Yellow Warbler Adventure

Yellow Warbler on nest, Wisconsin

Yellow Warbler on nest, Wisconsin

Yellow warblers are a sunshine-bright New World warbler.  They frequent willow and cottonwood thickets near streams, swamps, and marshes.

 

On a recent Sunday I was on the trails of the Horicon Marsh (Wisconsin) at dawn, following the warbler’s subtle seet calls, hopeful to set eyes on this cheerful songbird.

 

A widespread bird, at this time of year Setophaga petechia are busy breeding in almost all of North America.  They winter in Central America and parts of South America, and migrate to North America in warm months.

 

Yellow Warbler, Belize

Yellow Warbler, Belize

See migration map below.

 

Their diet consists mainly of insects–moths, spiders, mosquitoes, mayflies, etc.

 

In the marshy thickets they prefer, they are busy snagging mosquitoes, and hovering underneath leaves foraging among spider webs.

 

In spite of their glaring bright color, these small birds (about five inches [12.7 cm] long) can be difficult to spot, due to their quick, flitting behavior, and surrounding thick foliage.

 

With 35 subspecies, some species have a slightly different physical appearance depending on the male in breeding.  The name consequently changes too.  The yellow warbler in Belize for instance, pictured here, is known there as the mangrove warbler.

 

More warbler info here.

 

Yellow Warbler, Wisconsin

Yellow Warbler, Wisconsin

While walking, I was alerted to the high-pitched chip (“seet”) sound.  I stayed focused on this sound, ignoring whining mosquitoes (best I could) and other flutey bird song.

 

There’s a mnemonic phrase that birders memorize for this warbler, and I heard it in the swampy woods.  It sounds (sort of) like the bird is saying, “sweet sweet sweet I’m so sweet.”

 

And they are so sweet…so I continued down the trail getting closer to the song.

 

Then she fluttered into my periphery and disappeared; appeared again, and vanished. I knew I was close, so I stood back a few feet and waited.

 

This time she perched on a nearby branch, looked around.  I noticed she wasn’t hunting.  Parents usually exhibit this behavior to make sure a predator isn’t watching.  Then she disappeared into an inconspicuous nest.

 

I was so excited to have spotted her nest, watched intently.  In this quiet little patch of forest, hidden in a tiny, neat cup of dried grass, warbler eggs were being carefully protected.

 

Two days later I was in the airport waiting for my delayed flight, surrounded by the noise, chaos, and crowds that is air travel in the summertime.

 

I sat thinking about the yellow warbler…that sweet and quiet yellow warbler mother, and her heroic and successful efforts to keep her brood safe.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

Yellow Warbler Range Map

Courtesy allaboutbirds.org

Spotted Hyena

Spotted Hyena, Serengeti

Spotted Hyena, Serengeti

One of the most interesting mammals we have on earth, with unique matriarchal social aspects, bear-like appearance and ferocity, the spotted  hyena lives in sub-Saharan Africa.

 

The largest of the four extant species of hyena, the spotted hyena is about the size of a large german shepherd dog.  Adults measure 37-65 inches (95-165.8 cm) in body length, females in the Serengeti weigh more than the males, at 98-141 lbs (44.5-63.9 kg).

 

Hyena-close-up,-SerengetiA matriarchal species, females are larger than males, and dominate them.  The clans are also nepotistic, in that dominant female offspring outrank less-dominant female offspring.  All females are in higher rank than any male.

 

Unlike other hyena species, spotted hyena are not scavengers.  They are primarily hunters (but will scavenge if food is scarce).  As a carnivore–and opportunistic–they make the most efficient use of their kill, more than any other African carnivore, able to eat and digest hide, bones, and almost all body parts.

 

Hyena with Thompson's gazelle

Spotted hyena with Thompson’s gazelle

Their strong jaws outmatch the brown bear in bone crushing ability, and have 40 per cent more bite pressure than a leopard.

 

When we sat around the evening campfires with the guides, more than any other animal, they talked most fearfully about the hyena.

 

How many nights I went to bed, on my little cot in a canvas tent, visualizing the guides’ stories about one or another human victim who had their face bitten off by a hyena.

 

Hyena-pack-SerengetiWhat Crocuta crocuta hunt depends on where in Africa they live.  In the Serengeti, where these photos were taken, spotted hyena prefer wildebeest, zebra, and Thompson’s gazelle.

 

We had the grisly opportunity to observe the spotted hyena take down each of these three prey.  With a large heart, they are champions of endurance.

 

Hyena-at-pond-SerengetiOf the 280 species of Carnivora (placental mammals), the spotted hyena is the most social with the largest group sizes and most complex social behaviors.

 

Clan size varies depending on where they live and territory.  Behavior is sometimes more competitive than cooperative.  Read more about this unique mammal here.

 

Spotted Hyaena area.png

Spotted Hyena range. Courtesy Wikipedia.

A very vocal and vociferous mammal, the spotted hyena has a variety of different calls.  They whoop and groan, squeal and grunt, giggle, yell, and scream.  Also known as laughing hyenas, they have a different sound for each communication.

 

Fearsome hunters, matriarchal, highly opportunistic, and successful, this is a mammal that has intrigued humans for centuries.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

Range map from Wikipedia

I am taking a summer break, my friends, will be back in two weeks.

 

Rock Art in Australia

Long-necked turtle, Kakadu

Long-necked turtle, Kakadu

The oldest tradition of art in the world, Australian indigenous rock drawings offer an incredible glimpse into an ancient world.

 

We visited two sites called Ubirr and Nourlangie (aka Burrunguy) located in Kakadu National Park, northern Australia.

 

Distant view of rock formations, Kakadu

Distant view of rock formations, Kakadu

Here we saw hand drawings of animals and humans; visual accounts of their tools, hunting, birthing, ceremonies, and other activities of their time.

 

The sites are huge cliffs of rock that served as shelters for the indigenous Australians, the aboriginals.  Hunting was paramount to them, so a majority of the drawings are animals:  long-necked turtle, many kinds of fish, ringtail possum, wallaby, and many more.

 

Rock art fish, Kakadu

Rock art fish, Kakadu

By drawing the animals they hunted, it placed them in touch with the animal spirit.  Aboriginals then and now have a deep passion for stories of spirits, the spirit world, sorcery, and magic.

 

I find petroglyphs fascinating.  Every site, every country, has its own unique picture of the world.

 

Kangaroo, Kakadu

Kangaroo, Kakadu

As an American in Australia, I could never get enough of kangaroos.  I love watching kangaroos bound across the landscape.

 

Studying the wallaby (kangaroo) petroglyphs offered an extra thrill, because there is no other place in the world with kangaroo rock drawings.

 

Ochre pits, Australia. Courtesy Wikipedia.

The aboriginals produced the colors by mining a rock with iron oxide called ochre.  Then they ground it into a powder and mixed it with a fluid (saliva or blood).  They also painted their bodies, shields, bark, wood, and other items.

 

Nourlangie Rock. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Carbon dating the ochre has helped identify the various ages of the drawings.  Some sites date back 40,000 years, others less.

 

Most of the Ubirr art is approximately 2,000 years old.  More info here.  Kakadu info here.

 

Studying art, tracing the artist’s movements and interpretations, is different in a museum, because the art is on display.  The artist had a separate studio or room where they created.

 

In rock art, you are standing in the same spot where the artist created.  You feel the sun’s heat, hear the whistling wind, stand in the same rock shadow.

 

If you can block out the lively voices of the day, you can float back…find yourself with the aboriginal artist of 2,000 years ago.

 

Ubirr rock art site. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander (unless otherwise noted)

Pronghorn

Pronghorn, male, California

Pronghorn, male, California

The fastest mammal in North America, the pronghorn is able to run more than 40 mph.  Their safety depends on the ability to outrun predators.

 

They can be found in many western U.S. states, and southern Saskatchewan and Alberta.  Living and breeding in open terrain, pronghorn feed on grasses, shrubs, and other plants.

 

Pronghorn, California

Pronghorn, California

Although they are often called an antelope, and look and behave like one, they are not an antelope.  Their closest relative, in fact, is the giraffe.

 

Named for a short prong on the male’s horns, the horn is a slender blade of bone that grows from the skull.  Skin covers the bone, just like in a giraffe, and the pronghorn sheds the horn sheath annually.

 

Pronghorn, Nevada

Nevada

Antilocapra americana are the only surviving member of the Antilocaptra family.   In the early 1900s this mammal was heading toward extinction due to over-hunting.

 

At that juncture, the Boone and Crockett Club brought forward protection procedures to prevent this special mammal from disappearing.  Then there were problems with enclosing the pronghorn in fenced areas, and they continued to die off until there were only 13,000 individuals remaining.

 

Legislation and continued preservation did eventually save this species.  Today, due to their full recovery, it is legal to hunt pronghorn in the western states, limits and permits are required.  Estimated population is 500,000-1,000,000.

 

PronghornRange.png

Pronghorn range. Courtesy Wikipedia.

More about pronghorn here.

 

The first wild one I ever saw was while driving a back road in southern California.  He was alone, grazing, and shot out of sight pretty quickly.

 

After that I craved more moments with the pronghorn, and had the chance over the next five years to spot them in five different states:  California, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, Wyoming.

 

Montana

Montana

On vacation in Montana, we came across about a dozen pronghorn.  Knowing they were quick to bolt, we stayed in the car and drove very slowly down the isolated gravel road.  I drove while Athena snapped photos out the moon roof.

 

Colorado

Colorado

In Africa there are dozens and dozens of different antelope species, and thousands dotted across the savanna as far as you can see.

 

In America we have one species, and it’s not technically even an antelope.

 

That we still have vast expanses here is a wonderful thing.  That we have a home where the buffalo roam, and the deer and the antelope play, is outstanding.

 

Colorado

Colorado

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

 

 

Machu Picchu Birds

White-bellied Woodstar

White-bellied Woodstar

The beauties and history of Machu Picchu are extensive, but there is another magical presence in the mountaintops of the Peruvian Andes:  birds.

 

Peru has more bird species than all of North America and Europe combined.

 

Rufous-collared Sparrow

Rufous-collared Sparrow

At the Machu Picchu site, the rufous-collared sparrow is the prevalent bird.  He sang his fluty song all over this large complex.

 

While standing among the ruins, contemplating life in these mountains in the 15th century, we heard a melodic song break through the centuries, sweet and singular.  Then another voice responded, and another.

 

With over 25 subspecies, the rufous-collared sparrow is loved for its diverse vocalizations.  More sparrow info here.  More Machu Picchu here.  Previous post I wrote about MP here.

 

Thick-billed Euphonia, Photo B. Page

Thick-billed Euphonia, Photo B. Page

Slightly lower in altitude,  in nearby Aguas Calientes, we stayed at the Inkaterra Hotel.

 

Located in the Andean Cloud Forest on 12 acres, their enchanting garden was host to a variety of birds.

 

Chestnut-breasted Coronet pair

Chestnut-breasted Coronet pair

Hummingbirds and tanagers were everywhere–paradise for a birder.

 

The garden boasts 18 species of hummingbirds.  For perspective, there are 12 species of hummingbirds in all of North America.

 

Blue-gray Tanager

Blue-gray Tanager

Hummingbirds primarily drink nectar and tree sap, and eat insects.  Tanagers eat similarly:  fruit, seeds, nectar, and flower parts.  Both families are exclusively New World.

 

Gould's Inca

Gould’s Inca

Hummingbirds are a very unique bird for many reasons:

  • Bright iridescent colors, which are created more by the feather structure than pigments
  • Can fly up, down, backwards, sideways or hovering
  • Beat their wings about 80 times per second

 

We had three days and two nights in this magical corner of the world, but it’s really not enough time to be in paradise.

 

Blue-necked Tanager

Blue-necked Tanager, Photo by B. Page

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander (unless otherwise noted)

 

 

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu