Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 In Review

I am finally trying to get back into my blog again, a three month hiatus seems suitably inexcusable so I won't try. I'll just start at the end, of the year that is, and hopefully 2011 will inspire me. In the mean time, a whistle-stop tour through 2010.

The year began with a blue moon

We slowly crept our way through the seemingly endless Chicago winter

We welcomed a new member to our family! This is Winston II, he is an Ornate Horned Frog and he is very handsome.

And just when it seemed like the interminable winter would never end

We took a trip to somewhere slightly warmer

Wonderful, spellbinding, spectacular, beautiful Morocco

I fell totally in love with this magnificent country

I ticked off something that has always been on my bucket list - to ride a camel into the Sahara

And I discovered there was something else that needed to be added to my bucket list, and also ticked off! Racing a Land Cruiser along part of the Paris - Dakar route, awesome!!! I did that too.

We had to say goodbye to a dear member of our team at work, sweet, little Scabbers left us.

And when we got over his passing we had to look for replacement(s) - this is Diesel and Spike

I purchased a new steed - Shatan

Our beloved Chicago Blackhawks held us on the edge of our seats all the way through the playoffs

And finally won the Stanley cup

We attended their spectacular victory parade, along with a couple of million other folks

And whilst we weren't watching, summer finally sneaked into Chicago

The tall ships paid their annual summer visit and looked right at home on Lake Michigan

We got plenty of good conservation work done with the endangered Blanding's Turtles

For my birthday I received a truly special gift which I hope I will enjoy for many years to come.

The Bears season was at times rather hard to watch, yes we were at the New England game!

But it certainly had some redeeming moments

Including a new NFL record

And in 2011 the playoffs begin.
And so another year draws to a close

Happy New Year everyone.
And my New Years Resolution? To get back into the saddle with my blog and try to do at least one post per week! Gulp - what am I letting myself in for?
Oh, and that birthday present? Here is a little clue - My Backyard

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Is there such a thing as Bloggers Block? If there is then I have most definitely been suffering from an acute bout of it. Not motivated, not inspired and, knowing me, just too lazy. Hopefully normal service will soon be resumed but in the mean time I have been stalking my usual favorite blogs, even if I haven't been leaving any comments.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


I know you are probably going to say that this next statement is defunct because I love all animals but 'I Love Bats!' I am not really quite sure why, maybe having lived in close proximity to them in Zambia for several years did it, although I don't think so, I think it goes further back than that. Maybe it is because they eat mosquitoes! (OK so maybe I don't love ALL animals!) I am not really sure what it is but safe to say, they fascinate me and I find them incredibly endearing and not even the remotest bit 'gross' as so many people seem to.
So imagine my delight when Andrew, our seasonal gardener at the Museum came in on Friday to tell me he had found a bat out on the Museum grounds. I grabbed my camera and hurried outside. And there he was snoozing quietly in the bushes, occasionally opening an eye to make sure we weren't getting too close.

A beautiful Eastern Red Bat Lasiurus borealis, just trying to get some peace and quiet after a busy night of eating bugs. Unlike many other species, the Red Bat is often found roosting alone and he had found the perfect little spot to hang out, until we came along to disturb his peace! We kept a respectful distance (yes I used full zoom), took a few photos and then left him to his sleep.

During September and October this species uses the storms that blow around the shores of Lake Michigan to hitch a ride further south as they journey to find warmer areas to spend their winter. And, coincidence or not, we had had a violent thunder storm the night before our little furry visitor was spotted.

Photo Credits - CJT

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


How is it that something I feel like I did yesterday is already two weeks ago? Oh well, better late than never I guess.
I have done various posts about the Blanding's Turtle conservation work I do. A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend a conference devoted solely to this species. As with any group work focusing on an endangered species you tend to swing between being wildly inspired to keep on doing what your doing and being hugely depressed at the seemingly impossible odds you seem to face to preserve this species.
I won't bore everyone with an account of the numerous lectures, I'll just skip right to the fun stuff - the field trips. On the first day we visited Nachusa Grasslands. This is a huge, beautiful rolling expanse of restored prairie.

There have been numerous reptile species sighted here but we were on the lookout for one particularly elusive little gem, the Ornate Box Turtle.

And, as you can see, we were lucky. This delightful little creature is listed as threatened in Illinois so it really was a privilege to be able to see one in it's natural environment.

This little female was carefully examined and aged at approximately six or seven years old. When we had all admired her she was replaced gently back into the clump of grass where we had found her.

Our second field trip, at the end of the conference was to the Richardson Wildlife Foundation. This is a piece of land that has been bought up over several years by a private individual.

It was initially intended to be a private hunting area but over time the owner came back from the dark side and now focuses on conservation of the species on his land and restoration of the native habitat.

There have been a few sightings in recent years of Blanding's Turtles on this land so a couple of days before we arrived the resident ecologist had been kind enough to set up a series of turtle traps in the various wetland areas.

These are fairly basic, humane contraptions that are anchored semi-submerged and baited with tinned sardines (!) and are extremely effective. Of course they are also totally indiscriminate and will lure in anything with a taste for sardines! - like gargantuan catfish

Or very cranky Snapping Turtles

But most commonly, Painted Turtles

In fact one trap in particular held enough Painted Turtles that we all got one for our group photo!

One Snapping Turtle had managed to force its way out through the side of one of the traps and get stuck so by the time we got it, it was having a serious sense of humour failure!

And was just about ready to amputate any fingers that got too close

We did manage to extricate it without anyone loosing any digits though

When we released it, it did stay around long enough to pose for the cameras!

Eventually our patience was rewarded and the real stars of the show put in an appearance.

Two mature, relatively unmarked female Blanding's Turtles.

As these were previously unrecorded individuals the first priority was to get a DNA sample from each of them so a small amount of blood was drawn from each turtle. One of the problems of working with endangered species is very often with a greatly reduced population comes the inevitable issue of a lack of genetic diversity so it is important that a genetic record of every known individual is kept.

As neither of the turtles were equipped with radio transmitters we also needed a record of identity for each of them. The most effective way of doing this is to take a photograph of the plastron.

Then, just because they are so beautiful we took a picture of their more photogenic angle!

Then we released them back in the same spot from were they came and watched them quickly slip below the waters surface and go back to their precarious existence.
I really do hope that this charming and elusive creature will be around the Midwest for a very long time to come.
I came away from the conference with a very long 'to do' list and the cautious hope that maybe we can save this beautiful turtle species.

Photo Credits - CJT & J Forberg