The Boulders Beach African Penguin Colony was established in 1982 by a breeding pair of penguins who settled near Capetown, South Africa after fleeing when a larger colony was devastated. Today there are currently 28 African penguin colonies, only four of these occurring on the African mainland. These colonies run along the coast, from Algoa Bay in South Africa to Namibia’s Penguin Islands. Despite the huge distances between these colonies, it is not uncommon for young penguins to visit, and occasionally resettle, at a different colony from which they hatched. African penguins are clearly resilient animals. They have evolved the behavioral mechanisms to move their entire population to deal with changes in the abundance of food. Despite their wide range and versatile juveniles, African penguin numbers are declining fast – so fast that it is believed they will be extinct within 10 years. Today there are fewer than 21 000 pairs of African penguins left in the wild – 100 years ago there were single colonies that had over a million, like Yzerfontein’s Dassen Island. Dassen Island is, unfortunately, not a unique case. The total breeding population across both South Africa and Namibia fell to a historic low of about 20,850 pairs in 2019. Quite simply, our common seafoods – sardines, anchovies and pilchards – are the products directly linked to the decline in penguin numbers. You may have been unaware, but sardines/pilchards have recently been added to the WWF SASSI Orange List – a seafood you should avoid. These ratings do not only mean that the fish itself is at risk, but also that the practices used to catch it are harmful to other species. I would go a step further in saying seafood of any kind should only be consumed if it is sustainably farmed. Bottom trawling destroys far more ocean habitat than any other fishing practice. In this common fishing method, large weighted nets are dragged across the ocean floor, clear-cutting a swath of habitat in their wake. Some of these scars will take centuries to heal, if ever.
Dragonflies and their relatives are an ancient group. Meganisoptera is an extinct order of very large to gigantic insects, occasionally called Griffinflies. The largest known Griffinfly and/or insect of all time was a predator resembling a dragonfly but was only distantly related to them. Its name is Meganeuropsis, and it ruled the skies before pterosaurs, birds and bats had even evolved. The oldest fossils are of the Protodonata from the 325 Mya Upper Carboniferous of Europe, a group that included the largest insect that ever lived, Meganeuropsis permiana from the Early Permian (300–250 Mya). Meganeuropsis permiana was described in 1939 from Elmo, Kansas. It was one of the largest known insects that ever lived, with a reconstructed wing length of 330 millimetres (13 in), an estimated wingspan of up to 28 inches (710 mm), and a body length from head to tail of almost 430 millimetres (17 in). Nevada designated the Vivid Dancer Damselfly (Argia vivida) as the official state insect in 2009. Sadly, I have no photos of the state insect but Nevada has many eco-zones and the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve has quite a number of equally beautiful species.
Butterflies have been held in reverence and high esteem for millennia, enshrined by the ancient Greeks in the mythical love affair between Cupid/Eros and Psyche the butterfly goddess. According to Greek mythology, Psyche was a beautiful maiden who fell in love with Eros/Cupid. Cupid’s mother, Aphrodite, was jealous of Psyche’s beauty and tried to keep the lovers apart. Eventually, however, Aphrodite realized that Cupid and Psyche were destined to be together and so Zeus made Psyche immortal. Psyche is also the Greek word for “soul” and “butterfly.” Although the original Greek story has been lost to history, the mythology of Cupid and Psyche was preserved in the book Metamorphoses written in the 2nd century CE by Platonicus. The Greek story of Eros and Psyche is known from at least the 4th century BCE and was a popular subject in Greek and Roman art. The word for butterfly in formal Greek is psyche, thought to be the soul of the dead. Ancient Greeks also named the butterfly scolex (“worm”), while the chrysalis – which is the next stage of metamorphosis from a caterpillar – was called nekydallon, meaning “the shell of the dead”. The metamorphosis of the butterfly inspired many to use butterflies as a symbol of the soul’s exit from the body. Thus, the myth of Psyche concomitantly signifies soul and butterfly. It has come to mean the story of the soul coupled with divine Eros, but which must nevertheless endure tribulations before achieving immortality. Psyche, a mortal woman, was released from death by Zeus, the father of the gods, who took pity on her and granted her immortality. Psyche’s mythological imagery in ancient art is represented with butterfly wings, amply depicted in pottery as well. Freed from death, the body of the soul could fly freely, soaring, departing from the shackles of the chrysalis. I thought this lovely Greek story would be the perfect introduction to a review of beautiful butterflies.
When reading a birding guide for a specific bird, talking to fellow birders or just researching an unknown bird, terminology comes up that can sometimes be confusing and/or unintelligible. Since I write extensively about birds, sometimes a simple definition of a term is not enough and adding it to the post makes the post unnecessarily long. This post is my solution to bird related anatomy and physiology definitions. Field marks are the distinctive stripes, spots, patterns, colors, and highlights that birds have in such abundance and variety. Birds developed these patterns for many reasons, but one way they use some of these markings is to recognize members of their own species. And bird watchers can use them for the same purpose. Generally speaking, there are two categories of field markings, anatomical/anthropomorphic and human clothing references. The comparison of human anatomy, emotions and characteristics is both familiar and time-honored dating at least as far back as the ancient Egyptians. Anthropomorphic comparisons are comforting, familiar and accurate in many instances. When corresponding anatomy is unclear or inaccurate, clothing analogies can sometimes provide more clarity. When all else fails, there are field markings specific to a specific family of birds.
Most of Costa Rica’s forests can be primarily classified into three groups; rainforests, cloud forests and topical dry forests. And while rainforests are the most common habitat, the cloud forests of Costa Rica are a magnificent sight to behold. Rainforests can be found in the southwest of the country as well as in the Atlantic lowlands, with towering trees and looping vines that create a magical wispy environment. Receiving a high annual rainfall, these dense forests are characterized by a wealth of plant and animal life. Rainforests are located at lower elevations, and as a result, they tend to be much warmer, especially during the dry season. Cloud forests, on the other hand, are usually located at much higher elevations, and are much cooler. This difference in temperature contributes to the mist and fog that is often visible in cloud forests, as the milder temperatures slow the evaporation process. However, despite being a little cooler than rainforests, cloud forests are very humid. Cloud forests generate water by capturing water from fog (surface clouds). Water condenses on the leaves and branches of cloud forest trees, epiphytes and lichen, drips to the forest floor, and enters streams. The tropical evergreen cloud forests on the slopes of the Cordillera de Talamanca in Costa Rica’s southern highlands is of vital importance both as a source of drinking and irrigation water to the main cities in the Valle Central and as a bastion of many endemic species. This is not meant to be a comprehensive survey of the plants in the cloud forest, concentrating instead on important and noteworthy plants in this ecosystem.
Situated among the mist-covered peaks of the Talamanca Mountains, Los Quetzales National Park was established in 2006. This park lies 47 miles southeast of San Jose, and you can easily reach this park from Manuel Antonio on the Pacific Ocean. From Jacó it’s about a two-hour trip. The entrance to the park is on Cerro de la Muerte, just before the turnoff for San Gerardo de Dota. Most of the park area is around the both side of the Savegre river that emerges in the Cerro de la Muerte and connects to the Pacific Ocean close to the Manuel Antonio National Park. it is surrounded by natural rainforest, breathtaking waterfalls, and beautiful canyons. This park includes not only rainforests but also cloud forests, formed by the collision of warm, moist Caribbean trade wind with the Talamanca mountain range which stretches from southwest of San José to beyond the border with Panama. When tiny droplets are deposited on surfaces before they collect together and fall as rain it’s called horizontal precipitation and in cloud forests it can be the main source of moisture. Peaks enveloped by trade wind-derived clouds can capture huge amounts of water when they are covered with tropical montane cloud forests. Their sponge-like epiphytes (mosses, ferns and bromeliads) massively increase the surface area for horizontal precipitation. Vibrantly colored, from the miniature to the gigantic, Los Quetzales flora is some of the most beautiful in the world. There seemingly endless tropical flower species and even orchids. Many can be found growing wild on the trunks of giant trees.
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.