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 and videos

July 18, 2022 • 8:00 am

Reader Rick Longworth observed a family of robins this year. His photos and videos are below, and you can click on the photos to enlarge them. Rick’s test is indented. Be sure to watch the video!

A pair of American robins (Turdus migratorius ) built a nest in our breezeway this year and they are finally fledging.  At first, I paid little attention as the couple constructed the nest and the 3 eggs were laid. Later the noise of the chicks begging for food caught my attention.  I noticed the nest was very tall and seemed layered, so I thought it might be a new nest built on top of an old one. I know they often have multiple broods in a season.

Father helped with feeding:


In the afternoon heat, sometimes above 100°F, the chicks kept their beaks open.

When the chicks were growing too big for the nest, I hoped to film the fledging event and I set the camera to run for a while as the largest nestling exercised its wings. Fortunately, it jumped while the camera was rolling. First, all three are fed a beak full of earthworms. Then the jump. Mama robin with her worn and tattered plumage makes an attempt to reward the jumper with more worms.

That mother is WORN OUT!

The poor mom looked like she’s been run through a laundry dryer she was so overworked.  The next morning the other two chicks fledged and followed mom into the hedge behind the house. The parents will find bugs for them for a few more days until they get the hang of it. Now that the young were off on their own, I hoped mom would recover quickly.

Finally, I dissected the nest to see why it seemed so tall.  It was 10” high and seemed to have a false start at the 6” level. There was a “bowl” shape, but not finished.

I originally thought, based on Rick’s surmise, that this was the third time the robin had nested, and her nests were build successively on top of each other. His dissection showed that we were wrong. He emailed me this:

I assumed wrong.  I have now dissected the nest and find that it was not a three story nest at all.  A little data goes a long way.

The nest is 10″ high and the lower part is simply foundation material.  There is no finished “bowl”, only the suggestion of one at the 6″ level.

It appears she started to finish it but then decided it wasn’t high enough and put more material on top.

Attached is a picture of the dissection showing the lower and top sections.

Earlier activity in the spring must have been nest building and brooding of the current clutch.


Readers’ wildlife video and photos

February 3, 2022 • 9:00 am

Today we have a video and a couple of photos from a couple of readers. (All readers’ comments and IDs are indented; click photos to enlarge them.)

The video below comes from Avi Burstein, who sent this information:

I just caught this footage outside my home in the Catskills of a woodpecker creating a nest. Thought you’d enjoy it. Feel free to share it with your readers. I was inside my home while filming so no audio.

I believe this is a pileated woodpecker, (Dryocopus pileatus).

From Bryan Lepore:

Dear PCC(E) – the early morning walk revealed a breathtaking decoration of hoarfrost on a lilac (Syringa vulgaris). It brought to mind the absolute zero discussion. I picked out this particular detail for a more artistic interpretation. Perhaps a story can be invented for it by the beholder:

Some plants from Hawaii by Emilio d’Alise. I’m not sure, nor is he, whether these are native or introduced, nor do we have the species or IDs (His note on our first batch was “here are a bunch of flowers photos from when I lived in Hawaiʻi.”) Just enjoy the beauty:

On January 15 I published a few photos by Christopher Moss of a pair of squirrels fighting over a feeder full of sunflower seeds.  They achieved a temporary truce, but then. . .

Here are the remaining pictures of the squirrels learning to tolerate each other. Their truce didn’t last long, as they were back to fighting noisily yesterday.

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 videos

May 25, 2021 • 8:00 am

Robert Lang, reader, physicist, and origami master, sent us some lovely videos he took from his California studio. These were sent on May 14, and Robert’s captions are indented.

These all come from a camera I have set up outside my studio window, so it’s capturing pretty much the view I have during the day at work (the animal visits are great, but my productivity has taken a nosedive). The critter cam has an IR feature, which lets me also get visitors who only show up at night. That’s when I’ve had most of my Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) visitors. (They are honorary cats, I hear.)

The meadow (mostly bare this spring, due to the poor rains this past winter) is prime habitat for California Ground Squirrels (Otospermophilus beecheyi). Sometimes, though, the Western Gray Squirrels (Sciurus griseus anthonyi) come out of the trees, like this one.
I get visitations from two types of rabbits: Brush Rabbits (Sylvilagus bachmani) and Desert (or Audobon’s) Cottontails (Sylvilagus audubonii). These are the latter. They’re distinguishable by (among other things) the black rim on their ears (which the Brush Rabbits lack; also the Brush Rabbits stick close to the brush line at the back of the lot, so I rarely get videos as they’re too far away.) These are being a bit frisky with each other.
I’ve seen way more rabbits this year than in previous years (and not many bobcat or coyotes). There’s probably some sort of relationship there.
We get lots of California Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus californicus). This one is ready for her close-up, Mr. DeMille.
And the grand finale, from this morning: an American Black Bear (Ursus americanus). Although California extirpated its grizzlies from everywhere but the state flag back in the 1920s, the Black Bear continues to spread throughout the state. They regularly come out of the mountains to visit the adjacent neighborhoods, and in recent months, a mother and two cubs have become downright famous in Altadena via postings from neighborhood security cameras. Despite the name “black bear,” their color is highly variable; the ones around here range from rich brown (like this one) to nearly blond.

Reader’s wildlife video

April 29, 2021 • 8:00 am

Our friend Tara Tanaka (Vimeo site here, Flickr site here) lives on a plot of land in Florida that includes wetlands, and she often films the residents. Today she’s sent us another of her videos, this time of red-bellied woodpeckers (Melanerpes carolinus) raising their young. There’s a scary snake, but it doesn’t get any of the birds.

Tara’s notes are indented, and be sure to enlarge the video when you watch it.

On Feb. 8th we observed this pair mating and their newly excavated cavity in a dead maple tree on the edge of the swamp.  The cavity is very well hidden behind dead branches and Spanish moss, and they even built it right under an overhang of separating bark that keeps the rain out.  I recognize this male’s distinctive face and have been photographing him for years.  I’ve been watching this female for at least two years – she drinks from the hummingbird feeder right in front on my PC.

The first clip was recorded on Mar. 23rd, and at the time we didn’t know if they had hatchlings yet or not, but I’ve since learned that incubation only lasts about 12 days for this species.  From the detailed information I was able to find on, these nestlings are approx. 15-20 days old, and will fledge at around 24-27 days.

On Apr. 26th my husband heard and saw the parents very upset – vocalizing and flying back and forth from the nest tree to the large water oak a few feet away.  After much searching, we found a large gray rat snake in the water oak trying to find a path over to the dead tree where the nestlings sat helpless in their cavity.  As soon as we saw the cavity in the maple tree in February we wrapped the bottom of it with wildlife netting to prevent any rat snakes from reaching the nest.  We have already removed one snake that became entangled in the netting and relocated him far away, so it was not possible for the snake to get up the maple, but his determination had him trying to reach the nestlings from another tree.

I always keep water in a small vase mounted on a tree right in front of my office window that I put up just for the woodpeckers, but other birds use it too. Woodpeckers drink from knot holes in trees, but they have become used to the fresh water and drink from it multiple times a day.  During last year’s nest season we had a severe drought, and I think that the constant (the female is drinking now 😊) supply of fresh water, peanut halves and Bark Butter allowed them to raise three healthy young that they brought to my feeding station as soon as they fledged.  In one video this year I even saw the female feeding Bark Butter to a nestling, however both parents typically arrive with beakfulls of grubs and other insects.

I’m sure I’m seeing at least two nestlings – there may be three.  I’ll be holding my breath until they make it out safely!

Reader’s wildlife video

March 15, 2021 • 8:00 am

When it rains it pours: Tara Tanaka has graced us with another video, this time with the mating display of a male great egret (Ardea alba), the formation of a pair bond, and the beginnings of a nest. It is so beautiful that it made me tear up. And the male bringing sticks for the nest is fantastic. Be sure to watch this on the big screen.

Her video notes:

This is the closest Great Egret nest site in our backyard wildlife sanctuary – approximately 250’ away. There hasn’t been a nest here is a couple of years due to low water, but the afternoon before last I saw a male displaying on a branch, and the next morning he had already attracted a mate. He repeatedly brought branches from across the pond, and with sometimes questionable hand-offs she skillfully wove the sticks into their growing nest.

Tara’s Vimeo site is here, and her Flickr site is here.

Readers’ wildlife videos

July 2, 2020 • 7:45 am

We are really running low on readers’ wildlife photos, so if you have some good ones, now’s the time to send them in.

Today we have two videos by the late photographer and naturalist Andreas Kay from Ecuador.  The first is a caterpillar presumably mimicking a feather—a form of mimicry new to me.  Andreas’s YouTube notes:

This Caterpillar filmed near Mindo in Ecuador looks like a feather which presumably gives it an advantage in the struggle for survival since predators such as birds will not perceive it as food. There are more than 3500 species of butterflies and some 10000 of moths in Ecuador and their larvae have evolved different strategies to escape predators. Some hide in the vegatation due to camouflage coloration, others resemble a stick or moss or mimick bird droppings.

Bagworms build cases out of silk and materials such as leafs, wood and soil as camouflage, such as this Pagoda bagworm: Other caterpillars on the contrary are highly colorful (aposematic coloration) to warn potential predators that they are unpaltable or even toxic or have venemous spines. Some caterpillars expose fake eyes to deter predators, such as this snake mimic caterpillar from Ecuador:

But this is an exceptional case of a caterpillar disguised as a feather. It even makes steps back as it moves as if it was agitated by the wind.

And some slow-motion photography of a beetle. The carapace could be regarded as vestigial wings, as it evolved from wings in an ancestor:

Tortoise beetles, Cassidinae own their name to the carapace under which they can find shelter like a tortoise, with the difference that their carapace can open for flight. This species with the scientific name Stolas coalita is from the Amazon rainforest of Ecuador.