Saturday, February 28, 2009

Double-Crested Cormorant

Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auritus. These birds typically fly low over the water, flying straight without a lot of gliding. I saw this one buzzing by low over the river mouth.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Regal Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus. You don't see these down south a lot. However, when I was up in Seward, Alaska, you could see them roosting along the walking path along the water. They are amazing birds to watch and were generally not shy (i.e., take as many picture as you want without them flying away). They are opportunists and are known to eat a broad variety of things including live fish, miscellaneous carion (moose, whales, etc.), birds, reptiles and small mammals.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


Giant Panda, Ailuropoda melanoleuca, the latin translating to cat-like (ailuro) foot (poda) black (melano) white (leuca). Go figure. This is a rare picture of a female panda with nursing cub. They are normally fairly shy and nurse out of sight. This cub's getting big and it's about time for it to get on with a diet of Bamboo, but apparently, not just yet.

The Giant Panda was once thought to be related to raccoons but has since been moved back to (drum roll....) the Bear family (Ursidae) based upon recent molecular studies. Maybe looks aren't all that deceiving after all. Their diet is 99% Bamboo in their native China although they may eat fruit, meat, eggs, etc. opportunistically. They eat constantly and do not hibernate, likely because their diet of Bamboo does not allow them to store up sufficient fat to hibernate through the winter. Apparently, they still have the less efficient digestive system of a carnivore/omnivore (as opposed to a cow, for example) and compensate for the digestive inefficiency by eating huge amounts of bamboo and by limiting their energy expenditure. No Kung Fu Panda here!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

So What Do Avocets Eat Anyhow?

American Avocet, Recurvirostra americana. As a follow-up to my last post, here's a close-up of an Avocet with food in his mouth. Is it food or just mud and rubbish? I stared at a bunch of these pictures, all with "food" in their mouths, and they vary a little bit. Generally, there were reddish-brown, longish things about the color of kelp in their beaks (plus some mud along for the ride). It does not appear to be kelp (far bigger pieces of that floating around). I'm sticking to calling it worms. However, if you know what Avocets eat, chime in. Curious minds want to know!

I found a page on the web that says that they eat "seeds, aquatic insects and small crustaceans," apparently including Brine Shrimp when they can get them. At this site, based on the photos I looked at, I'd probably rule out seeds or aquatic insects so maybe small crustaceans cruising on the mud? The mystery objects still remind me of worms though. I know the entire area is rich is worms which other co-located bird species feed on as well as clams which some of the birds either pry open or crack open (something to see!).

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

American Avocet

American Avocet, Recurvirostra americana, Winter colors. I only see these guys around at low tide. They dip their heads in a scythe like motion, reminding me of pigmy flamingos! (sorry, for the non-scientific comment but they do...) Oh, an yes, they close their eyes when they dip their head into the water.

How they EVER catch anything is beyond me. In fact, I've been trying to figure out how they catch anything at all with that upturned beak. Best I can figure, they stay in shallow water where they can skim the surface of the mud with their beaks, possibly catching worms or other critters at the surface of the mud. It's a totally different tact on catching worms versus their pointy billed bretheren that dive their beaks straight down into the mud to find their food. I'll have to review the pictures (I snapped a lot of them) to see if I can actually find one with a worm in his mouth. I vaguely recall seeing something long and stringy come up but it's almost always easier to see it in the pictures. Oh, and in case you're wondering, the bird book says that the females have the curvier (is that a word? Ahem, more upturned) beak!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

American White Pelican

American White Pelican, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos. The latin name means red-billed pelican. Kind of like Rudolph! They do have a little rosy flush anyhow. I've wanted to get a decent picture of these birds for a while. They have them in interior lakes and at the salton sea but they're not as common on the coast.

I've seen them circling on thermals on the way to school (but, failed to get the camera out soon enough...). I've seen them sleeping but ended up with headless pictures (head tucked under the wing)! Well, here they are in all their glory, herding fish as they dip into the shallow water for dinner. They are spectacular birds, all fluffy white feathers and contrasting orange-pink beaks! In a group, they give any white swan a good run for the money!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

ID to the Rescue!

Yellow-Rumped Warbler (Western Race), Dendroica coronata. I spent way too long trying to figure out what this bird was. It definitely looked like a vireo. However, the Least Bell's Vireo (Southwest Coastal subspecies of the Bell's Vireo) pictures that I could find had no yellow on them. I looked and looked...and the best I could come up with is that this may be the interior subspecies, possibly a vireo that found its way west from the desert for the Winter. He caught my attention because of the two patches of bright yellow. Not enough for a Yellow-Throated Vireo but just enough to catch my attention! If you can ID this Vireo, let me know.

Thank you to our anonymous poster! We have an ID as the Western Race of the Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Dendroica coronata. Yes, I was staring at the wrong page in the bird book (blush)!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Around the Garden: Lithops

Living Stone, Lithops species. Lithops are called Living Stones because, when not in bloom, they look just like stones! This Lithops was in bloom in the yard a few days ago. The flower appeared to only last a few hours but what a display while it lasts! A few hours seem like too short a time for a bee to find and pollinate the flowers. If they do, however, there is pollen gallore!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Wet Hummingbird

Anna's Hummingbird, Calypte anna. Our Anna's Hummingbird looking wet and miserable after a morning downpour as he sat on my redwood deck railings. He had his tongue hanging out. I've seen this behavior before but have no idea why they do that. Anybody have any clues?

Other trivia:
* hummingbirds appear to prefer flowers with a sucrose content of about 25%.
* Flowers that depend on hummingbird pollinators are often red and have a narrow infrared band to make them less visible to insects such as bees that frequent flowers that typically have more of a glucose/fructose sugar content. Could that have something to do with why honey is poisonous to hummingbirds?
* Hummingbirds also eat insects and spiders to get their protein and nutrients, nectar being low in nutrients.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Quite the Doo (Plumed Guineafowl)

Plumed Guineafowl, Guttera plumifera. These are native to Africa and sport a really cool plume (the hairdoo!) on top their heads. They look like big spotted chickens in real life and live on pretty much the same food (seed and bugs).

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Just for Fun: Lobster Under Glare

Lobster Under Glare. Just for fun, a little work of art. Like it or hate it, it's at least a little different.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Demoiselle Crane

Demoiselle Crane, Anthropoides virgo. Demoiselle Cranes are found in Northern Africa and South Asia in Winter and migrate North, over the Himalayan mountains to Central Asia to breed. They will frequent grasslands during the Winter but breed in swampy, marshy areas.

They say you can see the soul through a person's eyes. Do you suppose it holds for animals too? Demoiselle Cranes have those beautiful, lurid reddish eyes with pitch black pupils. Wow. What does that say? Hahahah, probably absolutely nothing. Either way, they're beautiful cranes with the white plume of feathers behind their heads, they look so very aristocratic.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Bateleur Eagle and a Case of Rock Hyrax Nerves

Rock Hyrax, Procavia capensis, the only living relative of the elephant, showing a little tusk and a bad case of anxiety as he scans for predators.

Bateleur Eagle, Terathopius ecaudatus, scanning for food.

This large eagle is found in the Southern half of Africa. Could he be the reason our little Hyrax friend is so nervous about anything flying overhead? We watched as the Hyrax languidly stretched, testing the soft grass with his feet, luxuriating in the warm morning sun that had peaked through the clouds. He had barely nested down onto the sunny patch of grass when suddenly looked up at the sky in a look of near panic, his body tense, as he searched for danger (in this case, just a plane flying overhead). Then, as the drone of the plane grew nearer, the little hyrax dashed into the rocks with only a few bent blades of grass as proof that he was ever there.

Tell me more about African eagles (click here).

Yellow Aloe

Yellow Aloe species in bloom. The San Diego Zoo is know for its huge collection of animals including such notables as the giant pandas on loan from China. The huge collection of Aloe species is a lesser known but also notable attraction. This lovely little yellow Aloe, with creeping/sprawling growth habit, had no label but brightened up an otherwise cool and overcast day.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Ever Elusive Rock Hyrax

Rock Hyrax, Procavia capensis. The Rock Hyrax is a shy little creature. You would never guess that it is the last closely related cousin of the bold and enormous elephant. They are native to Eastern and Southern Africa where they live in the protection and shelter of large rocks which shield then from the hot afternoon sun and hungry eagles. This little Hyrax has ventured out on a cool Winter day to bask in the sun. Shortly thereafter, a plane flew overhead which spooked our little Hyrax back into hiding.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Meerkat Momma

Meerkat, Suricata suricatta. Mom and nursing pup. Mom and Dad meerkat were both watching over junior and keeping a keen eye on the rest of the troop as well. Dad was quick to nudge away any interloping troop members to protect junior.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Nice Digs

Lifeguard, Makapu'u, Hawaii. It's a tough job, being a lifeguard at Makapu'u beach. The waves are big and there are people bodysurfing all over the place. The rocks are jagged. There's occasionally a Molokai current sweeping the patrons out to sea. Still, you have to admit that they have a pretty doggone nice lifeguard station. Sure, it's not a two story white cement tower but it's got a built in locker, nice aluminum railings and wrap-around tinted windows. Not too shabby. Oh, and the coconut trees are a nice accent to the decor (grin).

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Mandarin Duck

Mandarin Duck, Aix galericulata, male. Mandarin ducks are native to Russia, China and Japan and have become somewhat rare in their native habitats, partly due to extensive habitat destruction. They are closely related to the North American Wood Duck and are both perching ducks that nest in tree boles and live in wooded areas near lakes and shallow ponds. They are fairly solitary in nature, generally not associating with large flocks of other ducks. They are revered in Asian culture as symbols of married bliss and fidelity. In Chinese they are called yuan yang. In Korea they give wooden duck carvings as wedding presents, again symbolizing lifelong marriage and fidelity.

Hungry Puma

Puma or Mountain Lion, Puma concolor (shown here staring hungrily at a baby carriage). These are some of the last great hunters of North America and one of the most adaptable, living in a wide variety of habitats including mountains, deserts, swamps, brush, grasslands and forests. They generally stay away from humans but, as our recreational activities and our urban sprawl push us farther into the brushlands, there are more encounters, sometimes with fatal results. This was true after some of the huge fires that swept through Southern California, where an injured or starving puma may occasionally take to going after pets and sometimes even humans. In one case, a Puma, possibly injured/starved by the fires, had staked out a biking trail and had killed/eaten a jogger and was finally noticed when as it attempted to drag a biker, screaming, into the bushes by the head. It is easy to forget that such a beautiful creature is really still a very dangerous wild animal, even though a cage separates us. It is also easy to forget that our wild areas are shared with the creatures that have been there for thousands of years before us.

This particular puma perked up dramatically and followed a baby stroller that it eyed hungrily. The father, thinking it was funny, ran the stroller back and forth a few times as the cat followed, devouring his child with its eyes. He thought it was funny. The tottler was absolutely not amused. At least some of us spectators were horrified at both the reaction of the cat (it is a wild animal after all...) but more so at the Dad for terrifying his child in that manner. It is, at minimum, a reminder to maintain a healthy respect for wild animals; keep your children and pets close if you live or hike out in the brush.

A further point of interest: the cat largely ignored the adults. However, having the father there with the child and the child in a stroller clearly did not create any distinction or fear in this particular mountain lion. This lion clearly was not afraid of humans and also clearly recognized/differentiated an infant creature in the stroller (as opposed to considering the stroller as part of the child). You might expect this level of familiarity from a puma in a zoo. However, this highlights the danger in feeding wild animals (birds excepted), particularly carnivores, and the particular hazard in desensitizing them to human presence.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Lighting and Such

Blc. Momilani Rainbow. This one has a sweet, delicate fragrance. It's hard to capture the real color which is a soft art tone that is closest to a yellow-watermelon blend. This was done with front lighting via a flash.

I was experimenting with my ring light to attempt to take pictures of some really small flowers like the ones in yesterday's posting only smaller. The problem was two-fold:
1) I had the wrong lens adaptor for the ring light
2) the macro lens still had a minimum focal distance of about 6 inches
3) Some of the flowers were around 1 mm in size

I had hoped to capture some of the beauty of the 1 mm flowers and I did to some degree but I'm thinking I need a different lens or adaptor to get up within about an inch of the flowers to capture the detail. Looks like a good science project.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Cirrhopetalum umbellatum

Cirrhopetalum umbellatum. This cute little orchid's habitat ranges from sea level to several thousand feet and from Africa to Fiji to Australia! How's that for adaptive? Each flower has a really cool dark red-black filiment that extends off of the dorsal sepal and the niftiest red spots on yellow lateral sepals. Makes you wonder what the pollinator looks like! Maybe a yellow bee with red spots? Wow.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Under the Bo Tree

Ficus religiosa, Bo Tree. This huge tree originated as a sapling that was brought to Hawaii in the 1800s. It was started from a cutting from the tree that Gautama Buddha (Sidhartha Gautama) was meditating under when he achieved nirvana. It now growing happily in the Foster botanical gardens as is one of their oldest trees.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Flock of Black Turnstone

Flock of Black Turnstone, Arenaria melanocephala, in flight. Mission River. Wow. The flock would change directions on a dime, nearly all the birds in unison. Sometimes perpendicular to you, they would almost disappear, only to turn parallel, exposing their white bellies and contrasting black heads. I could have watched then for hours.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

More Cool Stuff from the Greenhouse

Dendrochilum species. The flowers on these are tiny, perhaps a few millimeters across. You would probably not even notice it growing on a tree. However, if you get in close and take a look, this plant has absolutely charming little chains of yellow-orange flowers. That's the beauty of photography in revealing details that the naked eye would normally miss.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

All in the Details

Sometimes the effect you get when you take a picture is not the one the "artist" (aka photographer) intended. In this case, a picture of a jogger and his dog captured a fellow looking on (see enlargement), apparently at the dog. He had the oddest expression, perhaps of disgust? Interest perhaps? Either way, the dog is looking the other way.

This fellow, while dressed fairly nicely and with bottle of coke in hand, was walking along the trail digging through the trash (Perhaps where the coke came from). That leads to all sorts of odd sundry questions such as: Is he homeless? Is he mentally insane (schizophrenic perhaps?)? Is he just one of the new unlucky jobless who ended up on the street? Is he safe to be around? Would you have the guts to befriend this guy and buy him a burger or find him a shelter? Or...would you stay far away for fear of getting mugged? So many questions. So many that fall through the cracks in our society or that don't fit neatly into the mesh we call civilization. Some say, "but for the grace of God." Others, that we are all just one unlucky incident away from that same existence. Still others prefer to bury their heads in the sand and ignore the whole thing altogether. Thoughts?

Ironically, the abandoned cats that are living on the far end of the jogging path are getting food and water daily. Occasionally, they are trapped and put up for adoption. Do we care more for our cats than for our homeless?

Monday, February 02, 2009

Drop Kick!

Dropkick Duck. In light of the Superbowl, I bring you the dropkick duck. Actually, "she" is the dropkick duckette doing a firm foot windup! Of course, being a "she" duck, she has the typical she-duck brown coloration which makes it oh so annoying to identify her. However, that nice big shovel of a beak suggests that she is a Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata. A regular beak of distinction!

Sunday, February 01, 2009


White Spotted Puffer, Carthigastor jactator. This is one of the smallest puffers (and cutest) puffers in the Hawaiian isles, attaining maturity at 3 inches. They use their hard beaks to crush small invertebrates and are one of the most commonly seen puffers in shallow water.

So why the title? Randomness refers to my way of selecting pictures for the blog. I typically click on a folder and do a quick scan for something pretty and into the blog it goes! I'll snap some 500-600 pictures on a typical photo safari (wherever I happen to be). Some of that has to do with making sure that I get some good pictures where there is good subject matter. Nonetheless, it means I have a huge number of pictures sitting on the hard drive that you get little glimpses of in a somewhat random fashion. Hence the title.