Category Archives: Travel

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

The Hottest Little Festival in Texas

Amazingly, the winner James can still speak even after eating a ghost pepper, which is rated at over one million Scoville units in heat.

Amazingly, the winner James can still speak even after eating a ghost pepper, which is rated at over one million Scoville units in heat.

 

There are a lot of festivals in east Texas, celebrating everything from roses, peanuts, yams, trains, pecans, mushrooms, pipe organs, chili making, stew making, duclimers, dogwoods and even feral hogs.

The Hot Pepper Eating Contest trophy with some of the hot peppers in the contest.

The Hot Pepper Eating Contest trophy with some of the hot peppers in the contest.

Palestine, Texas, boasts that it hosts the Hottest Little Festival in Texas every October. My family and I arrived in historic downtown Palestine in time for the hot pepper eating contest on Saturday, October 22, 2016.  Six brave people entered the contest. (Another two were turned away because they weren’t eighteen.)

The master of ceremonies of the Hot Pepper Eating Contest, which was sponsored by Brookshire Grocery Company.

The master of ceremonies of the Hot Pepper Eating Contest, which was sponsored by Brookshire Grocery Company.

Contestants were given a series of peppers in order of heat, beginning with green peppers with a Scovill rating of zero. Next was the banana pepper, the jalapeno, the serrano, the seven-pot and then the ghost pepper. The scorpion and the Carolina reaper were next, but all of the contestants except two had already dropped out when the ghost pepper was presented.  The runner-up declined the ghost pepper, so after James ate the ghost pepper, he was spared any further torture. The Carolina reaper is currently the hottest pepper in the world.

The master of ceremony told each contestant that they had to chew the pepper for a while and not swallow it until he told them to. I would have stopped after the banana pepper. James, the winner, received $150 and a trophy in the shape of a red hot pepper. The two runners up received a cake.  Each contestant got a glass of milk to drink to neutralize the heat.

According to Wikipedia, Palestine is a relatively small town located in the Piney Woods area of Texas,  equidistant from the major airport cities of Dallas, Houston and Shreveport.  It celebrates its natural beauty characterized by a magnificent dogwood floral blooming season with an annual Dogwood Trails festival in April. It’s a small town of about 20,000 people, but it’s big on history, with 1,800 historical sites on the National Register of Historic Places.  It’s the western terminus of the Texas State Railroad, a steam and diesel railroad museum operating between Palestine and Rusk.

All six of the entrants were able to eat the banana peppers.

All six of the entrants were able to eat the banana peppers.

Contest participants prepare to eat their jalapenos.

Contest participants prepare to eat their jalapenos.

The winner James, holding his trophy, drinks milk to neutralize the burning sensation. James has won the contest several times previously.

The winner James, holding his trophy, drinks milk to neutralize the burning sensation. James has won the contest several times.

James, the hot pepper eating contest winner, shows off his $150 check.

James, the hot pepper eating contest winner, shows off his $150 check.

Click on a thumbnail to start the slideshow:

The Scoville Scale measurement of the pungency and heat of chili peppers.

Hot Pepper Festival Facebook Page

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Filed under Entertainment, Photography, Travel

Outgunned

I’m re-posting this post about photography in honor of  National Camera Day, June 29. #NationalCameraDay

Catherine Sherman

A surfer rides the waves in the ocean along Huntington Beach, California.

I love photography, I love to watch surfers catch a wave andI love photographing surfers catching a wave, so I was thrilled when I recently stumbledupon a surfing competition in Huntington Beach, California. I’d been hoping to find surfers, soa tournamentwas a bonus. My ever-patient daughter waited as I shot photo after photo.

I wasn’t the only one there with a camera. My little Nikon D40X was like a child’s toy next to the dozens of big gunsstationed along the pier.I slipped in among them, and we all watched as the surfers waited for a worthy wave.When a surfer rose up,a chorus of clicksfollowed the surfer doing all sorts of fancy moves on the waves.

In a break in the action, one photographer pointedout a pod of dolphins to me, and I hurried after her to find a…

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Filed under Photography, Sports, Technology, 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

See You Later, Alligator

Alligator Hazard on the Golf Course Postcard

Alligators are an added hazard on this South Carolina golf course.

Alligators are common in the wetlands along the coast of America’s South — Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida and Texas.  Large alligators can be found swimming in and basking along the edges of golf courses and neighborhood ponds.  We saw many on recent trips to South Carolina.  At first alligators are both a thrilling and a chilling sight, but you do get used to seeing them.  But don’t get too complacent! Though alligators usually shy away from humans, it’s wise not to get too close. They can hurt or even kill you.  There are alligator warning signs everywhere. Dogs can never run loose, either. I used a telephoto lens, but even so I may have been too close.  You never know what’s lurking just below the surface.  On a Florida ranch, an 800-pound 15-foot-long alligator recently was killed.  It had been eating cattle that came to a pond to drink.

A mother alligator keeps a watching eye on visitors to a pond on Seabrook Island, South Carolina. A mother alligator will watch out for her young for about a year. The most danger to a baby alligator is from adult alligators.

A mother alligator keeps a watchful eye on visitors to a pond on Seabrook Island, South Carolina, where a large number of baby alligators are living. A mother alligator will watch out for her young for about a year. One of the biggest dangers to a baby alligator is an adult alligator.

Alligators are Dangerous!

Alligators are Dangerous!

My friend Anita took me to a pond in her neighborhood, where there were dozens of baby alligators — an alligator nursery.  A mother alligator rested in the water along the bank while the young alligators of various sizes swam in the pond and napped on the banks.  On the opposite side of the pond, Snowy Egrets gathered in the trees.  It was breeding season, and the egrets had grown filmy plumes that they fanned out in a mating display.  Anita noted that they looked like angels.  They did!

Hunters once killed these birds for these plumes to adorn ladies’ hats, which caused the numbers of these gorgeous birds to plummet. Now protected in the United States by law, under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the snowy egret population has rebounded.

Baby alligators (noted by red arrows) look like sticks floating in the water. There is a real stick for comparison.

Baby alligators (noted by red arrows) look like sticks floating in the water. There is also a real stick floating in the water.

A baby alligator, not even a foot long, swims in a Seabrook Island, South Carolina, pond.

A baby alligator, not even a foot long, swims in a Seabrook Island, South Carolina, pond.

Although abundant now, alligators were also threatened due to extensive hunting. Once hunted for their hides, alligators today are threatened mainly by habitat loss and encounters with people. They are hunted for their skin (for leather goods) and for their meat. Before hunting was controlled in 1970, an estimated 10 million alligators were killed for their skins.

Egrets roost in the trees along the edge of the "alligator nursery" pond. Some of the egrets are displaying their breeding plumage.

Snowy Egrets roost in the trees along the edge of the “alligator nursery” pond. Some of the egrets are displaying their breeding plumage.

A Snowy Egret displays its breeding plumage.

A Snowy Egret displays its breeding plumage.

On the left a large alligator rests (or lies in wait) along a Kiawah Island pond while an egret flies overhead. A large alligator had staked out this territory when we visited a year earlier. I'm assuming it's the same one.

On the left a large alligator rests (or lies in wait) along a Kiawah Island pond while an egret flies overhead. A large alligator had staked out this territory when we visited a year earlier. I’m assuming it’s the same one.

Alligator Swimming in a South Carolina Pond Poster

This alligator, about five feet long, had been sunning himself (or herself) on the shoreline on a pond opposite our house on Seabrook Island, but when friends and I walked onto the deck of our house, he began to swim over to investigate us. He rested in the water for several minutes in the water just below us, seemingly staring up at us. It was a little unnerving even though we were safe on the deck!

About Alligators.

About Snowy Egrets.

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Filed under Friendship, Natural History, Photography, Travel

Historic Valentine Diners

I first saw a Valentine diner at the Classical Gas Museum in Embudo, New Mexico. The museum, in the Rio Grande River Valley, is a collection of antique gas pumps, neon signs, soda machines, oil cans, vintage trucks and cars, plus plenty of other items.

I first saw a Valentine Diner at the Classical Gas Museum in Embudo, New Mexico. The museum, in the Rio Grande River Valley, is a collection of antique gas pumps, neon signs, soda machines, oil cans, vintage trucks and cars, plus plenty of other items.

I grew up in the Wichita, Kansas, area but it wasn’t until I visited a museum in New Mexico a couple of years ago that I found out about a hometown industry — the Valentine Diner. My family moved to the Wichita area because of its biggest manufacturing business — airplanes — but somehow I missed this smaller manufacturing cousin.

The diners were manufactured in Wichita by Valentine Manufacturing, Inc., from the late 1930s into the mid-1970s. Sales of the buildings expanded nationwide, and soon Valentine diners were installed all over the United States. About 2,200 of the portable diners, in a wide range of sizes. Some served only a handful of customers, while the double deluxe versions were as large as many restaurants with added areas that featured several booths, tables and a long counter with stools.

Numerous Valentine diner buildings are still in use today, but many are no longer diners, but serve as headquarters for other types of businesses, such as used car lot offices and dog grooming salons. One 8-stool Valentine building was converted to an Albuquerque, New Mexico, Police Substation

Menu of Terry's Diner, which has maintained the sign and location of Brint's Diner in an historic Valentine diner building in Wichita, Kansas.

Menu of Terry’s Diner, which has maintained the sign and location of Brint’s Diner in an historic Valentine diner building in Wichita, Kansas.

One Valentine diner still serving delicious meals is Brint’s Diner in Wichita, where my mother and I enjoyed a meal. The red and white checkered linoleum tile floor, the red vinyl booths and bar stools and the aluminum trimmed interior provide a delightful vintage atmosphere.  The diner attracts a loyal following. The Brint’s building is a double deluxe model.  The diner concept was based on railroad dining cars, but with a parking lot and the addition of porches and other extras they settled in as permanent residents of their neighborhoods.

The Grinder Man sandwich shop in Wichita, Kansas, is an A-frame model of a Valentine Diner.

The Grinder Man sandwich shop in Wichita, Kansas, is an A-frame model of a Valentine Diner.

This Valentine Diner building in Wichita, Kansas, formerly a Lil Joe's Dyne-Quik, is now closed. Sign says that the building was closed due to unsafe conditions.

This Valentine Diner building in Wichita, Kansas, formerly a Lil Joe’s Dyne-Quik, is now closed. Sign says that the building was closed due to unsafe conditions.

Brint's Diner (actually Terry's Diner) in Wichita, Kansas, is a Double Deluxe model of a Valentine Diner building.

Brint’s Diner (actually Terry’s Diner) in Wichita, Kansas, is a Double Deluxe model of a Valentine Diner building.

Vintage Diner Interior Poster

Interior of Brint’s Diner.

For more about Valentine Diner’s check out these links:
Kansapedia: Valentine Portable Diners in Kansas

Valentine Diners Along Route 66 and Beyond.

Arthur Valentine’s Portable Diners.

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Filed under Food, History, Kansas, Life, Photography, Travel

Have a Nice Trip

View From Bartolome Peak in The Galapagos Islands Poster

With a newly broken toe, I  walked a long trail and climbed 374 steps to the summit of Bartolome Island, which is famous for Pinnacle Rock, a towering obelisk that rises from the shore and is the best known landmark in the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador. I’d broken my toe when I slipped on a wet boat deck, exhausted from snorkeling in deep water, but I wasn’t going to miss this view even though a storm was rolling in. It started to rainhard as our group made its way down.  Amazingly my cameras weren’t damaged. My son took pity on me and carried my heavier camera, and we both protected them as best we could under our shirts. We’d left the camera bags in the boat.

 

Photographs are powerful souvenirs from trips. When we look at a photo that we’ve taken, we remember so much more than what the photograph seems to reveal.  We can relieve the whole experience.

We remember the people we traveled with, even meals we ate that day, the weather, and in my case, the mishaps that occurred while I was taking the photos.  Sometimes, it’s easier to remember the injuries than the many more times I escaped unscathed.   Anyway, I’m not complaining, because every bug bite, black eye, bruise, scraped knee and broken bone was worth it.  I’m lucky I didn’t fall from a cliff or attacked by a wild animal, as has happened to some photographers when they were engrossed in taking a photograph. I’ve had some close calls, such as encountering a tiger snake in Tasmania, Australia, while my friends and I were on a walk. I’m grateful for the opportunity to see and photograph so many wonderful places, animals and people.

 

Surfer at Sunset on Kauai Beach, Niihau on Horizon Poster

As we were driving along a highway in Kauai, Hawaii, my husband pointed out the surfers on this beach, so we stopped, where I took a lot of photographs, including this fabulous sunset over Niihau Island. Afterward, as I was climbing up the rocks to the parking lot, holding a camera in each hand with the straps wrapped around my wrists, I lost my balance and fell on my face. I got a black eye. But I saved my cameras! And look at this photo!

Apricot Hybrid Tea Rose With Honeybee Photo Print

I was so intent on photographing roses at the Tyler Municipal Rose Garden during the Texas Rose Festival that I didn’t notice tiny ants crawling over my bare toes in sandals. The ants looked harmless, but they were fire ants. I brushed them off, but it was too late. Wow, their tiny stings hurt for days! Now I know why Texans favor cowboy boots. Cowboy boots are not just for riding horses.

Galapagos Islands Tourists at Tortoise Sanctuary Postcard

Look how smart these tourists are wearing their rubber boots as they listen to their guide talk about giant tortoises in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador. You can see a giant tortoise in the background on the right. We had just arrived on the Galapagos Islands. It was hot, and I decided against wearing any boots. I thought I’d just wash my flip-flop-clad feet if I stepped into mud. But mud wasn’t the only hazard. As I stood on a trail, I saw tiny ants crawling over my toes. Yes, fire ants again! They’ve invaded the Galapagos Islands! They stung me, and I had to deal with that pain plus sun-burned feet. (And later sun-burned shoulders, too.)

Machu Picchu Overlook, Peru Poster

This is the most iconic view of Machu Picchu in Peru. Even though I took a bus up a steep hill to the entrance, there were a lot of steps to reach this point. Normally, I could have easily walked it, but I was still weak from acute altitude sickness in Cusco, which is at an elevation of 11,152 feet. It was a relief to come down to 7,970 feet at Machu Picchu. I happy to make the journey to this magnificent place, even though I felt so weak. Somehow I managed to take a lot of photos!

Snow Geese Taking off at Squaw Creek Refuge Poster

I have a scar on my knee from scraping my knee when I stepped into a hole at Squaw Creek Wildlife Refuge in Mound City, Missouri. I was hurrying to a viewing stand, not paying attention, and found myself on the ground. “Are you ok,” my friend asked as she helped me up. “More importantly, are your cameras ok?” she joked. My knee was scuffed up, but my cameras were fine! We were there to see the more than a million snow geese that visit the refuge as they migrate, shown in my photograph here. Seeing and hearing the rush of those birds as they lifted en masse into the air was a magnificent experience, worth the pain, although next time I’ll be more careful when I walk!

Bison Cow in Flint Hills, Kansas Postcard

I got scratched by some dried weeds when I took this photograph of a bison cow at the Maxwell Wildlife Refuge in Kansas. (There was a tall fence between us, so no danger from the bison.) I thought the scratches were all that happened to me until a week later I felt what I thought was a scab on the back of my shoulder. I scratched at it. The scab started walking. It was a tick! I’m sure it crawled on me in that tall grass. For months after that, every time I felt tired or had a headache, I thought I had some kind of tick fever. I even got tested for it, rare for me. Results were negative. Phew!

 

 

Cape Buffalo Enjoying Mud Bath, South Africa Postcard

Sometimes, we venture into dangerous areas, where lions and leopards roam freely, and miraculously leave unscathed. We watched as this Cape Buffalo Bull enjoyed a mud bath in Mala Mala Game Reserve in South Africa. Guess he didn’t like us spying on us, because after his bath he started our way. His buddy, who had taken the first bath, was watching us from the bushes. Fortunately, it was a stand-off .  Our guide backed up the jeep, and we were out of there!  Cape Buffalo are dangerous. They can gore you.

Petting a Tasmanian Devil

My friend Anita recorded this encounter in Tasmania, Australia. I had a crazy notion that I wanted to pet a Tasmanian Devil. The keeper at NatureWorld held this young devil so I could have my wish. “Nice devil, devil,” I said as I stroked him. A young man also wanted to join in. The once calm devil jerked his head around, and growled. You can see the man’s hand pulling back in the bottom photo. I didn’t lose any fingers!

Tiger snake heading our way!

Four of us were on a hike in Tasmania, when Anita saw this very poisonous tiger snake heading our way. For some crazy reason, my husband threw a stick near it, thinking he could scare it away, but that just provoked the snake, which reared up. You never saw four people run so fast in the other direction. We jumped in the car and hurried away.

The captain warned us that the trip could be rough and said we could reschedule, but we only had two days left on the island. I'd never been seasick before. How bad could it be? Even though my husband and I took the recommended seasick pills, we both got sick. How sick? I used three buckets! TMI, I know. The swells were seventeen-feet high. We couldn't even think of eating the sunset dinner buffet. The sun refused to come out from behind the clouds.

Because of the weather, the captain of our boat warned us that the trip along the Na Pali Coast of Kauai could be rough and said we could reschedule, but we only had two days left on the island. I’d never been seasick before. How bad could it be? Even though my husband and I took the recommended seasick pills, we both got sick. How sick? I used three buckets! TMI, I know. The swells were seventeen-feet high. We couldn’t even think of eating the sunset dinner buffet. The sun refused to come out from behind the clouds, and we had to put away our cameras, so we didn’t get any close photos of the humpback whales we saw.  But it definitely was a memorable trip, even without beautiful photos.

Here’s one of the videos I shot before the seas got really rough. You can see how gloomy it was.  You can also see a humpback whale breaching in the distance.

 

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Filed under Animals, Australia, Photography, Travel