Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Animated Anhingas

I had a nice surprise in the mail today - an Audubon Society calendar that featured pictures from the Audubon Magazine Photography awards.  There was a striking picture of an anhinga on the cover.  I'd never heard of an anhinga so I decided to look it up.

The name anhinga means snake bird or devil bird and is derived from the fact that this unusual bird swims with almost its entire body submerged with just its neck and head above water giving the impression of a snake in the water.

Source:  Wikipedia

The anhinga is in the darter family of birds and is also known as the water turkey.  It lives around the world in warm shallow waters and dives for fish and amphibians.  It uses its long pointed bill almost like a spear, and once its caught a fish, it swallows it whole.  This bird doesn't have waterproof feathers so spends a lot of time drying them in the sun and showing off its up to 46-inch wingspan.

Source:  Wikipedia

American anhingas can be found in the southern U.S. (although they have been seen as far north as Pennsylvania) and Mexico, Cuba and Grenada, and another subspecies lives in South America and the Caribbean.

Source:  Wikipedia

I was glad to get the calendar, but also for the opportunity to learn about this impressive bird.  To see videos of an anhinga diving for and eating breakfast, click here and here.

Monday, August 29, 2011

One of the Lucky Ones

I woke up this morning to a beautiful cool sunshiny morning.  It was 55 degrees and the sky a brilliant blue.  Not so much yesterday!  Or even Saturday.  Not with Irene close at hand.

Saturday was a gray cloudy day with a hint of things to come.  They predicted around two inches of rain but we didn't get close to that - not even an inch.  It was very quiet - the calm before the storm as they say.

I woke up Sunday to the sound of wind and rain, but not too bad.  The intensity increased as the day went on.  We got one really strong band of rain come through and it just poured!!  Torrents of rain, but it didn't last long.  They had predicted two or three inches of rain for Sunday too, but we only got a little over an inch and I think most of it came in that one cloudburst.  The winds picked up in the afternoon, but no rain.  We had gusts up until midnight last night when I went to bed.

By the time Irene had hit Rhode Island it had been downgraded to a tropical storm.  Low lying areas by the coast had been evacuated and there was storm surge and high waves that crashed over storm walls.  Over 300,000 Rhode Island residents lost power due to trees knocking down power lines.  But I wasn't one of them.  I never lost power or my cable service!

I was very lucky indeed.  There were a lot of leaves down in my yard, even a few tree branches, but all in all I made it through Hurricane Irene unscathed.  I was worried about the feral cats, but Miss Kitty spent most of the day on my steps which are under an awning that covers my patio.  Even during the cloudburst, she huddled as close to my door as she could get and turned her back on the wind-driven rain.  It didn't last long.  I also had visits from Van Gogh and Romeo, although I didn't ever see Juliet.  Maybe she was the smartest one.  I was also worried about the trees, particularly my neighbor's tree with the hollow trunk where the raccoons live.  All made it through just fine.  Here are a few pictures of the aftermath.

Not really all that much to see compared to other folks.  Indeed I was one of the lucky ones, as was most of Rhode Island compared to the devastation in North Carolina, Virginia, and other places.

For a couple of videos of Rhode Island's Hurricane Irene experience, click here and here.  One video shows the effect of Irene the day before it actually arrived.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Cat Tales 2

"Oh, hello.  My name is Sammy."

"Here's another picture of me relaxing in the sun room."

"Even though I'm a Maine Coon cat I live in New Jersey along with my mom and dad, three Bernese Mountain Dogs, Alex, Bella, and Hailey . . .

and another cat named Ebay."

"Here's Ebay playing with the 'cat' app on my dad's Ipad.  That's Bella watching."

"In the morning I go into the bathroom and start knocking things off the counter to wake up my mom and dad and let them know I'm ready for breakfast."

Once my mom and dad have gotten up, fed all of us, let the dogs out and then back in, I go back to bed.  My job is done."

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Benevolent Berners

I've done a couple of posts about visiting my friends in New Jersey (see Bodacious Bears and The Historic Hudson post).  When they moved from Colorado to New Jersey, Rick and Lynne had seven dogs and three cats.  In order to get them all to NJ in one trip, I flew out to Colorado to help and we formed a cross-country three car caravan.  I drove one car with three dogs, Rick drove one car with four dogs and Lynne brought up the rear with the cats.  We stayed at dog-friendly motels and stopped for potty breaks at least three times a day.  We needed to stretch our legs and grab a bite to eat as much as the dogs.  It was with a sigh of relief that we arrived at our destination.  The dogs they have aren't little lap dogs either, but big and beautiful Bernese Mountain Dogs.

That trip was over five years ago.  Rick and Lynne now have three dogs and two cats with much heartbreak along the way as they lost several of their dogs to cancer.  Each one was unique and very special.  But they also have a new dog who's brought them lots of smiles and laughs.  They still have a cabin in Colorado where they go each summer for a few weeks, taking the dogs and cats with them each trip, but now they can all go in one car!

Bernese Mountain Dogs originated in Switzerland as working dogs, perfectly built for pulling carts to market.  They were also used for driving cattle and guarding farms and now some are even used for tracking and search and rescue.  

One of Lynne and Rick's dog, Alex, has a bark that sounds like he's going to rip your head off.  He's got a big regal head and can have a fierce stance, but get to know him and he's just a big mushball.  Here's Alex in his gentleman's pose - notice the crossed paws.


Bernese Mountain Dogs, also called Berners, have a sweet disposition, love children, and get along with other pets. Their dog Bella is a big goofy girl who loves to play.  Here she is as a puppy - a very cute, but BIG puppy.

Here is Bella today surrounded by her many toys.

Here is Hailey taking a nap in the office.

I truly enjoy my visits with Lynne and Rick, and sharing their love of animals is always part of the fun.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Oddball Relatives

No, I'm not talking about MY relatives.  I talked about the hyrax, technically the Rock Hyrax or Cape Hyrax, in my previous post about Ethiopian Wolves.  The hyrax is a small rodent-type mammal that lives across Central and Southern Africa along with small areas in Northern Africa and the Middle East.  It's called the Rock Hyrax because it prefers to live in rock crevices in order to escape predators.  They remind me a lot of my little woodchucks in this picture.

Source:  Wikipedia

Hyraxes eat grasses, leaves and insects and live in herds of up to over 50 individuals made up of several family groups.  Unlike my woodchucks, the hyrax can climb trees for an extra special meal of citrus leaves.  While the Ethiopian wolf is an occasional predator, the hyrax is especially vulnerable to birds of prey.

But you'll never guess the hyrax's closest living relatives - the elephant and the manatee or dugong!


Source:  Wikipedia
I don't know about you, but I think it would be one strange family reunion.  To learn more and see a video, click here,

Friday, August 19, 2011

Grassland Rodent Control

A more rare animal that lives in the Ethiopian highlands (see previous post on Geladas) is the Ethiopian Wolf.  It is also known as the Simien fox and Simien jackal, and looks like a coyote with long legs.  Confused?  So were scientists not knowing what family this animal belonged in, but it is now believed that it is indeed part of the canid family, the only wolf species in Africa.  The wolves do live in the northern highlands, but there are also small populations in the Bale Mountains in southern Ethiopia.

Source:  Wikipedia

The geladas don't have much to fear from the wolf though because its main diet is rodents.  Rats to be specific - big-headed mole rats, East African mole rats, black-clawed brush-furred rats, Blick's grass rats, and yellow-spotted brush-furred rats to name a few.  They will eat an occasional hyrax or hare, but over 90 percent of their diet is rats.  While they live in packs like most wolves and defend a specific territory, they hunt alone.  Because of the sparse vegetation, their hunting style is more similar to a cat than a wolf.

Source:  The Wolf's Webs

There are only about 500 of these beauties in the wild and conservation efforts are underway.  For a video and more information, click here.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Grassland Geladas

A gelada (no, not gelato!) is a monkey that lives in the mountainous Ethiopian highlands, who instead of wearing its heart on its sleeve wears its heart on its chest - literally.  It is especially prominent on the males along with their long mane.  Like with most primates, the males are larger than the females and rather regal looking.

Male gelada   Source:  Wikipedia

Geladas are just about the only primate that lives almost entirely on grass and at such a high altitude.  They also eat flowers, fruit, and roots, but grass composes about 90% of their diet.  They spend days grazing just like cows!  At night however they seek out rocky cliff ledges that rim the plateau to avoid predators.

Female gelada   Source:  Wikipedia

Geladas live in family groups of one to four males and one to twelve females and their young offspring.  Female offspring remain with the group and male offspring eventually join all male bands of two to fifteen males.  The family groups then form bands made up of several or many family groups, and multiple bands form herds that can consist of up to 60 family groups.

Source:  Wikipedia

Geladas have a large repertoire of vocalizations and often call to each other while foraging for food.  They are sometimes called gelada baboons, but they are actually baboon cousins.  While their numbers have been reduced considerably since the 1970s due to agricultural expansion, they are not considered endangered.  To see a short video, click here.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Saucy Squirrels 2

I have a pet squirrel now - well, sort of.  I have a critter mix of dried corn, sunflower seeds, and peanuts I put out on my patio.  The birds, squirrels and woodchucks all eat it.  If I don't get food out in a timely manner, I get a visit from one particular squirrel who jumps up on the railing of my steps and, if the main door is open, peeks in my screen door as if to say, 'Hey, where's my breakfast?'

Sometimes he/she seems to just like hanging out.

How could I possibly say no??

Friday, August 12, 2011

Silly Shenanigans 4

Thought it was time for another post from one of my favorite websites - LOL cats and LOL dogs.  I've added the links if you want to see more; there are also some great videos on the page along with the captioned photos.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Vast Victoria Falls

While Niagara Falls in the U.S. is pretty impressive, (I know - I've seen it!), it pales in comparison to Africa's Victoria Falls, the largest in the world.  That falls I haven't seen, but if I'm lucky, one of these days I will.  It is on the Zambezi River between Zimbabwe and Zambia.

Source:  Wikipedia

Listed as one of the seven natural wonders of the world and a UNESCO world heritage site, Victoria Falls is 360 feet tall (compared to Niagara's 167 feet) and 5,600 feet wide.  Niagara is a little over 3,900 feet wide.  It is also known as Mosi-oa-Tunya or Smoke That Thunders.  The area where the Falls is located experiences a rainy season and a dry season.  During the dry season the Falls might not be quite as impressive and the flow of water is about a tenth of maximum flow which occurs in April.  This flow variation is greater than any other falls. During the rainy and/or flood season, spray from the falls rises between 1,300 feet to 2,600 feet and can be seen from miles away.  The foot of the Falls is shrouded in mist and at full moon, 'moonbows' can be seen.

Source:  Wikipedia

The Falls, named for Queen Victoria by David Livingstone, has multiple gorges and cataracts.  Until I can see it for myself, a video will just have to do.  To see it,  click here.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Gross Grasshoppers

The latest and most unwelcome visitor to my butterfly bush is one of my least favorite things on the planet - a grasshopper.

After living in New York City, cockroaches are my least favorite!  But grasshoppers come in a close second.  When I was young, my mother took me and my sister to a community wading pool on a hot summer day.  I was just sitting there minding my own business with my toes in the cooling water when a huge flying grasshopper came along and landed right on my nose; its little beady eyes staring right into mine!  I was so startled that it took a few seconds to register and then I let out a scream and was too traumatized to brush it off.  I think I either did finally get it off my nose or maybe it just jumped off by itself, but ever since then I've hated them!  Maybe part of it is their leaping ability (did you know they can jump up to 20 times the length of their own body?) and never knowing where they're going to land.  Plus a few years later I had a nightmare of being surrounded by thousands of them.  Then, of course, there's the crunching sound they make if you step on one!

Source:  Wikipedia

In high school for biology class we had to go out in the field behind the school and catch our own grasshoppers to dissect.  I did manage to catch one.  During the lecture our teacher, Mr. Day, gave before we started the lab, I was able to really examine one close up while it was sitting in the jar.  I got really curious and was enjoying the experience until all of a sudden it jumped.  I let out a small scream and dropped the jar on the table.  Luckily it didn't break, but everybody in class turned around and looked my direction to see what the problem was.  I wanted to crawl under the table.  But Mr. Day just looked in my direction and kept right on going with his lecture in his quiet monotone.  At least I was grateful that he didn't make a big deal out of my indiscretion.

When I started this post, I certainly didn't think I'd find pictures of grasshoppers that are actually pretty.  But look at this rainbow grasshopper that lives in the central plains - from southern Saskatchewan to Colorado down to Texas.

Source:  Wikipedia

I certainly never saw any of these guys when I lived in Colorado.

There are several thousand different species of grasshoppers and they live all over the world.  They eat most leaves, grasses and some crops and can be very destructive. In some areas, people eat them as they are good sources of protein.  NO THANK YOU!

I really do love and/or tolerate nearly all creatures.  However, I don't know that I will ever change my mind about grasshoppers!l

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Chihuahua of a Bird

Wednesday morning I took my garbage to the dumpster at the end of the street and it was such a beautiful morning I took the long way around to get back to my house.  Along the way, I found a little dead hawk lying in the grass by the side of the road.  I think it was an immature Cooper's Hawk.  The majority of its innards were gone, probably eaten by a possum, but I got a close look at its sharp little beak, its talons, and coloring.  I used a plastic bag to pick it up and walked it back to the dumpster.  I don't know why it died.  It was lying beside a telephone pole with the accompanying tangle of cables and wires.  As an inexperienced hunter it may have misjudged a distance or possibly been electrocuted by an electric line.

Immature juvenile   Source:  Wikipedia

It may have been a male.  They are smaller in size than the females, males being 14 to 18 inches in length, the females 17 to 20 inches.  Cooper's hawks are found from Canada to Mexico, the northern most birds migrating as far as Panama.  Rock doves and mourning doves are the Cooper's favorite prey, although smaller jays, robins and starlings are also on the menu, not to mention an occasion mouse or chipmunk.  Most Cooper's hawks mate for life and are monogamous.  Pairs raise from 3 to 5 chicks each breeding season.

Mature adult   Source:  Wikipedia

The Cooper's hawk is considered a small-sized hawk, but small can also mean insignificant, weak, inferior.  Like the Chihuahua, in attitude this bird is definitely not small.  The Cooper's hawk relies on an ambush style of hunting, erupting from cover, flying through dense vegetation.  In a study in which 300 skeletons of Cooper's hawks were examined 23% were found to have healed fractures in the bones of their chest!

I thought about taking a photo, but made the deliberate decision to not have a picture of a dead bird on my blog!  In the whole scheme of things one dead bird is not necessarily significant, but I didn't want to trivialize the demise of this beautiful little bird that never got a chance to grow up.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Siren Song

In Greek mythology the Sirens were beautiful young women whose music and voices lured sailors to crash their ships upon the rocky beach of their island.  Walter Copland Perry observed, "Their song, while irresistibly sweet, was no less sad than sweet..."  Perhaps what the sailors heard weren't Sirens at all, but humpback whales.  Perry also might have been describing their mournful song.  While both the male and female vocalize, only the male 'sings'.  Click here for a short sample.

Source:  Wikipedia

Whales in large areas sing the same song, but whales in other areas sing different songs.  Over time, however, the songs change.  I'm not sure if anyone really knows how or why the new song begins.  One song can last for 10 to 20 minutes, and be repeated for hours.

Humpback whales are baleen whales and one of the biggest creatures in the sea (they can reach over 50 feet long and weigh over 75,000 pounds) feasts on one of the smallest creatures in the sea - krill, a shrimp-like crustacean.  They also eat schooling fish such as herring and mackerel, but only in arctic waters in the summer.  In the winter they head for the tropics to breed and live off their fat reserves.  They can travel up to 16,000 miles during their migration.

Source:  Wikipedia

Humpback whales have markings on their tail flukes that are as unique as fingerprints and can be used to identify individuals.  Originally, scientists thought humpback whales lived for 50 - 100 years, but a recent test on a different baleen whale is good evidence that they can live possibly twice that long.

Source:  Wikipedia

This post was inspired by a video link my friend Lynne sent me (thanks, Lynne!)  To see the video,  click here.  I talked about anthropomorphism (attributing human characteristics to animals) in my last post.  The scientist in the clip talks about the whale expressing joy.  Watch the clip and decide for yourself!

Monday, August 1, 2011

You Gotter Love an Otter

Any time I have seen otters at a zoo, I have fallen in love with these guys because they seem like they have such a wonderful sense of humor!  I know - that's anthropomorphism - giving human characteristics to an animal.  We do it all the time.  But if we are evolved from primates why wouldn't they have some of the same characteristics that we do.  Okay, that's totally getting off track; the subject is otters.  The North American River Otter for example.

Source:  Wikipedia

Look at that face!  The otter is a member of the weasel family and the river otter feeds on fish, frogs and crayfish, with an occasional turtle or small mammal.  It lives along rivers, lakes, swamps, or estuary systems and has a burrow with many openings often one of which leads directly into the water.  A  good swimmer, it can hold its breath for up to 12 minutes and its body is streamlined for gliding through the water.  It also has a thick, water-repellant coat.  It is able to move well on land too and is often called the land otter.

Its cousin, the sea otter, can move on land, but spends most of its time in the water.  It has the densest coat in the animal kingdom.  One of the sea otter's favorite foods is sea urchins and the sea otter is considered a keystone species for its help in controlling the sea urchin population that would otherwise damage kelp ecosystems.  When resting or sleeping, otters may wrap themselves in kelp to keep from drifting out to sea.  They will rest in groups known as rafts numbering anywhere from 10 to 100.  The sea otter is one of a few mammals that use tools - a stone to open a clam.

Source:  Wikipedia

The sea otter has a heavier body than the river otter, but both are endemic species of North America.  There are three sub-species of sea otters including the southern sea otter, also known as the California sea otter, and the northern sea otter that lives along the Alaskan coast.  All remain along coastal areas and in more shallow water because they are 'bottom feeders' going to the ocean floor to forage.

There are about 12 different species of otters with distribution pretty much all over the world.  The largest, the giant otter, can be up to 6 feet long from nose to the tip of its tail, and lives in South America.

Its face looks different from its North American cousins.  All have been hunted for their fur.  The giant otter is also known as the water dog or river wolf and also has the shortest fur of all the other species.  The giant otter's favorite food is catfish and they hunt and live in family groups also unlike their more solitary cousins.

Any time you go to a zoo or an aquarium and there are otters, don't miss the chance at some real entertainment.  Here are a few videos.

For a video of river otters, click here.

For a video of a sea otter and very sleepy pup, click here.

For a video about giant otters, click here.