Category Archives: Nature

I Gotta Crow About Kauai Chickens

A chick stopped to take a drink in the rainwater in a snorkel mask in the yard of the house where we were staying.  His mothers and siblings are just ahead.

A chick stopped to take a drink in the rainwater in a snorkel mask in the yard of the house where we were staying. His mothers and siblings are just ahead.

Clucking and crowing chickens, crashing waves and whirring helicopters are the sounds I’ll always associate with Kauai, the oldest of the main inhabited Hawaiian islands.

Every morning during our too-short visit to paradise, my husband and I awoke to huge waves crashing on the beach in the bay outside of our house and the crowing of roosters.

A mother hen and her chicks would make the rounds of the neighborhood several times a day. First, you’d hear the cheep cheep cheep of the chicks and then the occasional cluck of the mother as they pecked their way through the grass and bushes of the yard.

Helicopters were often crossing the sky to take tourists to view the many incredible sights, which have often been filmed for movies (“Jurassic Park,” is one example.) I’ve only been in a helicopter once — to fly over Maui almost 20 years ago. It was gorgeous, but I haven’t gotten up the nerve to get into a helicopter since. My husband and I did take a boat trip on this vacation. First time I ever got sea sick. (More about that later…)

Mother hens and their chicks were everywhere on Kauai.

Mother hens and their chicks were everywhere on Kauai.

Chickens were everywhere! Other islands have wild chickens, (A rooster showed up for my son’s beach wedding in St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands) but Kauai has CHICKENS. On every trail, on the beaches, in shopping center parking lots, on the sidewalks outside of restaurants, in parks, in churchyards, every neighborhood, everywhere. They are gorgeous and colorful. They are descended from the Junglefowl that the ancient Hawaiians brought with them centuries ago. They’ve bred with other types of chickens that others have brought to the island, but have mostly retained the gorgeous Junglefowl coloring. The chickens have no predator, other than man and cats, so they thrive.  People say they aren’t good to eat, so they are mostly even safe from humans. There are mongooses on some of the other islands, such as the Big Island and Maui, which eat chickens and eggs. There are mongooses on St. John, too. But mongooses were never introduced to Kauai.

Here’s What I Wrote About The Mongoose in an Earlier Post.

Here are some of my chicken photos. Yes, I do like to take photos of chickens, maybe a little too much.

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Filed under Animals, Birds, Life, Natural History, Nature, Photography, Travel

Moose in Colorado

This moose stared back when I was taking its photo in Colorado.

This moose stared back when I was taking its photo in Colorado.

Swedish photographer Björn Törngren posted some photographs of moose in Sweden on his blog, which reminded me that I hadn’t posted my moose photographs from a trip to Colorado in 2012.

When my husband and I visited the Brainard Lake Recreation Area last year, we were surprised to see moose in Colorado.

Moose are relatively new to Colorado.  According to the National Park Service, historical records dating back to the 1850s show that moose were probably only transient visitors to the area that is now Rocky Mountain National Park.  In 1978 and 1979, the Colorado Division of Wildlife transferred two groups of moose (a dozen each year) from the Uintah Mountains and Grand Teton herds to an area just west of the Never Summer Range near Rand, Colorado.  The moose have prospered in Colorado.  There are now more than 2,300.

All of the moose we saw had antlers, so they were all males.

Wildlife enthusiasts set up to photograph a herd of moose at the Brainard Lake Recreation Area in Colorado.

Wildlife enthusiasts set up to photograph a herd of moose at the Brainard Lake Recreation Area in Colorado.

A boy keeps a fairly safe distance from moose grazing near Brainard Lake in Colorado.  Moose are dangerous and unpredictable and often charge.

A boy keeps a fairly safe distance from moose grazing near Brainard Lake in Colorado. Moose are dangerous and unpredictable and often charge.

This is one of my better shots.  The moose were far away and were eating most of the time in tall vegetation.

This is one of my better shots. The moose were far away and were eating most of the time in tall vegetation.

A herd of moose line up to graze in a marshy area at Brainard Lake Recreation Area in Colorado.

A herd of moose line up to graze in a marshy area at Brainard Lake Recreation Area in Colorado.

Herd of moose graze near Brainard Lake in Colorado.

Herd of moose graze near Brainard Lake in Colorado.

National Park Service Information on Moose in Colorado.

Story about moose in Colorado.

Wikipedia: About the Moose.

Drunken moose ends up stuck in Swedish apple tree.

Click on the thumbnails to view a full-size slide show.

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Filed under Animals, Natural History, Nature, Photography

Welcome to My Caterpillar Ranch

I found this Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar crawling in the middle of my lawn and gave it a ride to this fennel plant, where it attached itself with a sling to a fennel stalk.  Some time during the night it shrugged off its skin and became a chrysalis.

I found this Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar crawling in the middle of my lawn and gave it a ride to this fennel plant, where it attached itself with a sling to a fennel stalk. Some time during the night it shrugged off its skin and became a chrysalis.

I used to freak out when I saw a caterpillar on one of my plants. Now, I’m disappointed when I don’t see them. And now how do I feel when I see them? So happy!

Here is a Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar feeding on a dill plant.  The day after I photographed this caterpillar on the dill, it disappeared. I thought it had either died or crawled away to pupate. Then, I found it (I think) crawling in the middle of my lawn, far from any twig to attach itself to.  I gave it a lift on a stick to one of my fennel plants in case it needed a little more food.   The next day I saw it had attached itself to a twig and the day after that it was a chrysalis.

Here is a Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar feeding on a dill plant. The day after I photographed this caterpillar on the dill, it disappeared. I thought it had either died or crawled away to pupate. Then, I found it (I think it was the same one) crawling in the middle of my lawn, far from any twig to attach itself to. I gave it a lift on a stick to one of my fennel plants in case it needed a little more food. The next day I saw it had attached itself to a twig and the day after that it was a chrysalis.

Many of the plants in my garden are members of the carrot family, which are the food source of Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillars. I’ve planted bronze fennel, parsley and dill, plus there’s wild Queen Anne’s Lace nearby. So far, the BST butterflies have only laid eggs on the fennel, so I was happily surprised when I found a large caterpillar on a dill plant, which is fifty feet from the rest of my butterfly garden.

The next day the caterpillar was gone, another casualty or was it pupating somewhere? Then I found a caterpillar struggling to crawl in the grass in the middle of my lawn. Where was he going? If he was from the dill plant, he’d already crawled more than 50 feet. I gave him a lift on a stick and stuck him on a fennel plant.  Then he pupated there.

I'm giving a Black Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillar a ride on a stick.  I found him in the grass in my lawn far from anywhere to pupate.  Although BST caterpillars can travel a long way, I was afraid he'd be stepped on.

I’m giving a Black Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillar a ride on a stick. I found him in the grass in my lawn far from anywhere to pupate. Although BST caterpillars can travel a long way, I was afraid he’d be stepped on.

About the Black Swallowtail Butterfly.

What do Black Swallowtail Caterpillars eat?

I'm amazed that I saw this Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar crawling through my lawn.  If he was from my dill plant, he'd already traveled more than 50 feet.

I’m amazed that I saw this Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar crawling through my lawn. If he was from my dill plant, he’d already traveled more than 50 feet

This is one of the few times I've seen this orange gland on an annoyed Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar.  Usually, the caterpillars are fairly easy-going and don't mind me puttering around.  The black swallowtail caterpillar has an orange "forked gland", called the osmeterium. When in danger, the osmeterium, which looks like a snake's tongue, appears and releases a foul smell to repel predators. I didn't smell anything, so I'm lucky.

This is one of the few times I’ve seen this orange gland on an annoyed Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar. Usually, the caterpillars are fairly easy-going and don’t mind me puttering around. The black swallowtail caterpillar has an orange “forked gland”, called the osmeterium. When in danger, the osmeterium, which looks like a snake’s tongue, appears and releases a foul smell to repel predators. I didn’t smell anything, so I’m lucky.

Here's a Black Swallowtail Butterfly egg on the left.  To the right you can see a spider in its web.

Here’s a Black Swallowtail Butterfly egg on the left. To the right you can see a spider in its web. Butterflies have many predators at all stages in their development.

A Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar rests after a day of eating fennel. It's amazing that a caterpillar can survive and thrive on only one plant.  The orange blobs in the background are cosmos flowers, which the adult butterflies get nectar from.

A Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar rests after a day of eating fennel. It’s amazing that a caterpillar can survive and thrive on only one plant. The orange blobs in the background are cosmos flowers, which the adult butterflies get nectar from.

Here's one of the early instars (or stages) of a Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillars. Below you can see a tiny spider in its web.

Here’s one of the early instars (or stages) of a Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillars. Below you can see a tiny spider in its web.

I placed the Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar on this fennel plant after I found him in the middle of my yard.  He seemed exhausted from his travels.

I placed the Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar on this fennel plant after I found him in the middle of my yard. He seemed exhausted from his travels.

Below is a beautiful adult Black Swallowtail Butterfly, which I photographed on a coneflower in my garden. In addition to host plants for caterpillars, you also need many nectar flowering plants to attract and feed the adults. Bonus: Nectar flower plants are also beautiful!  From Monarch Watch: Tips on how to start a Butterfly Garden.

Click on any photo thumbnail below to see it full-size and in a slide show.

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Filed under Butterflies, Gardening, Insects, Nature, Photography

Elephants in the Mist

In the video above, about two dozen elephants move quickly and silently through the forests in MalaMala Game Reserve in South Africa on their way into Kruger National Park in January 2013 (Video by Mike L).

On a misty morning in January 2013, our group climbed into a Land Rover for a game drive through MalaMala Game Reserve in South Africa.   January is one of the rainiest months in this area of South Africa.  That morning, we were lucky that it was only sporadically sprinkling.  Birds were calling, but it was otherwise very quiet except for the rumble of the Land Rover’s engine.  We never knew what we’d see.  There was a surprise around every bend in the road. That morning we’d already seen a pride of lions lounging by a creek bed after a night of feasting (We’d seen some of the feasting, too).

We rumbled along, feeling raindrops, scanning through the trees and in the clearings.   Then we saw an elephant.   Soon more appeared.  About two dozen elephants of all sizes were moving very quickly in a line in the morning’s mist.  The herd made no sound. A few elephants grabbed small leafy limbs to eat as they passed through the forest.  It was an awe-inspiring sight. We watched them for about ten minutes until they disappeared into Kruger National Park.

Moses, our guide, explained that the elephants could walk so silently because their circular feet are spongy with cushion pads, which also distribute the elephant’s weight.

When I was a child racing around with other children, I used to hear adults say, “You sound like a herd of elephants.”  Of course, the adults meant that we were thunderingly loud, because that’s what they expected such huge animals would sound like.

Moses also explained how the size of the tusks vary a lot.  However, no elephant, whether she or he has  short or long tusks, is safe from the poachers, who even trespass into protected areas.

I knew elephants were endangered, but I had no idea how much slaughter was happening until I got home and start seeing so many stories about massive poaching, partly due to a loophole permitting artisans, mostly in Asia, to carve ivory for trinkets. Many are religious objects.  These so-called religious objects are definitely unholy. DO NOT BUY IVORY, EVEN IF YOU ARE TOLD THAT IT’S LEGAL. THOSE WHO BUY IVORY ARE CONTRIBUTING TO THE DEATH AND POSSIBLE EXTINCTION OF ELEPHANTS.

We saw this herd of elephants as it traveled out of MalaMala Game Reserve into neighboring Kruger National Park, South Africa, in January 2013.

We saw this herd of elephants as it traveled out of MalaMala Game Reserve into neighboring Kruger National Park, South Africa, in January 2013.

On a misty morning in January 2013, a herd of elephants in MalaMala Game Reserve moves quickly as it heads into Kruger National Park in South Africa. Elephants are highly endangered and are being slaughtered for their tusks.

On a misty morning in January 2013, a herd of elephants in MalaMala Game Reserve moves quickly as it heads into Kruger National Park in South Africa. Elephants are highly endangered and are being slaughtered for their tusks.

About Elephants.

New York Times Article (3-17-13) Slaughter of the African Elephants.

The Social Behavior of Female Elephants (The Meanest Girls at the Watering Hole)

Smithsonian Magazine Articles and Videos about Elephants.

National Geographic: A Voice for Elephants.

National Geographic: Battle for the Elephants.

New York Times Article: No Species is Safe from Burgeoning Wildlife Trade.

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March 17, 2013 · 2:08 pm

Of Elephants and Alcohol

Is this elephant dreaming of the delicious marula fruit as she eats grass at a game reserve in South Africa?

Is this elephant dreaming of the delicious marula fruit as she eats grass at a game reserve in South Africa?

I love fruit, but I’d never heard of marula fruit until a friend (Thanks, Anita!) introduced me to Amarula, a creamy liqueur made in Africa from fermented marula fruit.

Elephants like to eat the marula fruit, which when fermented makes a delicious drink when mixed with cream for humans, called Amarula.  Elephants will eat the fermented fruit, but it's a myth that they'll get drunk.  They couldn't eat enough to get inebriated.  The Amarula Trust promotes Africa elephant protection and social development in Africa.  This elephant sculpture is on display at the O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Fermented marula fruit makes a delicious drink when mixed with cream for humans in a liqueur called Amarula. Elephants will eat the fermented fruit, but it’s a myth that they’ll get drunk. They couldn’t eat enough to get inebriated. The Amarula Trust promotes Africa elephant protection and social development in Africa. This elephant sculpture is on display at the O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Elephants like to eat marula fruit and are Amarula’s symbol. Folklore through the ages told of elephants getting drunk on fermented marula fruit, but that tall tale has been debunked.  I don’t want to be a party pooper, but elephants couldn’t eat enough fermented fruit to get bombed.  According to a 2006 scientific study cited in Smithsonian Magazine, “Elephants do have a taste for alcohol, but when scientists sat down to look at the claim, they found several problems. First, the elephants don’t eat the rotten fruit off the ground. They eat the fresh fruit right off the tree. Second, the fresh fruit doesn’t spend enough time in the elephant to ferment and produce alcohol there. And, third, even if the elephant did eat the rotten fruit, the animal would have to eat 1,400 pieces of exceptionally fermented fruit to get drunk.”
Smithsonian Magazine: The Alcoholics of the Animal World.

Elephants like to eat marula fruit, but much of what elephants eat is not fully digested.  Here, some marula fruits have passed through an elephant.  The surviving marula fruits might be eaten by other animals or germinate into new trees.

Elephants like to eat marula fruit, but much of what elephants eat is not fully digested. Here, some marula nuts have passed through an elephant. The surviving marula fruits might be eaten by other animals or germinate into new trees.

While the elephants don’t get soused from fermented fruits, elephants are among the many species that enjoy the versatile marula fruit for its flesh and its nut, which is full of protein. The marula fruit and its nut have been important source of nutrition in Africa for eons. The fruit has eight times the Vitamin C of an orange, too. Among the animals that eat the marula fruit and nut are antelopes, including impalas, kudus and nyalas. Baboons, warthogs, zebras, porcupines, vervet monkeys, small mammals and even millipedes also feed on the marula, which belongs to the same plant family Anacardiaceae as the mango, cashew, pistachio and sumac. Browsing animals eat the leaves. Marula nut oil is also supposed to have rejuvenating effect on your skin, so the marula can give you a glow both inside and out. About the Marula Tree and Fruit. About Marula Oil for Your Skin.

While reading this post I recommend an Amarula cocktail, which has a mild creamy citrus flavor. If you can’t find Amarula, you can sip Bailey’s Irish Cream or Kahlua. Drink responsibly, of course!

Amarula.

Amarula.

Here’s My Recipe for a Wild Elephant, which is really a White Russia, replacing the Kahlua with Amarula:
2 oz vodka
1 oz Amarula liqueur
light cream

Pour vodka and Amarula liqueur over ice cubes in an old-fashioned glass. Fill with light cream and serve.
Serves one.
For other recipes. click on Cocktail Recipes. 

In a game reserve in South Africa, baboons congregate in and under a marula tree to eat the marula fruit.  Impala antelope stand under the tree to eat the dropped fruit.

In a game reserve in South Africa, baboons congregate in and under a marula tree to eat the marula fruit. Impala antelope stand under the tree to eat the dropped fruit. Click on the photo to get a better view.

The long-time belief that elephants and other animals get drunk on fermented marula fruit was popularized in the 1974 documentary “Animals are Beautiful People.” Some smaller animals can get drunk from fermented fruit, but people have claimed that the supposedly drunkenness of the animals from fermented marula was staged in the movie, after alcohol had been added to their food.  If so, that’s animal abuse. The narration is over the top, too, but the video does show the types of animals that eat the marula fruit. It also shows elephants shaking marula trees to knock down the fruit.
Scientific American: Do Animals Like to Get Drunk?
Drunken Elephants: The Marula Fruit Myth
About “Animals are Beautiful People.”

The marula fruit on this tree is not quite ripe.  It'll turn yellow.

The marula fruit on this tree will turn yellow when ripe.

Owls don't eat marula fruits, of course, but the branches make a handy perch. And perhaps some unsuspecting creature looking for fruit may become the owl's dinner.

Owls don’t eat marula fruits, of course, but the branches make a handy perch. Perhaps some unsuspecting creature looking for fruit may become the owl’s dinner.

Marula fruit is washed along with sand over a walkway after a rainy night at the South African game reserve lodge where we stayed in January 2013.

Marula fruit is washed along with sand over a walkway after a rainy night at the game reserve lodge where we stayed in January 2013.

I’m going to be party pooper again by listing this new Study from the Boston University School of Public Health that shows links of alcohol to cancer. Darn it!

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Filed under Animals, Drink, Environment, Life, Nature

How Many Ostriches Do You See?

How many ostriches do you see sitting in the fynbos (fine bush) of the Cape Peninsula near the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa?  I saw only one when I took the photograph. Although the ostrich is the largest of all birds, it hides very nicely in these bushes.

How many ostriches do you see sitting in the fynbos (fine bush) of the Cape Peninsula near the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa? I saw only one when I took the photograph. Although the ostrich is the largest of all birds, it hides very nicely in these bushes. Click on the photo to get a better look.

I saw only one ostrich when I took this photograph near the Cape of Good Hope on the Cape Peninsula of South Africa in January 2013.  The ostrich is the largest bird in the world. How did I miss the other ones when I was taking the photo? Maybe because I ran back to the car as soon as I clicked the shutter a few times! Do you see the beak on that bird in front? He looks mad! (My companions took photos, too. I wonder how many ostriches were in their photos.)

I knew not to get close to this irascible bird. I was nearly pecked in the face by an ostrich in a zoo.  He came to the fence where I stood. He looked me in the eye and then attacked.  (He had big, beautiful brown eyes.) Thankfully, the fence stopped him from making contact with my face.

An ostrich struts his stuff near Cape Point in South Africa.

An ostrich struts his stuff near Cape Point in South Africa.

The ostriches in my photo were well disguised while sitting in the fynbos (fine bush) vegetation, which includes proteas, heath and reeds.  The Cape of Good Hope is part of the Cape Floristic Kingdom, the smallest but richest of the world’s six floral kingdoms, which includes 1,100 species of indigenous plants, many of which only occur naturally in the Cape area. There is also a lot of wildlife in the area, including baboons and antelope. Several species of whales can be spotted offshore, although we had missed the season, which is June to November.

A Cape Sugarbird sits in a Protea bush near the Vasco Da Gama monument near the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.

A Cape Sugarbird sits in a Protea bush near the Vasco Da Gama monument near the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. The Cape Peninsula is home to 250 species of birds, including the African penguin.

Before visiting the Cape, I didn’t know much more about the area than the names of some European explorers, such as Bartholomeu Dias, who first rounded the Cape in 1488.  The Cape of Good Hope marks the point where a ship from Europe, following the western African coastline, begins to travel more eastward than southward. Portugal’s King John II named this area “Cape of Good Hope.” Bartholomeu Dias first named it the “Cape of Storms” in 1488 (it is very windy here). In 1580 Sir Francis Drake who called it the “The Fairest Cape in all the World.”

Europeans began exploring the African coast in the last 15th century after the Turkish empire blocked routes to the Far East. Limestone pillars (padrao) dedicated to two early Portuguese explorers Bartholomeu Dias and Vasco Da Gama are in the Cape Point area.

Europeans began exploring the African coast in the last 15th century after the Turkish empire blocked routes to the Far East. Limestone pillars (padrao) dedicated to two early Portuguese explorers Bartholomeu Dias and Vasco Da Gama are in the Cape Point area.

This display in the Buffelsfontein Vistors Centre shows flowers that are in bloom in January 2013 on the Cape Penisula. The Cape Floristic Kingdom is the smallest but richest of the world’s six floral kingdoms, which includes 1,100 species of indigenous plants, many of which only occur naturally in the Cape area.

This display in the Buffelsfontein Vistors Centre shows flowers that are in bloom in January 2013 on the Cape Penisula. The Cape Floristic Kingdom is the smallest but richest of the world’s six floral kingdoms, which includes 1,100 species of indigenous plants, many of which only occur naturally in the Cape area.

This is the hearth from a farm near Cape Point in South Africa that Charles Darwin visited in May 1836 while on the voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle. The hearth is now in the Buffelsfontein Visitors Center in the the Cape Point area of Table Mountain National Park in South Africa. The Beagle set sail from England in 1931. The Cape's enormous floral and fauna diversity must have fascinated Darwin.

This is the hearth from a farm near Cape Point in South Africa that Charles Darwin visited in May 1836 while on the voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle. The hearth is now in the Buffelsfontein Visitors Center in the the Cape Point area of Table Mountain National Park in South Africa. The Beagle set sail from England in 1931. The Cape’s enormous floral and fauna diversity must have fascinated Darwin.

Cape of Good Hope, looking northwest  from Cape Point.

Cape of Good Hope, looking northwest from Cape Point.

Cape Point in South Africa.

Cape Point in South Africa.

There's a traffic jam at the Cape of Good Hope sign as people wait to get their photos taken at this landmark.

There’s a traffic jam at the Cape of Good Hope sign as people wait to get their photos taken at this landmark.

The Cape Peninsula is a fascinating place. Cape of Good Hope.

Read more about the ostrich here.

Check this out!  Panoramic View of the Cape of Good Hope

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Bighorn Sheep in Colorado

A bighorn sheep ewe, on the right, prepares to lead the herd on its trek across a highway in Rocky Mountain National Park. The ewe waits until most of the herd members line up and then she begins the procession. The sheep make the journey each day to and from two lakes in a meadow in the park.

Not far from Estes Park in Colorado, bighorn sheep graze in a meadow near two lakes, “Sheep Lakes,” in Rocky Mountain National Park. The herd makes its way to the lakes from the mountainside each morning and then returns to the mountainside in the late afternoon. It’s a beautiful commute. Park rangers and volunteers manage the tourists and the cars on the narrow highway to allow the sheep safe passage.

When the bighorn sheep are ready to cross the highway, park rangers and volunteers clear the road. The sign says no walking, but it also means no parking. This Hummer driver was confused!

My husband and I were among the gawkers in early August for the sheep’s late afternoon procession back to the mountains. I joined the paparazzi jostling for a view from the packed parking lot. Because we had to stand well away from the sheep, I envied photographers with big lenses. One woman pointed to a female sheep hurrying back across the meadow to the herd at the closest lake. Where had the ewe been? What had she been up to? Her lamb ran out to her and then trailed after her. “Mommy, where did you go?”

In the mid-1800s, thousands of bighorn sheep lived in the Estes Valley, but their numbers were decimated by hunters, by degraded environment and by diseases introduced by domestic sheep. At one point it was thought only about 150 sheep lived in the park, high in the mountains. The bighorn sheep in the low-lying areas were gone. It wasn’t until recent decades that through conservation efforts and reintroduction of new bighorn sheep that the population started to increase. About 600 bighorn sheep live in the park now. The herd near Sheep Lakes seemed to be all female adults and their offspring. You can read more about the RMNP bighorn sheep in a link below.

I saw one sheep move up the hill from the lake, and a few stood behind her. Soon, most of the herd was behind her. She waited there, alert, watching us silly humans in the parking lot. Even though we were probably a hundred yards away (I’m bad at estimating distances), she was wary. The rangers and volunteers make sure humans stay back because sheep can be easily stressed. However, later, we saw bighorn sheep grazing by the side of the highway along Big Thompson River, butting heads and knocking each other into the road. They didn’t seem bothered by the traffic at all. I was worried for them!

Eventually, the entire herd at Sheep Lakes gathered behind the lead ewe and then the sheep made their way across the road, where traffic had been cleared. Of course, just as with humans, one grazing sheep was oblivious to the departing herd. She looked up, saw she was alone, and then bolted to catch the herd.

You can click on all of the photos to get a better look. You’ll need to backspace to return to this page.

A bighorn sheep lamb nurses from its mother as the herd lines up and prepares to return to the hillside after a day in the meadow.

Bighorn sheep graze at Sheep Lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park.


A crowd gathers to watch and photograph the bighorn sheep as they graze at Sheep Lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park. The most popular time is when the sheep migrate to and from the hillside over the meadow, which they do once a day.


On the left, a ewe hurries back across the meadow to the herd. In the upper right, her lamb rushes out to greet her. “Mommy, where did you go?” In the bottom right, the lamb follows after its mother.


Bighorn sheep graze on the hillside along the Big Thompson River in Colorado.


About Bighorn Sheep in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Here is a section of a map showing the Sheep Lakes area, where a herd of bighorn sheep graze every day.

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Filed under Animals, National Parks, Natural History, Nature, Travel

Tallgrass Prairie at the Herbert Hoover National Historical Site in West Branch, Iowa

A sign featuring the McDonald’s and Kum & Go businesses marks I-80 highway on the southern border of the restored 81-acre Tallgrass Prairie at the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site in West Branch, Iowa. To the left is a West Branch water tower. A few miles farther east in Walcott is the Iowa 80, the world’s largest Truck Stop.

Today, I drove through the Flint Hills of Kansas.  I do this often enough that I often forget to appreciate that this section of grassland is rare and beautiful.  (In other words, I’m thinking impatiently “Are we there yet?”) The Flint Hills area is one of the few remnants of the vast Tallgrass Prairie that once covered the midsection of North America.  Ninety-eight percent of the great Tallgrass Prairie is now gone, plowed under for crops. Tallgrass prairie soil is very fertile, and some parts of the prairie have some of the deepest topsoil ever recorded.  The Flint Hills were spared the plow, because the ground is so rocky and hard to cultivate. Part of the Flint Hills is now a national preserve. (See link below.)

On a driving trip in June, my husband and I visited another remnant of Tallgrass Prairie at the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site in West Branch, Iowa.  The restored 81-acre prairie is just north of I-80 in the eastern part of Iowa.  Nearby is the grave site of Herbert Hoover and his wife Lou.  A block away is Hoover’s birthplace cottage, which is in its original location. There are also several 19th century buildings, including houses, a school, Quaker meeting house and a blacksmith shop.

Black-eyed susan wildflowers are among the dozens of wildflowers that were re-introduced to the restored Tallgrass Prairie at the Herbert Hoover Historic Site in West Branch, Iowa.

Coneflowers sway in the wind in the restored Tallgrass Prairie at the Herbert Hoover Historic Site in West Branch, Iowa. In the background are orange milkweed plants, also known as butterfly weed.

At the top is the small cottage where Herbert Hoover was born in 1874 in West Branch, Iowa. At the bottom are the graves of Hoover and his wife Lou, which are near the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum. The graves are about a block from the Hoover birthplace cottage.

About the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Kansas.

Plants at the Tallgrass Prairie at the Herbert Hoover Historic Site in West Branch, Iowa.

About the Tallgrass Prairie.

Iowa 80, world’s Largest Truck Stop.

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Filed under Environment, Natural History, Nature, Photography, Presidents, Travel

Apple Blossoms

Apple Blossom and Honey Bee Postcard zazzle_postcard
I took about 300 photos of apple blossoms this weekend.  My favorite shots feature a honey bee like this one.

This is one of my favorite weeks of the year — the week when the crab apples bloom in the neighborhood. The fragrance is heavenly. I nearly swoon. You can hear the thrum of bees as they visit the blossoms. A few wasps and flies joined the party, too. Last year, winter was much colder than usual, and when the apple trees finally bloomed, a big wind storm blew through and knocked all of the blossoms from the trees. This year I’m spending a lot of time smelling the flowers since I got cheated last year.

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The Bridge to Nowhere

I took this photograph from my bus window as we passed the the airport serving Ketchican, Alaska, which is across a narrow bay. This is where the proposed "Bridge to Nowhere" would have been built to replace the ferry that takes people to and from the airport, which is on a separate island. Sorry for the poor quality, but what can you do, the bus driver is not going to stop! Plus it was raining. Click on the photograph to get a better look.

This summer, I finally visited Alaska, a state I’ve wanted to visit since my aunt lived there many decades ago. What took me so long? It’s incredibly beautiful! While in Alaska, my husband and I toured part of lovely Revillagigedo Island, which is the 12th largest island in the United States and about the same size as the state of Rhode Island. Revilla, as its known by the locals, is known more for its city of Ketchican, Alaska’s fifth most populous city at 7,368 according to the 2010 census. The island population is 13,950. The temporary population swells enormously in the summer with tourists and outdoor enthusiasts. The entire state of Alaska has only 710,231 people.

A sculpture featuring the various professions and residents of Ketchican, Alaska, greets people on the dock. Tourism and fishing are two of the main industries in the Ketchican area. The logging business was shut down during the Clinton Administration.

As we were ending our tour by bus, our bus driver casually pointed to the airport that serves the island. The airport is on nearby Gravina Island, because there isn’t enough flat land on Revilla. “That’s where the bridge to nowhere was to be built,” he said. Now, airline passengers take a ferry, which costs $5. But, the bus driver noted — the parking lot for the ferry is free! The bridge would have eliminated the need for the ferry. I don’t know whether it would have been a toll-free bridge, not that the fees could have come close to paying for the bridge.

Funding for the ulra-expensive bridge was to come from the federal government, which has already funded the road leading to the as-yet-unbuilt bridge. As our country battles over who should pay for what and how many more trillions we should borrow to pay current obligations, saddling our children and their progeny with huge debt, this bridge has been used as a symbol of federal largesse. Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was a big advocate of federal funding this bridge. Why not grab some of the federal money? It’s not real money is it? It’s thrown around like confetti. I’m glad there’s a movement to stop the unsustainable federal spending party, although it’s not making much headway because we have real and important obligations to pay for. Who gets cut? Even this Bridge to Nowhere is not really a bridge to nowhere, but is there money to fund such efforts that benefit a relative few?

Another view of the Ketchican Airport from my bus window. The Bridge to Nowhere would have been built here.

Almost all federal money comes from taxing the people in the states. The federal government takes a cut in the form of bureaucracy and upkeep (and many would say massive waste and fraud) and then returns some of the money to the states. Much of this federal funding is the so-called pork. Democrat Senator Robert Byrd was known for his ability to bring home the federal bacon to his state of West Virginia, one of the country’s poorest states.

Here are a few of the totem poles in Totem Bight State Historical Park, a 33-acre state park north of Ketchikan, Alaska. In 1938, the United States Forest Service used Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) funds to hire skilled carvers from among the older Native Alaskans to repair or duplicate totem poles that were abandoned when the natives moved to communities where work was available. The CCC project put the community house and 15 totem poles in place. At statehood in 1959, title to the land passed from the federal government to the State of Alaska. The site was added to the National Register of Historic Places on October 27, 1970.

From Wikipedia: Byrd was called the “King of Pork” by Citizens Against Government Waste. After becoming chair of the Appropriations Committee in 1989, Byrd set a goal securing a total of $1 billion for public works in the state. He passed that mark in 1991, and funds for highways, dams, educational institutions and federal agency offices flowed unabated over the course of his membership. More than 30 existing or pending federal projects bear his name. He commented on his reputation for attaining funds for projects in West Virginia in August 2006, when he called himself “Big Daddy” at the dedication for the Robert C. Byrd Biotechnology Science Center. Examples of this ability to claim funds and projects for his state include the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s repository for computerized fingerprint records as well as several United States Coast Guard computing and office facilities.

Some states don’t get back as much as they send in, and feel cheated. Other states like West Virginia fatten up. We could spill lots of digital ink discussing the fairness of this system. Why should the rest of the country pay for the bridge to Gravina so that a relatively small number of people wouldn’t have to take a ferry but could drive over a bridge that was said would be as long as the Golden Gate Bridge? Another federally funded project in Alaska in the 1930s was restoring and replicating totem poles, which can be seen in Totem Bight Park. In this case, the federal funding saved the totem poles that were sure to be lost with no other funding in sight.

Ketchican, Alaska, is the Salmon Capital of the World.

From Wikipedia: According to USA Today, the bridge was to have been nearly as long as the Golden Gate Bridge and taller than the Brooklyn Bridge. The bridge would cross the Tongass Narrows, part of Alaska’s Inside Passage, so the bridge was designed to be tall enough to accommodate ship traffic, including the Alaska Marine Highway and the cruise ships which frequent Alaskan waters during the summer.
Ketchikan’s airport is the second largest in Southeast Alaska, after Juneau International Airport, handles over 200,000 passengers a year, while the ferry shuttled 350,000 people in the same time period (as of December 2006).In comparison, the Golden Gate Bridge carried more than 43,000,000 vehicles in 2006, or about 118,000 vehicles each day.

End of lecture! Now for some more facts about Ketchican:

Ketchican is the Rain Capital of Alaska. In 1949, the city experienced a record rainfall of 202.55 inches.

– Ketchikan’s secondary post office zip code, 99950, is the highest ZIP code ever assigned in the United States.

–  Ketchikan has the world’s largest collection of standing totem poles.

–  Ketchican is known as the Salmon Capital of the World.

– Ketchican is the Rain Capital of Alaska.

About Ketchican, Alaska.

About the “Bridge to Nowhere”

Bald Eagles Postcard postcard
Bald Eagles in Totem Bight Park near Ketchican, Alaska.

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Filed under Birds, Nature, Travel