The Raven

Raven, Point Lobos, California

This all-black bird has either fascinated or intimidated humans for centuries. I am one of the fascinated fans. Corvus corax  have a versatile and wide-ranging diet; a full repertoire of vocalizations; and a rare ability to problem-solve.

 

A member of the Corvid family, the most intelligent birds on the planet, ravens have captivated humans for centuries. Hundreds of scientific studies and thousands of observations continue to prove how advanced a raven’s thinking is.

 

Corvids include crows, jays, magpies, rooks, jackdaws, and more.  Common Raven Wikipedia.

 

At the Golden Gate Bridge, SF skyline in background

 

They reside in our planet’s northern hemisphere; see range maps at end.

 

This photograph offers a good size comparison between a bald eagle (left) and a raven (right). It was very rainy day and we were all drenched and a little cranky.

Bald eagle (juvenile) on left, raven on right. Sacramento NWR, CA

 

It can be difficult to distinguish the difference between a raven and a crow. They look very much alike, differences are subtle.

 

Here are a few of the differences that help me with identification:

  • The raven is the larger of the two birds;
  • Adult ravens usually travel in pairs, whereas crows are often seen in large flocks;
  • The call of a raven is a deeper croak than the crow;
  • Ravens like large expanses of open land, while crows are more often seen in densely populated areas;
  •  A raven’s tail, which you can see well in the photograph below, has varying lengths and tapers into a rounded wedge shape; whereas a crow’s tail has feathers all the same length, the end is straight across.

Raven in flight

More info for distinguishing the two here.

 

Raven

 

We have a raven pair on our property who often come to roost at the end of the day. After the sun has set, I hear them call to each other. Caw, caw, caw says one. Then I hear the other one reply: caw, caw, caw. They can go on like this for several minutes. I think they’re discussing which tree to spend the night in.

 

Here they were captured by our camera trap. They are keen to collect our offering of mice, caught in traps from our storage space. Look closely in the right raven’s mouth. They take the mice and fly off with their cache; circle this stump from above on their daily hunting route.

 

Even the Tower of London has a long history with ravens.

 

Not everyone, including Edgar Allan Poe, find ravens to be a delight. But even Mr. Poe, in his poem, found them to be mysterious.

 

Common Raven, Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California

 

Big and raucous, and sporting the all-black color of the underworld, ravens have an intimidating effect on some cultures.

 

If you happen to see a raven blinking in a moment when their extra protective eyelid, the nictitating membrane, is revealed, they can look eerie.

Raven revealing nictitating membrane in eye

 

But observe them long enough and you hear dozens of creative vocalizations that you never knew were possible. You see barrel rolls and aerobatic displays that can only be interpreted as one thing: fun.

 

You see enough of the fun and games of ravens…and you’re hooked for life.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

 

 

Range Map for Common Raven

North America Range Map for Common Raven, courtesy allaboutbirds.org

Corvus corax map.jpg

World Map, Common Raven Range, courtesy Wikipedia

Jubilee and Munin, two of the London Tower’s ravens in 2016. Courtesy Wikipedia.

 

The Okefenokee Swamp

Alligator, Okefenokee Swamp

Here’s a place I have heard about my whole life. Catchy name. I got to visit it this past November, and it is as unusual and quirky as it’s name…and far more exotic and beautiful than I had ever imagined.

 

The Okefenokee Swamp is a peat-filled wetland that straddles the U.S. Georgia-Florida border. A vast and shallow bog, it covers nearly a half-million acres (177,000 ha). In ancient times it was part of the ocean floor.

Cresser Prairie, Okefenokee Swamp

There are hiking trails, a self-guided auto tour, an observation tower, camping, and more. But being on the water is decidedly the best way to experience the Okefenokee.  You can rent boats, take your own out, or pay for a boat tour.

 

We took the guided 90-minute boat tour, and it was excellent.

 

Alligators peered out from beneath the water’s surface.

Alligator

 

 

Pond cypress trees

Pond-cypress trees and Suwannee Channel

 

It is the largest blackwater swamp in North America. The water is characteristically slow-moving, filtering through vegetation and decay, resulting in tannins that make the water appear black.

 

Blackwater generally has less nutrients and more acid, hosting flora and fauna different than you see around fast-moving water.

 

The cypress trees (Taxodium ascendens) (pictured above), rooted in water, have a curious bulbous base that assists in stabilizing the tree.

 

Trees living in water:  not something we see very often.

 

Surrounding the cypress trees are woody projections, tapered stumps, called “cypress knees.” These are part of the cypress root system thought to provide the tree with stability as well as oxygen.

Cypress Knees in front center

The guide steered the boat down the long man-made Suwannee Canal, as we suspiciously eyed the alligators, kept our limbs and digits well inside the boat. Monarchs fluttered along the shoreline, turkey vultures soared overhead, woodpeckers and blue jays dipped among the trees while catbirds shouted their mewing calls.

i

Forest trees, thickly draped with Spanish moss, arched overhead.

Moss-draped forest

I studied the faces of canoeists as they glided by, admired their calm as they paddled through the black, alligator-studded water.

Canoeists in Okefenokee Swamp

After we left the main channel, we headed into the Chesser prairie. There are many wetland prairies, or open landscapes, in the Okefenokee and they’re all named.

 

Wading birds like ibis, egrets, and herons dotted the landscape.

 

In addition to the abundant water lilies (Nymphaea odorata), clumps of pitcher plants (Sarraceniaceae) could be seen in a few places. A cobra-shaped carnivorous plant, it eats and digests insects.

 

Its sweet nectar entices the insect in while the waxy inner surface traps the insect, who then drowns in the inner chamber.

Pitcher Plant

The history of the Okefenokee is an interesting one, home to Native Americans and white settlers in earlier centuries. Toward the beginning of the 20th century, opportunists embarked on draining the swamp and harvesting the cypress trees for profit.

 

Fortunately for us, by 1937 the area became protected.

 

In some parts of the Okefenokee there are small islands, called batteries, that you can see floating by.  About the size of a desktop or larger, they are made of decaying organic matter called peat that originates on the swamp floor and floats to the surface.

 

“Okefenokee” is a Native American word of Seminole origin that means “The Land of the Trembling Earth.” It is believed that the long-ago Native American residents probably walked on those floating batteries, and experienced trembling.

 

Trees and flowers that live in the water. Plants that eat insects. Mammals that eat humans. And black water wherever you look.

 

The Okefenokee Swamp is marvelously unique.

Written by Jet Eliot.
Photos by Athena Alexander.

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge Wikipedia

Visiting the Okefenokee

Informative overview

 

 

Welcoming 2020

Giant Eagle Owl, aka Verreaux’s Owl, Botswana, Africa

As we step forward into a fresh new year, and decade, here are some wise words from a few of my wild friends.

 

Greet each day with a smile.

Crocodile, Kakadu Nat’l. Park, Australia

 

Enjoy the search for life’s nectar.

Scaly-breasted Hummingbird, Belize

 

Wear your true colors …

Yellow Tangs, Big Island, Hawaii

but on crabby days, lay low.

Sally Lightfoot Crab, Galapagos Islands

 

Eat good foods …

House Finch, Gold Dusk Gecko Eating Papaya, Hawaii

and drink plenty of water.

Young African Elephant Drinking Water, Botswana, Africa

 

Share the resources.

Bighorn Sheep and Moose at pond, Rocky Mtn. NP, Colorado

 

Wildlife, who have to physically work for every bite, like to remind us humans of the importance of movement. They tell us to …

Exercise …

Sable, Botswana, Africa

and stretch.

Leopard, Tanzania, Africa

 

I’ve watched plenty of wildlife simply having fun, especially ravens.

Common Raven, Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California

Wildlife remind us to:

Hang out with our mates …

Grey-headed Flying Fox colony, Sydney, Australia

and cherish our loved ones.

Baird’s Tapir, juvenile and mother, Belize

 

Try to get along with everyone …

Hippo with heron, Zambia, Luangwa Valley, Africa

but when it’s not possible, take leave.

Humpback Whale, Kenai, Alaska

And because we are granted many days in each new year, there are bound to be some bad days too. The wisdom there is:

When life gives you dung, be a dung beetle.

Dung Beetle, Serengeti, Kenya, Africa

 

It’s good to be industrious …

Leafcutter Ant with leaf spear, Belize

but don’t forget to take time to perch …

Keel-billed Toucan, Belize

and relax.

Guatemalan Black Howler Monkey, Belize

 

Never stop singing …

Dickcissel, Texas

and just keep hopping.

Grey Kangaroos, Australia

 

Wishing you the best in 2020, my friends. Thanks for sharing the sparks of 2019 with me.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

All photos by Athena Alexander.

Blue Monkey, Mt. Kenya, Kenya, Africa

 

Hiking the Columbia Gorge

Columbia River and Freight Train

I had the privilege of hiking two different trails while visiting the Pacific Northwest’s Columbia Gorge recently. The trails were on opposite sides of the Columbia River, in two different states.

 

Bridge of the Gods over the Columbia River

On the north shore of the river is the state of Washington, the south side is Oregon.

 

With the helpful emails and posts of fellow blogger and PNW hiker John Carr, both hikes were awesome, and the book he suggested, Northwest Oregon by William L. Sullivan, was great. His website, johncarroutdoors.com, is dedicated primarily to PNW hikes.

 

The first day, Athena and I hiked the Falls Creek Falls trail in Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Washington, named after the first Chief of the United States Forest  Service. This trail was enchanting due to dynamic Falls Creek that was present every step of the way. Sometimes the waters expressed a calm chattering, other times, passionately raging.

 

Two exquisite footbridges aided us as we traversed the trail.

 

Suspension Footbridge, Falls Creek Falls Trail

After marveling at the footbridge engineering and enjoying  many unfamiliar plants along the way, we hiked further and discovered the old-growth trees.

 

We were awed by towering moss-covered rock walls and magnificent old-growth Douglas fir trees.

Rock Wall, Falls Creek Falls Trail

 

Athena demonstrating the size of the old-growth Douglas Fir tree

I always enjoy hiking on familiar trails, observing each new season with appreciation, and warmly greeting the trees, plants, and wildlife as the old friends they are.

 

But it’s also really fun to be in a completely new forest, especially when it is a winner. Each turn of the path yields a new surprise…mystery and adventure.

 

As we continued along the trail, the sound of the water gradually increased until it was so loud we could no longer hear each other speak…and then, through the trees, we were astounded to see the crashing waters high above us.

Falls Creek Falls, Washington

The guidebook’s author described the waterfall perfectly: “The 3-tiered cascade starts with a hidden 50-foot falls, spreads across a 70-foot fan, and finally thunders 80 feet into a rock punchbowl.”

Falls Creek Falls

We had lunch at the waterfall, and headed back, completely satisfied and happy for the magic we had experienced.

 

The other hike occurred a day later in Mount Hood National Forest in Oregon. The High Prairie Trail on Lookout Mountain.

 

As we ascended, we came upon a few meadows, like this one. Although is was late August, there were still wildflowers.

Meadow, Mount Hood National Forest

 

As we continued, we were rewarded with breathtaking views of the Cascade Mountains and the Columbia River Plateau.

Mount Hood and Columbia River Plateau

That day it was 90 degrees F. (32 C.), so we stopped a few times in the ascent, finding rocks to sit on and marveling at the quiet magnificence.

 

More surprises prevailed as the close-up views of Mount Hood just kept getting better and better.

 

Mount Hood, Oregon

There is no place in the world like the Pacific Northwest with its endless waterfalls, gorgeous trails, and sweeping mountain vistas.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

 

Columbia River Gorge

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Bigfin Reef Squid

There are about 200 exhibits at Monterey Bay Aquarium.

 

Designed to delight and educate visitors, the exhibits attract visitors of all ages. Here are a few photos from last month.

Purple-striped Jelly

Black Sea Nettles

 

I shared the Sea Jelly Exhibit in a previous post, and enjoyed hearing from readers about their underwater and aquarium experiences.

Sea Otter

The sea jellies were a popular exhibit, and so were the sea otters.

 

Sea Otter viewers

 

They have five otters: Abby, Ivy, Kit, Rosa, Selka. Each one arrived as a rescue animal, cannot survive in the wild. They have their own two-storied tank, and can be seen submerged, or frolicking above water.

 

Sea otters were heavily hunted for their fur in earlier centuries and remain an endangered species today. They have the densest fur of any animal.

 

You can see here how the outer layer of thick fur repels water, keeping the inner fur layer dry.

Sea Otter

 

The Tentacles Exhibit had numerous tanks, artfully lit and emulating underwater scenes. Squid and cuttlefishes could be found here, along with octopuses, nautiluses and other tentacled creatures.

Kisslip Cuttlefish

 

Visitors walk through dark rooms lit by tanks of colorful sea urchins, anemones, shrimp, crabs, clams and seahorses.

Seahorses

 

There are daily feedings, auditorium programs, behind-the-scene tours, and numerous videos offered throughout the facility. Some exhibits are interactive, visitors are invited to touch the creatures; while other exhibits are simply for observing. Free live cams entertain visitors from afar.

 

The largest exhibit, the Open Sea, features a giant tank with sea turtles, rays, giant tuna, all kinds of fish, and sardine swarms.

Sardine swarm in center

 

Many of the sea creatures are residents of California’s coast, but there are additional animals from other parts of the world as well.

 

African Penguins

 

Kelp is an algae seaweed that lives in cold, nutrient-dense waters and is prevalent along the west coast of North America. In California’s Monterey Bay area, where kelp is protected, large kelp canopies flourish, providing food and shelter to hundreds of species of birds and mammals.

 

The Monterey Bay Aquarium, in recognizing and promoting the ecological importance of kelp forests, features a permanent Kelp Forest Exhibit. Their 28-foot (8.5 m) exhibit hosts swaying fronds of kelp and millions of fish.

Leopard Shark in kelp forest

 

Kelp Forest

About 20 minutes south of the Monterey Bay Aquarium off Highway 1 is a splendid array of many of these same sea creatures in their natural habitats. The Monterey Bay sea canyon is deeper than the Grand Canyon.

 

A visit to Point Lobos State Natural Reserve yields protected tide pools, kelp forests, and marine mammals. Whenever I am in the Monterey area, I never miss a visit to Point Lobos. I’ll share this wonderland with you another time.

Point Lobos, California

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a non-profit organization, and their research and advocacy is ongoing.

 

In today’s times when our planet’s seas are showing signs of deep distress, spending time and money exploring and supporting the health of the oceans is not only beneficial to future generations, but it is also great fun.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

Harbor Seal, Pt. Lobos

 

Post Card from Space

NASA space suit, Kennedy Space Center

I’m not really in space, but after a day immersed in a NASA facility, I can say it won’t be long before humans will be sending digital post cards to their Earthling loved ones from space.

 

This week I visited the Kennedy Space Center on the Atlantic coast of Florida near Cape Canaveral. I am looking forward to sharing with you the marvels of the center, as well as the man-made miracles of space travel.

 

For now, I’m visiting with family, enjoying boat rides, beach walks and bird walks, laughter and good times.

 

I had forgotten the Atlantic coast’s long, distinctive flat stretches of white sand beaches and warm water. I’m more accustomed to the lovely Pacific beaches with craggy coastlines and water so cold it numbs your feet.

 

We have seen alligators and a manatee, plenty of marsh wading birds. The sharp call of a blue  jay, a familiar sound I grew up with but never hear in California, greets me every morning.

 

Sending best wishes for sweet moments this weekend….

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photo by Athena Alexander.

 

Winged Creatures of Trinidad

 

Purple Honeycreeper (male), Trinidad

Trinidad is not the most popular island in the Caribbean. Many people have never even heard of it. But for those of us who embrace the glory of the natural rainforest and all the creatures who live in it, it is a paradise.

 

Here are some of my favorite winged creatures, found while spending a week on this small island eight miles (12 km) off the Venezuela coast. Trinidad Wikipedia.

 

A visit to the Caroni Swamp yielded many thousands of scarlet ibis. They flock to this protected swamp at night to roost. We sat in a boat and waited for them as the sun set.

Scarlet Ibis, Caroni Swamp, Trinidad

Red mangroves

Caroni Swamp, Trinidad

 

In the rainforest, nectar-drinking birds like hummingbirds and honeycreepers were plentiful.

Asa Wright Nature Centre

Tufted Coquette hummingbird, male, Trinidad

 

Green Honeycreeper, male, Trinidad

 

We were fortunate to see the rare oilbirds. There are only a few places left in the world where these nocturnal birds can still be found. They use echolocation, or sound reverberation, for navigating — a system that bats use, but not usually birds.

 

We hiked to a specific protected cave, escorted by a guide, and because they are so skittish, we were allowed only a few minutes to peer into the darkness for them.

 

They squeal like pigs and are large, hawk-size birds.

Oilbirds, Dunston Cave, Trinidad

 

Bats were also abundant in the Trinidad rainforest. One day in the middle of the day when the sun was brightest, a white bat came fluttering down the trail, pretty close to our heads. Athena and I had gotten lost in the forest, I think we had surprised the bat…as much as a white bat in the daytime surprised us.  It’s whiteness lent the essence of a ghost.

 

But it was every evening when we saw bats in abundance. We stayed at the Asa Wright Nature Centre, where wildlife are protected and celebrated. We found a crevice under the lodge where 100+ long-tongued bats came flocking out every night.

Pallas’ long-tongued bat, Trinidad

 

Long-tongued bats, Asa Wright Centre, Trinidad

 

Typical of the tropics, many species of flycatchers, trogons, and tanagers greeted us daily.

Silver-beaked Tanager, Trinidad

 

The bearded bellbird was difficult to spot in the rainforest, despite the loud croaking sound it made all day long.

Bearded Bellbird, singing; Trinidad

 

Numerous species of hawks were present. This white hawk was hunting beside the trail.

White Hawk, Trinidad

 

The jacamar was a thrill to find, a small and colorful bird about the size of a hummingbird.

Rufous-tailed Jacamar

 

There are over 400 species of birds on this one little island; and approximately 100 indigenous mammal species, with bats accounting for over half of the mammals.

 

I’m glad you could join me in this glimpse of their tropical world.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

Scarlet ibis roosting, Caroni Swamp, Trinidad

Islands in the Caribbean Sea. Courtesy Wikipedia.