Readers’ wildlife photos

November 30, 2022 • 8:15 am

Dear readers, we are in serious trouble, for the photo tank is nearly dry. If you have good wildlife pics (or landscape or travel photos), send them in—pronto. Thanks!

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

Fall Harvest

This fall, unusual numbers of Lewis’s Woodpeckers (Melanerpes lewis) descended upon some of our riparian oak woodlands around Davis, California.  These spectacular birds live in loose social groups that shift locations over time.  They catch flying insects rather than drilling for grubs like other woodpeckers, and in fall they also harvest and cache acorns.  In early October they were busy at both activities.

Lewis’s Woodpecker with a freshly collected acorn:

Acorn gathering puts them in competition with the much commoner Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus), which form close-knit colonies of related individuals that raise their young communally, and which create “granary trees” studded with thousands of stored acorns.  In early October when the Valley Oak (Quercus lobata) acorns ripened, there was much chattering and chasing between the two woodpecker species.

Acorn Woodpecker:

By mid-November the hubbub seemed to have calmed, and the Lewis’s Woodpeckers already appeared to be eating cached acorns.   I’ll be curious to see how the two species interact as winter progresses.  Will there be cache robbing?

Lewis’s Woodpecker with a partly eaten acorn:

California Scrub-Jays (Aphelocoma californica) gather acorns and cache them in the ground, where sometimes the acorns turn into seedlings instead of bird food.

California Scrub-Jay with Oregon Oak (Quercus garryana) acorn:

Western Gray Squirrels (Sciurus griseus) are also acorn gatherers, but this one was gnawing on a California Black Walnut (Juglans californica):

This tiny Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus) was in possession of a tiny acorn:

This Nuttall’s Woodpecker (Picoides nuttalli) was eating Poison Oak (Toxicodendron diversiloba) berries:

Overwintering birds have now arrived, including this White-Throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis), a species abundant in the eastern US but uncommon in California:

Neotropical migrants have left, except for a few late-lingering individuals like this Townsend’s Warbler (Setophaga townsendi):

Phainopeplas (Phainopepla nitens) are year-round residents of our oak-lined stream banks.  They are found mainly in Mexico and Central and South America, and reach their northern range limit in our area:

White-Tailed Kites (Elanus leucurus) are another year-round resident that adds an exciting southern element to our local fauna:

Lake Solano County Park, scene of most of these photos:

NOTE:  For spectacular woodpecker footage, including scenes of woodpeckers raising their young in tree cavities, see this new PBS Nature documentary!

Readers’ wildlife photos

November 26, 2022 • 8:15 am

Today we have photos from several readers. Their captions and IDs are indented; click to enlarge the photos.

First a few photos from reader Ken Phelps:

Attached photos of a fungus growing on a dead Arbutus tree, and backlit bark peeling from a live Arbutus. I believe the fungus is Laetiporus gilbertsonii, although I would take that with a grain of salt – literally, perhaps, as L. gilbertsonii is edible.

And from last year, a Roswell pear. As Ken says, “We are not eating alone!”:

Foggy morning dog walk in the yard:

From Rachel Sperling:

I was saving this photo for when I had more to share, but I saw your request this morning. I’m pretty sure this is a dark fishing spider (Dolomedes tenebrosus). I encountered it on the New York section of the Appalachian Trail earlier this month. In addition to insects (not sure what type of beetle this one has caught) larger ones are able to catch fish. According to Wikipedia, their bodies are covered with hydrophobic hairs that allow them to run on water (suck it, Jesus). When they submerge, the air trapped in these hairs becomes a thin film, allowing them to breathe underwater. The air makes them quite buoyant, so they have to hold onto a twig or a rock in order to stay submerged. I think they’re really cool.

Also sharing a photo I took last night [June 23, 2022] of the ALMOST full strawberry moon. This is from a park in Meriden, Connecticut, which has a lovely ridge that offers views to the east and west. This was taken around 8:30.

Two photos from Divy:

Ivan and I love to relax in our backyard each evening with a cold beer, and just watch the birds and the insects frolic in our garden.

I think this is a Red-tailed Hawk [Buteo jamaicensis].

A Red-bellied woodpecker [Melanerpes carolinus]:

A male Northern Cardinal and two females [Cardinalis cardinalis]:

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Readers’ wildlife photos

November 25, 2022 • 8:15 am

We resume our readers’ photos after the Thanksgiving hiatus. Today’s contributor is Rik Gern, who sends photos from Texas and Wisconsin. Rik’s notes are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

I hope there is something in this collection of pictures that you can use for your readers’ wildlife pictures feature. This is a random collection of photos united by the theme “saved by photoshop”. Each one was an initial frustration because it bore no resemblance whatsoever to the image I had in my mind’s eye, but with the help of heavy editing I hope I was able to turn a bunch of sows’ ears into, if not silk purses, at least serviceable satchels.

The first half come from my neighborhood in south Austin, TX and most of the others are from St. Germain, Wisconsin.

It’s fairly rare that I see a Globular Drop Snail (Helicina orbiculata), but their shells are quite common. The sight of these two shells nestled together put my mind into anthropomorphic overdrive as I imagined the big one protecting and sheltering the smaller one, although both were in fact abandoned shelters.

The Spineless Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia ellisiana) in the front yard is in a constant state of growth and decay. This one had a dry rot spreading through one of the pads. The glochids look like little puffs of cotton, but don’t be fooled; they harbor spines that are just as painful as the ones on the healthy part of the plant!

Pink Woodsorrel (Oxalis debilis) is a lovely little wildflower that pops up every spring and summer. They always catch my attention and look like they’d be photogenic from any angle, but they don’t always stand out to the camera, so I tried playing with extremes of light and dark to make these “pop”.

Every now and then you see a blossoming Century Plant (Agave americana) in Austin. I’m glad I got a picture of this one, because the next time I came by not only was the blossom gone, but the leaves were hacked into short stumps that made the entire plant fit in the grassy area between the sidewalk and curb.

Traveling north to Wisconsin, the pictures of the pine trees were taken on a foggy morning. The scene was beautiful to the naked eye, but the pictures just looked overexposed, so I had to play with photoshop’s “water color” filter, among others, to try to do justice to the look of the morning fog. (I believe the first photo is red pine [Pinus resinosa] and the second is balsam fir [Abies balsamea].)

You’d think it would be easy to get a good picture of a Marginal Wood Fern (Dryopteris marginalis), but none of the ones I took really stood out, so I just went to town with one of them and “electrified” it!

Back to Texas for this one. I can’t remember where it was taken but it was somewhere in central Texas in the springtime. I believe it is a Star of Bethlehem flower (Orthinogalum umbellatum), but I’m not sure. The little flowers are pretty, but I had to really exaggerate the sharp and soft focus in the foreground and background to make this one show up. I got a little obsessed with it and three or four days and two versions of photoshop later it morphed into something that looks like Georgia O’Keefe meets the Day of the Dead!!! (last photo):

Readers’ wildlife photos

November 21, 2022 • 8:00 am

Today we have the second batch of Arizona plant photos and landscapes sent by reader Bruce Cochrane (the first batch is here). His captions and IDs are indented, and click on the photos to enlarge them.

As promised, here are some photos of plants and their flowers (and some landmarks) taken over the years in the vicinity of Tucson, more specifically from Ironwood Forest National Monument to the north, Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge to the south, and Organ Pipe National Park to the west.

Texas Prickly Pear (Opuntia lindheimeri) The taxonomy of this genus is a mess, with suggestions of their being multiple evolutionary origins of species (polyphyly) as well as extensive interspecific hybridization:

Prickly Poppy (Argemone pleiacantha):

And of course the Saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea), here in bloom:

Two of our favorite landmarks.

 Baboquivar Peak, which overlooks Buenos Aires and the only site for technical rock climbing in Arizona.

Ragged Top, at the heart of Ironwood Forest National Monument.

And finally, two human impacts, one historic and an unfortunate contemporary one. . . 

Petroglyph in Saguaro National Park West.

The Mexican Border:

Readers’s wildlife photos

October 27, 2022 • 8:00 am

Today we have a set of photos from Matthew Ware of Denali National Park, its scenery and its wildlife. Matthew’s narrative and descriptions are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

These pictures are from Denali Nature Park and Preserve, Alaska, and were taken on the 31st August this year. It has been said that there are four seasons in Alaska – Winter, June, July and August – and we were lucky to be there when it was dry and warm(ish).

Formerly called Mt McKinley National Park, Denali was founded in 1917 and has been extended significantly to its current 6.1 million square acres (24,500 square kilometres).

The eponymous Mt McKinley/Denali is north America’s highest mountain at 20,310 ft (6,190m).

There is only a single road (starting at the George Parks Highway) into the park and all of these photos were taken from it. Until last year the road went 91 miles (146 km) into the park, however, significant landslides near the Polychrome Pass has currently reduced the available road to about 45 miles (70 km).

It is a magnificent, unspoilt wilderness. These photos show various landscape scenes within the park.

This photo shows (in the far distance – about 65m/105km away) the top of Denali/Mt McKinley.

Pictures 19 shows a Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) which, like the Kodiaks, are subspecies of the North American Brown Bear. Unlike their cousins closer to the coast, they don’t get access to the yearly salmon runs so are significantly smaller. At this time of the year they are trying to put as much weight on as possible for their hibernation – mainly through eating vegetation such as berries (they will also hunt caribou, moose and ground squirrels).

Here’s a rather uncooperative caribou (Rangifer tarandus) that wasn’t too happy about being ‘papped’. ‘Reindeer’ are smaller, domesticated version of caribou.

Picture 22 is of a female Moose (Alces alces), known as an Elk in Europe. It is rutting season and the males normally group together and fight for the females. However, we didn’t see any on the day we were there. Male Moose antlers can grow to over 50 inches (1.20m) in width and are discarded between December and January.

Readers’ wildlife photos

September 29, 2022 • 8:00 am

Today’s photos are from reader Kevin Elsken, who hails from Arkansas. His captions are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them. (There’s a bit of politics, too.)

I would like to share some outdoor photos depicting some sights of interest in the part of the world where I grew up: Northwest Arkansas. It is truly beautiful here, not that I would compare it with the Grand Canyon or Yosemite, but the Ozark Mountains do have their charm.  The downside of living here is that it is Trump Country. There is a church on every corner, sometimes two or three. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the loathsome former press secretary for Trump and daughter of a former Arkansas governor (a person perhaps even more loathsome than Trump) has secured the Republican nomination for governor. Her opponent is a black man, the son of two preachers, who has a BS in math and physics, a Masters in nuclear engineering and a PhD in urban planning, the latter two from MIT. Unfortunately the vote will start at 60-40 in favor of Sanders. I think that the vote gap will close, but I cannot dare to hope he might win.

Enough of the whining and on with the photos. First, just a couple of fall panorama photos to give you a feel for the terrain. The first is a spot which is humbly called the ‘Grand Canyon of Arkansas’ near Jasper, Arkansas. I guess Arkansans like to think big. The second photo is a random panorama along one of the country roads my brother and I favor for our cycling trips.

The next photos are of Hawksbill Crag, sometimes called Whitaker Point, a popular hiking destination and often featured on any Arkansas tourism brochure. The first two photos are of the crag itself, one from a distance and a second (on a different day) featuring my brother and I for some perspective. The last photo is an interesting boulder perched on the edge of the cliff along the hiking trail to the crag. While it looks like it could fall with a light push, it is pretty firmly in place.

Devil’s Den State Park is a lovely spot, built in those halcyon socialistic days of the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The park features a creek with a small dam forming a lake, along with numerous hiking trails. Lovely in the fall. Great place to get away from college on the weekend and spend the night on a bluff while enjoying the effects of a psychedelic, or so I’ve heard…

The Lost Valley trail is located near the Buffalo National River, the first to be declared a national river. The Buffalo River is great for canoeing, kayaking, and hiking, and the Lost Valley trail features some excellent scenery concluding with a small limestone cave and a waterfall. Unfortunately on the day we were there water was hard to come by.

And if you are in the Ozarks and feeling a bit hungry, visit the Oark General Store. It is another tourist brochure favorite, but it serves a mighty tasty burger.

Lastly, a couple of fun photos. The first is an old truck my wife and I ran across in the middle of the woods. No idea why it was there.

I mentioned cycling with my brother, and I took this photo of him tooling down a country dirt road in fall. It is kinda what life is all about.

Readers’ wildlife photos

September 16, 2022 • 8:00 am

Please send good photos if you got ’em; we’re running low again. I should just pin this request to the top of the website page! But there is a post on the left sidebar called “How to send me wildlife photos,” which will tell you all you need to know.

Today’s photos, by UC Davis ecologist Susan Harrison, portray one of my favorite places in California, and if you’re in the Owens Valley or heading to Death Valley, you must visit it. Susan’s captions are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

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The White Mountains and Ancient Bristlecone Pines

California’s White Mountains lie just one valley east of the Sierra Nevada mountains and reach comparable heights (14,252’ vs. 14,505’), but the two ranges are quite different ecologically.  Lying in the rain shadow of the Sierras, the White Mts. have the cold desert climate of the Great Basin.

White Mountain Road ascends to UC’s Barcroft Station at 12,470’, where high-elevation physiology and ecology are studied.  Along the way are forests of Great Basin bristlecone pines (Pinus longaeva) from about 9,000’-11,000’.

White Mt. Road, with bristlecone pines and view west across the Owens Valley to the Sierra Nevada’s escarpment (click photo to enlarge):

Bristlecone pines are famed and Latin-named for living up to 5,000 years – or perhaps longer, since the oldest trees are unlikely to be found.  They can survive even when most of their bark is gone except for thin strips, an unusual trait that gives the millenia-old (“ancient”) bristlecones a partly-dead look.

Live and dead ancient bristlecone pines:

Bristlecone pines grow extremely slowly. One inch of their wood can hold 100 annual growth rings, and their needles hang on for decades.  Their dense wood resists breakage, beetles, and decay.

Cross-section of a 3,200-year-old tree that died in 1676:

Beginning in the 1950s, scientists used the growth rings of live and dead White Mts. bristlecone pines to create an 8,000-year climate record.  The carbon-14 dating clock was recalibrated, the “Mesopotamia as cradle of civilization” story was overthrown, and the hockey-stick graph of modern climate change was built using this unprecedented data (as described in this New Yorker story).

Methuselah Grove, home to the oldest known bristlecones, on a north-facing slope at 9,500’ on white dolomite soils (view east to the Last Chance Range, north end of Death Valley):

Wildlife are scant in the bristlecone pines, but here are some sightings from my August 2022 visit.

Mountain chickadee (Poecile gambeli) and the bristly cones of Pinus longaeva:

White-breasted nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) on an ancient tree:


Damage by a sapsucker (Sphyrapicus species) on a younger tree:


Chipmunk (Neotamias — either speciosus, umbrinus, or minimus):


Golden-mantled ground squirrel (Callospermophilus lateralis):

Male and female Chukar (Alectoris chukar), an introduced partridge, surprising to see in the 11,000’ Patriarch Grove:

A spartan alpine landscape lies above the bristlecone pine forest. Up here I saw yellow-bellied marmots (Marmota flaviventris), a golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), mountain bluebirds (Sialia currucoides), and many horned larks (Eremophila alpestris).

White Mountain, the highest peak, seen from just above Barcroft Station:

Horned larks (Eremophila alpestris):

Readers’ wildlife photos

September 10, 2022 • 8:15 am

I’m telling you, folks, that we’re running out of photos.  It is you, the readers, who make this possible, so please step up if you can and send me GOOD wildlife pictures. Thank you.

We have two contributors today. The first is Keira McKenzie from Australia, who has a new kitten, Baba Yaga. All captions and IDs are indented, and click on the photos to enlarge them.

it’s a little early for wildflower hunting, and Baba Yaga, the pretty little kitty, is still camera (& many other things) shy, so I thought I’d send you some trees.

But – a warning: some trees I know, some I don’t. All are beautiful which is what guides my camera.

The first two are Banksia (the tree in front) & have included the black & white as it really brings out the delicacy. This was taken at Warwick Open Space, a small sliced of ‘curated’ urban bush in the northern suburbs of Perth.

These two photos 6 & 6a show a tree I don’t know (nor do I know who to ask – it’ll be a eucalypt of some description) & again I’ve included the black & white. I just love the shape and the lean of this tree.

And from Paul Doerder:

The only theme to these photos is that when I first saw the subject, it had an intriguing pattern. The first three are scans of slides, the fourth is digital.

This lichen “goat” haunted my campsite in the Uinta Mountains of Utah, 1990:

A “tyrannosaurus” walking up a hill in one of the side canyons (its name forgotten) of the Escalante River of Utah, 1996. The tree is probably a juniper and appeared to have been burned. I’ve wondered whether the tree was placed in that position by other hikers.

Distorted grooves of a melted vinyl record, Harris Wash, Escalante River valley, 2002. This photograph actually hows about 6 feet of a formation that was about twice as high. I presume this was once a (Jurassic?) sand dune.

A “kitten” pattern on a White Furcula moth, 2022. Also known as the White Kitten Moth (Furcula borealis), this calico cat is the clearest example I’ve seen since I started mothing.

Readers’ wildlife photos

August 10, 2022 • 8:00 am

Today’s batch of photos come from Costa Rica, and were taken by Fred Dyer. His notes and captions are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them:

Some Photos from Costa Rica 10-20 July 2022

I recently traveled around Costa Rica with my family for about 10 days prior to a conference.  Our itinerary included a day in the capital city of San Jose, a couple of days in the mountainous/volcanic region northwest of San Jose, and then several days along the central Pacific coast. Costa Rica is an amazing place, geologically, biologically, and culturally.  Almost everything you see is beautiful.  These photographs are a grab bag that don’t have much in common except that they were the ones that came out looking pretty good.

First, a few photos from near the town of La Fortuna and the Arenal volcano, including from a guided walk through a private rainforest reserve.  On the walk we saw toucans, howler monkeys, army ants, leaf cutter ants and morpho butterflies, plus these (I welcome corrections on the species identifications):

Python Millipede (Nyssodesmus python). This one was about 8 cm long.

Eyelash pit viper (Bothriechis schlegelii), which gets its common name from the hairlike scales protruding over each eye. It is a small snake, but one of the most dangerous in Costa Rica.

Stingless bees (Apidae : Apinae : Meloponini: Perhaps Tetragonisca sp?) guarding their nest entrance tube. There are something like 60 species of stingless bees in Costa Rica. These guard bees were 4-5 mm in length. The colony is enclosed in a cavity so its size is hard to know, but some species have several thousand workers in each colony.

View of the Arenal Volcano from the north. This volcano began erupting violently in 1968 and continued until 2010. Vapors still issue from the peak, although this picture shows only clouds:

Golden-bellied Flycatchers (Myiodynastes hemichrysus) perching behind our rental house in El Castillo (south of Arenal):

From La Fortuna/Arenal we drove toward the Pacific coast, and stopped at a wildlife rescue center (Santuario Las Palmas) near the town of Cañas in Guanacaste province.  The enclosures held rescued jaguars, pumas, ocelots, monkeys and several species of parrots.  We also spotted some wildlife outside the enclosures:

Automeris metzli caterpillar (larva of a Saturniid moth—in the same genus as the North American Io moth). This beauty was about 10 cm long

Same caterpillar after it moved onto a twig. The urticating spines supposedly produce a nasty venom. Here is what an adult Automeris metzli looks like. Whereas the larva relies upon aposematic signals and spines to deter potential predators from attacking, the adult is cryptic in the resting position, and exposes eyespots as a startle cue.
You can read more on Automeris here.

Black Ctenosaur (Ctenosaura similis), also known as the black spiny-tailed iguana, grazing at Las Palmas. These large lizards are extremely common along the Pacific slope:

On the coast our home base was the resort town of Manuel Antonio, which is next to the wonderful Manuel Antonio National Park.

Ponies for the tourists:

In Manuel Antonio National Park, stingless bees (species unknown) on a Heliconia sp.:

Also in the park, Panamanian white-faced capuchins (Capuchin imitator) engaged in a groomfest, while baby looks on. These were part of a larger group of a dozen or so monkeys in a grove of trees about 3 meters above the ground:

Same monkeys, still grooming.

Back in town, a Groove-billed Ani (Crotophaga sulcirostris) with some insect yumminess for its nestling(s). These are large birds (a bit bigger than a grackle) in the cuckoo family.  They often nest communally but this seemed to be a single mated pair.  The nest was in a tree across the street from our rental house in Manuel Antonio. Pictures of the nestling(s) and the other parent didn’t come out so great.

Playa Hermosa, a black-sand beach about an hour north of Manuel Antonio. This is a destination for expert surfers, and the surf was really intense the day we were there.

American Crocodiles (Crocodylus acutus) basking next to the Tárcoles River below the “Crocodile Bridge.” This is a tourist attraction on the main coastal highway (Route 34). The travel guidebook said that there is a population of 2000 or more crocs in this river and the nearby Carara National Park. Crocodiles often rest with their mouths open to dissipate heat.

Readers’ wildlife photos

July 23, 2022 • 8:15 am

We have two batches of photos today. All captions are indented, and you can click on the photos to enlarge them:

The first: birds from Christopher Moss:

Drama at the pond with a flock of cawing crows escorting in a visitor (Haliaeetus leucocephalus):

 

Did these mallard ducks (Anas platyrhynchos) ever move fast! This is the far side of the pond, about 80m away. Nikon D850 and 200-500mm lens.

Whilst the hen mallard seems to be in charge of these ducklings, they are awfully big for ducklings without any spiky feathers showing through. And with them is a female Wood Duck. I know Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa) are prone to ‘egg dumping’ where they lay in someone else’s nest, but I think they stay within their own species for this. And mallards like to adopt other ducklings. Maybe they’re just a non-traditional family!

Reader Lorraine sends some photos from her walks in Virginia.

Bend, Reedy Creek:

Rocks, Reedy Creek:

Non-native Osage Orange tree (Maclura pomifera):

White Oak (Quercus alba) with large tumor:

 

And their cat Buford, who apparently had too much to drink the night before.

 Buford is such a sweetheart. Very mischievous, but that’s pretty normal. 😉