blackcapped chickadee with a caterpillar in it's mouth

Invite nature into your backyard

A parent fed up with their child’s persistent use of technology (internet, video games, tablet, you name it!) has decided to pull the plug on their sedentary habits. They strip the devices from their child’s hands and throw them outside and say “Go play!” The child looks around. Before them lays their entire suburban property comprised of lawn. Looking left and right they see their neighbor’s yard, more lawn.

ruby throat hummingbird feeding from flower

Every year, hummingbirds travel from their winter homes in Central America and Mexico to North America. Hummingbirds are currently making their trip north with an expected arrival to west-central Illinois around April 10 to 20. Knowing when these birds will arrive can help us prepare for their much-awaited arrival.

blue jay bird holding an acorn in its beak

Winter is a time for reflection. We often spend more time inside looking outside during the Illinois winter. Perhaps one of the most popular past times for many of us is watching the birds, which often stand in stark contrast to the still winter landscape. It is through this, that I learned something fascinating about the relationship between blue jays and oak trees.

baldfaced hornets entering and leaving their nest

Winter may be an odd time to write about an insect that we only see during the warmer months of the year. Yet, I can’t help but marvel at the architecture of the baldfaced hornet’s nest, which has been revealed in the canopy of trees after leaf drop. This winter I have seen several baldfaced hornet nests in trees. The nest itself is a beautiful oblong structure, that is papery and grayish but if inspected closely it has waves of dark and light colors washing over its surface.

Fall garden clean up with pollinators and other wildlife in mind. Gold finch feeding on purple coneflower seeds

As the days get shorter and cooler, the gardening season starts to wind down, and many of us will begin cleaning up our landscapes for the winter. While cutting back dead plants and raking leaves can make for a clean-looking yard, it may not be the best thing for pollinators and other wildlife that inhabit our landscapes. So, how should we approach garden clean-up in the fall?

Jumping worm

How full is your invasive species radar? All I can say is my view is overwhelmed. Dealing with the current group of Japanese beetles, emerald ash borer, bush honeysuckle, and so many more. Plus, in Illinois, we are girding for the impending arrival of the very destructive spotted lanternfly. Then a notification arrives the USDA has prohibited the import of boxwood, holly, and Euonymus species from Canada to prevent the spread of the box tree moth (Cydalima perspectalis). I didn’t even look that one up to see what it does, but I bet it’s not good.

chickadee at a feeder

People love to feed birds. Aside from gardening, it is considered one of the most popular hobbies around the globe. And even some would argue, feeding the birds is a part of gardening. In the winter months, many find joy in watching a flurry of feathered friends, feeding at the feeder. The bird food we set out helps to give those birds that stick around Illinois over the winter an energy boost to keep their body temperatures up on these cold days.

herd of reindeer

You know Dasher, and Dancer, and Prancer, and Vixon, and of course Rudolph from being a part of Santa’s trusty reindeer herd, but did you know that Santa isn’t the only one that is raising reindeer? It is thought that reindeer, Rangifer tarandus, were first domesticated around 5,000 to 7,000 years ago to attract wild deer so hunters could harvest them.

Wild and domesticated reindeer

Most wild reindeer are found in Norway, Finland, Siberia, and Greenland.

Bald Eagle

As a kid, I remember the bald eagle being rare and revered. At school and on TV we learned the bald eagle was an endangered species. The resounding theme when I was young was that bald eagles were noble hunters, flying skyward and swooping down to grasp fish from an icy lake. In movies bald eagles had a piercing call, it sounded like a mighty high-pitched screech. I’m not sure how to convey this sound through text, but hopefully, you remember the sound clip that played every time you saw an eagle onscreen in the 70s, 80s, and 90s.

orange and black monarch butterfly perched on milkweed plant

There is something about mowing that is so satisfying.

What is it? The smell of cut grass? Taming an unruly landscape?

To me, it is measurable progress. It seems so often that modern jobs give few tangible results. So much of our work is in the digital ether. After a full day's work, I leave the office switching off my computer, and all my toiling vanishes with the click of a mouse.

After an exceptionally mild winter, I noted my first robin sighting about three weeks ago, a sure sign of spring. Sipping on my coffee, I watched as wave after wave of robins hopped through the yard, stopping to cock their head, as if listening for worms in the soil below. Scratching and digging through my leaf mulch, these red-breasted thrushes, found a protein-rich feast.

Ophiophobia: the fear of snakes. 

Seeing a snake stops me in my tracks, leaves my heart pounding and scarcely breathing while my eyes are fixed on the reptile. Being someone who has made a living working outside much of my life, snakes are not a rare thing in my day-to-day activities, but I still prefer to avoid them.