Monday, July 27, 2009


I thought I would give Macro Monday a go. This is a great meme hosted by Ed from Sunday Stills.
Just get out there and get macro!
OK well as I live on the 21st floor the 'wildlife' tends to be a little thin on the ground! I did spot these two 'getting it on' on my living room window though!!

Puts a whole new slant on the 'mile high club!'
I will update when Bugguide gives me an update on what this raunchy pair actually are.

Photo Credits - CJT

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


My Husband cycles home from work and when the weather is nice I sometimes walk out to meet him on his way along the lakefront. On this particular evening we sat and watched the moon rise over the lake as we looked back towards the city.

Don't forget to check out skies from all over the world at the Skywatch Friday site every week.

Photo Credits - CJT & DominickV


I haven't posted about Chicago for a little while now so I thought it was time I took a stroll around the pond to see what was going on. As with most of the eastern half of the country, we have been having a very odd summer. We had the coldest June on record and the third coldest July (so far) and our rainfall has been a lot higher than normal too. This has meant that a lot of things are occurring later than usual. The fruit on the Mulberry trees is ripening weeks later than it usually does.

We still have very young Wood Ducklings

and some very young Mallard Ducklings too

I hope we have a late fall and winter to go along with our late summer otherwise these little guys are going to have a really tough time at a vital stage in their development.
But at least the female Mallards will not have to worry about being harassed by the males now, they are looking very disheveled as they shed their beautiful breeding plumage

and are transformed into mere shadows of their previously glorious selves.

The females who are done with breeding are enjoying the quiet life and taking the time to relax and preen after all the hard work of raising young.

The various turtle species in the pond are having to make the most of any hours of sunlight, this pair of Red-eared Sliders have hauled themselves up onto a prime basking spot.

And the dragonflies are making the most of warm spots too

You may remember a while back I posted about the local Park Districts rather ham-fisted techniques for removing a beaver from the pond. Well it appears that the beavers of the area are not to be defeated because despite the Park Districts brutal best efforts, we have another tree feller in residence!

The flowers in the prairie are just beginning to gain colour and I was watching large numbers of bumble bees enjoy the copious supplies of nectar and pollen. One of them drew my attention because it looked different. It had longer, black wings that were moving slowly enough that I could actually see them, unlike the bumble bees. It also had a smooth black abdomen unlike the fuzzy abdomen of the bumble bees. Upon closer inspection I realised it was a large Carpenter Bee. Unfortunately I couldn't get close enough to get a good photo but you get the general idea!

A couple of hours after I took these photos, the clouds rolled back in and the rain returned! Hmm, maybe I should move 'out West!!'

Michelle over at Rambling Woods hosts Nature Notes every Thursday, check it out, it's a great meme.

Photo Credits - CJT

Sunday, July 19, 2009


Although I read a lot I don't usually post about the books I read but I have just finished a book which I feel is worthy of mention. Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin, a journey into the 3.5 billion year history of the human body. For those of us who view evolution as scientific fact this is a truly fascinating read, but what is so important about this book is it's readability. Although the subject matter could by definition be very dense the author has a style that both educates and amuses in a way that is bound to captivate readers, regardless of whether or not they have a scientific background. His slightly irreverent sense of humour shines through, when you get to the piece about the evolution of the position of gonads in different species and the Pledge of Allegiance you will see what I mean! From beginning to end this book overflows with fascinating snippets, for example our relationship to tadpoles and it's link to why we get hiccups!

This is a gem of a book that not only sheds fresh light on an age old study but also, in my mind does something far more important. It breaks down the ever growing wall between 'scientists and science' and the general population. There are so many offenders in this particular issue that it is hard to know where to begin to resolve an issue that really does need attention. For generations the entertainment industry has cast a very unfavorable slant on scientists, often portraying them as evil, manipulative and usually slightly wacky. The press seems to view science with a mixture of suspicion and boredom and many scientists themselves do nothing to make science more 'approachable.' There is a definite sense of snobbery in the scientific world where if you don't have the right letters after your name you are obviously inferior in some way and also that age old, and frankly rather tiresome and overdone tactic, of using unnecessarily over complex vocabulary in order to make yourself appear smart! I can't help feeling that if we want science to be more interesting and engaging to the population we need to stop building walls of Latin and Greek and start taking a leaf out of Neil Shubin's book. Science is cool, science is fun and science is approachable and those of us who are working in the numerous scientific fields need to stop striving to sound like brainiacs and start captivating people in the way that Neil Shubin has done with this book.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Yesterday I described the first part of a recent trip to the Isles of Scilly (pronounced 'silly'.) We stayed on one of the 'off islands' called Bryher which in Cornish means 'place of hills'. After a gloriously sunny day when we arrived, our second day dawned grey and windy but somehow it didn't seem to matter. It just showed another facet of these spectacular islands.

After breakfast we set off to hike the island and before you think we were being incredibly energetic, the island is only 327 acres so we weren't exactly pushing ourselves, especially with constant stops to look at the scenery and take photos.

It seemed only right to focus on the western extreme of the island on this cloudy day because it gave us a feel for the true character of this windswept and dramatic spot.

Look how little I am!! It was so exhilarating to be perching on the edge of the world! Of course we had to visit Bad Place Hill, with a name like that how could we not? So here is my husband being a Bad Ass on Bad Place Hill!!

There are some hardy little souls that manage to make their home in this windswept habitat, like this glorious little Stonechat who kept a very close eye on us.

With all the fresh sea air we were more than happy at the end of the day to sit down to another delicious meal and a good bottle of wine (I could very easily get used to this!)
Next morning dawned blue and sunny (such is the weather in Cornwall) so we were determined to get out and enjoy our last day on the islands.

Time for a little more beach combing on such a beautiful morning, like this strange little sand flea

and very busily running up and down the sand in pursuit of the sand fleas was this ringed plover who was so focused on catching his breakfast he hardly noticed me.

This really is such a special place, it always brings such a sense of peace spending a couple of days here, gazing at the sea.

The beautiful clear seas and wind sculpted rocks are an endless source of inspiration for many artists and photographers.

As you would expect the islands are home to hundreds of seabirds, one of the most eye-catching being the dramatically marked Oystercatcher.

Another reason that I love these islands is that the birds vastly outnumber the people, such a refreshing change from Chicago!

The little cluster of buildings in this picture is the hotel we stayed in, as you can see there aren't many other buildings around, and, best of all, no roads, just a couple of sandy tracks.

All too soon it was time for us to catch the island launch back to the main island of St Marys were the Scillonian was waiting to carry us back to Penzance.

And what a nice touch - one of the locals was there to say goodbye! Can you see him reclining on the rock?

Photo Credits - CJT & Dominick V

Monday, July 13, 2009


I mentioned in my previous post a place called the Isles of Scilly, this is one of England's little treasures and a place that I find truly magical. The Isles of Scilly are a tiny cluster of islands that lie twenty-eight miles off the south-western tip of England. They are a fearsome group of rocks that have wrecked hundreds and hundreds of boats over the centuries but in contrast to this wild side, they lie right on the gulf stream so are actually semi-tropical. My favorite description that I found of them was 'New England, meets the Caribbean meets Cornwall!' Depending which side of any particular island you are standing on you may be on a windswept granite headland overlooking hundreds of miles of Atlantic Ocean or you may be on a white sand beach with palm trees and outrageously huge succulents growing all around and crystal clear turquoise seas.
When we visited my parents in June we were lucky enough to be able to grab a brief trip to the Scillies too. The Islands have particularly fond memories for us because we had our marriage blessing on one of the off islands :)
There are three ways to reach the Islands, by plane, by helicopter or by boat. This time we decided to take the economical choice and go by boat. The Scillonian is affectionately known by the local people in Penzance and the Scilly Isles as 'the big white barf bucket!' - fair warning!!

The reason for this very unfortunate title is simple, in order for the boat to get to the main island of St Marys every day the boat is built with a flat bottom to avoid all the rocks so if there is even a moderate swell at sea, she rolls around like a beast! Fortunately my husband and I are both fairly good sailors (I have previously survived crossings in the Scillonian in very rough seas without loosing my breakfast!) and we were lucky that when we sailed it was very calm so we were able to relax and enjoy the scenery.

This is Mousehole, which I have posted about previously, seen from the sea.

And this is another section of the Cornish coastline with the coastguard lookout building perched on the clifftop. As the tip of England disappears out of sight and we set off into the Atlantic I always have that feeling of just how small and feeble we are in relation to the might of Mother Nature, being surrounded by ocean with no land in sight is always a very sobering feeling for me. Eventually tiny little bumps start to appear on the horizon and slowly they start to inch nearer and take shape into islands.

The Scillonian weaves her way through various uninhabited islands round to the main harbour on St Marys. This is the most popular and most populated island so needless to say we never stay there! We catch a little launch to one of the 'off islands,' on this occasion Bryher is our destination.

Bryher is the western most inhabited island so on the western shore there is nothing to see except sea water until you reach the American coast! Needless to say when storms blow in that side of the island is pretty wild! The names of the areas give some idea of just how bad it gets, we were going to be staying next to Hell Bay (yes really!) and nearby, overlooking the bay is Bad Place Hill! I have always thought it would be very exhilarating to experience the islands during the stormy months as long as my feet were safely on terra firma! We came in to the sheltered side of the island but because it was an exceptionally low tide we couldn't use the landing dock as it was surrounded by sand. (We have huge tide drops in the southwest of England.) The captain of our little boat had to run the boat into the sand near some rocks and then put out a plank for us to walk across to get to shore (I never thought I would get to walk the plank!)

We went to our hotel, it was lovely, not to be deterred by the fact that it is called Hell Bay Hotel! This is the view from our room.

And this is the beach that was in front of the hotel.

When we had settled in, my husband was a man on a mission, he was determined to brave the chilly waters and go for a swim!

I was not up for that so I was designated the official photographer, so that we had proof he had taken the plunge. I also got the chance to do some beach combing, I spotted this tiny, delicate little crab

and the rare sight of a little sea snail trundling along in a rock pool

After we had thawed my husband out we payed a visit to the infamous Hell Bay. It really does look quite benign doesn't it? Don't be fooled, it has earned it's name for good reason.

We walked over the centre of the island, it was so beautiful with flowers everywhere

The rocks were covered in lichen and surrounded with heather

The air is so pure that lichen thrives on many surfaces, including the trees

After a wonderful supper in a beautiful dining room, overlooking the sea we watched the sun set on our first day on the islands. What a perfect day.

Photo Credits - CJT & Dominick V

Friday, July 10, 2009


Unfortunately I can't take any of the credit for this series of photos as my husband took them all, but I was there! On our recent visit to Cornwall we took a little three day trip to the Isles of Scilly (more about this magical place soon) and on our first night there, after a long delicious dinner we strolled out to the headland and sat to watch the sky over the ocean. The delightful part about this was that the sun didn't set until around ten o'clock so we didn't even have to have an early dinner!

And then a leisurely stroll back to our room where we were lulled to sleep by the sound of the waves.

Check out Skywatch Friday, it's the place to be on a Friday night!!

Photo Credits - Dominick V