Untamed Land

Untamed Land
Untamed Land

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Prince Wiliam Sound

Do you remember the Exxon Valdez and the big Oil Spill from a little more than a decade ago? Prince William Sound was ground zero. The local villages and small towns were devastated by the disaster. The fishing industry was wiped out and has never really recovered to this day.  Marine life was especially hard hit. Although the sound seems to be teeming with wildlife these days, most wildlife populations are a fraction of what they were.
All of the photos on this post were taken by my friend Dan Holayter. He is the one I have mentioned in past blog posts. He built a cabin, (nice house) on his property out at Goose Creek and I have done a number of posts about that remote area.
He recently gave me a memory card full of his photos for use in future blog posts. Not only Alaska photos, but great places like Yellowstone, The Grand Canyon, North Carolina, and further afield in Europe and Costa Rica.
Maggie recently returned from Tibet, She, Gary and Tom are soon to head to South Africa, I will not lack for blog material for quite some time to come. The photo above is a fisherman in Prince william Sound who beached his boat, intentionally or not. Reminds me of a driver with a flat tire. Whatever the situation is, he is not having a good day.
These are Harlequin Ducks flying past some glacier debris.

PWS is loaded with glaciers. All of them are receding rapidly.
The sound is a brooding kind of place with apallingly bad weather most of the time. It rains, rains, rains.

You better believe that this place is cold. You can feel the constant press of frigid air emanating off the many glaciers.
What awsome shapes and colors come from all this ancient ice.
The glaciers slough off big chunks of ice almost constantly. It creaks and groans, then cracks like thunder. The calving ice can be very frightening if you are too close for comfort. It will literally rock your boat...hard!

Harbor Seals and Sea Otters like these, seek refuge from Orcas among the ice debris all around the glaciers.
There seems to be plenty to eat on the shallow sea floor near the glaciers. Stick your hand in this water and it will go numb from the cold almost instantly. How do these creatures endure it?

Prince William Sound is accessible by road from Anchorage via a long tunnel through the mountains to the tiny town of Whittier. Just outside of Whittier there large colonies of Black-legged Kittiwakes, (gulls) that nest on the cliffs.
The kittiwakes center their colonies around a series of spectacular waterfalls that soar into the clouds high above the bird nests.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Another Look at Khao Sok

Although I have done a blog post or two about Khao Sok NP in Thailand, I have many more decent photos that either I have not posted, or I have more to write about them.
 There is a large, magnificent lake in the park. The water in the lake is very warm, more like a hot tub, than a heated swimming pool.
Last post showed photos of Long-tailed Macaques taken from across the river. These monkeys are not at all shy and boldly cross the river hoping for a handout from the gawking tourists.
This little guy came up and grabbed a green grasshopper off of my pants leg, and casually ate it. Better than a banana.
Macaques are not the only primates in Khao Sok. One of the cutest species of monkey that I have seen anywhere is the Dusky Langur.
I hiked up the main trail in the park from the headquarters up to a small ranger station/snack bar. There were picnic tables set up, and I sat down to rest from the heat and exertion of climbing up the hill. This cute guy came out of the forest and started acting like a typical monkey.
It scampered up and down the tree trunks, then flung itself spread eagle onto the ground. Then it sat at the picnic table in imitation of a human. I was laughing too hard to take any photos of all this. Then it melted back into the forest.

From the small tourist town of Khao Sok, and throughout the forest, one can hear the mournful wails of White-handed Gibbons. They stay high in the tree canopy, and I have not been able to get passable photos of them. This photo was taken by Sean Crane and used by permission. His great website can be found here.
One of the most spectacular species of birds in the park are the, Great Hornbills. You have to see them in life to truly appreciate them.
Spiderhunters are a unique family of birds that I believe are related to sunbirds. I have only seen them in Khao Sok. I saw both, Spectacled Spiderhunters and this Little Spiderhunter, visiting a flowering banana plant.

There are several species of squirrel, some are huge, some are red, some are black, and some of them are probably Treeshrews which superficially look like small squirrels, (I saw them in Northern Thailand). I also saw things that looked like chipmunks to me.
This toad somehow made it up into my bungalow, ten feet off the ground. My guess is that it climbed up the steep, shower drain pipe. I could easily imagine a cobra doing the same thing, pleasant dreams at night for me. I heard things scurrying around both inside and outside my bungalow all night long.
For the most part, turtles are critically endangered throughout asia because they are relished as both food and traditional folk remedies by the local people. I was very happy to see this turtle in the river. I do not know what species it is.
If you know anything about me, you know that I love the reptiles, and Khao Sok is full of them. One of the most common is this lizard that goes by several names, Horned Mountain Dragon, Forest Crested Lizard etc. I want to show more photos of reptiles and things but this post is long enough.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Some Monkey Business

The guidebook mentioned treehouses, Tigers, and wild Asian Elephants in the little known Khao Sok National Park.. It also mentioned several other interesting features about this picturesque wilderness in southern Thailand. I really wanted to go see it, even though it was far out of my way, and I was very intimidated by the idea of travelling alone in a country where I could'nt even read the signs, let alone understand the language.
I arrived in the bus station of the large city of Surat Thani and was approached by an english speaking Tuk tuk driver, "where you go?". I gave the name of a local hotel that the Lonely Planet guidebook recommended in its budget lodging section. We agreed on a low price and we were on our way to the hotel.
As we putted along the sultry, and chaotic city streets he asked about my intended destination, knowing that no foreigners stayed in Surat Thani. It was only a stopover for more exotic destinations.
I told him that I wanted to catch a bus headed in the general direction of Phuket in the morning and get off at the turnoff to Khao Sok. Then I hoped to hitch a ride up to the national park. He said, "why not go tonight? I know van that go to Khao Sok tonight." That sounded good to me, I said, "let's go there instead of the hotel.
The van carried three Brits, a Mongolian woman, and myself across the Malay Peninsula along some winding mountain roads, and deposited us at a lodge just as a tremendous thunderstorm caught us unprepared. The lodge staff quickly sheperded us to some bungalows up on stilts.
In the morning I stepped out on to  my bungalow's balcony and saw a spectacular rainforest habitat. My bungalow was on the edge of the Khao Sok river with towering jungle-clad cliffs on the far side.
There were lots of macaques, what I called, Long-tailed Macaques, scampering around the cliffs. In the late afternoon the macaques would come down to the water to swim and play. Some of them dove off the rocks and even swam underwater. In the photo above, we see a female, mock copulating with the male. He tolerated it, and no doubt it was part of some complex, monkey pair bonding behavior.
After several days of exploring the incredible park, I had to head back to Bangkok. It is a very long bus ride, so I stopped over at the laid back town of Prachuap Khiri Khan, about halfway to Bangkok. There is a Bhuddist monastary on a hilltop on the north end of town. The stairway leading up to the monastary is populated by a horde of Long-tailed Macaques.
They built a fountain at the bottom of the hill with a monkey statue that is used by the macaques as a platform from which to dive into the water. It's all very amusing to watch.
Even further south than Khao Sok, there are extensive Mangrove swamps around Phang Gna, and Krabi. These swamps are home to a much rarer species of macaque, Crab-eating Macaques.  There are minor physical and behavioral differences between the two species. I visited these places on my last trip to Thailand, and enjoyed observing Crab-eating Macaques in the swamps.

The larger, Short-tailed Macaques occur north of Bangkok. This large male was at Khao Yai National Park, another great place in Thailand. More monkey business to come.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Bicycle Odyssey Continued

Jean and Scott continued south from Maine and on through New England. You can see from their coats and gloves that the Fall weather was getting nippy as they crossed the Eastern Continental divide, into the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
These bicycles got a real workout on this trip; their riders as well.
There was a lot of beautiful countryside just waiting to be explored.
Rich colors all around.
It's a heck of a long bike ride from the Canadian border down to the Mason-Dixon Line.
The rest of these photos were taken by Scott near their home in South Anchorage earlier in the Fall.
Lovely colors in the evening light.
Remember the post I did early in the Fall entitled; The Big Blow Down? This ill-fated floatplane at Lake Hood suffered extensive damage when one of it's tie downs pulled out of the ground.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Top Ten Birds of 2012

Normally my Top Ten list of the year includes only new birds. Since I did'nt go to any exotic destinations this year, I only managed to see three new species in 2012. The first one, Yellow-billed Loon was seen in Seward in February. Naturally it was in its dull winter, (basic) plumage. I actually saw two or three of them in Resurrection Bay, just off the beach in downtown Seward.
On that same day I got my second lifer of the year, Gray-crowned Rosy Finch, visiting somebody's bird feeder. There were about a dozen of them altogether.
The last new bird of the year came in April, just outside of Palmer. One of those specks in the photo is a male, Eurasian Widgeon.
Now my task is to decide which seven not new birds were my favorite birds of the year. Western Kingbirds are not so very special to me. I have seen many of them when I lived in Arizona. This bird gets position number four on the list because it does not occur in Alaska, so it caused a minor stir among local birders when it showed up at Westchester Lagoon.

To me, Saw-whet Owls are far better than Western Kingbirds, but they are resident birds in this part of the state. I have only seen or heard a handful of them over the years. Favorite 2012 bird #5.

This bird was almost a lifer for me. It was reported as being a first year, Iceland Gull. Taxonomists have decided that Iceland Gull in not a distinct species. It is a clinal variation that includes, Kumlein's Gull, and Thayer's Gull. I don't know what the super-species is called, but since I have seen Thayer's Gull before, I guess this only counts as a third of a lifer. It was seen this fall at Cuddy Park in Anchorage.

Another bird that I have seen many times before, just not in Alaska. This first year, California Gull was also seen in Cuddy Park with the Iceland Gull. I also got a Franklin's Gull off the coastal trail this Summer. It is another gull that does not normally occur in Alaska. So Franklin's Gull makes #8, even though I have seen many of them outside Alaska.
Common Murres are very common in their preferred habitat. I just don't get to those habitats often enough. This bird was photographed crashing up through the ice from below, in Seward Harbor in February.
Another common bird that I don't see every year because I don't get to its near timberline habitat every year. Golden-crowned Sparrow makes the list because it is photogenic. I guess that this bird rounds out the top ten list, but not really. I saw other good birds that I don't get to see every year like, Long-tailed Duck and the three scoter species in Seward, Wandering Tattler, Black Turnstone, Song Sparrow, Red-throated Loon, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, and Rufous Hummingbird. Common species all, just things that I don't see often.
Other highlights include this Trumpeter Swan  at Spenard Crossing with a Common Goldeneye in the background.
Harlequin Ducks like this female, are not seen often in Anchorage. This drab beauty was at Lake Hood just days before the lake froze over.

Sandhill Cranes are regular Summer breeders or migrants to the coastal trail, but they are especially photogenic.