovators, Bird Bath De-Icer Model B-9. Sold by Noble Sales Co, through Amazon. I chose this heater because I am frugal, I saw "Econo" in the title on Amazon and thought, let's start with the most inexpensive ($14.36) and work from there. It is a 44 watt heater. Lets see what happened....

It does just what it's supposed to!
After receiving the heater in just a few days I plugged it in at night on a solid two inches of ice. I anchored it down with a heavy rock, by morning it melted about 50% of the ice and here's the best part and I'm not the morning a sparrow landed to take a less than 12 hours of plugging it in!!!

Woooo Hooo!

This birdbath de-icer worked for me. Why spend all that money on something more expensive? This is another great inexpensive Christmas gift for the nature lover in your life or maybe even for yourself! I just hope it lasts a good long time. Don't worry, I'll keep ya posted!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Aminal Tracks

This is one of my all time favorite field guides and so much fun to use in winter! Animal Tracks of Illinois by Tamara Eder, published by Lone Pine Publishers, (click on the link to find your state's animal tracks) is very easy to use with tons of information.
What I like most about it is that it's fast to find what you need. I don't have to do a lot of reading to figure out what animal made what track. On the left page, there are three columns: 1) fore and hind print 2) walking prints 3) galloping prints. Way cool. On the right page is a drawing of the animal and a brief story.

Well, this morning I woke up to a light dusting of snow. My black driveway is PERFECT for capturing prints! How happy I was when I woke up and looked out my window to see all of those lovely animal patterns!!! Let's run outside to take pictures! Here are the results:

This picture shows tracks from a bird. Which kind? I do not know because the book only shows two types. Do you see the lines in the picture? That is the back "toe" dragging as the bird hops. Isn't that neat!

I am comfortable to guess gray squirrel for these prints. Notice my dumb butt mis-spelled gray on the picture! Oh well, these prints are one inch in length. The book provides a ruler measurements on the back cover for easy ID. What I love about tracks in the snow is that you can tell which direction the animal was going and relatively how fast or slow. Evidence.

These are just the cutest. My kitty contributing to animal evidence. I made her walk on the driveway (which she loves) in the name of nature research. They look much different than the squirrel's print.

The Animal Tracks series books are under $10. What a neat Christmas idea for your nature enthusiast, you can even fit it in a stocking. Kids just love exploring for these tracks and it's a wonderful activity to do together. Go play in the snow and have fun!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Negative Painting

In this case "negative" is not a bad word!

These are negative ink wash paintings of oak leaves that I collected while on a hike.
What is negative painting? Negative painting is painting outside of the subject. Sort of like painting the "air" around the leaf.
What is ink wash? Ink wash is in this case is India ink and water applied with a bamboo brush. I really like the contrast and this type of painting technique seems to exaggerate the shape of the leaf. Cool effect.

It is interesting to note the different shapes. Oak leaves especially reminds me of people. Some are tall and skinny (like the bottom leaf and my dad), some top heavy (like the top leaf), and some bottom heavy. They're all wonderfully made each with their own characteristics. I love them all. I wouldn't want them to look the same. No way.

Some other good negatives? Negative bills, negative aches and pains, negative worries, negative debt, a negative criminal record, a negative biopsy....

Here's wishing you good negatives this Holiday Season!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Henry & Stella Update

Henry Hooked for Suet

Handsome Henry's Backside

Stella Gets a Turn

Look...I'm like a proud mom showing photos!
I took these pictures of my feathered children Sunday morning. They're looking healthy and doing great!

It was much fun to watch them "play" at the feeder. Henry would land on top of that shepard's hook and Stella would almost run him over and land on the hook herself, then Henry would do the same to her. Awww.... maybe they're flirting. How cute. Now some bird expert is thinking right now, "No stupid, they're being territorial!"
Well, moms have a way with never seeing the bad, so I think they're playing :)

Henry and Stella are enjoying berry suet from Wal-Mart. They also love peanut (their fav) and apple. Some people might be asking, "What's suet?"
Suet is animal fat mixed with seeds, nuts, or fruit. It is mixed in the form of a square and you place it in a suet cage. It smells and is gross to touch but it is high energy food, which they need. That is very important especially during the winter when it's a little bit harder for them to find insects.
For the summer, you can also buy year round suet which doesn't melt in warm weather.
You can find a whole slew of flavors now or you can make your own recipe.

Pretty cheap too:
Cage $2.99
Suet $1.50
Hook $10.00

Place one about 6 feet from your window and enjoy a variety of birds while helping them to survive this winter!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Nuthatch Somewhere

Thank you to Jennifer ( A Passion for Nature) aka Winterwomen, who gave me some neat information on the red-breasted nuthatch...

She states,"
Red-breasted nuthatches are one of the irruptive species. When their normal wintering grounds are scarce on food, they make "irruptions" into other wintering grounds. That's why we don't see them every year..."

Who knew, not me!

She also gave a link to a cool birding blog with a post on this subject:
Here's the Stokes blog:

Don't forget to visit Winterwoman's blog as well....awesome text and breathtaking photos!

PS I still haven't seen my red-breasted nuthatch, I did change my bird feed to sunflower, I can't put peanuts outside 'cuz my neighbor feeds the squirrels peanuts and they have formed an army....ready to attack me...I just know it!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Winter Bird

There are two birdies in this picture. Can you spot them? One is a winter bird and one is an all year bird. Which one do you think is the winter bird?
You're right! The one on the upper right is the dark eyed junco. He visits us only in the winter time. I really love this winter bird. They arrived in our area about a month ago, migrating from Canada. I've had a real hard time getting them to strike a pose until today....

Got you little stinker! Juncos like to feed off of the ground. That's what this guy is doing right here. While it's true they prefer the ground to feed, I did see some on my finch feeder in the backyard this morning. They're not the most graceful on the feeder, flappin' their wings a hundred times!

Let's Learn about the Dark Eyed Junco:

Migrates to Chicago in the winter only.
Small bird 5.5".
Male has black bodies with white tummies and bill.
Female lighter in color.
Outer tail is white, when in flight looks live a "V".
Likes to feed from the ground, seeds and insects.
They scratch with their feet to uncover food.
Seen in groups.
Males like to migrate further south than females, they're brave.

Enjoy them before warmer weather send them back North!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Nuthatch Nowhere!

Do you remember a couple of months ago when I said I spotted a red-breasted nuthatch at my feeder?
Click here for the post.

Unfortunately, that's the only time I've ever seen him.

I've thought since then, "Am I doing something wrong?", "Was it just a fluke?", "What can I do to get him back?"

And don't worry Henry...I'm not cheating on you, I have much bird love to go around!

Just then, I received an email from George LeClaire with the Chicago Daily Herald. He wrote a great article on how to have the red-breasted nuthatch eat right from your own hand!!! With amazing pictures!!! PROOF!
The article gives excellent tips on which type of food to use and what time of day to try.
Click here to read the article.

Not only can you read the article but you can view several photos George took on the red-breasted nuthatch in action. They're soooooo beautiful!
Click here for the photo gallery.

Well naturally this got me all excited over the nuthatch all over again! Even if I haven't seen him in a long time. Thanks to George LeClaire's article, I now know what to do to win my red-breasted nuthatch's heart back! And oh boy am I going to try! I will definitely keep everyone posted on the progress.

Thank you to George LeClaire with the Chicago Daily Herald for contacting me with a treasure of information! If anyone in the area tries his tips, make sure you contact him with your results. You can find an email through the links.

If you're in a happy bird mood, George also provided a couple of video links.
Video #1 shows how to attract different kinds of wild birds. Very beautiful pictures and neat sound effects.
Click here for video #1.

Video #2 shows great footage of the ruby-throated hummingbird at the Chicago Botanical Garden and still pictures from George's wife's garden! Again, great pics and sound.
Click here for video #2.

Thanks again George! I hope everyone enjoys.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

After the Storm

Here is the beautiful evidence of a last night's magical winter storm. ohhhh.....ahhhh. This photo was taken at 8:30am, by 4:00pm all of the snow on this shrub melted. Why does it have to go away so soon?
I was happy to wake up to a winter wonderland. Don't you love it when you go to sleep and wake up to a different world? One of the things about the morning after a snow storm is how the snow lands on every branch and every twig. Just amazing! Enjoy it in the morning because by noon it's probably half melted.

And that's exactly what I tried to do. This picture was taken at 45mph with the "sports" setting set on my camera so it wouldn't be a blur. Don't worry, I'm facing the road watching traffic, but blindly taking pictures with my camera. If you take about ten of them, one is surely to be a gem without being crooked. Do not try this at home if you're a 10 and 2 driver!

This is an inverted image of the one before. I love it. Winter is just the perfect time to make one of these. I suggest everyone experiment with invertedness. Photoshop makes it easy, after you open your image go to image> adjust> invert. Piece of cake. If you don't have photoshop, I'm sure any Walgreen's can do it for you.
Have fun!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Calm Before the Storm

This is a picture I took today at about 3:30pm. I was in the middle of nowhere in Frankfort, IL. This picture represents the calm before the snow storm. Oh how I love snow storms!
All night tonight and during the day tomorrow, we are to expect snow showers in the amounts of 3-6 inches. Now to my Northern friends that may seem like a dusting, but us Chicagoans have been snow deprived for many, many winters. Sure last year we had a few storms, but they're becoming few and far between. I remember as a child HUGE amounts of snow. I played in it all the time. My Dad use to bring home thick poster board for me to use as a sled and I would make my own hills in the front yard....aaahhhhhh....being a kid in the snow. What am I talking about, being a big person in the snow is fun too, you just get hurt more often! radar at 10:15pm

As we speak it is snowing right now. I look outside the window and I see a white blanket over everything. The white of the snow seems to bring peace and cleans everything it touches. Tomorrow's pictures should be wonderful.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Maple Lake East

Have you ever watched the movie, The Lake House? With dreamy Keanu Reeves (aaahhhhh)....oh yeah and Sandra Bullock? Well, I'm going to take you to the very site where Hollywood came to town to shoot the movie. Hollywood received permission to construct a temporary house on Maple Lake for filming. I once saw the pier and foundation for the house after it was said and done, but all has been taken down. There is another pier now but it is not the same. Here is a link to the movie's site where you can watch a clip of the movie and actually see what I'm talkin' bout. Click here.

OK. Maple Lake East is region 6 of the Cook County Forest Preserve System. At the end of the parking lot you will find this short trail that will lead you to the lake. Can you see it in the distance? Oh how beautiful the snow looks on the forest floor, FINALLY we got some snow! Enjoy it while you can for tomorrow will be 46 degrees :(

Here is Maple Lake. Notice the tree all the way to the right of this picture? When you watch the movie clip, near the end of the clip you can see Keanu sit under this very tree. Oh how I wish I were a bird sitting in that very tree looking down on Mr. Hotty Reeves.

This is a picture I took while standing at the end of the pier. Barren but beautiful. Sort of romantic in a way, even without Keanu.

This is a really neat shot of oak leaves trapped under a thin layer of snow on the lake. It just stopped me in my tracks. It is located at the shore or where the pier begins. My camera was getting all wet because the snow changed to ice/rain due to a slight temperature warm up. I decided to head home before the roads were completely iced over!

I hope you enjoyed viewing the site from The Lake House. I liked the movie, corny as it was with an impossible ending and all, but hey the actor was GREAT!