Monkey Business

Blue Monkey, Mt. Kenya, Africa

Blue Monkey, Mt. Kenya, Kenya, Africa

With the Chinese New Year starting this week, in the Year of the Monkey, let’s take a look at some of the world’s monkeys.

 

There are 260 species of this primate in the world, and they are divided into two groups:  Old World and New World.  Old World monkeys live in Africa and Asia; New World are in South and Central America.

 

Primarily arboreal but sometimes ground-dwelling, this intelligent mammal usually lives in forests or savanna, and is active in daytime.  They all have a tail, and diet consists mainly of fruit and leaves, sometimes insects.  Gorillas and lemurs are not monkeys, but baboons are.  To learn more about monkeys click here.

 

Monkeys are famously fun for humans to watch.  They are playful, mischievous, tribal, and curiously similar to humans.  Go to any zoo, and this is where you will find the most human observers.

 

Blue Monkey, Lake Manyara, Tanzania, Africa

Blue Monkey, Lake Manyara, Tanzania, Africa

Here is a gallery of monkey photos, all taken by Athena, and a brief account of each sighting.  In addition, each species name is linked to Wikipedia for more information.

 

Blue monkeys are not really blue, and they are a female-bonded society living in Africa.  Sometimes the little bit of hair on the face gives the monkey a blue tinge.  Tree-dwelling.

 

Colobus Monkey, Mt. Kenya, Africa

Colobus Monkey, Mt. Kenya, Africa

We watched these elegant black-and-white colobus monkeys on a walking safari near Mt. Kenya.  Exclusive to Africa, and acrobats in the trees, they precariously flew from one treetop to the next.  They would land in a thatch of green leaves and tumble around until they gained purchase on a limb.

 

Olive Baboon, Tanzania, Africa

Olive Baboon, Tanzania, Africa

These olive baboons were prevalent in Tanzania and traveled together in large troops.  Dominated by the large males, they often groomed one another, and occasionally had minor social spats.   Papio anubis are the most wide-ranging of all baboons, living in 25 countries throughout Africa.

 

Brown Capuchin, Peru

Brown Capuchin, Peru

Brown capuchins joined us daily in a cloud forest in Peru, at Cock of the Rock Lodge in Manu National Park.

 

I have heard so many monkeys landing on our hut roofs in both the Old and New Worlds, that even when I hear something on the roof in a monkey-less land like California, my first thought is “monkey.”

 

Guatemalan Black Howler Monkey, Belize

Guatemalan Black Howler Monkey, Belize

Howlers are large monkeys, 22-36 inches long (56-92 cm), excluding the long prehensile tail.  Their beauty is their sound, a howling and growling that is unforgettable.  (Wikipedia link here, on the word “Howlers” above, includes a sound byte.)

 

I love watching monkeys.  They remind me to jump with joy, be active and curious, and tenderly tend to my loved ones.  Happy New Year!

 

All photos:  Athena Alexander

 

Super Bowl 50 in San Francisco

San Francisco City Hall with Super Bowl sign highlighting Super Bowl rings

San Francisco City Hall with Super Bowl sign highlighting Super Bowl rings

Super Bowl 50, the National Football League’s championship game and one of America’s most wildly popular activities, is now only three days away.  The San Francisco Bay Area is hosting this momentous event, and sizzling with activity.

 

The two opposing teams, the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos, will meet up this Sunday, February 7–known as Super Bowl Sunday.  It is the 50th Super Bowl.  More info here.

 

Super Bowl City and Ferry Bldg, SF

Super Bowl City and Ferry Bldg, SF

Although the game will be played at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, 50 miles south of San Francisco, there are numerous pre-game activities this week in both San Francisco and Santa Clara.  Both cities have been planning this event since the bid was won in May of 2013.

 

San Francisco has built a temporary village on Market Street called  Super Bowl City.  Residents have been receiving news articles and announcements for over two years; and now it is built, and loaded with spectators from around the country.

 

Super Bowl City overview, SF

Super Bowl City. Tallest bldg has light displays at night.

Free and open to the public, Super Bowl City is a week-long series of events.  Concerts, fireworks, marching bands, and booths are hosted at this heavily-secured venue.  An estimated one million people are expected to attend the festivities.

 

The City Stage, Super Bowl City, SF

The City Stage, Super Bowl City, SF

All Super Bowl Host Committees are required by the NFL to donate at least $1 million to charity.  San Francisco’s Super Bowl 50 Committee has announced it will dedicate 25 percent of the over $40 million raised, to Bay Area philanthropic causes.

 

Due to high viewership, advertising and media coverage for the Super Bowl is extensive.  Television ads, which have become a cultural phenomenon, are at an all-time high this year, with a 30-second advertisement base rate of $5 million.  More about Super Bowl ads here.

 

San Francisco

San Francisco

Last year’s Super Bowl had a record viewership of 114.4 million viewers.  The game will also be televised in Canada, Australia, Philippines, UK, and many European countries.

 

I am an avid football fan.  I record and watch every televised game all season long; enjoying the skill, athleticism, rules, strategies, players, and coaches.  I root for all the teams.

 

Levi's Stadium, 49ers game opening

Levi’s Stadium, 49ers vs Kansas City Chiefs, game opening

On Sunday you won’t find me in the stands of Levi’s Stadium.  I’ll be in front of the big screen TV, with friends and snack food, joining the celebration of one of America’s favorite traditions.

 

 

May the best team win….

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

Levi's Stadium, Oct. 2014

Levi’s Stadium, Oct. 2014

 

Levi's Stadium

Levi’s Stadium

Levi's Stadium food court

Levi’s Stadium food court

SB-City,-little-52

Happy fan

Super-Bowl-50-banner

 

African Waterbuck

Waterbuck, Kafue NP, Zambia, Africa

Waterbuck, Kafue NP, Zambia, Africa

Waterbucks are large African antelope that live south of the Sahara Desert.  They are cloven-hoofed ruminant mammals in the same family as domestic cattle (Bovidae).

 

Exclusive to Africa, there are 13 subspecies grouped into two races,  common and defassa.  Where the two races overlap there are hybrids.

 

Waterbuck herd, Kafue NP, Zambia

Waterbuck herd, Kafue NP, Zambia

A grazing mammal that also requires drinking water every day or two, waterbuck are found near water in savannah and grasslands.  Some grazing antelope, like sable, can eat grass and leaves for long periods of time without water; this makes their needs less particular.  Waterbuck are not this way, they are reliant on grass as well as water.

 

Waterbuck lack speed and endurance.  They depend on tall grass and woody vegetation for refuge from predators.  In the dangerous wilds of Africa, lion, leopard, hyena, and wild dogs prey on waterbuck.

 

Like many antelope, Kobus ellipsiprymnus are a sexually dimorphic species, meaning the male looks different than the female.  Males are taller and heavier than females, and have ridged horns with a sweeping backward arc.  The males weigh 500+ pounds each (226 kg), and females slightly less.  For more info, click here.

 

Both genders have shaggy coarse hair, reddish-brown or gray coats, and white facial markings and underparts.  The most distinguishing feature is the white rump patch (on the defassa) or elliptical rump ring (on common).

 

Waterbuck, Chobe River, Bostwana, Africa

Waterbuck, Chobe River, Bostwana, Africa

There are 72 different species of antelope in Africa.  Across a savannah populated by many different antelope species, it is the white rump markings that readily identify the waterbuck.

 

Defined as “sedentary” for not migrating, waterbuck are also territorial.  They have a social structure involving female herds, bachelor herds, and mixed family groups of up to 30.  Bachelor herds have a distinct social hierarchy based on size and strength, with various performance contests and displays.

 

They live approximately 18 years in the wild, with females giving birth to only one calf per season.  Although their conservation status is listed as “least concern,” the population is trending downward due to hunting and habitat loss.

 

Chobe River, Botswana, Africa

Chobe River, Botswana, Africa

Sometimes safari observers overlook waterbuck in lieu of psychedelic zebras or exotic elephants.  But sometimes it is just nice to sit and watch the waterbuck.

 

Actually, it is a sublime pleasure and honor to find waterbuck quietly grazing along the Chobe River.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

Sea Lions at Pier 39

Pier 39, California Sea Lions

Pier 39, California Sea Lions

A very popular tourist attraction at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco is the activity of wild California sea lions at Pier 39.

 

For many years the sea lions had been coming to the San Francisco Bay to eat herring, and other fish.  At breeding time, they would swim south, primarily to the Channel Islands.

 

The males especially migrate more, the females congregate near the breeding grounds, in southern California.

 

When not foraging, these pinnipeds usually haul their 700+ pound bodies onto shore (called “haul out”) to escape predators, rest, socialize, and/or regulate their temperature.

 

Then one year, January of 1990, everything changed.  The sea lions decided that instead of hauling out onto the shore, the Pier 39 boat dock would do just fine.  (Some folks speculated it had something to do with the Loma Prieta earthquake a few months earlier, but no one really knows.)

 

Pier 39

Pier 39

As the days turned into weeks, heated discussion ensued about what to do with the sea lions.  Boaters, who no doubt paid a hefty fee to dock here, didn’t like the large animals interloping on their docking space.

 

The nearby Marine Mammal Center was consulted, and it was eventually decided that the sea lions could have the dock, humans would relocate their boats.

 

A few times the sea lions disappeared for a few months–experts had varying opinions–but they always returned.  And they have been here ever since.

 

The population numbers vary.  The maximum number counted, in November of 2009:  1,701.  It is mostly males, but females are here too.

 

Pier 39

Pier 39

For more info on Zalophus californianus, click here.

 

Click here for Pier 39 sea lion info and the Sea Lion Webcam.

 

The sea lions are wild, they come and go as they please, they are not fed.    In fact, feeding sea lions (and any other marine mammal) is illegal in the U.S., info here.

 

When I’m down at the docks, I watch the humans as much as I watch the sea lions.  Spectators are so excited and animated, filming movies, taking photos, doing selfies.

 

Pier 39, San Francisco, California

Pier 39, San Francisco, California

And what’s not to love?  The sea lions bellow and bark, “walk” on all fours, wobble and roll.  When they get a little hungry, they plop into the water and swim off.  Later dude.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

 

Oropendola

Montezuma Oropendola, Belize

Montezuma Oropendola, Belize

Although common in certain parts of Mexico, Central, and South America, this bird is not seen in most of the world.  A New World bird, there are ten different species.

 

Large and vocal, oropendolas can be found in forests or open woodland, where they forage primarily on large insects and fruit.

 

Montezuma Oropendola, Costa Rica

Montezuma Oropendola, Costa Rica

The photos here feature two species, Montezuma and Chestnut-headed, taken in three different countries: Belize, Costa Rica, and Peru.

 

Oropendolas have similarities to their cousins in the Icteridae Family.  They are boisterous like blackbirds, colorful like orioles, and sizeable like grackles.

 

Chestnut-headed Oropendola, Costa Rica

Chestnut-headed Oropendola, Costa Rica

The male Montezuma Oropendola is 20 inches (50 cm) long, the male Chestnut-headed is 14 inches (35 cm) long; females are smaller.  Add to that their flashy colors and loud calls, this is a bird that is blissfully easy to spot.

 

They are colonial nesters, so they travel and breed in flocks.  Their social structure involves a dominant male in a polygamous situation, and flocks can have 30, 50,  or more birds.  More oropendola info here.

 

Montezuma oropendola on nest, Belize

Montezuma oropendola on nest, Belize

Nests of the oropendola are hanging, and woven with fibers, vines, and Spanish moss.  We came upon an  active colony in Belize at Mayan ruins, where the birds were conspicuously swooping in the treetops.

 

But of all the magnificent characteristics of this bird, it is the magical, other-worldly gurgling song that makes you stop in your tracks.  Listen here.

 

Oropendola nests, Peru

Oropendola nests, Peru

For a birder, it is a supreme thrill to travel to a country and be reunited with a species that you only see in certain parts of the world.  Then back home, at my desk, I smile; knowing that the oropendola’s flutey music is no doubt fluttering at this moment through the leaves of the Costa Rican forest.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

 

On Being Busy

Beehive on Tree, Zambia

Beehive on Tree, Zambia

“Those who are wise won’t be busy, and those who are too busy can’t be wise.”

~~Lin Yutang, The Importance of Living

 

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

Beehive, Zambia

Beehive, Zambia

Mount McKinley Up Close

Mount McKinley, blue ice in center

Mount McKinley, blue ice in center

We had reservations to take a flight up to Ruth Glacier, one of the five glaciers on Mount McKinley, in Alaska.

 

It was to be the highlight of our two week adventure.  But when we arrived at Talkeetna Air Taxi (info here), we learned our flight had been cancelled due to bad weather.   No flights on that August day.

 

Mount-McKinley-flightAfter re-arranging our trip and making a number of adjustments, we came back a week later, and were able to take our “flightseeing” trip.

 

Mt. McKinley, Alaska. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Mount McKinley is the highest mountain peak in North America, at an elevation of 20,310 feet.  Like all huge mountains, McKinley has its own weather system.  Many people have visited the area and never had the chance to see it, so often it is shrouded in fog.  More about McKinley (aka Denali) here.

 

Our ascent could only be described as dreamy.  Even though the plane was tiny, and rattling, we had been given headphones with relaxing music.  Snow looked like fluffy carpeting, everything below was miniature, unrecognizable — it was all so surreal.

 

Mount McKinley, note size of plane in center toward right

Mount McKinley, note size of plane in center toward right

This photo, with a plane in the center for comparison, shows how massive this mountain range is.

 

The 40 mile long glacier has 5,000 foot granite cliffs.  Due to the steepness, there was a lot of spiraling to descend.

 

Ruth Glacier's granite walls and plane

Ruth Glacier’s granite walls and plane

When it was nearly time to land, our pilot hand-cranked the landing gear into position.  Not wheels, like on runways, but skis.  There was thumping and squeaking, and lots of arm action, as he lowered the landing gear, prepared to land.

 

With no landing strip or flashing beacons, four snowboards jammed lengthwise into the ice were the landing guideposts.

 

Jet on Ruth Glacier

Jet on Ruth Glacier

We slid and bounced and finally came to a stop, and eventually stepped out onto this cold and icy, completely silent, shoulder of beautiful McKinley.

 

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander unless otherwise noted