Heliconia is named after Mount Helicon, the seat of the Muses, nine goddesses of the arts and sciences in Greek mythology. These are known as lobster-claw, wild plantain, flowering banana, parrot flower, macaw flower and false bird-of-paradise. Heliconiaceae in the order Zingiberales, are among the showiest plants of the Neotropical rainforest and represent a spectacular co-evolutionary adaptive radiation with hummingbirds. Heliconia originated in the Late Eocene (39 million years ago), making it the oldest known clade of hummingbird-pollinated plants. Heliconia, the only genus of the family Heliconiaceae, has approximately 120 species in tropical America and the western Pacific. These large perennial herbs have brightly colored bracts and bear numerous flowers. Heliconia are typically pollinated by hummingbirds. Most of the 194 known species are native to the tropical Americas, but a few are indigenous to certain islands of the western Pacific and Maluku. Several species are widely cultivated as ornamentals, and a few are naturalized in Florida, Gambia, Thailand and Costa Rica. The plants have stout, reed-like stems and are related to Tropical Gingers, Bird of Paradise, Bananas and Canna Lilies, whose leaves are all similar. These are all grouped in the order Zingiberales, which includes many familiar plants, and are used as ornamental plants (Bird of Paradise flower, Heliconias, Prayer-Plant, Tropical Gingers), food crops (bananas, plantains, arrowroot), spices and traditional medicines (ginger, cardamom, turmeric, galangal and myoga). I saw a nice selection of these plants when I visited Costa Rica this year and thought it would make an interesting post.
This past spring I traveled to Arcata California for some birdwatching in the Pacific Northwest. In Arcata, they have a bird festival in April called Godwit Days that I could not attend. Nonetheless, I thought it might be an interesting time and place for birding. The local Audubon Society says birding is at its best from winter through early May. You’ll find songbirds in spring through fall, shorebirds, wading birds and waterfowl in the cooler months of October through April, and raptors year round. As predicted, April was not a particularly good time for water birds, although there were songbirds and plenty of spring flowers. Nearly 500 species of birds have been found in Humboldt County; many of these species are unique to Humboldt County. Fortunately I was able to secure Rob Fowler as a guide to the birding areas around Arcata. He knew when and where to look and made most of the following pictures possible. I suspect I will return in a different season to see a different set of birds and of course to see the beautiful scenery in a different light.
Most tanagers are multi-colored birds of tropical forests in Central and South America. Four species including the Summer Tanager breed in North America. There are places in South America, in the foothills of the Andes, where flocks of small birds may include a rainbow palette of a dozen species of tanagers. As in most tanagers, only the male has brilliant plumage. The Blue-Gray Tanager is probably the most widespread and my personal favorite since I first saw it at Machu Picchu. Tanagers are often brightly colored, but some species are more subdued. Males are typically more brightly colored than females and juveniles. Most tanagers have short, rounded wings. The shape of the bill seems to be linked to the species’ foraging habits. I am trying a little different format, fewer but larger photos with a short description, which loads a little slower but gives you the reader a better view. Let me know what you think.
When I was in Costa Rica for a bird photography tour recently with Tropical Birding, I had an opportunity to visit Frog’s Heaven, a place that specializes in catching wild frogs for photography. The frogs are subsequently released back into the environment. These tiny frogs are getting harder to find, even in the optimized environments of the Frog’s Heaven preserve. Research suggests that even though amphibians are severely declining worldwide, there is no simple solution to halting or reversing these declines. Amphibians are good indicators of significant environmental changes. Amphibians, unlike people, breathe at least partly through their skin, which is constantly exposed to everything in their environment. Consequently, their bodies are much more sensitive to environmental factors such as disease, pollution, toxic chemicals, ultraviolet radiation, and habitat destruction. The worldwide occurrences of amphibian declines and deformities could be an early warning that some of our ecosystems, even seemingly pristine ones, are seriously out of balance. We were able to photograph a nice cross section of the different types of frogs which I thought I would present here.
The baobab is an iconic and prehistoric species which predates both mankind and the splitting of the continents over 200 million years ago. Native to the African savannah where the climate is extremely dry and arid, it is a symbol of life and positivity in a landscape where little else can thrive. Over time, the Baobab has adapted to its environment. It is a succulent, which means that during the rainy season it absorbs and stores water in its vast trunk, enabling it to produce a nutrient-dense fruit in the dry season when all around is dry and arid. This is how it became known as “The Tree of Life”. Adansonia digitata is named after the French botanist Michel Adanson, who undertook an 18th-century exploration of Senegal. Baobabs are widely distributed in belts across Africa. Of the nine species accepted as of April 2018, six are native to Madagascar, two are native to mainland Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, and one is native to Australia. One of the mainland African species also occurs on Madagascar, but it is not a native of that island. It was introduced in ancient times to south Asia and during the colonial era to the Caribbean. The African and Australian baobabs are almost identical despite having separated more than 100 million years ago, probably the Australian trees got there by oceanic dispersal.