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Spring Things

Despite the fact that the weather has been freezing one minute and tropical in nature the next, I did manage to capture some Spring things in the garden with the camera. Because of all the rain, everything is looking very lush and green with flowers bursting out all over.

In fact, everything has been growing so well that even the rabbit can’t keep up. We have had what amounts to a bunny explosion here, of late, but thankfully there have been enough weeds to keep them occupied while my lilies and other tasty bits have continued to flourish unmolested.

On the butterfly front, We had a disappointing outcome to the dozen or so Swallowtail pupa that we kept overwinter, when all but one produced nothing but very mean looking parasitic wasps which were evidently the result of the parent wasp laying its eggs in the caterpillars in the fall. I had all but given up hope when the final Swallowtail emerged from its papery parcel and, after sufficient time to dry off, was released it into the garden. What happened to it after that, I cannot say, but it reminds me of a little anecdote regarding a moth.

When our daughter and her husband lived in Texas they spotted a moth that had fallen into the swimming pool.  It was making a gallant effort to extricate itself without much success.  They were fully clothed at the time (the kids, not the moth) so they couldn’t dive in to assist it but being the tender-hearted people that they are, they searched for the net that was used to scoop out unwanted debris and after much faffing about, finally managed to haul the moth in and laid it gently on the deck to dry whereupon a bird promptly flew down and ate it.

I hope our Swallowtail managed to survive at least long enough to have a look around. We have caught fleeting glimpses of other butterflies  in the garden and received a more prolonged visit from a monarch that appeared to be enjoying the chives by the back door as did a rather large bee which put up with me sticking the camera in its face for only so long before it became irate and chased me off.

Usually at our house, at this time of year, you’ll hear the cry go up, “Ducks are in!”  For nearly thirty years, we have played host to passing mallard ducks that are making their way to the pond at our local park. They’ll return several times and one year they even made a nest behind one of our shrubs. Unfortunately something ate the eggs, but the following year they returned, this time with ducklings in tow. They appear to feel right at home, helping themselves to the bird seed that I put out, sometimes marching up and down on the roof or paddling in the little ground-level birdbath.  They normally arrive first thing in the morning and twice this week I’ve looked out of the window and seen them actually standing on the door mat. They’ll be knocking on the door next.

Strangely enough, ducks are one of the very few species of bird of which I am not afraid. I can’t explain it other than the fact that they don’t do a lot of fluttering, which accounts for the clarity of these pictures as I was standing outside right next to them, rather than taking a hazy shot through a window which is how I get a lot of my bird pictures.

However, it was a different story with this baby robin. The neighborhood probably heard me scream when, going around the garden with the camera and taking pictures of the flowers, I realized that I was within touching distance of this little guy who just sat there looking puzzled as I shrieked and fell backwards into the irises. I ran back into the house to get a longer lens and took this picture from a safe distance.

 

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge – Countryside Or Darkside

Another brilliant piece of timing by Amy in choosing Countryside for the Lens-Artists Photo Challenge this week!  Last weekend we rented a log cabin in the Wisconsin countryside (a first) so the whole family could get together.  Daughters, spouses, grandkids and us, experiencing the joys of country living, at least for a couple of days.  As someone once said, “It’s a great place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.”  Don’t get me wrong. We had a wonderful time but there are just some things that I cannot get used to.

The bugs! My God! The bugs!! If nothing else, the size and quantity of bugs in the countryside make this city girl want to stay close to the city.  When we arrived at the cabin we were greeted by screams and shrieks coming from inside. “Aaaagh! Kill it! Kill it!”  This coming from the kid who once travelled up the Amazon in Peru and trekked through the jungle in Thailand. Even she was having a hard time dealing with the bugs in Wisconsin.

I don’t know why it is, but I feel far less comfortable in the countryside than I do in the city.  My imagination seems to get the better of me and my nightmares threaten to become a reality. Speaking of nightmares, I have this recurring one where I am walking in the country and suddenly come upon a wild animal, usually a lion.  I don’t doubt there is a psychological explanation for it but it makes me very nervous when I’m hiking through the woods.

Everything seems to take on a sinister appearance in the countryside and my fear of birds takes on an added dimension.

Even the most innocuous country scene promises to hide some new danger. Was that a bear I saw lurking among the bushes?

We were obliged to take refuge in the cabin for several hours one afternoon when we heard the sound of someone taking target practice close by.  Apparently I feel far less threatened by all the shooting that takes place in Chicago, even though, looking at it logically, the odds are probably in my favor here in the Wisconsin countryside.  And I probably stand more chance of being mauled to death by a pit bull in Chicago than I do of being dispatched by a bear in Wisconsin. But there it is. Give me the city over the countryside every time, except for short visits.

 

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge – Magical

Well, here at least is one piece of good timing.  I was about to post this and then saw Ann-Christine’s choice of subject for this week’s Lens-Artists Photo Challenge which is Magical. So this is my take on that topic.   I’ve lost count of the number of swallowtail butterflies that we’ve raised and released over the years but in all that time I’ve never yet found a monarch caterpillar until now. I spotted it a week or so ago on the orange butterfly weed in our garden and brought it inside so that I could observe the changes from caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly, a process that is truly magical.

The other evening it looked as though it was about ready to make the first change and I sat and watched it for several hours but nothing happened. I got up early (for me) next morning and it was still hanging from the same stem, going through what looked like a few mild calisthenics and gyrations, sending little ripples of movement along the length of its body.

Again, I sat for several hours with camera at the ready as I wanted to record the moments when he finally shrugged and wriggled his way out of his brightly-striped skin. But I had to get up and move around eventually, and I thought I would just nip into the next room to check my emails. I swear I was gone for no more than ten minutes! And when I came hurrying back it was to find that the little stinker had done his magic and as I gazed at the chrysalis that now hung from the stem, I thought I could hear a faint raspberry being blown and a whispered, “Missed it! coming from inside.  Unbelievable!!

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge – Man’s Best Friend…….A Salamander?

We don’t have any pets now, nor likely to have in the future.  So what to do for the Lens-Artists Photo Challenge which Tina has designated as Precious Pets this week. I gave it some thought and decided to re-submit an article that I wrote many years ago for our camera club newsletter, with a few updates and some new pictures.

Many years ago, when my child’s teacher asked the angelic tots in her classroom whose mother would be willing to baby-sit the class pets over the summer vacation I was immediately volunteered, and before I knew what was happening or could lodge any kind of protest, a garter snake and salamander were installed in our living-room. They weren’t the first pets to find their way into our home and the family albums, but they were certainly the most unusual.  Up until then we had merely shared our living quarters with a giant white rabbit called Snowy who considered the wallpaper and my best lace tablecloth as a legitimate part of its diet, and a tank-full of sex-crazed guppies – not the easiest things in the world to capture on film.

The only time we’d had a dog in the house was on the occasion when, in a fit of desperation, I’d borrowed my in-law’s terrier – a feisty animal that had forced its way, on more than one occasion, to the forefront of our family’s group photos – in the hopes of quelling an unexpected insurgency of mice brought about by the clearing of an empty lot two doors down from us. The perfidious creature took one look at what it took to be an exceptionally belligerent mouse, promptly threw up on the carpet and was instantly sent home in disgrace.

There eventually came a time, however, when we were pet-free, which was when our youngest child asked if we could get a monkey.  “You could take pictures of it,” I was told magnanimously.
My reply, if I remember rightly, went something like this.  “If you bring anything else into this house, it will immediately be slung out on its ear. When you kids grow up and move out you can get whatever you want.”


Strange the way things work out. The kid who brought home the class pets and wanted a monkey eventually moved out and for several years never kept anything more demanding than a houseplant, and even that was handed over to me with a request to “make it better.”   Now, as well as a 15 month-old daughter, she has a 15 year-old cat called Sugar.

Our second-born was slightly more adventurous and at one time shared rooms with a friend who owned a Doberman, a ferret that learned how to open the fridge door, and an electric eel.
Some years later she branched out on her own and bought an aquarium, but as she traveled extensively on business and her home was too far for me to conveniently visit on a regular basis…. you guessed it. Other children come back home with laundry. Mine came back with a glass tank and two buckets full of tropical fish, all of which took up large amounts of space in the family room. Not wishing to let the opportunity go to waste, however, I took so many pictures of fish swimming about that I could have probably given Jacques Cousteau a run for his money. Now that she has a family of her own she is getting to experience the joys of dog, cat, fish and hamster ownership. The kids may say they’re going to take care of them, but don’t hold your breath!

Our eldest daughter, on the other hand, took me at my word. When she moved out, got married and had kids of her own, their home took on all the characteristics of Noah’s ark.  Dogs were just the beginning. Everything from a hyper-active Chihuahua to a deaf Great Pyrenees found its way to their door. They bred boxers (dogs, not fighters or shorts) and gave house-room to a variety of waifs and strays including a St. Bernard, a Basset hound, a Neapolitan Mastiff, and a Shih Tzu.  Cats were soon added to the mix and from then on, every visit became an adventure.

 

A Vietnamese pot-bellied pig, that in a burst of porcine exuberance blundered into the pantry and consumed an entire loaf of bread before it could be apprehended, was introduced into the family, much to the boys’ delight and after a while a lame Shetland pony and a blind horse quickly joined goats, ducks, chickens, boa constrictors and iguanas.

It was a far cry from those early days when a rabbit took center stage in our house but even then, with all that great variety of livestock on hand, when we got together to discuss the latest antics of the gerbils, guinea pigs, monitors and bearded dragons, someone invariably said wistfully, “Remember that salamander we used to have?” I wish now that I’d taken a picture of it. Now that the boys have grown up and have homes of their own, my daughter’s own menagerie has dwindled once more to a very large rabbit, although I did see her looking rather longingly at some Westie puppies that were being sold at the flea market other day.  My eldest grandson, who already has a cat and a Great Dane, has a son of his own now, and if things run true to form I’m sure there will be many more pets to follow in the years to come.

Valentine’s Toffee

I’m currently in the midst of a lengthy and ultimately expensive dental procedure, so what does my husband get me for Valentine’s Day? A large chocolate bar liberally laced with chunks of toffee. He means well, bless him, and we must be doing something right. We’ve been married for just over 46 years!  Happy Valentine’s Day Everyone!

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.


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!