Is it just my imagination, or is this winter whizzing by? Normally, I would be counting the days until spring by now, but it was a surprise to me to look at the calendar this morning and discover that it was already the fourth Wednesday of February, meaning it's time for another Wildflower Wednesday.
I'm sure the mild weather we've experienced this year is the main reason I haven't suffered from my usual winter blahs. Sunny days in the '40's and '50's hint that spring may be just around the corner, and the sight of crocuses in bloom again today add to that feeling. Most of the garden is still waiting for confirmation of the beginning of spring, but there are some spots of green here and there, like the hollyhocks ready to get a jumpstart on the growing season. Technically, I suppose, hollyhocks don't qualify as wildflowers, but these are the old-fashioned single bloom species that have been here forever, so that I've come to think of them as natives in my garden.
While it's much too early for any wildflowers or natives in my area, you need only look around to know that there will be plenty later in the summer. I haven't taken advantage of the weather to do any garden clean-up yet. We could still be hit with a blizzard or some sub-zero temperatures, so I hate to remove any leaves or plant debris protecting tender shoots and leaves--that's my
Even after hungry finches have had their fill, there will definitely be plenty of echinacea seed to go around.
I'm hoping, though, that self-seeders will not be the only natives this year. Seeds of Downy skullcap Scutellaria incana, Cutleaf coneflower Rudbeckia lacinata, and "yellow coneflower"--which I'm hoping is actually the gray-headed coneflower Ratibida pinnata--are being acclimated to Illinois winters in hopes of producing some sturdy offspring this spring.
While I wait for the seeds to germinate . . . I have been practicing a little with my new camera. I've been wanting a new camera for a long time, and a few weeks ago I finally bought myself a belated Christmas present. I'm not ready--and may never be--to purchase a digital SLR, nor can I afford one right now, so I purchased a Nikon Coolpix 500. It is still a digital camera, but has so many more features than my old Sony Cybershot. The two photos of the seedheads above turned out pretty well, I thought, but I'm still trying to figure out how to use the macro setting without half the photos turning out blurry. What has me excited right now, though, is the zoom capabilities--finally, I can get a decent close-up of a bird from 30 feet away. In other words, I can actually snap a picture before he has a chance to realize there's a human nearby!
Having the new camera was perfect timing for this past weekend's Great Backyard Bird Count. I could take photos and count birds. One sparrow in the dogwood tree . . .
Two sparrows in the dogwood tree . . . whoa, hold that camera steady!
Three sparrows in the dogwood tree . . .
I think you get the idea. This was my third year to participate in the GBBC, but it was such a disappointing result that I'm not sure I'll even turn in my count--a grand total of 10 sparrows. This year I have seen very few of the usual species that visit us each winter. No dark-eyed juncos, which are usually plentiful, no chickadees, no nuthatches, nor any of the other visitors that occasionally come for some nourishment during the cold months. I suspect it has something to do with our mild winter. One nature columnist in the newspaper mentioned that many birds that usually migrate from farther north have stayed put this winter because of the warmer temperatures. The lack of snow cover may also be a factor--the nearby fields still have grain and seeds easily accessible to foraging birds, though this is just a guess on my part.
While the weekend's bird count was pretty much a bust, I was happy to finally see this male downy woodpecker come to the suet feeder a few weeks ago. The Downys come every winter, and I had begun to worry even they wouldn't show up.
Not only did he make several visits, but his mate also came along. Impressed that I can identify their gender? Don't be; it's very easy--notice the lack of a red cap on this female.
Even more exciting was a visit from the red-bellied woodpecker, which appears much more infrequently here than the Downys. I think this might be a female, too.
As if to tease me that the Bird Count is now over, this morning I heard a familiar call and looked up to see a cardinal high above in the locust tree. Ah, I love my zoom lens!
I'm glad I didn't have my head in the clouds all morning, though, because look what I spied below--the first hellebore bud! Yes, it won't be long until spring is here for real.
For other thoughts on wildflowers, be sure to visit the champion of natives and pollinators, Gail at Clay and Limestone.