Untamed Land

Untamed Land
Untamed Land

Thursday, October 31, 2013

An Eerie Tale

It is Halloween night as I write this post and all the little neighborhood zombies and vampires are taking all of my candy. This puts me in mind of an eerie experience that happened to me in Mexico in the early 1990's.
I used to travel to Mexico once or twice a year through much of the 1980's and 90's. I almost always went to the same place, San Blas, Nayarit. I have posted about it before. It was the closest 'jungle' to my house in Arizona, about 1200 miles to the south.
One day I was in the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson. I got to talking to a curator about the museum's collection of living bats. He mentioned that the museum got its Vampire Bats from San Blas because that was the location of the northernmost known colony of Vampire Bats. I asked him for directions to the entrance of the bat cave, and he told me that it was at the base of the cliffs at the edge of town.
The very next time that I was in San Blas I decided to look for it one afternoon. On the way through the outskirts of town I passed through a gate that had one word painted on it; Tinieblas. That means outer darkness in Spanish. What an odd thing to put on a gate I thought.
As I drew nearer to the base of the cliffs I saw this imm. Gray Hawk above.
Soon I entered into a copse of trees and saw this macabre sight. Someone had obviously sacrificed this large black dog on top of a boulder. There were extinguished candles and other cultic symbolism all around. What twisted degenerates did a thing like this?  Santa Muerte? I definitely had a major case of the creeps at this point. ( I did not photograph it so I made this quick illustration for this post.)
Quickly I skirted around the unhallowed altar and approached the cliffs from another angle. Soon I got to see one of my most sought after birds from that part of Mexico, Russet-crowned Mot mot.  It was absolutely the best bird of the trip.
After some searching I came to an opening in the face of the cliff. It was at the top of a pile of rocks which had sloughed off of the cliffs. I climbed to the top of the pile and noticed a coating of slimy black goo all around the entrance to the small opening.
Then three things happened at once; I noticed a very large Mexican Swallowtail Butterfly that caught my attention. Then I was hit by a wave of putrid odor so I took a step back. The boulder I was standing on shifted under my feet and I toppled over backward. I hit my head on a jagged rock several feet below the boulder, HARD.
It knocked me senseless. I do not think that I was completely unconscious because I could still hear bird calls in the distance. I just could not move. My head was in serious pain. All I could do was lay there helpless.
By this time it was becoming late afternoon and I knew that dusk falls quickly in the tropics.
The bats would be emerging soon and there I was, a veritable banquet for them. No bats landed and bit me and eventually I sat up to assess the damage. Little blood, no broken bones. My expensive telephoto lens had a crack on the side but it still worked.
Slowly I made my way back to my hotel and was very sore for the rest of the trip.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Most Haunted Place

I don't know about ghosts and witches but this place is full of spooky, or at least creepy creatures. Throughout the years I have visited many tropical locations where the nocturnal sounds emanating from the rainforests were almost drowned out by the deafening screams of creatures right inside my lodging. I tend to like spiders and snakes and such but sometimes it can all be a little overwhelming.
The one place that is the subject of this Halloween post was the creepiest of them all. I did not see any owls but there were Owl Butterflies such as the one being displayed by my guide Lenin. It is not at all spooky.
Unfortunately I do not remember the name of the bargain ecolodge where I stayed but I do remember that it was located on the banks of the Cumaceiba River about 60 or so miles out of Iquitos, Peru. What I do remember was the super-abundance of spiders all over the place. When I opened my suitcase at the end of the day, two large spiders such as the individual above popped out of my suitcase and ran up my arm.
The flooded forests all around the lodge literally dripped spiders. We spent our days exploring the Varzea forests in leaky dugout canoes. There were so many spiders that we could not keep them off of us. We had dozens of spiders crawling all over us at any given time. Thankfully they did not bite.
The same could not be said about the tiny ants that also covered us from head to toe. Their bites did not hurt but the Formic Acid that they exuded burned my eyes and caused my rain parka to dissolve. Those were uncomfortable days and nights.
There was a good representation of tarantulas, the most common being the inoffensive, Pink-toed Tarantulas.   On one occasion I was sitting at dinner next to a Canadian couple. A Pink-toed Tarantula dropped from the thatched roof and landed right next to them. I gently picked it up and put it back in the thatching.

A well camouflaged walking stick.
This cicada has just emerged from its larval exoskeleton. It was about four inches long. Notice the tiny spider just below the cicada? It looks like a baby tarantula.
Do you know what this is? It is a very large, Tail-less Whip Scorpion that my guide Lenin is holding against his shirt. It is quite harmless.
Along with the myriad of spiders, there was an abundance of bats, like these Proboscis Bats.
There were plenty of bats, both inside and out. I was very relieved to have tight fitting mosquito nets over the bed. Some guests had to sleep on hammocks without netting. I pitied them.
There were two large treefrogs living in my shower. Cute, not creepy.
This huge, Smoky Jungle Frog was not so cute. Way cool anyway.
Most people are creeped out by snakes. I love them, and was thrilled to see this Green Anaconda. By the way, the guests at the lodge ate local cuisine; Fish out of the river, venison, caiman, and anaconda. Anaconda is delicious, but rubbery.
This snake, the Fer-de lance, (Bothrops Atrox) is responsible for more human fatalities in Latin America than all the other venomous snakes combined. This small individual had a very calm temperament.
Happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Third Time Lucky

Before I get around to the main subject of this post I'll include a few photos of the season; like this Bald Eagle hanging out at Spenard Crossing.
The eagle did not want to be photographed, at least not so close to the ground.
Greenwings are getting pretty hard to find. A few juveniles have not left for warmer climes yet.
What is this? A preening Common Redpoll. They are probably the most abundant bird species around here although they are somewhat nomadic. The Birch seed crop seems to dictate where they tend to go. I have not been seeing so very many around town lately.
I have only seen one small spider this year, although I photographed this individual last Fall.
BOO! This spider gives me an idea for a Halloween themed post next time. I hope you like creepy crawlies; I do.
Normally Anchorage is blanketed by snow at this time in October. In fact we got our first snowfall in mid September but it melted quickly. We have been experiencing record warm overnight lows although it still feels cold. The common wisdom says that warm arctic Winters translate to bitterly cold Winters farther South.
The Mallard is not the important thing in this photo. What is that behind it?
These photos were taken at Cuddy Park. If you read the last post, then you have a pretty good idea what species of gull this might be. The dark primaries and upper tail are clues to help identify this second year bird.
My Field Guide to the Birds of East Asia calls this gull an, "East Asian endemic, restricted to coastal Koryakia, Kamchatka, Sea of Okhotsk, Shantar Is, Sakhalin, and Hokkaido and N Honshu." I had to check with a local bird expert, Aaron Bowman, who grew up in Japan and really knows East Asian birds, before I could be sure that this was the Slaty-backed Gull.
Last Wednesday I made my third visit to Cuddy Park in search of it. This Slaty-backed Gull is my fourteenth new bird of the year and more importantly my 200th Alaska bird. I no longer have to hang my head in shame when in the presence of fellow Alaska birders, although most serious AK birders have well over 200 Alaska birds.
 I have the excuse of being a poor artist without the resources to travel around this expensive state. Most of the top Alaska birders work for the government whose job requires them to travel to remote villages, or they are biologists of some kind and get free travel to the bush, care of the US taxpayer.
This bird is sure to make my top ten list of new birds for the year. Look for that post in early January.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Chasing Some New Vagrants

This post is about vagrant birds, not people. I am afraid to chase vagrant people.  A little over a week ago a local bird fanatic reported seeing a Palm Warbler in a section of Anchorage called Government Hill. Most of the other bird obsessed people in Anchorage dropped everything and went to see it. I had to work, and I am a somewhat lazy birdophile, so I did'nt go.
Two days later I went after it in the rain but missed it. Then on this past Wednesday I went back with my birding friends Chris, (left) and Betty, (right). We could not find it.
While we were there another local bird junky, (Gary Rasmussen) emerged from the brush with a big grin on his face. He got the Palm Warbler. We looked thoroughly. No luck. It would have been my 14th new Alaska bird of the year and my 200th Alaska bird overall.
 Other states have much greater bird diversity than Alaska. Anyone who gets into the 200 Alaska bird club is in some pretty exclusive company. It is not easy to accumulate that many bird species in the state.
 Chris is in a category with only a few fellow birders. She has more than 300 Alaska birds. That is no easy accomplishment. One can only get that many Alaska birds by making frequent trips to the most remote outposts of the state, and by having a lot of luck; Not to mention a great deal of preparation and hard work.
I had another chance to get my 200th Alaska bird this week with an imm. Slaty-backed Gull being seen at Cuddy Park in midtown Anchorage. Cuddy park is next to Loussac Library, (above). When I went there on Saturday morning there were hundreds of Canada Geese staging for their imminent migration.
Canada Geese surrounded the library on all sides.
The typical confusion of Cuddy Park. People bring their children to feed the ducks. Birders shun the park except at this time of year when unusual gulls, (usually immatures) sometimes show up.
Last year at this time I did a post about the difficulty of sorting out sub-adult gulls when  imm. Iceland, and California Gulls showed up. I finally figured those gulls out when I got help from local bird experts. This imm. gull above is sampling a leaf to see if it's edible.
Is this the Slaty-backed Gull? Who knows. I need more expert advice to figure it out.
This is not it. This is a winter plumage, Glaucous-winged Gull. I think.
I am fairly confident that this is a juv. Herring Gull, but I would not bet money on that.
There are several different forms of Canada Geese around here. This goose has a darker brown breast than most. It is either a Cackling, or Dusky Canada Goose. I get lazy and don't usually try to sort them out.
For about the last month I have been seeing Moose almost daily. This one showed up at work on Friday.
Nine out of ten of them are cows. Bulls get shot at so they are more wary.
I forgot to post this shot of the Moose that I photographed with my new camera from the last post. This was at full 8x zoom from about 15 feet away.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Adventures With the New Camera

My ancient cellphone is just a phone. No camera, apps, music, games, nothing, just making and receiving phone calls.  For some time now I have been thinking that I ought to obtain an inexpensive and especially a SMALL camera that I can carry around in my coat pocket or knapsack. There have been many occasions when I wished that I had a camera with me. Usually on my way to, or from work.
They just opened a new mega-Walmart that is right on my way to work. On Thursday I stopped by the store on my way home from work and purchased this little camera. It is only 2" high by 3.5" long. I also got a deluxe carrying case, (ziplock bag) to keep it from getting wet.
On Friday a rare occurance for this time of year happened. The sun came out. Before dinner I decided to test out the new little camera in the field next door. I was dismayed to see heavy equipment excavating foundations for a new housing development. Kiss the field goodbye. There is enough of it left to photograph the end of Autumn. This is one end of a depression that will play a role at the end of this post.
At first I just photographed colorful weeds. I was hoping to find some cooperative birds and a flock of Canada Geese flew directly over me but I was too slow to get a decent shot of them. There were no other birds at all.
People dump a lot of trash in the field and I came across this shattered window. To me it looks a lot like ice covering a frozen pond.
When I first moved to Anchorage, this was just an off-road track. Something caused it to sink. Whether it was frost heaves or earthquakes or a combination of factors, the ground sank and water settled into the depression.
This Moose was about a hundred yards distant. The limited 8 power zoom on the camera could not bring it very close.
It soon wandered off into the thick brush but reappeared a few minutes later. This time much closer.
The cow Moose looked at me and turned her course toward me.
She did'nt come directly at me so I stood my ground. The light was quickly fading so many of the photos I shot were somewhat blurred. 
She made as if to walk past me and keep going. Notice how pale her rear legs are. Many Moose have nearly white back legs. At this point I was using camera's widest setting, 24mm. She was only about 15' away from me.
Then she stopped and gave me a few long stares. I kept shooting photos, realized that my flash was popping so I shut it off.  Soon she began browsing with no further concern about me.
She was relaxed around me but very alert to noises coming from beyond her field of view. A motorist revving his engine on a nearby street caused her to quickly walk in the opposite direction. 
I left to go eat wondering why she came so close to me when she could have so easily avoided me altogether.
What do I think of the new camera? I like that fact that it is 16.1 megapixels, and has a ziess lens. It will not be much good for photographing birds, but its more than adequate for toting around on a daily basis.