Tag Archive | birds

A Day At The Zoo

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.

 

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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.


McGovern Centennial Gardens


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.

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge – Birds

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

On The Beach – In Galveston

When it’s 95 degrees in the shade, where else would you go but the beach, right! They say “Mad dogs and Englishmen (women) go out in the midday sun,” and perhaps they’re right.

For the first 25 years of my life, in England, we went to the coast every year for our holidays; nothing fancy, just a week at the seaside.  Since I came to the USA some 45 years ago I’ve been to the coast on only one occasion; a brief stay in Virginia Beach, and I’ve really missed that whole ‘holiday’ experience.  So when it was suggested that we go on a day trip to Galveston, while visiting family in Houston, I was all for it! Never mind that the heat index had reached 101 degrees at times that week.  I wanted to go to the beach!

Our first stop was the beach near Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier. The current pier, opened to the public in 2012, replaced the original pier that was destroyed in 1961 by Hurricane Carla.


There weren’t too many people about, although footprints in the sand indicated that we weren’t the first folks to visit the beach that morning.

But for that moment in time it was just me and this laughing gull – at least I think that’s what it was; he seemed fairly amused about something –  standing, gazing out over the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Bearing in mind that we were only in Galveston for a short period, I said goodbye to the gull and we went our separate ways, he to look for something to eat while we ventured further along Seawall Boulevard to East Beach.  Having found a parking spot that didn’t involve the car sinking mid-wheel into the sand, we made our way across a wide expanse of beach before reaching the water’s edge.

From a distance it looked very much as though the passing cargo ships had come aground but upon closer inspection it was apparent that all was well and the flow of sea-going traffic was progressing smoothly.

There were a few more people around by this time but there were no takers for the chair rentals.  At $30 a day, most seasoned visitors had the foresight to bring their own seats and umbrellas.

One of the things I always loved about walking on the beach was looking for shells or bits of seaweed and although there wasn’t quite the variety of items that once graced my childhood nature table, there were some interesting finds among the bottle caps and broken glass.

Despite the heat, there was the occasional breeze blowing which made being on the beach tolerable and I could have cheerfully stayed there all day, but apparently that wasn’t the plan so, reluctantly, I trekked back to the car, taking in one last glimpse of the waves as they washed ashore. I hope I won’t have to wait quite so long for another trip to the seaside. Sitting on the beach in Chicago on the shores of Lake Michigan somehow just isn’t the same.

Weekly Photo Challenge – Unlikely

Those of you who follow my posts regularly are aware that it’s highly unlikely that I will knowingly or willingly go inside anywhere where birds are flying about.  I had a suspicion that there might be birds in The Domes at Milwaukee’s Mitchell Park but we had made the trip specifically to visit there and thankfully the domes are so huge that, after poking my head round the door to make sure it was safe, it became apparent that any winged inhabitants were, at least for the time being, staying well out of the way.

That’s not to say that I wasn’t very much aware that there were birds nearby. I could hear them. But there was just so much to see and photograph in The Desert Dome that after a while I became a lot less nervous.

The Desert Dome was the last of three conservatories to be completed at Mitchell Park and was opened to the public in 1967. Cacti and succulents from Madagascar, South America, Africa, Mexico and the American Southwest are featured in appropriate settings and the variety of plants in this dome is simply astounding.

Despite keeping a wary eye open for any birds that might be about, there were thankfully no close encounters.  Does that mean that I would cheerfully enter an enclosed space where there are birds flying free in the future.  It’s extremely unlikely, but never say never.

For more on The Weekly Photo Challenge at The Daily Post go to Unlikely

 

Whose Zoo

Under normal circumstances nothing would induce me to visit somewhere like Brookfield Zoo on a sunny, mild Sunday, but when the Grandkids visit on a weekend and Sunday is the only available day, I have to brave the crowds and make the best of it.  As I suspected it would be, the place was packed! Luckily my Granddaughter is old enough to get around under her own steam and doesn’t tire easily so we got in a solid three hours of walking and seeing all kinds of wild and wonderful creatures. She even enticed me into the Australia House, something I swore I’d never do again after Mom and I were dive bombed by a giant bat, but I’m glad I chanced it as I got a nice shot of this kookaburra.

I always enjoy watching the giraffes. We caught this one in a confrontation with a couple of geese. The giraffe was a young one and was naturally curious about the two noisy interlopers in its enclosure. He bent down to get a closer look but the goose took exception and put up a bit of a fight. The youngster jumped back in alarm and then ambled off to chew on a few twigs.

My Granddaughter loves dogs so this one, an African painted dog, naturally caught her eye. No, I don’t think Momma will let you bring this one home!

Next up were the bison. I haven’t been this close to one of these animals since the time I found myself on the outside of an enclosure just a few yards away from one that they’d neglected to round up with the others, in Custer State Park, South Dakota. It was looking for its buddies and had snuck up on me, there being only one other hapless photographer between me and it.  Needless to say, I made a slow, backwards retreat to the car.

Granddaughter likes to get into the spirit of the thing.

On to everyone’s favorite, Tropic World. Well, everyone except me. I’m never very comfortable in here, with the birds flying about, but luckily they didn’t come too close and I was able to focus my attention on the animals.

The gorillas are always most impressive. especially the large silver-backed male who kept a wary eye on us and his family. There were several young ones playing about and I could feel for the mother as she tried to catch a few moments peace and quiet before they were back, jumping on top of her.

As is very often the case, many of the larger animals were taking a siesta and there wasn’t much action to be seen in either the bear or big cat enclosures.

 

It was a different story over by the sea lions. They were being put through their paces by some of the keepers and were demonstrating their fish-catching and flipper waving skills. Unfortunately there was a thick mesh screen separating us from the action but I found that if I zoomed in close enough with the camera, it magically disappeared.  All in all, quite a successful day, with one satisfied kid (after we’d stopped at the gift shop) and plenty of pictures to share.