The Seaplane Flight

Seattle’s Puget Sound Waterfront. Photo: Athena Alexander

 

Seaplane landing, Lake Union, Seattle, WA

One summer day six years ago, we had a wonderful adventure on a seaplane. We took off from Lake Union in Seattle, Washington, and landed 45 minutes later in Victoria, Canada.

 

(The fires here in Wine Country rage on, though there is 35% containment, so I am continuing with the water theme started last week. Boat Rides.)

 

There was a free shuttle that transported us from Seattle’s International Airport to Lake Union, and we had arrived early. A small airport, Kenmore Air was the most relaxing and picturesque U.S. airport I had ever been to.

 

There was plenty of time to sit around the docks watching the floatplanes land. I sat there trying to grasp how landing in water was going to work, while Athena took photos.

 

With passports and carry-on bags, we soon walked down the pier and climbed into the floating plane. Other than the two “floats” mounted under the fuselage, it looked like a regular Cessna airplane.

Lake Union pier at Kenmore Air, Seattle, WA

 

Besides Athena and myself, there were two other passengers, plus the captain and co-captain.

 

Seaplane Cockpit

 

Water takeoff was similar to an earth takeoff, but not as solid or defined…a combination of plane and boat takeoff.

 

We left Lake Union, a busy commercial and recreational boating hub in Seattle, and soon enjoyed a picturesque bird’s-eye view of Washington State’s largest city.

Lake Union, Seattle, WA

 

The plane’s two floats, which make water landings possible, add weight and therefore drag to the plane. This creates a slower rate of climb and cruise speed.

 

A slow climb and cruise speed resulted in a relaxing environment. The relatively low altitude offered fascinating views of the world below.

 

We flew over the San Juan Islands. There are 172 named islands, and several hundred smaller islands. Ferries and boats of all kinds cruise through this archipelago, from cargo ships to kayaks. It is a popular tourist destination. Map at end.

 

Aerial sailboat, from seaplane

 

Though we saw none of this from the sky that day, there are pods of orca whales, as well as humpbacks and minkes; and other wildlife, too, including the largest concentration of bald eagles in the contiguous U.S.

 

We saw that some islands were empty of people, while other islands were more established.

 

A few of the San Juan Islands, Washington State

 

Soon– too soon–it was time to land.

 

We were given an expansive aerial view of Victoria as we descended. Located on Canada’s Vancouver Island, the capital of British Columbia is a sizeable city, population 92,000.

 

Victoria Canada aerial photo from the seaplane

 

The sparkling harbor came closer and closer.

 

When we came to the moment of landing, I was pleasantly surprised…even delighted. Because I finally got to know what it must feel like to be a duck.

 

We landed just like a duck does, with it’s webbed feet extended for landing while the rest of the upper body slowly and seamlessly eased gently onto the water’s surface.

 

In my mind…I quacked with joy.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

 

Water Taxi, Victoria’s Inner Harbour and B.C. Parliament Bldgs. Photo: Athena Alexander

 

Empress Hotel, Victoria’s Inner Harbour, Canada

 

The San Juan Islands. Courtesy Wikipedia.

 

Boat Rides

San Francisco ferry docks, Embarcadero

This week we’re experiencing wildfires in my county and adjacent counties in Northern California. This time, the fire skipped over us.

 

Those in my community who have not been evacuated have watery eyes and sore throats from the intense smoke, and breathing is a struggle. The sun is coppery from the toxic pall, and ashes have been falling for days. Our brave firefighters keep going.

 

I’m locked in, mending broken bones and staying distanced in a pandemic; so let’s do that virtual thing and focus on boat rides and the freshness of clean, moving air and abundant water.

 

The San Francisco Bay offers many opportunities to climb aboard. One day two years ago we took a birding charter on a winter day.

 

It was during the bird migration, so we saw loads of birds and sea lions, too.

Gulls and Sailboat, San Francisco Bay, California

 

A raft of sea lions, San Francisco Bay

 

Sailboats and Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, CA

 

You can take a boat to Alcatraz.

Alcatraz Island

 

Or hop on a commuter ferry across the Bay. These days, masks and social distancing are required.

Ferry boat, The San Francisco. Athena on the top deck in 2018.

 

In 2018 and 2019 we enjoyed Fourth of July fireworks cruises on the San Francisco Bay. Hopefully next year that will be happening again.

San Francisco Bay, 07.04.18

 

While birding, we often take boats to small islands. This was a boat we took in the West Indies with the goal of seeing tropicbirds…which we found.

Boat guide and captain, headed for Little Tobago Island in the West Indies

 

Red-billed Tropicbird, Little Tobago Island, West Indies

 

River boating is also fun for birding. Some years ago, our guide Armando and his captain friend took us on this wooden outboard motorboat in Mexico.

Armando and the boatman, Mexico. Photo: Athena Alexandra.

 

I always put my hand in the water when I’m in a low-lying boat, I like to feel the temperature of the water. But not on our pontoon boat ride through the Okefenokee Swamp.

Alligator and Spanish Moss, Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia.

 

Last summer we signed up for a half-day trip on this paddle-wheeler riverboat. We were curious to know what being on the Columbia River was like. It was super windy and a blast in every way.

Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler, Oregon

 

Here’s a live-aboard I was on for a week, years ago, visiting the Galapagos Islands. The Diamante. We slept on the boat at night and hiked different islands during the day.

Galapagos Islands, our living quarters for a week. Photo: Athena Alexander

 

Fishing and small boats are a livelihood for many.

Zambia, Africa. Photo: Athena Alexander.

 

Fishing boats, Lake Baringo, Kenya, Africa. Photo: Athena Alexander.

 

The Sydney Harbor has a lively array of boats coming and going all day and night. We caught a ferry to the Taronga Zoo, and had an exhilarating time observing the Opera House, Harbour Bridge and local sail boats.

Sydney Harbour Bridge. Photo: Athena Alexander.

 

Motorized canoes on an Amazon tributary–they move just fast enough to keep the mosquitoes from biting.

Athena and I are on this boat. Photo: Bill Page.

 

We’re lucky to have water and boats all over this planet, and someday soon our Bay Area fires will stop, the air will clear, and I’ll be back onboard another great vessel. Thanks for joining me, matey.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

Most photos by Athena Alexander.

Jet. It’s always fun to go under the GG Bridge. Photo: Athena Alexander.

 

Kona Farmers Market

Kona Farmers Market, Big Island, Hawaii

Fruit Stand, Kona Farmers Market

Every farmers market expresses the soul of a community. A visit to the Kona Farmers Market is celebrated with tropical fruits, Hawaiian arts and crafts, and the ease of gentle people, warm air and sea breezes.

 

On the west coast of Hawaii’s Big Island is the town of Kailua-Kona. Most people just call it Kona. We visit Kona every few years, usually for a week in December to escape the winter weather and holiday chaos at home.

 

We always go birding and snorkeling, and visit the Kona Market. Every Kona visit is planned around when the Kona Market is open.

Pacific Ocean and palm trees from Alii Drive, Kona, Hawaii

An open air market, it is located on Alii Drive, a narrow street hugging the coastline. It is open every week, Wednesday through Sunday, 7 am – 4 pm.

 

A parking lot on Mondays and Tuesdays, the market comes alive all the other days with locals and tourists, fresh farm produce, art, and souvenirs.

 

We go early–less people and more peace–and hear the rhythmic cooing of zebra doves, accompanied by squawks and chirps of the ubiquitous mynas.

Common Myna, Hawaii

On one side of the market you see the volcano Hualalai in the distance. It is an active volcano, so there are no dwellings or vegetation, just old lava spills and the vast openness.

 

On the other side of the market, across the street, is the sea. Lapping waves, black lava rock covered with skittering black crabs, and palm trees. Sometimes there’s a cruise ship docked in the bay; always there are surfers, paddleboarders and Hawaiian outrigger canoeists.

 

This town, this bay, is where the annual Ironman Triathlon takes place every October.

 

Occasionally there will be a green sea turtle foraging on the rocks, oblivious to the traffic on Alii Drive.

Green Sea Turtle on lava, Big Island

 

This rock wall, below, separates the market parking lot from the pedestrian sidewalk. It’s made out of the Big Island’s most prevalent earthen substance: black lava rock.

Zebra doves and bougainvillea at the Kona Market

 

We walk to the market from our rental condo and wear backpacks, knowing we will buy a few Hawaiian togs at our favorite clothing tent…our summerwear. In December summer seems so far away; but  n o t  when you’ve landed in Kona.

Clothing stand at Kona Farmers Market

 

We also fill up our backpacks with fresh exotic fruits, enjoy them all week.  Papayas so ripe and tender that you can open them with a butter knife. Hawaiian apple-bananas, half the size of a grocery store banana and with a more mellow flavor. Pineapples, mangos, avocados, star fruits, rambutans, and many more.

 

Paintings and other fine, hand-crafted art are based on the Hawaiian themes of volcanoes, Polynesian history, the ocean and all the creatures who live in it. Kona coffee, guava jam, macadamia nuts, coconuts, and an array of touristy baubles are also for sale.

Kona Farmers Market

 

I spotted a gecko on a pole who enticed us into this flower stand. It teased us, displaying its exotic beauty but never sitting still long enough to be photographed.

Flower stand at the Kona Farmers Market

On a winter day in December, there is nothing quite so sublime as slowly walking through the tropical Kona Farmers Market.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

Gold Dust Day Gecko, Hawaii

 

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