Jays Around the World

Turquoise Jay, Ecuador

Turquoise Jay, Ecuador

You can only find the elegant Turquoise Jay in three countries in South America.  They prefer humid montane forests for their omnivorous diet, and live in Ecuador, Colombia, and Peru.  Jays, however, are a successful and prevalent species and can be found all over the world.  There is probably at least one jay with which you are already familiar.

 

Jays are members of the Corvidae family, which also include crows, magpies, ravens, rooks, nutcrackers, jackdaws, and others.  They are everywhere except on the tip of South America and polar ice caps.  Considered the most intelligent bird on earth, Corvids are also one of the most intelligent of all animals due to their self-awareness and tool-making skills.  There are over 120 species of Corvids and these are classified with many sub-species.

 

Magpie Jay, Mexico

Magpie Jay, Mexico

If you have jays regularly around your home, you might have noticed they will bury and later retrieve food.  This incredible skill requires highly accurate spatial knowledge, and equally as astonishing:  they have a recall memory of up to nine months.  Once I watched a jay in my yard exhibiting peculiar behavior, he was looking around for something in particular.  One comical moment later he triumphantly pulled a shelled peanut out of a juniper bush!

 

Scrub Jay, California

Western Scrub-Jay, California

Although we are familiar with blue-colored jays in the New World, jays are many different colors.  The original jay after which all other jays are named is the Eurasian Jay, and it is mostly brown.  Wikipedia lists over 46 species of jays in the world, representing many colors.

 

I am lucky to host two kinds of jays in my California yard, the Western Scrub-Jay and the Steller’s Jay.  When I visit the midwestern or eastern states I am equally as dazzled by the striking Blue Jay.  Flashy, vocal, and vivacious, the jays are a wonderful bird to have widespread on earth:  smart, successful, and beautiful too.

Pinyon Jays, Nevada

Pinyon Jays, Nevada

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

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Gang-gang Cockatoo

Gang-gang Cockatoos, New South Wales, Australia

Gang-gang Cockatoos, New South Wales, Australia

We stopped for lunch in a small town while hiking in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney.  Afterwards, while we were admiring bird post cards, an elderly woman approached us and said she thought we might be interested in a bird she knew about.  The woman was small and frail, but direct and focused, and sporting a delightful Australian accent.

 

She explained we had to go down several back dirt roads until we came to this corner and that bend.  They were involved instructions, potentially dubious, but I took notes nonetheless.  Eventually we would come to an old abandoned tram car station that was just a little market now.

 

Go under the old tracks, she instructed, and you’ll find a feeder.  Wait there, and I guarantee you’ll find one.   She named the bird, but we were unfamiliar with it.  Gang-gang Cockatoo.  Funny name, we mused.

 

Back in the car Athena and I looked the bird up in the guide book.  Their entire world-wide range is a tiny ribbon of land right where we were located.  An endemic to south-eastern Australia, this 13 inch (34 cm) bird travels in flocks and pairs.  Pairs are monogamous, and the male has a scarlet head.  Although they are considered widespread in this region, their population is vulnerable because their habitat is disappearing, due to the clearing of land and mature trees (used for nesting).  This was definitely worth a try, even if it turned out to be a bust.

 

The trek took an hour!  But true to her word, there was this odd little market in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by dusty scrub brush, amidst acres of mountains and wilderness.  And underneath the rusty disintegrated tracks was the bird feeder.  There was no one else under there.  Within five minutes an awesome pair of gang-gang cockatoos landed.  I love days like this.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

Cheetah: Fastest Land Animal on Earth

Cheetah, Tanzania, Africa

Cheetah, Tanzania, Africa

They can go from 0 to 62 mph (100 km/h) in 3 seconds.  When  Acinonyx jubatus is in pursuit it is one of the most agile dances I have ever seen; effortlessly switching directions, sprinting, swift in pursuit.

 

But I cannot remember a time when I watched the cheetah race across the plains that I was wholly exuberant.  I knew the prey (usually an impala or gazelle) was soon to perish.  And yet it was all undeniably thrilling.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

Celebrate Earth Day With…

Goliath Heron, Botswana

Goliath Heron, Botswana

…the biggest heron on earth.  At 4-5 feet tall and sporting a wingspan of over 7 feet, it is aptly named:  Goliath Heron.

 

Primarily found in sub-Saharan Africa, this wading bird is usually found alone in lakes, swamps, and wetlands.  There are small populations of Ardea goliath in parts of Asia too.

 

Their diet consists mostly of fish, typically 2-3 big fish a day; but they will also eat frogs, lizards, snakes, and other small reptiles and fish.  Due to their large size they are sometimes slower than many birds, rendering them vulnerable to kleptoparasitism (stolen food).  Predators however (like hyenas and jackals), cannot easily prey on them because they have height perspective and can take flight unharmed.

 

Goliath Heron, Botswana

Goliath Heron, Botswana

Many of us bird and wildlife lovers enjoy observing and photographing herons all over the world.  Their deliberate hunting is a joy to behold, their peaceful ways and sleek beauty, pleasing and attractive.  Fortunately most of us consider every day Earth Day.  Cheers….

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

 

 

Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opera House, Australia

Sydney Opera House, Australia

My travels don’t usually linger too long in cities, but Sydney is an inviting, international center for arriving and departing flights, and I enjoyed it on four different occasions.  The Opera House is impressive from inside and out; you can explore it without spending a penny, and admire it up close or from a harbour boat.

 

Although it’s name indicates it is one venue only, this iconic building is actually a performance facility for numerous organizations and performances. Construction began in 1959 with an original budget of $7 million.  The architect was a Danish man, Jorn Utzon, who resigned from the project in 1966.  It was completed in 1973, costing $102 million, and formally opened by Queen Elizabeth II.

 

The largest section of the Opera House, the Concert Hall, is host to the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, the Opera, and other concert presenters.  It has over 2,600 seats and boasts the Grand Organ with 10,000 pipes.  There is also another large performance theater with 1,500 seats, several other smaller theaters, a multi-purpose room, and recording studio.  In addition, large, open foyers are used for social functions and conferences.  Cafes, restaurants, and bars are also on the site.

Front Approach, including plaza and front steps

Front Approach, including plaza and front steps

 

When I visited Sydney it was not the opera season, but for a small ticket price we went to a singing performance in a small theater.  Typical of Australia, the atmosphere was very casual.  Inside it was a very busy place, with tourists and locals alike.  You can also buy a guided tour.  I imagine the acoustics in the big Concert Hall are superb, as they were in the small theater I attended.  Indoors there were high, curved ceilings, spacious open areas as well as intimate spaces, dazzling harbour views, and an ultra modern theme.

 

Sydney Opera House, Australia

Sydney Opera House, Australia

The Harbour is bustling with boat tours, commuter boats, and pleasure craft.

 

The expansive Royal Botanic Gardens are within walking distance, the Taronga Zoo is accessible by boat from this harbour, and there is plenty of shopping and touring to do around the harbour and downtown.  But the problem is the Outback is calling!  There are kangaroos, echidnas, parrots, and koalas to find, and the Great Barrier Reef is oh so near….   Cheers mate!

Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge

Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander