The Water Tray

Wild bobcat at the water tray, photographed by the outdoor camera

At this time of year, when it is extremely dry where I live in Northern California, the water tray is a popular outdoor wildlife attraction.

 

By the time we get to August, when there hasn’t been rainfall since April, streams are dried up, rivers are trickling, and lakes have significantly diminished in volume.

 

By providing a refreshing drink during the most parched season, we are inviting an ongoing parade of wild creatures.

 

It is a great thrill to be on the daily route of our wild friends.  On a hot summer afternoon, this coyote is headed toward the water tray. He has that determined look like we hikers get when we can hardly wait for a break-time sip.

 

Coyote, No. California, headed for the water tray

 

Frequent wildlife guests are excellent incentive to keep the trays clean and filled. We have two trays, move them around occasionally to make sure they are fully utilized. We place them where we can use the garden hose to fill them, so that it’ a quick task.

 

The water also makes an attractive bathing station for the birds, including this golden-crowned sparrow one spring day last April.

 

Golden-crowned Sparrow, No. Calif., bathing in the water tray

 

The mammals can get a drink pretty easily. The short-legged ones, like this chipmunk, are acrobatic and creative in accessing their refreshment.

Chipmunk on rock, No. Calif.

In general, the smaller the animal, the more often they drink, because they have a higher ratio of surface area to volume, lose water faster.

 

The chipmunks race over a rock to the tray, taking a drink almost every hour. Squirrels do a similar thing, though they don’t race, they prance.

 

For the birds, we put a stick and/or big rock inside the tray, to aid them and prevent accidental drowning. Some birds perch on the edge of the tray, some stand on the rock.

 

The usual array of backyard birds visit the water all day long: finches, juncos, towhees, jays, doves, chickadees, titmice, and more. Even nuthatches drink from the water tray.

Red-breasted Nuthatch, No. California

 

When a bird drinks, they dip their bill into the water, collect the fluid in their mouth and then look skyward, using gravity to swallow. But a few avian exceptions, notably doves and pigeons, have a sucking ability that most birds do not have. They drink and swallow, like mammals, like us, without having to tilt their heads up.

 

Some bird species, like raptors, usually acquire their necessary moisture from the body of the prey they have killed.

 

One August day last year, however, I saw this Cooper’s hawk, below, drinking at our water tray. In all my decades on earth, I had never seen a raptor drink water from a natural or manmade source.

 

This individual was born on our property three years ago, and has lived here ever since. I think he is so homegrown that he knows the water tray is always readily available.

Cooper’s Hawk at the water tray (photographed through a window), No, California

 

Night visitors, usually mammals, come regularly to the water tray. In summer we set the critter cam up to photograph our property’s hotspot.

 

Bobcat visit about once or twice every week (see first photo). Jackrabbits live on the property and are here every day and every night.

Jackrabbit, Northern California, at the water tray

 

This jackrabbit is having a morning stretch.

Jackrabbit stretching at the water tray

 

Every year is different, which is what I like most about living with wildlife.

 

Wildlife populations have good years and bad; here their reproductive success is primarily dependent on weather (food) and wildfires.

 

For many years we heard and saw foxes almost nightly. These are gray foxes, the native residents, they prefer chaparral habitat like ours. Then for several years we never saw or heard evidence of any.

 

Fortunately this year we have fox coming several times a week.

Gray fox at the water tray, No. Calif.

 

Lately this skunk has been here every night. They’re not a problem, and they eat carrion.

 

Striped Skunk at the water tray, No. Calif.

 

We keep the trays filled in winter too, because wildlife always need water. But in winter, if we are lucky to have rain, the trays stay filled on their own from the precious water that falls from the sky.

 

No matter what the season, there is often some lively activity to watch at the water tray.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander and the Critter Cam.

Black-tailed Jackrabbit, No. California

 

Wild Australia

Grey Kangaroos, Australia

Daintree River, North Queensland, Australia.

With travel suspended during this pandemic, let’s virtually cruise over to Australia and take a look at some of their wildlife. There is no place on this planet like Australia.

 

Azure Kingfisher, Australia

 

Indigenous to Australia, kangaroos are found nowhere else in the world. In taxonomically general terms, these marsupials come in all sizes, and there are many different kinds.

 

The adult Grey Kangaroo in the first photo was human size; whereas the rock wallaby below, also a kind of kangaroo, was only about calf-high. You can imagine how tiny her joey is.

 

Kangaroo Wikipedia.

 

Mareeba Rock Wallaby, Granite Gorge, Australia

 

Kangaroos go back tens of thousands of years as you can see from this ancient Aboriginal rock art.

Ancient Kangaroo Rock Art, Kakadu NP, Australia. Photo: Athena Alexander

 

Two bird species as big as humans grace the “Land of Oz”:  the cassowary and the emu.

Southern Cassowary, Australia

 

Emu, Mareeba Wetlands, Queensland, Australia. Photo: Athena Alexander.

 

Smaller birds, i.e. not human-sized, are equally as spectacular, including parrots, cockatoos, and kookaburras.

Rainbow Lorikeet, Australia. Photo: Athena Alexander.

Red-tailed Black-Cockatoos, Australia. Photo: Athena Alexander.

 

Laughing Kookaburra, Australia

 

One year we were determined to spot a platypus in the wild. We did all our research as to where they live, and devoted an entire day to hiking back to a desolate place called the Black Swamp. It was over one hundred degrees Fahrenheit that day. We never found one.

 

But we were rewarded with this echidna who waddled out of a pile of dead leaves. This spiny mammal, pictured below, has its nose (“beak”) dug into the earth, hunting for ants.

Echidna, Kangaroo Island, Australia. Photo: Athena Alexander.

 

Still determined to find a platypus in the wild, we returned to Australia 11 years later and hired a guide. We learned that platypus are rare to find, very shy, and prefer certain waterways on dark days.  With the guide, we quietly skulked alongside a back stream in the rain, and were thrilled to find this one.

Platypus, Australia. Photo: Athena Alexander.

 

On this massive planet, only Australia and New Guinea still have monotremes, like the platypus and echidna: a mammal that lays eggs instead of giving birth to live young.

 

Reptiles are also widespread on this hot and dry continent. Some are more menacing than others….

Dragon Lizard, Australia

Crocodile, Australia, Kakadu Nat’l. Park.

 

Flying foxes, which are bats, are one of my personal favorites. We saw them flying in large flocks at dusk on their way to hunt; in the daytime they could be seen roosting in some trees. Many Australians consider them pests, they damage trees.

 

There are different species across the continent; here are two, the grey-headed and the spectacled.

Grey-headed Flying Foxes, Sydney, Australia

Pair of Spectacled Flying Foxes, Australia

 

Nocturnal creatures in wild Australia are yet another world.

 

Rufous Owl, Australia.

 

This is a sugar glider, a marsupial flying possum. They are similar to flying squirrels, but not related.

Sugar Glider, Queensland, Australia. Photo: Athena Alexander.

 

Even insects in Australia are extraordinary.

Ulysses Butterflies on Lantana, Australia. Photo: Athena Alexander.

 

We’ll have to explore the underwater wild of the Great Barrier Reef another time.

 

With large marsupials hopping around and smaller ones gliding through the trees; birds that are every color of the rainbow, and some that are as big as humans; reptiles that can chew you to bits; and mammals that lay eggs, Australia has a very entertaining wildlife world.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

All photos in the wild by Athena Alexander.

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Sydney, Australia. Photo: Athena Alexander.

Australia. Kakadu NP, Northern Territory.

The Macaw Lick

Boarding the boats, Manu Nat’l. Park, Madre de Dios River, Peru

Peru Village on Madre de Dios Tributary of Amazon. Photo: Athena Alexander

 

Our wildlife-seeking travel group had piled into motorized canoes and spent the next week on the Madre de Dios River, an Amazon tributary, exploring Manu National Park. The hike to the macaw lick was to be one of the highlights, and it was.

 

Found only in the New World, macaws are some of the biggest parrots on earth.

Scarlet Macaws, Manu Nat’l Park, Peru, South America.

Up to that point, we had been hearing them from our canoes, but they flew so high, they merely looked like ants way up there. The low, guttural squawk, however, made for easy identification.

Amazon river (near top) and jungle, aerial photo. Photo: Athena Alexander

 

In 1989 a research team began a macaw research project here. Big, bold and colorful, the birds had been diminishing for years, due to deforestation and illegal poaching for the pet trade.

 

The team chose an obscure section of riverbank for its natural mineral supplies that are important to the birds, and that’s where we were headed.

 

A macaw’s diet is primarily seeds, flowers, and fruits which have naturally-occurring toxins designed to protect the plant.  The minerals in the riverbank clay, at this site, have a neutralizing effect on the toxic alkaloids the macaws ingest.

 

The research team had built a blind across from the Blanquillo Clay Lick to study the macaws. They prepared palm trees to provide nesting habitat, studied nesting patterns, and over the years steadily increased the reproductive output.

 

The Macaw Society aka Tambopata Macaw Project 

 

To avoid disturbing the macaws, we left our campsite at dawn to arrive at the Macaw Lick ahead of the birds. We hiked the sloppy mud trail through a thick tangle of rainforest and moldy debris; walked through a small banana plantation, too. The Amazonian rainforest has lots of rain which means: mud, humidity, abundant wildlife, and a fast rate of decomposition.

Our bird group hiking to the Clay Lick. I’m in the center with blue backpack. Photo: Athena Alexander

This is the blind, below. You can see the clay riverbank in the back center (brown), stretching widely on each side of the blind, where the anticipated macaws were supposed to arrive if we were lucky.

The Blanquillo Macaw Lick blind, near Madre de Dios, Peru. Photo: Athena Alexander

We were told that once we were inside the blind, we would not be able to leave again until the birds had flown off. There was a toilet in there, and it had a door.

 

At first, for about an hour, there were no macaws. It was steamy and really hot inside this thatched hut, and biting mosquitoes were rampant. I kept myself distracted by studying whatever creatures came along. Those two empty chairs are where Athena and I sat.

Group inside the blind.

 

This beauty arrived, among many.

 

Julia Butterfly, Manu Nat’l Park, Peru

 

Then the thrill began. A few macaws flew in making a racquet, and landed in the palms. Cameras started clicking.

Red and Green Macaws on palm trees, Manu Nat’l. Park, Peru

Eventually more macaws gathered. They congregated in the palms, gregarious and animated.

 

Before long it was a cacophony of squawking and screeching, and a kaleidoscope of colorful macaws. They clung to vines and roots, and dug their strong bills into the clay soil.

Red and Green Macaws, Blanquillo Clay Lick, Manu Nat’l. Park, Peru

 

Red and Green Macaws

 

These blue-headed parrots also joined the party.

 

Blue-headed Parrots, Blanquillo Clay Lick. Photo: Bill Page

 

As the morning unfolded, the 100+ birds gradually began to move on, and eventually every bird had departed. They say the birds come every day, unless it’s raining.

 

A wonderful place in the river’s bend where birds can socialize and get their daily requirements, and humans can huddle on the sideline, bedazzled by this brilliant spectacle.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander and Bill Page, as noted.

Amazon Basin, Madre de Dios, Peru

 

Watching Lions

Lioness, Botswana

Lion at sunset, Botswana

Every single moment of watching lions is a privilege. The pure power of this animal is inspiring. It is easy to see why they are one of the most widely recognized animal symbols in human culture.

 

They are not, however, really kings of the forest, as the saying goes, because lions don’t live in forests. They live primarily in grassy plains and open woodlands, in sub-Saharan Africa. (See map at end.)

 

Panthera leo are as ferocious as we are led to believe, and are skilled hunters and scavengers. Even a simple yawn, like in the photo below, has us shaking in our safari boots.

 

Lioness yawning, Africa

In general, female lions do most of the hunting and protect the cubs; males establish territory and maintain dominance. But there are differences among prides.

 

Groups of female lions often hunt together. Their prey varies depending on where they live.

 

Lion cub with siblings, Botswana

 

In the Serengeti, my favorite place to watch lions, the prides generally hunt the common ungulates: impala, wildebeest and zebra.

 

During the day you may find the lions under a shade tree, or resting on rocky outcroppings or kopjes (pronounced “copies”).

Overview of kopje, Serengeti. Photo: Athena Alexander.

Lion cubs, Serengeti. Photo: Athena Alexander.

 

In Botswana’s Chobe National Park, where large populations of elephants live, lion prides are known to hunt elephants, which is unusual. They target younger, more vulnerable elephants or very old bulls, near Savute.

 

Lioness, Botswana

 

There’s a good reason juvenile elephants stay close to their mothers.

Elephant juvenile, Botswana

 

In the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, one of my favorite places on earth, different animals populate this enclosed crater than on the open plains. For example, no impalas live here.

 

We watched this lioness stalking four buffalo at the Ngorongoro Crater. She is calculating the energy cost and distance factors here. We waited about a half hour to see what she would do.

Lioness, Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania, Africa

 

She aborted the attempt.

Buffalo seem like an animal not to trifle with….

Buffalo, Africa

 

Lions are heavy animals and relatively low to the ground. They can’t sprint like a cheetah, and they don’t have a big heart for long runs, like a hyena.

 

Instead, lions take their prey by surprise, the attack is short and powerful. They leap and pounce, pull the animal down by the rump, then deliver a strangling, fatalistic bite to the throat.

 

Most of the time they hunt at night. Often we would see the effects of a night of lion-hunting at dawn. Successful lions have noticeably full bellies, and are often seen lazing beside a water hole, or sleeping. Other lions might be licking a gash or nursing a wound.

 

At night we heard big booming roars that electrified the vast darkness. Roars can be heard from five miles (8 km) away.

 

This fully mature male shows signs of numerous fights on his scarred face.

Lion, Botswana. Photo: Athena Alexander.

 

Lions are also great scavengers. They will saunter onto a kill site where other animals are avidly engaged in devouring a dead animal and take over, as if it was theirs all along.

 

They will frequently respond to hyena calls, arriving at the scene of a hyena’s fresh kill. But hyenas are formidable and ferocious animals, too, and are not easily bullied, even by lions.

Spotted Hyena, Zambia

 

Lions are the only wild cat to have a social structure, and it is fascinating. Pride hierarchy differs from venue to venue, and local safari guides are always very familiar with each pride and its individual members. Guides enthusiastically tell you stories about the lion family as if it was their own flesh and blood.

 

Lion, Botswana

 

Lion Wikipedia.

 

With their piercing golden eyes, confident swagger, and feline agility, lions continue to be one of the most majestic animals on this planet.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

All photos in the wild by Athena Alexander.

Lion Distribution. Red = historic, blue = present. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Lion populations continue to decline, mostly due to humans. If you are concerned, you can start by visiting here: African Wildlife Foundation on Lions 

 

Tidepooling Point Lobos

Point Lobos, Monterey Bay, California

 

Point Lobos is a state park on Monterey Bay, and one of my favorite spots on California’s Central Coast. I’ve been there many times, most recently this past fall.

 

It is part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the largest marine sanctuary in the United States.

 

Monterey Bay’s underwater canyons provide cold, nutrient-rich waters that attract an abundant diversity of marine plants, invertebrates, and mammals. Everything from snails to whales cruise by.

 

Point Lobos, California

Kelp forests, one of the most productive and dynamic ecosystems on earth, are abundant here. They offer food and protection to marine wildlife.

 

With tectonic plates nearby, the granite and sedimentary cliffs and rocks at Point Lobos have evolved for over 80 million years, creating a shoreline mosaic of crevasses and holes perfect for collecting intertidal waters and associated wildlife.

 

Sea Lions, Point Lobos

 

Point Lobos, California

 

Hiking, birding, photography, kayaking and scuba diving rank high on the list of activities. But it’s also fun to explore the rocks and tidepools, discovering the sea creatures that make their home here. Once you get started, it’s hard to stop.

 

Tidepooling is like a seaside safari — so much to see and learn, and never a dull moment.

 

With changing tides and constant wave action, water continually whooshing in and out, there is something different happening every minute of the day.

 

My binoculars are with me wherever I go, and they come in handy at the tidepools. Here are a few close-ups.

Tide pool with sea urchins (purple), snails, limpets, algae

 

Sea urchins and anemones, crabs and starfish, sea palms, algae and other seaweed hang on tenaciously, riding out the pounding surf.

 

Tide pool with sea anemones above and below water

 

Crabs scuttle, sea birds forage, and marine mammals languish.

 

Black-crowned Night-Heron, Point Lobos

 

Harbor Seals on a bed of barnacles and algae, Point Lobos, California

 

Every tide pool is a different community, a different story. This whole rocky plateau is a world of tidepools.

 

Tide pools and tidepoolers (center), Point Lobos, California

 

Point Lobos has a long history of attracting humans in their various endeavors: Ohlone natives, abalone hunters, Spanish explorers, whalers and commercial fishermen to name a few. For a time it was a designated WWII defense site; then it was slated to be a  residential housing development (which was nixed). Edward Weston photographed here, Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rebecca” and over 45 other movies were filmed here. It’s not far from Big Sur.

 

The wild beauty and magnificence of Point Lobos still calls. And fortunately these waters are protected now–harbor seals and sea otters can live in peace. Humans can explore and picnic and revel in the briny world.

 

Twice a day every day, the water recedes and returns, in its infinite earthly rhythms.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

Harbor Seal, Point Lobos. Photo by Athena Alexander

 

Kelp forest, Point Lobos

 

The Zambezi

Middle Zambezi River, Africa

Every river on this planet has a personality. Come along on a short journey as I share the beauties of the Zambezi in East Africa with you.

 

It’s a bold river that starts in Zambia and winds through six countries before emptying into the Indian Ocean on the east coast.

 

Zambezi.svg

Map of Zambezi. Courtesy Wikipedia.

 

The fourth longest river in Africa, the Zambezi is 1,600 miles (2,574 km) long.

 

More info:  Zambezi River Wikipedia.

 

Due to its proximity to the Rift Valley, the geological formation of centuries of uplifts and fault movements have carved the Zambezi through hundreds of miles of mountains and gorges.

Victoria Falls, Africa

Divided into three sections, the Upper, Middle and Lower Zambezi provide much-needed water to this sun-parched inland landscape and its human and wildlife residents.

 

The Middle Zambezi includes Victoria Falls, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 

Victoria Falls, Africa. Photo by Athena Alexander.

 

Also known as “The Smoke that Thunders,” for the constant spray and roar that the falls produce, Victoria Falls is the world’s largest waterfall. It has a width of 5,604 feet (1,708 m).

 

Where these African women and girls stand in the above photo, it is so loud that they don’t even bother trying to talk. Fresh river droplets are dancing in the air all around them.

 

Upstream from Victoria Falls, the Zambezi flows over a flat plateau of basalt extending hundreds of kilometers in all directions. (See aerial photo at end.)

 

Then, at the falls, the water suddenly plummets 260 feet (80 m) into a deep chasm.

Victoria Falls, Africa

The water volume in Victoria Falls varies depending on the season.  We were there in July, but I’ve been told the waters rage much more in the rainy season, February-May.

 

The Zambezi’s volume also varies by season, with regular flooding and ebbing, other waterfalls, and two hydroelectric dams. It also has many sizeable tributaries.

 

Some sections are pounding with water, attracting white-water rafting enthusiasts for the high volume of water and steep gradients.

 

Other sections of the river are calmer.

 

These next three photos are from a Zambezi tributary, the Luangwa River. Elephants and hippos, wading birds and many other animals gather at the water.

 

African elephant, Luangwa Valley, Zambia. Tributary of the Zambezi.

Hippos at Luangwa River, Zambia, Africa.

 

Locals are often seen on the water in dug-out canoes. Those humps in the water are not rocks…they’re hippos.

 

Hippos and Fishermen, Luangwa River, Zambia. Photo by Athena Alexander.

 

At the border of Botswana and Zambia, the Zambezi is 1,300 feet (400 m) wide and the current is strong. Relations between the two countries have been strained for years, locked in dispute over the construction of a bridge.

 

So instead of a bridge, a pontoon ferry system transports locals, tourists, trucks, and cars across the river. Two boats operate, like this one below, all day long.

 

Kazungula Ferry Boat, Africa

Even though it only takes about 15 or 20 minutes to get across, we spent several hours waiting in the line. Semi-truck drivers wait in line for days, sometimes weeks.

 

I read that recent bridge construction has finally begun.

 

Kazungula Ferry crossing at the Zambezi River, Africa. Ferry boat is left center.

Locals waiting to cross the Zambezi at Kazungula Crossing, Africa

 

Raging in rapids in some places, and too shallow to navigate in others, the Zambezi is a dynamic river. I’m glad you could join me for a short tour.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

Zambezi sunset at Livingstone, Africa

The Zambezi and its river basin. Map by Eric Gaba. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Basalt plateau, Victoria Falls, V. F. Bridge. Courtesy Wikipedia

 

Mexico Birding

Mexican Parrotlets

We came upon these Mexican Parrotlets in a coffee field while birding in Mexico a few years ago. One of my favorite aspects of world birding is directly engaging with other lifestyles and communities.

 

Parrolets, Mexico. Photo: A. Alexander

 

Our guide didn’t drive, so he hired his friend Lupe, a taxi driver, and we had the most wonderful three days together.  Each day we met at the dark of dawn, spent the entire morning birding, parted for afternoon siesta, then met up again to bird in the cooler late afternoon and evening.

 

Northern Potoo, Mexico

 

 

People in photo, L to R: Lupe the taxi driver, Athena, Guide Armando with scope. Photo: Jet Eliot

 

Coffee berry worker starting his day, Mexico. Photo: Athena Alexander

 

We enjoyed several different boat rides, walked many fields and trails, spent time birding on the beaches and estuaries. The nearby town of San Blas is located on the Pacific coast and is a migratory hotspot for birds. We spotted over one hundred species in those three days.

 

Armando, our guide, liked to stop for fried pork rinds at curbside stands; and took us to a local outdoor food tent where lunch was  excellent food with made-to-order tortillas.

 

Armando and the boatman, Mexico. Photo: Athena Alexander

There’s nothing like travel to learn about our fellow humans, and birding is wonderful for the start of a common denominator.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.
Photos by Athena Alexander.

Family boarding boat, San Blas, Mexico

 

Listening to Doves

Squatter Pigeon, Australia

Emerald Spotted Wood Dove, Zambia, Africa

Pied Imperial Pigeon, Australia

If you have ever listened to a dove, you know the sweet, gentle voice of peace. Seems like right now is a good time to relax into the peace of doves.

 

The bird that is classically associated with peace for centuries, doves and pigeons form  the family Columbidae. There are over 300 worldwide species. They live  everywhere except in extreme temperatures.

 

The terms “dove” and “pigeon” are often used interchangeably. Usually doves are smaller, and pigeons larger, but there are many scientific distinctions.

 

More information Columbidae

 

In North America, one of our most common doves is the mourning dove. It has several soft cooing vocalizations that add a mellow, repetitive coo-woo-woo to the air.

 

Mourning Dove, California

Mourning Dove Vocalization

They also have a soft, whistling wingbeat sound.

Mourning Dove Wingbeat Sound

So many times friends or co-workers have excitedly told me they heard an owl, only to find after we investigated further, that they were hearing a mourning dove. It is a muted sound, steady, with a slow, repeating call, and much like an owl.

 

Where I live in Northern California, we have a forest dove, the band-tailed pigeon. They do not have noticeable vocalizations, but the sanguine sight of their 25+ flocks synchronistically cruising over our valley is equally as calming.

Band-tailed Pigeon pair, California

Perched flock of band-tailed pigeons, California

 

The pigeons we see in cities, the domestic pigeon, are called rock doves. Sit on a bench in a city plaza and you can hear their cooing, like purring; the sun highlights their iridescent features.

Rock Dove visiting the San Francisco Hyatt

 

My favorite fruit dove, the Wompoo Fruit Dove, can be found hundreds of feet up in the Australian rainforest canopy eating figs and other fruit. I fell in love with its soothing wom-pooooo call.

 

Impossible to photograph, so high up, I give you an audio glimpse instead.

Woompoo Fruit Dove Vocalization

 

Another Australian rainforest dove.

Emerald Dove, Australia

 

Across the Pacific Ocean in Hawaii, the tender dove calls seamlessly blend into the fragrant air and tropical breezes.

Spotted Dove, Maui

Spotted Dove Vocalization

Zebra Dove Vocalization

We need more docile dove sounds in this world, and fortunately, they’re everywhere.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

White Rock Dove pair, Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, Oahu

 

Wildlife Visitors

Violet-green swallow, California

These photos reflect a few of the wildlife friends who have come to visit us in the past two weeks, as we continue to adhere to Covid-lockdown orders.

 

Numerous bird species that migrate here to breed join the year-round bird residents — all are breeding and nesting right now. It’s a very exciting time and every day the yard is filled with hundreds of avian friends.

California Quail, male, California’s state bird

We have lived here 19 years, on a rural two-acre property in Northern California, and have spent every day turning it into a wildlife parkland.

 

We were recently thrilled to see a pair of California quail finally return to breed on our property. Their populations perished in the 2017 wildlife fires; this spring they are back for the first time. As ground birds, they have to be very stealthy in their nesting; in a week, maybe two, we will see their chicks…if we are lucky.

 

Black-headed grosbeaks abound at our feeders. We heard the first chick this week. In another month or so, they will fly back to Mexico with their new broods.

Black-headed Grosbeak (male); a highly anticipated spring arrival

 

A pair of house finches just successfully fledged three or four offspring this week.

House Finches (Calif.), male on L, female on R

 

It is only minutes after the birds have found their evening roost that we begin to see a bat or two coming in, swooping up insects. They are barely visible in the dusk landscape,  but I know where to look. They are busy all night long.

 

Our resident bats, the canyon bat, are small–smaller than an adult hand. This photo gives you a rare close-up view.

Canyon Bat, California

 

We see western fence lizards every day, which I love, and the snakes are out and about now too. We don’t see reptiles in the winter, too cold, but are always glad to see them in spring and summer.

 

This big gopher snake greeted us on a morning walk last month, on the road adjacent to our property. We watched quietly for a few minutes, until the tongue and raised head sensed us, and then s/he instantly vanished in the weeds.

Gopher Snake, California

 

Mammals recently recorded on our outdoor camera trap revealed a coyote, skunk, raccoon, bobcat, and gray fox.

Bobcat, California

 

The “critter cam” reveals how busy it gets here at night. The animals forage under the feeders for any leftover seeds, and always drink from the water trays now that the winter rains are over. All photos here have been taken on our property, but not by the critter cam.

 

Gray fox, California

 

During the day, mammals most seen are jackrabbits, gray squirrels, and chipmunks. Lately a newcomer has joined the fray, a brush rabbit.

Brush Rabbit, California

I am happy to report the brush rabbit is fitting in well. It must be roosting on the property somewhere, because it’s here daily now, grazing on the last bits of green grass that have not yet dried up.

 

I learned years ago that we have to make our own space. Thanks for joining me in our Peaceable Kingdom.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

Anna’s Hummingbird, male, California

 

Insects

Assassin bug, Belize

Hummingbird Moth, California

 

Common Green Darner, Anax junius, California

 

During this time when we’re all thrown off our usual paths, most of us are forced, in one way or another, to look at our surroundings in a new light. During Covid, insects may not strike you as enlightening, but then again, they might.

 

Here are a few insects I have seen on hikes and adventures that remind me to stop and take that extra second to observe with whom I am sharing the trail.

 

This is an owl butterfly that we saw in Trinidad a few years ago. At first glance, it looks like detritus, but look more closely and you see a butterfly. Here you can also see the butterfly is extending its proboscis (the curled stem in the head region), not something you can always see.

Owl Butterfly, Trinidad

 

On a bird safari in Belize last year, we saw at least a hundred butterflies puddling near a storage building drainpipe. At first it looked like black dirt in the gravel.

Black Kite-swallowtail Butterflies at base of drainpipe between building and road, Belize

But all that black to the right of the drainpipe, in the gravel, is actually a huge kaleidoscope of black kite-swallowtail butterflies. They’re sucking up the nutrient-rich moisture. Looking closely, you see exotic features like blue legs and a forked tail.

Dark Kite-swallowtail Butterfly, Belize

 

At home, where most of us are staying for now, there are numerous creatures we’ve never seen before.

 

Being aware of insects is not just a pleasant pastime, it can be a good check on your safety, as well. We learn early in life to pay attention to bees, wasps, and other stinging insects.

 

In the dry, chaparral habitat where I live, scorpions (technically an arachnid) live hidden under leaf litter. They have a stinging capacity, though not seriously harmful. They’re ferocious little critters, but only as big as your pinky finger.

Scorpion, California

 

Dragonflies. If you are able to capture a nanosecond with a dragonfly, a whole new universe opens up before you.

Twelve-spotted Skimmer Dragonfly, California

 

On a personal note, two weeks ago I slipped on loose gravel on a trail, and ended up in the hospital undergoing reconstructive ankle surgery. I have to spend my days lying flat on my back for awhile, so please excuse sporadic attendance and cryptic comments.

 

When I can walk again, I will be back on the trail. When the world is allowed out again and there isn’t a deadly virus threatening us, we will all be back out again.

 

But until then, I hope you are granted a chance to see new creatures that you never noticed before.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

Cicada, Australia

Anise Swallowtail Caterpillar, California