Category Archives: Nature

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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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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Bountiful Butterfly Garden

A male monarch butterfly sips from a tropical milkweed flower in my neighborhood butterfly garden. Just a few weeks ago, almost two dozen Monarch butterfly caterpillars were feasting on these milkweeds. Is this an adult returning to his nursery before heading off to begin the journey to a winter in Mexico?

A male monarch butterfly sips from a tropical milkweed flower in my neighborhood butterfly garden. Just a few weeks ago, almost two dozen Monarch butterfly caterpillars were feasting on these milkweeds. Is this an adult returning to his nursery before heading off to begin the journey to a winter in Mexico?

As summer draws to a close, our neighborhood butterfly garden is now a flowering paradise finally crowded with bugs and animals. During June, July and August, the garden reminded me of a dinner party where few of the guests showed up, despite the mass of plants that bloomed all summer. We did get a lot of rabbits, who found the young plants very tasty and ate them almost to the dirt.  Joan, one of the hardest working neighborhood gardeners, built cages around the tender coneflowers and tropical milkweed plants so that they’d have a chance to provide food for other animals, and of course to be beautiful for our enjoyment.

A Monarch butterfly sipping nectar from a tropical milkweed flower in the neighborhood butterfly garden.

A Monarch butterfly sipping nectar from a tropical milkweed flower in the neighborhood butterfly garden.

I’ve seen many types of butterflies in the garden this week.  The two species I plant specifically for are the Monarch Butterfly and the Black Swallowtail Butterfly.  We plant food plants for the caterpillars and lots of flowering plants that butterflies and other pollinating insects prefer for nectar. For Black Swallowtail caterpillars, we plant bronze fennel and parsley. Monarch Butterfly caterpillars will only eat milkweed, and they sometimes are picky about which kind of milkweed.  Tropical milkweed is the most popular milkweed in our Kansas City area garden, and it has lovely scarlet and yellow flowers, too. Unfortunately, it’s an annual in our climate so it has to be re-planted every spring. I buy my plants from Monarch Watch on the University of Kansas campus in Lawrence, Kansas, at their plant sale in May. Monarch Watch sells a lot of plants for butterflies and other pollinators.  Their butterfly garden is worth visiting.  They also have an open house in September every year.

Protecting and fostering pollinators is good for the environment and for our food supply. A large percentage of our food plants must be pollinated to produce a crop. On a recent visit to the garden, a ruby-throated hummingbird whizzed by me. Ruby-throated hummingbirds, which are also pollinators, also visit the feeder at my house.

The Monarch butterfly population is in serious decline, so I would encourage everyone with a yard to plan a butterfly garden.  To find out more click on this link: Monarch Watch.

In the upper left is a Red-spotted Purple butterfly. The lower left is a Painted Lady butterfly. Can anyone tell me in the comments what the other two butterflies are? Can you see the insect lurking or resting under the petals of the coneflower?

In the upper left is a Red-spotted Purple butterfly. The lower left is a Painted Lady butterfly. Can anyone tell me in the comments what the other two butterflies are? Can you see the insect lurking or resting under the petals of the coneflower?

In the top left photo, a Black Swallowtail caterpillar eating fennel. In the lower left photo, a crowd of Black Swallowtail caterpillars eat parsley. In the upper right photo, two Monarch butterfly caterpillars thrash around as their antennae meet. In the center right photo, a Monarch butterfly caterpillar eats Tropical Milkweed. In the bottom right photo, Black Swallowtail butterfly eggs glisten on the narrow leaves of a bronze fennel.

In the top left photo, a Black Swallowtail caterpillar eating fennel. In the lower left photo, a crowd of Black Swallowtail caterpillars eat parsley. In the upper right photo, two Monarch butterfly caterpillars thrash around as their antennae meet. In the center right photo, a Monarch butterfly caterpillar eats Tropical Milkweed. In the bottom right photo, Black Swallowtail butterfly eggs glisten on the narrow leaves of a bronze fennel.

Here is a collage of photos from the founding days of the neighborhood butterfly garden. The top photo is from 2012, a hot summer in which I had to bring gallons of water from my house to water the new plants, because the sprinkler system didn't provide enough water. The bottom three photos are from 2013.

Here is a collage of photos from the founding days of the neighborhood butterfly garden. The top photo is from 2012, a hot summer in which I had to bring gallons of water from my house to water the new plants, because the sprinkler system didn’t provide enough water. The bottom three photos are from 2013.

An empty Monarch butterfly chrysalis hangs from a butterfly bush.

An empty Monarch butterfly chrysalis hangs from a butterfly bush.

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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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Scenes From Autumn in the Missouri Countryside

Colorful Flint or Indian Corn
“Colorful Indian Corn” by Catherine Sherman

My friend Lynn and I took our cameras to a couple of Missouri farms that sell pumpkins, apples and other goods, offer hay rides and let children pet animals. The weather was beautiful, and hopefully we haven’t seen the last of the summer-like days before winter hits.

Ripe Red apples are ready to be picked.

Ripe Red apples are ready to be picked.

Old Farm Wagon in Hay Field Poster
“Old Farm Wagon in a Hay Field” by Catherine Sherman
The Red Barn Farm in Weston, Missouri, offers a variety of farm goods for sale as well as activities for children.

The Red Barn Farm in Weston, Missouri, offers a variety of farm goods for sale as well as activities for families, and is a place for receptions, church and school picnics and weddings.

This goat hopes I can read the sign at Red Barn Farm: Goat Feeding Station.  Lucky for her, there were several children who didn't even need a sign to recognize a goat in need of a treat.

This goat hopes I can read the sign at Red Barn Farm: Goat Feeding Station. Lucky for her, there were several children who didn’t even need a sign to recognize a goat in need of a treat.

Choose a pumpkin at Red Barn Farm!

Choose a pumpkin at Red Barn Farm!

The Farmer’s House Market near Weston, Missouri, sells locally grown and produced “farm to table” products such as vegetables, fruit, honey, cheese and farm and home related items.  It's a working farm where children, youth and young adults with developmental disabilities can live, work, play and grow.

The Farmer’s House Market near Weston, Missouri, sells locally grown and produced “farm to table” products such as vegetables, fruit, honey, cheese and farm and home related items. It’s a working farm where children, youth and young adults with developmental disabilities can live, work, play and grow.

A beautiful palomino horse stands on a hill against a bright blue sky at Red Barn Farm.

A beautiful palomino horse stands on a hill against a bright blue sky at Red Barn Farm.

A scarecrow welcomes visitors to the apple orchard at Red Barn Farm.

A scarecrow welcomes visitors to the apple orchard at Red Barn Farm.

Mini white pumpkins and other produce are for sale at The Farmer's House in Weston, Missouri.

Mini white pumpkins and other produce are for sale at The Farmer’s House in Weston, Missouri.

Bride and Groom scarecrows enjoy a beautiful autumn day at Red Barn Farm in Weston, Missouri.

Bride and Groom scarecrows enjoy a beautiful autumn day at Red Barn Farm in Weston, Missouri.

About The Farmer’s House.

Red Barn Farm in Weston, Missouri.

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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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