Windmills in San Francisco

SF Northern Windmill

SF Northern Windmill

There are two windmills in San Francisco in beautiful Golden Gate Park.  The Dutch or Northern Windmill is presented here, and the other one is called the Murphy or Southern Windmill.  They were built here in the 1870s and 1880s to pump groundwater for park irrigation.

 

This side of town was once sand dunes.  When Golden Gate Park was designed some people at the time couldn’t imagine a park could be built on what was nothing but shifting sand.  The windmills were the answer for irrigation.  In 1903 this windmill was completed and pumped 30,000 gallons of water per hour, it was a solution to the high price of purchasing water from the local water company.  Five years later the other windmill was functioning, and pumping an additional 40,000 gallons of water to the park.

 

Although they were the solution for the park at that time, in 1913 electric water pumps replaced the mills.  Over the years the windmills became defunct and eventually fell into disrepair.

 

SF Windmill, tulips and poppies

SF Windmill, tulips and poppies

But as it goes in many places around the world, a group of people decided to restore the windmills.  They raised the money and now, a century later, we have a quiet gathering place for tourists, bicyclists, walkers, joggers, and picnickers to enjoy.  While in San Francisco a few weeks ago, I decided to visit the windmill to see if the tulip display was in bloom.

 

This windmill is a three minute walk from the Great Highway, a thoroughfare that parallels the Pacific Ocean.  Tulips, poppies, monarch butterflies, a white-crowned sparrow, and a fresh ocean breeze joined me on this sunny tour.  And now my blogging buddies have joined me too.  Thank you!

 

Photos and text:  Jet Eliot

Hip-Hippo-Hooray

Hippo, Zambia

Hippo, Zambia

Although they can be swift on land, the gargantuan body of Hippopotamus amphibius is designed for water.  The short legs don’t get in the way when they are wallowing in the mud and shallow water.  They can also sink their barrel-shaped bodies and walk along the river floor.

 

Hippos mate and give birth in the water.  Even their ears, eyes and nostrils are high on their head for easy submersion.  They sleep in the water and come up for air without ever waking.  For this semi-aquatic mammal with thin, hairless skin, the water prevents overheating and dehydration under the hot African sun.

 

There are some species of hippo that have become extinct, but there are still populations of hippos in sub-Saharan Africa, especially in Tanzania and Zambia.  Their conservation status is delicate, listed as Vulnerable Threatened.

 

Hippo

Eating the fruit of a sausage tree

In the early 20th century hippos were considered close in ancestry to the pig.  They roll around in mud and grunt like a pig, and there is a physical resemblance as well.  But further studies of their DNA and fossil records classified them in the whale family.  I have spent many glorious hours observing hippos on land and in water, and the water is where they luxuriate.

 

You wouldn’t think hippopotamus are fast when you see their short, stubby legs carrying over 3,000 pounds of body mass; yet they can outrun humans at 19 mph.  Hippos are not only fast, but they are aggressive, unpredictable, and extremely dangerous.   I have watched more than one wildlife guide shudder as they relay the story of a distant cousin, friend, or relative who was killed by a hippoThe hippo is responsible for more human deaths than any other mammal in Africa. 

 

In their territory, pods of hippos are commonly seen during the day where they rest together at a mud hole, lake or in rivers.  Watching one roll over like a beached whale to moisten its back is one of the most beautiful slow dances I have ever seen.  The first time I observed this action I thought there was a fight brewing, so much splashing and abrupt activity.  But it was never a fight, it was simply one colossal hippo turning over resulting in muddy water ripples and sloshes.

Hippo Pool at night, Zambia

Hippo Pool at night, Zambia

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

Inca Tern

Inca Tern, Lima, Peru

Inca Tern, Lima, Peru

I saw this seabird while visiting the chilly coastal waters of Lima, Peru.  As I walked along the water’s edge, what floated in the water looked like dull, dark gulls with red bills.  When I put the binoculars up I was dazzled by their markings.

 

They feed mostly on fish, especially anchovies, and go no further than the Humboldt current.  This is a cold water current that flows north on the west coast of South America from southern Chile to northern Peru.  According to Wikipedia it is “the most productive marine ecosystem in the world.”

 

In waters teeming with more life than anywhere else in the world, it makes sense that they stay here and never leave.  So I guess in this scenario that made me the migratory bird.

 

Photo credit:  Bill Page

Red-billed Oxpecker

Sable with Oxpecker in Ear, Botswana

Sable with Oxpecker in Ear, Botswana

The red-billed oxpecker is a common bird throughout Kenya and sub-Saharan Africa.  A member of the same family as the starling and myna, it is a chattering gregarious bird found atop mammals.

 

Oxpeckers are the only creature in the world whose exclusive function is to glean mammals.  They feed on the ticks that inhabit the mammal.  Ticks thrive on moisture and warmth, and with the unrelenting sun beating down on the African beasts, these mammals are the unfortunate hosts to dozens and dozens of ticks.  The oxpecker feeds on the blood that is engorged in the ticks; eats as many as 100 ticks a day. You will find them on many different four-legged ungulates (antelope, giraffe, zebra, etc.), especially those with manes.  There is also a yellow-billed oxpecker in Africa, but it is not as prevalent as the red-billed, featured here.

Sable with Oxpeckers, Botswana

Sable with Oxpeckers, Botswana

 

The short, sharp claws and long, stiff tail of Buphagus erythrorhynchus enable them to cling to the mammal, even while the mammal is walking.   You can see from this Sable photograph how well the bird can cling to various body parts.  In addition, the bird’s bill is laterally flattened and has a sharp cutting edge for handling the ticks.

 

African Buffalo with Oxpecker, Botswana

African Buffalo with Oxpecker, Botswana

Often this relationship between the tick-infested mammal and the oxpecker is mutually beneficial.  The bird eats the ticks off the mammal and rids it of an irritating infestation, the mammal supplies the bird with an endless smorgasbord.  But sometimes an oxpecker will dig beyond the tick and intentionally keep the animal’s wound open to directly extract blood, because ultimately it is the blood on which the bird thrives.

 

Occasionally you might see the mammal swat its tail or shake its head to get rid of an exceptionally annoying oxpecker.  However mostly what you see, as you ride across the endless grassy plains looking for African wildlife, is the mammal grazing and the oxpecker feeding, and both are peaceably living in harmony.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

Going Bananas

Banana Tree, Mexico

Banana Tree, Mexico

There have been several birding occasions in the tropics when we came upon cultivated banana groves.  The plants tower five and ten feet above us and the broad leaves provide cooling shade from the searing sun.  Usually the guide is in a hurry to get through the grove and into the forest, to show us a bird.  But I love to stop for a second and look up, and see the green banana bunches hanging above my head.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander