Tag Archive | wildlife

A Good Day At Spring Valley

Because it was Columbus Day, school was out and the weather was gorgeous, Spring Valley Nature Center was packed!  The new recreation area was full of super-excited children, happy to have at least one more opportunity to play outside in shorts and sandals.  I was pleased to see, too, that parents were encouraging their families to not only enjoy the slides and climbing frames but to go exploring the rest of the nature center.  Great for them but not so good for someone who is hoping to do some wildlife photography.  Screaming youngsters and timid woodland creatures unfortunately don’t make for a good mix.  However, I had all day and waited patiently for the rare quiet moments when I was able to get a few shots.

Any day at Spring Valley is a good day.

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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!

Turtle Soup

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During a recent visit to the splendid Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I overheard someone asking one of the docents about turtles.

“Yes,” this helpful lady replied.  “Just go along the boardwalk that skirts the wetlands area and you’ll see them.”

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Not one to pass up the opportunity to photograph any kind of wildlife, I took her advice, albeit secondhand, and was well rewarded.  There were turtles aplenty!

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And, unlike the turtles that hang out at our local nature center, these accommodating creatures didn’t dive out of sight the minute we got anywhere near them.  They paddled around in their soupy surroundings, popping their heads out of the water to watch us as we crept along the boardwalk.

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Even the advent of some noisy young children clattering along the path didn’t seem to faze them.  They appeared quite unconcerned as I hung, camera in hand, over the top of the railing within a few feet of where they were sunning themselves.

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Travel Theme: Hidden

Ailsa’s Travel Theme challenge this week on Where’s My Backpack at http://wheresmybackpack.com/2013/09/06/travel-theme-hidden/ is Hidden.

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Whenever I go in search of wildlife at nature centers or forest preserves I find that most things usually manage to stay hidden. Many creatures in nature are masters of disguise, it’s a necessity if they want to stay alive, and it sometimes takes a keen eye and a considerable amount of patience to spot them in their native habitat.

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It was quite a while before I found this toad sitting on the dry bed of the Wabash River in Lafayette Indiana, last summer. We had been told there were hundreds of them, by a family returning from a walk along by the river, but this was the only one that I managed to discover hiding in plain sight.

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These garter snakes were well hidden among the autumn leaves at Crabtree Nature Center in Barrington, Illinois, until I almost stepped on them and they naturally became somewhat agitated.

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The praying mantis always presents a challenge when I’m looking for him in the garden. He blends in so well with the surrounding foliage. This is what makes him such a formidable predator and butterflies or, in this case, bees had better beware.

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Their egg cases are equally well-camouflaged as they wait through the autumn and winter months to release their precious contents in the spring.

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Frogs usually keep fairly well hidden as I approach the water’s edge at Spring Valley Nature Center in Schaumburg and it’s not until I hear a startled “peep” or the more full-throated “burp” of a bullfrog as they leap back into the pond, that I realize they’re there.

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This elk seems to blend in well with it’s woody background. Here in Elk Grove Village, Illinois, the elk prefer to remain hidden among the trees during the hot summer weather. I can’t say I blame them.

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Another place that can get extremely hot during the summer months is The Badlands in South Dakota, where thousands of these prairie dogs scurry about, doing whatever prairie dogs do, until a warning call sends them running for the nearest burrow where they stay hidden until it’s safe to return to the surface.

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The art of staying hidden is an essential part of life for most creatures in the wild but every once in a while we are lucky enough to discover their hiding places, however, we should always respect their privacy and hopefully leave them as we found them.

On Not-So-Golden Pond

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As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, our local park is not exactly the most idyllic place to view wildlife, but it’s better than nothing, especially if I want to conserve a limited weekly allotment of gas or don’t particularly want to drive for at least half an hour before reaching the next nearest sizeable body of water.

There are times when I see more wildlife in my garden than I do at the park but one thing, at least during the summer months, is certain; there is always a good chance that I’ll see a heron, egret or cormorant at the pond that is just a five, or on a slow day, ten minute walk from our house. It never ceases to surprise me that these birds would choose this rather dubious setting to while away their daylight hours when, if they traveled just a few miles further, they could settle for something a little more up-market. But for some inexplicable reason they have made our park their home.
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You wouldn’t think there would be enough food there to sustain even one hungry heron but sure enough, when I arrive this morning there are three great blue heron, two cormorants and an egret not to mention numerous ducks, geese and sea gulls, all diving into or trawling about in the water, looking for some tasty morsel.

The first order of business is to find somewhere fairly close to the birds, with the sun behind me and where I’m not in danger of attack from the aggressive red-wing blackbirds that patrol the few trees that reach down to the water’s edge. I can hear their tinny shrill as I approach and note with some satisfaction that they are taking out their animosity on a heron that has waded too close to their territory. Better him than me! I’ll stay clear of that area.
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I manage to creep down close to the tiny, almost non-existent island where another heron is sunning himself on a fallen tree limb. Up above him, miraculously clinging to a branch with webbed feet that seem ill-adapted for such a purpose, a cormorant surveys the pond (I’m still not sure what constitutes the difference between a lake and a pond just as I’m uncertain what qualifies a town to be a town and not a village.)
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Fortunately the weather has cooled off from its recent 80 and 90 degree temperatures and there is a slight breeze blowing across the water making it slightly less noisome as the little waves lap gently over plastic bags, old socks and empty soda cans. What on earth do the birds find to eat in this murky brown liquid. It beats me how they can even see what’s in there.

I gaze down into the turbid waters and get quite excited when I think I see a fish which upon further inspection ends up being nothing more than a stick bobbing about. On the other hand, a dark blob that I take to be another uninteresting piece of flotsam turns out to be a turtle trying to haul himself out of the soup and onto a nearby rock, until he sees me fumbling about with the camera and plops back from whence he came. His place is taken by a dragonfly who doesn’t seem to mind having its picture taken.
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The cormorant suddenly drops down into the water but comes up empty and flaps away to the other side of the pond while the heron, feeling that he has somehow had the last laugh, opens his beak and lets out a hoarse cry.
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I’d like to get comfortable and sit down on the grass but it’s difficult to find a spot that isn’t littered with goose droppings and, looking about me, I can see that there are other items besides, that I would not care to sit beside; a fish skeleton for one thing.
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Well, maybe it’s time to go home anyway. The planes from O’Hare Airport are beginning to roar overhead and the traffic is starting to hum along the nearby roadway. I’ll stop by again sometime to get another look at the birds before they fly off for the winter but for now I’ll leave today’s inhabitants of the pond to enjoy the rest of the day.
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Angry Birds….Really Angry Birds

Whilst taking a walk around the Botanic Gardens the other day, I came across a family of swans paddling about among the water lilies. As usually happens when I have the camera with me, they were too far away to get any kind of clear picture so I contented myself by just watching from a distance.  There were two adults and three young ones, the older birds vigilant against any danger that might threaten their brood.

As I observed them, two things happened.  A cormorant landed in the water near where they were swimming and a third adult swan arrived and began cruising around at what he considered to be a safe distance, nearer to where I was positioned.

The cormorant was the first one to get it in the neck!  If you click on the picture above you’ll get a clearer view of what happened. He had just taken a dive underwater when the larger of the two parent swans flapped across the surface with wings outstretched and began beating  the water as though trying to prevent the intruder from resurfacing. After a minute or so the cormorant bobbed up behind the swan and, no doubt blowing his adversary the proverbial raspberry, paddled off, discretion being the better part of valor.

It was then that the victor spotted the third adult swan and, gathering his family together, sailed over towards the bridge upon which I was standing and under which the object of his by now boiling temper was hiding. The third swan decided to head for the hills and I watched him as he waded ashore and took cover behind a clump of reeds or some such.

While all this was going on, another lady who had also been watching the preceding scene play out,  walked down to the water’s edge, her camera poised ready to catch a prize-winning shot. Now I may not know a lot about the intricacies of wildlife behavior but I do know that you don’t bother a swan when it’s mad especially when there are young ones about.  There was a case, not too long ago, in our local paper, about a man in a kayak who had been drowned after a swan attacked him and knocked him out of the boat and I also remember tales that my grandmother, who lived near the river Thames, had told me about people suffering broken arms and legs as a result of swan attacks so I remained on the bridge in what I hoped was well out of harm’s way.

As the swan family drew nearer, the adults began that honking noise they make when they’re really getting aggravated.  I think the lady finally got the hint when their fearless leader started opening his wings and began climbing out of the water with his mate lining up behind him in case he needed assistance, and she beat a hasty retreat while the third swan joined her as they both headed for the path and safety.

I imagine if the father or mother (I’m not sure who the major player was in this drama) had been able to, he or she would have dusted off their hands, adjusted their cuffs and said “Well, that’s taken care of them!”  As it was, the two birds returned to their offspring and nonchalantly paddled off.

Life on the Pond

There’s something so very relaxing about spending a warm, sunny morning at the pond.  It’s a whole different world down there by the water’s edge, far away from the noise of traffic, the aggravation of crashing computers and the countless demands of a busy life.

Just walking down the prairie path towards that little watery oasis you feel the sense of tranquility that comes whenever you step away from the pressures of day-to-day living and get back to nature.

I settle down beside a clump of rushes to watch and wait and, as I gaze out across the water, a hundred pairs of eyeballs seem to peer curiously back at me from the surface.  It was one of the great mysteries of life to me, as a child, how a blob with a tail could transform itself quite miraculously into the distinctive figure of a frog, and in order to study this phenomenon more closely, it was not unusual in our house to come across glass jars containing quivering masses of embryonic tadpoles.  I’ve spent many happy hours with frogs.  I’ve also spent many a happy hour at ‘The Frog & Trumpet’ but that’s a different story!

A pair of mallard ducks paddle by, quacking, or are they laughing?  They could be.  “Look at that fool over there with the camera! What does she think she’s going to see? The Loch Ness Monster?  There’s nothing here worth taking a picture of, unless we…..”    Here they perform a little synchronized up-ending and satisfied that they’ve done their job, they paddle away.

A dragonfly darts past, its wings a flash of brilliance in the sunlight; if only it would land and keep still long enough for me to get a shot.  YES! Good dragonfly!

A muskrat is the next thing to come into view.  Slipping silently through the water it sets a course for the opposite bank and I’m just about to get a shot when it disappears below the surface. I make a guess at where it will pop up next but I’m wrong.  It’s as though he’s playing a game with me; Where’s-the-Muskrat. We go on like this for several minutes until I finally get it right and he moves on.

A butterfly, already beginning to look a little ragged, stops on it’s erratic course to take a few moments rest but he’s off again when a heron glides in, landing a few feet from the bank. It proceeds to look for a tasty snack. It’s not fussy. A fish or frog will do. Finding a good spot it stands motionless for what seems like an eternity, when suddenly the long neck shoots out, a rapier-like beak dips into the water and the heron holds its glittering prize aloft. The fish quickly disappears down the bird’s outstretched gullet and life on the pond goes on.

I wonder what all these creatures would make of our world if given the opportunity to watch us at work and play.  On the whole I think they’re far better off where they are.  You don’t see a dragonfly suffering from stress disorders or a frog agonizing over its tax returns.  The heron doesn’t lose any sleep wondering if it remembered to pay the car insurance or the muskrat have a nervous breakdown over what the kids are doing on ‘facebook.’  Ah yes! Give me life on the pond every time!