San Francisco’s Market Street

Much of the past and present of San Francisco lies on Market Street. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights of this lively thoroughfare of the city by the bay.

San Francisco’s biggest and widest street is 120 feet wide (36 m) and three miles (5 km) long. It ends at the bay.

You can see in this overview photo below the wide street vertically cutting a long and distinct swath through the center of the city landscape. That’s Market Street.

This vintage San Francisco map below shows how there are two grids facing different directions. It is Market Street that is the boundary of the two grids, cutting diagonally across the city.

SF map courtesy Wikipedia

Graded through sand dunes in the 1850s, Market Street quickly became a major thoroughfare in the Gold Rush days. Public transportation of all kinds has traversed this street over the decades.

Below is a link to an eight-minute video restored by the U.S. Library of Congress; it was filmed just days before the 1906 earthquake. It takes the viewer on a cable car ride down Market Street at about 10 mph, demonstrating a typical day in 1906.

Video Link: A Trip Down Market Street

Wikipedia Market Street

Except for the Golden Gate Bridge photo, all photos in this essay reflect scenes on Market Street.

It has also hosted a plethora of events from presidential parades to pride parades; earthquake recovery sites to Super Bowl celebrations.

Below is an archival photo from 1903 of a parade on Market Street for the president at the time, Theodore Roosevelt.

At Market and Fifth Street, May 1903. Courtesy

Over a century later: the same spot on Market Street, across the street at the cable car turnaround.

These two old photos of the Ferry Building, at the base of Market Street, are right after the 1906 earthquake and then six months later under renovation.

This is Market Street and the Ferry Building six months after the 1906 earthquake, in recovery mode.

A prominent old hotel on Market Street is the Palace Hotel. It was originally built in 1875, burned down (1906 earthquake), and was rebuilt and reopened in 1909. Today it is still an elegant hotel and restaurant, hosting a variety of notable guests. These two photos are the same room, 1904 and 2013.

courtesy – Garden Court, 1904

Another landmark on Market Street is Lotta’s Fountain. It is a cast iron sculpture that became a meeting place for survivors after the 1906 earthquake.

Since that day, April 18, 1906, the city has hosted an annual celebration at the fountain. It takes place at dawn when the earthquake hit. Organizers dress in vintage clothing. The presiding mayor always gives a speech about earthquake safety and the strength of the community then and now.

There is always an interesting cast of characters and costumes at this festive dawn event.

On a normal day, there are parts of Market Street not advisable for pedestrians. From about Fifth Street west to Van Ness Avenue is a decaying array of homeless people, drug addicts and unsavory scenes.

Every new mayor promises to clean it up, but this section of Market remains stubbornly ugly and unsafe.

Here are some happy moments on Market Street at the Pride Parades over a span of many years.

One of my memorable moments on Market Street took place in 1983 soon after I had moved to San Francisco. My first job was on Market in an office building at the intersection of Kearney and Third. Early on I started noticing two women who looked exactly alike.

Not only did they look exactly alike, they walked alike and moved in synchrony.

They walked down Market Street at the same time every day, like clockwork. I learned they were prominent characters of San Francisco. The Brown Twins. They worked at different offices, but every day at the same time they met up and paraded down the street together wearing the exact same clothes, accessories, hair and make-up.

One day I brought in my camera. I had a plan. My co-worker and I walked down Market at the time they were expected. And we found them. We asked if we could pose for a photo with them. They were pleasant and obliging and friendly.

In the hustle of the downtown lunch hour, we found someone to snap a photo of the four of us. I am on the far right.

It’s an interesting and historic street, our Market Street. It’s so quirky that even the direction it takes is diagonal. But those of us who have spent any time in San Francisco, like this artery of our favorite city.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

Summer Day, Abbotts Lagoon

Our day trip to Point Reyes this week was another pure delight, a summer day on the coast. Fifty miles inland a hot and dry July day was forming, but our visit to the coast was one of fog and blessedly cool temperatures.

The fog was so thick it was actually billowing in clouds that blew across the road. The sky had a low cloud cover and sweeping skyscapes all day.

Summer at Point Reyes National Seashore, Northern California. Migrating winter ducks and geese have not yet arrived, and it’s too early to look for migrating whales. But there’s plenty of color and beauty on this windswept coastal paradise.

It was still too early and too cold for shorts and sandals, so most visitors hadn’t yet arrived…just a few dedicated hikers quietly making their way down the trail to the sea.

The local denizens of Abbotts Lagoon, however, were busy with their day.

Upon arrival we noticed the lupine shrubs no longer have the yellow blossoms we saw last month. This is a snap of June.

And this (below) is a snap from this week, July. As you can see, this month the native shrubs have just the pods, the flowers are spent.

Coastal chaparral was colorful on this day, enhanced by the overcast sky, and was fragrantly herbaceous with the moisture.

Everything seemed to be hushed by the fog, including these Canada Geese.

The low-lying marsh area down by the boardwalk didn’t have water this time of year, but it had a thicket of marsh plants–docket (brown) and coastal hedge-nettle (pink).

Predictably there are almost always one or two black-tailed deer down at the marsh, grazing.

And sure enough, we spotted this fawn without its mother, who soon went bounding off.

Insects in the summer are different from the other seasons, and one of the stalwarts of summer is this beetle. We see them on the trail where their shiny black backs stand out against the sand. They’re about the length of a paper clip.

As we neared the sea, the trail turned to sand. It was too cold for the dragonflies who frequent this part of the trail, but a brush rabbit soon dove under cover.

Then we arrived at the shore and crossed the short walking bridge, always worth a stop to see if any creatures are underneath.

In the past we have seen river otters here, nesting swallows, a pelican carcass, and lots of different wading birds. That day it was a great blue heron hunting…and with success.

Since the spring, the beach plants have been flowering and they are different flowers every month. This month it is the gumplants that are in full bloom.

Robustly growing in large patches across the sandy beach, gumplants are named for the gummy white resin that grows in the center of each yellow flower. 

It was about a 45-minute walk back to the car, and then we were off to other parts of Point Reyes. I’ll tell you about that another time.

We were happy to spot this coyote as we drove slowly along the country road.

We also spotted a few female elk, aka cows, grazing. Point Reyes is the only National Park unit where tule elk can be found. A grassland elk found in just a few places in California, they live on a preserve in Point Reyes.

That day the cows were too far away to get a good photo, but here is a photo from another summer visit.

We see the elk every single visit on this road, Pierce Point Road. We look forward to seeing the elk next month, when the rutting (breeding) season typically begins.

There is much excitement when the bulls join up with the females. The males put on quite a show of territorial sparring with bugling and antler bashing. It lasts for a few months, so I’ll be sure to share the excitement with you.

Always a pleasure, my friends, to share Point Reyes with you.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

American Vistas

As Americans celebrate Independence Day this weekend, it’s a good time to ponder and admire the diverse habitats and picturesque vistas all contained in this one large country.

The western half of the country is dominated by the Rocky Mountains–the largest mountain system in North America–and the Pacific Ocean.

The west has far more tectonic plates at work underground than in the east, creating more rugged mountains and geologic features. West coast beaches in general tend to have more craggy rocks and chilly water currents.

Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, America’s first national park, has over half of the world’s geysers and hydrothermal features.

The west is home to expansive deserts, too. Arid regions with minimal precipitation and unique landscapes.

Much of the country’s central section, the Midwest, is flat. Once a land of vast prairies, it now hosts over 127 million acres of agriculture and has some of the richest soil in the world.

Some U.S. prairies still exist, like this one in Texas.

Bisecting the near-center of the country is the Mississippi River, the second largest river in the nation (second to the Missouri). It drains all or parts of 31 states before emptying into the Gulf of Mexico.

The Gulf of Mexico, another of our nation’s coasts, is one of humid subtropical climate bordering five states.

America’s Great Lakes, in the center of the country and eastward, form the largest group of freshwater lakes on earth. They were formed via glacial activity.

All of the Great Lakes are huge, this is just a small section of Lake Michigan in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The eastern half of the country is dominated by the Appalachian Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean’s coast and coastal plain. Mountains on this side of the country are older and not as high as in the west. Warmer waters and long stretches of white sand beaches enrich the eastern seaboard.

In addition to the 48 contiguous states, America also has five major island territories; a tropical island state, Hawaii; and Alaska, our largest state, in northern, arctic regions.

Alaska is the state with the most islands, 171, and the country’s tallest mountain, Denali, with a peak reaching 20,310 feet (6,190 m.).

Lots of rivers in this country too — over 250,000.

Link: Map and List of U.S. Rivers

The Columbia River, pictured below, has the largest discharge into the Pacific Ocean in North or South America.

Wetlands in the U.S. are critical habitats for improved water quality, erosion control and flood protection to name a few. They are found in every state, but there are more in the east where glaciation created an abundance of aquatic habitat. The largest wetland system in the U.S. is in Florida, the Everglades.

This is the Horicon Marsh in Wisconsin, below. I was born in this region and visiting America’s marshes and swamps is always like going home to me.

Most of our eastern nation’s southern states fall into the humid subtropical climate zones, where warmer temperatures, bayous and swamps can be found.

Cities occupy much of our country. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of 2020 the United States has over 300 cities/towns with populations over 100,000.

It is no wonder that Americans like to flock to our 423 nationally protected parks, monuments and preserves for recreation. Our nation maintains more than 85 million acres of parks in all 50 states. Of those, there are 63 classified National Parks.

While many of America’s cities in the west are lovely…

…the cities in the east boast more national history.

The city where our Declaration of Independence was signed is Philadelphia. It served as the nation’s capital for one decade in the 1790s.

Today, Washington, D.C. is the capital city and federal district of the United States.

This week, the 2020 Census reflects a current U.S. population of 334,861,117.

Our country and its peoples have come a long way since the early days. So many different people and cultures have built this country, called it home.

We all have a lot to celebrate.

Happy Fourth!

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

The Bobcat

On a visit to Pt. Reyes this week, we came upon this beautiful bobcat. One of my favorite wilderness haunts in northern California, Pt. Reyes did not disappoint.

When we came upon this bobcat, it was in a field where we had seen a bobcat about two years earlier. Since the pandemic curtailed travel two years ago, we have been visiting Pt. Reyes nearly every month and we always drive slowly at this spot, every single visit, searching, scanning, always looking to get lucky with another siting. And this time…bingo.

Lynx rufus is very territorial, so it’s probably the same individual we saw earlier.

This is a female. Her body was about three feet (a meter) long; sleek and muscular.

Unlike all the other times I have observed a wild bobcat, she did not disappear right away.

She continued to prowl in the grassy field. Then she was crouched and clearly stalking something.

Athena quietly jumped out of the car and huddled behind the vehicle, using it for a partial blind as she snapped these photos.

Another minute went by and then the bobcat pounced. She came up with a large pocket gopher firmly clenched in her jaws.

Instead of heading in the opposite direction to indulge in her prize, the bobcat surprisingly walked right past us.

Females solely care for the young who are typically born in April or May, so we determined she caught this pocket gopher for her kittens.

She was on a mission to feed some hungry mouths. Probably three or four waiting for her in their den, where they will depend on her for about a year.

This photo shows her pointy lynx ears.

Here you can see her short, bobbed tail for which the cat is named. And her big feline paws are prominent, as well as her exquisite markings.

We watched in silent reverence for five precious minutes, and then she, and her fresh gopher, descended down the hill and out of sight.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

Western Fence Lizard and More

In my humble enjoyment of wild creatures across the planet, I am reminded on this hot summer day of one of my favorite creatures on earth: lizards.

They can thermoregulate their body temperature and gather energy from the sun. Let go of their tail if it is clenched in the jaws of a predator and grow another.

Many have not two, but three eyes. Located on the back of the head, the third eye is used for regulating hormone production and detecting predators.

Our local lizard, the western fence lizard, possesses all these features and more. They are commonly found in California and many of the western states; and classified as Sceloporus occidentalis in the order Squamata and suborder Iguania.

With the current high temperatures lately, I have had the pleasure of watching them skitter around me every day.

They are small lizards, could fit into your hand. But good luck trying to get them into your hand because they’re lightning fast.

Males have a blue underside; you can see it here.

This one (below) has a small circle of pale blue on his throat.

This photo below highlights his many scales.

The scales overlap and are made of keratin. They provide protection from the environment as well as preventing water loss.

Lizards eat the mosquitoes that would otherwise bite me. This is a gift, pure and simple. They hop up and snatch the insect so fast that you can’t even see their tongue at work.

I love to sit outside at the end of a summer day watching the lizards. As opposed to the morning when they are sluggish and still storing the sun’s energy, late in the day they are super fast, like on steroids, after soaking up the sun all day long.

In addition to all this, Sceloporus occidentalis have a feature so extra special that it has become the subject of many scientific studies. They have the ability to neutralize the deer tick bacterium that transmits to humans, thereby curtailing the transmission of Lyme’s Disease.

Deer ticks are the primary carriers of Lyme disease. A protein in the blood of western fence lizards kills the bacterium in these ticks when they attach themselves to a lizard and ingest the lizard’s blood.

Numerous studies have determined that Lyme disease effects less people in California than in the eastern U.S., due to our most common lizard’s neutralizing abilities. That’s a gift too.

More western fence lizard info:

Western Fence Lizard Wikipedia and Northwestern Fence Lizard

This is a photo of another of our common lizards, the alligator lizard.

These photos, below, are some of my favorite lizards from other parts of the world, starting with the small ones and working up to very large lizards.

These last two, the marine and land iguanas, are gloriously huge.

If you are squeamish about Squamata, I hope this lizard love fest has warmed you to these magnificent creatures.

Written by Jet Eliot.

All photos in the wild by Athena Alexander.

Seattle Waters

The northwest corner of the United States is a bevy of islands and waterways, and inside it all is Seattle, Washington. Here is a look at a few of the waterways in the Seattle area.

Flying into Seattle, air passengers get a glimpse of the water that surrounds the city. Not only is the Puget Sound bounding the west, but you see islands, channels, canals, and lakes in every direction.

By consulting the maps below, you can see the unique layout of the land and water in the Seattle area.

Puget Sound is a large saltwater estuary system fed by the Olympic and Cascade Mountain watersheds. More info: Puget Sound Wikipedia

The city’s Discovery Park (below) overlooks the Sound, as do many other smaller parks.

This photo demonstrates the operating shipyards in Seattle.

The ferris wheel is a popular Seattle waterfront attraction.

There are 21 state-operated ferries on Puget Sound and many additional public tourist vessels, as well as hundreds of private boats. Some residents commute by ferry.

Many of Seattle’s surrounding islands are havens for tourists and residents looking for a quieter way of life. Vashon Island, pictured below, is a 20-minute ferry ride from Seattle.

In addition to the Puget Sound’s dominating influence, there are many other waterways too.

Situated on an isthmus between Puget Sound and Lake Washington, the city is bisected in the middle by a series of canals and locks called the Lake Washington Ship Canal.

This canal system connects the Sound to the Lake.

A person can traverse across the city entirely on boat.

Several busy urban neighborhoods have canals flowing through them. Often there is a park alongside the canal, where you can watch boats quietly cruise by. Here you can see there is an office building and a parking lot directly adjacent to this canal.

Bays, creeks and the Duwamish River also occupy significant Seattle real estate. According to Wikipedia, water comprises approximately 41% of the total area of the city.

With all of these waterways come bridges.

There are approximately 150 bridges within Seattle’s city limits. Floating bridges, drawbridges, double-deckers…old, new, and a few historical.

List of Bridges in Seattle, Wikipedia

The Fremont Bridge, in the two photos below, is the most frequently opened drawbridge in the U.S. It is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, built in 1917. The second photo shows it opened.

There are also some major lakes in Seattle. Last week I presented a post on Green Lake, but there are two other major lakes here, too.

Washington Lake, stretching the city’s eastern side, is the second largest natural lake in the state of Washington (second to Lake Chelan). It is 22 miles long (35 km), enormous, and is classified as a ribbon lake for its glacially formed long, narrow and finger-like shape.

Lake Union, part of the Lake Washington Ship Canal system, is a large and popular lake. Houseboats, seaplanes, rowing teams and many other kinds of boats line this lake.

In 2014 I had the thrill of boarding a seaplane at Lake Union and flying over the Puget Sound and San Juan Islands to Victoria, Canada. It was a commercial operation flying small Cessnas via Kenmore Air Harbor.

Walk for ten minutes in Seattle and you will see a seaplane up above.

The Museum of History and Industry in Seattle, located on South Lake Union, outlines the city’s maritime history.

This vessel below, the Virginia V, is docked there. The steamer, launched in 1922, primarily transported passengers between Tacoma and Seattle.

Glass artist Dale Chihuly, who was born in Washington State, has brought a plethora of art and artistry to Seattle, often highlighting the sea life that is so deeply rooted here.

Seattle’s Chihuly Garden and Glass is an indoor/outdoor museum exclusively featuring his art. A few of his maritime pieces are pictured below.

This glass sea star (below) is a sprightly detail of the bigger sculpture entitled Sea Life (below).

Many of his glorious glass works celebrate the sea, including this elegant octopus.

This community of waterways is one of the best parts of Seattle. The sea air, winds and waters are a great reminder of the wild and wonderful side of this seaport city.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

Puget Sound. Courtesy Wikipedia

Northwest corner of Washington State. Courtesy Wikipedia

Seattle’s Green Lake

I was in Seattle for the Memorial Day weekend, visiting dear friends, attending a wedding. Every morning I enjoyed a three-mile walk around the lake. It is a pleasure to share Green Lake with you.

What a treat it is to have this sparkling emerald gem of nature in the middle of a bustling cosmopolitan city.

It is a large lake, as you can see. The surface area alone is 259 acres (1.05 sq. km).

And it is a busy park, to be sure. In addition to the residents getting their daily constitutionals, there are many planned activities and numerous facilities. I liked going before 7 am when it was quieter and more subdued.

More info: Green Lake Wikipedia.

I have visited Green Lake in all seasons, but I found the end of May to be one of its most charming times with lots of bright green budding growth on trees, plush carpets of verdant grass, and many sweet signs of spring.

There were always several crew boats rowing on the water. The distant microphoned calls of the coxswain were a familiar sound in the overcast, cool morning.

One day there was an outrigger club getting set up for a race. It was raining that morning, but no one seemed to notice or care. In fact, it rained every day.

Other vessels we saw on this freshwater lake were motorboats, kayaks, and sailboats. We saw several swimmers, too.

It was a fun surprise to see Seattle’s most iconic landmark, the Space Needle, while walking the path. The city has painted the Needle in its original color, Galaxy Gold, to commemorate its 60th anniversary.

Green Lake Park has a plethora of trees–tall, stately cedar trees, willows, and many conifers and ornamentals, too. Every so often I would spot someone’s severed fishing line dangling from one of the willow trees.

One afternoon we found a tree with a special prize in it.

In spite of the path filled with strollers, dog walkers, and joggers, and the grassy areas lively with holiday picnics and friendly visits, Athena and I spotted a chickadee feeding her young nestlings. Black-capped chickadee.

The chicks were tucked inside a hole in the tree trunk (above). The hidden, invisible nest would audibly light up with the shrill voices of several demanding chicks every time a parent came in with food. It was entertaining and endearing; giant dogs and humans walked past the tree, crows too, unaware, while the two parents doggedly caught insects, delivered them and repeated the process over and over.

There are busy roadways around the entire circumference of the lake. Streets are lined with businesses and rows of houses, and all are festooned with the ubiquitous rhododendrons. Tall, fluffy bushes in a variety of cheerful colors. There’s nowhere on earth with more thriving rhododendrons than the Pacific Northwest.

Aerial view of Green Lake. Courtesy Wikipedia.

In this expansive, populated city, how refreshing for humans and wildlife to have an oasis of flora and fauna reminding us of the joy and miracles that abound in nature.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

Vultures are Cool

We were driving on a California country road this week surrounded by sweetly fragrant ceanothus wildflowers, when we came upon two lethargic turkey vultures standing in the road. Turns out they were doing us a big favor.

Because they were not moving for us, we slowly drove toward them and eventually they lifted slightly and got out of the road. But in the next moment a strong, putrid whiff of dead animal reached us. There was no carcass to be seen on this overgrown roadside, but somewhere nearby there was a dead and rotting animal.

Fortunately the vultures were on the job. They are a gregarious species, so eventually this dead animal will be completely consumed. The birds were lethargic because they were full.

There are 23 extant species of vultures in the world: 16 in the Old World (Africa, Asia, Europe) and 7 in the New World (the Americas).

Here in the U.S. we have three vulture species, all are pictured in this post: turkey vulture, black vulture, and California Condor.

More info: Vulture Wikipedia

The turkey vulture is the most widespread vulture species in the New World. Cathartes aura is a year-round bird in the warmer U.S. states and South America. We have them year-round in California.

Just about every time I am outside, nearly every day, I see at least one turkey vulture soaring overhead.

This is their classic look in flight, below.

Another common vulture sight is this one, below. It is called a horaltic stance, and serves multiple functions: drying the wings, warming the body, and baking off bacteria.

This is a turkey vulture nestling, below. The nest was in a small rock cave.

Turkey vultures do not have a vocal organ, so you don’t usually hear anything from them. But that day we found this baby turkey vulture, it elicited a shockingly evil hissing sound that I still hear in my mind when I look at the above photo.

Vultures are important for cleaning up the carrion that naturally exists on our planet. A vulture’s featherless head and hooked bill, seen below, are their carrion-eating tools.

They are also equipped with exceptionally corrosive stomach acid, allowing them to digest putrid carcasses infected with toxins and bacteria.

When not soaring, they fly closer to the ground, using their keen olfactory sense to detect the smell of gas (ethyl mercaptan) produced by a dead, decaying animal.

We spotted this vulture species (below), California Condor aka Gymnogyps californianus, on the California coast near Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park in Big Sur. Ten years ago. We had visited a popular condor release site without success three years earlier, and finally had success in Big Sur, another release site, with this one. We actually saw two at the time, for about five really thrilling minutes.

They have the largest wingspan of any North American bird, measuring approximately10 feet (3.05 m).

There is an interesting story about this individual, #90, I’ll tell you another time.

California Condors are listed on the conservation status as critically endangered, and many vulture species have suffered a rapid decline due to loss of habitat, intentional and unintentional poisoning, and electrocution.

India and other countries have discovered that without vultures to pick animal corpses clean, there have been increased feral dog populations leading to increased dog bites and increased rabies transmission. But the problem is, protection comes too late. Vultures do not reproduce quickly. (In the U.S., vultures are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.)

While in Africa on numerous safaris, I have had the pleasure of watching many African vultures. It is not the loveliest sight, seeing a vulture dig around in the intestines of a carcass, but it is interesting to see the hierarchy of animals and the bonanza that unfolds when one wild animal has killed another. Equally fascinating is observing how the parade of scavengers completely devours the carcass.

One day we had the rare honor of seeing a pack of wild dogs in Botswana. Before we arrived, they had killed an impala and dined extravagantly. Then they ran off in a frolic of energetic euphoria and the vultures came in.

A closer look reveals their bloody faces.

Here are the white-backed vultures, Gyps africanus, that attended the carcass after the wild dogs were done. You can see the head of the vulture on the left is deeply inside the carcass.

These vultures have a wingspan of 6-7 feet (1.96-2.25m), and are now, unfortunately, critically endangered.

Another time we came upon this baby elephant carcass. Vultures and storks were feeding. You can see the skull on the far right…it has been picked clean.

These banded mongooses were watching the frenzy.

Fantastic creatures with unique features, vultures help keep this earth safe and clean. Next time you smell sweetness in the air, remember it could be more than flowers at work.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

Swallowtail Butterflies

Butterflies are the brightness and lightness of spring that we often long for in the dark and heavy days of winter. And then one day it IS spring and we see our first butterfly.

They are a gentle reminder that life on earth is all about change.

Butterflies start out as microscopic eggs, then become tiny worm-like larvae, then grow bigger into caterpillars, molting numerous times. Next they create their own cocoons, and, as we all know, then metamorphize from their pupae state into a butterfly. What an earthly marvel this is.

Below are five photos of the Anise Swallowtail butterfly, Papilio zelicaon, in its various stages.

One summer day two years ago as Athena was photographing, this butterfly’s wriggling and arched thorax posture (below) caught her eye. She realized she was witnessing the adult female depositing her eggs. The eggs are microscopic, cannot be seen here.

This is a caterpillar’s early “instar” or stage (below). It is about the size of a staple and is so small and inconspicuous it can easily be mistaken as a bird dropping.

Several times the anise swallowtail caterpillar molts into a bigger skin. You can see how different the caterpillar above is from the caterpillar below — yet they are the same species, just different stages.

After the various instar caterpillar stages, they create their pupa (below) and stay in there, immovable, until the caterpillar tissues break down and rebuild into butterfly tissues.

While each stage is beautiful, the butterfly stage is spectacular.

There are about 17,500 species of butterflies in the world.

Pictured throughout this post are all swallowtail butterfly species. Members of the Papilionidae family, there are about 550 species.

Swallowtail Wikipedia link.

We noticed a butterfly phenomenon one day on the edge of the Belizean rainforest. These Dark Kite-swallowtails were “puddling,” a technique for extracting minerals, primarily salt. Protographium philolaus.

You can see the pronounced forked hindwings, aka as tails, for which the swallowtails are named. This “tail” is reminiscent of the forked tails of swallows.

Swallowtails are some of the largest butterflies on earth. Some species are so large that on first take you think it might be a bird. Both species below have whopping wingspans at around five inches (13 cm).

The Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) is the largest butterfly in North America.

I am often buoyed by these dancing kaleidoscopic creatures who start out so immobile and teensy and dark, and as each day turns to the next, they somehow know what to do. Soon they have mysteriously blossomed into delicate splendor.

The earth changes; we change. Thank heaven for butterflies who show us the way.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

New Backyard Friends

I moved recently, have a new backyard, and I’m happy to share a few of my new backyard friends.

I’ll start with the most thrilling: the Allen’s Hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin).

My new residence is only a 25-minute drive down the mountain from where I previously lived, so you would think the birds would be the same. But there are some differences.

In our new location, we have breeding Allen’s hummingbirds; they were only rare visitors to our mountain domain, presumably because of the altitude. The breeding range of Allen’s hummingbirds is very small in the U.S., it is a thin ribbon on the California-Oregon coast. Range map link.

They are still the same little intense package that all hummingbirds are, but now we have the pleasure of witnessing the Allen’s breeding dance.

A tiny orange and green bird, the male during his breeding dance has a loud sizzling buzz. Additionally, there are shimmery flashes of coppery gold, swooping dives, and an elaborate rhythmic display of pendulous arcs. It’s a grand show.

And that’s only the beginning. The new house is situated between a forest and an oak woodland, we are surrounded by many bird species. Occasional ducks and waders fly overhead, Canada geese roost nearby, raptors, woodpeckers and lots of songbirds join us.

Acorn woodpeckers abound. One of my favorite woodpeckers, Melanerpes formicivorus are very entertaining to watch with their bold colors, bright markings, flashing flight, and vocal presence.

Last week I spotted a large dead oak tree in a neighbor’s yard. The tree, known as a granary, hosts dozens of acorn woodpeckers…it is wonderful. Here they excavate holes to store their acorns. This highly social bird congregates there, but when they want a refreshing sip of water, they gather at our bird bath.

We acquired that bird bath from the previous owner. The stem of it is textured like a tree, and at least one woodpecker thought it WAS a tree, hopping up the stem in a circling pattern.

Wild turkeys roam the neighborhood, too, they roost in the adjacent forest. Their loud gobbling throughout the day always brings a smile to my face. Some nights around sunset they meander through the grass behind our fence.

And on several occasions, we have had the supreme pleasure of watching the toms (males) display for the females.

One night four black-tailed deer came by. They are a subspecies of the mule deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus. This is a young buck, evident by the start of antlers.

I’ve been told by my new neighbors that in June a shepherd and his flock will come to our back woodland. The shepherd leaves the sheep here in a fenced enclosure and the wooly ruminants eat all the tall grass. It will be very interesting to see how all this plays out.

One day I watched a red-shouldered hawk swoop into our yard, snatch up a lizard, and then land in a big oak limb while he ate the lizard.

I love lizards. The excitement of the predator on prey was fun, but I especially enjoy watching the lizards bask on the rocks and skitter across our dirt.

There are also several California ground squirrels. Otospermophilus beecheyi. Apparently they have created an extensive tunnel system beneath our garden. This cheeky but cute one, below, is eating a red rose bud.

Then this past weekend we watched a yellow daisy abruptly shake like we were in an earthquake, and then it suddenly disappeared, vanishing below the soil. That cheeky ground squirrel was down there sucking up the flower as if it was spaghetti.

Other ground-dwelling friends include the white-crowned and gold-crowned sparrows, two towhee species (California and Spotted), and several pairs of California quail (Callipepla californica).

I was surprised and delighted to see one of my favorite butterflies, the pipevine swallowtail. In the last three decades, I have seen this butterfly species about five times. So imagine my delight in seeing them come to the backyard all day long.

Battus philenor have iridescent blue hindwings and their ventral (under) side has bright orange spots.

My friends the Corvids surround us too–crows, ravens, and scrub jays–and I’m especially interested right now in what I am sure is a baby crow on a nest in one of the nearby oak trees. I hear a crow nestling whine strongly, see a parent crow fly overhead, then hear the whining stop.

I spent the past 21 years on a mountaintop, my former home, and most days were highlighted with a sweet wildlife encounter. So it is with true awe and relief that I can say: the enchantment continues.

And not only do I have the adventure of new backyard friends, but I now have the added pleasure of your visit, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.