Thursday, August 27, 2009


I have mentioned before that we have a particularly charismatic box turtle at the Museum called Harrison. During the warm summer months I try to get him and the female turtles some time outside whenever possible to give them some natural sunlight and enrichment.

We are soon going to be having a new temporary exhibit from National Geographic called Critters Cams which shows all the research projects that have and are being done around the world using small cameras attached to various different species of animals. In order to publicize this upcoming exhibit we were racking our brains for an novel idea and one afternoon when I was out in the park with Harrison, watching him rambling around, I came up with the solution. Enjoy!

Here is the star with his special tiny, lightweight camera attached.

Needless to say the local media are delighted with the publicity potential of this piece so Harrison is likely to become even more of a legend!

Photo Credits - CJT
Video Credits -
Filming - Harrison
Editing - Brian
Voice-over - CJT

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


One of the species in my care at the Museum are Chicago Garter Snakes Thamnophis sirtalis semifasciatus and one of our females has just given birth to nineteen lively little babies.

This is one of several species of snakes that gives birth to live young, rather than laying eggs. This system is known as oviviporous, the unborn snake develops in an 'egg' inside the female and gets its nourishment from the egg rather than directly from the mother. As the time of birth draws nearer the shell of the egg gradually dissolves away and is reabsorbed by the mother so that when the babies are born they are only enclosed by what looks like an embryonic sack.

The adult form of this snake has very attractive yellow stripes running down the sides of its body and they are said to resemble the black and yellow garters that gentlemen used to wear! Hence the common name of Garter Snake.

The natural diet of these snakes is a little different from most of the other snakes I have, they mostly consume earthworms and other small invertebrates and occasionally fish. So what to serve as a first meal for my new arrivals? Whatever it is, it has to really small!

Their mother is particularly fond of Silversides so I decide to give those a shot. I buy them frozen and just thaw them out as I need them. These fish are about two inches long - have you ever tried to fillet a fish that size? Trust me it is quite tricky. Why do I need to fillet it? Well when a snake swallows something with bones it would usually swallow it whole so there would not be any bones sticking out, as soon as you start to cut something up to make it smaller, the bones become an issue - hence the filleting!

Then each fillet is cut into snake bite sized pieces! And just to give you an idea of scale, these are the tongs I am using to feed them, against my finger, and FYI I have small hands!

Well I am happy to report that all my efforts on the food prep front were extremely well received!

Each of them gobbled down between six and eight pieces each!

And for an animal that is considerably thinner than a shoelace, that leads to a very bulgy stomach!

This is one of the aspects of my job that I really enjoy - seeing these tiny little creatures getting all ferocious over a microscopic piece of fish!

And even though the pieces really were tiny, they still put up quite a struggle!

But what these guys lack in stature, they make up for in enthusiasm :)

It took me a long time to get all nineteen of them fed, as you can imagine.

But at least they get to sleep it all off when we are done.

The next meal is diced earthworm and believe me, that gets really messy!

For all kinds of fun and fascinating posts about the natural world, go to Nature Notes, you'll be glad you did.

Photo Credits - CJT

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Unless you live under a rock then as a US resident, it would have been hard to miss all the publicity about Julia Child of late. First the release of her biography, then the disclosure of her war time activities and, most recently, the film about her which was timed to hit screens right around the date of her birthday. I am not American so she doesn't hold quite the same significance for me that she does for many but none the less I can certainly see the appeal. A few weeks ago one of the ladies in my book club decided to host a Julia Child's Birthday dinner party to which we were all asked to contribute a dish. This gastronomic orgy took place this past weekend and I don't think my waistline will forgive me for quite some time!

Here is our gracious host, Benjamin, who was assisted by his humans, Lisa and Chris. As you can see, he dressed appropriately. After a glass (or two) of perfectly chilled champagne we sat down to dinner.

For appetizers (there were three!) we had stuffed mushrooms, onion tart and a roquefort stuffed pastry.

Then an Amuse-bouche of scallop bouillabaisse

Followed by a wonderful creamy mushroom soup

Then to cleanse the palette, a raspberry sorbet

Now to be totally honest, I could have quite happily stopped there and been perfectly content with the delicious selection of flavours and textures I had enjoyed.

But we were only just getting warmed up!

So we bravely moved on to the entrees (four of them - groan!!) We managed to cover all bases, vegetarian - a spinach pastry with cheese sauce

and sides of herbed tomatoe and stuffed zucchini

A fish course, and here I have to blame the copious quantities of wine for missing a photo!
A white meat course - coq au vin

and a red meat course - beef bourguinon (this was our contribution) with garlic whipped potatoes

By now I felt in grave danger of exploding! But everyone had just excelled with their dishes and it would have seemed churlish not to try them all (that is my excuse anyway!)

We took a break for coffee and to loosen our belts (!) Before plunging into deserts (plural again!) First a peach clafouti

And then the killer chocolate mousse

There was a wonderful selection of cheeses too but I had to quit at this point because I had gorged far too much and could barely move

I think Julia would have been proud of all our culinary masterpieces, now I just need to run a marathon and climb Everest to burn off all the wonderful food I consumed - oh but it was so worth it!

Photo Credits - CJT (Quality varying with amount of alcohol consumed!)

Monday, August 17, 2009


These beautiful moths always remind me of my childhood. In the summer when we used to walk to the beach they used to be all around, on the coast. On my last visit to Cornwall this year I was able to get some photos of them one evening when we were exploring the coast path.

This is the Six-spot Burnet Zygaena filipendulae and it will forever be something I will associate with summer evenings by the sea. They are seen from June through August and their host plant is Birds-foot Trefoil Lotus corniculatus.

To discover a whole world of Macro, check out Macro Monday, hosted by Ed.

Photo Credits - CJT

Sunday, August 16, 2009


It's that time of year again when the lakefront gets crammed full of hundreds of thousands of people and all the traffic grinds to a halt, everyone having come to watch the Chicago Air and Water Show. Last year was a spectacular show, made all the better by perfect weather. This year the show seemed rather weak in comparison with a noticeable lack of military paraphernalia and not such spectacular stunt teams. I guess it must be a 'boy thing' but my husband loves this event. I spend most of my time thinking what a weak rip-off of bird flight most of the planes exhibit and cringing at the excessive noise! But hey it brings lots of money to the city so why not!
There were some military planes........

And the crazy stunt fliers.............

The finale was provided by the Thunderbirds............

But for me the highlight of the show was this crazy guy doing stunts in a helicopter! It was real heart-stopping stuff and in case you think I have just rotated the pictures round - no he really is this way up!

I have to admit to being impressed by this guy! I have never seen barrel rolls and loop the loops performed by a helicopter. Apparently he started his career as a crop sprayer! So next time you see a crop sprayer flying upside down, you can blame this guy!!

Photo Credits - Dominick V

More Awards!

A big thank you to Michelle at Rambling Woods for thinking of me for two awards. If you haven't already visited then please check out Michelle's wonderful blog, it is always a fascinating and informative read and her genuine love of the natural world shines through in every post.

And in the true tradition of blogging awards I would like to pass these on to some wonderful blogging friends.

I am passing on The Sisterhood Award to:
Arija at Garden Delights
Louise at Potted Frog
Life at the Rough String and
The 7msn Ranch

The Friendship Forever Award I sending on to:
Kathie at Sycamore Canyon
Doug at Gossamer Tapestry
Lisa at Laughing Orca Ranch
and because she was my first regular reader and has stuck with me (!) I am also re awarding it to Michelle at Rambling Woods

I know that you don't all 'do' awards but I just wanted to let you know how much pleasure I get from your blogs. Thank you all for being such great blogging friends :)