Tag Archive | wildlife

Deer Rutting = Tree Trunk Damage

As a designer of landscapes, I try to assess all of my landscape material choices wisely. This goes beyond simple choices of sunny or shade plants and moves into specific placement of hardscape or plant material for; flow, accentuation of house architecture, soil characteristics, aesthetics, safety and wildlife considerations. The areas that I work in are heavily populated by deer. I must consider the chance that any plant might get eaten by deer and stick to plants that tend to not be devoured by them (Links Below!)

Sadly, not all things can be assessed for. Some of the funnier instances that I don’t generally plan for is the inability of someone to pull in and out of their own driveway. Landscape lighting tends to get run down fairly often. Funnier still, my cure is to put an outcrop stone in front of it, which then just get pushed by the offending auto into the lighting fixture. At that point we move the fixture, can’t teach old dogs new tricks, it seems.

The situation in the photos was a new one on me. I’d seen it many times while hiking in the forest preserves. In the late fall, male deer feel the need to rub off the velvet on their antlers. It’s called ‘rutting’. Male deer do this for a multitude of reasons; mark territory, show dominance, tell does he’s available… It’s the Tinder of the deer world. This poor Ginkgo didn’t have a chance.

Bucks prefer to rub on trees and shrubs that have smooth bark and are one-half to four inches in diameter. All bucks will rub saplings less than two inches in diameter, however only older bucks will regularly rub trees six or more inches in diameter. Seeing a large-diameter tree that shows signs of steady rubbing, is a sure sign that at least one older, buck frequents the area.

In the South and Southeast, bucks seem to prefer aromatic species, such as cedar and sassafras. However, they’ll also readily rub alders, eastern juniper, cherries, witch hazel, winged sumac, striped maple, sourwood and pines.

The Northeast and Upper Great Lakes region bucks like trembling aspen best as the species has a smooth, soft bark that is easily stripped. The inner wood is very light in color and has long-lasting brilliance once it’s exposed. Along with the aspen, red maple, sumac, black cherry, balsam fir, pines and willows are frequently rubbed; whereas thick barked trees like, sugar maple, ironwood, beech and paper birch are usually avoided.

Why this action of scraping the trunk surface is so bad is that just under the bark is the xylem which carries water and minerals from the roots to the leaves and the phloem which carries manufactured food, like sugars, from the leaves to the roots. If the xylem or phloem is severed all the way around the tree (girdling the tree), food cannot be carried to the roots and they will eventually die, causing the whole tree to die.

It’s sad, however there is really no way to predict this happening. Clients aren’t going to circle their trees with protective fencing either. Unfortunately, we’ll just replace this tree and hope that it will not be bothered again.

Deer Proof Trees

Deer Proof Shrubs

Deer Proof Perennials

© Ilex ~ Midwestern Plant Girl

Squirrel McDonald’s 

It’s another dreary day here in the Midwest. The clear, bright, new windows we had installed don’t make it look any more friendly outside. It’s February… In Illinois… what do I expect?

Although the day is dreary, I do enjoy watching the gray squirrels taking care of business in the front yard. There are many spruce and large trees in my area, which allows for a large population of these furry, funny entertainers.

February is an exciting time in a gray squirrel’s life… It’s MATING SEASON! Woo hoo! Time to frolic, play, tease, fight, love, share, chase, eat and all other forms of craziness!! You can easily identify the sexes without seeing their undercarriages during this time. The female is in the lead, with a dominate male directly behind here, if there are any other following in line, they are young, subordinate males… waiting for their chance.

Males will fight for dominance when there are no females around to chase. You’ll hear the “Chu-chu-chu” noise or see the squirrel stomping its feet and swishing its tail as a form of war dance! To adorable.

**Click here to learn how smart squirrels are**

If you’ve been following me for awhile, you know I have many bird feeders and perch areas to feed the wildlife at work. At my home, not so much. I do have a suet holder and otherwise, I only toss ‘left overs’ out to the wildlife I share my space with. Left overs can vary from bread to nuts to fruit to seeds, nothing I think is dangerous to the wildlife, nor anything I want out there that attracts unwanted wildlife, like skunks or ‘possoms. All approved items get thrown on the front lawn at dawn. The front lawn is devoid of crazy Border Collies and if thrown out at dawn, all trace of food will be gone by mid-day, thus won’t be attracting any nightlife creatures of the stinky variety.

As I know I might catch some flack from feeding the wildlife anything but proper foods… I did consult the ALL KNOWING INTERNET to back or deflate my decision to give my furries bread. Seems there are as many pro’s as con’s out there for feeding any type of wildlife (ducks, birds, squirrels…) bread. In my opinion, and how I try to live my life (mostly)… It’s all about moderation. Going to McDonald’s twice a year isn’t going to kill you, in the same as giving wildlife bread will kill them. I don’t share it that often and they seem to enjoy their Squirrel McDonald’s!

© Ilex ~ Midwestern Plant Girl


A great visit to Oatland Island Wildlife Center of Savannah

A few weeks before our trip to Savannah, Georgia, I was looking through the things to do and came across the Oatland Island Wildlife Center. Sadly, when I went to their website, I learned that hurricane Mathew had been very mean to them. Many habitats were damaged. Thankfully, these were the animals day areas, and their nighttime digs were safe, as were all the animals.

Lucky for us, they opened the day after Christmas, with only the wolf exhibit being off limits. So, off we went!

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Many of these animals cannot be returned to the wild, for one reason or another.

Many of the birds cannot fly. On the cages, they have signs that inform you that birds that cannot fly like the security of the small space.



It was almost low tide here, the water was slowly getting lower, exposing the oysters.



Hey look! It’s BOB!




Hello, hello, hello. Is there anybody in there? Just nod if you can hear me. Is there any one at home?

The red fox was supposed to be in here. Maybe in the little house.



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Thee were two bald eagles in here. There was a long tree trunk that went from the ground to this high roost.


Bison bison.

© Ilex – Midwestern Plant Girl

What to Do If a Bird Hits the Window

imageSo, here I am working on my ‘puter when I here BLAM! I know that sound. Even though I try to warn the birds with colored clings and special ‘bird eyes only’ clings, a few still don’t see the warnings and connect. Most times, they shake it off and fly away. This time, Mr. Mourning Dove was seeing stars and planets, and was just sitting quietly on the ground. As there have been many birds of prey around lately, I didn’t want him to be a sitting duck, err, dove. I had to something to help the little, dazed guy out.

This is not my first rodeo when it comes to head injuries… I’ve had a few of my own 8-D

If the bird hasn’t moved in a few minutes, it may have a concussion. This guy was toootally out of it, he could hardly stand-up and was wobbly. Many websites tell you to put the bird in a brown paper bag and put it in a dark place… I liked my box idea, as it gave him a shelter, a place with little to no stimulation.. Basically a safe place to chill-out. Of course it was open so he could leave when his world stopped spinning. I didn’t try to give him food or water, as that could have caused a whole ‘nother rash of problems.

I came and checked on the little, window rapper every half hour. He seemed fine under the paper towel, while he tried to make sense of which way was up. After about 2 1/2 hours, he was gone.

I didn’t feel there was anything else wrong with this guy, so I didn’t feel the need to try to contact a bird sanctuary. Sadly, these guys are very common and on top of it, it’s dove season here!!

Now, if you come across a bird (or any other animal) that is clearly injured (broken wing, you see blood…), you will need to contact a professional wildlife rehabilitation or you’re gonna be in big trouble. Unless you’re trained, you cannot possess a wild animal. It stops idiots from trying to keep wild animals as pets. There is a great need for rehabbers! Wanna learn how?

Rehabers are very easy to find via a web search. It’s best to do this ahead of time, so when you do see an injured animal, you know what to do and time is precious when injuries are involved. Sadly, I toootally understand rehabers are far and few between, usually have little help and do god’s work, however in the four times I’ve needed them, only once did I get through to someone and they actually helped me (with a barn sparrow). You can try a local veterinarian, however be prepared to accept the bills also.

My best piece of advice, be prepared that your ward may die on your watch. It’s sad, but that’s life. Bury them in a nice part of the garden and remember them fondly when the nearby flowers bloom. That’s how I’m getting it done. Au Natural.

Post publishing:
Sherry Felix gave me a great link to help injured birds in general. This link discusses what to do with any injured bird. Thank you again, Sherry!!

© Ilex – Midwestern Plant Girl

Snapping Turtle ~ Chelydra serpentina

Common snapping turtles have a long neck and a long tail with sawtooth projections on the upper surface. They also have a large head with a strong beak instead of teeth. The edges of the jaws have sharp edges to rip apart food. I think their cute beaks look like piggy noses. =@)

They like to live in any body of water. They especially like shallow, mud-bottomed backwaters and ponds with lush aquatic vegetation. Exaaaaactly where we were walking the boys near Illinois State Beach Park.

April through July, is their mating season, which generally takes place on land, resulting in Mama turtle laying 20-50 eggs in a shallow clutch. Just like sea turtles, the hatchlings just know where the water is, and head for its safety.

They only seeking to escape when approached by humans in the water and are of little threat to swimmers. However, they are aggressive and menacing when on land. If you see one on the road and want to help it across… Be Careful! Watch the video below to educate yourself on how to safely pick up a snapper!

Vegetation is their main food source, however they also eat fish, snakes, and crustaceans. The turtle actually ‘inhales’ its food by using a strong suction created from its buccal cavity. They extend their necks to create a negative pressure and the prey is sucked into their mouth and down their throats! Now that’s how you gulp food! HaHa =-)

Snapping turtle’s heads are too large to pull all the way into their shell, so they have learned how to use that powerful jaw as defense and snap at their enemies. The hard beak on their jaw is attached to adductor muscles that are situated at an angle to the trochlear to create an enormous force. These guys are strong enough to remove a finger! Yikes.

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Isn’t she* cute?!?

As there were many (100’s!)  leopard frogs leaping as we approached them, we were constantly looking down, hoping to avoid stepping on the ‘lil guys. Oreo stepped on one, however he seemed unphased and hopped off. Whew. So, while looking up to enjoy the landscape and down to avoid the hoppers, we got pretty close to this little lady before noticing her on the trail.

The trail is narrow, and both sides turn into swampy, muck pretty quickly, so no deviation off the trail is possible. We weren’t turning around either. We neared her, hoping she would just scurry away. Nope. Is she dead?? I inch closer…. Waiting for movement. Oh! She blinked! OK, now what? Us humans can jump over her, but the boys? I kept myself between Oreo and her and he virtually ignored her. So did Breck. That’s a Border Collie for ya… No movement, no fun! Thus, I have no cool ending to my post. The End =-)

Here’s a helpful video to learn how to help a turtle across the road!

*Sometimes I don’t know the sex of an animal and just assign it one, as I don’t like referring animals as ‘it’s.
© Ilex – Midwestern Plant Girl

Adeline Jay Geo-Karis Illinois State Beach Park

This is the third time we’ve been to Illinois State Beach Park. Part one here  | Part two here.

This is a IDNR (Illinois Dept. Natural Resources) park, one of the most protected areas in Il. It’s located in Zion, kinda a rough neighborhood, but you don’t even realize where you are after entering the park. We also had a great view of the dormant Zion nuclear plant. Awesome…?

This area is 4,160 acres and has a recorded 650+ different plant species. Long recognized for its unique geological features, native flora and unmatched beauty, the Lake Michigan dunes area originally was, in the 1700s, part of the “Three Fires” of the Algonquin Nation: the Potawatomi, Chippewa and Ottawa.

This area was slated to be a preserve as early as 1888, when Robert Douglas, a Waukegan nurseryman, and Jens Jensen, a famous landscape architect (If you live/visit  Chicago, you’ve seen a lot of his work), worked together to make the area a regional park. With industry progressing from the south, sand mining ravaging the dunes and parts of the surrounding rural area succumbing to pasture and homesteads, legislative efforts to save the area finally began in the 1920s.

In 1948, the state obtained the first parcels of what is now known as Illinois Beach State Park. The Illinois Dunes Preservation Society was established in 1950 to protect the area. Through its efforts and the determinations of the Department of Conservation, in 1964 the area south of Beach Road was dedicated as the first Illinois Nature Preserve.

This area is unique, as it is a sand dune area, and the rest of Illinois is nothing like it. I was on the hunt for Opuntia – Prickly pear & Juniperus horizontalis – Trailing juniper, both of these are native to this area. In 1804, explorers Lewis and Clark noted that trailing juniper “would make a handsome edging to the borders of a garden”

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Cicuta maculata ~ Water Hemlock    Stay away!!    ||   A mossy rose gall, caused by a Diplolepis rosea or Bedeguar Gall Wasp. So cute and fuzzy!! Not really detrimental to the plant.


Midwestern Plant Girl on the hunt for blooming flowers!!!image

The still standing Zion Nuclear Power Plant. It was built in 1973 and decommissioned in 1998. The hot, nuclear mess still sits in holding tanks below the buildings. Supposedly, the new date for clean-up is in 2020. All the hot stuff will be sent to a remote location in Utah. Poor, Utah… drew the short stick, didn’t we??? It will then be restored to its original habitat, hopefully.

Pretty scary that it sits right next to the largest fresh water supply of the Midwest….


There were a few gulls on the nuclear power plant side of the fence. 😉 They know folks are supposed to stay on the other side of the fence. There are still armed guards here, keeping folks away from the hot mess.


Pretty rocks… I would have made a great petrologist =-)


I love our savannas.

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Chelydra serpentina — Common snapping turtle   ||     Lithobates pipiens or Rana pipiens ~ Northern leopard frog  They were everywhere!

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Wasps and beavers



Breck with Daddy and Chicago waaaaay in the distance.

The Clearing ~ A Dream of Jen Jensen, Landscape Architect

As a Midwestern lover of landscape architecture, I could not help but take the walking, story tour of the Jens Jensen inspired folk school called ‘The Clearing’, in Ellison Bay, Wisconsin

Jens Jensen was born near Dybbol in Denmark on September 13, 1860. He worked on his family’s farm until the war came to his country. After serving his mandatory military service and becoming engaged to Anne Marie Hansen, Jensen decided to immigrate to America. He landed in Florida, moved to Iowa and then Chicago, Illinois, where he took a job as a park laborer in 1888. He learned during his first opportunity to design a garden using native plants, after all of his exotic plants died. Later in his career, he formed the conservation movements that led to the creation of the Cook County Forest Preserve District, the Illinois State Park system, the Indiana Dunes State Park and National Lakeshore. After that, he went into private practice and designed landscapes for Henry Ford, Frank Lloyd Wright, Rosenwalds, Florsheims, Ryersons and the Beckers.

Fast forward to his retirement at age 75, Jensen purchased land in Door County, Wisconsin and achieved his longtime dream of establishing “The Clearing” whose mission is “to provide diverse educational experiences in the folk school tradition, in a setting of quiet forests, meadows and water.” The Clearing was to be a place where city people could renew their contact with nature.


The main house


Mertha Fulkerson was a close aide to Jens. This woven piece of art (Mertha’s talent), is dedicated to her 18 years of service to The Clearing.

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One of the classrooms    ||   The main sitting room of the house

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Jens had a one room shack that overlooked the lake. I would have totally lived there. One room, very little upkeep!

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He was adamant that facing west towards the setting sun was magical.  There were many nooks to sit facing west.


He believed in the circle. A circle of learning, dancing and conversation.

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If you’d like to see some of his original drawings, click here!

© Ilex – Midwestern Plant Girl

Dog-Gone Poo Rollers!


We love you Mommy!!

I just got home after a monster day. As I pulled up to the garage, the boys had already anticipated my arrival and were crying at the window. Awe, someone loves me! ❤

I let them out and got the ‘Whip it’ and loaded it with a fresh tennis ball. After a enough throws to cause tongues to hang to the grass, I collected the balls and went back into the garage.

Welp. It wasn’t long before they were done in the yard themselves. They came in and looked at me for their suppers. But wait. What is that on your neck Oreo? Gaaa….. Poo! And since it’s all our nothing in this house, Breck had to roll in it also.

So much for a quiet start to my evening. Baths for everyone!

It’s that time of year again. The apple crop was great this year and many of the furries like to gorge themselves on the free buffet. Since animals have no couth, they poop as needed, right in the middle of the buffet line.




I’ve read up on the philosophy dog trainers have accredited this type of obsession. One or more of the following drives my dogs to wear poop:

  • This is ‘MINE’. Not yours, mine.

  • Lets go show Mommy what we found! We’ll bring it to her!

  • This smells different than me, and I like change.

© Ilex – Midwestern Plant Girl

Garden of the Gods – Colorado Springs

I’m back from Denver, the wedding was wonderful and now I can share my recent adventures with you!! =-)


We headed out early from Denver and arrived at the Garden of the Gods in about an hour. We had just been to the Garden of the Gods in Illinois and needed to do a bit of comparison hiking!!

The visitors center is new this year (2015) and has all the amenities a hiker needs… toilets, water, helpful guides and yummy caramel nuts! The park is free along with the parking. It is a tad bit touristy, however we were there on a Thursday and it was tame. The trails are what I call ‘Yuppy Hiking’ , as they are paved with very little grade change and all wheel types are welcome. We even saw a Segway group go by. This isn’t my idea of fun hiking, however it was still pretty cool. We stuck within the Central Garden Area, although there are many more trails to enjoy.

imageGarden of gods map

We’ve entered the land where the human isn’t always the deadliest! Nothing like this at home.


A billion years ago, molten rock cooled to create Pikes Peak granite and the Ancestral Rockies.  Approximately 310-270 million years ago, the ancestral Rockies were worn down bit by bit.  About 250 million years ago, Garden of the Gods had sandy beaches and an inland sea.  The 300 foot orange sandstone rocks in the Garden of the Gods were once sand dunes.  They may have looked similar to those at the Great Sand Dunes National Monument in southern Colorado.  An inland sea once again covered Colorado about 225 million years ago.  Around 155 million years ago (the Jurassic period), dinosaurs roamed the Garden of the Gods.

About 65 million years ago, mountains rose and tipped the rocks that today we see today vertical and beyond.  This was an intense period of mountain building caused by the old Pacific plate slamming into the North American plate.  As the Front Range Mountains rose, the overlying sedimentary rocks were bent upward. Over time, the softer rocks eroded and valleys were created leaving harder rocks standing as the tall ridges in the Park.



Black-billed Magpie ~ Pica hudsonia

They were are beautiful and friendly. They seemed to really enjoy the rock face.



The story of how this place gets its name goes like this:

It was August of 1859 when two surveyors started out from Denver City to begin a townsite, soon to be called Colorado City. While exploring nearby locations, they came upon a beautiful area of sandstone formations. M. S. Beach, who related this incident, suggested that it would be a “capital place for a beer garden” when the country grew up. His companion, Rufus Cable, a “young and poetic man”, exclaimed, “Beer Garden! Why it is a fit place for the Gods to assemble. We will call it the Garden of the Gods.” It has been so called ever since.


imageIn 1871, as railroads established their way west, General William Jackson Palmer founded Colorado Springs while extending the lines of his Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. General Palmer wanted his friend, Charles Elliott Perkins (the head of the Burlington Railroad) to build his railroad from Chicago to Colorado Springs. Although the Burlington never built the railroad to Colorado Springs directly, Perkins did purchase two-hundred and forty acres which encompassed the Garden of the Gods for a summer home in 1879. Perkins died in 1907 and Perkins’ children donated the four-hundred eighty acres to the City of Colorado Springs. It would be known forever as the Garden of the Gods “where it shall remain free to the public, where no intoxicating liquors shall be manufactured, sold, or dispensed, where no building or structure shall be erected except those necessary to properly care for, protect, and maintain the area as a public park.”


© Ilex – Midwestern Plant Girl

Wile E. Coyote ~ Canis latrans

I am always on duty if I see a loose dog. I have a leash, treats and water in my car. I have been known to run into traffic to save dogs. Don’t try to stop me!

On my way home from work, I was sitting at a particularly long light and staring out into the beautiful prairie. I saw movement below… A dog? Lemmie see a bit closer… Hmmm, nope, that’s a coyote!

Coyotes were infrequent in Illinois for a long time after settlement of the state, but their numbers have increased dramatically during the 1970’s and early 1980’s.

An average home range of the coyote incorporates 2-10 square miles.  Members of packs tend to have smaller home ranges than the “loners”.  Sizes of home ranges are also subjective by the quality of habitat, presence of nearby packs and seasons of the year. This especially applies when coyotes are breeding or rearing pups.

Home ranges are not exclusive; many coyotes may live in the same area.  These groups, referred to as packs, usually contain extended families.  Members of one pack rarely venture into another’s territory. Some coyotes do not belong to packs. These solitary coyotes or ‘loners’ tend to have larger home ranges than pack coyotes and are less respectful of pack boundaries. They sometimes join a pack when one of the members leaves or dies.

Coyotes normally mate in February, however, only the alpha pair in a pack will mate and subordinates will usually help raise the young. Coyotes appear to be monogamous and bonds between alpha pairs have only been broken upon the death of one of the pair. In April, just before the 62 to 65-day gestation period, the female will begin looking for existing dens or dig one herself.

When scientist had analyzed stomach contents, the most common food items were small rodents (42%), fruit (23%), deer (22%), and rabbit (18%). Apparently, the majority of coyotes in this study area do not rely on pets or garbage for their diets.

coyote deaths


© Ilex – Midwestern Plant Girl