Wildlife in the NFL

Male Lion, Serengeti, Africa

 

The affinity people have for animals is deeply rooted in our past, and continues to this day. All around us are signs of animal love, even in America’s National Football League. Since we are currently in the clutches of the NFL playoff season, let’s take a fun look at wildlife-based team names.

 

Of the 32 NFL teams, nearly half echo wildlife species: five are birds, ten are mammals. (Many mascots, major, and minor league teams have wildlife themes as well–too many to cover here.)

 

In no specific order, the first photo represents the Detroit Lions. Then there are the:

 

Seattle Seahawks

Osprey in Mexico

 

Los Angeles Rams

Male Bighorn Sheep aka Rams, Colorado

 

Baltimore Ravens

Common Raven, Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California

 

Buffalo Bills

African Buffalo, Botswana

 

Atlanta Falcons

Laughing Falcon, Belize

 

Most of the NFL animal names conjure up images of toughness, but not all. The Dolphins, for example, are not an intimidating mammal; and Colts don’t leave me trembling. But Bengals, Jaguars and Panthers, yes, they are wild animals we don’t want to mess with. Broncos can be dangerous, but the amplified horse neigh sound in the Denver stadium is more entertaining than scary.

 

If you’re wondering about my favorite team, I have many. I hail from a long line of Cheesehead ancestors, diehard fans of the Green Bay Packers. My cousin, for example, did a eulogy at my mother’s funeral wearing a giant yellow foam cheese wedge on her head.

 

Beyond what I was born into, my next favorite team is Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. This is a cake I baked last year for Super Bowl Sunday, with Tom Brady on top.

 

Super Bowl cake with Tom Brady on top

 

More teams include the:

Philadelphia Eagles

Bald Eagle, California

 

Arizona Cardinals:

Red-crested Cardinal, Hawaii

 

I don’t just follow two teams, I follow them all. I have numerous favorite quarterbacks, and dozens of favorite offensive and defensive players.

 

I enjoy the game for the athleticism, strategy, complexity, excitement, and ingenuity. The drive for excellence is endlessly inspiring to me.

 

But my football merriment is nothing in comparison to many fanatical fans. We took these photos from the television in a recent nail-biter playoff game.

 

Philadelphia Eagles fan

 

Chicago Bears fan

 

And since we’re talking about football, how could Jet Eliot mention NFL team names without a nod to the Jets?

for the New York Jets

 

For the next few weeks we will be celebrating the completion and winner of the 2018-2019 football season. It’s great to have these burly teams showcasing the same wildlife that many of us revere.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

All photos by Athena Alexander.

Wikipedia links: National Football League and American Football Positions

 

Chicago Bears

Grizzly Bear, Alaska

 

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Finding Joy in the New Year

Green Honeycreeper, male, Trinidad

In this fresh new year — try to find a spark of  joy in every day.

 

It could be a spot of bright nature;

Azure Kingfisher, Australia

 

or something new you’ve never seen before;

 

Male Kudu, Botswana, Chobe River

 

Conversely, joy could appear in something you see every day, but never stopped to appreciate.

 

Monarch Butterfly, Horicon Marsh, WI

 

Twelve-spotted Skimmer Dragonfly, California

 

We can find joy in remarkable human engineering feats;

Sydney Opera House, Australia

 

or inspiring people;

 

Gandhi Statue, The Ferry Building, San Francisco

 

Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC

or art, so many forms of art.

Ancient Kangaroo Rock Art, Kakadu NP, Australia

Chihuly Sea Star, Seattle, WA

 

Some of the most cheerful joy comes in simple forms.

American Robin nest, Wisconsin

California Honeysuckle, lonicera

 

There will be times, however, in the new year when difficulty or despair take over.

 

Joy might not be readily accessible in the darkness.

 

Olympic Peninsula, Washington

 

For these times, go to sleep, rest…

 

Grey-headed Flying Foxes, Sydney, Australia

 

… and try again tomorrow.

Warmest thanks to my blogging friends and readers, for a year filled with joyful sweet moments, warm words, happy smiles, vicarious adventures, stunning images, and heartfelt sharing.  Gentle wishes for a new year filled with joy.

Written by Jet Eliot
All photos by Athena Alexander.

 

White-bellied Woodstar, Peru

 

Maui, Hawaii

 

Wildlife in Winter

Grizzly Bear, Alaska

As the northern hemisphere experiences the winter solstice, let’s take a look at how various wildlife species adapt to this season. It’s a fascinating picture, and each animal has a different story.

 

Some animals hibernate, some go into a more wakeful sleep called torpor, some barely lose a wink, and others migrate. For many creatures, the body changes.

 

Classic hibernators, like bears, eat large amounts of food in autumn to store fat for survival. They sleep all or part of the winter, and exist primarily on their fat stores. There is a slow-down of heart and respiration rate, and a lowering of the body temperature.

 

But few animal species have such a defined program–it varies by region, temperature, elevation, and other factors. And truth be told, even bears differ widely in their hibernating tactics.

 

Most big mammals have enough bulk that they do not hibernate. Bison, for example, simply grow a heavier coat to withstand freezing temperatures.

 

Shedding bison in back, Yellowstone NP

 

Bison in Lamar Valley on a snowy day, Yellowstone

 

Smaller mammals, however, are more inclined to hibernate because little bodies have a high surface-area-to-volume ratio; i.e. it takes more energy for a small animal to stay warm. Many small mammals burrow into the ground to wait out the foodless winter.

 

Marmot, Mt. Rainier, Washington

 

Marmots (aka groundhogs) build their fat storage and spend half their lives in hibernation. Prairie dogs, on the other hand, periodically come out of the burrow to munch on grass and then go back to sleep.

 

Prairie Dog at burrow, Colorado

 

Every species has a different physiological system for adapting to the food loss of winter.

 

Reptiles are cold-blooded and depend on the sunshine for metabolic activity.

 

Skink, California

 

In winter most reptiles in cold regions find a deep crack or rock cave and sleep through the months of sunless chill. They’re so inactive they don’t eat…don’t need to eat.

 

If you pick up a lizard who is essentially dormant, they only open their eyes in terror; but they do not move because they can’t.

 

Northern Alligator Lizard, California

 

Many species group together for warmth. They huddle while they sleep. That’s how we can sometimes come across a hole filled with snakes, or large colonies of bats.

 

Eastern Long-eared Bats, Australia

 

Some snakes and amphibians hibernate underneath water in locations where water doesn’t freeze. Certain snake species use their skin as a lung to extract oxygen from the water.

 

Even though toads and frogs stay quiet and resting most of the winter where I live, on a fluky mild winter day I will hear a toad call out from its burrow.

 

Western Toad in burrow, California

 

Insects transform into larvae, nymphs, eggs, or pupae forms to weather the winter. Others, like the monarch butterfly, migrate to warmer places.

 

Anise Swallowtail Chrysalis or Pupa

 

There is endless variation not only in species, but in location too. Here in northern California where the winter is mild, hovering close to freezing for only a month or two, I often discover winter wildlife anomalies.

 

I’ve read that praying mantis adults, for example, hide their eggs from predators for the winter and then die off. In spring the new insect emerges from the egg and starts the life cycle.

 

Not where I live. This photo of a loggerhead shrike in the California winter rain about to eat an adult praying mantis proves otherwise.

 

Loggerhead Shrike preying on a praying mantis, California in January

 

If winter temperatures do not fluctuate drastically, or are relatively mild, many insects find shelter and food in leaf litter, tree holes, under logs, or in soil or plant galls.

 

And don’t get me started on what the birds do. Some stay put if they live in a temperate zone, others migrate, and still others tough it out in cold regions. There is only one bird known to hibernate, the common poorwill. 

 

Some birds and small mammals in arctic regions turn white in the frigid months to camouflage with snow. Their bodies adapt in numerous ways. Below are the summer and winter versions of the willow ptarmigan (bird) and snowshoe hare.

 

Willow ptarmigan, Alaska in August

 

Willow Ptarmigan Nonbreeding adult

Willow ptarmigan in winter plumage. Photo by John and Ivy Gibbons.

Snowshoe Hare in August, Alaska

 

Snowshoe Hare, Shirleys Bay.jpg

Snowshoe Hare in winter. Photo by D. Gordon E. Robertson.

 

Whatever the season, nature not only has its curious, changing ways, but also unpredictability…just enough to keep the mystery and beauty alive.

 

Happy Solstice, Happy Holidays, dear reader.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

All photos by Athena Alexander unless otherwise noted.

Mammalian tourists in winter

 

Bountiful Nature in Seward, Alaska

Seward Harbor

Seward is a small port town on the southern coast of Alaska, tucked in a harbor on the Kenai Peninsula. Surrounded by glacial water and snow-capped mountains, it is a small town with a big presence and abundant beauty.

 

Seward Wikipedia

 

This town is the gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park. Situated on Resurrection Bay in the Gulf of Alaska, it offers many ways to explore the Harding Icefield and its nearly 40 glaciers that dominate this area.

 

We took a half-day boat trip out of Seward and had the thrill of seeing a glacier from the boat. Occasionally a huge mass of blue glacial ice broke off (“calved”) and tumbled into the frigid waters below.

 

There are only four remaining icefields in the U.S., the Harding Icefield in Seward is one, and covers 300 square miles (777 km2).

 

Gulf of Alaska and Glacier

 

Seward Highway Vista

 

There are 190 different species of birds here, and a plethora of land and sea mammals.

 

Moose

 

In addition, the Gulf of Alaska waters are teeming with sea lions, sea otters, humpback whales, and more. We were there in the month of August, and saw thousands of wild sea mammals and migrating birds.

 

Sea Otter, Gulf of Alaska

 

There in Resurrection Bay sea lions bulk up on fish, otters gorge on shellfish, migrating birds reproduce over the summer. We witnessed dozens of bald eagles perched atop boat masts in the Seward marina, strategizing their next fresh catch.

 

Bald Eagle, Seward Marina

 

We never tired of spotting numerous humpback whales and other marine mammals and seabirds.

 

Humpback Whale Fluke

 

Common Murres

 

Common Murres nesting, Alaska

 

Steller Sea Lions, Gulf of Alaska

 

Located only 120 miles (193 km) from Anchorage, Seward can be reached by many different modes of transport. We drove the 2.5 hour trip along the Seward Highway, a National Scenic Highway. Along this highway with breathtaking vistas, we saw both moose and fishermen up to their hips in the water.

 

Kenai Peninsula, Alaska, Moose

 

 

Fishermen

 

Sea islands, Gulf of Alaska

 

As inhabitants of planet Earth, we are all so lucky to have the natural wonders of Alaska and Seward.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

All photos by Athena Alexander, except the photo below.

How the historic Iditarod Dog Sled Race is connected to Seward. 

 

Photo by Derek and Julie Ramsey. Courtesy Wikipedia.

 

Sea Lions at Pier 39

Pier 39, California Sea Lions

Pier 39, California Sea Lions

A very popular tourist attraction at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco is the activity of wild California sea lions at Pier 39.

 

For many years the sea lions had been coming to the San Francisco Bay to eat herring, and other fish.  At breeding time, they would swim south, primarily to the Channel Islands.

 

The males especially migrate more, the females congregate near the breeding grounds, in southern California.

 

When not foraging, these pinnipeds usually haul their 700+ pound bodies onto shore (called “haul out”) to escape predators, rest, socialize, and/or regulate their temperature.

 

Then one year, January of 1990, everything changed.  The sea lions decided that instead of hauling out onto the shore, the Pier 39 boat dock would do just fine.  (Some folks speculated it had something to do with the Loma Prieta earthquake a few months earlier, but no one really knows.)

 

Pier 39

Pier 39

As the days turned into weeks, heated discussion ensued about what to do with the sea lions.  Boaters, who no doubt paid a hefty fee to dock here, didn’t like the large animals interloping on their docking space.

 

The nearby Marine Mammal Center was consulted, and it was eventually decided that the sea lions could have the dock, humans would relocate their boats.

 

A few times the sea lions disappeared for a few months–experts had varying opinions–but they always returned.  And they have been here ever since.

 

The population numbers vary.  The maximum number counted, in November of 2009:  1,701.  It is mostly males, but females are here too.

 

Pier 39

Pier 39

For more info on Zalophus californianus, click here.

 

Click here for Pier 39 sea lion info and the Sea Lion Webcam.

 

The sea lions are wild, they come and go as they please, they are not fed.    In fact, feeding sea lions (and any other marine mammal) is illegal in the U.S., info here.

 

When I’m down at the docks, I watch the humans as much as I watch the sea lions.  Spectators are so excited and animated, filming movies, taking photos, doing selfies.

 

Pier 39, San Francisco, California

Pier 39, San Francisco, California

And what’s not to love?  The sea lions bellow and bark, “walk” on all fours, wobble and roll.  When they get a little hungry, they plop into the water and swim off.  Later dude.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

 

Seeing the Groundhog

Hoary Marmot, Mt. Rainier, Washington

Hoary Marmot, Mt. Rainier, Washington

The old folk tale about seeing the groundhog’s shadow today is probably going to live on forever.  That might have something to do with the family they’re in, the Marmots, that have been written about since the 5th Century B.C.

 

Marmots are North America’s largest squirrels with large heads, bushy tails, and strong claws on the front feet for digging.  They use burrows to hibernate, and raise and protect their young.

 

Mt. Rainier stream

Mt. Rainier stream

There are many different species of marmots in several continents across the world.  Click here to see various marmot species.  We came across the hoary marmot, photographed here, while hiking in the meadows of Mount Rainier in Washington State.  They use the rocks and boulders for their hibernation dens.

 

Other marmots, like the groundhogs, live across the eastern United States and Canada and prefer open, lowland areas.  To read more about today’s famous groundhog, click here.

 

Mt. Rainier is one of my favorite mountains in the world, and sometime I will tell you more about it.  Add to that the frolicking hoary marmots with their shaggy hair and non-threatening nature…and it’s a party.

 

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander