Saturday, August 30, 2008


As it is a holiday weekend, I took a slightly different route home from work last night to meet my husband, who had left work early, in the park. As I was walking beside the pond I noticed this immature Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax perched on a branch over the water.

This species of heron has endangered status in Illinois which is hard to believe in our neighbourhood as they are a common sight. One evening when walking along the lake front at dusk, I saw twelve of them fishing, all within half a mile. They are also found in Europe, Asia, Hawaii and Africa. Ironically, when I lived in Zambia, where the bird is not listed as endangered or even threatened, it was a huge talking point on the rare occasion that one was spotted.

I had to be a little bit cautious with this youngster as they are know to regurgitate their food when disturbed! This particular individual seemed pretty relaxed and just started preening himself when I got my camera out!
A little further down the path was another young bird, a Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias.

These tend to be easier to see than the night herons, partly because they are so large, it is harder for them to hide, and partly because they don't skulk in vegetation during the day. They are much more likely to be seen wading around in the shallows or hunched over on a log, waiting for a passing fish.

Great Blue Herons will also eat frogs and, occasionally, small voles. They can be found beside ponds, rivers, lakes, fish hatcheries and even along the ocean shore. I took this last picture just because I thought the reflection in the water was fun!

Photo Credits - CJT

Thursday, August 28, 2008

SKYWATCH FRIDAY (Moon Rise Over Lake Michigan)

I took these pictures the weekend before last when we had a full moon. Each time I took a picture the colours of the sky and the lake seemed to get more and more intense until it seemed as though the image was more like a slightly 'over the top' painting than an actual photograph.
It is rare to see such colour reflected from the sunset and I was lucky to be looking out of my apartment window at just the right time.

Photo Credits - CJT

Monday, August 25, 2008


I have a number of wonderful Volunteers who come in to help care for all our critters here as the Museum several days a week. One of the things I always try and stress to them when they first start is that they have to expect the unexpected and learn to roll with the punches because in this line of work you never quite know what each day is going to throw at you. I was working at my desk this morning when my volunteer asked if I would come and look at something, well the 'something' turned out to be our female Banded Water Snake Nerodia sipedon giving birth! This particular species of snake is viviparous, which means it gives birth to live young, rather than producing eggs.

In this picture the emerging baby is just visible under the body of the mother. When our water snakes give birth we try to collect all the babies. The adults are kept in a fairly large tank with deep water and it is far easier to have the babies in something a bit smaller and more manageable for the first few months of their life. That way we can ensure that they all get food.

So once I had seen what was going on it was a question of stopping everything else we were working on and putting on our midwife hat!These snakes are notoriously unfriendly but thankfully the 'Mom' is a snake that I have raised from birth so she is reasonably comfortable being handled. This meant that as each little snake popped out into the world I was able to reach into the tank and gently lift it out.
I leave the babies for a couple of minutes to see if they break through the embryonic sack by themselves, which they usually do. If not then I just make a small tear in it and then they can wiggle their way out.
As with all baby snakes they immediately show aggression and take a strike pose. Because they are so low on the food chain at this age they tend to be far more aggressive than the adults. Well we went through this routine thirteen times and all the babies seem to be fit and healthy at this stage. Mom seems non the worse for her labours either.
We will leave the babies for a few days now as they will still be absorbing the amniotic nutrients for a couple of days. The next big hurdle will be seeing which ones are going to eat. There always seem to be a few in each clutch that just never work that out and obviously those don't last too long. Most of this clutch seem very strong and active so the signs are good.

Photo Credits - CJT

Thursday, August 21, 2008

SKYWATCH FRIDAY (Chicago Air and Water Show)

This weeks pictures are all from the Chicago Air and Water Show which took place last weekend. The pictures were taken by my husband. He, of course, was focusing on the planes so the shots I have chosen are what he would consider the less 'cool' ones because I wanted more sky! The first series are the Blue Angels aerobatic team.One of the strangest looking planes was the B2 Stealth Bomber that really looks as though it shouldn't be able to stay up in the air at all.I suppose I am just old fashioned at heart but I prefer the planes that look a bit more traditional, like this AT-6There were some great stunt team displays, the local Lima Lima teamand the Aeroshell stunt team
But by far the craziest guy of all is Sean D Tucker. He did a group display first, his son was flying one of the other planes
Then he did a mind bending solo stunt display whilst commentating over the PA system at the same time!
Another interesting aircraft was the Harrier 'Jump Jet' which can raise straight up and down like a helicopter and hover in one spot.
The Coastguard did an air water rescue display
I know that this is way too many photos for Skywatch but I had over seven hundred to choose from so it wasn't easy!
For those of you who are used to me doing more 'nature oriented' postings I know this is a bit of a change from the norm but as a keen ornithologist all I could think of when I was watching all these machines over head was how much we have learned from our feathered friends. Sean D Tucker didn't pull any stunts that I haven't seen a Lilac Breasted Roller do before, the B2 Bomber reminded me of a Bateleur Eagle which relies solely on its wings because its tail is so short that it provides no stability at all. The Harrier was doing exactly what a Kestrel does, and clearly expending just as much energy in the process! And most of the modern fighter planes manouver exactly like a Peregrine Falcon but just make far more noise!!

Photo Credits - Dominick V

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


In a previous post I had mentioned that Harrison the box turtle had a hareem of four ladies, well today it was their turn to go out for a walk in the park. Above is Charlie. We all have a soft spot for Charlie, she was not given the correct balance of nutrients when she was younger (before she came under our care) and so her shell didn't develop properly. If you see her from behind she looks rather like one of those infamous Britney Spears photos where everything is 'hanging out!' Obviously in the wild she would not survive but we are very happy to have her here at the Museum.This is Claire (above). When we took them outside the parks workers had just dumped a huge pile of wood mulch and of course the girls thought this was wonderful. Charlie spent her time climbing up to the top of the heap and sliding back down again - who said that animals don't have a sense of fun?! Pretty Girl immediately buried herself (below.)
Whilst Claire and Gorgeous spent their time tunneling into the mulch and popping back out again. This is Claire peeping

And this is Gorgeous.
When they tired of that they climbed to the top of the pile but by this time Charlie had laid claim to being 'Queen of the Heap' and kept chasing away all trespassers! They seemed to have a great time, Charlie was actually not ready to come in and kept trundling away every time we went to pick her up. We promised that we would take them all out again very soon.

Photo Credits - CJT

Saturday, August 16, 2008


You may have seen my various previous postings on different Tussock Moths, well it seems that this is my summer for finding this creature. I was out walking by the pond last week when I saw this bizarre creature on a tree trunk. It is hard to see from the photo but there is a mat of creamy coloured silk which is apparently a cocoon, the white foamy substance is an egg mass. I have to be honest when I saw this insect I had absolutely no idea at all what it was. Usually I can make an approximate guess, maybe beetle, ant, wasp and then I can narrow it down and work out what it is but this one had me completely flummoxed. So I consulted my 'oracle,' otherwise known as Doug - my department head. He is a pretty good entomologist and can usually answer any questions I have but even he was completely stumped! (At least that made me feel a bit less ignorant!) So I posted the picture on Within a few hours I had an answer - you guessed it - a White Marked Tussock Moth Orgyia leucostigma (again!) but this time it is the female moth. The female, as you can see, is flightless. It emerges from the cocoon, waits for a male, mates, lays its eggs on the empty cocoon and then dies. So mystery solved. What a fascinating creature.

Photo Credits - CJT

Thursday, August 14, 2008

SKYWATCH FRIDAY (with leaves!)

Keeping it simple this week. Nothing more perfect than the clear blue sky.Especially when viewed through the leaves of a tree.

Photo Credits - CJT

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


For a few weeks now my husband and I have been feeling the need to escape the city and spend a weekend somewhere peaceful. Thanks to a dear friend of mine, we were able to do exactly that, this past weekend. My friend is a ceramic artist and once a month he uses an outdoor kiln to fire some of his work.

He had done this last week, so this week he was going up to empty the kiln. (It takes a week to cool after the firing!) The kiln is located in a beautiful valley, beside a stream.
The work he produces always seems to me to have a wonderful living quality to it, some of the pieces seem as if you turn your back on them that they may scuttle off!
This one was a particular favorite of mine from this firing.
We spent our time sitting in the grass, listening to crickets chirping, birds singing and bees buzzing. Couldn't have asked for a better alternative to sirens wailing, traffic roaring and planes droning!
The evening consisted of sitting by a camp fire, looking at the stars, chatting and cooking steak on the open fire, just the kind of pace we were looking for. On Sunday we continued the hectic pace by snoozing in the sun, walking through the fields and looking at the local flora and fauna.

There were brilliant blue damselflies all around the stream, I haven't managed to determine the exact species yet but I suspect it is one of the Bluets.

There were also masses of butterflies, tiger swallowtails, black swallowtails, pearl crescents, red admirals and monarchs. Also this delightful little Chickweed Geometer moth Haematopis grataria, this one is a male (check out the branched antennae)
Of course the stream was brimming with life, both invertebrate and vertebrate
It never ceases to amaze me how much better I feel after spending just 48 hours enjoying nature and not hearing man made sounds. It is better than any medication or psychiatrists office! Thanks Jay.

Photo Credits - CJT