Category Archives: Biology

Falconer and His Hawk in Mexico

A Harris's Hawk stands on a falconer's fist at a Cancun, Mexico, resort.

A Harris’s Hawk stands on a falconer’s gloved fist at a Cancun, Mexico, resort.

I’ve been reading “H is for Hawk” by Helen MacDonald, about a woman training a goshawk, and I took the book to a resort in Cancun, Mexico, where my husband and I were attending a wedding. So with falconry on my mind, I was excited to see a man with hawk at the resort. My husband spotted the bird first. He trained his own hawk many years ago.

I rushed over and asked the man many questions and took some photos (lucky to have my camera with me.)

The bird, a Harris’s Hawk, named Runner, was two years old and had been bred by the man’s family, which has been in the bird breeding and training business for five generations (now including his son.) It took three months to train the bird to return to the fist. “He thinks of us as his parents,” he said.

He calls the bird back to his fist with a click and then feeds it. The bird is gentle (except with food) and good with children.  I was able to pet it a little.

The man brings Runner to the resort about three times a week to discourage smaller birds from taking up residence in the trees and around the pool, where they would leave bird droppings, and at outdoor restaurants.

The man said that Harris’s Hawks were very smart and were some of the few birds of prey that hunted in groups.

“They are called the wolf of the desert,” he said. “They live in Sonora and Chihuahua.”

The Harris’s hawk (Parabuteo unicinctus) formerly known as the bay-winged hawk or dusky hawk, is a medium-large bird of prey that breeds from the southwestern United States south to Chile, central Argentina, and Brazil

Runner lives in the man’s house, along with 18 other birds. “They live like kings.” In all, the family business owns 300 birds that they have bred, including eagles and macaws in addition to hawks.

I wish I would have thought to ask him his name and the name of his business, but at least I was able to take some photos.

A falconer brings a Harris's Hawk to a Cancun, Mexico, resort to discourage smaller birds from hanging out on the grounds and pool areas, where they might soil the landscape. Clockwise from the upper left, the hawk flies to a palm tree; the hawk sitting in a tree; a little girl petting the hawk; the hawk resting on the man's gloved fist; and the hawk eating some food after being called back from the palm tree with a click.

A falconer brings a Harris’s Hawk to a Cancun, Mexico, resort to discourage smaller birds from hanging out on the grounds and pool areas, where they might soil the landscape. Clockwise from the upper left, the hawk flies to a palm tree; the hawk sitting in a tree; a little girl petting the hawk; the hawk resting on the man’s gloved fist; and the hawk eating some food after being called back from the palm tree with a click.

About the Harris’s Hawk.
“H is for Hawk” by Helen MacDonald

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Filed under Animals, Biology, Bird-watching, Birds, Photography, Travel

Sue, The Tyrannosaurus Rex

Sue in the Main Hall

Sue, the Tyrannosaurus rex, in the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, Illinois.

When I visit Chicago, Illinois, I like to visit my old friend Sue, the Tyrannosaurus rex. In early April, my husband and I got re-acquainted with Sue when we were in the city for a wedding.  We braved unseasonably cold weather, high wind (well, it is Chicago, the Windy City) and some snow and ice to see the old gal.  She looks pretty good for 67 million years old, although she does admit to some cosmetic help.

When I was refreshing my memory about Sue’s many attributes and history, I was thrilled to read that the T rex mural on the wall behind Sue is by John Gurche, a University of Kansas graduate. I’d met John Gurche years ago while I was at KU and am always happy to discover one of his works. I bought his dinosaur stamps, and of course I never used them on an envelope. (What would happen to the U.S. Postal Service is all of the stamp collectors suddenly used all of their stamps as postage!)  Gurche’s work is featured in museums and in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian and the Boston Globe. He was named one of the 2013-14 Distinguished Alumni of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Kansas, the highest honor from the College.

I’m not sure when I’ll see Sue again, so I will get my next fossil fix at the KU Museum of Natural History.  And one of these days I’ll post my story about a dinosaur dig I went to in Wyoming near Newcastle.

About Sue, the Tyrannosaurus rex.

 

 

Dinosaur Stamps

John Gurche’s U.S. Postage Dinosaur Stamps.

About John Gurche.

 

 

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Filed under Biology, Natural History, Paleontology, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized

Iguana Take You Home

A land iguana reaches for some leaves to eat on North Seymour Island in the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador.  Land iguanas were introduced to North Seymour Island in the early 1930s from the nearby island of Baltra, where they were dying out. In 1954, land iguanas went extinct on Baltra due to habitat loss and predation from introduced species, but they have been successfully re-introduced.

A land iguana reaches for some leaves to eat on North Seymour Island in the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador. Land iguanas were introduced to North Seymour Island in the early 1930s from the nearby island of Baltra, where they were dying out. In 1954, land iguanas went extinct on Baltra due to habitat loss and predation from introduced species, but they have been successfully re-introduced.

The land iguana is a relatively new inhabitant on North Seymour Island in the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador. Until the early 1930s, no land iguanas lived on North Seymour, even though it’s the perfect habitat. Land iguanas had thrived on nearby Baltra Island, but they were dying out due to a number of factors, including predation by introduced species and loss of habitat from voracious goats, and in the early 20th century the construction of an air base hastened their demise.

The Hancock Expedition (see link below) moved land iguanas to North Seymour, which had a similar environment to Baltra. Nearly 2,500 land iguanas now live on North Seymour, according to a 2014 census by the Galapagos National Park (GNP). North Seymour Island hosts the largest nesting site in the Galapagos of the magnificent frigate bird.  Blue-footed boobies also nest there.  Sea Lions and marine iguanas make their home on this island.

Land Iguana, North Seymour Island, Galapagos

A land iguana seeks shade from the fierce midday sun on North Seymour Island in the Galapagos

In 1980, several iguanas from North Seymour were brought to the Iguana Center on Santa Cruz for breeding and in 1991, the first 35 young land iguanas were reintroduced to Baltra, where they now thrive as the habitat has been greatly improved.  We saw one of these Balta iguanas when our airport shuttle bus stopped to allow one to cross the road.

According to our guide, iguana eggs and young iguanas are removed from North Seymour and taken to Baltra, but the older iguanas will live out their lives on the island. Eventually all iguanas will be gone from North Seymour Island, he said. I haven’t found any information to confirm this, although it seems reasonable that conservationists would want the island returned to its original state as much as possible.

On islands in the Galapagos where tortoises and iguanas live, prickly pear cacti have evolved tall, tough trunks, making it harder for these animals to eat the pads and fruits.

On islands in the Galapagos where tortoises and iguanas live, prickly pear cacti have evolved tall, tough trunks, making it harder for these animals to eat the pads and fruits.

One of the foods that iguanas eat is the prickly pear cactus. On North Seymour, where there are no tortoises and only recently iguanas, the prickly pear cacti are low to the ground.   On other islands where tortoises and iguanas are native, the cactus trunks are tall and tough, an evolutionary change that makes it harder for iguanas and tortoises to eat the tasty pads and fruits.

The iguana population is being restored to Baltra Island in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. Baltra is a small, flat island, which was used as an air base and is now the home of the main airport for the Galapagos.

The iguana population is being restored to Baltra Island in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. Baltra is a small, flat island, which was used as an air base and is now the home of the main airport for the Galapagos.

Iguanas live in Simon Bolivar Park, Guayaquil, Ecuador, where they are fed every day by the park staff. Here, they enjoy some lettuce.

Iguanas live in Simon Bolivar Park, Guayaquil, Ecuador, where they are fed every day by the park staff. Here, they enjoy some lettuce.

http://www.galapagos.org/newsroom/land-iguanas-north-seymour/

http://www.galapagos.org/about_galapagos/baltra/

http://www.galapagos.org/about_galapagos/north-seymour/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Allan_Hancock

”The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man.”
– Charles Darwin

http://www.galapagos.org/blog/darwin-animal-doctors/

Trio in Iguana Park, Guayaquil, Ecuador Postcard

A trio of iguanas have taken a prime spot in Simon Bolivar Park in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Hundreds of iguanas live in the park, where they are fed and taken care of by park staff.

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Filed under Animals, Biology, Life

Great Blue Heron at Watts Mill Waterfall

   A Great Blue Heron watches for fish at the base of a waterfall at the Watts Mill Historic Site in Kansas City, Missouri.

A Great Blue Heron watches for fish at the base of a waterfall at the Watts Mill Historic Site in Kansas City, Missouri.

I’ve driven by the Watts Mill Historic Site a thousand times. Although it’s somewhat hidden,  it’s across from where I bought groceries for many years and down the street from my stylist’s former salon. I’d picked up my husband many times at the nearby car dealer when he was getting his car serviced. Favorite restaurants were nearby. How could I have missed this idyllic spot? I even knew about it. I just didn’t realize how peaceful and lovely it would be, nestled as it is among shopping centers and car dealerships.

My friend Lynn and I were on a photography expedition, and she pulled into the parking lot to check out the falls for a photography opportunity. We’ve had a lot of rain, so the water was really flowing.

The park, at 103rd and State Line, was a campsite for people heading out on the Oregon, California and Santa Fe Trails. The area that is now a park was the site of gristmill, built in 1832, known as Watts Mill (first known as Fitzhugh’s Mill), and then Watts Mill. The park is situated on the banks of Indian Creek where the creek flows across flat rocks and tumbles over a waterfall. This location was dedicated June 10, 1974, as a historic site.

Also enjoying the creek were plenty of Canada geese and mallard ducks, as well as songbirds.

The Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) is a large wading bird in the heron family Ardeidae, common near the shores of open water and in wetlands over most of North America and Central America as well as the Caribbean and the Galapagos Islands.

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Filed under Animals, Biology, Bird-watching, Birds, Environment, History, Kansas City

Galapagos Giant Tortoise

Galapagos Islands Tourists

Tourists at a Tortoise Sanctuary in the Galapagos Islands.

A Galapagos Giant Tortoise retreats into his shell as tourists in another group gather in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos Islands to learn more about this magnificent creature.

I visited the islands with my family in April 2015, and we toured the highlands was our first day.  It was truly thrilling to see these giant tortoises in their natural environment. I remember seeing one in a zoo when I was a child. Children even rode them (I think I even did), which is a bad idea, and of course no longer allowed. They aren’t afraid of humans, but do make a chuffing noise if you startle them.

The nasty little fire ant has invaded the Galapagos Islands.  Here's a fire ant hill in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island of the Galapagos.   The ants found me before I found them, unfortunately.  There are efforts in the Galapagos to rid the islands of invasive species, which have caused great damage to the native animals and plants.

The nasty little fire ant has invaded the Galapagos Islands. Here’s a fire ant hill in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island of the Galapagos. The ants found me before I found them, unfortunately. There are efforts in the Galapagos to rid the islands of invasive species, which have caused great damage to the native animals and plants.

The tourists in the pictured group are wisely wearing rubber boots. Our guide offered us boots, too, but I was happy wearing my comfortable “sporty” flip flops, relieved to let my feet breathe after a long trip.  Bad idea.  I successfully evaded puddles and tortoise poop, but I stepped right onto an ant hill teeming with fire ants, an invasive species in the Galapagos. This was within two hours of my arrival on the island of Santa Cruz. I got about six painful, itchy stings on my toes. I’m no stranger to fire ants, so I know enough to wear closed shoes in grassy areas in Texas, but I wasn’t prepared for the little devils in the Galapagos.

Galapagos is an old Spanish word for tortoise. The signs at this ranch warn visitors not to feed or touch the “galapagos.” The tortoises are now more commonly known as “tortuga” in Spanish. (At the bottom of this post is a link explaining how the islands were named.)  The Galapagos Island archipelago has been described as one of most scientifically important and biologically outstanding areas on earth, according to UNESCO in 2001.  My week there was amazing, wonderful and incredible, despite fire ants (and various other mishaps.)

Galapagos Giant Tortoise Poster

This Giant Galapagos Tortoise paused to give us a questioning look as he crossed the road in front of our car in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos Islands. He is king in this place! (Or perhaps she is queen!)

Baby Galapagos Giant Tortoise Postcard

A yearling baby Galapagos Giant Tortoise, being raised at the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos Islands. Introduced predators threaten the eggs and young of the Giant Tortoise, so tortoise eggs are gathered, hatched and reared at the station.

Galapagos Giant Tortoise

Wise old Galapagos Giant Tortoise.

About the Galapagos Islands.

How the Galapagos Islands Were Named.

The Difference Between Turtles, Tortoises and Terrapins.

About Lonesome George.

GIANT TORTOISE FACTS: The Galapagos tortoise or Galapagos giant tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra) is the largest living species of tortoise and the 14th-heaviest living reptile. Modern giant tortoises can weigh up to 5oo pounds (250 kg); even larger versions, now extinct, roamed every continent except Antarctica and Australia. Today, they exist only the Galapagos Islands, and Aldabra in the Indian Ocean. The tortoise is native to seven of the Galapagos Islands, a volcanic archipelago about 620 miles (more than 1,000 kilometers) west of the Ecuadorian mainland. With life spans in the wild of over 100 years, it is one of the longest-lived vertebrates. One of the most famous was “Lonesome George,” who died in 2012, the last Pinta Island Tortoise.

Shell size and shape vary between populations. On islands with humid highlands, the tortoises are larger, with domed shells and short necks – on islands with dry lowlands, the tortoises are smaller, with “saddleback” shells and long necks. Charles Darwin’s observations of these differences on the second voyage of the Beagle in 1835, contributed to the development of his theory of evolution. Tortoise numbers declined from over 250,000 in the 16th century to a low of around 3,000 in the 1970s. This decline was caused by exploitation of the species for meat and oil, habitat clearance for agriculture, and introduction of non-native animals to the islands, such as rats, goats, and pigs. Conservation efforts, beginning in the 20th century, have resulted in thousands of captive-bred juveniles being released onto their ancestral home islands, and it is estimated that the total number of the species exceeded 19,000 at the start of the 21st century. Despite this rebound, the species as a whole is classified as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

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Don’t Be a Silly Goose! Fly South for the Winter!

Whose idea was it to spend winter here?

Recently, I was walking Loki, the family dog, when I saw a flock of Canada Geese (a gaggle ?) on a frozen pond in my Kansas City area neighborhood. It was a beautiful sight. The low afternoon sun cast a golden glow onto the melting water, reflecting the geese and the yellow foliage of grass and cat tails. If you didn’t look too closely, you wouldn’t see the goose poop scattered artistically across the frozen surface. I took the dog home and returned with my camera. The geese don’t like paparazzi, so they headed to the opposite side of the pond.

These geese like the neighborhood.  After a heavy snow, I saw the geese gathered on a golf course, taking advantage of a lack of golfers.

About Canada Geese.

This golf gallery is a gaggle of geese gawking on a golf green (now white with snow.)

This golf gallery is a gaggle of geese gawking on a golf green (now white with snow.)

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Camouflage #Fail

Katydids are usually heard, but not seen. With their leaf-shaped green wings they blend in perfectly with greenery. This katydid didn’t get the memo.

I rarely see katydids, unlike their grasshopper distant relatives, which boldly munch on my flowers and vegetables. Katydids are more reclusive, heard but not often seen.  They are related to crickets, another noisy insect.  Katydids’ green leaf-shaped wings help them to blend in with the greenery. This “katydidn’t” get the memo. He (or she) was resting on the sidewalk, where he definitely didn’t blend in. How long before a hungry bird finds him?

True Katydid.
About the katydid family.

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