Readers’ wildlife photos

June 16, 2021 • 8:00 am

Once again I ask readers to consider sending me their good wildlife photos.

Today’s photos are of BIG CATS IN AFRICA, and were taken by reader John. His notes and IDs are indented, and you can click on his photos to enlarge them

Since you asked us to send more wildlife photos, here are some more. African cats this time, from Tanzania — Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area.

We were lucky to see a mother cheetah  (Acinonyx jubatus) and her offspring, I don’t know how old. My wife and I fell in love with cheetahs, so can’t help including several of them. It’s funny how the baby’s head and neck fur look like feathers.

(S)he’s looking at us:

These animals define the word svelte.

This female lion (Panthera leo) is wearing a “wire”, as they say on the police shows.

Two shots of leopards (Panthera pardus). This one was right next to the road.

Ans this one is taking a welcome afternoon siesta in a tree. We saw several of these.

These four lionesses (or is there a male there?) were the first creatures we saw in the Serengeti, so we figured they were a welcoming committee.

Our driver cheated some by going fairly close to this mother lion and her cubs — but not too close. One little one has light spots on its back legs. Is this normal?

I can’t see this one without feeling like reaching out and scratching its belly. It would be the last thing I ever did!

This is a rare one, that we saw only from far away, hence the bad quality of the photo, which is much enlarged. It’s a serval (Leptailurus serval). It’s maybe a good half meter tall and weighs less than 20 kg.

Readers’ wildlife photos (and a video)

June 12, 2021 • 8:00 am

Send in your photos, please.

Today’s selection comes from Rachel Sperling, whose notes and IDs are indented. Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Apart from the video, these were all taken in Connecticut and the New York section of the Appalachian Trail, which I’m hiking with a friend.

A pair of mute swans (Cygnus olor) on the reservoir near my house.

A pair of black vultures (Coragyps atratusamid some glacial erratics in northern Connecticut. I think this is a bit north of their normal range. I used to see them fairly often when I lived in Maryland.

Canada goose (Branta canadensis) on Lake Zoar in Connecticut. Nothing terribly exciting about a Canada goose, but this one was sitting on some eggs, and it was around Mothers’ Day, so I thought it was sweet.

Red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) on the Appalachian Trail in New York.

Bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis)on the Appalachian Trail:

Pink ladyslipper (Cypripedium acaule) on the Appalachian Trail.

A couple of millipedes (Apheloria virginiensis) on a trail in Sharon, Connecticut. The one on the right is giving a ride to an inchworm, but I’ve no idea which species of Geometer moth it might be.

Finally (for now – I’ll be back on the trail this weekend, I hope!) here’s a video I took back in December of 2017, when I was living in New Hampshire. My cat Lloyd (Felis catus) was intensely interested in a supremely unruffled American goldfinch (Spinus tristis). I don’t know much about bird intelligence, apart from what I’ve read about crows, ravens, and parrots, so it surprised me that the goldfinch would understand that it was safe from the cat.

Readers’ wildlife photos

May 31, 2021 • 8:00 am

Thanks for the response to my importuning you for photos: I got several sets, one of which is below. But don’t neglect sending in your good photos, as I always have a need for more.

This set comes from reader David Campbell, whose captions are indented. Click on his photos to enlarge them.

A few photos for the hopper.  As usual, a diverse lot.

Great Egret (Ardea alba) photographed at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.  The bird is gliding within one half of one wingspan above the water, a condition known as ground effect.  This reduces the drag on the wing because the fixed surface (in this case the water) breaks up the wingtip vortices.  Less drag increases glide efficiency.  If the bird gets close enough to the surface of the water on a calm day, you can actually see the ripples where the vortices meet the water.  This egret did not oblige.

Spotted Sunfish (Lepomis punctatus).  Male coming into breeding color photographed in Silver Glen Springs in the Ocala National Forest.  Spotted Sunfish are among the most common of the Lepomis in the St Johns River drainage and the most approachable.  If a swimmer is  motionless and patient the fish will swim up within inches and hover.  Look closely and you can see the teeth in the lower jaw and a leech attached to the fin rays.

Wilson’s Snipe (Gallinago delicata) photographed at Payne’s Prairie Preserve south of Gainesville, Florida.

Horned Spanworm (Nematocampa sp.  Probably N. resista.). This larva dropped down from an oak canopy on a silk thread.  The dorsal threads can be extended until straight.

Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis).  This is a quartet of photos showing how a nonvenomous snake can intimidate perceived threats by changing its appearance to look like a venomous snake.  When grabbed, garter snakes respond by biting and smearing musky feces on the attacker.  The experience is both unpleasant and memorable.  When threatened they try to flee.  When cornered, like many other snakes, they vibrate their tails, inflate the body to look larger and fatter, and flatten the head to make it wider and more triangular while elevating the front third of the body in an S shaped coil.  It is a pretty impressive mimic of a small viper.

This is a close up of the front part of the snake.

The first photo shows a normal eastern garter snake as it would look minding its own business.

The second shows a snake that is in almost full defensive posture with inflated body and flattened head.

The fourth photo shows a snake in full defensive threat posture with head elevated for a strike.

Florida Softshell Turtle (Apalone ferox).  The trash can lid with legs and an attitude.  This is one of the largest freshwater turtles in the United States, with large females having carapace lengths approaching 40 cm long.  They spend most of their time under water except when basking or seeking mates/laying eggs.  They have very long necks and extended nostrils, allowing them to sit on the bottom waiting for food but still reach up to the surface to breathe.  The neck is long enough that the turtle can bite a careless human grabbing the shell behind the middle of both sides.  Turtle rescuers grab (VERY carefully) the front edge and rear edge of the shell to transport softshells.

Eastern Coral Snake (Micrurus fulvius).  I found this little beauty crawling next to my house.  Coral snakes are elapids, related to cobras, with short fixed fangs and primarily neurotoxic venom.  We used to see them a lot more frequently, but drought and a large feral cat colony down the road have decimated populations of lizards and snakes that coral snakes feed on.  These are shy snakes that tend to be very nervous.  When threatened many (but not this one) curl the end of the tail into a small ball and wave it around, supposedly mimicking a head, while burying the real head under a coil of snake.  Several species of nonvenomous snakes mimic coral snakes, but their banding patterns are a bit different.  The late Dr. Roger Conant suggested thinking of a traffic light.  Red means stop, yellow means caution (except around here where a yellow light means floor it).  If the danger colors touch, it’s a coral snake.  In North America.

Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) This is not “wild” life but the picture shows one of my favorite cats in a beautiful pose.  It was photographed at the Central Florida Zoo in Sanford, Florida.

Readers’ wildlife photos

May 29, 2021 • 8:00 am

Send in your wildlife photos, please. I’ve been getting some, and thanks to those who have replied, but I can always use more.

Today we have Big Cat photos from Richard Bond, whose captions are indented. Click on the photos to enlarge them:

I am somewhat intimidated by the outstanding quality of many of your wildlife photo contributions, but there have been no big wild cats for a while, so these might interest you. They were taken in one afternoon and early evening in the Masai Mara.

First, though, on our way there we flew over the southern end of Lake Magadi, the southernmost alkaline lake of the Kenyan Rift Valley. We were about 3000 metres above the lake, which is about two kilometres wide at this point. The surface of large parts of the lake is formed by precipitated sodium sesquicarbonate, within which the “wildlife” comprises vast numbers of several species of archaea. Some of these cause the pink colour. The sectors of clear water are centered on two of the hot springs that feed the lake along its margins.

In the first photo of the lions [Panthera leo], the markings on the back of their ears show that the cubs on the right do not belong to the lioness on the left. The next photo shows the same markings on their actual mother. Apparently these markings are very variable between families and are inherited, so that they are useful to people studying lions.

The next two photos were taken as the sun was setting. The excellent camouflage that this light provides makes it a little difficult to see that the lioness with her legs in the air is suckling three very small cubs.

The two cheetah [Acinonyx jubatus] cubs (probably male and female from their relative sizes) have been left while their mother goes hunting. They are lightly screened by knee-high grass and continually looking around as a precaution against lions, which would regard cheetah cubs as tasty snackettes.

My distant shot of the leopard [Panthera pardus] is barely worth submitting. Unfortunately I entrusted the zoomed-in followup to an insistent and excited 11-year specimen of Homo sapiens, but did not realise until I saw it on a big screen that it was slightly blurred.

Given your interest a few years ago in flying in the copilot’s seat of a light aircraft, I have included a photo of the aforementioned H. sapiens specimen as he helped take us back to the coast.

Readers’ wildlife photos

April 13, 2021 • 8:00 am

Alas, alas, the photo tank
Is running rather low;
I ask you to send pictures in,
Or this feature soon will go.

But today we have a series of bird development photos (and, as lagniappe, of a rescue kitty) by Leo Glenn. Leo’s captions are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

It’s been a while since I’ve contributed photos, but I wanted to heed your pleas. My photos are poorly organized, so it’s always a time-consuming process to put a collection together. I’ve created a “For Jerry” folder now, though, so hopefully the frequency of my contributions will increase. With spring just around the corner, I selected a series of photos I took in 2013. We were fortunate to have a robin build a nest in the cherry tree in our front yard at a height that allowed me to take photos. I thought it might be interesting to take a photo each day to track the growth of the chicks. The photos aren’t the greatest quality, as I tried to be as quick as possible to minimize the amount of disturbance (and taking the photos required some climbing), but I thought the speed of their growth was remarkable, and maybe of interest to your readers. They went from hatchlings to fledglings in 13 days.

American Robins (Turdus migratorius)

Day one – You can see the hole in the egg, partially covered by the first chick’s wing, where the second chick is beginning to peck its way out.

Day three:

Day five:


Day seven: I had to double check the date stamp on this photo, as it didn’t seem possible that they could have grown so much in two days. But it’s correct.

Day nine:

Day eleven:

Day thirteen:  One had already fledged, but I managed to get a shot of this one, still sitting on the nest.

And finally, for the ailurophiles, this poor fellow showed up at our doorstep in November of 2019, in seriously bad shape. He was emaciated (he weighed only 6.5 lbs), covered in fleas and ticks, and was in what appeared to be the final throes of a severe respiratory infection. We already have two rescue cats, and his prospects looked pretty dim, but my daughter insisted that we do what we could for him.

And here he is today. Meet Arty, my shadow and constant companion. His health is still very fragile. He’s a severe asthmatic, has a compromised immune system, and is on several daily medications. We’ve had three emergency vet visits, involving several days on oxygen, with antibiotic and steroid injections, but he’s a tough little guy.

Readers’ wildlife photos

April 8, 2021 • 8:00 am

Today we have a contribution from physicist and origami master Robert Lang, presenting some photos called “Altadena: Squirrel Noms Edition” (Altadena, California is where he lives). His captions and descriptions are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them:

Most of these photos were taken from my office out the window above my desk.
Naturally we need to start with a kitty. Our first pic is a Bobcat (Lynx rufus), a species I get regular visitation from, though more often at night than daytime. As you can see here, the meadow outside my studio is starting to come back to life, which brings out the ground squirrels and rabbits that keep the bobcats coming.

I live and work in Altadena, on the northern boundary of the freeway-and-housing metropolis of Los Angeles. Because the mountains rise so abruptly, the boundary between civilization and wilderness is pretty sharp, and so we get a lot of wildlife along the edges, both big and small. The Western Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis) is one of the smaller ones.

One of my favorite visitors is the Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus). They’re distinctive and chatty, and the locals seem to have forgiven me for letting Edison replace the old telephone pole last year that had become on of their granaries over the years.

I rarely see the Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) during the day, but one is a common nighttime visitor who gets snapped by an IR camera I have set. Here’s video.

The Western Gray Squirrels (Sciurus griseus) regularly come down from the trees to root around for seeds and such. This time of year, there’s lots of empty acorn caps, but not many acorns left (last year was a bumper crop).

A different kind of squirrel is the California Ground Squirrel (Otospermophilus beecheyi), which, though superficially similar to the grays can be distinguished by a tinge of brown and speckling in the fur and a not nearly as fluffy tail. (As the name suggests, they live in burrows, not trees.) This morning I saw a behavior I’ve never seen before: one was climbing around on a patch of Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia sp.), which must have hurt! Or else he climbed very carefully.

What could be so attractive to induce one to brave the glochids (the short, incredibly nasty little spines that grow in the areoles)? Turns out he was eating the cochineal insects (Dactylopius coccus)—which produce and live under the white, waxy tufts that you see around the areoles.

He went from pad to pad, cleaning them off. I’d never known that squirrels were cochineal predators, but this explained why they slowly disappeared from the cactus over the summer. I’m sure the cactus appreciated the squirrels’ cleanings.
In this last photo, you can see some of the waxy tufts around the squirrel’s mouth and I think I see one of the cochineal insects stuck on the end of a whisker—they’re tiny dark red dots (and are the source of Red Dye #4, also know as carmine, and commonly used in foods and cosmetics).
In this last photo, he has his eyes closed, and I see him as savoring the flavor of this delicacy that made it worth the trip and the spines. (I imagine Jerry having the same expression after a particularly juicy slab of brisket.)

You can see Robert’s origami page here.

Spot the cat!

March 30, 2021 • 8:00 am

Here’s a tortoiseshell cat named Lion from Paws Planet. Her staff, Avery Shrader, sent in a “regular photo” of her (top), and the a photo in which she’s reclining on a pile of leaves. Can you spot Lion in the second photo?

Spot the cat! Answer at noon Chicago time. (I’d rate this one as “difficult.”)