This past spring I visited Arcata California for a little bird photography. Whenever I am out photographing birds, I always take a second camera with a macro lens attached for photographing wildflowers and plants. Some days I get more pictures of birds while other days are predominantly flowers. Because of the cloudy Pacific Northwest climate, there are many interesting plants and beautiful flowers to be seen in the area. Also because of the climate there are many fewer people that both live here and visit, compared to the areas south, making it a good place to see wildflowers and birds. Again because of the climate, there are a fair number of unusual local plants and wildflowers that can be seen nowhere else. There are also a large number of non-native plants that while beautiful, affect the delicate balance of nature in this area. These “immigrant plants” should be a reminder that introducing non-native elements into an ecosystem can have unintended consequences. In any case, I came away with some photos of beautiful blossoms which I thought I would share.
When I was in Arcata this spring to do some bird photography, I drove down to Humboldt Bay and stumbled upon the lovely Humboldt Botanical Garden. The Humboldt Botanical Gardens are at the southern edge of Eureka, California. The Gardens are near the South Bay portion of Humboldt Bay on the north side of College of the Redwoods. The Garden was organized by a small group of volunteers in 1991. The goal was to create an educational botanical garden in for the Northern California region. The garden opened in 2006, with more development completed by 2008. Its Lost Coast Brewery Native Plant Garden has an emphasis on the Humboldt region, but includes plants in the geographic area from the Rogue River to the north shore of San Francisco Bay, and inland to a north-south line running from Vacaville through Williams, Redding, Yreka, Medford, and along the Rogue River to its mouth. The Gardens are particularly interested in maintaining complete native conifer, Iris and Lilium occidentale (western lily) collections. They had a beautiful display of spring flowers which I thought I would share.
I happen to love woodpeckers, they are colorful, noisy and just fun to look at. Their cheerful tapping always calls to me to take a look. There are about 200 known varieties, many of which are threatened or endangered. The plumage of woodpeckers varies from drab to conspicuous. The colors of many species are based on olive and brown and some are pied, suggesting a need for camouflage; others are boldly patterned in black, white and red, and many have a crest or tufted feathers on the crown. Woodpeckers tend to be sexually dimorphic, but differences between the sexes are generally small, usually involving the head. I thought it would be nice to present these all together so that you could see and compare the various forms and colors that woodpeckers exhibit in different places. I have some beautiful woodpeckers from Africa, Costa Rica, Colorado and Arizona. Sapsuckers are also part of the Woodpecker family and I have a beautiful Red-Breasted Sapsucker from Humbolt county in California.
As time has gone by, the options for travel clothing and shoes have increased exponentially. With these new options it becomes sometimes overwhelming to decide what to pack. While I am not a fashion expert, nor do I profess to be, I thought I would write a post on my, more or less, permanent travel wardrobe. My days of carefree, fashion forward, European vacations are long gone and today my clothing needs revolve primarily around comfort, in both heat, cold and wet climates and the weight and size of the contents since I carry a lot of photographic gear. Since I also do a lot of light hiking, the requirements are the same as the needs in ultralight backpacking and outdoor stores like REI are the best place to shop. Ultralight really requires a change in thinking about travel. You plan to do laundry every night or two, each item can be used alone or layered, the more uses the more valuable it is. You do not worry overly about getting wet or dirty, just as long as you have a plan to stay warm and get dry. From this point of view, a trip of three or four days is the same as a trip of three or four weeks and requires no more clothing than you already have packed. The result is a liberation of sorts from the material things of daily needs, really a surprise of how little is actually needed to stay warm and comfortable. As always, I have no financial dealings with any of the companies and there are no advertising gimmicks or cookies, the links are just for convenience.
For those fortunate few who view a King Vulture (Sarcoramphus papa) for the first time, the experience will be unforgettable. King vultures are one of the largest New World vulture, second only to condors. It is not their size however that is visually arresting, but their bright white feathers with a vividly colored head. Certainly early native Americans would have immediately sensed the singularity of this majestic bird and would associate it with a god-like presence in their jungle world. In fact in Mayan legends, the bird was seen as a king who served as a messenger between humans and the gods. They would have observed its habit of displacing smaller vultures from a carcass and eating its fill while they wait, thus warranting the crown of a king among fellow birds. This bird was also known as the “white crow” by the Spanish in Paraguay. It was called cozcacuauhtli in Nahuatl, derived from cozcatl “collar” and cuauhtli “bird of prey”. [Read more…]
Perhaps the most well known tropical bird, the toucan is a symbol of playfulness and intelligence known by children the world over. There are about 40 different kinds of toucans. They vary in size from about 7 inches to a little over two feet. They have short and thick necks. Toucans are distinguished by their large, colorful, yet lightweight bills. A toucan’s bill is sharp and has saw-like edges. The bill is used to squash the many kinds of fruit and berries they eat. They may also use the saw-like edges to tear off parts of larger fruits, reach deep into holes for bird eggs or even catch small lizards or insects. Their famous bill is of light, but stout, construction and is hollow except for a network of bony fibers that run crisscross through the top for strength and support. It is made of keratin, the same thing our hair and fingernails are made of. Having such a lightweight bill allows the toucan to perch on the thinnest of branches to reach for the ripest of fruit. Like their relatives, the woodpeckers, toucans make their homes in holes in trees. They usually live in pairs or small flocks. The word “toucan” comes from the sound the bird makes. Their songs often resemble croaking frogs. Toucans combine their extensive vocal calls with tapping and clattering sounds from their bill. Many toucan species make barking, croaking, and growling sounds, and mountain toucans make braying sounds like those of a donkey. Females generally have a higher voice than the males. There are 6 different species of toucans in Costa Rica And I got to see four of them.
Parrots are among the most intelligent and colorful birds, found in most tropical and subtropical regions and popular as pets. The parrot family includes the most beautiful birds in the bird kingdom, and are broadly divided into families including macaws, eclectus, cockatoos, New Zealand kakapo, Madagascar lovebirds, parakeets, budgerigar and conures. Parrots are found on all tropical and subtropical continents and regions. Macaws are native to Central America and Mexico, South America, and formerly the Caribbean. Most species are associated with forests, especially rainforests, but others prefer woodland or savannah-like habitats. Costa Rica has 17 species of parrots and parakeets of the 365 species in the world. They vary in size, from tiny little parakeets to very large macaws. Parrots and parakeets are widely distributed throughout Costa Rica. The Scarlet Macaw is found from the Central Pacific south to the Osa Peninsula. There are several rescue organizations that are breeding in Guanacaste as well, with some success. Visitors interested in the Great-green Macaw, will need to visit the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. The very small existing population lives on the Caribbean slope. I visited a rescue sanctuary run by a farmer near the SarapiquiS Rainforest Lodge on the Caribbean slopes of Costa Rica where I took most of these photos.
I can honestly say that the hummingbirds of Costa Rica are the most beautiful birds I have ever seen and I will share them with you in this post. Hummingbirds are from the New World and constitute the family Trochilidae. They are some of the smallest birds in the world and have the greatest metabolism of any animal. To keep energy when food is limited, and nightly when not foraging, they go into dormancy, a state similar to hibernation, slowing metabolic rate to 1/15th of its normal rate. They are known as hummingbirds because of the humming sound generated by their whipping wings which wave at high frequencies audible to humans. They flutter in mid-air at rapid wing-flapping rates, typically around 70 to 80 times per second, allowing them also to fly at speeds exceeding 34 miles per hour. Hummingbirds fall into nine main groups or clades, the Topazes and Jacobians, Hermits, Mangoes, Brilliants, Coquettes, the giant hummingbird Patagona, Mountain Gems, Bees, and Emeralds as established by DNA evidence. These clades also define their relationship to nectar-bearing flowering plants and the birds’ continued spread into new geographic areas. The brilliant, iridescent colors of hummingbird plumage are caused by the refraction of incident light by the structures of certain feathers. Like any diffraction grating or prism, these structures split light into its component colors, and only certain frequencies are then refracted back to your eyes. Thus, you have to be in a particular location with respect to the light and hummingbird to see the bright colors of the head and neck or gorget. I have arranged the hummingbirds in this post roughly by elevation with the highest elevations first and the lowest elevations last.
When I visited Costa Rica recently, on several occasions we ran across groups of White-Nosed Coati (Nasua narica). These curious creatures are related to raccoons although they have many idiosyncratic differences. The White-Nosed Coati (Nasua narica), also known as the coatimundi is a member of the family Procyonidae which includes three other species of Coati, raccoons and ringtails. Unlike raccoons, Coati are active during the day although they will sometimes forage at night. Local Spanish names for the species include pizote, antoon, and tejón, depending upon the region. Coati females and young males up to two years of age are gregarious and travel through their territories in noisy, loosely organized bands made up of four to 25 individuals, foraging with their offspring on the ground or in the forest canopy. Males over two years become solitary due to behavioural disposition and collective aggression from the females and will join the female groups only during the breeding season. Coatis are common, with habitants ranging from hot and dry regions to humid rainforest or even Cold Mountain slopes, including bushy areas and grasslands. They can be easily seen in all part of Costa Rica and and the countries national parks.
While we were visiting the Hacienda Solimar, with my Tropical Birding tour, we went one afternoon to a nearby rookery. It was located on both sides of what appeared to be an irrigation canal and the marshy environment seemed to be a magnet for all sorts of birds, but especially Wood Storks and Cattle Egrets. During the dry season water is scarce in other parts of the country. Due to this, many birds flock to Palo Verde National Park and its river basin. The park protects one of the most endangered ecosystems. It is one of the last remaining tropical dry rainforests that once covered most of Central America. Tropical dry rainforests now exist in less than 0.1% of their original size and are considered to be the most endangered ecosystems in the tropics. Palo Verde National Park was declared a Wildlife Refuge during the 1970s because of over 60 different species of birds used the Laguna, or wetland, as a migratory stop. There were once 35,000 black bellied whistling ducks, 25,000 blue winged teal, and several hundred migrating ducks during the dry season. Although Hacienda Solimar is not in the park, it benefits from the conservation efforts occurring there. The dry season concentrates the watering locations for the birds and while just about any time is good for birdwatching, the dry season makes the areas more accessible. A good example is this Wood Stork rookery we found on the grounds of the ranch in February with a large variety of birds.