Thursday, July 31, 2008

SKYWATCH FRIDAY (Storm clouds over Chicago)

I discovered the skywatch site too late last week to participate so I made a mental note to do it this week but I woke up this morning to absolutely clear blue sky, not even a little white fluffy cloud to be seen. Not that I am complaining you understand, just wasn't sure with my limited photographic ability whether I would manage to compose a worthwhile shot. But then...........
I looked outside about half an hour ago and BINGO! Huge big grey clouds were rolling in and it was getting darker and darker.
So maybe I will get wet on my way home from work but at least I got to post for skywatch!

Photo Credits - CJT


As I was walking home from work yesterday, in almost exactly the same spot that I found the White-marked Tussock Moth caterpillar a couple of weeks ago, I found this little beauty. It is an American Dagger Moth Acronicta americana caterpillar.The picture above shows it in a characteristic resting position, with the head wrapped around to one side. This caterpillar has a broad range of food plants including alder, ash, birch, elm, maple and oak.There have been incidences of Dagger Moth caterpillars excavating into wood sidings to pupate so don't be fooled by the white fluffy exterior, they are prodigious chewers!

Photo Credits - CJT

Monday, July 28, 2008


Check this out - an amazing series of photos captured by Hal Brindley that shows a leopard attacking and successfully killing a crocodile, pretty awesome.
The article states that this has never been known to occur before but I have to beg to differ on that, when I lived in Zambia we did have an incidence of a leopard killing and partially eating a croc but it was a fair bit smaller than this one and, of course, as is always the way none of us had a camera! Oh well, finally someone has captured it on film.

Photo Credits - Hal Brindley

Friday, July 25, 2008


Just when I was beginning to think I had bred the first ever pedestrian Melba Finch, little Indy finally took to the air. It was pretty heart stopping stuff for the first couple of days as he careened from tree to shrub to tree with some rather messy landings. I wasn't the only one who was a little concerned, both parents were in close attendance at all times and the male was rattling his alarm call whenever junior took to the air! His very favorite pass time though is still most definitely eating. Here he is under Mom's watchful eye. Daffy the beautiful Green Honeycreeper was less in evidence recently and eventually I worked out why. She had built a perfect little nest and produced two eggs. Unfortunately she doesn't have a mate so they won't be fertile but if I take them away she will probably start the entire process over again. So I have to leave her to it. She is taking full advantage of the situation though. Instead of coming to the food bowl for her waxworms in the afternoon like she used to, she sits in her nest and waits for me to feed her there! No, of course the animals in my care aren't spoiled!
It seems that the male Red-legged Honeycreeper has finally stopped gazing at himself in the mirror long enough to start surveying potential nesting sites. Here he is with the female checking out one of the nesting baskets I had put up.
It seems that it may have met with their approval because when I checked back later the female had apparently started work bringing in nesting material. There is a certain amount of natural vegetation in the Haven that they use and I supplement this with commercial nesting products. Here, the female has selected some strands of sisal, a natural fibre used to make rope.

Photo Credits - CJT

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


For those of you that read my post about Galapagos tortoises you will remember that I mentioned Lonesome George the male tortoise who was the last known living specimen of his kind. Lonesome George has been living with two females for many years and never shown any interest in them. That is until now! It seems that Lonesome George may have to be known as just George from now on. He has been seen mating with the females and a clutch of eggs have been laid. The prize for the oddest place to hear this piece of news has to go to CNBC a business channel that has a program each day called Fast Money. Fast Money has a segment called Pops and Drops where they feature the best and worst stocks of that day - well Lonesome George made it as a 'Pop'! Here's the link -
You will have to endure all the stock picks to get to it because he is the final item. It appears that they were struggling to find any positive financial news!

Photo Credits - Dominick V

Monday, July 21, 2008


Harrison seems to be by far the most popular character that I have blogged about, so here he is again. One of the things I try to do, where possible, is provide the animals in my care with a little enrichment and for the Box Turtles this involves walks in the park.When the weather is nice and sunny, not too hot and not too cold I carry one of them outside and let them wander around for a while. Today was perfect so it was Harrison's turn.He seems to really enjoy the change of scene, he actually moves surprisingly fast too! I usually start him off in a spot that is on the edge of shade so he has a choice of sun or shade, he normally heads very determinedly out into the full sun and snuffles around in the grass.Today, of course, was different because as soon as he saw I had a camera, the posing began. If you have read my previous posting about Harrison you will remember that he cannot resist posing when there is a camera around!Here he is setting off across the park (above) he has been known on previous excursions to face down squirrels and Canada geese! Nothing like that today, just a rather startled sparrow that didn't quite know what to make of this moving rock!Trees are usually a great source of exploration and this one is a particular favorite because it has an almost turtle sized hollow in it.After having thoroughly checked it out, it was back to posing for the camera again! We spent over forty-five minutes outside but when it was time to come back in he went trundling off across the grass again. As usual when we did come back inside he took a quick bathe and now is relaxing on top of his log.I guess he doesn't have such a bad life!

Photo Credits - CJT

Thursday, July 17, 2008


We all have those days when we just have to get out of the office for a few minutes in order to keep our sanity, well today was one of those days. I went out to walk by the pond at lunchtime to clear my mind, but I was not alone!
There were dragonflies everywhere but they were not landing anywhere long enough for me to take any pictures, the damselflies however were slightly more obliging. This is a female Eastern Forktail Ischnura verticalis (above). When the female is immature, it looks completely different (below).
And of course the males are much more fancy, although they didn't really stay still long enough for me to take a decent picture as they were too busy looking for the females!
I also managed to find a larger specimen of the White-marked Tussock Moth Orgyia leucostigma caterpillar which is very showy and surprisingly hard to spot on the branch of a willow but a lot easier to catch up with for a photo!
I noticed a lot of the Aster plants were looking very ragged as if something had been feeding on them so I started looking for the culprit, which didn't take long. It was the Goldenrod Leaf Beetle Trirhabda canadensis (thanks Doug) which had clearly decided not to live up to its name and move on to eating the Aster instead!
I can't resist bumble-bees and this one that was working a milkweed flower was absolutely huge and just had to be photographed.
There were dozens of iridescent little flies around constantly zipping from plant to plant. I did manage to capture this one rather blurred image although I shall not even begin to hazard at an identification!
The milkweed is growing strongly now so it wasn't too hard to find a Milkweed Bug Oncopeltus fasciatus although they move pretty fast too so I unfortunately managed to chop one of the antenna off in this shot!
And just in case you thought my entire time was spent looking at bugs, this charming little family group did work hard at stealing the show. This female Wood Duck Aix sponsa had nine tiny ducklings in tow!
So all in all not a bad ten minute break from my desk! I guess the heart of downtown Chicago isn't such a dead environment as it first appears, we just have to take the time to look around us and enjoy.

Photo Credits - CJT

Sunday, July 13, 2008


Remember the little bundle of fluff that I posted on Independence Day? Well look at him now!Believe it or not this is little 'Indy' one week later. Although he still has the black beak of a juvenile bird (I am calling it a 'he' not because we have defined his gender but just because it seems preferable to 'it!') he is now developing the characteristic red tail of the Melba Finch Pytilia melba and, as you can see, has far more mature feathers and less down than last week. As is common with Melba Finches, he loves to sunbathe, and that was how I got this shot, he was basking, and allowed me to get closer than usual.

To give you some idea how much further he has to go to get to mature plumage, this is what an adult male bird looks like. The female has the same body colour but none of the red and orange on the face and neck.

The Melbas are not the only birds in the Haven that have been breeding.

Our pair of Violaceous Euphonias Euphonia violacea have been very prodigious.The male is very striking with his vivid yellow plumage. Euphonias are great mimics and he always seems to be coming up with new songs which he belts out at full volume from a prominent perch. He was actually in mid-song when I took this photo but I think he must have stopped for breath just as the camera clicked! Hence the indignant look! The female is no where near as easy to see, largely because she is kept in a permanent avian equivalent of 'bare foot and pregnant!' This prolific pair have provided us with a fairly constant stream of fledglings throughout the year which we rehouse with other bird breeders in order to prevent any inbreeding within our group.

Some of our other birds are showing definite signs of pairing off too. These two are affectionately referred to as the 'love unit' as they are utterly inseparable. They are Red-eared Waxbills Estrilda troglodytes and they originate from Sub-Saharan Africa. We actually have four of them in the Haven and they stick together in a very tight flock for the majority of the time. Usually when I do my last check-up at the end of the day I will find them paired off and snuggled up in two pairs like this, very sweet.

Our second 'love unit' took a little longer to
come to fruition. This poor guy lost his first, and second mate and seemed fated to live a single life but eventually I managed to find him another female and he was so thrilled when I bought the cage into the Haven, he hung on the outside of it for hours every day until I eventually let her out. When I introduce new birds, they first spend a thirty day quarantine outside of the Haven, to ensure they are healthy. Then they are put into the Haven in a large flight cage for a couple of weeks to get used to the sights and sounds of this large public space. Then I open the cage but leave it in there so they can leave in their own time and return to it if they feel the need for security. And then eventually when I think they seem relatively settled, I remove the cage and leave them free flying. So that was what this poor little chap had to wait for! These are Lavender Waxbills Estrilda caerulescens.

This handsome fellow is a Red-legged Honeycreeper Cyanerpes cyaneus and I am afraid spends so much time gazing at himself that he seems to forget to lavish any attention on his mate. I realise that he is very stunning but he really does like to spend hours gazing at his own reflection and so he and his mate have not yet managed to breed. We have large mirrors placed beside the doors of the Haven so that people can check their reflection to make sure they don't have any butterflies on them before they leave. This bird perches on the edge of the mirror and stares at himself for hours! I believe Narcissus would be the correct name for this character! There is a professional photographer who sometimes visits the Haven and she caught him in action -

Another far more modest fellow, and a favorite of mine is the delightful Peters Twinspot Hypargos niveoguttatus. This species too originates in Southern Africa and I remember them with great fondness when I lived in Zambia, hopping around picking up seeds and hearing their charming, soft, warbling call.

I could not complete a posting about the birds in the Haven without mentioning this character. This is Daffy, named by her breeder because she is so tame that she behaves more like a domestic duck than an exotic honeycreeper! Although this is not the best shot I have of her, it sums up her behavior perfectly. She is always waiting for me in the mornings when I arrive and if I don't fill the nectar feeders promptly enough for her liking she will fly at my head, veering away at the last second! Around three in the afternoon I usually go up to put some waxworms in some of the feed bowls and she is usually waiting on the edge of the bowl! She will actually take the waxworm from my fingers and gobble it up with great relish. Daffy is a Green Honeycreeper Chlorophanes spiza.

Photo Credits - CJT


Just occasionaly all the elements conspire to give a few seconds of almost unnatural colour and splendour. Last night when we were just about to sit down to dinner, it happened, and Chicago looked like a city made of gold.

Photo Credits - Dominick V

Friday, July 11, 2008


After posting my cool caterpillar picture yesterday here is a nice symmetry. When I got home last night I noticed a little moth outside my apartment window - yes, that's right, it was the White-marked Tussock Moth Orgyia leucostigma! This guy was quite the high-flyer as I live on the twenty-first floor. Because of this we don't have fully opening windows so my photos are very poor as I had to shoot through glass.
If you want to see what they really look like then check out
This is a really useful sight for bug ID help by the way.
Unfortunately shortly after I took the photos, a vicious thunder storm blew through and the moth disappeared.

Photo Credits (!) - CJT

Thursday, July 10, 2008


I often get teased by the rest of my Department about my arduous commute to and from work - I have a ten minute stroll through Lincoln Park to get from home to the Museum! Needless to say just as others become familiar with aspects of their commute like toll booths, train stations or bus stops, so do I. I notice when the geese start to pair off or when the first golden-crowned kinglet arrives in the spring. And yes, before you ask, I do realise how lucky I am! On my way home yesterday evening I spotted this little guy on the path in front of me (actually I would have probably stepped on him if I hadn't happened to be looking down at that moment.)It is the caterpillar of a White-marked Tussock Moth Orgyia leucostigma and although the caterpillar is quite stunning the moth is a plain little brown thing that would very easily be overlooked. Something about all those hairs and bright colours suggested not to touch but I was able to get a couple of reasonable shots anyway.

Photo Credits - CJT

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


Lincoln Park is a fairly typical city park, big trees, regularly mowed grass and a pond. There are a few small areas of native planting but the vast majority of it follows the heavily manicured theme. That is until you get to the grounds that surround the museum. All the museum grounds are planted with native prairie plants. Some areas are more successful than others but gradually over the years it has taken shape. Prairie planting is not for everyone, for the long winter months there really isn't anything very attractive about it but at this time of year it suddenly takes on a whole new lease on life and leaves the rest of the park in the dust!

One of the most striking plants is the statuesque Compass Plant Silphium laciniatum which can grow up to eight feet tall and towers over everything. The sap of this plant can be dried and chewed like gum!

Another common prairie flower is the cone flower, this is the Pale Purple Coneflower Echinacea pallida The roots are used to make herbal medicines and tonics. Illegal root digging poses a major threat to the plant in some areas.

One of the brightest splashes of colour comes from the vivid Butterfly Milkweed Asclepias tuberosa it really is hard to miss this stunning orange bloom. The roots have been used as both food and medicine in the past. Another common name for this plant is Pleurisy Root which tells you pretty clearly what the medicine it produces was used for.

The Common Milkweed Asclepias syriaca is much more subtle in its colour but if you take a close look at the blossoms they are no less beautiful. Both these milkweeds prove utterly irresistible to butterflies and this one will be alive with Monarchs very soon. The fluffy seed hairs produced by the Common Milkweed used to be used to stuff lifejackets.

In amongst the towering plants and the vividly coloured ones it would be easy to overlook the Lance-Leaved Ground Cherry Physalis virginiana with its delicate pale yellow ground facing flowers. But they too are delightful in a far more subtle way. The ripe fruits have been used as food, but take care, the unripe fruits are poisonous.

A particular favorite of mine is the delicate pink/purple flowers of the Wild Bergamot Monarda fistulosa This member of the mint family is popular with both hummingbirds and butterflies.

The White Wild Indigo Baptisia alba is a member of the bean family and can grow up to six feet tall, apparently they can live for up to one hundred years! As its name would suggest this plant was used for dye but it is not of the same quality as the Old World Indigo Plant.

Of course if you return an area to original native planting, you have to expect the original native species who used to inhabit it to make an appearance too. Although the rabbit is the bane of every gardeners life it is a natural part of the prairie ecosystem. We are now seeing an influx of coyotes, another natural prairie dweller, as a result of the increased rabbit presence.

Another icon of the prairie is the raucous Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius tricolor but I figured as it is always the male that is seen chattering away from every vantage point that I would show the female for a change. Although I have to admit that when I was taking this picture she was protesting pretty loudly!

As I was walking back after taking these photos I walked under a mulberry tree and this Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura was either posing to have its picture taking or so stuffed with mulberries that the thought of flying away from me was more than it could cope with. Either way as this is one of my favorite local inhabitants I just had to take the picture!

Photo Credits - CJT