Saturday, September 27, 2008


Today was just one of those wonderful days that you have to get out and enjoy. I went out this morning and found all kinds of little treats.

This late season Monarch Butterfly Danaus plexippus was enjoying the sunshine and drinking nectar.

Although there are no dragonflies around now I did find this exuvia left when the nymph climbed up out of the water and underwent its transformation into the adult form.

I had mentioned in a previous post that the immature herons were gorging on a late glut of bluegills in the pond - here they are!

As we were coming back into our building my husband almost trod on this autumn leaf! It is actually the moth of the Maple Spanworm Ennomos magnaria (thanks BugGuide!) I took masses of photos of it because I thought it was so handsome, actually judging by the antennae I would have to say 'she' rather than 'it.'

After lunch we went out and sat by the lake in the sun for a few hours. One of the things that delighted me was the appearance of this little flock of five Sanderlings Calidris alba on route from their summer breeding grounds above the Arctic Circle to their overwintering grounds around the coastline of the Lower 48. They are the ultimate in constant motion so trying to get a picture of them nearly drove me crazy!

Now the sun is setting and washing everything in a beautiful pink light - definitely a great day.

Photo Credits - CJT

Friday, September 26, 2008


I was walking home from work yesterday when I spotted this cheeky character sitting on the back of a park bench having her picnic. I just couldn't resist a photo. Unfortunately with city squirrels the closer you get to them, the closer they will come to you because they are so used to being fed. So I had to get the picture from a distance and sure enough when I tried to get closer she hopped down onto the bench seat to see if I had anything tastier that she might like!

Of course when she discovered that I had nothing to offer except my camera she started telling me off in an extremely loud voice. So now I get scolded by squirrels on my way home from work?!

Photo Credits - CJT

Thursday, September 25, 2008

SKYWATCH FRIDAY (Galapagos skies)

I wasn't inspired by Chicago skies this week so I decided to use it as an opportunity to post some more of my husbands beautiful photos from the trip we took to the Galapagos Islands earlier this year. Whilst travelling between the islands by boat we were very often accompanied by frigatebirds.

These stunning birds have the most amazing wing size to body weight ratio that allows them to hang effortlessly in the sky for hours at a time without flapping their wings.

There are two types of frigate bird that occur on the islands. The Magnificent Frigatebird Fregata magnificens which is distinguished by a stunning purple sheen on the feathers on its back. And the Great Frigatebird Fregata minor which has a green sheen on its back. (The way I remembered it was G for green and G for great!)

These birds do have a reputation as the pirates of the air for their rather questionable tactics of grabbing other birds in flight and dangling them upside down until they reguritate their fish! But I suspect when you look this spectacular you can get away with a certain amount of bad behavior!!!

Most of the birds that flew with the boat were either female or juvenile but incase you are in any doubt about their spectacular looks, here is one of the males.

To see other skywatch sites go here.

Photo Credits - Dominick V

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


One of the projects I am involved with at work is a Blandings Turtle headstarting programme. The aquatic Blandings Turtle is listed as endangered in Illinois due to a loss of habitat and an increase in its natural predators. The headstarting program involves collecting eggs, incubating and hatching them and rearing the hatchlings for the first two years of their life to give them a 'headstart' before they are re-released into the wild. This project has been in development for a number of years and we took our first delivery of one year old turtles early this year. Today we had a delivery of new one year olds and our existing youngsters were moved to an outside enclosure to begin acclimatising them for their release. The picture above shows one of the older turtles.

What a difference a year makes! Number 16 is one of the outgoing turtles being prepared for release, number 58 is one of our new arrivals!

Incoming and outgoing - there is one more tiny one who wandered out of shot on the right. The first two years of a turtles life are when it is most vulnerable, if it successfully hatches it takes about two years for the turtles shell to suitably harden and thicken enough to protect it from predators.

Jamie introduces number 23 to his new home for the next year. We will keep them here and monitor their growth rates regularly to ensure they are developing correctly before they are released.

Here are the new babies settling into their enclosure, the glass is one way so we can see in and observe them but they cannot see us. This helps to ensure that the young turtles do not become too habituated to humans before they are released.

The older turtles will spend about ten days getting used to being outside and then we will fit them with tiny radio transmitters and release them - look out for my post when that happens.

Photo Credits - CJT

Monday, September 22, 2008


I was walking through the park today feeling rather 'Mondayish" when something bright caught my eye. It was a beautiful Northern Flicker feather.

It doesn't look too special from the top, but when you turn it over.........

The Northern Flicker Colaptes auratus is one of the few birds that nests in all 49 continental states. There are some regional variations which were at one time listed as separate species, the one we get here is the Yellow-shafted Flicker (No surprise there then!). Populations are thought to be declining due to competition for nesting sites with European Starlings and loss of suitable nesting trees. To see the actual bird check this picture.

Photo Credits - CJT

Thursday, September 18, 2008

SKYWATCH FRIDAY (Remnants of Ike)

My pictures this week were taken from the car whilst traveling back from Indianapolis. We had been visited by the remains of Hurricane Ike the day before and although it was no where near as bad for us as it was for the poor people in its direct path when it first made landfall, it still left its mark by flooding numerous homes and leaving many roads under water. Please excuse the quality of the images - they were taken from a moving vehicle!

This shot was taken when the vehicle was stationary.................just before we merged onto the interstate!!!

For more great images check out skywatch.

Photo Credits - CJT

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Well after a brief skirmish with Hurricane Ike last weekend we are back to perfect late summer days. It is hard to stay indoors when everything looks so beautiful outside. The light is less harsh, the heat is gentler and everything just seems a little softer than at the height of summer.

There are less butterflies around, most of the Monarchs have headed south, but there are still a few Painted Ladies Vanessa cardui, enjoying the Canada Golden Rod Solidago canadensis.

The pond is full of Blue Gill Lepomis cyanellus so although the mature Great Blue Herons Ardea herodias have moved south, the immature ones are still around, making the most of the lack of competition for food.

They are not the only ones feeding up for the approaching winter, the squirrels look chubbier every day. City squirrels never seem to lack for food though! They will always resort to hurling abuse at you from the nearest tree if there is no food offered!!

The turtles are still around, pulling out onto logs to soak up the sun. Unfortunately there will be a few less baby ones around, I found this stash of turtle eggs that had obviously been dug up and eaten by something, probably racoon or rat. The white pieces in the foreground are turtle egg shells. If they had hatched naturally the egg shells would have remained below ground and the newly emerged turtles would have dug there way out.

We also seem to have a new resident in the pond. This lodge has been growing over the past couple of months and small trees have gradually been disappearing from around the waters edge! I have yet to see the resident, some think they have seen a muskrat and some swear they have seen a beaver. When the lodge was smaller I would have gone with the muskrat theory but the size it is now, maybe we do have a beaver around! The jury is still out!

Photo Credits - CJT


I was cooking dinner last night and I just happened to walk out of the kitchen at exactly the right moment to see the moon rising over the lake.

I can never remember if the Harvest moon is in August or September but it was so orange that it looked as if it should be the Harvest Moon.

There is something so magical about the moon I just love to gaze at it. We were lucky to get any dinner at all!

Photo Credits - Dominick V


I was walking home from work yesterday and as I passed under one particular tree I noticed white feathers drifting down. My past life as a Safari Guide in Africa immediately kicked in and I was searching the branches for a predator. Eventually I spotted an immature Coopers Hawk feasting on a white city pigeon. Sadly he was too shy for me to get a photo so to give you an idea, check out this great shot A couple of people ran past the tree and startled the hawk, he took off, firmly clutching the pigeon in his talons and flew to another tree. It was a great sight.

Monday, September 15, 2008


We need a rat, can you get one?
Such is the nature of my job.
We are currently putting together an exhibit about animals that adapt to life in darkness and for the city section the request was for a rat. This was in addition to the desert scorpions, cave fish, tarantula, hermit crabs and snakes. The last three are no problem because I already have them. The desert scorpions are on their way - it pays to have the right contacts, and I am borrowing the cave fish from a friend. So all I needed was the rat. The local pet store usually has all kinds of colours except what would generally be thought of as the 'natural' rat sort of colour but I figured I would give it a shot anyway. Now in my line of work the only rats I have anything to do with come in packets, frozen, so that I can feed them to the snakes but I am up to most challenges so a rat it is.

Well as it turned out the hunt was extremely easy. For the first time ever the local pet store had a 'rat coloured' rat. Not yellow or white or piebald just good old grey/black - perfect! I haven't handled rats before (at least not live ones) but we have become fast friends already.

The most fascinating thing about this entire process is peoples reaction to rats. I enthusiastically tell people to come and see my lovely new arrival but when I tell them what it is the look of horror soon appears - a rat! Eugh!! Then they get to meet him and slowly he wins people round. He is very cuddly and very gentle. Likes nothing better than to sit quietly in my arms and be petted, it is wonderful to see peoples opinions change in a matter of minutes, his fan club is growing all the time.

Another common misconception is that these are dirty animals, nothing could be further from the truth. This guy spends hours every day cleaning himself meticulously from head to the tip of his extremely long tail.

I think you get where I am heading with this - don't follow the herd, make your own judgements on individual animals, by experience, not hearsay, you may be pleasantly surprised. As for me, well I have fulfilled the request of the exhibits department but much better than that I have managed to show a lot of other people who I work with, that rats really are pretty neat :)

Photo Credits - CJT

Sunday, September 14, 2008


I posted yesterday that we were in Indianapolis for the inaugural Indianapolis Moto GP. The forecast was that the remnants of Hurricane Ike were due to hit, right around race time. True to form he slammed into us about an hour before the race was due to begin. The wind was gusting and swirling at 60mph and there was torrential, horizontal rain. But Nascar this is not, these Moto GP guys race in (almost) any weather. The weather cleared up a bit so the race was on. Rossi was in pole position for the start but, as usual, he slipped a couple of places on the opening lap. Here he is in third place coming round to complete lap one.

As the race got underway the weather started to deteriorate, the rain got worse and there was standing water all around the track. Then the wind started to pick up too, in the centre field one of the big concession tents for Yamaha was ripped to pieces, one of the tents in the Ducatti area took off and wiped out rows of beautiful parked bikes! Meanwhile Valentino Rossi was just getting into his groove on the race track!

He soon caught up with the rider in second place and made short work of him.

Then he set his sights on Nicky Hayden, the local hero who was leading the race, and started reeling him in.

It took a few laps, during which the weather just got more and more horrific. Flags were being ripped off flag poles and stuff was flying all over the track.

Rossi soon took the lead from Hayden and then started opening up a lead, by this time none of us could believe that they were able to keep the bikes upright, let alone race around a track at over 150 mph. (FYI if it had been dry they would have been moving at almost 200 mph!) By now the helicopter that was filming the race from overhead was really having a problem staying in control - and still these guys raced! Eventually the race was declared after 20 of 28 laps and Rossi had won!

I tried to stand up to cheer as he won and almost got blown off my feet! How did these guys manage to stay on their bikes? Truly an amazing, exhilarating and rather soggy, afternoon.

For those of you that don't share my passion for fierce motors - I will be back to things more nature oriented next week!

Photo Credits - Dominick V