Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Having lived here for many years

It still is a little hard to adjust to this

I know it looks very picturesque and scenic but I still struggle to enjoy a frozen world

I can certainly see the beauty in the forms

and I can see the funny side of a bunch of guys clearing a rink in the harbour to play ice hockey!

or the family that uses the parking lot to slide around on tubes behind their truck!

Call me soft but I just prefer this

to this

But there is light at the end of the ice tunnel! I am finally getting the opportunity to return to the continent that stole my heart.

Admittedly it is a very different area from where I lived but I am still incredibly excited to be returning to such an amazing part of the world. We are only going for a twelve day vacation (I only went for a vacation last time and ended up staying for nine years!) but once you become smitten with 'the Dark Continent' there is no getting over it. Of course every silver lining has a cloud

But as my arm throbs with all my updated travel vaccinations I just keep dreaming of that hot African sun that warms through to the very marrow of your bones and the extraordinary barrage to the senses of amazing smells, sights and sounds...............suddenly I don't notice the cold :)

Photo Credits - Robin Pope Safaris and CJT

Sunday, January 10, 2010

ANOTHER STRING TO MY BOW! (Not for the faint of heart!)

I always say that my job is a rather random series of tasks with the only common link being animals. In my life I have successfully wormed dogs, cats, horses, snakes and, when I lived in Africa, myself. But on Friday I had to worm four EXTREMELY unwilling box turtles. Claire, one of our Box Turtles had been appearing a little below par so I took her to the vet for a check-up and he found a couple of pin-worms in her fecal so he suggested that it would probably be a good idea to worm them all just to be on the safe side. He demonstrated how to do it with Claire and then sent Jamie and I back to the Museum with the wormer for the remaining four turtles. 'Good luck' was his parting shot! Hmmm that can't be good! So how many people does it take to worm a turtle? The answer is three!
First hold the turtle upright so that it stretches it's neck forward.

Then very quickly grasp the turtle round the back of the neck, below the jaw and hang on tight as they try to pull their head into their shell.

Turtles have a very hard beak so this next step looks worse than it actually is.

Insert a metal spatula between the upper and lower mandible and force open the jaws.

Bear in mind that this is called the 'sword swallowing technique' so you have a good idea what is coming!

Very gently slide the syringe all the way down the turtle's throat

Then slowly depress the plunger to administer the medicine

Then slowly and carefully remove the syringe

Hold the turtle upright for a few moments more to avoid them 'loosing' all the medicine and tell them how sorry you are for having to do something so horrid to them!

Take a deep breath and repeat for the remaining turtles! Just another day at the office..........

Photo Credits - Otter

Thursday, January 7, 2010


As we all know, New Years Eve blessed us with a 'blue moon' and being as I am always late with everything, I am posting my images of it this week!

As usual I could not keep my camera totally still but somehow, in this instance, it adds to the ethereal effect (that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it!)
Of course a Blue Moon is not blue at all. There are various different definitions of what a blue moon actually is but the most modern one is the term used to refer to a second full moon that falls in one calendar month. There was also a partial Luna eclipse on this night but it was only visible in certain places and as far as I know Chicago was not one of them.

It was not the clearest of nights and I had to catch the moon as it dodged in and out of the clouds but what was really odd was sometimes when the moon was out of sight behind a cloud, there was still a beautiful reflection on the water.

So how long do we have to wait for the next blue moon? August 2012. And if you want another blue moon on New Years Eve? That would be in 2028!
See the skies of the world from the comfort of your own home by visiting Skywatch Friday. It is definitely worth a visit.

Photo Credits - CJT

Sunday, January 3, 2010


We are back in frigid Chicago now but I wanted to do one more post from Cornwall. The last day we were there a wild sou' wester' blew in and the wood burning stove in the kitchen just seemed far more appealing than anything outside! Luckily for me, my Moms bird feeders are located right outside the window so I settled down to see who would visit.
The Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs was by far the most numerous. This is the male

and this is the female

They tend to be more gregarious in the winter and they were most definitely 'large and in charge' at the feeders, only tolerating other species for brief moments before swooping in to take over the perches.
The Greenfinch Carduelis chloris is a much chunkier finch, easy to distinguish because of the beautiful yellow/green wing panel and rump.

I have to apologise for the photo quality here, I was shooting through the kitchen window which due to the storm was liberally caked with salt from the sea.
When he could run the gauntlet of Chaffinches the diminutive Blue Tit Parus caeruleus loved to swing from the suet feeder. Here he is getting a wash and brush-up at the bird bath.

My parents have been particularly successful in encouraging these appealing little birds into their garden and have even had them breeding in tiny nesting boxes lined with shed hair from the dog!
We have a nursery rhyme about this next bird -

Sing a song of sixpence a pocket full of rye,
Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened the birds began to sing,
Oh wasn't that a dainty dish to set before the king?
The king was in his counting house counting out his money,
The queen was in the parlour eating bread and honey
The maid was in the garden hanging out the clothes,
When down came a blackbird and pecked off her nose!

The rye was purchased for sixpence to attract birds. Blackbirds, and other song birds, were actually eaten as a delicacy! However a court jester may well have suggested to the court cook to bake a pie crust and place this over some blackbirds to surprise and amuse the King!

Thankfully this species is no longer on the menu! The Blackbird Turdus merula is one of the best-known British birds. The male is unmistakable, with entirely glossy, velvet black plumage and contrasting orange bill and eye-ring.
A far less common winter visitor is the Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla seen here on the right of the picture, about to be chased away by the Chaffinch!

And before you think I am going crazy - the male of the species does have a black cap! The females and the immatures have the rufous brown cap! They seem to find Cornwall suitable for their needs during the winter and are a charming addition to the list of garden visitors.
One of my personal favorites is the Song Thrush Turdus philomelos

This delightful character is one of the more reticent visitors to the garden, always the first to take flight at the slightest noise or disturbance.

A few years ago we never saw these in the garden but now they appear regularly which is very positive in this age of rapidly declining song bird populations. I always think of the Isles of Scilly when I see a thrush, they are incredibly tame there. When we camped there a few years ago, one particular individual would fly down every morning and perch on the edge of our porridge pan to clean up the scraps after we had finished! Barely two feet in front of where we were sitting.
The final character in my parade of garden visitors is the star of English Christmas cards through the ages.

The Robin Erithacus rubecula is small in stature but extremely large in attitude (must be why I like them!! ;) ) My husband (an American) makes very derisory comments about the size of the English Robin in comparison to the American one. I, of course, respond by saying 'well your Robin isn't a Robin at all, it's a thrush!' Of course I failed to mention to him that it is only in recent years that the English Robin has been reclassified from a thrush to an old world flycatcher! But hey........ he shouldn't be rude about our beautiful Robin!

Of course if I really wanted to stop his comments I could explain that the America 'Robin' was named after the English one because of the similar red breast! But I'll save that for next time :)

Photo Credits - CJT