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

 

Kennedy Space Center — Part 2 of 2

Atlantis Space Shuttle on display at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida

As we continue our virtual space voyage with Part 2, please join me for a look inside the expansive Atlantis Space Shuttle building, located in Florida at the Kennedy Space Center. Part 1 can be viewed here.

 

All 135 Space Shuttle missions were launched from the U.S. Kennedy Space Center (KSC) between 1981 and 2011. These were crewed spacecraft that launched into space, orbited Earth, and returned to Earth. Each Space Shuttle flight performed a specified space mission, and most have returned to space numerous times. There were 133 successes and 2 failures.

 

NASA’s Space Shuttle Atlantis was first launched in 1985 and completed its final space mission in 2011. In all, it orbited the Earth 4,848 times.

 

The building where the Atlantis now lives is 64,000 square foot  (5,900 m2) and showcases the spacecraft on three different levels. It opened in 2013.

Atlantis from underneath

 

The spacecraft is raised 30 feet (9 m) off the ground and rotated 43 degrees, displayed as if it were in space. The many burn marks and marrings are visual proof of its many orbits into space.

 

Close-up of underside

 

It has over 2.5 million parts.

 

Visitors can see Atlantis’ opened payload bay doors and the robotic arm.

Open payload door

 

Atlantis’ robotic arm

This space shuttle charged in and out of space for 26 years, completing 33 missions. It transported 207 astronauts, flew 126 million miles, and spent 307 days in space.

 

It has three types of engines and an impressive array of rocket thrusters.

Atlantis’ rocket thrusters

Here is a photo of Atlantis leaving Earth. For the initial thrust into orbit, it is attached to an external fuel tank (orange) and twin solid rocket boosters (white).

Atlantis leaving Earth. Courtesy Wikipedia.

This is Atlantis as it transits the sun (small black dot near center of photo).

Courtesy Wikipedia

For more in-flight photos of the Atlantis, click on Space Shuttle Atlantis Wikipedia.

 

Atlantis Logo

 

The Atlantis building, one of many at the KSC, has over 60 interactive exhibits. In addition to Atlantis, which dominates, there is a full-size replica of the Hubble Space Telescope, the original still being in space.

 

There are displays highlighting the mission of each of the space shuttles. Most of them did work on the International Space Station and/or the Hubble Telescope.

Display of the Discovery Shuttle’s Mission

 

This is a walkway highlighting each of the 33 missions of Atlantis.

 

 

There are also many displays of the International Space Station (ISS), including an active countdown of how long it has been in space (over 20 years).

Countdown of the ISS days in orbit

Film delineating each part of the ISS

 

Kids can climb in tunnels that lead to spacecraft; many people were stimulated by several different simulators. The space toilet display was also popular.

Space Shuttle Toilet

There were other space shuttles in the American space program. Out of the five fully functional orbiters, three remain on display, open to the public. Aside from Atlantis, the other two are: Discovery in Washington D.C. and Endeavour in Los Angeles.

 

The Atlantis performed NASA’s last Space Shuttle mission.

 

Space Shuttle program Wikipedia

 

Thanks for launching into space with us.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander unless otherwise specified.

Dear friends, I am taking a break for the rest of December,  will resume posting in January. Wishing you happy holidays, and many thanks for another sweet and adventurous year together.

Astronaut Scott Kelly aboard the International Space Stn, 2016

 

Kennedy Space Center–Part 1 of 2

Entrance Gate to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

Visitors first entering Kennedy Space Center’s Visitor Complex are greeted by several authentic rockets towering above. Heads looking up to the sky, each person is handed a brochure with a map and exhibit information, and off we go, launched into the world of space.

 

This rocket below, the Atlas-Agena, was launched 109 times between 1960 and 1978.

 

Atlas-Agena Rocket

NASA Kennedy Space Center entrance

The Kennedy Space Center (KSC) is comprised of 700 facilities on 144,000 acres (580 km2); and has the distinction of being the launch site for every United States human space flight since 1968.

 

This shuttle stack is a 184-foot (56 m) full-scale replica of what is needed for a space shuttle to be shot into space: external fuel tank (orange) with twin solid rocket boosters (white).

Shuttle “stack”

Kennedy Space Center Wikipedia

kennedyspacecenter.com for visitor information

 

Historic space programs like Apollo, Skylab, and the Space Shuttles were carried out here at KSC, while other space programs, like Gemini flights, were launched from adjacent Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

 

Today this area, on the Atlantic coast of Florida, is bustling with robotic and commercial crew missions, and other missions dedicated to future off-Earth exploration. Launches occur regularly.

 

Much of it is a restricted area, but there is a large Visitor Complex open to the public.

 

The KSC Visitor Complex has numerous large buildings filled with exhibits and displays featuring the activities of the Hubble Telescope, International Space Station, Space Shuttle voyages, and more. Visitors can walk the grounds, or take a bus tour.

 

Mural of International Space Station and flags of all the countries who participate in the program

 

They also have space-ride simulators and other simulator rides, interactive exhibits, and daily presentations with veteran NASA astronauts. Numerous multimedia cinematic productions give in-depth information on various space projects from visiting Mars to how the Atlantis Space Shuttle was built.

 

Films can be seen in several different theaters, two of which are IMAX, as well as stand-alone videos, like this one below.

Photo of Earth with ISS in center

 

This Saturn 1B rocket made nine launches between 1966 and 1975.

Saturn 1B Rocket

 

Inspiration is the word that came to me most often on the day we visited the KSC. All the courage and genius of thousands of men and women, some who gave their lives, is embodied in this Complex.

 

This building, below, recently opened in 2016, has the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame.

Heroes and Legends Exhibit

My favorite exhibit houses the entire space shuttle Atlantis, a retired space orbiter that made 33 space missions in the course of 26 years, before it was retired in 2011.

 

Countdown for that: seven days.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

 

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