Readers’ adventure travel

September 28, 2023 • 8:15 am

I’m not getting any new wildlife photos, and while I have a few in reserve, I implore readers to send me their good photos if they want to keep this site going. Here’s an unusual contribution:

In June my friend Andrew Berry, who teaches at Harvard, took a long trek (several guides are is required, along with pricey permits) to Dolpo and the fabled (and previously off-limits) kingdom of Mustang in northern Nepal. Andrew has converted his 3,000 photos, plus some iPhone videos, into a 53-minute account of the trek, which I’ve put below. It was a fantastic journey.

It’s also a trek I always wanted to make. Sadly, now that Mustang has opened up (though only a few tourists still go),  I’m too old to make this arduous trek, though when I hiked around Annapurna I used to stand at the border of the plateau at Jomsom and gaze northwest toward the (then) forbidden kingdom.

Note the dancing starting at 38:45: an authentic folk festival given that Andrew was the only foreigner in town. (It was the monsoon season.)

And if you want to read a brief, illustrated description of the trek, click on the screenshot below. The intro:

June ’23 was pretty open for me — time (yay!) for a visit to Nepal.  Problem: the monsoon arrives in Nepal around the middle of June.  Hiking through the rain isn’t what I had in mind, and it’s also rather self-defeating if you’re interested in seeing anything — the views are mainly, in the monsoon, banks of grey cloud.  But there are parts of Nepal, contra the long-ago Heineken ad, that the monsoon doesn’t reach, namely regions the North of the main range, in the rain shadow of the big peaks.  These transhimalayan regions are politically in Nepal, but are functionally — geographically, linguistically, and culturally — Tibetan.  Hence my trip to Dolpa/Dolpo and Mustang.  Remote country, and regions I’ve long wanted to visit [the first time I became aware of these areas was 41 years ago, during my first visit to Nepal.  I hiked back then to the boundaries of both Dolpa and Mustang, and stared, tantalized, into both.  They were however in those days off limits — foreigners prohibited (partly because of the proximity of the Chinese/TIbetan border).  That’s however changed: these days the Nepalese Govt both restricts access and makes money by charging top dollar for permits].  The virtue of the expense (permits) + low season + remoteness is that these areas are relatively unfrequented by foreigners like me.  In three weeks in the region this summer, I didn’t encounter a single non-Nepali.

I am of course wildly jealous.  If you want to see all of Andrew’s photos, go here.

Readers’ wildlife photos

September 25, 2022 • 8:00 am

Since it’s Sunday, we have a batch of themed bird photos from John Avise. John’s commentary and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

More Birds of a Feather Flocking TogetherTwo weeks ago I posted avian flocks with odd numbers of individuals, so this week it should not surprise you that a follow-up theme is various avian flocks with even numbers of birds.  The Snow Geese were photographed in Montana; all others in Southern California.4 Double-crested Cormorants, Phalacrocorax auritus:

4 Western Kingbirds, Tyrannus verticalis:

6 Canada Geese, Branta canadensis (notice the goslings):

6 Canada Geese:

8 Brown Pelicans, Pelecanus occidentalis:

10 Double-crested Cormorants:

12 American Crows, Corvus brachyrhynchos:

16 Snow Geese, Chen caerulescens:

28 Snow Geese:

48 Double-crested Cormorants:

50 Double-crested Cormorants:

120 American Coots, Fulica americana:

280 American Crows:

300 Snow Geese:

Readers’ wildlife photos

June 25, 2022 • 8:00 am

A few kind readers sent in wildlife photos, but I’m going to conserve them for a day or so to accumulate a reasonable stash.  Today, then, we have three photos: a sign and two astronomy pics that show part of the “planet parade” of a few days ago.

The astronomy came from reader Bryan Lepore yesterday, whose notes are indented (click photos to enlarge them):

I send the best picture I could get of the planet parade this morning. I used an iPhone 13 and iOS with nothing added. I used Night Sky as an aid for identification of the planets.Venus is among the tree tops on the left. The planet just above the treetops on the right is probably Jupiter, though Saturn was near it.

… I also got some bats (not shown). Clearly s learning experience – the luminosity would change as the clouds filtered the light, so Jupiter could become as dim as Saturn usually is, and there was no reference as the clouds hid planets alternately. A learning experience.Come to think of it, I’d like to include a neat photo of Mars and Jupiter together from last week – I didn’t know they’d line up today :

From Dan Fromm. I think someone should collect a website of various “animal crossing” signs. (Actually, I bet there is one.)

Here’s a photo from a recent field trip to the Dominican Republic.  Photo by Mark H. Sabaj Perez, Sr. Collection Manager, Ichthyology, the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University.
I think it is a Solenodon crossing sign.  Location, on the road from Duverge to Puerto Escondido.

What is a Solenodon? From Wikipedia:

Solenodons (/sˈlɛnədɒnz/, meaning “slotted-tooth”) are venomous, nocturnal, burrowing, insectivorous mammals belonging to the family Solenodontidae /sˌlɛnəˈdɒntɪd/. The two living solenodon species are the Cuban solenodon (Atopogale cubana), and the Hispaniolan solenodon (Solenodon paradoxus). Threats to both species include habitat destruction and predation by non-native cats, dogs, and mongooses, introduced by humans to the solenodons’ home islands to control snakes and rodents.

Here’s a photo (not mine or Dan’s, but from the Internet) of the Hispaniolan solenodon. Because it’s threatened, there should be a sign. The guy is wearing gloves because the creature has a bite with venomous salive.  More:

Today, the solenodon is one of the last two surviving native insectivorous mammals found in the Caribbean, and one of the only two remaining endemic terrestrial mammal species of Hispaniola.


Readers’ wildlife photos

January 3, 2022 • 8:30 am

The attrition of my stock is worrying, so please send in your photos!

Today’s pictures come from Reader Dave; his captions are indented, and you can click on the photos to enlarge them.

Attached please find the next (assorted) batch of photographs, captured across New York, Vermont, and Maine. All photos labeled “, ©DSF_ All Rights Reserved.”

Dispelling Enlil:

Blue Hour:


Birch Condensate:

Inertial Rift:


Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor):

Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis):

Red-Tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis):

Readers’ wildlife photos

August 25, 2021 • 8:00 am

Keep those photos coming in, folks (or, as it’s spelled now—for reasons that elude me—”folx”).

Today we have one of my favorite arthropods, jumping spiders. The photos come from Tony Eales of Queensland, whose notes are indented. Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Just a quick one to celebrate the fact I photographed my first Maratus volans.

The is THE classic Peacock Jumping Spider, widespread along the south-eastern seaboard of Australia. They are also one of the most colourful, but that can be relative in a genus with so many colourful species. Next things to tick off are photographs of a male displaying and to photograph the other local species, Maratus ottoi. A friend of mine has spent 6 years trying to get a photograph of M. ottoi displaying and finally got a beautiful shot last weekend.

Much to the disgust of many of my Peacock Jumping Spider obsessed friends, two common and fairly dowdy jumping spiders have been shifted from genus Hypoblemum to the Peacock Spider genus Maratus. This had the effect of instantly upping lots of people’s peacock spider counts from zero to two. There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth amongst the purists. I present my photos of these two new members of the elite genus. I think they are quite nice.

Maratus griseus male:

Maratus griseus female:

Maratus scutulatus male:

Maratus scutulatus female:

Readers’ wildlife photos (and video and painting)

August 23, 2021 • 8:00 am

Last Friday I posted the tweet below, and suggested that because reader and biologist Lou Jost works in Ecuador and Peru, where this toucan lives, he might have seen one. (Lou works at a field station in Ecuador.) Indeed he had: he’d even filmed one and painted one of its relatives. Here’s Lou’s contribution (his words are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them).

First, the tweet I showed the other day:

From Lou:

A few days ago Jerry posted a photograph of a beautiful toucan, so colorful that he asked whether the colors were real. The bird was the Plate-billed Mountain-ToucanAndigena laminirostris, native to the western Andes of Ecuador and Colombia. I can vouch for the fact that the bird really is as beautiful as that photo showed. It is a common bird in good-quality cloud forest here in Ecuador, and we have them in two of our reserves.

One afternoon while I was showing some visitors our birds, one of these toucans flew low over the road in front of the car and landed in a roadside tree in perfect light. I told the car to stop and we stayed there watching, photographing, and videoing this magnificent bird for half an hour. Even though we had all seen this species many times before, there was something special about the perfect light, the close distance, and the absolute lack of fear or concern in the bird, and the way it posed for us at every possible angle. Two of the people in the car were Bob Ridgely, author of the Birds of Ecuador field guide, and veteran Ecuadorian ornithologist  Pancho Sornoza. As we were all watching the bird, Pancho said “Bob, this is the best bird sighting I’ve ever had in all my life”. This from a guy who had spent his whole life watching birds in Ecuador.

Here’s Lou’s wonderful video:

A photo montage:

Lou is also an artist and did a painting or a related species::

Here is my painting of another Ecuadorian member of the same genus, the Gray-breasted Mountain-ToucanAndigena hypoglauca. This species lives at much higher elevations than the Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, and only on the eastern side of the Andes. It is one of my favorite birds. These toucans mostly eat fruit, but their long bills also facilitate reaching into hole nests of other birds and eating their eggs or young. Some toucans of a different genus are even known to kill and eat monkeys!

Readers’ wildlife photos

August 20, 2021 • 8:00 am

Please send in your good wildlife photos, as the tank drops ever lower.

Reader Divy Figueroa and her husband Ivan Alfonso run an exotic-animal veterinary-care clinic in Florida (often going to the animals, as they treat all sorts), and also keep a number of reptiles (and two cats). Here we see one of their favorite turtles. Divy’s notes are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

This is a  Malayemys subtrijuga, commonly known as the  Mekong Snail Eating Turtle, or as we call them, Snail Eaters. Guess what they eat? They are originally from Malaysia, but the story from the Indonesian locals is that they were introduced to Java and Sumatra by the Dutch to eradicate snails. Needless to say, the snails are still around, and so are the Snail Eaters, who thrived and are by now established in the area.

We took a trip to Java a couple of years ago, and got to see them in situ. Ivan wanted to study and document their habitat for a lecture he would be giving later that year, and we wanted to see if we could improve our husbandry skills and care.

These turtles are one of my favorite species in our collection. They are very docile and I love their cute faces.

After several years of infertile egg laying, we hatched three babies in a matter of months. Our firstborn hatched in October, and the second two hatched the following January.  We’ve had several successful hatchings since then, but these three little amigos are our pride and joy, and in a few more years should join the breeding group.

This is our firstborn, pipping out of his shell.

The three babies in my hand, right after the 3rd hatched. Notice the difference in size.

One of the babies begging to be fed.

The three, about a year after hatching.  The first-born will be the smallest once they reach adulthood, as males are smaller than females.

This is one of our adult Snail Eaters, and you can see that the babies are a miniature replica of their parents

A few of our adults on land.

Another pic of our firstborn as he was emerging from the egg.

A female looking to nest in her enclosure. This process can take several days—sometimes up to a week or more.

Snail-Eating habitat in Java. This picture was taken in July during the dry season, when the turtles normally hibernate-aestivate.

How did a picture of Jango get there? 😻

Readers’ wildlife photos

June 15, 2021 • 8:00 am

Once again the photo tank is getting close to empty, so please send in your wildlife photos.

Today’s odonate photos come from Mark Sturtevant, whose notes and IDs are indented. Click on the photos to enlarge them. Mark adds that you can see his most recent photos on his Flickr page.

Here is a set of dragonfly pictures that were taken two summers ago. I seek to photograph nearly any kind of arthropod, but my thoughts are never far from dragons.

Clubtail dragonflies are an enormous family. Most species are boldly marked with black and yellow, and then there is that ‘clubbed’ tail, although that is often not so distinct in females. This striking individual is a female arrow clubtail (Stylurus spiniceps). a species quite common in the ‘Magic Field’. The picture was focus stacked from a small number of pictures taken by hand.

There is a quick story attached to this find, which is that the dragonfly was found for me by another dragonfly. I was following a male dragonfly that wasn’t even a clubtail when it suddenly paused to inspect a branch before moving on. On that branch was this fine female arrow clubtail! I have seen before that males are very attuned to spotting other dragonflies in their endless pursuit of a mate, so I’ve learned to watch their behavior to help me find a perched dragonfly that I would have overlooked.

The next picture is another clubtail, and a goal of mine is to get better pictures of it. This is a male Dromogomphus spinosus, but its common name is black-shouldered spinyleg. The name is very literal, as you can see from its shoulders and wicked looking hind legs.

The next two pictures are different species of “mosaic darners”, which are a group of darner species with intricate markings and a strong resemblance to one another. The first is a male green-striped darner (Aeshna verticalis); the second is a female lance-tipped darner (Aeshna constricta) – at least that is what I think they are, and I could easily be wrong. Other than the differences in appendages at the rear of the abdomen, which mainly identify the sex, there is scarcely a difference. You can’t rely too much on the slightly different colors since that is pretty variable.

I was out photographing insects with a camera buddy. After a long summer day goofing off in fields and woods with cameras, we were slogging it back to the parking lot when a drab and “fluttery” dragonfly landed along the trail right in front of us. What the heck was this?? It was a female fawn darner (Boyeria vinosa), a completely new species to me, and one I thought I might never see! Fawn darners are one of a small number of dragonfly species that become more active late in the afternoon. They will continue to fly well into dusk.

In closing, here are some egg laying pairs of green darners (Anax junius). While they were securing the next generation, a frustrated male was dive bombing them but I was never fast enough to catch that.