Wildlife in the NFL

Male Lion, Serengeti, Africa

 

The affinity people have for animals is deeply rooted in our past, and continues to this day. All around us are signs of animal love, even in America’s National Football League. Since we are currently in the clutches of the NFL playoff season, let’s take a fun look at wildlife-based team names.

 

Of the 32 NFL teams, nearly half echo wildlife species: five are birds, ten are mammals. (Many mascots, major, and minor league teams have wildlife themes as well–too many to cover here.)

 

In no specific order, the first photo represents the Detroit Lions. Then there are the:

 

Seattle Seahawks

Osprey in Mexico

 

Los Angeles Rams

Male Bighorn Sheep aka Rams, Colorado

 

Baltimore Ravens

Common Raven, Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California

 

Buffalo Bills

African Buffalo, Botswana

 

Atlanta Falcons

Laughing Falcon, Belize

 

Most of the NFL animal names conjure up images of toughness, but not all. The Dolphins, for example, are not an intimidating mammal; and Colts don’t leave me trembling. But Bengals, Jaguars and Panthers, yes, they are wild animals we don’t want to mess with. Broncos can be dangerous, but the amplified horse neigh sound in the Denver stadium is more entertaining than scary.

 

If you’re wondering about my favorite team, I have many. I hail from a long line of Cheesehead ancestors, diehard fans of the Green Bay Packers. My cousin, for example, did a eulogy at my mother’s funeral wearing a giant yellow foam cheese wedge on her head.

 

Beyond what I was born into, my next favorite team is Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. This is a cake I baked last year for Super Bowl Sunday, with Tom Brady on top.

 

Super Bowl cake with Tom Brady on top

 

More teams include the:

Philadelphia Eagles

Bald Eagle, California

 

Arizona Cardinals:

Red-crested Cardinal, Hawaii

 

I don’t just follow two teams, I follow them all. I have numerous favorite quarterbacks, and dozens of favorite offensive and defensive players.

 

I enjoy the game for the athleticism, strategy, complexity, excitement, and ingenuity. The drive for excellence is endlessly inspiring to me.

 

But my football merriment is nothing in comparison to many fanatical fans. We took these photos from the television in a recent nail-biter playoff game.

 

Philadelphia Eagles fan

 

Chicago Bears fan

 

And since we’re talking about football, how could Jet Eliot mention NFL team names without a nod to the Jets?

for the New York Jets

 

For the next few weeks we will be celebrating the completion and winner of the 2018-2019 football season. It’s great to have these burly teams showcasing the same wildlife that many of us revere.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

All photos by Athena Alexander.

Wikipedia links: National Football League and American Football Positions

 

Chicago Bears

Grizzly Bear, Alaska

 

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Winter Ducks and More

Green-winged Teal, male

This time of year we are greeted in Northern California by half a million ducks. They literally flock to the mild winter climates of the Pacific Flyway; spend the winter here, and then in late January or February head north to their breeding grounds.

Green-winged Teal, Cosumnes River Preserve

The Pacific Flyway is a bird migration route that extends from Alaska down to Patagonia; it runs through central California. The area featured here, the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex, encompasses several refuges and is centered near California’s capital city, Sacramento. But these migratory birds can be found in winter throughout the Flyway, in numerous refuges spanning the state.

 

Here are six of my favorite migrating ducks. Each duck species breeds in a different place; I have linked each one for more information.

 

The Green-winged Teal, with its dazzling green eye patch, is one of the smallest ducks we have in North America. They are abundant in wetlands, preferring shallow ponds.

 

Buffleheads have some kind of magic over me because no matter what I am doing, I always stop to observe this stunning duck. From a distance the male looks black and white, but in certain revelatory light the black on his head is actually iridescent patches of green and purple.

 

Bufflehead pair; male, left; female, right

 

It rains in winter a lot (if we are lucky), and I don’t mind that; but it’s the sunny days when the Cinnamon Teal glows a spectacular burnished red.   Typical of teals, this species is a small duck, and sexually dimorphic (males and females exhibit different physical characteristics).

 

Cinnamon Teal pair, male in front.

 

Mating pair of Cinnamon Teal

 

Then there’s the Northern Pintail. An elegant duck with a long neck and pointy pin-style tail. They can be found in many other northern continents.

 

Northern Pintail, male, Colusa Nat’l. Wildlife Refuge, Calif.

 

Northern Pintails at Sacramento NWR

 

Similar to the pintail in size is the northern shoveler. Northern Shovelers can be mistaken for mallards due to their similar color patterns…until you look closely at the spatulate bill. Named for its shovel-like bill, the northern shoveler is yet another stunner whether floating or flying.

 

Male Northern Shoveler

 

Northern Shoveler, California

 

Bigger than teals and smaller than shovelers, the American Wigeon is another migrating duck commonly seen in the winter Pacific Flyway. They breed in much of Canada and Alaska, and spend their winters in milder parts of the U.S.

American Wigeon, male

American Wigeon pair, male on right

 

I would be remiss if I didn’t give you a few photos of other winter denizens of the area. Not ducks at all, the following winter birds add a flair of avian beauty to the waters.

 

Sandhill cranes congregate every winter in the shallow fields.

 

Sandhill Cranes in rice field

 

Bald eagles get their feet wet, too.

 

Bald Eagle, Sacramento NWR, California

 

We found this flock of White-faced Ibis hopping around in a frenzy one rainy afternoon. They use their long sickle-shaped bills to probe for snails, crayfish, fish, and frogs.

 

Flock of White-faced Ibis, Colusa NWR

 

White-faced Ibis

 

Geese are easily the most abundant wintering migrant to the Pacific Flyway, numbering in the hundreds of thousands. Ducks and geese in this Complex tally ten million.

 

Snow Geese

 

If you have the occasion to be in Northern California, it is well worth a few days of winter adventuring to spend time here. But don’t wait, most of the birds will be gone in a month, headed north.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

All photos by Athena Alexander

Snow geese

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Joy in the New Year

Green Honeycreeper, male, Trinidad

In this fresh new year — try to find a spark of  joy in every day.

 

It could be a spot of bright nature;

Azure Kingfisher, Australia

 

or something new you’ve never seen before;

 

Male Kudu, Botswana, Chobe River

 

Conversely, joy could appear in something you see every day, but never stopped to appreciate.

 

Monarch Butterfly, Horicon Marsh, WI

 

Twelve-spotted Skimmer Dragonfly, California

 

We can find joy in remarkable human engineering feats;

Sydney Opera House, Australia

 

or inspiring people;

 

Gandhi Statue, The Ferry Building, San Francisco

 

Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC

or art, so many forms of art.

Ancient Kangaroo Rock Art, Kakadu NP, Australia

Chihuly Sea Star, Seattle, WA

 

Some of the most cheerful joy comes in simple forms.

American Robin nest, Wisconsin

California Honeysuckle, lonicera

 

There will be times, however, in the new year when difficulty or despair take over.

 

Joy might not be readily accessible in the darkness.

 

Olympic Peninsula, Washington

 

For these times, go to sleep, rest…

 

Grey-headed Flying Foxes, Sydney, Australia

 

… and try again tomorrow.

Warmest thanks to my blogging friends and readers, for a year filled with joyful sweet moments, warm words, happy smiles, vicarious adventures, stunning images, and heartfelt sharing.  Gentle wishes for a new year filled with joy.

Written by Jet Eliot
All photos by Athena Alexander.

 

White-bellied Woodstar, Peru

 

Maui, Hawaii

 

Wildlife in Winter

Grizzly Bear, Alaska

As the northern hemisphere experiences the winter solstice, let’s take a look at how various wildlife species adapt to this season. It’s a fascinating picture, and each animal has a different story.

 

Some animals hibernate, some go into a more wakeful sleep called torpor, some barely lose a wink, and others migrate. For many creatures, the body changes.

 

Classic hibernators, like bears, eat large amounts of food in autumn to store fat for survival. They sleep all or part of the winter, and exist primarily on their fat stores. There is a slow-down of heart and respiration rate, and a lowering of the body temperature.

 

But few animal species have such a defined program–it varies by region, temperature, elevation, and other factors. And truth be told, even bears differ widely in their hibernating tactics.

 

Most big mammals have enough bulk that they do not hibernate. Bison, for example, simply grow a heavier coat to withstand freezing temperatures.

 

Shedding bison in back, Yellowstone NP

 

Bison in Lamar Valley on a snowy day, Yellowstone

 

Smaller mammals, however, are more inclined to hibernate because little bodies have a high surface-area-to-volume ratio; i.e. it takes more energy for a small animal to stay warm. Many small mammals burrow into the ground to wait out the foodless winter.

 

Marmot, Mt. Rainier, Washington

 

Marmots (aka groundhogs) build their fat storage and spend half their lives in hibernation. Prairie dogs, on the other hand, periodically come out of the burrow to munch on grass and then go back to sleep.

 

Prairie Dog at burrow, Colorado

 

Every species has a different physiological system for adapting to the food loss of winter.

 

Reptiles are cold-blooded and depend on the sunshine for metabolic activity.

 

Skink, California

 

In winter most reptiles in cold regions find a deep crack or rock cave and sleep through the months of sunless chill. They’re so inactive they don’t eat…don’t need to eat.

 

If you pick up a lizard who is essentially dormant, they only open their eyes in terror; but they do not move because they can’t.

 

Northern Alligator Lizard, California

 

Many species group together for warmth. They huddle while they sleep. That’s how we can sometimes come across a hole filled with snakes, or large colonies of bats.

 

Eastern Long-eared Bats, Australia

 

Some snakes and amphibians hibernate underneath water in locations where water doesn’t freeze. Certain snake species use their skin as a lung to extract oxygen from the water.

 

Even though toads and frogs stay quiet and resting most of the winter where I live, on a fluky mild winter day I will hear a toad call out from its burrow.

 

Western Toad in burrow, California

 

Insects transform into larvae, nymphs, eggs, or pupae forms to weather the winter. Others, like the monarch butterfly, migrate to warmer places.

 

Anise Swallowtail Chrysalis or Pupa

 

There is endless variation not only in species, but in location too. Here in northern California where the winter is mild, hovering close to freezing for only a month or two, I often discover winter wildlife anomalies.

 

I’ve read that praying mantis adults, for example, hide their eggs from predators for the winter and then die off. In spring the new insect emerges from the egg and starts the life cycle.

 

Not where I live. This photo of a loggerhead shrike in the California winter rain about to eat an adult praying mantis proves otherwise.

 

Loggerhead Shrike preying on a praying mantis, California in January

 

If winter temperatures do not fluctuate drastically, or are relatively mild, many insects find shelter and food in leaf litter, tree holes, under logs, or in soil or plant galls.

 

And don’t get me started on what the birds do. Some stay put if they live in a temperate zone, others migrate, and still others tough it out in cold regions. There is only one bird known to hibernate, the common poorwill. 

 

Some birds and small mammals in arctic regions turn white in the frigid months to camouflage with snow. Their bodies adapt in numerous ways. Below are the summer and winter versions of the willow ptarmigan (bird) and snowshoe hare.

 

Willow ptarmigan, Alaska in August

 

Willow Ptarmigan Nonbreeding adult

Willow ptarmigan in winter plumage. Photo by John and Ivy Gibbons.

Snowshoe Hare in August, Alaska

 

Snowshoe Hare, Shirleys Bay.jpg

Snowshoe Hare in winter. Photo by D. Gordon E. Robertson.

 

Whatever the season, nature not only has its curious, changing ways, but also unpredictability…just enough to keep the mystery and beauty alive.

 

Happy Solstice, Happy Holidays, dear reader.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

All photos by Athena Alexander unless otherwise noted.

Mammalian tourists in winter

 

Avenue of the Giants

Humboldt Redwoods State Park

There is a short stretch of road weaving through Humboldt Redwoods State Park in northern California called Avenue of the Giants. Here you can experience the largest contiguous old-growth redwood forest in the world.

 

Avenue of the Giants Wikipedia

Humboldt Redwoods State Park

 

It is on this 31-mile (51 km) section, State Route 254, where time stands still. Humans and their twenty-first century vehicles are dwarfed by 300-foot trees. And cell phones and voices are silenced by the towering behemoths that speak volumes…without words.

Athena with one redwood

 

Humboldt Redwoods State Park

Located near Garberville, California, it is approximately 200 miles (320 km) north of San Francisco, easily accessed via Highway 101.

 

Found only in coastal California and the southern Oregon coast, the old-growth redwood forests thrive in a temperate coniferous ecoregion.

 

As the tallest and one of the most massive tree species on Earth, Sequoia sempervirons live an average of 800 to 1,500 years; some have been documented at 2,000 years old. (The Coastal redwood, discussed here, is a different species than the Sierra redwood, Sequoia giganteum.)

 

Coastal redwoods are reliant on the moisture of the fog, usually growing a mile or two from the Pacific Ocean, and never more than 50 miles from it.

 

The strip of today’s existing old-growth redwoods extends north along the coast from the Big Sur area south of San Francisco to the southwestern corner of Oregon.

 

As recent as 1850 there were two million acres (8,100 km2) of redwood trees on California’s coast. Then with the discovery of gold came a burgeoning population, building needs, and unrestricted redwood logging.

 

Today there are 110,000 acres of remaining old-growth redwood forests.

 

Fortunately conservationists began efforts in the 1920s to protect this unique and ancient tree. More information: Save the Redwoods League.

 

Avenue of the Giants parallels the main highway, and offers a serene drive for people of all ages. In addition to cruising past the tall trees, there are many interesting massive redwoods that have toppled or succumbed to lightning. Giant rootballs as big as a car, mossy old limbs, trees hollowed out by natural decay over the centuries.

 

Founders Tree

Founders Tree, 1,400 years old, Avenue of the Giants

 

Many times I have witnessed a person going right up to a redwood and instinctively embracing it, leaning their whole body against it. I’ve done it plenty of times.

 

There are some old trees you can drive through and other touristy attractions (see the end), but my favorite activity  is hiking the forest. The presence of these trees and their long-lived existence remind me of the perspective of life, its cycles, and all of Earth’s creatures.

 

Jet pointing out the year of her birth…so young in comparison

Redwood rings tagged with dates. Fourth one from R is when the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620. First tag near center is the year 1000.

 

There is something inherently relaxed and slow about the old redwoods.

 

With the canopy hundreds of feet in the air, the understory is quiet, accompanied by occasional thrushes or songbirds hopping on the ground…nothing as frenetic as, say, a tropical rainforest.

 

Even the ground is soft and hushed. Each step you take on the reddish-orange duff is cushioned by decades of fallen needles.

 

Ferns and shamrock-shaped sorrel comprise the understory, and in summer there are occasional native rhododendrons.

 

Great website with more information about hiking California’s old-growth redwoods: redwoodhikes.com.

 

There is a renewal that we find when we visit the redwoods, as if we are being embraced by hundred-year-old ancestors sharing the wisdom of the centuries.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander unless otherwise specified.

For one dollar you can visit this one-log redwood house in Garberville; created in 1946 from a 2,100-year-old tree that fell from natural causes.

 

One-Log House interior

 

Bountiful Nature in Seward, Alaska

Seward Harbor

Seward is a small port town on the southern coast of Alaska, tucked in a harbor on the Kenai Peninsula. Surrounded by glacial water and snow-capped mountains, it is a small town with a big presence and abundant beauty.

 

Seward Wikipedia

 

This town is the gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park. Situated on Resurrection Bay in the Gulf of Alaska, it offers many ways to explore the Harding Icefield and its nearly 40 glaciers that dominate this area.

 

We took a half-day boat trip out of Seward and had the thrill of seeing a glacier from the boat. Occasionally a huge mass of blue glacial ice broke off (“calved”) and tumbled into the frigid waters below.

 

There are only four remaining icefields in the U.S., the Harding Icefield in Seward is one, and covers 300 square miles (777 km2).

 

Gulf of Alaska and Glacier

 

Seward Highway Vista

 

There are 190 different species of birds here, and a plethora of land and sea mammals.

 

Moose

 

In addition, the Gulf of Alaska waters are teeming with sea lions, sea otters, humpback whales, and more. We were there in the month of August, and saw thousands of wild sea mammals and migrating birds.

 

Sea Otter, Gulf of Alaska

 

There in Resurrection Bay sea lions bulk up on fish, otters gorge on shellfish, migrating birds reproduce over the summer. We witnessed dozens of bald eagles perched atop boat masts in the Seward marina, strategizing their next fresh catch.

 

Bald Eagle, Seward Marina

 

We never tired of spotting numerous humpback whales and other marine mammals and seabirds.

 

Humpback Whale Fluke

 

Common Murres

 

Common Murres nesting, Alaska

 

Steller Sea Lions, Gulf of Alaska

 

Located only 120 miles (193 km) from Anchorage, Seward can be reached by many different modes of transport. We drove the 2.5 hour trip along the Seward Highway, a National Scenic Highway. Along this highway with breathtaking vistas, we saw both moose and fishermen up to their hips in the water.

 

Kenai Peninsula, Alaska, Moose

 

 

Fishermen

 

Sea islands, Gulf of Alaska

 

As inhabitants of planet Earth, we are all so lucky to have the natural wonders of Alaska and Seward.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

All photos by Athena Alexander, except the photo below.

How the historic Iditarod Dog Sled Race is connected to Seward. 

 

Photo by Derek and Julie Ramsey. Courtesy Wikipedia.

 

They Run Like the Wind…Cheetah

Cheetah

There are many glorious sights on the Serengeti, but nothing is as exhilarating as watching a cheetah in pursuit of its prey.

 

The cheetah’s body is built for aerodynamic speed:  light bones, long, thin legs, short neck, enlarged heart, lungs, and nostrils, and more.  Clocked as the fastest land animal, they can reach speeds of up to 70 miles per hour (112 kph). They can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in three seconds.

 

Acinonyx jubatus pursue many different kinds of prey, depending on where they live. The cheetahs featured here are residents of the Serengeti, and gazelles are their prey of choice.

Cheetah with Thomson’s Gazelle

 

Cheetah on kopje (boulder)

 

Wikipedia Cheetah

 

Cheetahs hunting, Serengeti

In hunting, cheetah use their sense of vision rather than smell. They possess a  concentrated band of nerve cells in the center of their eyes, enhancing the visual sharpness, like binoculars. Of all the felids, this visual band is the most concentrated and efficient in the cheetah.

 

Cheetah

 

The cat begins stalking within 330 to 980 feet (100-300m) of prey. They prefer some kind of earthly cover–trees or tall grass–giving them a chance to stay hidden and  unseen. If there is no cover, they slowly, patiently, and methodically inch closer. Their camouflage in the tall, golden grass is an asset.

 

When the prey is within reach, the cheetah starts galloping. If the herd has not yet become aware, the cheetah has won an extra moment.

 

Within seconds, the herd of gazelles bolts and scatters. At this point the cheetah sprints, never faltering, with an individual in its crosshairs.

 

Cheetah jaws on gazelle neck

 

You might think at this point, that the gazelle is going to lose, because the cheetah’s extraordinary swiftness and prowess are unmatchable.

 

With that lanky, light body stretched out completely, and limbs of pure muscle, the cheetah achieves moments of being airborne. Ears pressed back, face set in dogged determination…they run like the wind.

 

But this bodily expenditure is of great cost to a cheetah, and can only be achieved in short bursts.

 

A gazelle may not have the speed of a cheetah, but they are a swift and nimble creature. The gazelle being chased can turn sharply, running in a zig-zag line…something the cat cannot do at high speed.

 

If the gazelle can continue to run this jagged path for about a minute, the cat runs out of steam, slows down, and the chase is aborted.

 

Click here for a National Geographic slow motion video — Cheetah running at top speed

 

While I love watching the cheetah fly across the landscape in deadly pursuit, I must confess I am always relieved when the gazelle escapes.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander. All in Tanzania.

Cheetah