Today’s photos come from a new contributor: Kevin Krebs of Vancouver, who gives a bit of backstory:
I’m currently helping out a researcher at the University of British Columbia who’s studying the reproductive ecology of urban-nesting Glaucous-winged Gulls (a bird so many people love to hate).
I’ve been able to find quite a few nests and get some fairly good photographs of the gull chicks. Baby animals tend to endear people a little more to the species, and I hope these photographs help someone out there see the complex story of these unfairly derided birds.
Kevin’s captions and introduction are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.
Glaucous-winged Gulls (Larus glaucescens) are the resident gulls here in Vancouver, BC. Like crows and pigeons, they’ve adapted well to our presence – but like crows and pigeons, they are often viewed with contempt for simply living their lives in the environment we have created.
Glaucous-winged Gulls nest in large colonies on offshore islands, but increasingly some pairs are breeding on rooftops in the city. Research suggests these urban-nesting birds have increased success in fledging chicks, most likely due to reduced predation and territorial conflicts. Spend some time walking across our downtown bridges between late June through early August looking closely at rooftops, and you’ll spy a nest or three.
Like most gulls, Glaucous-winged Gull nests are sparse, often only dried grasses piled in a corner or other area that offers some degree of shade.
Three chicks with their parents on a spacious grassy rooftop.
A closer photo of the three chicks from the photo above. Gull chicks can be particularly difficult to spot with their tan, spotted plumage, effectively camouflaging them in the habitat where they nest.
Three chicks and a parent nesting on a significantly smaller space.
A close up of two gull chick siblings.
A chick stretches out its wing, giving us a good view of the pin feathers and development of juvenile plumage.
A parent regurgitates a meal for its chicks.
Two young gulls who’ve molted most of their down now look a little like grumpy old men.
A young gull who’s almost fully molted into juvenile plumage. This gull still can’t fly, but it was running back and forth testing out its wings while I watched.
A parent keeps watch over a young chick on a foliage-covered rooftop.
A lone chick hiding in the shade on a rooftop.
A parent with its two chicks. The size difference between these chicks is surprising, indicating one hatched some time after the other.
Today we have Mark Sturtevant’s photos of some carnage in spiders, leavened with orthopterans and a tree frog as lagniappe. The indented IDs and captions are Mark’s, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.
I came across a pirate spider (Mimetus puritanus) in the yard. Pirate spiders are specialists in that they pretty much just eat other spiders. The first two pictures are focus stacks in a staged setting.
With some mixed feelings about it, I decided to try to photograph this spider while it was doing its thing. There were orb weavers (I think cross orb weavers, Araneus didematus) in the yard, so I got the camera and put the pirate spider near the web of one of the orb weavers. You can see Mimetus in this picture in the upper left. She froze the moment she contacted the orb weaver web. There was a definite impression that she was deciding on what to do next.
Unfortunately, I then discovered that the batteries for the flash were dying, so I ran off to replace them. Just a couple minutes, but it was already over when I returned (@$#%$$!!). I wanted to see what happened!
There are different descriptions about how pirate spiders take down a resident spider from their own web. One is that they delicately pluck on the web, enticing the other spider to come close to investigate. The pirate spider can use its long legs, with prominent spines, to hold the other spider at bay while it bites it with venom that is especially potent against spiders. Here is a sequence showing just that. In any case, when I got back the orb weaver was loosely wrapped up and motionless.
This last picture shows what I think are rather maniacal markings on the abdomen of the spider killer.
After that, it seems a good time for some cuteness. There is a river shore where one can collect our smallest grasshoppers, and here are their super tiny nymphs. The first is a pygmy grasshopper (Tetrix sp.). Adults are about a half inch long, but this little hopper is the size of a sesame seed.
And here is an even smaller nymph of a pygmy mole cricket. They are just adorable! Pygmy mole crickets are rather strange in that they are not crickets at all, but are classified instead as being within the same suborder as grasshoppers. The species here is Ellipes minuta, and adults are about 5mm long. I placed it on a thin film of water to get it to sit still (it was pretty jumpy otherwise). A thing to note is that in the side view you can see a pair of long rods under the body. These are long tibial spurs that they have on the ends of their hind legs that they use to stand on water.
Finally, here is a baby tree frog, and it’s the size of your thumbnail. It could be one of two species that are around here, either Hyla chrysoscelis, or H. versicolor. These are identical in appearance, although their songs are different. Interestingly, the second species is a polyploid descendant of the other species.
Today is the second part of Athayde Tonhasca Júnior’s visual/historical account of his trip to Crete in June. (Part 1 is here.) His notes are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.
Fig. 13. George Psychoundakis, a member of the Greek resistance to German occupation during WWII (and a messenger), once ran 45 km from the northwestern coast of Crete to the southwestern coast in one night. The distance was nothing compared to Crete’s terrain, which explains why Cretans used to measure journeys by time on foot or on a donkey instead of distance travelled (The Cretan Runner).
Fig. 14. Religion would be more appealing with better imagery. No robed, bearded old men for the Minoans; they had the Snake Goddess, with much to ogle at – yes: the snakes, the fiery eyes, the cat-like figure on the lady’s hat. There’s been endless speculation about the symbolism of this statuette from Knossos Temple, dated 1650-1550 BC and housed in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum (HAM). You can buy replicas of the finest Chinese mass-produced quality in Chania’s tat market. Also mugs, t-shirts and plates depicting the goddess. It must be the snakes. Or the eyes.
Fig 16. Many consider the ex-voto practice a Catholic thing, but Christians probably took it from the Romans, who in turn copied it from the Greeks. These models of human limbs from 1900-1700 BC probably are votive offerings from worshippers requesting healing (from the At the Herakleon Archeological Museum):
Fig. 17. One could get necklaces like these from a local jeweller. But these pieces made with semi-precious stones (agate, jasper, amethyst, rock crystal and carnelian) are from 3000-2000 BC (HAM). Fashion can be timeless.
Fig. 18. My pizza stone is not much different from this cooking tray from 2000-1900 BC (HAM). Sometimes you can’t improve technology.
Fig. 19. A 1600-1450 BC bronze figurine of a worshipper (HAM). The arched back and bent elbows are thought to represent the spiritual tension during communication with the deity. The hand to the forehead manifests prayer or invocation. Arthur Evans (1851-1941), the British archaeologist famous for excavating the palace of Knossos, was also notorious for offering historical explanations based on the flimsiest of evidence, or none at all. So let me have an Evans moment: could these worshipper figurines (there are many) be a clue to the source of the military salute, which has no confirmed origin?
Fig. 20. Shrines such as this one are found all over Greece: bus stops, people’ gardens, parking lots, and by the roadside. This kandilakia (kαντηλάκια) could be a gesture of thankfulness, celebration of miracles, or a dedication to a patron saint. Some are quite elaborate, with hinged doors and windows: they look like miniature churches. Inside there could be a burning oil lamp, images of saints, plastic flowers or personal offerings.
Fig. 21. Some simple shrines by the roadside are erected in memory of those killed in road accidents. They come one after another for 145 km on the road from Heraklion to Chania, along the northern coast of Crete. Which tells you a lot about Greek drivers. For a cheap thrill, sit by the window in a Greek bus and watch vehicles overtake. It would make an Italian driver cringe.
Fig. 22. During our hike to the German cemetery, we stopped for breakfast at a small cafe, looking for yogurt. We were told there wasn’t any on the menu, just coffee and pastries. A couple of minutes later the waitress came to our table to know whether we still wanted yogurt – they could get some. We hesitantly said yes, expecting an industrialised dollop rescued from the bottom of the fridge. But we were in Greece: we were served a thick cream of exquisite flavour, topped with Cretan honey (a treat in itself) and freshly crushed nuts. Now “Greek yogurt” at home deserves nothing but contempt.
Fig. 23. Greece is a haven for word geeks. Once you learn to transliterate Greek, all sorts of connections materialise. This kentra (centre) of xenon (foreign) glosson (languages) conjures central, xenon gas (Xe), xenophobia, glossary; in the lower image, the mono (only) giali (glass) bin offers links to monogamy, monotony, monography and all mono- words; and to hyaline, as in “through the clear hyaline the ship came sailing”, or a glassy and translucent cartilage.
Fig. 24. Optica, fotografia, ortopedica: the poor Greeks had to copy words from us to communicate.
The birds are a mix of Western Grebes (Aechmophorus occidentalis) and Clark’s Grebes (Aechmophorus clarkii), which are nearly identical and flock together. The less common Clark’s was declared a separate species in 1985 based on DNA differences. The only visible difference is that Westerns’ eyes are surrounded by black plumage, while Clarks’ eyes are surrounded by white plumage.
Courtship happens in May (photos are from 5-14-22). Single birds sing “creet creet” (Western) or just “creet” (Clark’s). Pairs of birds form and begin swimming around together, mirroring each other and performing ritualized preening. You can tell males by their slightly larger beaks.
“Rushing” is the high point of the courtship drama – the pair runs across the water with necks outstretched, still perfectly mirroring each other.
Fast-forward two months (7-16-22) and the happy couples now have 2-3 kids and a station wagon, or rather, mom and dad ARE the station wagon.
Chicks often hop off one parent and swim to the other to try to be fed first, as you can see in the last two photos.
At around one month old, chicks become too large to ride, and swim around their parents incessantly calling “feed me”.
At around two months old, they’ll begin diving for their own food, and several months later they’ll fly off with the adults to overwinter at the coast.
Today we have some swell African elephant pictures (Loxodontia; there are two species) taken by reader Matthew Ware. His commentary is indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.
The first six pictures are from a trip to Addo Elephant Park around 10 years ago which is near Gqeberha (good luck pronouncing that) in South Africa. It used to called Port Elizabeth (and is still referred to, confusingly, as P.E).
A profile of a large male in some long grass.
This photo shows the length of ‘stretch’ in an elephant’s trunk.
The same elephant with trunk ‘unstretched’.
The next few photos are not from Addo but a local game park nearby.
A large male. Apparently, they extend their penises in the hot weather to increase their surface area to allow better cooling (though personally I just think that they are showing off!).
I did not know that elephants can (and do) cross their legs.
The large male was obviously rather agitated, possibly because there were water buffalo around – they don’t seem to like any animals around them. He was following quite closely behind the minivan and the driver didn’t know what to do. The photos is (partly) poor quality because I shot it through the windscreen – it didn’t seem prudent to open a window with him coming towards our car. They do occasionally have incidents in Addo where cars are attacked, and even people killed, by angry elephants.
Send in your good photos, folks, as the tank is inexorably draining.
Today is Sunday, and we have a themed batch of photos from John Avise—in this case showing an unusual woodpecker species. John’s narrative is indented, and you can click on the photos to enlarge them.
Of Acorns and Ants
The common name of the Acorn Woodpecker reflects its habit of harvesting, storing (in granary trees), and eating acorns, its favorite food. However, the Latin name of this species (Melanerpes formicivorus) refers to the fact that the birds also like to eat flying ants. One day I ran across one such bird catching these insects on the wing. This week’s batch of photos includes some of the pictures I took during this special encounter near my home in Southern California.
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.
We’re beginning to run a tad low on photos, so if you have some good ones, send them in, please. Do I have to beg? (I will!)
Today’s batch comes from reader Scott Goeppner. His captions and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos (as you can with all photos) by clicking on them.
Attached are some photos of invertebrates taken around Stillwater Oklahoma this summer.
First are some photos of Widow Skimmers (Libellula luctuosa), a common dragonfly in Stillwater during the summer. The species is sexually dimorphic. Freshly emerged individuals and females have a pretty yellow and black coloration as shown below:
Adult males develop a white coloration over their tail and white spots on the wings
Normally these dragonflies are not happy to see me and rapidly fly away if I try to get too close to them. However about a month ago I visited Sanborn Lake here in Stillwater on a particularly windy morning, and found a widow skimmer clinging to some vegetation and trying not to get blown away. This individual allowed me to get very close to it without flying off and afforded me a rare opportunity to get some closeups of its face and enormous eyes.
Next is a six-spotted fishing spider (Dolomedes triton) photographed at night in the Teal Ridge wetland in Stillwater. This one was sitting very still on the surface of the water and apparently waiting to ambush some unfortunate prey.
The next three photos are of two common freshwater snails, taken at Sanborn Lake. The first two are Physa acuta, otherwise known as the “fruit fly of malacology”. They have this status because, like fruit flies, they are easy to culture in the lab, reach reproductive age rapidly (as soon as 4-5 weeks after hatching) and produce large numbers of eggs. They also respond readily to water borne predator cues from predators such as crayfish and sunfish and are used in studies of anti-predator behavior and shell morphology.
This one shows the snail’s eyes. Notice that like most aquatic snails they are at the base of tentacles rather than on the tips of the tentacles.
Robber fly (Family Asilidae). These large flies aggressively attack and eat other insects. I do not know the species; if it is possible to ID from the photo, please feel free to identify it.
Sinuous bee fly (Hemipenthes sinuosa). I wish all insects were as cooperative as the sinuous bee fly. This one politely landed in a well-lit spot on the ground and stayed perfectly still to be photographed.
I don’t know how many readers will be interested in my camera information, but if they are all of these photos were taken with an Olympus TG-6 camera, which is rugged, waterproof, and takes very good macro photos.
Today’s photos come from ecologist Susan Harrison. Her notes and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge her photos by clicking on them—especially the first one, a panorama.
John Day River, June 1-8, 2022
These photos are from a 68-mile trip down the John Day River in north-central Oregon (route here). This huge region consists of sagebrush-juniper desert with volcanic geology. The river canyon is carved from layers of columnar basalt. There are also fossil-rich deposits of volcanic ash, and if you are ever in the area, don’t miss the remarkable Condon Paleontology Center which displays mammalian and ecosystem evolution from 50 million to 5 million years ago.
Storms before and during our trip led to high and fast river flows, so we paddled only 2-3 hours a day, leaving plenty of time to explore and watch wildlife. We spent a layover day at a dramatic section called the Palisades.
On the towering cliffs across from camp, bighorn sheep grazed, and a golden eagle tended her two large nestlings.
Reader Athayde Tonhasca Júnior has a two-part photo series on Crete, an island I’ve visited twice and where I lived for a month (in the then tiny-village of Sitia) in 1972. I have to say that Crete was fairly untouristed then—three of us rented a house in the small fishing village of Sitia for $30 total for the month—but when I went back some years later, they had built a “Club Med” type resort in Sitia, and the entire northern shore of this gorgeous island has become touristy and commercial. The South and the mountains, however, are said to still be lovely. (The southern coast of Crete was where Joni Mitchell lived in a cave in Matala with hippies, and her song “Carey” refers to that.)
But I digress. Here’s Athayde’s photos, taken this past June, with his captions indented. Part 2 will come another day. Don’t forget to click on the photos to enlarge them.
Fig 1. Chania (Χανιά), settled by the Minoans and taken by the Byzantines, Venetians, Ottomans, and the Germans.
Fig. 2. Safe to pass? Crete was shaken by 301 earthquakes in the 30-day period leading to July 13, 2022. Most quakes are barely noticed, but a big one is always possible. Some archaeologists believe that a massive earthquake or volcanic eruption followed by a tsunami weakened the Minoan civilization, making them vulnerable to invading Mycenaeans from the mainland. The earthquake simulator in the Natural History Museum of Crete (Heraklion) gives you a scary and realistic idea of a magnitude 7 tremor – better than the one at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.
Fig. 3. Shelling peas during a chinwag in Chania’s old town. At the harbour, a few blocks from here, you would be swept away by the thick, slow current of tourists drifting along stalls, bars and restaurants. That is where you could pause to buy a “Game of Thrones” t-shirt or dine on a full English breakfast or a mayonnaise-spiked Greek salad.
Fig 4. Chania is surrounded by a wall built by the Byzantine rulers as a protection against invading Arabs. But destruction came from within, so to speak. Constantinople was sacked by their brother Christians during the Fourth Crusade (1204), and the Byzantine Empire crumbled. Crete was bestowed upon the Republic of Venice, who cracked down on Orthodox Christians. The Fourth Crusade put an end to the discussions about uniting the Eastern and Western Churches, and Orthodox Christians still hold a grudge. Pope John Paul II mumbled some words of regret about the Crusade, and the “apology” was accepted by the Patriarch of Constantinople in 2004.
Fig 5. Fragment of the winged lion of St. Mark the Evangelist at the Historical Museum of Crete, Heraklion. The winged lion is the emblem of the Most Serene Republic of Venice, or La Serenissima. Venice was one of the first capitalist super powers: independent, rich, efficient and ruthless. Crete remained under Venetian rule until the Ottomans threw them out in 1669.
Fig 6. The winged lion adorning a Trenitalia locomotive in Venice.
Fig. 7. This parchment is a decree of Sultan Mahmud II renewing privileges of the Church of Crete at the appointment of Patriarch Kallinikos III, 1823 (HMC). Nowadays the words ‘Islam’ and ‘tolerance’ don’t mix well, but things were different then. On conquering Crete, the Ottomans re-established the Orthodox Church, which had been marginalised by the Venetian rulers. And there was a time when Jews in the Ottoman Empire would pay higher taxes but otherwise be left alone; in Spain or Portugal, they could be burned alive.
Fig. 8. Agios Nikolaos (St Nicholas) church in Chania. Built in 1320, turned into a mosque by invading Turks in 1645, back to a church in 1918 after the Turks were expelled in 1898. Greece and Turkey’s current dispute over the ownership of some puny islands in the Aegean Sea is just the last chapter of a long history of squabbling, with many nasty, harrowing episodes. All may have started with a celebrity scandal: lecherous Paris eloping with beautiful Helen. Paris was the Trojan king’s son (Troy is in today’s Turkey), and Helen was the wife of Menelaus, king of Sparta: no good could come out of it, as Homer reported to us.
Fig. 9. You talkin’ to me?
Fig. 10. Enosis (union) or tanatos (death). Flag displayed in the Chania home (today a museum) of Eleftherios Venizelos (1864-1936), considered the father of modern Greece. Enosis was the movement of Greek communities outside Greece to unite with the Greek state. It helped the absorption of Crete and the formation of modern Greece, but also led to terrible episodes such as the destruction of Smyrna and the Cypriot revolt, still unresolved.
Fig. 11. Maleme airfield. In 1941, the Germans invaded Crete with paratroopers and gliders. But it all went spectacularly wrong; Allied troops and civilians wiped out the elite of the German paratroopers. Then, a cockup of gargantuan proportions, which has yet to be explained: the Allied forces withdrew from the airfield, allowing the Germans to send reinforcements and occupy the whole island.
Fig. 12. Some of the graves of 4,468 German soldiers buried at the Maleme war cemetery (two bodies/grave), who were killed during the invasion and occupation of Crete (1941-1945). In an ironic historical twist, for many years the German cemetery was cared for by George Psychoundakis (1920-2006), a member of the Cretan resistance. Psychoundakis was a remarkable man: he served as a runner for the Special Operations Executive (SOE) under the supervision of Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915-2011), a name familiar to many Britons. Psychoundakis received a rudimentary education in a village school, and was a shepherd until the outbreak of the war. He ended up translating the Iliad and Odyssey from ancient Greek into the Cretan dialect, and was honoured by the Academy of Athens.
A note from Jerry. When my significant other and I visited in 1972, we often communicate with the older locals in German, as they spoke German they learned during the German occupation. (I’m somewhat fluent in German and can make my way in restaurants and transportation in Greek, but German is easy for me.) The interesting thing is that the older Greeks would only speak German to me when they ascertained that I was American and not German. They wouldn’t speak German to Germans, for they still despised them after what the Nazis did to Crete and the Cretans during WWII.