Celebrating Pollinators

Grey-headed Flying Fox, Sydney, Australia

Grey-headed Flying Fox, Sydney, Australia

They make our world a better place.

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

 

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Lake Baringo Island Village

Njemps Village, Lake Baringo, Kenya

Njemps Village, Lake Baringo, Kenya

One day in the Rift Valley we took a boat across the lake to a remote island village.  We visited the Njemps village on Lake Baringo in Kenya.  The island was small enough that when you stood at the center you could just about see the entire village.

 

Some sources say that the Njemps tribe are originally part of the Maasai or Samburu clans.  They were once a pastoral group, but they gave up their nomadism to settle down at Lake Baringo. The Lake is fresh water, and about 50 square miles and slightly over 3,000 feet deep.

 

When our motor boat arrived, we stepped out onto their island and a few villagers greeted us, helped us out of the boat.  Their branch-constructed fishing boats dotted the grassy village entranceway.  Apparently, in the Lake community they are well regarded for these boats, in which they fish among the Nile crocodiles and hippopotamus.

 

An English-speaking village representative walked with us along the acacia tree paths and told us of their way of life.  We were shown their mud and dung huts, with clean-swept dirt floors and crowded sleeping quarters.

Fishing boats

Fishing boats

 

The people here eat plenty of fish, and farm goats.  I watched a woman sitting on a five gallon bucket of cooking oil, fry tilapia on an open fire.  Some industrious villagers had polished their handmade gourds and jewelry to sell to us.

 

Young goatherders

Young goatherders

There was a shy hush across this small village as our group of ten respectfully and quietly walked through.  The little children were quiet and hidden behind their parents, and the adolescents and young adults kept their distance, warily watching from the shade of the huts.

 

Lake-Baringo,-Kenya-(shoppi

 

I’d like to say that even without a common language, they welcomed us with the universal language of warmth and kindness.  But that would be overly sentimental and untrue.  Because although they opened their community to us, mostly they just stared at us, and waited for us to leave; and I understood this.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

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Platypus Play

Platypus, Australia

Platypus, Australia

It wasn’t by accident that we spotted this platypus one dark morning in Queensland, Australia.  Over ten years earlier on a trip Down Under we had spent many hours searching after consulting with local rangers, and came up with a fun adventure, but not a “plattie.”

 

So this second trip we budgeted for a guide and asked him where we could find a playtpus, and he led us right to it.  Here’s a link to a post I wrote last year about how we eventually found this delightful monotreme (egg-laying mammal).

 

Ornithorhynchus anatinus lives on the eastern coast of Australia and in Tasmania, and although its conservation status is “Least Concern,” many natives and visitors have never seen one.  They like quiet, cool, and dark conditions, and spend most of their time under water or in riverside burrows.  With their duck-like bill and beaver tail, platypus hunt for freshwater shrimp and insect larvae, utilizing special electrolocation sensors in their bill. 

 

For defense, the males have an ankle spur that releases venom that is strong enough to kill a dog and impair a human.  But that wasn’t a problem for us that day.  I still smile as I think about us trundling alongside that river in the rain and dark dawn, hoping to see the playtpus.  And when we did, it was all I could do to suppress the urge to howl with happiness.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

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Crossing the Zambezi

Waiting for the ferry beside the Zambezi River

Waiting for the ferry beside the Zambezi River

I had the curious pleasure of crossing a section of the Zambezi River where four African countries converge:  Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Namibia.  I remember being sandwiched next to a man with a mop.

 

The Kazungula Ferry transports pedestrians, semi-trucks, and everything in between. There were local merchants and residents crossing the river for a day’s work, as well as tourists like myself and my three traveling friends, and truck drivers who had waited two days to cross.

 

The Kazungula Ferry, Africa

The Kazungula Ferry, Africa

The Zambezi River has strong currents and powerful force, and eventually empties into the Indian Ocean.  At this juncture in the river you can see across to the other side, it’s only a miles or two.  A bridge here would be brilliant.  But due to the warring politics and border disputes of these countries, they have not built a bridge to cross this minor expanse.  There was an “agreement” and talks in 2007, but this has not yet materialized into a bridge.

Zambia-Botswana border crossing

Zambia-Botswana border crossing

It’s a spirited place in the world with many different African ethnic groups, border control officials, tourists, strong winds, and sparkling waters.  The lives of the people in this region would be so much more prosperous if they could use a bridge to cross the river.

 

But for now, we all gather at the river’s edge and wait for that diesel-spewing ferry to carry us.

 

Zambia-Botswana Border Customs Office
Zambia-Botswana Border Customs Office

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

 

 

 

The two-day truck line

The two-day truck line

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Fork-tailed Flycatcher

Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Belize

Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Belize

One’s eyes are so accustomed to seeing stubby or short tails on a bird, that when a bird flies by with a ten inch tail, everyone just stops and watches…or at least I do.

 

Tyrannus savana, pictured here, was photographed in Belize.  But there are several other long-tailed birds like the scissor-tailed flycatcher, resplendent quetzal, and the paradise flycatcher to name a few.  The long tail is helpful to the bird in providing balance and agility as it swoops and darts in the air, catching insects.

 

Of all the long-tailed birds I’ve had the blissful pleasure of watching, not one ever got their tail caught in branches, thorns, or treetops.  That’s one more marvel of nature to celebrate.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

 

 

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Tread Lightly

Black Oystercatcher, California coast

Black Oystercatcher, California coast

“It is our task in our time and in our generation to hand down undiminished to those who come after us, as was handed down to us by those who went before, the natural wealth and beauty which is ours.”  ~~ John F. Kennedy

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

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Giraffes Galore

Thornicroft giraffe, Zambia

Thornicroft giraffe, Zambia

Most people are familiar with giraffes as the tall, long-necked animal who lives in Africa.  And although this is correct, giraffes don’t all look the same, they are in fact very different from one another.

 

There are nine different subspecies in the Giraffidae Family (click here for more info).  They live in all different parts of Africa and are distinguished from one another by their coat patterns.

 

Reticulated Giraffe, Kenya

Reticulated Giraffe, Kenya

Although each subspecies varies in size, the average height of giraffes is 16-20 feet tall; the males generally weigh 2,600 pounds, while the females weigh around 1,800 pounds.

 

The tallest mammal in the world, adult giraffes do not have too many animal predators because they can see so far.  Crocodiles can be a problem for adults drinking water.  But it’s the offspring who are vulnerable primarily to lions, wild dogs, and hyenas.  Predators have to survive a hard, mean kick from the parent.

 

Named Twiga in Swahili, they are protected now in most of their range, but hunting and loss of habitat have diminished the giraffe population. While the entire species holds a “Least Concern” conservation status, some of the subspecies are dwindling close to extinction.  Of the two giraffe subspecies photographed here, there are only 1,500 Thornicroft individuals and 5,000 Reticulated individuals left in the wild.

 

They can often be seen in loose herds feeding on acacia treetops.  With a flexible upper lip and long prehensile tongue, they gobble down leaves on the world’s thorniest branches.  It seems impossible for any living being to eat leaves among those three inch, spiky thorns, but the giraffe moves through a treetop without incident.  Their special tongue is long (20 inches) and black; and is covered with papillae (protuberances)  to protect against the thorns.  Seeing that black tongue through the binoculars is pretty fun.  It’s actually sort of dark purple-black.

 

Thornicroft Giraffe, Zambia

Thornicroft Giraffe, Zambia

Unlike horses who gave various gaits, giraffes only walk or gallop.  When they do, their long legs and short trunk distribute their weight on the right or the left, creating an ambling walk.  The long neck moves in synchrony, always maintaining the balance of this towering animal.  Running is even more dramatic because the long tasseled tail pops from side to side.

 

 

Thornicroft Giraffe, Botswana

Thornicroft Giraffe, Botswana

I love all the animals on the African savannah.  But sitting in that safari jeep as I listen to the guides talking in Swahili, when I hear “Twiga,” I light up and get ready.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

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