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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!!

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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!