I watched the following video about three weeks before this posted. I was so moved by the video, that I decided to dedicate my 2014 to GRATITUDE. I want to see how being grateful, as a daily mindful practice, changes the landscape of my life.
If you read my blog in 2013 you know I had a heck of a year: my sister Alison’s accident, Biosphere Expeditions in the Azores, remodeling my house in Connecticut, Biosphere Expeditions in Africa (Namibia), and the move to California. I hope you enjoy the video below by Louie Schwartzberg, and that 2014 is a year of things you can be grateful for.
This year we went completely non-commercial. No wrapping, no bows, not even presents! Just bare feet and beautiful weather. (Sure it feels a little weird to have my very first non-snowy Christmas ever, but you know what? I can already tell you that snow is way overrated!)
You might have guessed that I’m not in Idaho, and you’d be correct. Edward and I moved to the Los Angeles area last week. He’s got an exciting new job that’s top secret until 02 January. And for me there’s no looking back (to Idaho). As a wonderful friend of mine pointed out “The move sounds like a typical chapter in your life!! Everything happening all of a sudden at once.” And that about sums it up!
Despite the lack of snow, I did get into the holiday spirit and decorated my pink Christmas tree. It’s a long story, but it runs something along the lines of Edward being a curmudgeon at Christmas a few years ago and my threatening a pink Christmas tree, which I obviously carried out…
Anyway. Mr. Purr was posing by the Christmas tree this morning:
Photo credit: EW
But we really know what she was thinking*….
Photo credit: EW
But basically here’s how the afternoon went:
Yes, you have that right. Shorts and no shoes. I am already in love with southern California!
Merry Merry to everyone!
*No, I have not mixed up her gender. That actually happened years ago when I found her. After hours of studying cat genitalia on the Internet the veterinarian corrected my mistake sic months later when we brought him/her in to be neutered (spayed). Edward never recovered from my mistake, however, and still refers to her as a “him”. Silly man.*
[I am back in the United States now, 09 December, but still have so many things to share with you that I will just keep rolling with the Africa posts...]
This was still the first morning in the Park.These bull elephants were HUGE! Much bigger than the ones we have on Okambara…
Ever seen a giraffe drink? It’s pretty awkward!
This was the following at, at a different water hole. Amazing! I could watch them for hours! (And I did!)
Toss in a little zebra for contrast…
Wee ones! They are the best!
Where the water comes out. It was fascinating to watch the pecking order at the source of the water, and only those with strong ties to the dominant elephants got to drink the fresh water. The others had to settle for drinking the “bath” water below.
And then…and then…the very special treat…OSTRICH BABIES! (I was unduly excited.) The ostrich family took their time approaching the water hole…for them it was a careful balance of not getting trampled by the milling elephants, and the ostriches not spending too much time at the waterhole, where they are most vulnerable to predators. In the end the family got their drinks and left while the elephants were still there.
Well, I was extremely lucky to have caught sight of this magnificent predator (I believed it to be a female). I guess all these past months of “training” my eye to see things in the bush paid off…I am told that it’s extremely rare and lucky to see a leopard in Etosha. Even though I’d been up close and personal with the three we’d trapped on Okambara, ‘d never just spotted one in the wild. It was quite a rush for me!
Hard to see, right? Well, here are some more shots as I tracked her movement through the bush. Isn’t she beautiful???
She laid down for some reason.
Then started off again…
Then I guessed she was headed to the water hole, so I drove there and waited…and was eventually rewarded…
And…what’s this? A SECOND LEOPARD? OMG! I almost didn’t see her! (It’s hard, but can you see both of them in the photo? There definitely are two!)
The two leopards were definitely aware of each other, and my conjecture is that they were a mother and a daughter, since leopards are territorial. Mother often help “support” their young for a couple of years because they have such a high reproductive investment in them.)
Leopard # 2 got a drink on the other side of the water hole.
Then she went over to a log and hopped up.
She sniffed for a bit, then she proceeded to mark the log.
It’s been my dream for most of my life to go on a safari in Africa. Definitely one of those “bucket list” items. While I wasn’t on safari, last week I did rent a 4×4 with a rooftop camper and drive up to Etosha National Park. Seeing lions in the wild was one of those peak experiences I was seeking…and i got to see them my very first hour in the park! Extraordinary! Even more extraordinary, well, you’ll have to look at the picture sequence to see what I’m talking about.
How lucky am I to observe something that most people never get to witness–a lion in the wild–much less a lion repopulating the park!
[If you are under 18 or have not yet heard the birds and the bees talk yet, just skip along to my next post.]
Thursday’s fun began with a visit to the Cape Fur Seal Colony, the largest breeding colony of fur seals in the world. During the breeding season in November and
December, there may be up to 210 000 seals at Cape Cross. Lucky me, I got to visit at just the right time! OMG! The chaos! The cries! The wonder! Amazing stuff. As always, I am a lucky gal!
The females fur seals breeding in synchrony once a year, fishing in the nutrient-rich waters of the Benguela Current. They feed, cool off, then returning to
shore to find their offspring amidst thousands of young pups. It’s a risky business, and if they don’t birth a dead pup or the tides change suddenly or the weather changes abruptly, they still have to brave killer whales and copper sharks in the water where they feed. Back on land they also have to fear black-backed
jackals that prowl the edges of the seal colony looking for an opportunity to scavenge, while under cover of darkness brown hyaenas also haunt the beaches. ls
They mate with the male bulls 7-10 days after giving birth, and delay embryo development for about 4 months so that they can come here and give birth the same time each year. Below I’ll show you the “happy” pictures first, then below the line break I’ll show you the “full” picture–if you don’t mind seeing the un-sanitized part of life, the real version of what it means to be a part of the natural world–life, death, mating, fighting, etc. Enjoy!
And now for the “real life” section:
One pup had just been born as I arrived. note the wet looking pup and the placenta still attached to the mother.
There were also lots of dead pups lying around, with seagulls eating their fill.
Remnants of a seal
And pup bleating away for their mothers…it was disconcerting on a primal level for me. I am sure there was some order to the chaos, but for me it was strangely unnerving hearing all those pups wailing away.
If you ever get to Namibia, the Cape Cross Cape Seal Colong is well worth the ~$17 you’ll spend to get in. Just make sure you go in November or December is you want to be there for calving season.
As you know, I work for Biosphere Expeditions. Right now I am in Namibia, just off a week’s holiday in between groups 6 and 7. In the spring I lead the Azores expeditions where we study whaled, dolphins, and loggerhead turtles (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/azores)
So when I heard about a sperm whale stranding close to where I was on the Atlantic coast, of course I had to go and see for myself. How sad to see one of these magnificent animals beached (and dead) on land where they do not belong. Local authorities do not know what happened to the young whale, and speculation I’ve heard ranges from post-calving issues to a run in with an outboard motor, which our Azores scientist Lisa Steiner tells me would leave large, deep gashes on the animal. Lisa and I have been skyping all day–she trained me well and I took a zillion pictures of the whale trying to capture a good picture of its tail–the only way to positively ID these animals. She once told me that nobody thinks to take pics of dead whales’ tails, and the researchers always like to know the fates of every animal they can know.
So I hiked up my pants and got my feet wet, and shot 170 pictures. [Update while I write: Lisa has informed me that this whale's tail does not match any in her database (we did not expect it to since it's generally known that they don't swim across the equator and I am now in the southern hemisphere, but man, it would have changed scientific thinking if it did!!!)] Lisa is going to post it, and my pictures, on MARMAM and see if anyone else wroldwide can match it.
Whatever reason for its demise, it really was a sad sight.
I’ve been on “vacation” touring Namibia this past week, (yes, in between my Cape Town Trip and this post I actually did work a month) and one of the places I stopped along the way was the Hoba Meteor Site. Imagine seeing this huge rock land on your property…of course then you’d also have to imagine yourself about 80,000 years ago, because that’s when they say it fell to earth. The Hoba Meteorite is the largest known meteorite (as a single piece) and the most massive naturally occurring piece of iron known at the Earth’s surface. It’s been uncovered, but since it weights over 120,000 pounds, it lies in its original location.
Well, maybe a little less now that some of it’s been sawed off:
Here’s a nice abstract photo with some surface detail:
Also along the Garden Route I stopped into the Monkeyland Primate Sanctuary (across the parking lot from the bird sanctuary, which will be my next post!)
I paid for the tour and got to walk through the habitat with a guide (and 20 other darned tourists!) It was a neat experience because the monkeys are wild, but habituated to humans, so the tolerate people walking by and just kind-of do their own thing. You really have to look for them however! Because (a) they are everywhere and (b) they are really well disguised! But I did the work for you and now all you have to do is look at my beautiful (well, okay amateur) pictures.
So far my experience with elephants has only been on Okambara (Namibia), where there is a small herd of 9 elephants. Generally on Okambara we monitor the elephants from no less than 150 meters (unless they come closer to us). And there is at least on badly behaved elephant (a juvenile testing his testosterone, er, boundaries). So it was really a delight to get up close and personal to the elephants at Knysna (mentioned in my last blog post). Two days later I went to Addo National Elephant Park, where they have vast herds of free roaming elephants. The park was established in 1920, so these elephants (unlike those at Okambara who are young enough to remember being darted, transported, and collared) are used to vehicles as just another part of the “natural” landscape. When I first pulled up to this waterhole I was (a) astonished at the sheer number of elephants and then (b) astonished at how close we were to them, and how the streams of elephants coming to the waterhole morphed around the vehicles parked watching them. It was truly a breathtaking experience for me. I hope you enjoy the pictures my poor photography skills managed to capture.
Gosh, I just sat there for almost two hours. If I didn’t have to drive 800+ kms back to Cape Town and catch my flight back to Namibia, I might have just moved in with them. MESMERIZING! Boy I really love elephants!