Tag Archive: wildlife

whale, whale, whale

DSC_0289-1what have we here?  i’m back at sea!  i’m out on mbari‘s western flyer once more, ready for a week of deep-sea squiddy goodness.  we’re just getting ready to put doc ricketts into the water, but already we’ve seen some spectacular wildlife: the summer-resident humpback whales (plus otters, dolphins, sealions and murres) put on quite a show to send us out to sea!  more soon from far, far below the waves…

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a few days ago, just as the sky began to get light, we were awakened by a crash. my first thought was that a kereru/native woodpigeon had flown into one of the windows of the next room. if it were a bird, it would almost certainly be injured, given the force with which it had hit the glass (we felt the impact as well as heard it). so i padded downstairs to see whether anyone was lying stunned (or worse) on the ground. in the grey early light, it was difficult to see, but eventually i did make out an unusual shape sprawled among the pale green leaves of the juicy succulent that is slowly claiming the ground outside our guest-room window. when i folded the wings back in and turned the bird over, this is what i found.

20150330_071910this is a ruru or morepork (Ninox novaeseelandiae), new zealand’s only remaining owl (the laughing owl, along with about half of our other native bird species, became extinct between human colonization of the islands and the end of the 20th century). i had seen them before (and we hear them reasonably often–they make over 20 different vocalisations) but never in the wild, and never this close. his mottled rust-brown and cream feathers were smooth and silky on the wings, incredibly soft on the belly, and almost spiderweb-fine down the legs, to the surprisingly yellow feet. when i picked him up, his head lolled and his eyes were closed, but one foot grasped a fallen cabbage tree leaf, he was breathing, and to my great relief, the remaining tension in his neck showed that it wasn’t broken.

i gathered him in to hold in one hand, pinning the wings to the body. i’ve studied wild birds in the past but the usual hold, with the head supported between first and second fingers, would clearly not work for a bird longer than my forearm. even a small owl has wicked talons and an effective beak, so i hoped i wouldn’t have to explain a slashed wrist to our local emergency facilities (although, good story!). he seemed far from a vicious panic attack, though, so i took my chances. i carried him up to our small deck and sat to examine him more closely. as we walked through the door from the house back outside, his wide yellow eyes popped open and looked around, and he turned his head a bit to get a better look at his surroundings—and me.

owl eyes are unlike most other birds’ eyes; they are proportionally very large, forward-facing and set in flat facial discs and supported by the bony rings common to all raptors. up close, their size and vivid color make for an intense, piercing stare; the bright yellow-orange irises and extraordinary large black pupils of this morepork seemed to convey a much higher awareness than the eyes of most smaller birds. this is probably why owls have their reputation for wisdom across many cultures; in the traditional facial moko/tattoos of the maori, women wear a stylized ruru on their chins for wisdom. i was glad to see that the pupils, although remaining large, expanded and constricted together. the owl’s clear gaze continued to hold mine as i debated whether to test his ability to stand, or check him for injuries.

in the end, his improving head control (i only rotated him a little—for science) and the foot continuing to grasp the cabbage tree frond convinced me to let him try perching. i positioned him behind a bamboo gardening hoop on the deck and touched the perch to the top of his feet; he flailed a little and then grasped, crouching a little lopsidedly and continuing to peer around. while his coordination showed he was not yet fully recovered, nothing seemed obviously broken, although he did slowly tip forward until he hung bat-like from the underside of the perch. i re-collected him into a tea towel so i could isolate each limb and sat down to examine him more closely. i felt along his legs and feet; tension was good, i couldn’t feel any broken bones and he didn’t flinch at my prodding. his ribs, sternum and skull all seemed fine, so although his eyes had closed again, i thought he had a good chance of recovering after some peace and quiet.

20150330_071922i carried him inside with me (to the cats’ consternation—as indoor dwellers they don’t get to see birds on their side of the windows very often), procured a wooden beer crate and brought it back out to the deck with some fat sticks to make perches. i set the box with the open side facing out, positioned the sticks, and gently inserted the owl behind a one, planning to retry the perching prompt. he grasped one of the sticks with a foot, but fluttered his wings and made an awkward hop that brought him out of the box. once in the open, he looked at me, sprang into the air, and made a smooth, swooping, perfect flight over the deck rail, around the corner of the house, and off into the trees. so he was clearly… owl right!

the bat tree

at the end of our trip to australia in july (two months ago, oops), we stayed for a night and a day in cairns.  although smaller than we had expected, it was a nice town to walk around in for a day.  had we known sooner, we would have rented scooters and gone up into the jungle, but as it was, we covered most of the city on foot and left ourselves something cool to do next time we’re there.  we strolled on the esplanade, admired some marine-themed public art, and cruised the night market (which always makes me think of the night kitchen).

we had also heard that there was a large tree full of roosting flying foxes, which we wanted to be sure to find, both for our own interest and in honor of some bat-philic friends and family.  around dusk, without really planning specifically for that timing, we did indeed discover the bat tree, and its hundreds of resident spectacled flying foxes (Pteropus conspicillatus).  they were just beginning to stir, and their golden-orange neck fur gleamed in the setting sunlight as they groomed, stretched their wings, pestered each other and squawked, getting ready for the night’s activity.  we stayed for an hour, hoping to see them take off en masse, but they flew off a few at a time, allowing us a good view of their backlit wings and an accurate impression of their size (each comparable to a small housecat).  given all the other wildlife we’d seen on this trip, including mammals ranging from the tasmanian devil to the humpback whale, this seemed like a good farewell for the trip, and we headed to the airport ready to stretch our own wings and head home.

currumbin wildlife sanctuary

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on day 3 in the gold coast, we spent the afternoon at currumbin wildlife sanctuary.  although we hadn’t been sure we would stay the full five hours available, in fact, we were kept more than busy by the presentations, birds of all sizes, monotremes, and marsupials – in particular, kangaroos upon kangaroos.  big ‘roos, little ‘roos, lazy ‘roos, bouncy ‘roos, joeys in pouches right-way-up and upside-down, and best of all, iiiiiiitchy ‘roos ready to bliss out on a good scratch.  when re-entering new zealand yesterday morning, we had to declare whether we had been in contact with any animals apart from domestic dogs and cats.  the answer: big fat YES.

after our walks in the woods, we drove south to the twin cities for a weekend of catching up with friends and family, and a rather ridiculous ‘shops we don’t have in new zealand’ spree.  we also visited the betsy-tacy houses in mankato, then drove back down to omaha for a final relaxing week at home with parents and animals.  and not just any old animals… tradition dictates a visit to the zoo at least once during every trip to omaha.  and in spite of what seemed like every elementary school in nebraska being on field trips, we did catch glimpses of a few furries, scalies and featheries.

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escape to summer, part 2

once the festwochenende had wound down, we repaired to the verdant bubble of cabin life, accompanied by my old friend and scrabble-rival spam.  more swimming, frisbee, good food and games followed, along with the next installment of the summer’s project: taming the local chipmunk population.  mom had started feeding the cheeky local chippies on two large boulders in the meadow, and had gotten them to the point where they would stomp and chuck impatiently if they felt they’d been underfed on a given day.  having read about the brazenness of chipmunks and seen the greedy gleam in their little seed-maddened eyes, i decided to see how close they were actually willing to get for a cheekful of sunflower seeds.
answer: very close.

over the next few weeks, we grew able to recognize at least four individuals with relatively distinct characteristics, who also mostly appeared in distinct locations, probably associated with individual territories.  some of them grew bold enough to climb our legs and sit on our shoulders, while others remained relatively skittish, although even these shyer ones would hand-feed if we sat still long enough.  we did feel some initial twinges of guilt about acclimatizing them to humans so shamelessly, but on the other hand, their territories clearly did not bring them in contact with any other humans, plus we read that they would forage on fine-weather days to create caches of food for bad-weather days and cold weather.  so really, we were just giving them some winter insurance, and their brief, strange season of tameness shouldn’t affect them too much.  i also can’t imagine that there’s much room for memory in those little skulls, so i doubt the habituation will last long.  i also suspect we will find a meadowful of sunflowers next year thanks to forgotten caches.
it’s pretty hard to find a creature cuter than a jumping spider… but these guys are worthy competition.

sparrow joy

no trip to the northwoods is complete without a pilgrimage to lake itasca, the headwaters of the mississippi river.  no  matter how many times i've been there before, i still love to wade across the ankle-deep stream within its first few recognizable meters, and wade downstream until it's nearly hip-deep.  it's humbling to contemplate where the low, quiet water flowing through the woods will eventually wind up.  the river actually flows north for its first few dozen miles and is a beautiful, several-day canoe trip (as illustrated in this beautiful children's book).  i paddled it with a friend in 2003 and seldom have i spent a more peaceful four days, or seen fewer people – we stayed in several campsites that were river-access only and no one else was anywhere nearby.  we did see snapping turtles, eagles, herons, and wild otters.

even in itasca state park, which on any beautiful summer day will be crawling with tourists from near and far, there are good flora and fauna to be seen if you take the time.

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back to summer – minnesota, part 1

(continuing to reconstruct the june-july trip to north america)

after the california weekend, i headed to the lake, while the pebbles went to vancouver for a week.  the northwoods were as beautiful and peaceful as always, in their verdant summer foliage; the lake was like glass in the morning, and gave birth to millions of mayflies at dusk; the phoebes called their names all day long and darted around to feed their ravenous broods.  the water was clearer than i'd ever seen it and the stones at the bottom could be seen even at night.  my old friend spam stopped in for a few days and we swam, stargazed and scrabbled, and visited good people up at clv

we were treated to abundant wildlife encounters, too.  spam had just been hiking on his own in the woods for a few days and had run into a badger, a bear and a wolf, so he got the major bragging rights, but we didn't do too badly in the woods around the cabin either.

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no trip abroad is complete without making a fuss over the local fauna.  although the more dangerous beasts of oz kept their distance (no snakes, blue-ringed octos or particularly bitey spiders), we did have some nice run-ins with the scaly and feathered.  ibises, although introduced, are now pretty ubiquitous in the cities.

lorikeets swooped regularly through the back yard of the pebbles-in-law, brightening the rain with their tropical colors and cheeky chat.

magpies, which are a terrible pest in new zealand, are at least tolerated in aus (where they’re native).  and their fluting song makes a nice wake-up call.

during the brief patches of sunlight, lizards crept out of every crevice to bask and collect a little solar energy.

although there were also some reptiles that also preferred to work by night.

and this tiny one probably would have preferred to be nocturnal, but he got confused and turned up in the house in the morning instead.

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