Readers’ wildlife photos

September 27, 2023 • 8:15 am

I’m going to South Africa next year (Cape Town and the area around Kruger National Park), but one thing I also wanted to do was see the wildflowers around Table Mountain, which apparently will be blooming in August.  I had no idea how weird many of the flowers are, but this set of photos, sent by reader Stephen Warren, convinced me even more that I need to make flowers a priority.  Stephen’s captions are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them. These photos arrived yesterday.

I am visiting my daughter Charlotte in Cape Town. She is studying at the University of Cape Town. She came here last year, from the UK, volunteering in a nursery, and she liked Cape Town so much she decided to stay!

This morning I made a visit to the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, a 40min walk through Newlands Forest from where I am staying. The land was purchased by Cecil Rhodes in 1895, and bequeathed to the nation in his will when he died in 1902; but it wasn’t until 1913 that development of the land to create the National Botanical Garden began. Harold Pearson who is buried in the gardens provided the inspiration. I spent two hours there and it was like Paradise.

The gardens are located in the shadow of Table Mountain, on the Eastern side, pictured below (the traditional view of Table Mountain is from the North). The tree to the left is a Red Mahogany.

In the other direction, nearby you see the fine houses of the wealthy Constantia district, and beyond are the plains of Eastern Cape Town with Stellenbosch in the distance.

The gardens cover 1300 acres, so you can wander for hours. They are very well maintained, with lawns and stone paths. Many of the plants are labeled, and there are occasional helpful explanatory displays. I know next to nothing about botany, but I collected a few notes. Unfortunately, the day was mostly overcast, so some of the pics are a bit gloomy. Around the gardens are dotted these signs telling you who is responsible for that area. Let me express my thanks to Godfrey and all the other gardeners!:

The southern tip of Africa comprises the Cape Floral Kingdom. Because of the desert to the north, the region is isolated and about 80% of the indigenous plants are unique to the Cape Floral region. It covers 0.5% of Africa but includes 20% of Africa’s plant species. About 80% of the region is covered by Fynbos (pronounced fain-boss) a ‘fine-leaved sclerophyllic shrubland adapted to both a Mediterranean climate and periodic fires’. The best known Fynbos plants are the Proteas, or sugarbushes, so I have included some pictures of Proteas. The genus Protea belongs to the family Proteaceae so I have included some of the larger family. And if I sound like I know what I am talking about, I certainly don’t, and I will be happily corrected by botanists and South Africans, and especially anyone who is both.Well, the national flower of South Africa is Protea cynaroides, known as the King Protea, pictured here, not yet fully out:

Here is another Protea, but I couldn’t find the name of it:

The next plant was labeled Protea magnifica which is the Queen Protea or the Bearded Sugarbush, and should be pink, so I’m not convinced by the label, even though it seemed to belong to the bush – but what do I know?:

Next is Leucospermum reflexum (family Proteaceae) and I have included this picture because in the centre you can just see the magnificent Southern Double-Collared Sunbird [Cinnyris chalybeus]. This was the best I could do for bird pictures because I was just using my phone, but there were other truly wonderful birds including the Orange-Breasted Sunbird and the Malachite Sunbird.

Also from the family Proteaceae is the Silver Tree, Leucadendron argenteum, which is a fine sight:

Leaving the Proteaceae I will finish with a few examples of Strelitzia. The first is probably familiar, a Narrow-Leaved Bird of Paradise, Strelitzia juncea:

Now in the garden is a treetop walkway called the Boomslang, a snake, because it snakes around the treetops. Below is a picture from the walkway. The tree at the end that looks like a banana tree is the Wild Banana, so named only because it looks like a banana tree. It doesn’t produce bananas, and it is in fact a kind of giant bird of paradise, Strelitzia nicolai. It has white flowers of the same form:

In the garden near the entrance there is a bust of Nelson Mandela [see note at bottom]:

Next to the bust is a fine clump of Strelitzia reginae, another Bird of Paradise, pictured below, this one yellow:

There is a display next to Mandela’s bust which talks about Mandela planting a tree, and it states he was given a specimen of ‘our yellow flowered Strelitzia reginae named in his honour’. The plaque was confusing about this and I later found out what they didn’t say – that at Kirstenbosch itself they developed a strain of Strelitzia reginae and they called it Mandela’s gold (details here). The plaque doesn’t mention the name Mandela’s gold and seemed instead to be saying that the Latin name honoured Mandela. Regina of course means Queen, and Queen Charlotte of the Mecklenburg-Strelitz family was the wife of George III. She was a keen amateur naturalist. Strelitzia reginae is named after Queen Charlotte – which rather brings me back to where I started.

Readers’ wildlife photos

September 26, 2023 • 8:15 am

We’re back to readers’ wildlife photos, so please send yours in. Today’s batch, part 1 of 2, come from reader James Blilie, who encloses photos taken by his son Jamie. James’s text is indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

It’s been a busy time for us.  I am finally getting around to sending in some of Jamie’s recent wildlife photos for your consideration.  Sometimes it’s a little hard to get Jamie to move his photos from his camera to a computer location from which I can put them online or submit them!

This past February, we took a road trip from our home in southern Washington state to Palm Desert and Seal Beach California.  It was very nice to be somewhere warm and bright for a couple of weeks in the middle of winter.  We plan to do something similar each winter from now on.

Both the Palm Desert area (Coachella Valley) and the California coast near Seal Beach provided ample opportunities for Jamie, now 19 and a student in engineering at Washington State University in Pullman Washington, to enjoy his passion for spotting and photographing birds.  Most of these birds we hadn’t seen before.

In the desert, we visited the Thousand Palms OasisJoshua Tree National Park, the Canyons along the foot of the Mount San Jacinto, and some local sites in the valley, such as Sunnylands Estate.  From Seal Beach, we visited Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, the beaches, and Mission San Juan Capistrano.

First two cock quail of different species: California Quail (Callipepla californica). Photo taken along US Hwy 395 in the Owens Valley of California.

Then Gambel’s Quail cock (Callipepla gambelii), taken at the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge The Salton Sea, 236 feet below sea level, was a spectacular place for birding in winter.  We drove all the way around the Salton Sea, stopping in Calexico within a mile of the Mexico border (but not crossing).

Next are a several birds photographed along the shore of the Salton Sea on our circuit around it. Some are taken at the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge and some are taken at the various state park locations and pull-outs along the eastern edge of the sea.

Some Black-necked Stilts (Himantopus mexicanus).  These were abundant along the shore of the Salton Sea. The image of the five stilts also shows, I believe, a Mountain Plover (Charadrius montanus).

Some Northern Pintail ducks (Anas acuta) in flight.

Many, many Snow Geese (Anser caerulescens).  These came in massive flocks to the green fields at the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge 

Next up is a Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans) photographed in the desert in the Coachella Valley.

Next are two shots of a Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus).  Jamie has had a passion for finding shrikes as they are quite rare everywhere we’ve lived or visited.  These were shot in Joshua Tree National Park and you can see some Joshua Tree foliage (Yucca brevifolia) in the photos.

Readers’ wildlife photos

September 25, 2023 • 8:15 am

Today we return to wildlife photos, so start sending them in, please. Today’s batch comes from UC Davis ecologist Susan Harrison, and is part II of  photos from her recent trip to Arizona. Click on the photos to enlarge them. Susan’s text is indented.

Southeastern Arizona – part 2

This post is a sequel to my earlier one about an August 2023 birdwatching trip to Southeastern Arizona.  In that earlier post I featured the “uniqueness” aspect of the region:  the glamorous tropical and subtropical species such as Elegant Trogons (Trogon elegans) that barely reach the U.S. in Arizona’s small, rugged mountain ranges just north of the Mexican border.

In this sequel, I’ll highlight the “biogeographic crossroads” aspect of Southeastern Arizona: the desert bird species found there that also occur in other deserts.  Unlike the “unique” species, I had seen many of these “crossroads” species before in other regions.

Here are three of the most widespread species we saw in Southeastern Arizona, occurring in deserts from southern California to Texas.  I’ve even seen them in the dry shrublands and grasslands west of Davis, northern California.

Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus):

Lesser Nighthawk (Chordeiles acutipennis):

Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus), female:

Here are five species found mainly eastward from Arizona to Texas.

Pyrrhuloxia (Cardinalis sinuatus):

Harris’s Hawk (Parabuteo unicinctus):

Mississippi Kite (Ictinia mississippiensis), which as the name implies, also ranges farther east:

Green Kingfisher (Chloroceryle americana):

Crested Caracara (Caracara plancus):

Here are four species ranging mainly westward from Arizona to Southern California.

Gila Woodpecker (Melanerpes uropygialis):

Gambel’s Quail (Callipepla gambelii):

Bendire’s Thrasher (Toxostoma bendirei):

Cassin’s Kingbird (Tyrannus vociferans), right, with a Western Kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis), left:

This species occurs in all of the Great Basin states.

Broad-Tailed Hummingbird (Selasphorus platycercus):

And here’s a species found (in the U.S.) only in southeastern Arizona, so I should have included in the last post.  It’s too beautiful to leave out!

Broad-Billed Hummingbird (Cynanthus latirostris):

Readers’ wildlife photos

August 30, 2023 • 8:15 am

Doug Hayes, of “Breakfast Crew” fame and also a photographer of dancers, favors us today with photos of a bird rarely seen in his parts (Richmond, VA). His captions are indented and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

Word recently went out over the local birding web sites and Facebook groups that a limpkin (Aramus guarauna) had been sighted in Three Lakes Park and Nature Center, located about ten minutes outside of Richmond. Naturally, this mobilized the Bird Nerds. At any given time, there were ten or more of us photographing the bird. Limpkins are tropical wetlands birds whose territory covers South and Central America and extends northward into Florida. [See range map at bottom.]

The birds spend much of their time probing the water and mud for shellfish and other aquatic invertebrates. This specimen found and ate several large freshwater mussels as we watched. With food this plentiful, the bird will probably linger in the area until the weather turns cooler. Of concern is that limpkins have little fear of humans and on several occasions this one has walked very close to people and sometimes wandered around the parking lots. Hopefully, people will respect the animal and not harm it.

The limpkin wandering along the edge of a stream in search of food. Totally unafraid of people, it actually walked between two of the photographers photographing it:

Doing a bit of preening after a successful hunt for mussels:

Enjoying a good scratch:

Back on the hunt:


More preening:

Eureka! A large freshwater mussel!:

After finding the mussel, the limpkin carried it out of the shade and into the harsh morning sunlight, so the pictures are not so good here. It made quick work of opening the shell:

And even quicker work plucking the mussel from the shell:

Enjoying the feast!:

Here’s the limpkin’s ange map from the Cornell Site All About Birds. They are nonmigratory, so this is their year-round range. The map adds, “Not migratory but dispersing individuals are occasionally found far from range, especially during severe drought.”  Doug’s bird was very far from home!

Camera info:  Sony A7RV camera body, Sony FE 200-600 lens + 1.4X teleconverter, iFootage Cobra 2 monopod, Neewer gimbal tripod head. I did not have to use digital zoom as the bird stayed so close most of the time

Readers’ wildlife photos

August 28, 2023 • 8:32 am

Today’s photos come from ecologist Susan Harrison at UC Davis.  Her captions are indented, and you can enlarge the pictures by clicking on them.

Southeastern Arizona (part 1)

Sooner or later, a U.S. birdwatcher must go to Southeastern Arizona.   That’s because dozens of Mexican and Central American bird species make it just across the international border into the tree-lined canyons of Arizona’s Chiricahua Mts., Huachuca Mts., and other small north-south oriented mountain ranges.  Many of these birds are as dazzlingly colorful as you’d expect from their mainly tropical and subtropical distributions.

In August 2023 I made my pilgrimage to see these species.  Today I’ll show the most localized species, and next time I’ll show some of the ones that also range east into south Texas, west to the California deserts, and/or north to the Great Basin deserts.

First, a habitat shot of a canyon in the Chiricahua Mts.:

Next, the region’s most fabled bird, the Elegant Trogon (Trogon elegans):

Hummingbird diversity is perhaps the region’s greatest claim to fame besides Trogons. Over a dozen species can be regularly found here!  The technique for seeing them is to visit small eco-lodges and visitor centers where feeders have been set up.  Here are four species:

Rivoli’s Hummingbird (Eugenes fulgens):

White-Eared Hummingbird (Basilinna leucotis):

Violet-Crowned Hummingbird (Leucolia violiceps):

Lucifer Hummingbird (Calothorax lucifer):

Other colorful denizens include these warblers –

Red-Faced Warbler (Cardellina rubifrons):

Rufous-Capped Warbler (Basileuterus rufifrons):

Some Southeastern Arizonan birds are close southern relatives of birds that are familiar elsewhere in the U.S.  Here are four examples:

Mexican Jay (Aphelocoma wollweberi), almost identical to California Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma californica) but more social in its behavior; we always saw them in flocks:

Mexican Duck (Anas diazi) in front of a Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos); these two species often hybridize in urban settings like this Tucson pond:

Whiskered Screech-Owls (Megascops trichopsis), related to Western Screech-Owls (Megascops kennicottii) and living beside them in this area, but in slightly drier habitats:

Mexican Spotted Owls (Strix occidentalis lucida), found in pine and fir forests at higher elevations, closely related to and just as threatened as the Northern Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis caurina).   This roosting pair is grooming each other’s facial feathers.  My title for this photo is “Get a room, owls!”:

Readers’ wildlife photos

August 27, 2023 • 8:15 am

It’s Sunday, and John Avise is here with another batch of themed bird photos. The theme this week happens to be a place that I just visited!  John’s captions are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

A Few Galapagos Birds 

In recognition of Jerry’s recent trip to the Galapagos Islands, this week’s post consists of a few Galapagos birds that I photographed on my own trip to the Galapagos Islands back in 2005.  This was at a time before I became seriously interested in avian photography, and I had only a cheap little camera.  But many Galapagos birds are so tame that I still managed to get a few decent photos.  Now I’d really love to go back to the Galapagos with my good camera and more of an avian photographer’s eye!

Magnificent Frigatebird male in flight (Fregata magnificens):

Magnificent Frigatebird pair (the male has his bright red gular pouch inflated):

Great Frigatebird (Fregata minor), female with chick:

Blue-footed boobies (Sula nebouxii):

Blue-footed Booby with chicks:

Blue-footed Booby juvenile:

Brown Noddy (Anous stolidus):

Flightless cormorant with chick (Nannopterum harrisi):

Galapagos Doves (Zenaida galapagoensis):

Galapagos Penguins (Spheniscus mendiculus) (yes, the islands have their own endemic penguin species!):

Hood Mockingbirds (Mimus macdonaldi):

Lava Heron (Butorides sundevalli):’

Masked Boobies (Sula dactylatra):

Wild life (and death)

August 16, 2023 • 12:30 pm

by Greg Mayer

While Jerry’s photos of the fabulous wildlife in the Galapagos show us the marvels of life there, one thing that stood out to me when I visited the Galapagos was how frequently we came across dead animals, much more frequently than anyplace else I’ve been. This observation inspired two thoughts. First, could this abundant evidence of the struggle for existence have influenced Darwin? And, second, might the prevalence of carcasses be due to a dearth of scavengers in the depauperate biota of these islands?

On the mainlands of the Americas, there is no dearth of scavengers, two familiar ones being the Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) and the Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus), both found throughout the Neotropics and, for varying distances, into the United States (both) and Canada (Turkey only). Here are both of them, more or less in action.

This Turkey Vulture is standing next to a deceased Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana) on a sidewalk in Oviedo, Florida.

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) and Opossum (Didelphis virginiana), Oviedo, Fl, April 23, 2023.

These two Black Vultures are feeding on the carcass of a Nine-banded Armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus), also in Oviedo, Florida. (Both of the scavenged species, opossum and armadillo, are more or less recent recent invaders from the south; the Black Vulture, too, is moving north.)

Black Vultures (Coragyps atratus) and Armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus), Oviedo, Fl, April 24, 2023.

And here they are in action:

The Galapagos have one large raptorial bird, the Galapagos Hawk (Buteo galapagoensis), an insular derivative of Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainsoni). Although it hunts and eats a variety of prey, both small vertebrates and largish invertebrates, it also eats quite a bit of carrion. Darwin, in fact, thought it rather resembled caracaras, a group of hawk-like falcons that are largely scavengers, especially in its habits:

When a tortoise is killed even in the midst of the woods, these birds immediately congregate in great numbers, and remain either seated on the ground, or on the branches of the stunted trees, patiently waiting to devour the intestines, and to pick the carapace clean, after the meat has been cut away.

Jackson (1985:177) concurs:

… on every island they are also major scavengers. They will feed on virtually any dead animal. I have seen them at the carcasses of sea lions, marine iguanas, seabirds and even fish … They seem to be very fond of goat meat. … On one occasion, within five minutes of a goat being killed, thirteen birds arrived and sat within 5 m of myself and the carcass. [Invasive goats were/are being eradicated in the Galapagos by hunters employed for the purpose.]

The Galapagos Hawk, apparently, fills part of the scavenging niche filled by vultures on the mainland. It has disappeared from some islands since settlement, so its decline may account for the frequency of unscavenged carcasses. The generally dry conditions at sea level, which lead to rapid mummification, may also lead to a proliferation of unscavenged carcasses, so that Darwin, even before the hawk’s decline, may have come across them as well. I’ll have to query Jerry as to his observations in this regard.

Jackson, M.H. 1985. Galapagos: A Natural History Guide. University of Calgary Press, Calgary.

Readers’ wildlife photos

August 9, 2023 • 8:15 am

A few generous readers sent in photos, so we’ll have some today and tomorrow. In the meantime, please put together some photos for my return after August 20, as I’ll have only one batch left then. Thanks!

Today we have another installment of The Breakfast Crew photographed by Doug Hayes of Richmond, Virginia. Doug’s captions are indented and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.  Today he returns to the swamp to check on the progress of the baby green herons (see here for part I)

More of the Breakfast Crew.

Grackles and mourning doves are the most active right now. The usual house finches and sparrows are present and there has been a population explosion of cardinals. I also took another trip out to the Chamberlayne Swamp to see how the baby green herons are doing.

Robins (Turdus migratorius) are almost always around the yard. They almost always go for the suet instead of the birdseed:

A pine warbler (Setophaga pinus). These little guys tend to stick to the more wooded areas of the park and along the James River:

Most people consider common grackles (Quiscalus quiscula) to be pests, but I think they are gorgeous with their iridescent feathers and intense eyes:

A male northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis). There has been a population explosion among these birds this season. In addition to the adults, there are quite a few fledglings in the yard:

A non-breeding/immature male red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus). Red-winged blackbirds are marsh dwellers, but they tend to show up in large numbers after heavy rains:

And a breeding male, showing off his wing patches:

A male house finch (Haemorhous mexicanus) looking spiffy:

A male red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) finds a peanut. They are quite persistent in digging around in the feeder until they find their favorite treat:

A gray catbird (Dumetella carolinensis). I haven’t seen many of these birds this season. They used to feed on blackberries that grew in my neighbor’s yard, but the bush was cut down when the house sold a few months ago:

A tufted titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor). These little guys also love peanuts. Like the woodpeckers, they grab a peanut and fly off with it to eat in the safety of the trees:

A juvenile European starling (Sturnus vulgaris). For some reason, starlings are not as numerous this year as they have been in the past:

We went back to the Chamberlayne Swamp Saturday morning to check on the progress of the baby green herons (Butorides virescens). The four babies are about a month old and all are thriving, even the runt. All four are nearly adult size and have lost most of their fuzzy down. They spend their days climbing around the nest tree, chasing dragonflies and being fed. As usual, the Big Guy stations himself out in the open so he can be the first one fed when mom returns. All four should head out on their own soon:

The Big Guy keeping a watch for mom:

The rest of the gang:

The Big Guy hunting dragonflies. He managed to catch a few while we watched:

Camera info:  Sony A7RV mirrorless camera body, Sony FE 200-600 lens + 1.4X teleconverter, Clear View digital zoom, iFootage Cobra 2 monopod, Neewer gimbal tripod head.

Readers’ wildlife photos

August 6, 2023 • 9:20 am

Today we have photos by John Avise, still looking for photogenic birds. John’s captions are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

Honorable Mention For Most Photogenic Songbird? 

In the past two weeks, Jerry has posted on WEIT my first-place and second-place winners for my “most photogenic songbird” contest.  This week’s post showcases another North American bird that should receive, in my experience, at least an honorable mention.  Here in Southern California, the California Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica) is an especially photogenic songbird because it is quite common, relatively tame, and has a beautiful bluish plumage.

Side view showing the pretty blue:

Dorsal view:

Ventral view:

Carrying a peanut:


Holding acorns:

Flapping in flight:

In-between flaps in flight:

Gliding in flight:

Head portrait:

Readers’ wildlife photos

August 4, 2023 • 8:15 am

Today’s photos are from ecologist Susan Harrison at UC Davis. Her captions are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

Rare Blue Bunting Meets Feisty Green Towhee

In mid-July, a male Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea) – quite a rarity west of the Rockies – took up residence on a broken-topped Shasta Red Fir (Abies magnifica var. shastensis) in a flowery 6,500’ meadow at Mt. Ashland.  He stayed for two weeks, singing intermittently, even though only the closely related Lazuli Buntings (Passerina amoena), and a stream of Southern Oregonian birdwatchers, were available to admire him.

My first visit yielded a distant view of the Indigo Bunting in his fir tree:

Returning two days later, my hopes of a better photo were dashed despite hours of hiding quietly near his tree.  So here’s an Indigo Bunting from Texas in 2022:

The problem was that an aggressive Green-Tailed Towhee (Pipilio chlorurus) chased the Indigo Bunting away – which I saw happen – and usurped the fir tree for his own singing purposes:

The Green-Tailed Towhee did not seem to mind sharing the tree with foraging birds.  These included a dragonfly-catching Dark-Eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)…:

…a Nashville Warbler (Leiothlypis ruficapilla):

…an Orange-Crowned Warbler (Leiothlypis celata):

…and a plaintive young Lincoln’s Sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii):

In the surrounding meadow, a Lazuli Bunting perched on a Tower Larkspur (Delphinium glaucum):

A large Nevada Bumblebee (Bombus nevadensis) packed her pollen sacs on another Tower Larkspur:

A White-Lined Sphinx Moth (Hyles lineata) visited a Coyote Mint (Monardella odoratissima):

A Pale Swallowtail (Papilio eurymedon) visited a Leopard Lily (Lilium pardalinum):

And Rufous Hummingbirds (Selasphorus rufus) alternated between visiting Scarlet Gilia (Ipomopsis aggregata) flowers and perching atop shrubs or trees:

Postscript:  After four days of no sightings, the Indigo Bunting was observed singing on a tree about a half-mile away across the meadow.    Let’s hope the Towhees leave him alone!