Eucalyptus in the Bay Area

Eucalyptus trees, eucalyptus globulus, Berkeley, CA

A tree that is native to Australia, the eucalyptus also thrives in the San Francisco Bay Area. This has been a fiercely contested topic for over thirty years.

 

I am still a vagabond after the fires last month destroyed parts of our home, spent this past weekend at a friend’s in the Berkeley/East Bay area. This part of the Bay Area has many eucalyptus trees. One day I took a walk through a large cemetery. It was filled with eucalyptus trees, and I was reminded of the controversy.

 

Some people like the eucalyptus trees. The pungent fragrance, exotic multi-colored trunks, and tall stature are pleasing. The tree produces a sweet nectar that draws hummingbirds, and other birds. It has seed pods and seasonal flowers, and elegant pointy leaves. It has beneficial medicinal value, too.

Eucalyptus tree trunk, Berkeley, CA. Ground debris has been cleaned up by groundskeepers.

 

I am always happy to see the flocks of yellow-rumped warblers that invariably visit groves of eucalyptus. The cheerful birds dance around in the tall treetops.

 

Other people despise the tree. The bark sheds in long strips, and sometimes limbs drop off too, making it a danger. Bark and pods and leaves litter the ground. Fire Departments all over California curse the flammability of the tree.

 

Moreover, a non-native invasive, they can overtake the native flora, and corresponding fauna as well. Due to its ability to readily re-sprout, it is nearly impossible to fully eradicate without use of strong pesticides.

 

Lawsuits, protests, campaigns, and debates have sparked the community for decades.

 

Eucalyptus leaves, Berkeley, CA

 

Atlantic magazine article about the debate. 

 

As with much of Bay Area history, the California Gold Rush of the 1850s started the trend when the population dramatically increased. Lumber was needed to build housing. By the early 1900s entrepreneurs, like Frank C. Havens, a real estate developer, were certain this fast-growing tree was the perfect solution for quick lumber.  He imported eucalyptus seedlings from Australia, and planted millions of trees all over the Bay Area.

 

Soon after, he discovered that the wood was too young for lumber use. The wood bent, cracked, and shrank.

 

In today’s bigger picture, there are 700+ species of eucalyptus, native to Australia and surroundings. There they call it “the gum tree.” Gum trees are everywhere. The leaves are the koala’s main diet.

 

A farmer and his dog, Kangaroo Isl., Aus.; in a grove of gum trees

 

One day while in Australia, we were looking for koalas in this grove (above). A ranger had told us we would find koalas here, and we had spent an hour searching for them, but found nothing. Then a farmer drove up (we were on his property), asked us if we needed help. We told him what we were doing, he leaned out of the front window, pointed up and showed us three koalas sleeping in the trees.

 

Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree (Blue-winged Kookaburra, Queensland, Australia)

 

Eucalyptus globulus, also known as the Tasmanian Blue Gum, is the prevalent species in the Bay Area. They usually range in height from 98-180 feet tall (30-55 m).

 

The get-rich-quick themes of yesteryear have caused problems for native plants of today. All over the world there are theories and plans for eradicating invasive non-natives, making more hospitable space for native species; not just for eucalyptus trees, but for many plants and animals.

 

But as I stood underneath the Berkeley eucalyptus trees this past weekend, I filled my lungs with the refreshing aroma, and thanked them for their strength and beauty.

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander

Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo, Aus., in gum tree

 

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Kangaroos

Eastern Grey Kangaroo

It is an unusual thing to see a large mammal effortlessly hopping across the countryside.

 

Eastern Grey Kangaroo pair

 

Endemic to Australia, kangaroos live on most of the continent and some surrounding islands, see map below. Called macropods for their family name Macropodidae, there are about 55 species of kangaroos.

 

There are several species of large kangaroos, and they are roughly the size of an adult human, or a little bigger. In addition there are about 50 smaller macropods including wallabies, wallaroos, and tree kangaroos. Wallabies are generally knee-high.

 

Mareeba Rock Wallaby with joey

 

Ancient Kangaroo Rock Art, Kakadu NP

 

Wikipedia overview.

 

While diets vary for each species, all kangaroos are herbivores. They have specialized teeth and chambered stomachs for eating and digesting grass and plants; can endure long periods without drinking, by getting water from their diet.

 

Red-legged Pademelon with joey

 

Like most marsupials, kangaroos are born after a short gestation. The word “marsupial” derives from Latin and Greek for pouch.

 

The size of a lima bean, a newborn kangaroo begins life by crawling from the uterus to the pouch. The hind legs are still stumps, but forelegs are just big enough for the joey (baby) to crawl into the pouch. They live in the pouch, nourishing on the mother’s teats, for months.

 

Lumholtz Tree Kangaroo (rare)

Australia is a large continent, about the same size as the contiguous United States. It is also a land of extreme temperatures, and animal life can be tenuous. When conditions are favorable, kangaroos reproduce rapidly; during droughts they do not give birth, and the population drops.

Agile Wallaby

 

Another kangaroo challenge on this expansive and weather-extreme continent is finding food and water. For this they have evolved with special elastic tendons in their legs, allowing them to travel far distances without expending much energy. They are the only large mammal on earth to hop.

 

The red kangaroo, the largest species, comfortably hops at about 12-16 miles per hour (20-25 km/h). For short distances they can speed up to 43 mph (70 km/h).

Wallaby

 

Mareeba Rock Wallaby at Granite Gorge

 

Eastern Grey Kangaroo mob

 

I witnessed a comical scene with kangaroos once, while birding. There were three of us in a jeep, out in the middle of nowhere, half-hidden behind some brush. A mob (group) of large, grey kangaroos came hopping by and they didn’t know we were there. They were clipping along at a good speed. When they saw us, they stopped immediately, trying to redirect, but they were moving so fast that their momentum had them slipping and sliding in all directions.

 

They hop like a bunny, digest like a cow, and occupy only one continent. Hip hip for the hopper.

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander

Check out my mystery novel, filled with Australian lore.

Ebook —  $4.99 at Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

Image by SnakeByte Studios

 

Kingfishers of the World

Azure Kingfisher, Australia

A bird widely distributed across the world today, the kingfisher inhabits almost every continent (map below). This successful and thriving species has fossils that date back 30-40 million years.

Forest Kingfisher, Australia

 

Contrary to their name, not all kingfishers catch and eat fish; some species prefer frogs, snakes, worms, and more. Wikipedia overview.

 

Green Kingfisher (female), Belize

 

Though sources differ, there are approximately 100 species of kingfishers. Largely tropical birds, the majority inhabit the Old World tropics and Australasia.

 

The species we see most in North America is the belted kingfisher,.   In Europe, the kingfisher most commonly seen is appropriately called: common kingfisher. There are 10 species in Australia, 18 in Africa.

 

Whenever I am walking around a lake or river and hear the characteristic ratcheting of the belted kingfisher, whatever I am doing, I look up and search for this avian friend.

 

Australia, Kakadu Nat’l. Park

Kingfishers have a disproportionately large head and long, pointy bill; with short legs and stubby tails. They range in size from 3.9 inches long (10 cm) (African dwarf kingfisher) to 18 inches (45 cm) (giant kingfisher).

 

Giant Kingfisher, Botswana

When you come across a kingfisher, they are often perched on a branch, scanning the ground or water below. One of the easier birds to spot, they have bright colors, a distinct shape, and a predictable behavior.

 

Kingfishers have excellent vision, including binocular and color; and are able to recognize water reflection and depth. Some species have eye membranes for water protection. The pied kingfisher, for example, has a bony plate that slides across the eye on water impact.

 

Pied Kingfisher, Botswana

 

Blue-winged Kookaburra with frog in mouth, Australia

 

Little Kingfisher, Australia

Once the kingfisher spots the prey, they swoop down and snatch it, return to the perch. Holding the prey in their strong bill, they beat it against the limb, breaking it down to a sizeable portion for consumption.

 

Sometimes kingfishers will hover above water and dive in for fish.

Green Kingfisher (male), Belize

 

A kingfisher discussion would not be complete without mentioning the laughing kookaburra. Although this kingfisher lives primarily in Australia, many of us all over the world have heard of it, from the song. “Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree….”

 

Laughing Kookaburra, Australia

You can hear the great old children’s song, written by an Australian music teacher in 1934, here: the song

 

The real-life sound of a laughing kookaburra is truly wonderful. When I first heard it in a park in Sydney, it startled me.

 

Loud and cackling, it sounds nothing like laughter. You might think it was a monkey (or a wild beast) if you didn’t know better. Kookaburra call. 

Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Zambia

With a variety of specialized hunting skills, successful worldly range, and striking  colors, this bird is one that many of us have been celebrating our whole life.

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander

Kingfisher range. Courtesy Wikipedia.

 

 

 

 

 

Daintree Rainforest, Australia

Australasian Darter (female)

The earth’s numerous rainforests vary widely depending on rainfall, climate, proximity to equator and many more factors. Here’s a look at the Daintree Rainforest, the largest continuous area of tropical rainforest on the Australian continent.

 

Daintree River, Australia

Approximately 460 square miles (1,200 sq. km.) in size, it is nestled in the northeastern part of the continent on Cape York Peninsula.

 

One of the world’s rarest and most unique birds, the southern Cassowary lives in this rainforest. It is listed as Endangered, with 1,500-2,500 individuals left in Australia.

 

Southern Cassowary, Australia

Standing six feet tall with bright red and blue features, Casuarius casuarius is elusive. A flightless bird and second heaviest in the world, other features include: a keratin helmet atop the head; and one toe with a blade-like claw used for kicking, capable of killing dogs and humans.

 

One day our guide took us birding deep into this rainforest. We were quietly elated when a male cassowary came upon us. But soon we noticed he was very agitated with us, in spite of our respectful distance and quietness. As he became more agitated, we did our best to flee without disturbing him, and fortunately we did get away.

 

You can read more about it in a previously-written post (Bowerbird Bowers).

 

Spangled Drongo, Australia

Daintree Cassowary Crossing

During our two weeks in the Daintree Rainforest, I asked all the Daintree people we met if they had ever seen a cassowary. Only one person had.

Casuarius distribution map.png

World distribution of Southern Cassowary. Courtesy Wikipedia.

 

 

 

It’s a quirky part of the world, that’s what I love about it. The Village has a population of 78. We were the only guests in the only hotel.

 

Papuan Frogmouth, Daintree River, Australia

We lodged in Daintree to take the Daintree River early morning river cruise–a marvelous adventure. Although we saw many beautiful birds on this cruise (a few photographed here), our favorite was the Papuan Frogmouth. (Study the photo carefully, he is camouflaged, in the center.)

 

Queen Elizabeth II, Daintree Village

Our first night in Daintree Village, we ate dinner at their only evening restaurant. There was a shrine of Queen Elizabeth II next to the cash register, and we listened several times to Johnny Cash singing “Ring of Fire.”

 

After dinner we walked the short distance (100 yards) back to the hotel, and in that brief nighttime walk we came across six large cane toads, and two-inch cicadas swarming our heads; and watched as a grass snake tried desperately to get into the room next door.

 

Stalking killer birds, persistent reptiles, and a place where the only busy nightlife is wildlife. Ah, that’s my kind of place.

 

All photos taken by Athena Alexander.

 

Wicked Walkabout by Jet Eliot

A mystery novel I wrote, with Australian bird and wildlife scenes.

Click here to buy e-book Wicked Walkabout – $4.99

or from Amazon

 

 

 

Rainbow Lorikeet, Australia

 

Answering Your Questions

Golden Gate GraveyardI have happily received emails and questions lately about the process of my novel writing. In response, I have written a brief page addressing how I determine aspects like the setting, plot, characters, and researching.

 

Visit the “Writing Novels” tab above to learn more about how I write mystery novels. You’re welcome to leave a comment if you want. If you have an additional question that didn’t get answered here, you can also contact me at my email address, via the “Contact” tab.

 

Keep the questions coming, and thank you for your interest.  Tell a friend!

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander

Jet in Australian rainforest with Golden Bowerbird bower, research for Wicked Walkabout.

Jet in Australian rainforest with Golden Bowerbird bower, research for Wicked Walkabout.

 

Wishing you this holiday season…

 

Lioness, Africa

Lioness, Africa

 

 

Time to relax,

 

 

 

 

Otter, Alaska

Otter, Kenai, Alaska

and enjoy~~

 

 

 

 

Denali, Alaska

Denali, Alaska

Plenty of beauty on your path,

 

 

 

 

Elephants, Tanzania, Africa

Elephants, Tanzania, Africa

lots of love,

 

 

 

 

Purple Finch, California

Purple Finch, California

health,

 

 

 

 

 

Kangaroos, Australia

Kangaroos, Australia

and hoppin’ good times.

 

 

 

 

 

Elegant Trogon, Mexico

Elegant Trogon, Mexico

Happy Holidays, my friends, and many thanks for your valuable friendship~~

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander

 

 

 

 

Golden Gate GraveyardA good last minute gift is a digital e-book, and I know just the one — it’s hot off the press, suspenseful, and written by someone you know. Also available in paperback.

Purchase from the publisher or Amazon or any major online book retailer.

 

Birds of Australia, Part 2 of 2

Nankeen Night Heron, Kakadu, Aus.

Nankeen Night Heron, Kakadu, Aus.

My previous post highlighted some of the many colorful and unusual birds of Australia, and today we’ll cover the little penguin and a few other special birds from Down Under.

 

Red-browed Finch, Australia

Red-browed Finch, Australia

One favorite sighting was the little penguin on Kangaroo Island, just off the southern coast.

 

Penguins are only found in the southern hemisphere, many reside in the colder climates of Antarctica. Flightless seabirds, penguins are warm-blooded, and have feathers and lay eggs like other birds.

 

Eudyptula minor Bruny 1.jpg

Little Penguin, Australia. Photo: J.J. Harrison, courtesy Wikipedia.

The little penguin, found in southern Australia and New Zealand, is the smallest penguin on earth.  More info here. 

 

A ranger had told us to go to this coastal corner at dark and look around the rocks. He warned not to turn on our “torch,” because that would startle them.

 

Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo, Aus.

Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo, Aus.

So there we were in the dark, tripping around between parked cars with steamy windows, looking for another bird.

 

Eventually, on the other side of the parked cars, a few quietly clambered toward us. I backed up, thinking it was three large rats. But then a few more appeared over the crest of some rocks, and we got a better look.

 

Wandering Whistling Ducks, Australia

Wandering Whistling Ducks, Australia

Only knee-high, they waddled among the rocks and in about ten minutes they had all disappeared into their burrows.

 

Another favorite was in Queensland on the mainland, in a rainforest. The rainforest is a cacophony of vibrant bird song; screeches, squawks, and screams burst forth from the tangle of palms and vines.

 

Magpie-lark, Granite Gorge, Aus.

Magpie-lark, Granite Gorge, Aus.

One bird song I found especially soothing was the onomatopoeic call of the Wompoo Fruit Dove.

 

This dove was especially difficult to see or photograph because they are well-hidden in the upper canopy, and have quiet ways.

 

Amid the loud whip sound of the Eastern Whipbird, and other shrieks, the wompoo dove has a gentle, almost human call: “wom-poo.”

 

Ptilinopus magnificus -North Queensland, Australia-8.jpg

Wompoo Fruit Dove, Australia. Photo: Jim Bendon, courtesy Wikipedia

Wompoo Dove sound, click here.

 

Other fun Australian bird anecdotes can be found on previously-written posts:

Spotted Catbird

Paradise Riflebird

Black Noddy

 

South Alligator River sunset, Kakadu, Aus.

South Alligator River sunset, Kakadu, Aus.

It’s impossible to share the hundreds of birds I experienced in Australia, but I trust the dozen or so I have highlighted in this series gave you a glimpse of the lively bird life in this country.

 

Emerald Dove, Australia

Emerald Dove, Australia

Photo credit: Athena Alexander unless otherwise specified.

 

 

 

Wicked WalkaboutMystery novel I wrote set in Australia: e-book for $4.99 available here.