Category Archives: Biology

Elk Photo Shoot

Here are three of the seven bull elk that lounged and grazed in a neighborhood where friends and I stayed in Estes Park, Colorado.

My husband and I visited several U.S. National Parks in the last year and a half, and we didn’t see one large mammal — even in Yellowstone National Park, where you can always see bison.  I’d seen plenty of elk, moose and bison a few years earlier, but I had entered an animal drought. I was determined to see some elk on our trip to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) in early November 2018.  We stayed just outside of the park in the town of Estes Park.   I was very eager to shoot a few elk with my new camera.

We’d visited RMNP in August, and I only saw a large ground squirrel in the park.  During that visit, we’d hoped to see bighorn sheep at Sheep Lakes, where we’d seen a herd in a visit a few years ago, but the ranger report this year indicated that the sheep hadn’t visited in a week.  We waited for two hours, anyway, before giving up.

This “I Saw an Elk in the Rocky Mountains” hand towel was a gift from friends who knew how excited I was to finally see some elk.

We were returning from our second no-elk trip from RMNP, when friends texted me that there were seven bull elk lounging right outside our condominium building! My friends seen one or two elk before, but the elk had always eluded me. On our way to the condo, we saw a large herd of elk — females led by a big bull elk. They were so magnificent.  There were elk all over the town of Estes Park!  We went from visual famine, to visual feast.

The elk or wapiti (Cervus canadensis) is one of the largest species within the deer family, Cervidae, in the world, and one of the largest terrestrial mammals in North America and Northeast Asia.

This bull elk groomed himself after rubbing his antlers against a tree near a condominium parking lot in Estes Park, Colorado, in early November. The rutting season was over, and this guy missed out on romance, but he’s keeping himself in shape and looking good. Maybe next year he’ll find success. In the meantime, he’s hanging out with his other male friends.

In early November, the rutting season was over, but these two bull elk decided to spar a little. They apparently didn’t attract any lady elk this year, but it doesn’t hurt to practice for next year’s mating season.

In Estes Park, Colorado, elk graze in neighborhood yards and freely travel the streets and highways. In the lower right photo, a bull elk bugles to his herd of females to follow him.

A herd of female elk, plus one bull elk, rest on a traffic island in Estes Park, Colorado. I took this photo through the car window, so it’s not that great, but it does give you an idea of how much the elk feel at home in the town.

 

Bull Elk Bugling, Estes Park, Colorado Photo Print

Bull Elk Bugling, Estes Park, Colorado

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Florida Panther Crossing

Florida panthers must navigate traffic, maneuver around walls and traverse ever growing human populations in the Florida panther’s habitat in south Florida. Here are panther crossing signs warning drivers in Naples, Florida, to watch for panthers.

I would have loved to have seen a Florida panther in the wild while in Florida this past winter, although it’s best that they remain away from people.

Florida Panther crossing signs show the perilous route that Florida panthers must take to traverse their territory. They must cross busy streets flanked by walls and navigate through the ever growing construction of homes in South Florida.  There are wildlife refuges for panthers to live in, but their actual territory is much larger, and even in refuges they can be hit by cars. The panther currently occupies only 5 percent of its former range.

Florida panthers are the larger of Florida’s two native cat species (panthers and bobcats). The Florida panther is an endangered population of the cougar (Puma concolor) that lives in pinelands, hardwood hammocks, and mixed swamp forests of South Florida in the United States, according to Wikipedia.

Panthers are listed as an Endangered Species under the Endangered Species Act.  There are approximately 120-230 adult panthers in the population, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).  There has been some progress in increasing the panther population since the 1970s and 1980s, when it was estimated only 20 to 30 panthers remained in Florida.

As the human population of Florida continues to grow, panthers will find it harder to find a place to live.  Twenty-one million people currently live in Florida; 16 million lived in Florida in 2000. It is one of the fastest growing states and is the third most populous. People are attracted to Florida because of its climate and long coastline, and I can’t blame them.  I enjoyed a month there this year.  Along with Hawaii, Florida is one of only two states that has a tropical climate, and is the only continental U.S. state with a tropical climate. It is also the only continental U.S. state with a coral reef named the Florida Reef.  Florida has the longest coastline in the contiguous United States, approximately 1,350 miles (2,170 kilometers).

In 1982, the Florida panther was chosen as the Florida state animal.

Florida Panther Population Update.

About the Florida Panther.

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Marvelous Milkweed

A Gulf Fritillary Butterfly sips nectar from a Swamp Milkweed flower.

Over the years, I’ve planted many plants in my backyard to attract and feed butterflies with mixed results.  I’m lucky to have a lot of tall trees in my yard, but that also makes my little plot of land less than ideal for a butterfly garden.  I only have full sunlight for a few hours a day. Also, my garden adjoins the “rough” of a golf course, and those plants, including poison ivy,  invade my garden. Still, I get a few butterfly visitors who lay their eggs on my plants.

Ten years ago, I planted some Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), which grew vigorously, but the Monarch butterflies, which require milkweed, ignored it. Instead they preferred the tropical milkweed, which must be planted every year.  Perhaps the Monarchs were dreaming of their species’ winter quarters in Mexico.  So I  pulled out most of the swamp milkweed from my garden and dutifully planted tropical milkweed every year.

Swamp Milkweed in the rough of a golf course.

Since being mostly banished from my garden (because it takes up so much space), the Swamp Milkweed has now moved into and prospered in the rough of the adjoining golf course, where it is even vanquishing the poison ivy.  Hurrah! I hope the Monarch butterflies find this ever growing patch of Swamp Milkweed and don’t ignore it this time. There are beautiful blooms to sip from and huge leaves to lay eggs on, a great source of caterpillar food. Let us hope the golf course groundskeeper won’t mow it down.

To learn more about Monarch Butterflies, which are dwindling in numbers due to loss of habitat due to herbicides and other factors, go to Monarch Watch and Monarch Watch Blog.

Here’s on of my posts about Monarch Butterflies: How You Can Help Monarch Butterflies. Use my search box to find more on my blog.

Gulf Fritillary Butterfly on a Swamp Milkweed.


Swamp Milkweed has escaped my garden and is now flourishing in the rough area of the adjoining golf course.

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Strangler Fig in Big Cypress Nature Preserve

Strangler Fig, Big Cypress Swamp, Florida Poster

Strangler Fig, Big Cypress Swamp, Florida.

In the photograph above, a strangler fig embraces a cypress tree in Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida. The strangler fig is (Ficus aurea) one of the most striking plants in the Big Cypress swamp in Florida. It grows around the host tree, actually strangling its host over time.

The strangler fig is an epiphyte, a plant that grows on another plant but is not parasitic, such as the numerous ferns, bromeliads, air plants, and orchids growing on tree trunks in tropical rainforests. However, the strangler fig is the only epiphyte that will affect the host in which it grows. The strangler fig grows very slowly as it matures, extracting water and nutrients directly from the atmosphere. As the plant gets larger, it may grow both up and down the trunk of the host tree. Eventually, the strangler fig will reach the ground and start growing more rapidly. The strangler fig encircles the roots of the host tree, eventually killing it. As the host tree rots away, a hollow void is left with the strangler fig standing alone.

Each of the 750 fig tree species found throughout the world are pollinated by a wasp specific to each fig, according to the Big Cypress National Preserve official website. The fresh waters of the Big Cypress Swamp, essential to the health of the neighboring Everglades, support the rich marine estuaries along Florida’s southwest coast. Protecting over 729,000 acres of this vast swamp, Big Cypress National Preserve contains a mixture of tropical and temperate plant communities that are home to a diversity of wildlife, including the elusive Florida panther.

Big Cypress National Preserve official website.

History of Big Cypress Swamp

The Fascinating Strangler Fig of Florida. 
Click on the thumbnails to see a full-size photo.

David Attenborough, BBC Wildlife:

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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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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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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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