Don’t Eat That Ackee, Eve!

I’m fascinated by nature, and very much so when I’m traveling. The sight of a unique plant, or spotting unfamiliar wildlife, is always exciting!

IMG_3069

By the looks of the markings on this yellow bird, I believe I captured sight of a Jamaican Oriole while recently in Jamaica. Even from the first hours after our arrival there on a recent trip, I was in awe of the thriving bird life and all of the beautiful songs they presented…

IMG_3071

This hearty bird hopped about in the foliage so constantly (in search for seeds it appeared) that I could hardly get a proper picture of him. Only a few photos from many offered more than a flash of yellow…

IMG_3077

Though Indian Peafowl are kept in the U.S., to see this fella dancing about a potential mate (a peahen that fled from him into the bushes) was such a treat. Look how handsome he is! On several evenings, we noted a peahen taking safe perch for the night upon a thatched roof. It looked quite the comfortable nest…

IMG_3085

Hey little dude! Hunting for some juicy bugs? Carry on!

IMG_3057

Though Northern Mockingbirds can breed in Northern Illinois, they aren’t regulars. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen (or heard) one in the wild. In Jamaica, they are everywhere and their songs are simply incredible!

IMG_3090

Tropical flowers grew abundantly, their colors so vivid! They invited an army of hummingbirds to drink of their nectar…

IMG_3088

And when I saw this fruit ripening in a tree, my first thought was of how delicious it might be to pluck one down and take a bite! Any tropical fruit so pretty must taste divine! Good thing I didn’t follow my instinct…

IMG_3089

This, is the ackee (not to be confused with the acai berry), the tree of which migrated from Africa to Jamaica (most likely upon a slave ship) in the late 1700’s. It is the national fruit of Jamaica. However, to pluck it down and take a bite could prove fatal. At the very least, you would become very, very sick…

Akee

[Photo Credit: DocTaxon]

In order to eat of the fruit, it must first be fully ripe (splitting open on its own) or bad things will definitely happen. The fruity flesh is then to be removed away from the skin and seeds (these carefully discarded lest your beloved pet or child grab hold of the remnants and put them in their mouth). Next, the fruit is to be boiled for at least 5 minutes, or bad things yet could happen. The water is to then be immediately discarded, the fruit rinsed and then boiled a second time, because if not, bad things could still happen…this is one dangerous fruit!

IMG_4605

I therefore had to take a walk on the wild side and eat some. Ackee and saltfish is a traditional Jamaican dish. I had it for breakfast one glorious sunny morning to the sound of rich birdsong. With each bite, I had to wonder if this was like taking the risk of eating toxic puffer fish? I mean, what if the cook didn’t boil my ackee twice?

Just kidding! I wasn’t scared at all. What did it taste like? Like fish and fruit, looking like scrambled eggs masquerading on my plate. A little spicy, a little fishy, a little sweet. I liked it!

IMG_4606

Handsome on the other hand had pancakes made from a unique grain that morning. Fish for breakfast wasn’t quite to his taste, though he did take a nibble of my ackee and saltfish to see what it was like…

IMG_3117

How I love to travel, and how I love nature! However, I am ever being reminded to control my urges to simply grab out, or pet that cute insect (I think I was raised a little bit wild). Not everything is innocuous, some things are quite dangerous indeed. For instance, when I admired strands of cherry-looking berries hanging from one tree, a local said not to touch them, for the juice will burn the skin of your hand. Yikes!

Nature must be respected

IMG_3108

Of course, I still swam but a few feet away from a puffer fish while snorkeling in the shallows. He watching me, me watching him (terrified he might bring out the spines but too fascinated to swim away). And of course, I still had to get up close to this enormous insect nest, unable to live without knowing what was in there (I’m an entomologist in my heart)…

IMG_3107

But the point is, look don’t touch! Remember Eve of the Garden of Eden who grabbed out for that fruit? Nope, not every fruit is as sweet as it looks. Unless perhaps, you boil it twice!

Here is hoping you are enjoying your adventure today!

The Nests of Great Egrets

11/15/16: Update to this post…upon closer examination, these may indeed be Cattle Egrets rather than Great Egrets. When zooming in to the photos to get better details, I discovered tan plumage on heads and chests that is indicative of a Cattle Egret’s feathers during mating season. Further, orange-red legs point to a Cattle Egret as well, for Great Egrets have black legs. It was fun to make this mistake however, for it has sharpened my skills for future birding!

A few years ago on the Island of St. Lucia, while en route to ride out into the ocean’s waves, this amazing scene was to be found. I was in absolute awe of the abundant and beautiful life to be seen in these trees…

img_0382

When later researching these birds, I believed them to be Snowy Egrets, when in fact they are Great Egrets. Though both species are white, Snowy Egrets have black beaks and Great Egrets have orange. The activity here was so wonderful to see, these large birds and their nestlings all gathered together near the water’s edge…

img_0384

Great Egrets are members of the heron family of birds, which like to stalk their food in shallow waters (creatures like fish and frogs). They spear their catch with their beaks. In Illinois where I live, you might catch an occasional glimpse of one stalking fish in the waters of a conservation area during the warmer months, but these birds are truly lovers of tropical places. Since I’ve only ever seen a handful of lone egrets where I’m from, these trees filled with fuzzy headed egret babies just about took my breath away!

img_0383

Egrets pair up each mating season and produce blue-green eggs, which both mom and dad take turns sitting on. Their nest can be up to 3 feet wide and their little hatchlings are ready to fly out from the nest after 6 weeks old. Let me tell you, those babies are the cutest ever, with feathery, fluffy white heads! But don’t be fooled, these precious creatures grow up to be fierce aquatic hunters!

Here’s wishing you wonderful glimpses of nature today, and everyday…especially some that take your breath away!

Bringer of Peace

This beautiful creature was right outside my window early yesterday morning. He saw me, but didn’t fly away. I wondered if the dove wasn’t sick, as I’ve seen pigeons puff up and disregard people when they are (and doves are of the pigeon family). But it was just the cold, and this little perch was actually perfect for soaking in the rising sun.

IMG_2267

We frequently have lovely sets of doves in our yard. They nest in our neighborhood and often peck around for seeds in the grass. I stop and listen to their cooing. Doesn’t this beauty look so soft and precious?

IMG_2272.JPG

Unfortunately, we’ve had none of the fine April weather I’ve been hoping for. We’ve been having random snowfalls, which instantly melt in the sun, and then dump down from the next cloud, and then melt once more. One minute white, ten minutes later, all green again. Pretty odd, and chilly too! This little guy was waiting it out in the sun until the snow melted, which it did.

IMG_2276.JPG

He was resting on this little vine trellis. I love how these baby green vines are peeking out, soon to uncoil, climb and burst to life. These vines try to climb up the window in the summer, they are very hearty.

IMG_2277

The snowy path to our little secret garden…

IMG_2278.JPG

Where the shockingly bright green plants and the birdies are all having trouble deciding whether it is spring, or still winter…

IMG_2279.JPG

And the daffodils are quite sad in the snow (though they continuously perk up again as soon as the sun hits them)…

IMG_2275.JPG

But as for that dove…they say when one sits at your window, that they are bringers of peace. It is a reminder to your spirit to be still and forget your stresses. And don’t we all constantly wrestle with our inner worries and stresses?

I’m sharing the dove at my window with you, to bring you peace. Don’t let your stresses speak louder than your joys and comforts, for with every winter you weather, spring will come. A little birdie told me so…

Brainy Ravens

I’ve always joked that I love cats so much that I was destined to become a crazy-old-cat-lady. However, today I’ve had a change of heart. As much as I love cats, I think I might give being a crazy-old-raven-lady a try instead…

raven-242670_1280.jpg

In my next children’s book, Queen of the Elves, Queen Cloisinia has a pet raven. A pretty cool pet for an Elf Queen, and a lot of fun for this author too! I love nature, and I love looking things up. My first question was, isn’t a raven simply a big crow who signals imminent doom?

composing-168696_1280.jpg

Edgar Allan Poe had it all wrong…Raven Fun Facts!

Ravens are incredibly intelligent. “Ha-Ha you silly chimpanzees! Let’s duel with an IQ test!” Yes, ravens are smart, smart as monkeys.

They can problem solve. “Ha-Ha you silly scientist! Thought I couldn’t get this cheesy morsel out of your complicated mechanism? I’m a raven. Your games are no match for me!”

crow-631740_1280

They communicate like us. “Hey friend, look over there!” (They point things out to their companions using their beaks and get each other’s attention by picking things up to show one another, and they can replicate human speech as well as a ton of other random noises that the world throws their way).

They play dead (like opossums) next to their meals so that other hungry birds will stay away. “Hey dude, don’t go near that roadkill, there’s a dead raven, could mean trouble for us.”

raven-643511_1280

They’re handsome. Ok…I made that up, but look how beautiful that bird is!

They’re tricksters (they mimic the sounds of other beasts, like wolves, around dead prey. Why? So that a real wolf will come by and rip open the meat of the raven’s find, making it easier for him to pick at. I know, gross…but clever nonetheless.)

raven-73179_1280

Ravens are amazing birds! They play (click here)! They are funny (click here)! They are special (click here)! And listen to these vocals (click here)!

These are just a few of the reasons ravens are so interesting, and clearly why they’ve been kept as beloved pets as well. I think my Queen of the Elves got it right to keep a raven by her side, they’re fascinating!

Woodpeckers Wear Helmets

I had an odd thought the moment I woke up this morning. It was the very first thing to enter my brain when I opened my eyes…

bird-589653_1280

Usually my first thought is…

“Where’s the coffee!?” or “I’m starving, what am I going to have for breakfast?!” or “Croissants! Cinnamon Toast Crunch! Quiche! Cake! French Fries! Cheese! How should I start the day?”

But not today. Today it was, “How do woodpeckers peck like that without getting a headache?” Yup, that was my first thought. Was there a woodpecker pecking outside to inspire this question? Nope.

woodpecker-347116_1280

As soon as I could (after eating breakfast and having some coffee of course), I had to look it up. What did I learn?

Most importantly, these little dudes have an odd shaped bone (which looks like a crown that loops around their head) that acts like a safety belt to keep its skull snug in its place. In other species, this bone called the hyoid (much like a natural helmet), does not exist. Check it out here!

bird-1088252_1280

Also important, their skulls are less hard & more flexible than other birds’ (due to the way their skull bones are layered), thus they handle impact better.

great-spotted-woodpecker-325143_1280

Further, their top beak is longer, while the bottom is shorter and tougher. The bottom beak helps soak in the intense pecking of the top beak!

It is for those reasons that a woodpecker doesn’t need birdie aspirin. Now that I know this, I can officially start my day.

red-bellied-woodpecker-610723_1280

Woodpecker fun facts!

You may have to squint, but if you look at the tip of the beak on the woodpecker above, you’ll see his tongue. They have very long tongues (up to four inches) and they use them to help capture those delicious bugs they’re pecking for. “Ha-ha you grub! You cannot escape my long tongue!”

Woodpeckers don’t serenade and warble like other birdies. So how do the male woodpeckers attract a girlfriend? They peck out their love calls on hollow objects (like garbage cans, rotton tree trunks, the rain drain on your house). So the next time you wonder why that woodpecker is so silly to be looking for bugs by pecking on the tin of your roof (I’ve had that very thought)…he’s not looking for a meal, he’s looking for a date.

How fast can a woodpecker peck? 20 pecks per second. That’s nuts.

If you look at a woodpecker’s toes, they grow in two directions (front and back) so that they can grip and climb with ease, also using their very strong tail plumage to keep them steady as they perch and peck!

woodpecker-189657_1280

I’m really glad my honey doesn’t bang on hollow metal garbage cans to get my attention, as woodpeckers do when calling to their girlfriends. I don’t think that would go over very well!

A Garden Swan

We are blessed to have the Chicago Botanic Garden just a short 15 minute drive from our house. There are many gardens within the garden, illustrating different kinds (greenhouse, fruit & vegetable garden, Japanese garden, etc.). There is even an aquatic garden! I enjoy all of the gardens, but I really do love the English Walled Garden. It is filled with vine covered trellises, potted pretties and wooden benches, within a small walled garden (just the place to take a seat at any season to enjoy the outdoors).

CIMG1343

We’ve picnicked in the gardens, sat mesmerized by the birds. I’ve stuck my face into a few dozen rose bushes, chased after bugs…but I didn’t pick any flowers, that would be rude.

Garden.JPG

When I awoke to snow this morning after we had a glorious day yesterday (sunny and 45 degrees!), all I could think about was the spring that is to come. Even though we’ve had one very temperate winter, I am particularly looking forward to spring and summer’s warm days once more, and walks with my honey in the garden!

CIMG1397.JPG

The gardens host many wonderful birds, including swans that float majestically over the man-made lakes there, which spout glorious fountains. If I had a big estate with a lake, I’d own lots of swans and I’d give them each a name, and they’d follow me around the yard on my walks. I’m eccentric like that. I’d talk to them and tell them how pretty and handsome they were, just like above.

CIMG1398

Swan fun facts!

Swan couples mate for life. (Very sweet, I’m guessing that the male swan must bring the lady swan delicious algae to eat, gives her beaky kisses and tells her that she’s beautiful…the key to true love, of course).

People often believe that swans do not fly, but only swim around their lakes and ponds. However, they do fly (some of the largest flying birds), but need a long runway (at least 30 yards) to run before they can get off the ground. They can fly up to 60 miles per hour!

Swans sleep as they float in the water, or standing on one leg on land. (Just one…no shuteye if it is two legs.)

Swans get sick when they eat mold; stale bread is one thing, but don’t toss moldy bread to a swan. (They haven’t invented birdie antacid tablets yet).

Swans are very, very smart. (Like Santa Claus, they remember if you’ve been naughty or nice! So don’t go near their nest or throw them moldy bread, give them their space…and tell them they’re special, they like that.)

Here’s wishing you a day as lovely as a garden!

I’m a Cardinal…

Cue the music please:

I’m…too sexy for this yard…too sexy for this yard, too sexy yea!

IMG_2009.JPG

I’m a Cardinal, you know what I mean, and I do my little turn on the birdwalk…

IMG_2008.JPG

On the birdwalk, on my branch-walk, I do my little turn on the birdwalk…

IMG_2006.JPG

I’m…too sexy for this branch…too sexy for this tree, way…too…sexy…yea!

IMG_2004.JPG

I’m a Cardinal, you know what I mean…

One Majestic Bird

I was reviewing photos from a zoo outing I took with my folks a few years back and thought these were so lovely. This gorgeous bird (and a few of his friends) were allowed to roam the zoo outside of any enclosures, though it was clear that zoo staff kept a watchful eye on them with all the people so dazzled and close by. I was able to stand pretty close to observe, though hesitantly…to be chased by a peacock wouldn’t have been surprising for me, I just have that kind of luck.

CIMG2349.JPG

Fun fact…a peacock is a boy bird (with all the pretty feathers) while a peahen (the lady bird) is rather plain. Their babies are peachicks (awww) and after birth, the little dudes can run out of the nest after just a few days! Altogether, they are peafowl.CIMG2351.JPG

Isn’t he handsome! He’s looking for his gal so that he can strut his stuff.

CIMG2361.JPG

I didn’t see his lady friend, she must have been shyly sitting in the flower bushes to admire her boyfriend.

CIMG2362.JPG

It was a little windy and he was trying to keep his dance up, with some difficulty…

CIMG2363.JPG

The wind forced him around, but his lady got to admire his orange rear feathers. I think I heard her whistle!CIMG2350.JPG

Peafowl build their nests on the ground but like to get into the trees to sleep, safe away from predators. Like chickens, they peck around the ground for their grub. They love bugs, flowers and plant seeds, and also little water creatures like small fish and frogs…they even hunt lizards!

People also own them as pets, and like chickens, they will eat just about whatever you give them. You can fry up their eggs (about three times the size of a chicken’s egg), apparently they make a pretty good breakfast. The only problems with owning peafowl is that they really tear up the garden and they screech like something horrible. Well, I’d say they make up for their annoying voices with their looks!

An Autumn Poem

Today I took an autumn walk…

IMG_1579

The flowers made me forget the clock!

IMG_1580

The pinks, they blushed for all to see…

IMG_1583

And the yellows, filled my heart with glee!

IMG_1709

The robins gobbled plump juniper berries…

IMG_1699

IMG_1724

There were fresh smelling pine cones and fallen cherries!

IMG_1712

IMG_1726

The roses were so moving, they danced…

IMG_1713

And the bright fall leaves, they shook and pranced!

IMG_1719

That adorable squirrel had rather fuzzy ears!

IMG_1734

And these vines and leaves, they’ve crept for years.

IMG_1644

That seagull dove right at my head…

IMG_1664

And his friends thought that was funny!

IMG_1591

The ducks were having a pleasant swim…

IMG_1590

This drake was with his honey!

IMG_1630

All was well until the gulls swooped in,

and said “Give us all your money!”

IMG_1603

The three foot fishies, they frighten me…

IMG_1617

Summer swims bring nibbled toes, you see!

IMG_1736

I could go on and on with this nature talk…

IMG_1732

Let’s just say it was a berry beautiful walk!

Sparrows & Mice

CIMG2168

This morning, I heard Tiddo the cat having a conversation in the bedroom. It isn’t uncommon that he meows to himself or sits and meows to me (for three hours straight), but just now it seemed he was talking to someone even though he was alone. I walked into the room to investigate, as it was ongoing. And this is why you need to keep your camera close…

IMG_1426IMG_1427

Tiddo and a White-Throated Sparrow having a little chat at the window. The moment was endearing, though let’s be clear, Tiddo would have eaten the bird if there wasn’t a screen. He was just pretending to be nice to lure the unsuspecting birdie closer. They were talking about the nice weather.

IMG_1428IMG_1430

I’ve seen my cat in action, like the field mouse he cornered into my boyfriend’s shoe last month. And here below is the mouse that Tiddo brought to me in bed at two in the morning last winter. He dropped it into the bed next to me and meowed like crazy until I scolded him to go away. It was dark, and now awake, I got up to go to the bathroom. As I did, something fell from the bed next to me onto the floor and my toes touched it as I put my feet down. Tiddo wanted me to be proud of his catch, so I turned on the lights and made a big deal of praising him. I don’t condone killing any creature in my heart, but once Tiddo’s deed was done (something that is his nature and for which it was clear he wanted to share with me), what can I do?

IMG_0209

After I praised him, I promptly threw the dead mouse in the waste bin. In the wee hours of the morning, I heard that trash can tip over…Tiddo found his mouse and got it out of the trash. I guess he couldn’t understand why I’d waste a perfectly good and delicious mousie.

Birdie Buffet! Chirp, chirp!

It’s a lovely day here in Evanston and the cool fall weather we had a taste of several weeks ago has returned. Last night, we lit the fireplace and it was divine! I may have eaten an entire pizza while mesmerized before it, toasting my toes. This afternoon, I must take a long walk (darn you pizza) to soak in the outdoors since the snow will likely be here tomorrow (I’m only sort of kidding).

IMG_0757

We are very fortunate to live around a lot of green and trees. I’m a big fan of nature and wildlife, so I feel quite at home in my yard…except two nights ago when that skunk waddled through and the windows were open. I like to do a lot of writing on the porch. Studies show that getting outside does a world of good for your health in all sorts of ways, including making you a happier you.

IMG_0770IMG_0779

One of the things that make me smile and sing like a lark (tee-hee) are the birds in my yard! Now, I’m not sure, but I think living just a few blocks from Lake Michigan may have something to do with this; I believe we’re on some migratory route for birds. Most weeks, it’s just your usual Sparrows, Cardinals and Blackbirds. But then, on what seems like a single morning, the entire bird world descends on our yard and we see a lot of species we usually wouldn’t. It becomes rather chatty out there! Especially when the bird feeders are filled. Birdie buffet! Then a few days later, back to normal.

IMG_0582IMG_0583

Like this Indigo Bunting and his friend, a Red-Breasted Grosbeak.

IMG_0593

And this Goldfinch.

IMG_0590

Anyone know what this guy is? A Black-Headed Grosbeak or an Orange Oriole?

IMG_0588

I call this dude Helmet Head because I don’t know what he is, but he looks like he’s wearing a football helmet.

IMG_0347IMG_0346

And these two Woodpeckers that were searching for their meal on the same tree. My favorites are the Wrens and the Nuthatches…I just like how they flit around and walk upside down on the trees!

IMG_1396

My mother lent me her copy of Birds of North America by Robbins, Bruun, Zim & Singer, which I always keep nearby. It’s a lot of fun identifying our little guests!