Star Dance

Chihuly Sea Star, Seattle, WA

Chihuly Sealife Sculpture, Seattle, WA

Photo credit: Athena Alexander


Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker, California

Pileated Woodpecker, California

They have a piercing, raucous call, and when they hammer into a tree it is so loud that sometimes it echoes.  When you’re in the presence of this majestic bird, you know it.  The largest woodpecker in North America, the pileated woodpecker is 16-19 inches long with a wingspan of 30 inches.


Hylatomus pileatus can be found all across the eastern United States, parts of the Pacific Coastal states, and in parts of Canada.  In previous centuries this species experienced a sharp decline when the eastern forests were cleared.  Fortunately, it has had a comeback.


In flight they remind me of a pterodactyl with the big head on a narrow neck and the broad, hulking wings carrying it boldly across the sky.  Birds are sometimes referred to as feathered dinosaurs, and in my opinion there is no living bird in North America more reminiscent of this than the pileated woodpecker.


Yesterday I was in the Home Depot parking lot and my ears perked up because I thought I heard the distinctive kek-kek-kek of the pileated.  It turned out to be a diesel Mercedes in need of repair, but it made me smile all the same.


Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

Marine Iguana

Marine-Iguana,-GalapagosI think lizards are some of the coolest animals on this planet.  There are little lizards and big lizards on the Galapagos Islands, and the two big lizards are the marine iguana and the land iguana.  I’ll tell you about the land iguana another time.


Marine iguana are the only lizard on earth who swim underwater.  The Galapagos waters, however, are not tropically warm.  For this cold-blooded animal to swim in the cold sea water is a risk.  They get the benefit of eating fresh algae, but they have a limited amount of time to be in the water before their cold blood stops circulating and they lose mobility.  Only the males attempt this risky endeavor, and only for about 5-10 minutes; lighter-bodied females and juveniles stay on shore, eat land algae and seaweed.


Marine Iguanas, Galapagos Islands

Marine Iguanas, Galapagos Islands

Only found in the Galapagos Islands, Amblyrhynchus cristatus bask beside the sea.  They soak up the sun, their fuel for movement. Often you will see them in large groups, sunbathing.  The official word for a group of iguanas is:  mess.


Some people get a little creeped out by a large group of dog-sized iguanas stretched out at your feet.  But for me it was the most beautiful mess I have ever seen.


Photo credit:  Athena Alexander


White-fronted Bee-eater

Bee-eater, Zambia

White-fronted Bee-eater, Zambia

Bee-eaters are some of the most delightful birds to watch because they are active, gregarious, and brightly colored.


The white-fronted bee-eater is common in sub-Saharan Africa; and the 25 other species of bee-eaters occur mostly in Africa, but also in Asia, Europe and Australia.  Those of us from North America are particularly dazzled by this bird because we don’t find them on our continent.


As their name indicates, the main diet is about 70% bees and wasps, along with occasional other insects.  Merops bullockoides have long, pincer-like bills that snag the bee in mid-air, then before eating, remove the stinger by hitting and rubbing it on a hard surface, releasing the venom. The white-fronted species measures about nine inches long, and other bee-eaters vary from 6-12 inches long.


Their nests are small softball-sized holes built into the side of a sandy river bank usually, and because they live in colonies, the whole wall is dotted with their nests.  You can read more about bee-eaters here. 


It is a joy to come across this fluttering kaleidoscope.  That they remove the stinger of their prey before eating is especially clever, too.  Beauty and brains.


Photo credit:  Athena Alexander