Readers’ wildlife photos

December 7, 2021 • 8:00 am

Today we have part 2 of Athayde Tonhasca Júnior’s photos of the rainforest of Brazil (part 1 is here). The captions (indented) are his, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them. Most of the species were unidentified, so if you know them please post the IDs below. Thanks.

Horned toad:

Jaguar footprint (Panthera onca):

Leaves trapped in a spider web:

White-necked hawk, Leucopternis lacernulatus:

These photos were taken at the Reserva Natural do Cachoeira, Paraná State, Brazil (I included a map):

The city of Morretes, photo 1:

Wikipedia notes that Morretes “is famous for its restaurants, especially a traditional dish called barreado.” So of course I looked it up, and here’s what it is:

Simply stated, barreado is a delicious mixture of stewed beef, cooked in a clay pot for over 12 hours with bacon, bay leaves, and spices, served with manioc gravy, rice, and sliced bananas. Barreado’s genesis was as a dish that could be prepared easily and cooked slowly while people attended Carnival festivities. Like all good stews, barreado tastes just as good when reheated a few days after it’s prepared — just the food to maintain a long weekend of celebration.

Barreado literally means “covered in mud” in Portuguese, and the name references the way that the lid of a clay barreado pot was traditionally sealed with a mixture of manioc dough and ash before its cooked over a fire. The dough-sealed clay pot acts as a rustic slow cooker, trapping the meat’s succulent juices inside the pot as it stews over a low flame.

JAC: I found a photo and video. I want this!:

How to make it:


The city of Morretes, photo 2:

Phobetron hipparchia, the monkey slug caterpillar:

Puma (Puma concolor) caught by wildlife camera:

Puma scratchings:

Pyrrhura species:

Saffron finch, Sicalis flaveola:



Trogon species:

Readers’ wildlife photos

November 17, 2021 • 8:00 am

Today I’m going to gather the few singletons, doubletons, and tripletons sent in by readers. Although I like sets of photos of ten to a dozen or so, I do appreciate a good single wildlife photo. Here are some from diverse (I mean by that “different”) readers. Their captions and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

Do sent in your photos, please; we’re running low again.

First, fungi by Alexandra Moffat:

White tree mushroom, Tremella fuciformis (?), New Hampshire hardwoods. When sunlit, an eye-catching white beacon in the woods. Not sure of the ID, an awful lot of similar fungi!!!   Huge fungi year around here.

From Ken Phelps, who calls this a “Roswell pear”.

Friends on Gabriola Island, just off Nanaimo, gave me a few pears last weekend. The Gulf Islands have an underlying vibe of getting-a-bit-geriatric woo, so it’s entirely possible that a Grey got waylaid in a New Mexican harmonic convergence and accidentally popped out here. Or something.

From Christopher Moss, “Apple Thief”.

I was just thinking my Russets are ripe enough to pick this weekend, when I see those scoundrels have got there first!

And from Joe McClain in Williamsburg, Virginia:

We had a mother Procyon lotor give birth to quadruplets here in the Blue Ridge of Virginia. My daughter once saw them walking, all in a line, at dusk. She involuntarily exclaimed at the cuteness of it all. The mother stopped abruptly to look at her, starting a chain reaction of raccoon-bumping. These creatures soon found our peach trees. So we named the mother Peaches and the babies Pitt, Fuzz, Pie and Cobbler. The one photo is of Pitt, Fuzz and Pie regaling themselves upon our peach crop. Cobbler separated from the rest of the family rather early and I think that is him or her on the deck of my office. I don’t know what happened to the rest of the family, but it’s a tough world around here for raccoons, with foxes, coyotes, dogs and cars taking their toll and farmers resenting attacks on chickens, etc.

Then there is a praying mantis on the siding near my beer cooler. Don’t know species.

And a stunned Sitta carolinensis. This white-breasted nuthatch hit the window of my office. I went out and picked it up, folding its wings back. He seemed just a bit dazed, so I put him down on the deck. After a minute of looking around, he hopped a couple times, then flew off.


Readers’ wildlife photos

November 10, 2021 • 8:00 am

I issue once again a call for readers’ photos, and would appreciate submissions of good photos.

Today’s contribution comes from regular Jim Blilie, showing a youthful trip to western Canada in (mostly) black and white. His captions are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them:

These are all in black and white, mostly Kodak Tri-X Pan. These are from a trip to Jasper National ParkBanff National Park, and Mount Robson Provincial Park in Alberta and British Columbia in September 1981.  We were all poor college students, so we camped in tents and drove by car, straight through from St. Paul, Minnesota, over about 28 hours each way.  Brutal road-tripping.  Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta are BIG!  But the prize at the end was worth it.  We had phenomenal fall weather and great wildlife viewing.

First three are a close encounter with a bull elk (Cervus canadensis).  We got CLOSE to the wildlife.  I think I’d stand further back these days!  50mm lens, 135mm lens

Next are two of Stone Sheep (Ovis dalli).  50mm lens, 20mm lens:

Next is a moose.  This photo is taken with a 50mm lens on 35mm film.  I was TOO CLOSE to this bull moose (Alces alces).

Next are two shots of a herd (flock?) of Mountain Goats (Oreamnos americanus), which are neither sheep nor goats.  Again, all with a 50mm lens.

Next, a few scenery shots from this trip.

Near Maligne Lake, Jasper National Park.  50mm lens.

Lake Louise, sunrise.  Rolleiflex.

Mount Robson at sunrise from Berg Lake.  Rolleiflex.  Yes, I hauled the Rolleiflex and a tripod up to Berg Lake!

Summit Lake with figure.  On the (easy) hike in to Jacques Lake, Jasper NP.  50mm lens

Finally, one color shot (Kodachrome 64).  The group of us poor college students on the top of Fairview Mountain, near Lake Louise.  My 20-year-old self at far right.  My (now) wife is in the foreground.  It was on this trip that we realized that something was happening between us!

Equipment: Pentax K-1000, Pentax ME Super, Rolleiflex 6cm camera with Schneider 75mm f/3.5 Xenar lens, Pentax M 50mm f/2.0 lens, Pentax M 20mm lens f/4.0, Pentax M 135mm f/3.5 lens, Epson Perfection V500 scanner and its native SW, Lightroom 5 SW

Readers’ wildlife photos

November 8, 2021 • 8:00 am

Today we have a combination science-and-photo post from Bruce Lyon, an ecologist, ornithologist, and evolutionary biologist at the University of California at Santa Cruz (unless you’re new, you’ll have seen his posts before). Today is WEASEL DAY!

Drop goes the weasel

I have some long-tailed weasel (Neogale frenata) photos to share—mostly just photos but I will bring in a bit of science. This species is related to the stoat (Mustela erminea), also known as ermine or, in North America, as the short-tailed weasel. I mention this because a few weeks ago Jerry mentioned that he is very fond of stoats. However, when I Googled to search for stout, the top links were all to the famous dark strong beer so maybe that was what our host was about! [JAC: Bruce misspelled “stoat” as “stout”; I’ve corrected all but one usage,.]

Today the focus is on the mammal, not the malted beverage.

I regularly encounter weasels while watching birds on the coast between Santa Cruz and San Francisco in Central California. They are common on the coastal bluffs and seem to use the same dirt tracks that I hike on so I see them fairly often. They are typically shy and give only fleeting views before darting into the vegetation once spotted, but occasionally they do stay in view long enough to pose for a few photographs.

Below: A typical fleeting view, in this case the north end view of a southbound weasel. Zooming in on the photo shows that this animal has a big package below his tail—testicles—so it was a male.

Many of the readers are likely familiar with the phrase “pop goes the weasel“, which originated in England in the 1800’s as a song and then a dance. The specific meaning of the phrase ‘pop goes the weasel’ is not clear. I recently had a couple of encounters with a variant of the phrase— ‘drop goes the weasel’. Last spring while birding the coastal bluffs a weasel came bounding towards me along the dirt track we were sharing, and it had prey in its mouth. I expected the prey to be a rodent. When the weasel saw me it dropped the prey item on the track and darted into the bushes. After a minute it came back and grabbed the prey item and my photos showed it to be a rubber boa (Charina bottae), the first time I have ever seen this interesting snake.

A few weeks later something similar happened at the same spot. I had been watching birds and not paying attention to the track (or looking for weasels) but at one point I looked down and saw a fresh-looking dead rodent on the track (which I suspect was a vole). When I checked the vole it was warm and very fresh (not in rigor mortis). Figuring it might be another case of drop goes the weasel, I moved back and barely had time to focus my camera before the weasel popped out of the bushes, grabbed the rodent and darted back into cover.

Below. Weasels are ferocious and can take prey much larger than themselves. Here is video, from the Attenborough series Life, of a stoat chasing and eventually killing a rabbit many times its size. 

Below: Weasels are very long and skinny which allows them to explore narrow underground burrows for prey like rodents. Here a weasel surveys its surroundings, looking like a periscope.

Below: Same animal

Below: a very colorful individual. Note the orange chest and belly and the conspicuous face markings. What a gorgeous mammal!

Below: a closeup of the same animal showing the conspicuous face markings.

When I see such colorful striking markings in birds, I wonder if there might be a signaling aspect and I wondered if this color might be a signal in the weasels. Weasels are such fierce bad-asses for their size that I wondered if these markings might be a form of aposomatic coloration— coloration that warns predators not to mess with the animal. Aposomatic coloration is common in nature: familiar examples include bees, monarch butterflies and coral snakes.

I found a study that proposed this same idea—that the conspicuous facial patterns in mid-sized mustelids may be a warning signal to would be predators to steer clear of these ferocious animals (Mustelidea is the taxonomic family that includes weasels ): Newman, C., C. D. Buesching, and J. O. Wolff. “The function of facial masks in “midguild” carnivores.” Oikos 108.3 (2005): 623-633. From the paper’s summary the authors state A group of medium sized carnivores possesses conspicuously colored facial markings or masks. This facial coloration is most compatible with the aposematic warning hypothesis and functions to deter predation by larger carnivores.

Below: a figure 1 from their paper showing some examples of species with conspicuous facial masks.

The paper suggests that mid-sized mustelids (rather than small or large) may be the most likely to benefit from an aposomatic face pattern because animals in this size range are both vulnerable to larger predators but big enough to put up a good fight. Weasels are smaller than the size where most species have conspicuous facial masks but they apparently have bigger anal scent glands that can produce a noxious odor. So perhaps they are like mini skunks and the conspicuous coloration warns of their stinky musk. Or, possibly, the face is a signal to other weasels to avoid two weasels mistakenly attacking each other if they happen to bump into each other while hunting. I could imagine mistakes could happen if weasels were to be similar in color to their prey—say a vole. Weasels are frenetic and therefore  likely to pounce quickly on suspected prey (a case of ‘shoot first and ask questions later’). This could be disastrous in a  weasel versus weasel encounter. Interestingly jumping spiders—also known for their fast pounce hunting style—seem to have such an intraspecific signaling system like this that reduces the risk of spider on spider predation.

Below. One other interesting feature of the coat color pattern of the long-tailed weasel is that northern populations have two coat colors each year, but southern ones do not. In northern populations, the animals molt into a white winter coat to match the snowy habitat in winter. Photo by Stuart McKay ‘borrowed’ from the web. This is a short-tailed weasel.

Below: The figure below shows the geographic distribution for two species with seasonal coat color changes in terms of the proportion of a local population that has a white winter coat (the rest remain in the brown pelage). In the weasel (shown on the right), in northern and montane populations everybody turns white in winter, which makes sense because of the presence of snow. In contrast, in southern and West Coast populations everybody remains brown year round, which also makes sense given the lack of snow. Interestingly, the areas in between these extremes have populations with mixtures of individuals: some individuals in the population turn white in winter, others do not. Various experimental studies have shown that these area with mixtures comprise genetic polymorphisms (i.e. winter coat color has a strong genetic basis). This figure is from a recent Science paper by Scott Mills and colleagues.

Other studies have why the natural selection drives some of these patterns—there is a higher risk of predation on animals that are mismatched in color from the habitat. In seasonal environments successful background matching involves two coat colors. Climate change has implications for how natural selection on coat color might change geographically due to changes in winter snow cover—some areas that used to have lots of snow in winter, and thus favoring the white coat type, are expected to lose that winter snow (or have fewer days with snow) as the climate warms, and a white coat type may no longer be favored. The paper by Mills et al. suggests that areas of genetic polymorphism may be particularly important as hot spots for dealing with this climate change induced natural selection.

Below: Another figure from the same paper showing the distribution of coat color types in relation to the number of days of snow at a location, for four species. Long-tailed weasel is the red curve.

Readers’ wildlife photos

October 31, 2021 • 8:00 am

It’s Sunday, and that would normally mean a dollop of bird photos from biologist John Avise. Today, however, we have something different: photos of mammals by John Avise (himself a mammal). His notes are indented and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

Wyoming Mammals

Last Sunday, Jerry posted pictures of several avian species that I photographed during a recent family vacation to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks (see here).

This week, Jerry permitting, I will take a short break from birds by sharing photos of several mammalian species that I also encountered during this wildlife-packed excursion to northwestern Wyoming.  [No, unfortunately we didn’t see any wolves or grizzly bears, but some of these other pictured mammals were quite common.]

Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana):

Group or herd of pronghorns:

Pronghorns in retreat showing prominent white rumps:

Elk or Wapiti (Cervus canadensis) bull:

Elk cow:

Elk calf:

Moose (Alces alces):

American Bison (Bison bison) bull:

Bison resting:

Bison calf:

Bison herd:

Bison in iconic Western setting:

American Black Bear (Ursus americanus):

Coyote (Canis latrans):

Least Chipmunk (Neotamias minimus):

Another Least Chipmunk:

Lodge of a North American Beaver (Castor canadensis):

Readers’ wildlife photos

October 29, 2021 • 8:00 am

I’ve decided that it’s unseemly to beg and plead the readers for photos, so if we ever run out, I will make this feature sporadic—posted only when we get some good photos.

But luckily, Stephen Barnard has returned today with some excellent photos of his digs in Idaho and the wildlife around it.  His captions are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them:

Your increasingly desperate pleading for photos has raised my guilt level to the breaking point. [JAC: Oy vey!]

Some bald eagle photos [Haliaeetus leucocephalus]. This pair is familiar. Lucy (left) and Desi are long-time residents. I heard them vocalizing from a distance. A juvenile was perched above them, and their calls seem directed at it. As I approached to get a closer shot Little Ricky flew off. Lucy and Desi have raised dozens of chicks just in the ten years I’ve been here, but they don’t let them stick around. I think that’s what was going on.

By the way, bald eagle calls sound to my ear uncharacteristic of what one would expect: high-pitched, plaintive, unpleasant screeching.

A couple shots of Desi on a fishing run up the creek. I distracted him and I felt he was pissed off.

The elk [Cervus canadensis] have been abundant. The rut is over and the bugling has stopped.

These twin yearling moose calves and their mom [Alces alces] have been frequent visitors. I’m including a photo from June 28 to get a feel for how they’ve grown in just four months.

A moose calf, spooked by my dogs, trying keep up with mom.

Especially for Jerry, a rather blurry photo of a bull moose spooking a mallard.

A coyote [Canis latrans] in dim, predawn light.

The sandhill cranes [Antigone canadensis] have left on their fall migration. Before they leave they do courting displays, which is puzzling to me. It makes sense when they do them in the spring, before mating, but why now? Do they have a second breeding season in their winter range? Or is it just pair bonding?

JAC: My mallards do this too, even now when breeding has long been over. I think it’s a form of pair bonding.

A rainbow trout [Oncorhynchus mykiss] about to eat a Callibaetis mayfly.

A couple of landscapes. I like the Turneresque light in the first (an iPhone photo). The second is a rainbow hitting my house dead center.

Ivory poaching imposing selection on elephants to evolve shorter tusks

October 24, 2021 • 9:30 am

Here we have a case of selection by humans—killing elephants that have tusks because ivory is so valuable—increasing the frequency of tuskless African elephants in Mozambique over a 28-year period. (As we’ll see, only the proportion of tuskless females increased.)  We have similar examples from other species, as in the reduction of horn size in bighorn sheep hunted for their horns as trophies, and the reduction in the size of some fish due to commercial fisherman going after the big ones.

Is this artificial or natural selection? Well, you could say it’s artificial selection because humans are doing the choosing, but after all human are part of nature. And this selection was not conducted to arrive at a given end. Dachshunds were selected to look like hot dogs to root out badgers in their burrows, but the reduction of tusk size in elephant, or horns in sheep, was not a deliberate target of selection, but a byproduct of greed. So I would hesitate to characterize this as artificial selection, since it’s not like breeders choosing a given characteristic to effect a desired change. In fact, the evolutionary change that occurred is the opposite of what the “selectors” wanted.

You can find the article in Science by clicking on the screenshot below, or get the pdf here.  There’s a two page shorter take that’s an easier read, “Of war, tusks, and genes,” here.

The phenomenon: a civil war in Mozambique from 1977 to 1992, which increased the frequency of tuskless female elephants from 18.5% to 50.9%, nearly a threefold increase. Why? A model showed that such a change (which occurs among generations, so it’s not just selective killing within a generation) must have been due to natural selection rather than genetic drift. The killing was motivated by a desire to get money to fund the conflict.  A female without tusks had five times the chance of surviving as a tusked female. That imposed strong selection in favor of tuskless females.

Usually, tuskless elephants are at a disadvantage, for tusks are multi-use features, employed for defense, digging holes for water, male-male competition, and stripping bark from trees to get food. But the natural selection to keep tusks in females was weaker than the “artificial selection” by humans against tusks.

Here’s a photo of a tuskless vs. a tusked female:

Photo by Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

And the only kind of male that we see: ones with big tusks (tusk size varies, of course, as they continue to grow as the elephant lives). Tusks are homologous with our incisor teeth.

The authors first tried to determine the genetic basis of having versus lacking tusks. It turns out that, by and large, tusklessness behaves not as a complex trait caused by changes in many genes of small effect, but as a single dominant mutation on the X chromosome (like us, elephant males are XY and females are XX). Further, the dominant mutation causing tusklessness is lethal in males, killing them before birth. (This is probably not because the tuskless gene form is itself lethal, but is closely linked to a gene that is a recessive lethal.)

So here are the “genotypes” of the elephants. I’ve used “x” as the gene form on the X chromosome that produces tusks, and “X” as the alternative dominant allele that makes you tuskless.

Males: All have tusks and are thus xY. (Males have only one X chromosome and also a Y.) The XY genotype is lethal, so we never see males carrying the tuskless gene form (XY). Ergo, there are no tuskless males.

Females: We see two types:

Tuskless: Xx. These females will lose half their male offspring because when mated to an xy male (the only viable type), they produce half xY males, which are tuskers, and half XY males, which are lethal. Thus a population of tuskless females will produce a sex ratio in their offspring skewed towards females, which is what is observed.

We never see XX tuskless females because they’d have to inherit one “X” from from their fathers, but that XY genotype is lethal.

With tusks: xx.

There are a few complications, as other genes are involved (for example tusked mothers, who are xx, produce only 91% of tusked daughters when you’d expect the xx by xY cross to produce 100% xx (tusked) daughters. So things are not quite so simple, but in general a single gene seems largely responsible for the tuskless condition. (You might expect this, because if many genes were involved you simply wouldn’t get females lacking tusks: you’d get females with slightly smaller tusks, who would still be killed for their ivory. It would thus take many generations instead of a couple to raise the frequency of tuskless females.)

I won’t go into the gory genetic details, but the authors sequenced entire genomes from tusked and tuskless males and females and looked for signs of natural selection on some genes, comparing the tusked versus tuskless females. (One sign of rapid selection for tusklessness, for the cognoscenti, is the presence of DNA bases recurrent and common near the gene causing tusklessness.)

The researchers found one X-linked gene form with strong signs of selection called AMELX, which in other mammals codes for a protein that leads to the mineralization of enamel and regulates other tooth-associated genes. Another gene not on the sex chromosome, MEP1a, also is associated with tusklessness, but not as strongly. This gene, too, is known to be associated with tooth formation in other mammals. Here’s the diagram from the paper of which parts of the tusk are controlled by which gene. You can see that AMELX is expressed only in the “tusky” part of the tusk:

(From paper): Putative functional effects of candidate loci on tusk morphology.A cross section of an African elephant tusk shows the anatomical position of (a) enamel, (b) cementum, (c) dentin (ivory), (d) periodontium, and (e) root of the tusk. Dark blue circles indicate regions known or proposed to be affected by candidate gene AMELX. Light blue circles are proposed to be affected by candidate gene MEP1a. Neither gene is known to affect the formation of the dental pulp (black interior of cross section).

The upshot: Human-imposed (“anthropogenic”) selection that causes evolution in the wild has been demonstrated before, so this phenomenon is not new. What is new is that the genes involved in an anthropogenic evolutionary change—the increase in frequency of the tuskless allele, which is evolution—have been identified for the first time, and we know the kind of selection that’s caused the evolution. What is also unusual (I know of no other case) is that selection for tusklessness is in opposite directions (“antagonistic selection”) in the two sexes so long as tuskless females survive better. As the authors note:

Physical linkage between AMELX and proximate male-lethal loci on the X chromosome, such as HCCS, may underpin the proposed X-linked dominant, male-lethal inheritance of tusklessness in the Gorongosa population. If our interpretation is correct, this study represents a rare example of human-mediated selection favoring a female-specific trait despite its previously unknown deleterious effect in males (sexually antagonistic selection). Given the timeframe of selection, speed of evolutionary response, and known presence of the selected phenotype before the selective event, the selection of standing genetic variation at these loci is the most plausible explanation for the rapid rise of tusklessness during this 15-year period of conflict.

What of the future? Even though the conflict is over, poachers continue to kill tuskers for their ivory in much of Africa. What will happen? We expect the frequency of the dominant tuskless allele to increase. That itself will not lead to extinction of the population because tuskless males are simply not produced: all tuskless females will remain Xx and produce half the normal number of males. Tusked females will still be produced as Xx females crossed to xY males will produce both Xx (tuskless) and xx (tusked) females.  But the reduction in the number of males produced by anthropogenic selection, coupled with continual poaching of both males and females with tusks may drive the population size so low, with an unequal sex ratio, that it could become severely endangered.

Since tusks are good for elephants, the solution is not only to ban the trade in ivory, which has been done in part, but some countries continue to trade in elephant ivory. Further, we must stop the poachers cold, as there’s still a market for both legal and illegal ivory, and prices are high. That’s easier said than done given the area that must be monitored. Note, though, that in 2017, Donald Trump lifted the ban on ivory imports from Zimbabwe, which had been put in place by his predecessor. And the elephant is the Republican symbol!

h/t: Pat, Matt, and several other readers.


S. C. Campbell-Staton et al.. 2021. Ivory poaching and the rapid evolution of tusklessness in elephantsScience 374, 483-487.

Readers’ wildlife photos

October 24, 2021 • 8:00 am

It’s Sunday, and that means it’s the Day of Avise, in which we get a themed batch of bird photos by biologist John Avise. His commentary and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

Wyoming Birds

I recently returned from a wonderful family vacation to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks in Wyoming.  The scenery and autumn colors were magnificent, the mammals (e.g., elk, bison, and chipmunks) were abundant, and I even managed to photograph several bird
species that will be the subject of this Sunday’s post.

Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus)

Dusky Grouse (Dendragapus obscurus):

Black-billed Magpie (Pica hudsonia):

Black-billed Magpie flying:

Gray Jay (Perisorius canadensis):

Gray Jay head portrait:

Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri):

Steller’s Jay frontal view:

Common Raven (Corvus corax):

Common Raven head portrait:

Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra) male:

Red Crossbill pair:

American Coots (Fulica americana):

Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides):

European Starlings (Sturnus vulgarus) on American Bison (Bison bison) [JAC: I don’t think they’re spaced randomly!]:

Readers’ wildlife photos

October 23, 2021 • 8:00 am

Today’s bird photos come from Paul Edelman, a Professor of Mathematics and Law at Vanderbilt University. Paul’s captions and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them. We also have two singletons by other readers at the bottom.

Some more bird pictures from our neighborhood pond.

We have a pair of Belted Kingfishers (Ceryle alcyon) that nest in the area.  They make a loud ratcheting sound when they fly. This pair was chasing each other all over the pond.  I was fortunate to get them in flight, something I’ve tried to do many times before.

I had seen a Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) during the late winter and early spring, but this is the first time in a while.  This particular one is “yellow-shafted morph” with the characteristic red patch on the back of its head and the yellow tail feathers. 

I also caught this Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) perched in the trees over the pond.  Not sure what he was looking for.

In trees along with numerous titmice and chickadees were a number of Tennessee Warblers (Vermivora peregrine) and a solitary Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula).



I have another picture—the odd hybrid duck with a couple of mallards [Anas platyrhynchos].  [JAC: Neither of us are sure what this duck is, but I think it’s the result of a cross between wild mallards and Pekin ducks, which are the white ones: also mallards but bred for color, docility, and meat. The mallard in the rear is likely a hybrid as well, but could be a wild mallard “greening up” into his breeding plumage.]

From Christopher Moss, a baby American red squirrel:

Our young friend of the Tamiasciurus hudsonicus kind:

And a travel/cat/architecture photo from Nikos Kitsakis:

I immediately had to think of you when I took the picture attached. I took it this morning standing next to the greek flag at the Acropolis in Athens at shortly after 8 in the morning (What to call it? Acropocat? Catcropolis?).

Athens has the owl 🦉 as a symbol since ancient times as you know, but all I see all the time are cats 🐈. I think they ate all the owls… 🙂

Readers’ wildlife photos

October 21, 2021 • 8:00 am

Once again I appeal for photos, as I go through seven batches per week. If you have some good ones, please send ’em in. Remember, I never ask for money (except for charities), but I do ask for photos.

Today we have the second installment of bird photos (and one mammal) from Susan Harrison, an ecologist at the University of California at Davis. Part 1 of her contribution is here. Susan’s captions and IDs are indented, and you click on the photos to enlarge them.


Birdwatching in the Great Basin in summer gives “flyover country” a new and improved meaning.  These are sightings from Nevada, Utah, and Idaho in July-August 2021, sorted loosely by habitat and elevation.  Some fun facts are taken from Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s excellent site,

Sagebrush desert

This has been called “the bird without a field mark” with “no mark of distinction whatever—just bird” (, but it has a crazy song that reminds me of samba percussion:

Brewer’s Sparrow, Spizella breweri:

A passing Short-Eared Owl (Asio flammeus), too fast for me to photograph, put this bird and several others on high alert:

Rock Wren, Salpinctes obsoletus:

This coyote seemed interested in the flutter of small-animal activity in the wake of the Short-Eared Owl:

Coyote, Canis latrans:

This family was breakfasting on bugs in the cow pies in a very small pasture surrounded by desert:

Sage Grouse, Centrocercus urophasianus:

These great singers were hunting insects around the cow pasture:

Sage Thrasher, Oreoscoptes montanus:

This dashing flycatcher breeds all the way from central Mexico to the Arctic:

Say’s Phoebe, Sayornis saya:


Named for its flashy legs, and also called telltale, tattler, and yelper for its sounds:

Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca:

Simulates the Doppler effect with its calls, giving the illusion that it’s moving faster than it is:

American Avocet, Recurvirostra americana:

These legs are proportionately longer than those of any bird but flamingos:

Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus:

Dances on the water in courtship, carries young on its back, and is almost identical to Western Grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis);

Clark’s Grebe, Aechmophorus clarkia:

Females are the colorful sex in this species, though these ones are in nonbreeding plumage:

Red-necked Phalaropes, Phalaropus lobatus:

Next two photos from the Great Salt Lake near Antelope Island National State Park:

Red-necked Phalaropes, Phalaropus lobatus:

American White Pelicans, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos: