Readers’ wildlife photos

April 11, 2021 • 8:15 am

It’s Sunday, so we resume our series of themed bird photos by John Avise. John’s notes are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

Avian Stretches

Much like us, birds can display a wide variety of different poses when stretching.  From stretching their wings, to stretching their legs, to stretching their neck or back, this type of activity can result in many different postures, each typically held for just a second or two.  Some stretches may also be associated with or incorporated into other avian behaviors, such as sunbathing or courtship rituals.  This batch of photos shows a variety of birds captured during diverse stretching exercises.  Except where otherwise noted, all pictures were taken in North America.

Cinnamon Teal, Anas cyanoptera:

Blue-winged Teal, Anas discors:

Lesser Scaup, Aythya affinis:

American Avocet, Recurvirostra americana:

Another American Avocet:

Marbled Godwit, Limosa fedoa:

Another Marbled Godwit:

Willet, Catoptrophorus semipalmatus:

Another Willet:


Western Sandpipers, Calidris mauri:

Black-necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus:

Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna:

Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis:

Blue-footed Booby, Sula nebouxii (Galapagos Islands):

Snow Goose, Chen caerulescens:

Ducks and Texas BBQ

March 29, 2021 • 3:15 pm

First a few shots from Chicago, and then. . . . today’s lunch in Texas!

Yesterday someone brought a beautiful English shorthaired cat on a leash to Botany Pond. The cat didn’t look like it enjoyed it at all: it was hunkered down and appeared frightened. And it certainly wasn’t walking as if it were used to a leash.

Scared cat is circled:

Then a quick trip to the harbor behind the Museum of Science and Industry where, I was told, there were mergansers. And there were: lots of them. Some were diving, though I can’t be arsed to either look up the species, see what they eat, or if the brown vs. black-and-white ducks represent a sexual dimorphism. Readers can answer these questions:

Punk duck:


And a damn Canada goose, the bane of all waterways:

Then, on to Texas! The two-hour flight was uneventful, and we were even offered drinks and snacks (I refused). I rented a car at the Austin airport, and within an hour I was in the Barbecue Capital of Texas: the small town of Lockhart (population about 13,000). It boasts three of the best BBQ joints in the state (ergo in America): Kreuz Market, Smitty’s, and Black’s. I had to choose one, and since the last time I was here Black’s was the best, I returned. The other two places weren’t nearly as crowded today.

The exterior of Black’s, in this location since 1932.

The interior is austere, as is seemly for all good BBQ joints. You’re there to eat, not admire the view. You wait in line, first getting sides, then you encounter the Meat Guy and tell him what you want: brisket, sausages, or ribs. Drinks (sweet tea is essential) are on the side.

The “feminist” restrooms. “Women are always right.”

The meat guy slicing my brisket (I had two “moist”, or fatty, slices). Briskets are smoked in the rear.

My lunch: two slices of BBQ beef brisket (the speciality of Texas), a jalapeno-cheddar sausage, raw onion, pickles, black-eyed peas with green beans, potato salad, two slices of squishy white bread, a scoop of banana pudding with vanilla wafers (fantastic), and, of course, sweet tea.

Since I hadn’t eaten all day, this filled me up nicely.

The other two places in Lockhart. Kreuz Market (pronounced “Krites” with a long “i”) and Smitty’s.

I passed these places up as I plan on having only one big meal per day.

A poseur in town! Famous banana pudding my tuches!

The lovely old Lockhart city hall. This really is a classic small Texas town, with a central square on which converge small streets lined with local businesses:

I’m now digesting in nearby Luling, where I plan to go to the place where I had the best BBQ I remember in America: the City Market. Brisket is usually best without sauce, but they have an absolutely addictive sauce that puts their brisket over the top. I hope it’s as good as I remember.

I plan to go when it opens at 10 a.m., as BBQ is best right when taken off the smoker in the morning.


Sunday ducks: pictures and movies

March 28, 2021 • 2:45 pm

The hens seem to have chosen their nesting spots, with Dorothy now sitting and spending the night on the same third-floor windowsill above the pond where she incubated eggs last year—twice. Honey, to our relief, seems, to have decided to build her nest also facing the pond this year, as there’s a hawk nest on the other side of the building. Honey and Dorothy will soon be sitting on eggs on the third floor of Erman Hall, with one hen at each end of the row of windows. This means, of course, that they might produce ducklings at about the same time, but we won’t think about that now.

The other day I hear a rustling on my office windowsill, and thought it was squirrels scurrying about. But it was a LOUD rustling, and I opened the blinds to find Dorothy and Shmuley sitting on my windowsill. When I peeked out at them to take a photo, they got spooked and flew away. I wouldn’t want them nesting there anyway, but perhaps they were just up there for the view. This is the first time I’ve had ducks outside my window:

(Click the pictures to enlarge them.)

Here’s the Armada. Left to right: Honey, Dorothy, and Shmuley. All three ducks are in excellent condition.

The two hen friends. You should by now be able to tell Honey and Dorothy apart.

Dorothy surveys the world from her future nest site:

For a while Honey sat in the windowsill on the non-pond side of the building, which was not good because her ducklings would have had to jump onto a cement porch (last year Facilities built a mulch-filled trampoline there). But she changed her mind, probably because about 40 feet away some red-tailed hawks had built a nest. Here she is, sitting tall and proud, before she changed venues:

The other morning Dorothy and Honey had a quackfest, with Dorothy sitting up on her third-floor windowsill and Honey standing below by the pond. They quacked at each other for about half an hour. Here’s how it began, with Dorothy looking around. Look how she can turn her neck about 180 degrees!

Dorothy in full quack mode:

A head shot of the lovely Dorothy. Look at those beautiful brown eyes!

More of the Quackfest:

Honey quacking back (you can hear both hens going at it), and walking toward Dorothy:


The resplendent drake Shmuley, who’s probably going to be the father of both broods.

He has a fine iridescent green-and-purple head:

All of the Armada, but especially Honey and Shmuley, go after interloper ducks in the pond, and don’t rest until they’re driven away. Here’s Shmuley going after Clinton, the mate of our ballerina duck Misty (she doesn’t come around any more).

Honey helps with the pond-clearing. Note her “clucking” sound: noises she makes only when being aggressive:

Some of the members of Team Duck (the gang of helpers who tend the adults and ducklings), contemplating the upcoming season.


A trio of fat, lazy mallards

March 26, 2021 • 5:00 pm

In honor of Honey’s fame today, and because it was cold, Shmuley, Honey, and Dorothy were given three huge meals. I suspect the hens are hungry because they’re building up reserves for nesting, while Shmuley needs his energy to chase away interlopers.

There were no interlopers today, and the pond was peaceful. It was a good day. Honey still seems to be windowshopping, perhaps because red-tailed hawks have built a nest only about 40 feet away from the spot where she nested last year—on the wrong side of the building flanking the pond. I’ll be glad if she nests where she did two years ago: several floors up, on the pond side, and above soft dirt. That’s far enough from the hawks to make us worry a bit less.

Dinner was early as usual: about 2:30 p.m., and every duck ate like a pig. They wouldn’t stop gulping down duck pellets and mealworms!  Finally, when they were sated, they crawled onto the banks, crops swollen with food, preened a bit, and immediately sacked out.

Here they are in what we call “dumpling mode.”  Left to right: Dorothy, Honey (bill under her wing, as it was chilly) and Shmuley. iPhone photo by Jean Greenberg.

Look at those swollen crops!

What adventures lie ahead this season?

Mary Schmich’s new Tribune column on my ducks

March 26, 2021 • 9:00 am

On Wednesday, famed columnist Mary Schmich, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her Chicago Tribune columns, came to Botany Pond with Trib photographer Antonio Perez. I had emailed her that Honey and Dorothy had arrived, and she wanted to continue her series (two last year: here and here) on the remarkable duck who’s come here five years in a row. (I think Honey now deserves an honorary degree from the University of Chicago!)

And so Mary wrote a great column (below) in which Honey gets top billing, so to speak. I was not expecting her to want to write another piece, but she told me that Honey’s tale is a great human interest story and she’s gotten tons of positive feedback on it. You can access the column here, or by clicking on the screenshot below. If for some reason you’re out of town and/or paywalled, judicious inquiry can yield the piece.

I am grateful to Mary for taking an interest and writing such heartwarming stuff, and also to Mr. Perez for his photos. (One is shown below, which shows Honey’s distinctive bill patterns.) The U of C facilities people, of course, have been instrumental in protecting the ducks and ducklings.

(One is shown below, which shows Honey’s distinctive bill patterns.)

Monday ducks: nesting about to start

March 22, 2021 • 11:30 am

The ducks are behaving oddly, with Dorothy and Honey quacking at each other from a distance, or both ducks quacking at Shmuley when he’s not around (they demand his presence), and there’s a general refusal to eat at times.  I think what’s going on is that the hens are preparing to nest, and somehow (I can’t enter a duck’s brain), this has got them riled up.

The other day we saw Dorothy “window shopping”, sitting on the third-floor ledges of Erman Hall, sometimes in the very same window where she nested (twice) last year. So far she hasn’t built anything. Here she is in the window next to where she nested last year.

Sometimes, however, she sits on the roof of Erman and quacks loudly.

Spot the hen!

Look closer. . . . .

There she is—on the roof! (I hope she doesn’t nest in a gutter!)

Dorothy quacking from her rooftop perch. She does this even when there are no ducks around. Go figure. . .

First Dorothy quacked when she was the only duck around, but then Honey came to the pond, sat on the bank, jumped in to the water, and then both hens quacked at each other for a long time. Go figure. . .

Here’s a video of Honey on the bank quacking at Dorothy on the roof, whom you can hear quacking back. Then Honey jumps in the water and joins Shmuley. Dorothy came down and joined them both a few minutes later, and they finally got a meal.

Here’s Honey quacking in the pond.

Honey has also been “window shopping,” which is the name we give to “looking for a nest site”. So far she’s been seen on the first-floor windows—too close to the ground for my taste:

The lovely long-necked hen Misty is still around, but we are not feeding her in the hope that she leaves. It’s sad to not feed such a graceful mallard, but this is tough love. We want at most two broods in the pond this year. Here’s Misty quacking:


Tuesday duck photos and videos

March 16, 2021 • 2:00 pm

Life continues at Botany Pond, and new life is brewing! Honey and Dorothy are still inseparable companions, always joined by Shmuley the Drake. Neither has started nesting yet, for the weather is still dicey. But once they begin making a nest, ducklings will appear within five weeks or so (they lay one egg per day followed by simultaneous incubation of all the eggs, which takes 28-29 days). Last year, Dorothy’s ducklings appeared on May 5 and Honey’s on May 7, which of course led to a fracas and Honey’s ducknapping of all the babies. But she was a good mom. Dorothy renested and produced a new brood of six, which she kept.

Here’s my gal Honey.

Dorothy having a nap, closing one eye at a time:

And the trio, which we call the Armada as they always steam across the pond together, forcing all other ducks to flee. Can you tell Dorothy from Honey?

Honey is relatively silent, and I’ve rarely heard her quack. But here she opens her bill and sounds off:

Honey and Shmuley are the alpha female and male of the pond, and Dorothy is the beta female. Here they are chasing the other ducks off Duck Plaza. Note Honey holding her head by her side and bobbing it up and down—a sure sign of aggression—and then charging in the aggressive posture with head down and neck extended.

First turtle of the season! There are many, but they emerged only when the weather was warm the other day. We will see many more in days to come:

A formal portrait of Honey. She’s in excellent shape, putting on the fat before she starts nesting (hens lose about 30% of their body weight during the month they sit on eggs).

This behavior was new to me. An itinerant hen invaded the pond and swam very low to the water, holding her head low and parallel to the surface while sweeping it back and forth. I’m told that this is a solicitation for copulation. The two videos below show that behavior.

New hen, who dat? We have a new hen at the pond that we cannot resist feeding. She is the very graceful Misty, named after the ballerina Misty Copeland. We called her that because her neck is very long and graceful, and she’s thin like a ballerina. When she first showed up about two weeks ago, she was skinny and starving: I’ve never seen a hen eat so much! But now she’s getting up to speed, and we’ve decided to feed her along with Dorothy and Honey and Shmuley.

Misty has a drake boyfriend, too; we call him Clinton. That’s after Clint Eastwood, who starred in the movie “Play Misty For Me.”

Look at the neck on that duck!


Readers’ wildlife photos

March 13, 2021 • 8:00 am

Remember to send in your good wildlife photos (travel photos count). And to the kind readers who have contributed the last week.

Today’s contributor is Bob Fritz, who sends us some bird pictures. Bob’s notes and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them:

Bird photographs were taken at San Joaquin Wildlife Preserve in Irvine, California. This marsh is both a water reclamation facility and a wildlife refuge.
American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos), gracefully resting near the reeds:


The bird slowly approached, providing the opportunity to get a closeup view.  Using a 600 mm telephoto helps!

Not sure if this is an Allen’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna), or maybe a Rufous (Selasphorus rufus)?


Cinnamon Teal (Spatula cyanoptera):


Cinnamon Teal (Spatula cyanoptera):

Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca) – American subspecies:

Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca):

Northern Shoveler (Spatula clypeata) male:

Northern Shoveler (Spatula clypeata) female:

Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor).  These birds are swift flyers as they pursue their insect prey.

Tree Swallow hovering before landing at the nest:

Tree Swallow male: