Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Elephants, elephants and more elephants

While elephants are in serious decline as a species some African parks have a different kind of trouble - over population. In Majete the elephant population has doubled since elephants were re-introduced to the park 10 year ago. Part of the research I helped with looks at population size and damage to vegetation to help assess what would be a healthy sized population of herbivores. Since the park is fenced and surrounded by poverty stricken communities there is no where for the elephants to migrate. Population control will be necessary at some point. There are hopes for a viable elephant birth control to help keep the population size reasonable without the trauma of capturing and moving herds or culling.

I saw elephants probably every day I was in Majete. The matriarchs had all been relocated from other areas into Majete but there are plenty of younger elephants who have grown up in the park.

At least one of the elephants is known to have killed a human and many of them come from areas where they were hunted. But elephants are smart and they are becoming accustomed to tourist who want to take pictures. Not all of them, but some [the "man killer" for example, will charge stopped vehicles, one can only image what sorts of trauma she experienced before coming to Majete, what former friends and family members she is thinking of when she charges].

Some herds are quite willing to let the tourists get close. This elephant, Toothless (she doesn't have tusks, a rarity for African elephants), is an easy to identify member of one of those herds. Her group let us park and watch them for a good long time without getting alarmed.

Their youngest baby entertained us for quite a while playing in a mud puddle. She would throw herself down into the mud (sometimes face first) and roll around, get back up and do it again.

This same herd came through camp one day. We didn't know at the time which group it was - the researchers were in their own tents while us volunteers where in the research lapa.

The lapa is the structure in the back - it's an open sided tent with desks and tables where we would eat our meals and work on computers. The kitchen is in the front. It's got somewhat solid walls and we were told to go there if there was ever a lion or leopard in camp. We, the volunteers, decided that with elephants in the camp we were too exposed in the lapa and we went into the kitchen where we were quiet little mice. Very excited quiet little mice but quiet anyway. The elephants came around all sides of the kitchen, within just a few feet.

Fortunately the herd was a friendly herd so we probably could have stayed in the lapa and been fine.

Even more fortunately we knew to be quiet and not surprise or approach the elephants. Some of the other tourists didn't know that.

Our sleeping camp is open to the public and has a "barbeque" area so we had lots of day trippers and overnighters in the camp while we were there. Most of them were fine. One set of day trippers was there during the day when a family of elephants came through. The adult elephants stayed behind the tents in the dry riverbed and brush but one adventurous youngster stayed into the open area.

Yes, that's a young elephant.

Her mom was fine with us, we let the baby have her room, but two of the young day trippers were trying to get close ups with their camera phones. Not a great idea. The on-site staff had to yell at them to stay back and mom elephant did a brief bluff charge and threat display.

Notice the ears are wide spread and slightly lifted. That's elephant speak for "you better leave my baby alone."

Elephants are one type of animal that the more I know about them and interact (or see) them the more I like them. 

And that's it. The last elephant photo I will post.


Saturday, August 29, 2015

Africa part 1

It's been a long time since I posted. Part of the reason was that I spent nearly a month out of the country. I went on another Earthwatch trip, this time to Malawi to survey wildlife. I haven't finished going through the 900 or so photos I took so this is just the first post about my trip.

Malawi is a very poor country in southern Africa. It's at the bottom of the East African Rift (sometimes called the Great Rift Valley) that run along the eastern side of the African continent. It includes Lake Victoria, Lake Tanganyika and Lake Malawi (you may know about these if you're into fish, these are where the brightly colored African Cichlids are from).

I wasn't on the lake, instead I was in southern Malawi, in the Shire valley (pronounced Shur - ee), an area of open woodlands and scrub forests.

The country of Malawi is very, very poor (one of the poorest countries in the world). Most of their environment is scared and damaged because the locals need to harvest food and fuel in order to survive. The park I was in, Majete Wildlife Reserve, was taken over in 2003 by an organization called African Parks. African Parks took this denuded area and is in the process of turning it into a world class tourist destination. Majete is over 170,000 acres and is now enclosed by electric fence and patrolled to fight poaching. They also reintroduced species that had been poached out of the area, including elephants, lions, and zebra.

Water sources range from the Shire river to artificial waterholes (which are designed to spread the wildlife around so they don't all congregate at the riverside). Tourist facilities include campgrounds (where I stayed), small lodges and a very fancy 5-star lodge in a "concession" area. The concession area is restricted to guests at the 5-star lodge and has it's own waterhole and blind. Being a research volunteer I was allowed in the concession.

This was my tent. See the vegetation behind? That's a dry riverbed. During the night (and sometimes during the day) animals would move through the vegetation back there. Especially Nyala.

Female Nyala above, adult male below.

One of the first days in camp had elephants in the dry riverbed. Our group of Earthwatchers was very excited but we knew enough to stay back. There was a group of day tourists who did not know this. They kept getting closer and closer with their cell phones out, trying to get that super close up. One of the adult females wasn't too thrilled (that's the female in the image above, ears up and forward in a "stay back" signal). Finally the guys at the bar noticed and yelled at the day trippers.

Her "baby" came right through the camp and right past our tents.

Not the best focus - I was too excited.

Here you can get a better idea of the size of the "baby." I could stand up in the center of the tent but had to duck under the shade canopy in front.

But I also heard (but never saw) hyena during the night, and elephants moved through (they are very noisy when eating), and kudu (very large antelope), and I saw a genet one night. I also heard screaming bushbabies, these very small primates are VERY loud.

The bathroom was located at the other end of the campsite from my tent. After dark there was a guard on site and we could call him to be escorted to the bathroom. 

I only saw antelope in camp once after dark but we did find this fellow in the shower one day.

Yeah, I didn't mess with him. This is a juvenile puff adder. The researchers we worked with very carefully encouraged him to get into the bucket and carried him into the bush.

My volunteer work involved counting wildlife. African Parks is trying to keep track of how many of what are around in order to help make management decisions. They don't want the animals eating all the vegetation in the park (or in one part of the park). Since the park is fenced and surrounded by villages there is no where for "excess" animals to go. Already the elephant numbers have increased so much that they're looking into options such as contraceptives.

What does this mean? A couple of days we had "waterhole sits" where we sat in blinds (or at lodges) overlooking waterholes and counted all the animals that came to the waterhole in a 12 hour period.

The blind at Nsepete

Like Impala

Or Waterbuck

Or Warthog

Or Elephants

Gosh darn. Having to look at African wildlife all day.

More soon....

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Finding My Focus

My new super Macro lens takes great close up pictures that have a shallow "depth of field" (ie, the part of the picture that's in focus). That can be good for isolating the subject but you do have to decide what you want to focus on.

Do you focus on the details that are closest to you while making the "big picture" slightly out of focus? Or do you focus on the petals and leave the stuff closest to you blurry?

I was musing on this as it relates to photography while weeding the garden this week. Weeding is a great time for contemplating my navel thinking about my philosophy of life. The garden was very weedy so this topic expanded into finding the focus in my life.

When I was younger I always had plans for the future. After graduating high school I'll go to THIS college because I want to go to vet school. OK. maybe not vet school. Next I'll go to graduate school. OK. I need to take a few years between undergrad and graduate school. No problem. 

Toward the end of graduate school I quit making much in the way of future plans. Graduate school didn't quite work out as I had planned and while I did eventually plan my next career move it kind of stalled after that.

So lately I've been plan-less. 

And I feel "scattered." I  have a good job that I mostly enjoy. I don't have any major career plans because once I reach full professor (tenured) I don't intend to move into administration. We aren't moving any time soon (a first for me in a LONG time - this house is the second longest I've ever lived in one place in my whole life). No major life changes coming up that require plans. No major changes coming up (that I can predict).

So that leave my "personal" life. I've taken an art class, I've enrolled in a Spanish class, I've dabbled in this and that but not really found a focus (except gardening). This leaves me feeling like I'm not accomplishing anything.

It's not an accurate perception but it's there.

So I decided to sit down and list all of the categories of stuff I'm interested in and have claimed to be working on and make plans. One year, two year, five year and ten year goals.

Do I want to become proficient in Spanish or just learn enough to help while traveling (the latter, definitely)?

Do I want to spend more time and energy improving my photography? My writing skills? My drawing/art?

Do I want to work on finally refinishing inherited furniture that needs work? Will I ever replace the no longer functioning innards of the 1950s era radio with a modern system (an iPod doc, anyone?) or is it fine as an aesthetic piece?

It's time to find a focus. What will I do in "this" lifetime?

Thanks to Zack Weiner of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal and BAHfest for this GREAT concept!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Wordless Wednesday

A small sampling of what can be found in my garden right now.

Centaurea montana Black Sprite

Digitalis too-lazy-to-go-check-labelii

Baptisia australis

An unidentified Opiliones who clearly hadn't had her coffee yet
(these are commonly known as Daddy Long Legs or Harvestmen and they are ALL OVER my garden this year)

Trasdescantia too-brightus

No, she's not quite that bright but I like the level of detail so I included it anyway

Friday, June 5, 2015

Close Up Friday

I'm still playing learning to use my new Macro lens so there's no "theme" to today's images except - NEW MACRO LENS WOO HOO!

Veronica prostrata (Speedwell Aztec Gold) close

Veronica prostrata (Speedwell Aztec Gold) closer

Unknown eggs on Panicum virgatum Cloud Nine

Possibly these are eggs of a predatory insect in the genus Podisus 
(based on one comment on Bug Guide. net)

Flower of Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius 'Diablo')

Even closer. I love the way the pinkish/redish anthers look 3-D

Lastly, a little jumping spider that was crawling on my desk this week

Yes, that's a pad of drawing paper. A little thicker than average printer or notebook paper but not much. Did I say little? I meant TINY. Jumping spiders are soooo cute. Too bad I couldn't get closer.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Favorite NEW Plant in the Garden This Week

One of my favorite new plants in the garden are the Icelandic Poppies (Papaver nudicaula).

I noticed these from several isles away at the local garden center. Yellow and Orange do not go with the front yard color scheme so I passed them up.

But when I came home I kept thinking about them and looked them up on-line. They got rave reviews so I looked around the back yard (which does not have a color scheme) and found a spot they could fit.

What bright and cheerful color. Before I could even get them in the ground they were covered with bees. That fits the overall theme of my garden - Pollinators R Us.

Papaver nudicaule is a short lived perennial with a long bloom season in cooler climates. Native to circumpolar boreal regions (ie northern parts of North America and Asia). I'm hoping these will re-seed in the garden and come back next year. I'll be sure to leave some pods on the plants at the end of the season.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Gardening Philosophy

Part of my personal gardening philosophy is that I have a moral imperative to share "my" garden with the other animals that live there. I do have exceptions for potentially dangerous animals. No yellow jackets allowed, for example (The Husband is allergic and yellow jackets are too aggressive). But otherwise I live and let live. 

My philosophy is sometimes strained. The year we had a sawfly outbreak and their larvae munched on my Aqueligia leaves (columbine) so bad that they actually killed a couple of plants (the Denver Gold was the only the only thing that didn't come back) was rough. But, unlike most of my fellow tool using primates, I restrained from dumping poison into the environment for the sake of aesthetics and most of my Aquelegia came back just fine.

Yes, I am a bit rabid about environmental protection.

This year I have a new challenge.

"Tamias minimus" by Phil Armitage - http://www.philarmitage.net/glacier/glacier08.html. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Chipmunks. We seems to have a large number of them in our area this year. The Husband (and The Cats) have spotted them in our yard. I've seen several of them in our neighborhood and I've seen the signs in my garden.

It's hard to see but there is a chipmunk hole under the crocus foliage.

Sadly for me chipmunks eat bulbs. So much for my tulips. I guess I'll plant them in pots this winter.

Good for me chipmunks also eat seeds. They can have ALL of the maple seeds they can eat!

It may be a challenge for my garden but my belief system says I need to let them stay. Besides it would be really difficult to get rid of them. I'm a biologist and I understand how niches work. Got a niche? Something will fill it.  I get rid of the girl in my garden and someone else will move it.Better a chipmunk than a ground hog or a skunk!

Besides. It entertains the cats.