This week, the subject for the Lens-Artists Photo Challenge is big, really big! Not only big but beautiful too, as Tina’s wonderful images show, here at BIG Can Be Beautiful Too!. It’s a strange thing but despite my life-long fear of birds, I’ve discovered over the years that I am far less afraid of large birds than I am smaller ones. This enabled me to get surprisingly close to a pair of sandhill cranes in Wausau, Wisconsin recently. They didn’t seem to be afraid of me either so things worked out very nicely.
It was a gloriously warm, sunny day at the end of summer when we went in search of Trolls at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle. These trolls weren’t the nasty kind that invade the internet but the ones that hide in the woods. As you will see, we found six of them and saw some other interesting sights along the way.
It would appear that these trolls are not exactly friendly creatures as we soon realized when we came across this car crushed beneath a huge boulder. The perpetrator, a character named Rocky Bardur, was standing just a few yards away.
We came across a whole host of monarch butterflies among the flowers outside the visitor center after which we managed to creep up on troll number two, Sneaky Socks Alexa, who was waiting to spring a deadly trap.
Further along the path, a heron seemed to be pointing the way to Joe the Guardian who was standing on a hill overlooking the expressway.
I must say that going on this Troll Hunt encouraged us to take paths that we have never trodden before, giving us the opportunity to see familiar scenes from a different perspective.
I’m not sure if troll number four found us or we found her. Furry Ema certainly looked like she was up to no good.
Walking across Daffodil Glade, we saw a tree that looked as though a troll had breathed on it. And it wasn’t too long before we came across number five, Niels Bragger, lurking in the woods.
Little Arturs was easy to spot. He was taking a break in Bobolink Meadow. These 15 to 60 foot giants were created from recycled wood by Danish artist Thomas Dambo, and he has done a fantastic job! The Arboretum hopes to keep them on display through to 2019 depending on how they weather. It will be interesting to see how they stand up to a Chicago-style winter..
During our recent trip to Minnesota we were pleasantly surprised when we made a last-minute decision to visit Como Park Zoo & Conservatory in Saint Paul. The conservatory was our main focus but when we realized that the zoo was right next door, we thought, “why not.” The fact that there was no admission fee for either place made a visit there even more enticing.
Besides the splendid plant collections inside the conservatory, there was a beautiful Japanese Garden and a spectacular show of water lilies outside the Visitor Center.
Although the zoo may not be as large as some, it had an amazing collection of animals in natural enclosures that allowed for some nice close-up photography opportunities.
Both the zoo and conservatory are operated by the Saint Paul Parks and Recreation Department and are open year-round.
I can highly recommend a visit to the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory. It’s a great place for family fun as it also includes a small amusement park and carousel.
We recently hosted two of our grandchildren for a visit during their summer vacation and the first place our granddaughter wanted to go to was Brookfield Zoo. We’re always happy to put our membership to good use, so off we went. The zoo covers a large area, some 216 acres, so there was plenty of walking involved, with lots to see and do.
The giraffes, largest animals in the ‘Habitat Africa! The Savannah’ exhibit, are always a favorite. The last time we were here we caught one of them in a scuffle with a pair of geese. Things were more peaceful this time. I’m always fascinated by the way these graceful creatures deal with the advantages and disadvantages of their height.
The featured attraction at the zoo this summer is the ‘Amazing Arachnids’ exhibit. Display cases housed in a large tent hold a wide variety of these scary spiders most of them well hidden from view. Only the larger ones were easy to spot, if you could get near enough to get a look in. The zoo is especially busy just now and a certain amount of patience is required if you want to see these creepy-crawlies up close.
The bears, meanwhile, were snoozin’ and cruisin’ in the summer sun, which was kind of surprising given how hot it was. You would think that they’d be favoring the shady areas (like the rest of us) with those thick fur coats they’re wearing but that didn’t prove to be the case.
When the ‘Tropic World’ exhibit opened in the 1980s it was, at that time, the largest indoor zoo exhibit in the world. It’s still a popular feature at Brookfield especially when there are young Western Lowland Gorillas getting up to all kinds of antics.
Large birds were much in evidence in all areas of the zoo, including a penguin that wasn’t the least bit camera shy, a couple of pelicans taking it easy by the Formal Pool, an emu that we got to meet up close and personal at the Hamill Family Wild Encounters exhibit, an eagle that appeared to have discovered something interesting in the undergrowth of its enclosure and a peacock that was just showing off in all directions.
After spending many hours walking around the zoo, our pace had slowed down to that of this tortoise so we figured it was about time to call it a day.
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.
One of the great things about traveling, especially if you go any great distance from home, is that you get to see something different in the way of plants and flowers. Whenever we find ourselves somewhere that is new to us, one of the first things we do is look for any kind of public gardens and, when we visited Houston recently, McGovern Centennial Gardens was one of the places on our itinerary. It was quite a novel experience for us to see plants growing outside that we would normally only see in a greenhouse here in Chicago.
The flowers were just gorgeous despite the lack of any recent rain and the scorching temperatures!
And even the flowers that were familiar to us seemed so much bigger in Texas, naturally!
From the Cherie Flores Garden Pavilion you get a good view of the Centennial Green and, in the distance, the Mount. If you take the path to the top of the Mount you get an even better view of the Gardens.
From this vantage point you can see The Rose Garden, Pergola Walk, The Arid and Celebration Gardens and The Family Garden as well as Hawkins Sculpture Walk and The Tudor Family Pine Hill Walk.
The birds are definitely noisier here! They’re bolder too; landing on parked car roofs and strutting about with a very self-confident air. We saw a lot of these white winged doves in the Gardens.
Speaking of parked cars, even the parking lot looked very decorative with these beautiful trees. I would welcome any input as to what they are called. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like them in this neck of the woods.
This week, Cee is looking for birds for her Black & White Photo Challenge. We saw plenty of birds while we were in Texas! In fact, while we were in San Antonio, one of the biggest challenges for me was visiting the Riverwalk which was lined with birds. If you are a regular reader of this blog you will know about my life-long fear of birds and the problems that I have, dealing with them in everyday situations. After the first few minutes of dodging pigeons along the pathway I was almost tempted to give it up and return to street level but with the help of my husband, who walked ahead of me, as a kind of anti-bird bodyguard, I managed to stay the course for quite a distance and I was glad that I did. There is so much to love about the Riverwalk!
However, it’s not all fun and games on the river. This young bird (heron?) was standing alone on the banks of the Riverwalk. He was quite unconcerned that we were so close. I guess he must have become used to people walking by and the boats packed with tourists going up and down the river. I’m no bird expert so I couldn’t really tell how old he was but I hoped that he was capable of taking care of himself as, when we walked back on the other side of the river, we spotted an adult heron floating dead in the water just opposite to where he was standing.
For more on Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge go to Birds