Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge – Birds

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge seemed like a good opportunity to share these shots that I captured at Brookfield Zoo the other day. As any of you who have been following these posts for any amount of time will know, there is no way I’m going in the bird houses at the zoo. But large birds, outside, are not quite so terrifying, even if the bald eagle did give me quite the glare.

The peacock had lost most of its tail feathers but still looked very colorful and appeared to be sporting some rather snazzy legwear.


There aren’t too many areas in the Chicago Botanic Garden that I haven’t included in many of the posts here, but I’m fairly confident that this is a first for the Bonsai Collection. There are nearly 300 specimens in the Garden’s collection and many are featured in a display that fills two courtyards.

The collection is made up mostly from donations including 19 imported from Japan by bonsai master Susumu Nakamura. This amazing display can be viewed at the Garden from mid-April to early November.

I’ve always been fascinated by miniatures, mostly in the form of doll houses, so these are especially appealing to me. But considering how long they take to cultivate, I’m not sure that it would be something I would want to take up as a hobby, other than maybe just collecting them.

Most of the trees on display are from 50 to 100 years old, but the one pictured below is considered to be 600 to 1000 years old. This pine tree was collected in the Rocky Mountains.


Wednesday morning found me at the Chicago Botanic Garden, crossing the Trellis Bridge to the Evaluation Gardens. I don’t very often visit the far side of the Garden but on this occasion I was in for a very pleasant surprise.

This is the part of the Garden where they evaluate plants to see how well they do in our extremely unforgiving climate, with bitterly cold winters and broiling hot summers, droughts and deluges and temperatures that can change by as much as 30 degrees in a matter of hours. Here, they are checking out old favorites like hibiscus, aliums and butterfly bushes. I did find it interesting to note that the many monarch butterflies that were about seemed to prefer the yellow cup plant to the purple blooms of the buddleja.

The Mitsuzo and Kyoko Shida Evaluation Garden, a new part of the Evaluation Gardens, has only been open for about a year and this was in the nature of an exploration for me as I followed the perimeter road. At the beginning of the garden, on either side of the road, are some lovely seating areas where they are testing out different varieties of clematis.

I took the gravel path nearest to the lake, past beds where they are evaluating various varieties of hydrangeas and Crepe Myrtle. It is very peaceful here as not many people seem to have discovered this new area yet.

Following the path, I came to a tunnel that will soon be covered by crabapple trees. Inside, it was lined with what appeared to be some kind of aster plant. At the end of this tunnel was another pleasant seating area.

Crossing over the road, I headed back in the opposite direction, through another tunnel of crabapples that culminated in yet another quiet seating area.

On this side of the road are the huge nursery greenhouses where most of the Garden’s plants have their beginnings. I must sign up to take a members-only tour of these greenhouses. It should be very interesting to see how things operate in there.

But of more immediate interest were the plantings on the other side of the tunnel. Bed after bed of colorful zinnias, cornflowers and cosmos, interspersed with roses and tall grasses, were so beautiful I found it difficult to tear myself away from them.

You can bet I will be heading back to this part of the garden very soon.

Shalom Wildlife Zoo

On a recent visit to Wisconsin, we stopped in at a place we’d heard a lot about but never seen before, Shalom Wildlife Zoo in West Bend. Shalom covers about 100 acres, all in a lush, natural setting. The gravel path that winds for 4 miles through this animal sanctuary is not the easiest to traverse but golf carts are available for rental, although we were feeling adventurous and made it around on foot, led by our tour guide who also showed us how and which animals to feed.

The spacious enclosures are in mostly wooded areas and the animals seem quite at ease here. The fences are minimal, where appropriate, and allow easy access for photography and little hands to feed the deer and other creatures that inhabit the sancuary.

Birds are plentiful and include ducks, geese, peacocks and some rather strange-looking emus (do not feed) that gazed at us curiously through the fence.

Their breeding program seems to be thriving as their white tiger recently gave birth to 4 cubs which have yet to put in a public appearance. We did see two other tigers but when your group leader is an active 4-year-old, you’re not allowed to linger too long in one place so I wasn’t able to get a usable shot. I was, however, able to capture a llama that looked please to see us, two tortoises that were up to some hanky-panky and a prairie dog that stood sentry duty while another attempted to dig his way out of the enclosure.

Shalom Wildlife Zoo is home to 75 species and more than 750 animals, including wolves, bison, bears, camels and zebras. The sanctuary is open on weekends January through April when you are allowed to drive your own car through the grounds. They are open daily May through December.

I hope I get another opportunity to visit Shalom as it was a most enjoyable experience, although next time I will be sure to wear more comfortable walking shoes.

The Botanic Garden Up Close

This year, the Chicago Botanic Garden is celebrating its 50th Anniversary. I have been visiting the Garden for almost that many years and have been a member for a good many of those. And for the past eleven years I have included posts featuring the Garden here on WordPress.

Naturally, many of the pictures are of flowers, although with most posts I have tried, not always successfully, to stick to a single theme, be it color, season or one particular area of the Garden. This time I’d like to present my close-up view of the Garden.

There are 12 featured areas in the Garden which include:- Bulb, Circle, Crescent, Enabling, English Walled Garden, Evening Island, Fruit and Vegetable Garden, Heritage, Japanese, Native Plant, Rose and Sensory Gardens. Each one of these is beautifully set out and maintained with a colorful array of flowers and plants.

But the Garden is about so much more than just the flowers. It’s about the buildings and bridges, the statuary and structures such as the bell tower and its ‘command center’ hidden among the treetops.

There are also three natural areas in the Garden including:- McDonald Woods, the Prairie and the Nature Reserve. So let’s not forget the wildlife. The larger birds are easy to spot, but the smaller ones like the mother hummingbird with her baby in its nest are not quite so easy to find. And watch out for the giant fish lurking underneath the Serpentine Bridge by Evening Island.

This probably won’t be my last post on the Chicago Botanic Garden this year, but I will certainly endeavor to come up with a fresh angle and new pictures in future features.

Cantigny Gardens

As I mentioned in the previous post, the gardens at Cantigny Park are magnificent, even without the weird and wonderful creatures. They are still in the process of renovating the McCormick Mansion Museum but the rest of the park is now fully open and the improvements they made over the past couple of years have made it much easier to get about and see everything.

There is a parking fee of $5 for week days and $10 at weekends, which gives access to the park and gardens and also the First Division Museum and the McCormick Museum which will reopen later this year. Cantigny Park is open all year round except for the month of January.

Areas of interest include the Display Gardens, the Rose Garden, the Rock and Gravel Gardens, the Hosta Garden and the Idea Garden as well as Gold Pond, Butterfly Hill and Prairie View.

There are picnic areas and other dining options, play areas for the children and even a splendid 27-hole championship golf course. Cantigny also hosts private events as well as school and scouting activities and has a calender full of interesting events. In fact, there is something for everyone at Cantigny.

Creatures of a Dream World

Here are some of the weird and wonderful creatures that we encountered on our recent visit to Cantigny Park in Wheaton. Visiting Cantigny is always a pleasure as the gardens are magnificent, but the art exhibition entitled ‘Alebrijes: Creatures of a Dream World’ made it even more enjoyable.

These amazing sculptures were created by six artists from Mexico City who regularly participate in the annual ‘Day of the Dead’ parade in that city. The Alebrijes date back to 1936 when artist Pedro Linares was inspired by a dream that he had while he was ill with a fever. The creatures have since gained in popularity and have even been featured in the Disney movie Coco.

The figures are made of papier-mache applied to wire frames and coated with lacquer to protect them from moisture. The designs and colors are absolutely stunning! And there are 49 of these sculptures placed throughout the park.

The sculptures are the property of the Mexican Cultural Center DuPage and after the exhibition closes in October, some of them will be donated to local schools and museums. The artists who created these wonderful works of art are:- Perla Miriam Salgado Zamorano, Alejandro Comacho Barrera, Alberto Moreno Fernandez, Roberto Carlos Martinez Tecillo, Edgar Israel Camargo Reyes and Emanuel Arturo Zarate Ortiz.

It may be of interest to note that while we there at Cantigny Park, Illinois Governor Pritzker was in the gardens giving a press conference promoting tourism in Illinois. Cantigny should most assuredly be on your list of places to see if you are visiting Illinois.

Paine Art Center And Gardens

Naturally, I coudn’t visit Oshkosh without seeing some kind of public garden and the gardens at the Paine Art Center were a delight.

The gardens cover more than 3 acres of the Paine Estate and require a paid admission to the Art Center to view. Both were well worth the price but of course the gardens were my main interest. They featured ‘outdoor rooms’ with a pleasing aspect at every turn.

Nathan & Jessie Paine planned their new home in the mid-1920’s and their English heritage is reflected in the design and plantings in the garden, although the formal garden, pictured above, was added in 2017.

The mansion, in which the Art Center is housed, is certainly worth a visit. Nathan Paine commissioned architect Bryant Fleming to design the Tudor Revival-style estate. Most of the stonework is Kasota limestone quarried in Minnesota and the magnificent interior woodwork is primarily oak and walnut.

Sadly, the Great Depression took its toll on the Paine Lumber Company and in 1932 all work on the house ceased. Nathan & Jessie Paine never lived in the beautiful house that they had created but in 1946 they established the Estate as a museum. Nathan died in 1947 but Jessie oversaw the remaining work on the house and it opened to the public in 1948.

Close Encounters

Menominee Park Zoo was another stop on our visit to Oshkosh, Wisconsin. The exhibits, grouped around a small lake, cover 8 acres in Menominee Park. Although the animals are somewhat less exotic than those of somewhere like Brookfield, they are, in most cases, easier to locate and fun to photograph.

There may not have been any lions or tigers at the zoo but we did have a close encounter with a chipmunk. I also had the opportunity to go eyeball to eyeball with a turkey.

We came across a giant tortoise named Dash that appeared to have the ‘run’ of the place, finding things to munch on as it made its ponderous way across the lawns.

There was also a rather amusing alpaca that appeared to be performing some kind of semaphore with its right ear. I should perhaps mention here that admission to the zoo is free thanks to a generous gift by Tom and Penny Harenburg and is open to the public from early May until late September.

Although there wasn’t an awful lot to see, it was a nice day and we enjoyed the walk, and before we left the park, we stopped off at the Chief Oshkosh Memorial for whom the city was named. His remains were purported to have been interred at the foot of the memorial but the truth of this appears to be in dispute.

For more on our visit to the EAA Aviation Museum in Oshkosh, please check out Flying High

Marsha kindly suggested that the sculptures in this post could well qualify for her Photographing Public Art Challenge so with that in mind, here is the link to her page Publically Going In Circles

Butterflies Galore!

There may be a shortage of them in our gardens, but one place you can be sure to see lots of beautiful butterflies is at the Butterflies & Blooms exhibition at the Chicago Botanic Garden. There is something magical about these little gems as they flutter around, sometimes landing on a shoulder or a hat. But, be careful where you step. They are everywhere!

As well as butterflies that are native to Illinois, there are also species from South America, Asia, North America and Africa, with such enchanting names as Julia Longwings, Starry Crackers and Paper Kites. The Garden staff are very vigilant in their effort to make sure none of these beauties escape. Food and drink are not allowed in the exhibition and purses must be securely fastened.

As someone else who was there, said, “This is the best exhibition of its kind that I’ve ever seen!” And I would have to agree. This was my second visit this year, and I hope to take at least one more look. Entrance to the 2,800 sq ft enclosure is free with admission to the garden and opens at 10am every morning during the summer months.