Thursday, June 29, 2006

Wildflowers

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Seeing the wild .... Jimi Hendrix sang ...
"Wild thing ..
You make my heart sing ... "

But my heart was rather sinking ... when I sat down to write about the wild flowers of Prairie land … once again I got the same old feeling … The more I learn the more I realize how little I know …

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This year in my attempt to make a more comprehensive index of various flowers [which I meticulously put in my other Blog “Green Thumb”] … I decided to enlist the native wildflowers as well. It was then that I realized that whatever I knew was not even a scratch on the surface.

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Well for a long time I’ve known the names of a few native plants …… Purple Coneflower, Black-eyed Susan, Blanket flower, Coreopsis … but all these are basically ornamental perennials and are found more in the flower-beds of the well-maintained gardens than in the uncared-for open grasslands …

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So I began taking snaps of wildflowers growing along roadsides … Then I encountered the real challenge … of getting the correct names … Leave aside the places I roam to take the snaps … I mean to make the wild-flowers series authentic I really go to odd places … And then begins the nerve-raking intensive search to get their names … mostly leaving me with bigger question marks than answers.

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For example … take this plant “Milkweed” [left] …
It has beautiful flowers and I wonder why it’s a weed at all? But that’s besides the point … After I took a few snaps of milkweed flowers my elation was cut short when I confronted a whole array of names … Swamp Milkweed, Butterfly Milkweed, Spider Milkweed, Prairie Milkweed …& many more … Now I don’t know which category does this one belong???

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Same goes with this daisy like flower [left] … Is it “Daisy Fleabane”??? Does it belong to the Aster family? Now speaking of asters… there are so many types … New England Aster, Sky Blue Aster, Willow Aster, Silky Aster …

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And this beautiful blue flower [left] … which looks like Aster and has Dandelion type leaves is actually – CHICORY!!! Though its all along the roads.. its *not* a native wildflower … its from Europe!

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Now what is this [right] … Cup-plant, Compass plant, Microseris ???
Is it from Sunflower family or Aster family or Dandelion ?

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“Columbines” [left] are listed as prairie wildflowers. However I’ve always seen them planted in flowerbeds and never in the wild. Same goes for Virginia Bluebells [below] …

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I really wanted to write a comprehensive article on prairie wildflowers … But since I couldn’t figure out their names I thought about dropping this idea … till it struck me to enlist whatever I could manage …

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I also decided to expand the scope to all types of wildflowers … found here … native or alien …
[Right - Morning Glory, Below - Sleepy Catchfly ... and the last pix is roadside prairie grassland ... absolutely authentic, even the road can be seen! There are prairie grasses, BlazingStar and Chicory]

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As the Confucius said …
“ A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."
So though I have a long way to go … but maybe I’ve taken a few steps …

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Flower photos put here ...
1. Purple Coneflower; 2. Queen Anne's Lace, 3. Blanket Flower, 4. Thristle, 5. Golden Alexander, 6. Milkweed, 7. Daisy Fleabane, 8. Chicory, 9.[?] 10. Comlumbine, 11. Virginia Bluebells, 12. Morning Glory, 13. Sleepy Catchfly ...
14. Roadside grassland ... with Prairie grass, Blazing Star and some Chicory ...

*** Ohh well, I'm quite aware Jimi Hendrix didnt sing, "Wild Thing"; for wildflowers ... It was one of my *silly* word plays ....

Reserved: Wildflowers

This place is reserved for wildflowers ...

Monday, June 26, 2006

Backyard Birds

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[Pix: Brown headed cowbirds in my backyard]

Though I would love to photograph eagles, owls, pelicans ... But I haven’t ... Not as YET! My bird photography is restricted to backyard birds ... Though I've definitely clicked peacocks, flamingos and a few very interesing birds in zoos ... However ...
All the photos posted here have been taken in the wild ...
NOT in zoos or any protected space …


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As much as I like seeing colorful birds hopping on trees, it is not easy to take bird snaps …
My experience:
- The smaller the bird the more active they are and hence most difficult to photograph. As common sparrows are everywhere but to get a good snapshot is a challenge.
- The larger the bird, the more steady they are and easier to capture. But then they are rare ….
But I still try to take their photos whenever possible ...

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One of my favorite has been … Cardinal ...
It’s a common bird and comes very frequently in my backyard. Its loud whistling sound is a big giveaway of it’s presence around. However they are mostly perched on the top of tall trees making it difficult to focus. But then after many trials I’ve managed to get a few good shots. Cardinal is the State bird of Illinois and 5 other states.

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I spotted a colony of Red-Winged Blackbirds in the marshy land. I found them very amusing as they would sit on tall stalks of Pampas grass, and try balancing themselves; frequently changing sides.

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The males have jet-black body and bright red shoulder patches edged with yellow on bottom. Female and juvenile are heavily streaked brown overall.

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The females are so different from males that I first thought that they were two different types altogether, but thanks to net, I was able to cross-check. The brown striped birds that looked more like sparrow were actually the female Blackbirds.

I also learned that the red-winged blackbird is the most abundant bird in North America.

Other common blackbirds are:
- Common Grackle
- Brown-headed Cowbirds
- Starlings

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The Common Grackle is an iridescent blackbird, with a long, keel-shaped tail, pale yellow eyes and a long, sharp black bill, The central feathers of the long, rounded tail are often depressed, so that the tail is displayed in flight with a deeply keeled V-shape. Common Grackles can be distinguished from other similarly sized all-black blackbirds with yellow eyes, They have earned a reputation as a significant pest and they feed in farm fields, pastures, and lawns by walking, rather than hopping!

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Brown-headed Cowbirds are relatively have short, conical bills; rather long, pointed wings; and slightly rounded tails. The cowbird is the smallest blackbird. The male is black with a brown head and the female is gray. Both sexes have sparrowlike bills.

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The Starling is a dark chunky, muscular bird. It is distinguished from other blackbirds by its short tail and its longer, slender bill, yellow in spring. Starling plumage varies depending on the season. In winter, the bird displays a highly speckled iridescent coat and a dark bill. In summer, the bird's coat dulls and has far fewer speckles. These are relatives of Mynah birds and are native of Europe.

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Housefinches are again common birds here. They are red head and throat and the body is grayish brown with stripes. Bill short and thick, with rounded top edge.

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The American Goldfinch or wild canary, is another delightful backyard visitor. Its bright yellow plumage looks beautiful. Travels in flocks; undulating flight.

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Robin the most common backyard birds so its chirp I’m very familiar with “cheerily, cheer up, cheer up, cheerily, cheer up." They have brownish-red under parts with black n gray wings ...