Please send in your wildlife photos. I know some of you are sitting on good ones!
Today’s photos, half of a larger batch) come from reader Dave (website here), and portray a variety of critters and plants (and one astronomy photo). A few have locations specified, but Dave adds, “Most are from upstate New York, from gardens or indiscriminate hikes. By the time I edit the backlog, though, months pass, and any recollection of when and where dries up.” Captions and IDs are Dave’s, and you can click on the photos to enlarge them.
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.)
I’ve spent two nights in La Grange, Texas, a small town (population about 4,600) near the Colorado River. I’d hoped to go to a well known (non-BBQ) restaurant in nearby Round Top, but it’s open only from Thursday-Sunday, as are many of the other recommended places around here, including BBQ joints. However, I saved the day by finding a very good local BBQ place out in the sticks, and today I’ll head back to Lockhart to either try another BBQ place or (as Jen Psaki says), “circle around” and return to Black’s BBQ, the site of my first meal on this trip.
After the trip is over, I’ll make a list of the best places I’ve been, and which places are best for which items, including side dishes. But be aware that I’ve had only ten days of culinary fieldwork in Texas, and the state is very large.
Back to La Grange. Google says that the town is famous for two things:
La Grange may be best known for two things: being the home of the Chicken Ranch, the inspiration for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and the subject of a classic ZZ Top song. The town began as a small fort built in 1826 to protect settlers in the area from Indian attacks.
For the first time I had a bit of breakfast, for I woke up at 5 a.m. and wasn’t going to eat for at least six hours. I headed two blocks north to a famous food emporium in town, Weikel’s Bakery, which specializes in one thing: kolache. These are a sweet bun heavily laden with fruit (not really jam, as it’s very thick—more like thick preserves. There were many kinds on offer (see below), but I was abstemious and chose only one type: blueberry. I knew I’d be returning later in the day.
It was absolutely spectacular, laden with full-flavored fruit. With it I had a large Colombian coffee, and that was all I needed to hold me until lunch.
After a bout of feverish restaurant-Googling last night, and having gone through several places, all of which were closed until Thursday, I found one that had good ratings, and was only 15 miles away. It was Peters BBQ in Ellinger, Texas, right on route 71. The ratings were good, and so the laws of physics sent me there.
And here ’tis, as they say. Note that, at about 11:15 a.m., the parking lot was already crowded and most of the vehicles were pickup trucks. Both of these are very good signs. Note that the guy is wearing a mask.
This was the most “authentic” BBQ I’ve been to—not in terms of authenticity of the food, but because it was truly local. Everyone there seemed to know everyone else, and all spoke with a heavy Texas accent. I was the only Yankee, but everyone was super nice to me.
As with most such places, you go to the meat counter first, order what you want (including sides, which are dished out by a nice lady from a steam table in the next room), and pay. Sweet and unsweetened ice tea are available ad lib in the dining room.
The locals (a lot of older people) were enjoying their lunch. Many got BBQ to go, as well. It’s cattle country here, and some of these folks may be ranchers or workers on a ranch.
My plate is below. I had the lunch special: two meats, two sides, free bread, jalapeños pickles and onions,along with tea and BBQ sauce (to be used only sparingly) on the side. My meats were brisket (of course) and pork ribs, and the sides were, as usual, pinto beans and potato salad. (There was no cole slaw, which also counts as a vegetable.)
I was lucky to find the place, as the food was very good. The pork ribs were tender and meaty, and the brisket, pictured below, while not the best I’ve had, was better than at other “famous” places I’ve eaten, like Cooper’s or the Southside Market. (Again, there can be brisket-to-brisket or day-to-day variation.) Here is “juicy” (i.e., fatty) brisket, and by now you should know to look for the outer char, the red “smoke layer”, and a ribbon of fat.
Yum! I was plenty full, believe you me, and it was about $15.
All over Texas I’ve been seeing signs with just a picture of a beaver wearing a hat. I guess the Texans know what it means, and I found out yesterday that it’s a chain called Buc-ee’s, which has 39 locations in Texas, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. They are convenience stores and gas stations that also sell food (see below). I wouldn’t eat there, though occasionally, as with Weikel’s Bakery, a gas station can have great food.
As I drove around the area, I saw a bunch of cars pulled off onto the shoulder of Route 71, and of course I stopped to see what was going on. Below the road was a sunken field, glorious with blooming Texas bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis), the state flower. People were luxuriating in the flowers, taking selfies, and even having picnics. I’m told that entire hillsides can be in bloom like this, with many different flowers, but this is the only mass bloom I saw:
What a lovely sight to see, especially with a belly full o’ BBQ:
An unflattering selfie. I need a haircut and am unshaven, but so be it.
A few miles down the road, I pulled over because I saw a field of Texas longhorn cattle, the official State Large Mammal. (The Official Small Mammal is the armadillo, and the Official Flying Mammal is the Mexican free-tailed bat.) Look at those horns! They have a cool history; as Wikipedia notes:
The Texas Longhorn is a breed of cattle known for its characteristic horns, which can extend to over 100 inches (2.54 m) tip to tip for cows and bulls, with the biggest-horned steer measuring 127.4 inches (3.23 m) tip to tip. They are descendants of the first cattle introduced in the New World, brought by explorer Christopher Columbus and the Spanish colonists.
Descended from cattle that thrived in arid parts of Southern Iberia, these cattle have been bred for a high drought-stress tolerance. Texas Longhorns are known for their diverse coloring, and can be any color or mix of colors, but coloration mixes of dark red and white are the most dominant.
Here’s a group (I can’t tell if the adults are male or female):
As the article notes, there’s substantial variation in color among individuals:
Adult and adult in statu nascendi:
A longhorn calf with the horns starting to sprout.
In the afternoon I took a tour around La Grange, which of course didn’t take long, for the good bits of these towns comprise the courthouse and a few blocks around it, with sprawling roads out of town lined with McDonald’s, Wal-Marts and the like.
And the customary courthouse square, lined with old buildings (“old” in America means “older than 100 years”).
Finally, I went back to Weikel’s to get two kolache for an evening nosh (as I said, I have one meal and one treat per day, though I also had a kolache at breakfast). You can see that the bakery is part of a gas-station/convenience store/restaurant complex, which proves that you can get good food in gas stations.
I found the place because the Sterns gave it a “memorable” rating on Roadfood, but I’ve heard of it from other food sites as well. Kolaches are a remnant of the Germans and Czechs who settled in Texas long ago.
Here are all the kinds of kolaches they had. Hard to choose!
Left to right: cream cheese, strawberry,peach, apple, blueberry, and cottage cheese.
I got a strawberry and a cream cheese, which seemed to me a good pairing. The strawberry one got squished a bit in the car. The cream cheese one was good, but the strawberry, with whole berries, was fantastic.
As I head out to BBQ in Lockhart today, I’ll stop by Weikel’s again to get a few kolaches for an evening treat, for I’ll be spending the night in a motel near the Austin airport, ready to catch a flight home tomorrow. That’s when I start my kale juice cleanse. (Only kidding! But I am going to eat very abstemiously for a while. . . )
Today we have a contribution from Tony Eales of Queensland. His notes are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.
My wife and I did a road trip back up to tropical North Queensland to stay at Port Douglas and visit various places of natural beauty including the 40-million-year-old World Heritage Daintree Rainforest and the remnant isolated rainforest in the Clarke Range with its high degree of species endemism.
While bugs and spiders are my thing, I must say, though, that the vertebrates took a front seat on this trip with some truly fantastic sightings of mammals, birds and reptiles unique to these places, alongside some very interesting arthropods.
We were very lucky to come across two cassowaries (Casuarius casuarius) on our first day in north Queensland. We saw a third on our last day as well. These are wonderful birds to see, particularly because we were in the car rather than on foot. I’m not sure I’d like to come face to face with a cassowary without some barrier between it and me. They’re known as the most dangerous bird in the world and have killed at least two people that I am aware of. There are numerous videos of cassowary attacks on YouTube, this one is particularly alarming.
The absolute highlight of the trip and one of my best experiences with wildlife was finding this small family of Bennett’s Tree-kangaroos (Dendrolagus bennettianus) while on a night walk in the Daintree. These are a very rare animal: their ranges is only 70 km north-south and 50 km east-west. They are very quiet and stay high in the canopy. My wife noticed the red eyeshine but they were so far up in the dark it was difficult to determine at first what we were looking at. It was a long frustrating struggle to coax my camera that was set up for insects to focus on and capture an image of these animals. I am informed that this is the first photographic evidence of them living in small family groups. An unforgettable experience.
It was a good night for arthropods as well. I found this predatory katydid, the Pink-jawed Katydid (Emeraldagraecia munggarifrons), formally described only in 2012. It was just chilling out on a handrail waiting for something tasty to wander along.
Daytime was amazing too in the Daintree. We went to the Daintree Discovery Centre which had walking trails with lots of informative signage and displays. The best was a tower that took you up into the canopy. Right beside the tower was a huge Black Bean tree (Castanospermum australe) and while looking at the leaves I noticed this giant colourful bug, a Yellow-horned Giant Stinkbug (Oncomeris flavicornis). The bug was the size of a matchbox but only has a tiny head which is apparently typical of this family.
While leaning out over the edge of the railing to try and photograph the bug I noticed this large beautiful longicorn beetle Rosenbergia drouini. As soon as I put the picture up on Facebook, I was inundated with friend requests from beetle collectors asking if I had collected the specimen. This was apparently a very rare find and is not in many collections.
After our time up in the north we took our time coming home and spent a bit of time at Eungella National Park up in the Clarke Range. This rainforest is large but isolated and is recognised as a centre of endemism. I was able to find two of the key endemics while there. The Eungella Spiny Katydid (Phricta zwicka) and the Eungella Leaf-tailed Gecko (Phyllurus nepthys).
JAC: Look at that camouflage!
Also, on a night walk in the rainforest I snapped a photo of a pretty moth Ecnomophlebia argyrospila. It turns out that this is the only known live photo that the Australian moth experts I talked to have seen and it’s only known from a single specimen collected in 1927.
Two other notable endemics I photographed on the trip home were a land snail Pedinogyra cania that is restricted to a single locality called Cania Gorge and the cute Mareeba Rock-Wallaby (Petrogale mareeba) that lives only in the granite hills around the north Queensland town of Mareeba.
We also ventured as far south as Morro Bay, a good place for sea otters.We did see a few dozen otters, but this time they stayed too far out for me to get a decent photo. This snowy egret (Egretta thula) was more cooperative, hanging out near the cliff-top boardwalk across from out motel.
For context, this is the rising sun catching a wave (so to speak) viewed from the boardwalk.
Finally, for the physics buffs, the combination of a window screen and a privacy curtain gave some fine interference patterns.
I must have my constitutional, but I’ll leave you with this video about the life and work of a great naturalist and biologist, Merlin Tuttle. Tuttle (born 1941) devoted his career to studying and saving bats. His various efforts are shown in the film, and have occurred worldwide.
Donate to his foundation, which you can do here. Bats are wonderful creatures and good for the planet.
We have two contributors today. Their IDs and captions are indented, and you can click on the photos to enlarge them.
Contributer #1 is from Roger Sorensen, who sent this on March 16.
Central Minnesota had some snow yesterday and overnight, which is at the verge of melting today (16 March). This morning I spotted these markings on my front walk where birds, species unknown, had landed and flown. Or perhaps one bird landed, hopped, and flew.
This shows wing tips, one foot, and I guess a skid mark.
The bird might have been an American Robin, Turdus migratorius. There’s been a fly emergence here and yesterday I saw a Robin hop-chasing one across my still-slightly-snowy lawn.
This shows feet and tail marks.
From Anne-Marie Cournoyer in Montreal.
Grey squirrel – (Sciurus carolinensis)
A beautiful courtship in our yard this morning (March 14, 2021). I will let the pictures speak for themselves.
Only one thing to add: the female was quite busy and popular. She accepted one mate but was pursued by 6 other suitors!
As always, I’m on the lookout for good photos, so if you have any, please send them in.
Today’s contribution is from Doug Hayes, whom we know from his “Breakfast Crew” series of bird photos. Today, however, he shows us a mammal. His words are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.
Just some photos of Chip Monk, an eastern chipmunk (Tamias striatus) and member of the Breakfast Crew here in Richmond, Virginia. Chip (I’m pretty sure now that Chip is a female) has been scampering around the yard scavenging seeds scattered by the birds for over a year now. Recently, Chip discovered the suet feeders and has been climbing up to supplement her meals with delicious lard and corn. Chip comes out around mid morning to eat, but is active again during the late afternoon. From time to time, when Chip spots me at the window, she will come closer to get a better look.
Chip just under my window after spotting me. Just to the right of the photo is the box that houses our generator. I’m pretty sure Chip lives inside as I have seen her come out a couple of times. Fortunately, the generator and wiring are inside another box separate from Chip’s lair.
Chip in one of our plant beds one late afternoon. There is a small seed feeder in the bed, and Chip scavenges the bird’s leftovers.
For the past few weeks, Chip has been supplementing her diet with suet. Not too surprising, since the squirrels also love the stuff.
Chip has climbed about four feet from the ground to reach the suet.
Lard, corn and sunflower seeds. A balanced meal!
Chip perched and ate for over 15 minutes.
This is about the closest Chip has ever come to the window. She is only about seven feet away, just about as close as the lens will focus, and stayed there for several minutes.
Camera info: Sony A7RIV body, Sony FE 200-600 zoom lens plus 1.4X teleconverter, iFootage Cobra 2 monopod and gimbal head, ISO 5,000, Daylight color balance, f11, variable shutter speed according to lighting conditions.
We last heard from reader Lance Emrick five years ago, but he promises to be more regular with his photos. I hope so, as these ones are good, and include WILD FELIDS! (And please send in your own photos.)
Lance’s captions are indented; click on the photos to enlarge them.
Here are some snapshots of the neighbors for Reader Wildlife. We’re at 8600 feet north of Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado; these are all from within 200’ of the front door, some through the living room windows.
Moose (Alces alces) were reintroduced to the North Platte headwaters area about 40 years ago, and have been very successful. We see them frequently through the Summer and Fall. This fellow is in July velvet:
Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus) are common and surprisingly casual around us and our noise:
There are a couple of large Elk herds (Cervus canadensis) in the area, but we rarely see them in daylight. The recent wildfires funneled them through our neighborhood more than usual this Fall – night time bugling from the nearby meadow!:
This American Badger (Taxidea taxus) had been digging around in well tailings, giving him this odd coloring:
We’ve been here long enough to watch several predator/prey cycles play out, particularly with the Bobcats (Felis rufus). They take over the area when they’re around – looking in windows, hanging out on the deck:
And here waiting for a vole under the bird feeder:
. . .and Mountain Cottontail (Sylvilagus nuttallii) – both with strong comebacks the past couple of years while the cats have been elsewhere:
The indoor Shelter fauna have appreciated the current swing of the cycle:
Long-Tailed Weasels (Mustela frenata) will take over prime housing spots from the rabbits and ground squirrels. Around here they still turn pure white with a black tail tip during Winter:
The Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) are fascinating to watch, but get really messy and aggressive as the guys get to their most colorful and romantic. I had to try the Parks and Wildlife recommendation of “run around, wave your arms like a big turkey” as a deterrent last Spring:
Pine Squirrels (Red Squirrel or Chickaree) (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) are a busy year-round presence, in this case apparently unconcerned about hawks. [JAC: I’d title this: “This squirrel approves of this post.”]