Archives

Whistling Ducks and Dancing Turtles

Hermann Park covers some 445 acres and is one of the oldest public parks in Houston.  It features an enormous reflecting pool, various gardens including a beautiful Japanese Garden, a recreational lake and a golf course. The park is also home to the Houston Zoo, Miller Outdoor Theater and the Houston Museum of Natural Science.



As always seems to be the case when we are on the road, our time in Houston was all too short, so we weren’t able to explore the entire park but we took in as much as we possibly could, given our tight schedule and the extreme heat which made walking any great distance rather a chore.  And I have to admit that I was on a mission. I was looking for a duck. And not just any old duck.

When our daughter and her husband first moved to Houston they sent us a blurred picture and a brief description of a rather unusual bird that they’d seen in Hermann Park. After some research we determined that what they’d probably come across was a whistling duck, which actually isn’t a duck at all, although it appears to be part of a subfamily that includes ducks, geese and swans. Not to be outdone and being a bit of a smart-arse, I sent them a picture, telling them that we had our own whistling ducks here in Chicago.

But this exchange of pleasantries got me thinking that if we ever visited Houston I would go in search of their whistling duck and see for myself what this bird was all about. And sure enough there, snoozing by McGovern Lake in Hermann Park, it was. It was apparently too weary to whistle but it afforded me the opportunity to get up fairly close, or as close as I was prepared to get to any bird, and capture some images. 

Having seen the whistling ducks we moved on to the Japanese Gardens where we saw some dancing turtles. At least, they appeared to be dancing.  With the temperatures at approximately 95 degrees in the shade, I imagine the rocks in the pool were getting pretty darned hot and the turtles, who were loath to give up their place in the sun, had to keep moving their feet or flippers or whatever they’re called, so as not to get scorched. These two seemed to coordinate their movements rather like dancing partners. They were soon joined by a third who wanted to get in on the act, while others watched from the bank, picking up tips on style and presentation, and another, who appeared to be the judge, got a closer view from a nearby vantage point.



Despite the heat, it was quite pleasant walking around the Japanese Gardens since much of it was in the shade. However, time and tide wait for no man and this visit, with its whistling ducks and dancing turtles, signaled our farewell to Houston as we would soon be on our way to San Antonio.


Advertisements

Distracted

Very often, when I visit the Chicago Botanic Garden, I tell myself that this time I’ll concentrate my photography on one particular area of the garden, not go wandering about willy-nilly snapping random pictures as I go.  It never works! It’s impossible to stick to the plan when there are so many things to distract me.  To give an example, this is how things went when I visited there last week.

“Okay, I’m going to head straight to the English Walled Garden this morning and I’m going to photograph the living daylights out of it!  Every flower, every shrub from every conceivable angle! But while I’m here I might as well get a few shots of the Esplanade and I have to go through the Heritage Garden anyway so I’ll take a few shots there too.”

“I’ll just get a closer look at these flowers, and ooh, look, there’s a chipmunk under here!”


“Right! Now! Straight to the English Garden! But we have to go past the Rose Garden. Oh, what the heck! I’ll only be a few minutes.”

“Now, right turn here.  No, that’s wrong. I should have turned left! Never mind. I’ll just have a quick look in the Circle Garden.”

 

“Now to get back on track, if I go down here past the Enabling Garden…..”

“What’s this sign say?  Corpse Flower! Well, I’ll have to see that while I’m down this way.”

“Mmm. Interesting! Okay, well it seems a pity to come this far out of our way and not see the Sensory Garden and if we take the path along there we’ll come out by Evening Island and ….”

“If we sit here for a while we’ll hear the bells.”

“Now, over the bridge and …… oooh look! Here comes the dredger! I’ll just follow its progress for a little way, past the Waterfall Garden….”



“Now how on earth did we manage to end up back in the Rose Garden?  Oh well, it won’t hurt to take this way back to the English Garden. Almost there!”


“See! I told you! Here we are at the English Walled Garden!  Good gracious! Is that the time already? Well I’ll just take a few shots while we’re here.”

 

 


“Next time I’ll concentrate on the Circle Garden for sure! No wandering around!”

And that’s how it goes.

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge – Wildlife

Here is just a sample of the wildlife that we see from our window here in the NW suburbs of Chicago.  Not included are the deer that on the rare occasion take a stroll down our road, the skunk that lives under our front doorstep, coyotes that sometimes trot past the house after a night of hunting small animals, the many different varieties of birds that we see on a daily basis and an eight-legged possum, reported by my father, that turned out to be two of these creatures following very closely one after the other.

The term ‘wildlife‘ would seem to be something of a misnomer as all these creatures appear to have made themselves quite at home in our backyard.

For more on Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge go to Wildlife

Weekly Photo Challenge – Ooh, Shiny!

Did I ever tell you the story about this rabbit that I knew?  Well there was this rabbit and one day he decided that he was going to………….oh look, isn’t that a heron over there!

Beautiful birds!  It reminds me of the time I saw one when I was staying in……………Oh for goodness sake? What a racket! You can’t hear yourself think!  Here’s another plane coming in for a landing!

Anyway, what was I saying?  Oh yes, about that rabbit……………..look at those butterflies.  I’ll just see if I can get a picture now the breeze has dropped.

So this rabbit………….watch out! Don’t step on that frog. Wow! That was a close thing!

Now where was I? Oh yes. The rabbit decides that he’s going to…………….I thought I could hear a church bell ringing!  Yes, over there.

Perhaps we could just go in and have a look…………..no, wait a minute. Let’s see those horses in the field over there.

So, getting back to the story about this rabbit…………….I wonder what these flowers are called.

Well, this rabbit takes a chance and hops across……………….ooh, shiny!

It doesn’t take much to distract me.  For more on the Weekly Photo Challenge at The Daily Post go to Ooh, Shiny!

The Ecstasy and the Agony

It’s all been happening out in the garden this summer, with or without my help.  The good thing about having mostly perennials and flowers that self-seed is that they more or less take care of themselves.  They don’t need a lot of watering, although goodness knows we’ve had plenty of rain to keep them happy, and, if carefully chosen, don’t require much in the way of fertilizer. It’s sheer ecstasy to walk out in the garden first thing in the morning and see all those beautiful flowers.

The sunflowers, cosmos and cleome came up in such profusion in the back garden this year that I was in danger of losing our smallest grandchildren out there when they came to visit. And not to worry if I didn’t have time to plant a fresh batch of snapdragons.  They came up all on their own.

Even the wildlife is plentiful this summer.  I spotted a possum creeping about among the bushes and the rabbit population is growing in leaps and bounds (not sure if I’m too happy about that.)

Just outside my window, as I’ve been sitting working on the computer, the birds have been showing off and all I have to do is whip the camera out and capture a few shots of the humming bird hovering in the breeze and a goldfinch getting to the bottom of things.

Unfortunately, all this ecstasy doesn’t come without a little bit of agony.  A few weeks ago I was outside working on a project when I was chased around the garden by an angry hornet and stung, quite painfully on the top of my head.  At first I thought it was just a lone troublemaker but last week I discovered a nest in one of the shrubs right down by the sidewalk.  It won’t be long before the neighborhood kids are walking past on their way to school and I certainly wasn’t about to anger the hornets any further by working in the adjacent flower beds so I had no option but to call in the experts.

Enter Mike from ABC Wildlife Control who assured me that he would take care of the situation.  I asked him what the procedure was and he said, “I spray the nest and then run.”  Apparently they had determined that these particular hornets were the extremely aggressive variety, so I could sympathize with him.  “You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din,” was my view. I stood at a safe distance and watched as he did his stuff.  Afterwards, he warned us to stay out of the garden for the rest of the day as the hornets were likely to be really !*!*!* off.  He didn’t have to tell me twice! I was lucky that I’d only been stung once.  That was agony enough!  I wasn’t about to risk any more.

Things seem to have calmed down out there now, so hopefully I can get back to work, pulling weeds and dead-heading the flowers without fear of hornet reprisals.  Good work, ABC Wildlife!

The Wren and I

Those of you who have read some of my earlier posts will know that for me, sitting outside is something of a risky business. Being outdoors means being around birds and it seems that the older I get, the worse my phobia becomes, which is unfortunate, to say the least, when one of my favorite pastimes is nature photography.  However, during the first visit to our daughter’s new house on Lake Dalecarlia in Indiana, I took a chance and made myself comfortable out on the deck, the only birds visible being a group of female mallards and a heron basking in the sun on the boat dock (strangely, larger birds don’t seem to bother me quite so much.)

I was just settling in for a restful afternoon when I began to hear a persistent shrieking and chattering. Whatever it was didn’t sound happy and, before too long, the source of this noise became apparent.  A wren landed on the railing of the deck, hopped back and forth and took off again.  The process was repeated several times and, although I was somewhat apprehensive, I found this performance mildly entertaining and, with camera always at the ready, managed to get a few shots.

Then things got a little more unsettling.  The bird abandoned its stance on the railing and flew down onto the deck, making a quick tour around the table legs.  And I stood up, preparatory to beating a hasty retreat, which is why the following image was rather blurred.  It drives me crazy when people tell me, “Oh it’s much more afraid of you, than you are of it!”  Not so, dear reader!  When it comes to birds this is never the case and my screams have been known to be heard from one end of the street to the other when I’ve been caught by surprise by a sparrow or chickadee whilst out in the garden.  And this particular, pesky little ball of feathers was not afraid of anything. This wren was a wren on a mission and I was torn between my fears and a desire to record what was happening.

I edged closer to the steps which gave me a clear escape to the garden below and followed the wren’s progress as it scuttled behind the chair that I had so recently vacated.  Once again, it took off only to reappear a few minutes later on the roof.  It edged closer and closer to where I had been sitting and finally flew down. And to where?  I direct your attention back to the first picture and the planter hanging at the left of the image.  The wren was greeted by much enthusiastic chirping as it disappeared into the greenery.  I had been sitting just below its nest.

I informed the rest of our party what was going on and, while the others dined al fresco that evening, I watched from behind the window as the wren made several passes above their heads and perched on nearby fencing and furniture while generally making itself at home.  It made me wonder just who was hosting whom.  I hope to see the wren again, on future visits. At least next time I’ll know what to expect.

APAWC – Angry Birds

Nancy Merrill has chosen birds as the subject for this week’s Photo A Week Challenge and many of you will know that the only way I’ll take a picture of a bird is either from a safe distance or from behind a window or similar barrier.  My life-long fear of birds has kept me at a distance from these beautiful creatures but it doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate them or enjoy capturing the occasional image.   However, these birds were definitely not in a mood to be trifled with.

One angry bird!  This swan did not appreciate an over-inquisitive visitor to the Chicago Botanic Garden getting too close to its young ones.

Never get between a hawk and its dinner. This angry bird evidently didn’t welcome anyone else getting near the plat du jour.

This bird, at Brookfield Zoo, was decidedly cheesed-off about something. It kept marching up and down and making a lot of noise and I, for one, wasn’t about to get in its way.

Also at Brookfield Zoo, this eagle obviously considered it an invasion of his privacy when I used the long lens to get some candid shots.

For more on Nancy’s A Photo A Week Challenge go to A Photo a Week Challenge: Birds