Readers’ wildlife photos

January 6, 2021 • 8:00 am

I’m running low, folks, and once again implore you to send me your good wildlife (or street or landscape) photos.

We have two contributions today. The first are footprints photographed by Coel Heller. His captions are indented, and he asks for IDs of the animals who made them:

I was out walking on the snowy moorland of Kinder Scout when I saw what seems to be the imprint of a bird (raptor?) perhaps taking off:

There were also tracks leading up to this imprint; note boot print for scale:

At the other end of the tracks, around 2 m away, was what could be the impression of tail feathers.  So perhaps a raptor swooped on a mammal, which then made the tracks leading to the take-off?  Perhaps WEIT readers could say better, or perhaps identify the bird?   The photos were taken with an iPhone in cloudy conditions, so are not high quality.

And from Bryan Lepore:

I could hear a chirping sound during the summer. Eventually, I narrowed the source to a rain gutter on the building I live in. I kept looking for a bird or a nest poking up above the rim. Later, I was confused – but soon realized there were two sources of chirping – one from two different independent sections of gutter. Dutifully, I typed in the scraps of evidence into a search engine : “frog gutter chirp/sound”, and found that the frogs use drains as megaphones to amplify their mating calls!

Eventually, I got up within arms reach of the gutter, and got the ol’ iPhone ready to capture the image of what was underneath the leaf guard thing in the gutter, and for a brief moment, this type of frog was observed before escaping down the downspout. Sorry but the video is buried somewhere. The frog was probably unharmed, being of low mass. I think these are gray treefrogs (Dryophytes versicolor).

One time, one of these frogs found a cozy nook in the car door jamb, and rode around on drives unharmed before it found another place to hang out.

Friday: Hili dialogue (and a Kulka Christmas monologue)

December 25, 2020 • 6:30 am

Merry Christmas and Joyous First Day of Coynezaa!  It’s Friday, December 25, 2020, and National Pumpkin Pie Day. You can get a huge one at Costco (3 lb 10 ounces) for about six bucks, and they are mighty tasty. This is one of the best food bargains going. Sadly, Costco is closed today, and you have to be a member anyway. But if you are, don’t miss out on this behemoth pie during the holiday season (and you can freeze the leftovers).

News of the Day:

Do you really want bad news on Christmas? Well, there’s plenty. First, though, the good news: the U.S. military, charged with the annual tracking of Santa, has confirmed that the pandemic will not throw off St. Nick: presents will be delivered on schedule. That’s something that even the U.S. Postal Service can’t do.

As we speak, 85 million Americans are carrying viruses across the country in cars and planes, or are heading towards a place to get them. All health officials have advised against travel. But they’ve got a ticket to ride, and they don’t care. We’ll see the result in a couple of weeks.

But if you’re coming from Britain, you’d better have a negative Covid-19 test, as the U.S. has just required all passengers from Old Blighty to have tested negative within 72 hours before their departure. If you don’t have a documented negative test result, you can’t board the plane. And it better be the PCR test too, as that’s the one required (it’s the most accurate). This is a response to reports that the new mutant virus that supposedly is more infectious than the old ones. (We still don’t have real evidence for that.)

And, of course, Congress is in turmoil, with the Democrats pretending that they acceded to Trump’s request for an increase in per-American pandemic payments fro $600 to $2000, trying to force Republicans to look like they’re falling in line with Trump’s wishes (he said he’d veto the stimulus bill unless Congress folds). The Republicans didn’t fold, and so right now the whole thing is stalemated. The losers are the American people—the people who need money for rent or loans to keep their businesses going.  I hate to say this, but it looks like the Democrats are trying to make political capital at the expense of hard-up Americans. As the NYT says:

The Democrats’ Christmas Eve gambit on the House floor was never meant to pass, but the party’s leaders hoped to put Republicans in a bind — choosing between the president’s wishes for far more largess and their own inclinations for modest spending.

Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 329,237, a substantial increase of about 2,800 from yesterday’s figure—roughly two deaths a minute. The world death toll is 1,751,191, a big increase of about 11,300 over yesterday’s report and the equivalent of about 7.8 deaths per minute.

Stuff that happened on December 25 include:

  • 336 – First documentary sign of Christmas celebration in Rome.

This is from the Chronograph of 354, and you know, doesn’t that just prove that Jesus wasn’t only real, but divine?

  • 800 – The coronation of Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor, in Rome.
  • 1013- Sweyn Forkbeard takes control of the Danelaw and is proclaimed king of England.The first Danish king of England, he ruled for only five weeks before he croaked. Here he is at his dad’s funeral, which looks like a gluttonous affair. His beard doesn’t look forked, either.

    Sweyn and the Jomsvikings at the funeral ale of his father Harald Bluetooth. Painting by Lorenz Frølich, c. 1883–86, Frederiksborg Castle.
  • 1066 – William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy is crowned king of England, at Westminster Abbey, London.
  • 1492 – The carrack Santa María, commanded by Christopher Columbus, runs onto a reef off Haiti due to an improper watch.
  • 1758 – Halley’s Comet is sighted by Johann Georg Palitzsch, confirming Edmund Halley’s prediction of its passage. This was the first passage of a comet predicted ahead of time.
  • 1776 – George Washington and the Continental Army cross the Delaware River at night to attack Hessian forces serving Great Britain at Trenton, New Jersey, the next day.

The Continental Army won in a decisive and morale-boosting victory. Here’s the famous painting by Emanuel Leutze. From Wikipedia:

The painting is notable for its artistic composition. General Washington is emphasized by an unnaturally bright sky, while his face catches the upcoming sun. The colors consist of mostly dark tones, as is to be expected at dawn, but there are red highlights repeated throughout the painting. Foreshortening, perspective and the distant boats all lend depth to the painting and emphasize the boat carrying Washington.

The people in the boat represent a cross-section of the American colonies, including a man in a Scottish bonnet and a man of African descent facing backward next to each other in the front, western riflemen at the bow and stern, two farmers in broad-brimmed hats near the back (one with bandaged head), and an androgynous rower in a red shirt, possibly meant to be a woman in man’s clothing. There is also a man at the back of the boat wearing what appears to be Native American garb to represent the idea that all people in the new United States of America were represented as present in the boat along with Washington on his way to victory and success.

Did you read that? A woman (or person of indeterminate gender), an African-American, and a Native American (probably case of cultural appropriation)? This painting was way ahead of its time.

  • 1809 – Dr. Ephraim McDowell performs the first ovariotomy, removing a 22-pound tumor.
  • 1826 – The Eggnog Riot at the United States Military Academy concludes after beginning the previous evening.
  • 1831 – The Great Jamaican Slave Revolt begins; up to 20% of Jamaica’s slaves mobilize in an ultimately unsuccessful fight for freedom.
  • 1868 – Pardons for ex-Confederates: United States President Andrew Johnson grants an unconditional pardon to all Confederate veterans.
  • 1950 – The Stone of Scone, traditional coronation stone of British monarchs, is taken from Westminster Abbey by Scottish nationalist students. It later turns up in Scotland on April 11, 1951.

Here’s the real Stone of Scone, which is now scheduled to be moved to Perth City Hall (?) in 2024:

Here’s its return to Scotland in 1996, where it will stay except when a new British monarch is crowned in Westminster Abbey:

  • 1968 – Apollo program: Apollo 8 performs the first successful Trans-Earth injection (TEI) maneuver, sending the crew and spacecraft on a trajectory back to Earth from Lunar orbit.
  • 1991 – Mikhail Gorbachev resigns as President of the Soviet Union (the union itself is dissolved the next day). Ukraine’s referendum is finalized and Ukraine officially leaves the Soviet Union.

Notables born on this day include:

Here’s an “forensic anthropological” reconstruction of what Jesus looked like, but the methodology is pretty bogus (check the link). And of course I’m still not convinced that a Jesus person ever existed.

  • 1642 (OS) – Isaac Newton, English physicist and mathematician (d. 1726/1727)
  • 1821 – Clara Barton, American nurse and humanitarian, founder of the American Red Cross (d. 1912)
  • 1884 – Evelyn Nesbit, American model and actress (d. 1967)
  • 1899 – Humphrey Bogart, American actor (d. 1957)
  • 1907 – Cab Calloway, American singer-songwriter and bandleader (d. 1994)

Here’s Cab in his heyday doing his most famous song, “Minnie the Moocher“:

Sissy Spacek is only five days older than I am, so I keep an eye on her to see how I am aging—comparatively.  Here she is in 2018 with Robert Redford in the movie “The Old Man and the Gun“. We’re all getting older, but she still looks pretty good:

  • 1971 – Justin Trudeau, Canadian educator and politician, 23rd Prime Minister of Canada

Those whose metabolic processes became history on December 25 include:

  • 1946 – W. C. Fields, American actor, comedian, juggler, and screenwriter (b. 1880)
  • 1977 – Charlie Chaplin, English actor and director (b. 1889)
  • 1983 – Joan Miró, Spanish painter and sculptor (b. 1893)

Here’s Miro’s “The Farmer’s Wife, Kitchen, Cat, Rabbit”, with a cat detail:

  • 2005 – Birgit Nilsson, Swedish operatic soprano (b. 1918)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, we have a Christmas photo of Hili wryly contemplating the Scriptures:

Hili: How many times are cats mentioned in this book?
A: I don’t know, I have the impression that they are not mentioned at all.
Hili: You see? And cats exist.
In Polish:
Hili: Ile razy w tej książce piszą o kotach?
Ja: Nie wiem, mam wrażenie, że wcale.
Hili: No popatrz, a koty istnieją.

And little Kulka, now freed from ths post-spaying jacket, posed beside the Christmas tree. Malgorzata notes, “This will be a bit of a clumsy translation because Andrzej uses Polish words with double meaning. All his ironic hints are immediately understandable in Polish but I have no idea how to retain them in English”. (Photo by Paulina; the Polish is below the picture.):

Kulka: I wish everybody who celebrates everything they wish themselves.

In Polish: Wszystkim, którzy obchodzą życzę wszystkiego, czego sobie sami życzą. Kulka (Foto: Paulina Raniszewska)

From Mark, a short history of canid domestication.

From Nicole (be sure to see our own Cat Confessions Contest from 2014):

Here’s a purple frog from Donna. Yes, it’s a real species, and you can read about it here and here (the second link has a video of the frog calling).

Another photo:

From Titania, who always finds these things:

Another tweet that I got from Matthew and retweeted. Be sure to watch the whole video so you can see it open that huge maw!

Now here’s a lovely fish, and I’m glad they threw it back:

Christmas tweets from Matthew, with an awesome Gary Larson cartoon:

I wonder if Baby Jesus tasted of wine and wafers:

One of the 25 Days of Crustmas: a mutualism!



In search of lost time

December 18, 2020 • 1:15 pm

Truth be told, it’s a cold and lazy day, with one lone hen (named Soft-Serve) swimming in a half-frozen pond, and a tired PCC(E) trying to stay awake. Braining just isn’t on today, so let’s revisit some of the past—without the help of madeleines or tilleul. That is, here are a some old photos for your delectation. Click to enlarge them.

First, here’s a photo that warms my heart: Honey overseeing her 17 offspring, half of which weren’t hers but were kidnapped from Dorothy. It was a great joy for me to see Dorothy re-nest and produce a brood of her own, which she raised to fledging.  This photo was taken on June 12 of this year. Yes, Honey stole another hen’s brood, but she took good care of them, and all flew away. She’s now produced 29 ducklings on my watch.

The Hermitage in St. Petersburg, where I spent two glorious days in July, 2011, surrounded by palatial architecture and fantastic paintings. It’s still the nicest art museum I’ve ever visited in regards to architecture and paintings (the Louvre comes second):

Throne room, with lovely inlaid floors:

You’re allowed to take photos so long as you don’t use a flash. Here’s a gorgeous Rembrandt: “The Descent from the Cross” (1634):

And what may be one of the few Leonardos in the world: it’s not absolutely certain this is by his hand: “Madonna Litta” (ca. 1495, sadly with a glass reflection). The Hermitage labels this as a genuine Leonardo. (It’s my goal to see every Leonardo painting in existence, though I can’t be arsed now to look up how many there are.)

October, 2011: Mark Twain’s house in Hartford, Connecticut. During the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s annual meeting, where I spoke that year, the FFRF ran a field trip to the house. (Twain was, of course, an atheist.) You can see he made enough dosh to have a big place to live! Some say it was designed to partly resemble a riverboat, which of course Twain had piloted (that’s where he got his pseudonym):

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the FFRF raffling “clean money”, i.e., currency printed before 1957, and thus lacking the “In God We Trust” motto added by Congressional declaration that year:

I traveled a lot that year. In October I spoke in Valencia, and my friends took me to the market. Such delicious raw hams for sale!

The Spanish love their ham, as do I:

Local mushrooms:

And local people waiting to cross the street:

Olives of all sorts!


After Madrid I met a friend in Switzerland, near Geneva. Two trees on a walk:

Richard Burton’s house in Céligny, Switzerland, where he died in 1984. He was 58. Note the ducks on the gate.

January, 2012: After the Evolution Society’s mid-year officers’ meeting in Costa Rica, I traveled around a bit. This is the humble abode of Alexander Skutch, (1904-2004; a near centenarian), the great ornithologist who lived here for many years. It’s now a museum, but preserves the house as it was when he lived there:

The house is just as he left it, including his clothes, office, and books. As you see below, he was well read:

The Skutches had a beautiful garden with local and imported plants.

And of course there was a bird feeder, replenished with fruit. Can you identify these two birds?

Finally, a few photos of the famous field station La Selva, where I spent two weeks in 1974 as a grad student in the OTS Tropical Ecology Course. Here I was, back again nearly 38 years later.

Some birds (you identify them; I can’t):

Sexual dimorphism:

Some bats on the ceiling of the field station; the dots are marks put on by researchers:

And my favorite frog (besides Atelopus coynei, of course), Oophaga pumilio (I knew it as Dendrobates pumilio). There are several color morphs, and this one gives it the name “blue jeans frog”. It’s a poison-arrow frog, very toxic—as you might guess from its coloration:

I love making these posts. In a time of no travel or adventure, they bring back good memories.

Readers’ wildlife photos

December 16, 2020 • 8:00 am

Please keep sending in your good wildlife photos, as I depend on the goodwill of readers to keep the feature going.

Today we have a rarity: photos of amphibians, and they’re lovely. The photographer is evolutionary biologist Iñigo Martinez-Solano, who introduces himself at the beginning (his captions are indented). As always, click on the photos to enlarge them.

I am sending some amphibian pictures in case you want to use them for your website. I am an evolutionary biologist based at Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales in Madrid, and I’ve specialized in the study of the evolutionary history, biology and conservation of amphibians. Below I’m providing more details about the different species featured in the pictures:

Alytes cisternasii (Iberian midwife toad): midwife toads (genus Alytes) are the only extant representatives an old frog lineage (their closest living relatives are painted frogs (see below), with an estimated divergence time >130 million years ago according to TimeTree. They have evolved parental care; the mating takes place on land and males carry the eggs for several weeks until larvae are ready to swim and actively feed.

Discoglossus galganoi (Iberian painted frog): painted frogs (genus Discoglossus) are representatives of another independent old frog lineage. This species is endemic to the Iberian peninsula; they breed in small ephemeral ponds, completing their larval development in just about a month.

Pelobates cultripes (Iberian spadefoot): these toads have specialized metatarsal tubercles they use to bury themselves >0.5 meters below the ground, similarly to New World spadefoot toads (genera Spea and Scaphiopus).

Chioglossa lusitanica (gold-striped salamander): this is the only extant representative of the genus. It is a member of family Salamandridae but shows many morphological and behavioral convergences with Plethodontids (lungless salamanders).

Salamandra salamandra (fire salamander): these spectacular animals are incredibly diverse in color, but also in other features like reproductive modes. The species is larviparous (larvae develop for some weeks in the uterus of the female and are then released in ponds or streams), but some populations in northern Iberia are viviparous, giving birth to fully developed terrestrial metamorphs.

Triturus marmoratus (marbled newt): what can I say? Beautiful animals, aren’t they?

Pleurodeles walti (Iberian ribbed newt): the largest salamander in Europe, reaching up to 30 cm. As a defensive mechanism, they can project their ribs through the skin (see picture).

Here’s the frog!

November 29, 2020 • 1:00 pm

(Actually, as several readers noticed this morning, it’s not a frog but a toad. I don’t know from toads.) I’ll insert here some words that Greg Mayer sent me when I just asked him the difference between frogs and toads, and whether each group is monophyletic (has all the descendants from one common ancestor):

The English language is inadequate for the diversity of tailless amphibians (order Anura), because there were only two kinds of anurans in England: frogs and toads. Each of them belongs to a family, usually called “true frogs”, Ranidae, and “true toads”, Bufonidae. The other 30+ families of anurans are shoe-horned into the two English common names. Sometimes there are species with the common name “toad” and “frog” in the same family.

The families of true frogs and true toads do express two major tendencies in anuran adaptation to the environment: long-legged, smooth-skinned, semi-aquatic jumpers, often greenish– frogs; and short-legged, warty, terrestrial hoppers, often brownish– toads.

The species in the photo is a true toad (family Bufonidae), but without a better picture and/or locality data, I couldn’t go further. It does look like a Bufo.

So, did you spot the frog toad in this morning’s photo from Alex Kleine? Here’s the reveal, with a circle around the beast and then successive enlargements:

Spot the frog!

November 29, 2020 • 9:00 am

We’re back with another “spot the. . .” feature, originally started by Matthew as a “spot the nightjar” contest. Today’s photo comes from Alex Kleine, who says this:

Since the wildlife photo tank has been running low, I thought I’d might entertain the readers with another “find the camouflaged animal” game.

The story came as I was walking on a path at West Rock State Park in Connecticut near Lake Wintergreen when I stumbled upon this well-camouflaged frog. I do not know the species of this particular one though your readers could help venture a guess. Attached to this message firstly is the game photo, along with the answer highlighted in red and some other photos of the frog after the game has been completed.

Hopefully the photo quality isn’t too blurry with the smartphone camera I used at the time.

Can you spot it? (I count this one as “pretty hard”.)  The reveal comes at 1 pm Chicago time. Click the photo to enlarge.


Readers’ wildlife photos

September 22, 2020 • 7:45 am

Today we have amphibians from reader Chris Taylor from Oz.  Chris’s captions and notes are indented.

Every year in October, there is a frog census in Canberra and the surrounding areas of New South Wales.  I’ve been doing this for six years, monitoring sites at home and also on the Bush Heritage Australia reserve at Scottsdale.  And recently I did a talk for BHA about the census projects, so dug out some photos of to use for the presentation.

The photos are:

Spotted Grass Frog, Limnodynastes tasmaniensis.

Green and Gold Bell Frog, Litoria aurea.

Whistling Tree Frog, Litoria verreauxii.

Eastern Dwarf Tree Frog, Litoria fallax.

Peron’s Tree Frog, Litoria peronii (three photos).

European Common Frog, Rana temporaria.

Smooth Toadlet, Uperolia laevigata.


Four of these species (Lim. tasmaniensis, Lit. Peronii, Lit. verreauxii, U. laevigata) are among the eight frog species that I’ve recorded on my farm and also at Scottsdale.

Lit. fallax and Lit. aurea were taken in Sydney, before we moved to our current home. The last one is of Rana temporaria which was taken in England – and I still can’t quite believe that there are twice as many species in my place than there are in the whole of Great Britain!

The ACT and Region FrogWatch Program (FrogWatch) has been run by the Ginninderra Catchment Group since 2002. FrogWatch engages citizen scientists of all ages and walks of lives to monitor, restore and protect local frog habitat, and to raise awareness for and educate about the range of threats these wonderful creatures face globally and locally. The program covers the ACT and its surrounding NSW region from Cooma in the south to Gundaroo in the north and from the Cotter River in the west to Captains Flat in the east (this is from the FrogWatch website.)

Spot the wood frog!

September 12, 2020 • 8:30 am

Reader Tom Gula sent in a “spot the” photo.

Something to help pass the time as we continue in this pandemic twilight zone.  While walking through a wooded area of the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in northern New Jersey this morning, I spotted an adult Wood Frog (Lithobates sylvaticus) in the leaf litter (it jumped or I never would have noticed it). I only had my iPhone at the time, and took a few photos. Not sure if it’s sharp enough for use, but thought it might make a good “spot the critter” photo. The original file size is a bit more than 6 Mb, which I can send along if you would like – but this attachment is smaller in size (but will not be as sharp if enlarged).

Click to enlarge. This one is rated “quite hard”.  The reveal will be at 11 a.m. Chicago time. Please don’t post the answer in the comments!

Readers’ wildlife photos

September 12, 2020 • 7:45 am

Please send your photos in, as to keep this feature going I need seven contributions per week. We don’t want to lose our beastie pics, right?

Today we have diverse photos from reader Dave Campbell, whose notes and IDs I’ve indented:

Here are some photos to replenish the cache with accompanying text.  I tossed in a photo with a connection to Charles Darwin and a gratuitous reference to a fictional rabbit from Brooklyn.

Eastern Spadefoot Toad (Scaphiopus holbrookii). In June, Tropical Storm Cristobal dumped five to six inches of rain on us and the following night the spadefoot toads came out.  They spend most of their lives buried underground waiting for heavy downpours.  Immediately following the rain they emerge for a few days and eat and mate and then burrow back underground to wait for the next rain.  I live on a high sandridge that is usually pretty dry so the emergence of these amphibians is a major event for us.  The adults look like little porcelain frogs with beautiful eyes.

Three weeks after the adult was photographed my property was overrun by thousands of spadefoot toadlets, sometimes as many as 20 per square meter.  21 days after the adults emerged the next generation is fully metamorphosed and hunting on dry land.  They are tiny, only about three to four millimeters long (those little white things are sand grains).  We were still seeing them three week later but the numbers decline rapidly.

Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus obscurus).  The vermilion flycatcher is a western bird but one or two seem to take a wrong turn at Albuquerque every year and wind up in the Florida panhandle.  This male showed up at St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge southeast of Tallahassee, Florida last November and set up shop at the first roadside pulloff after entering the refuge marshes.  The first description of the vermilion flycatcher was made by John Gould based on a specimen collected by Charles Darwin in the Galapagos.

Tricolored Heron (Egretta tricolor)  Every spring the trees around the boardwalk over the alligator ponds at the Saint Augustine Alligator Farm become a large rookery for hundreds of nesting wading birds.  The rookery flourishes because alligators in the ponds below prevent predators like raccoons from reaching the nests.  Photographers flock to the boardwalks over the alligator ponds for a chance to capture images of the birds at very close range.  The gators get the occasional careless hatchling which bothers some of the tourists but I have never seen anyone jump off the boardwalk to effect a rescue.  This bird is reacting to the approach of its mate.

Ebony Jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata)  Photographed along a stream in the state forest near my home.  The metallic exoskeletons have structural colors that change from blue to green to blue as the angle of incidence of light changes. They are common along wooded streams.  Damselflies are my favorite insects both because they are beautiful and because they eat mosquitoes.

Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis).  Immature bird on short final for landing photographed at  Bottom Road near St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge in Florida.  Notice how individual flight feathers are manipulated to maximize lift in slow flight, not unlike the slats and flaps on airplanes.

Ghost Crab (Ocypode quadrata). Photographed at Long Point Park on the Florida Gulf Coast.  This young one paused at the entrance to its burrow just long enough for me to record it for posterity.

Sanderling (Calidris alba). Sanderlings are common, conspicuous, and entertaining shorebirds.  They race along the beach, following the edge of advancing and receding waves like little clockwork toys.  This bird is in fall plumage, a study in white and gray, and ignored the humans as it ran back and forth.

Paper wasp (Polistes carolina) feeding on a monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) larva.  Not long ago, another photographer who had submitted images wondered what happened to some of the monarch larva.  This is one likely answer.  Our first brood last spring had an adult emergence rate in the high ninety percent range.  The second brood, mostly offspring of the first one, had a success rate from first instar to adult in single digits.  The difference was at least three species of Polistes that found my milkweed patch and chowed down on larvae and two pupae.  Last fall I found bald-faced hornets (Dolichovespula maculata) feeding on monarch larvae as well.