Category Archives: wildlife

The trip before the trip

After breakfast we hopped on a little bus for a tour of Delhi.  Our first stop was the spice market, which was almost as crowded and narrow as the souks of Morocco. There was so much traffic, so many overhead wires, and so many little shops that I had to take a video in hopes of getting it all in.

And over our heads the monkeys were navigating along the wires, just the way squirrels do at home.  Here’s a look at the market where we got a tour of the various teas and spices and how to use them.  I ended up with several varieties, some for presents and some for ME.

A few more views, of hot peppers for sale and a dried fruit stand. 

We walked back through the market, where I noticed this broom, which I was to see often as women swept the streets or sidewalks in front of their stores.

From here we got into auto rickshaws, or tuktuks, for a little tour of the streets.  This is Carol and her sister Lucy traveling next to ours.   Our rickshaws were actually larger than the usual ones.  The smaller ones are used by everyone: three wheels, open sides, often crammed chock full of people and belongings.  Here’s an image taken by someone else.A wild ride and you have to hang on tight!

Back on the bus, we traveled through the center of town with some difficulty, since many streets were closed in anticipation of Independence Day celebrations.  Modi had invited Bolsonaro, the Brazilian autocrat, and I can only imagine they had a great time together, plotting how to oppress their people.  We caught sight of several government buildings and of the Red Fort, which, sadly, was not on our agenda.

(Not a great picture, since it was taken from the bus.)  I was reading William Dalrymple’s City of Djinns on this trip and it made me wish that we could have spent more time here.  A reason to go back!

Partway through the tour, our guide tried to explain the difference between Hindus and Muslims. Well!  They (the Muslims) are all terrorists, their allegiance is to jihad not to India, they breed like rabbits while Hindus have only one child, where will the Hindus go, there is no Hindu country, and on and on.  It was quite unpleasant, but at least we did hear the unfiltered views of a man who undoubtedly represents quite of a few of his countrymen.

Our final stop was Humayan’s Tomb, commissioned by Humayan’s wife and completed in 1572.  It is said to be the inspiration for the Taj Mahal.  I fear that I did not fully appreciate the architecture or the setting, but I do know that the building and the surrounding gardens are a an example of Mughal architecture, borrowing from Indian as well as Islamic styles.  Built of red sandstone and white marble, its lovely arches and tiles again reminded me of Morocco.  Our guide took a picture of us standing in front of it. 

The happy crew:  Caron, Cathy, Caity,  Christine, Linda, Carol, Lucie, Pati and me (looking oddly belligerent).

We left Delhi and our guide about mid-afternoon and headed for Agra in a little bus with seats for fifteen, so we each had room to spread out our marigold necklaces, bouquets of flowers, and personal needs (water bottles which are passed out by the guides throughout our trip, purse, phone, guidebooks, snacks, etc.).  It was a long, long drive to Agra through very flat country but worth it in the end. We had a delicious late dinner (not  my  usual  style  but I survived!). It was nicely presented even though we were not sure what we were eating.

After checking in at the very first-world Radisson Hotel, we agreed to meet at 6:30 the next morning to see the Taj Mahal at dawn.

Such a good idea! The light was magical as we entered the site,

and there were crowds to be sure, but not as insane as it will undoubtedly get later.

We entered  through the west gate,which is decorated with elegant calligraphy

using pietra dura, inlaid with precious and semi-precious stones.  (As always, applique designs leapt out at me.)

Our first sight through an archway was the iconic view, with the early morning mist giving it an ethereal look.

It was unexpectedly moving.  Like seeing Michelangelo’s David, the image is so well known as to be a cliche, but when you see it in person it is arresting.

We all kept taking pictures, because the light kept changing.  Here it is with the pink light of dawn.

Inside the mausoleum, you can see the tombs (though they are apparently replicas) and appreciate the beautifully carved stone filigree screens. 

Guides are positioned along here with flashlights so that you can see how the semi-precious stones glow in the light.

We saw lots of birds, including big green parakeets and the iconic hoopoe (not my picture). We wandered along the plinth and enjoyed the beautiful views of the Yamuna River below, with boatmen looking like an impressionistic painting.

Of course, when planning the trip it seemed logical to visit the Taj Mahal since it was so close to where we were going, and I was thrilled when Cathy set it all up for us.  But I had never longed to see it, so although I was expectant I was not exactly excited.  But then we saw it, and it was simply magical.

 

Wildlife and exoticism

This was not a nature trip, but you can’t help noticing the animals everywhere in India.  In my neighborhood I’m likely to see cats, dogs and squirrels, along with robins, wrens, finches, woodpeckers, chickadees, hawks, etc.  But here was a new array of everyday creatures!

Dogs are hardly unusual, but they were everywhere in the streets, never on a leash or seeming to belong to anyone.  This one was enjoying the sunshine while stretched out on block-printed fabric drying in Bagru. 

They appeared healthy and were beautifully behaved, so I asked one of our guides who took care of them.  He said that when you made your chapatis in the morning, you made one for the dog, and when you made your chapatis in the evening, you made one for the cow.  I’m not sure if that was metaphorical or literal…

There were several kinds of cows, some dairy cows and some not. 

This dairy cow was strolling through Bagur.

This beauty was surrounded by words that I can’t decipher.

And this one seems to have been decorated?

Monkeys were ubiquitous, climbing up telephone poles, along the rooftops, and hanging from wires. 

These monkeys were outside of the vegetable market in Jaipur.

This one was strolling along among the tourists at the Taj Mahal.

This monkey is posing with a kite at the step well. (Kite flying is a huge pastime in Jaipur, and we saw these tiny kites in the sky all the time, especially at the end of the day.  When they coat the strings with powdered glass for competitions, they can be a danger to people and especially to birds, but it is beautiful to watch them soar.)

This mama and baby were climbing above electrical wires in the spice market in Delhi.  We were cautioned not to play with them or feed them, and, fascinating though they were, I wasn’t tempted.

We saw a few elephants thumping along the streets, but the only one I captured with my camera is this one, decorated for tourists, along the lake.

Cathy is paying the driver for permission to pet it.

Camels were seen more often, usually as beasts of burden but for tourists, too.  Here’s a glimpse of one in the street in Sanganer that carried a load on its back.

This one was waiting for customers down the road from our hotel who could be tempted into a ride.

But the creepiest of all was this human monkey.  He was roaming around in a craft market we visited.  If I had managed to get a video, you would have seen just how awful he was, coming up behind people and grabbing their bags, racing along on all fours like a real monkey, and in general behaving like a scary creature that’s supposed to be funny.  I think he might have been a representation of Hanuman, a god who is “generally depicted as a man with the face of a monkey and a long tail.”  Although the people in these pictures are laughing, there were a couple of children in tears.

Finally, a note on exoticism.  It’s defined as “the charm of the unfamiliar,” but it can also be a way of distancing yourself from what you are seeing.  In a culture as different from mine as India is, I’m afraid that some of what I saw was just that:  a strange and fascinating way of life that I don’t really understand.  But I’m trying!

So, I went to India!

I must have been on a mailing list from Amy Butler, because that’s how I learned about her workshop. She and Sujata Shah went to India two years ago with three groups, one week each, and 2020 was the return trip. Since none of my usual traveling companions was interested, I just signed myself up, thinking that I would be with like-minded people and in a little bit of a bubble for my first encounter with a very different place. Sixteen of us were signed up for the trip and nine of us went on a pre-trip jaunt to Agra to see the Taj Mahal.  It was exhausting, gorgeous, surprising, beautiful, and overwhelming.

The drill is that you land in Delhi close to midnight and go immediately to your hotel.  Steve from Eternal Journeys had arranged all of our transport and escorts, so we just looked for our name at the airport and trooped onto a minibus that took us to our hotel.  The marigold necklaces and bunch of flowers are traditional, and we festooned ourselves and the bus seats with them for the next few days.

After breakfast – we had our choices of coffee, tea, eggs, yogurt, bread and Indian delights, a spread that would become familiar soon – we took a quick walk around the neighborhood before the bus came, and I saw my first cow in the street.  This soon became routine, but it is startling the first time you see it.

(Those are house crows on top of this cow.)

First impressions: a friendly group of women, a very different place, and delicious food.  Onward!

Costa Rica wildlife

If I were maintaining this blog for fame or fortune, I’d be in the gutter by now!  But since it’s just for me (and a few of mine), I will randomly post a list of the birds we saw in Costa Rica back in 2016.

Beth, Bill and I took several lovely walks near their house, which was nestled in the side of a hill and looked out over a thickly wooded ridge (they’ve since moved).  Sitting on the deck, we had a great view of all kinds of birds.  We also walked up to the Cloudbridge Nature Reserve, and took another walk near their previous house, through a small village and through the woods.  However, it was very windy the couple days that I was there, so we didn’t see quite as many birds as we might have.

Here’s a list, along with pictures that are mostly not from me.

Scarlet-thighed dacnisdacnis

and my far less good picture

toucanet (emerald)  – this is such a classic tropical bird that it was very exciting to see it!

emerald-toucanet

lance-billed hummingbird (thanks to the birdcraft website for this one because we were peering and following it but never got this close a look)

sulfur-winged parakeets (thanks, Sherms Photos)

turkey vultures (we all know what they look like)

Baltimore oriole (ditto)

Squirrel cuckoo

Bug of the day

mason wasp

Just spotted this today and luckily got an ID right away since it’s so distinctive.  (Thanks to bugguide.net for the image.)

This is the four-toothed mason wasp, a solitary wasp that uses existing holes for its nest.  Mine was eating the pollen on the clethra.  It’s looking a little weedy here, but the scent is divine.  You will just have to imagine the wasp cradling one of these blossoms.clethra Find out more at this informative site.

 

For the Birds?

Over the last few years, the supposedly squirrel-proof feeder I had became less and less satisfactory.  old feederIt was a good one from Droll Yankee, but it never really worked all that well.  First of all, the squirrels quickly figured out how to work around the baffle and helped themselves. See the bite marks on the edges of the baffle?!

Next, it attracted only some of the birds and I wanted to expand my scope.  Finally, I had an old hummingbird feeder from Dad that was hard to clean and had lost a few parts that I had to tape on.  Time to move forward!

The young guy at Roxbury Mills recommended two feeders, one for thistle seed and the other for sunflower seed and supposed to be squirrel-proof.  I also picked up a simple hummingbird feeder.  The results have been great, despite a few bumps in the road.

Here are the thistle and seed feeders, hanging from a new shepherd’s hook.feeders

You can see that the goldfinches have found it!  Also the house finches.  Here’s a close-up of them actually feeding.feeders2

So far the visitors have included Mr. and Mrs. Goldfinch, Mr. and Mrs. Housefinch, chickadees, tufted titmice, cardinals, and  a nuthatch that swoops in from climbing upside down on the oak tree.  On the ground below I’ve seen mourning doves, a brown thrasher, robins, and white-throated sparrows.  Nothing out of the ordinary, but such fun to watch.

However, I have also managed to attract two pests, squirrels and cats. The perch on the sunflower feeder closes up if enough weight is on it, theoretically deterring squirrels. It took the damn squirrels less than a week to figure out how to put all their weight on the pole so that they can get to the sunflower seeds.  I try to shoo them away but it’s really useless unless I want to sit there all day with a BB gun on my lap.

The cats are my neighbor’s free-range cats.  More than once I’ve noticed an ominous silence and when I’ve looked the window have spotted the orange and white cat sitting patiently below the feeder, waiting for a SNACK.  Not on your life, buddy.  I plan to invest in a spritzer and stand ready to spritz him with water the next time I see him.  Yes, I know this is a losing venture, but it might give me some satisfaction.

On a happier note, the hummingbirds have found my new hummingbird feeder!  I can see it right out of my kitchen window and have had lots of fun watching them.  Unlike the feeder’s on Kristi’s deck in Vermont (seen here sans hummingbirds, but what a view!)

hummingbird magnet

hummingbird magnet

my feeder attracts only one at a time.  In typical fashion he (sometimes) or she will zip in, sip either while fluttering or, something I didn’t expect, perch and sip.  Here are a few pictures thanks to the burst feature on my camera.hummingbird3

This is the Mrs., without the ruby throat, hovering until she can find the right spot.DSC07087

And here she is feeding.  I’ve also seen her husband, whose brilliant ruby throat is visible for a fraction of a second as he flies away.  I have my camera right by the kitchen window in hopes of getting a better picture.

I’ve also bought a second, window-mounted hummingbird feeder, but it may be poorly sited.  I’ll play with its placement a little and see if I can get some good close-ups once they find it.

This has been a ridiculous amount of fun, despite the swearing at pests.  I may just add to the feeders until the place looks like a scene out of The Birds.

Justifying its existence

The akebia vine just sits there most of the year, putting out tendrils that want to conquer new territory but never quite getting there.  By February it is looking ratty, and then the transformation happens.  New leaves appear, it looks happy and healthy and, best of all, the tiny flowers bloom and release a heavenly scent.DSC06850

Today, the bees were enraptured, in particular this hovering variety.  Look at the middle of the frame…

I wish you could turn on your Smell-o-vision and experience it the way the bees and I do.  The birds like it, too, and I think the wrens may nest there.  Whether they appreciate the scent as much as I do is an open question.

Spring Ephemerals

DSC06832

Searching for spring ephemerals the day before St. Patrick’s Day was a great idea, but in reality the weather was hot and humid in this weird spring.  Nevertheless, we did spot a few joys, thanks to Ann’s sharp eyes.

Are these oyster mushrooms?

DSC06841

Bluebells just emerging, and leaves of trout lilies promise flowers later.

DSC06836

I think this is some kind of spurge (euphorbia), of which there are about a zillion varieties.

DSC06835

A true ephemeral, claytonia virginica, aka spring beauty.  You can just make out the helpful lines on the petals so that pollinators can find what they’re looking for.

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I kept calling this witch hazel, but I think it is actually spicebush.

Ann knew what this was, though it’s hard to make out in this picture.  Shadbush is also called shadwood or shadblow, serviceberry or sarvisberry, or just sarvis, wild pear, juneberry, saskatoon, sugarplum or wild-plum, and chuckley pear, according to Wikipedia.

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No walk is complete without wildlife.  We admired this shiny fellow along the path.

DSC06842Oh, and the turtles sunning themselves (top) are probably Eastern River Cooters, according to this site.  Unless they are Eastern Painted Turtles…

What I saw in the garden…

the other day was a wasp with brightly colored antennae.  No picture of my own, but here is someone else’s.

Spider Wasp:  Entypus unifasciatus

Thanks, What’s that bug , for this photo identifying the spider wasp, Entypus unifasciatus.

I was really struck by the antennae – bright orange, long, and waving about.  Apparently their sting is incredibly painful, so I’m glad I didn’t get any closer than I did.

They are also great hunters, as you can see in the video from this fascinating blog post about tracking a spider wasp dragging a paralyzed wolf spider.  So cool!

A few more critters

I’ve seen these on the roads in the last few days.  My first thought was June bugs, but they must be cicadas.DSC04147I found this one on the back lawn.

I saw two beautiful spiders in the garden this morning, but when I got close they ran away and/or curled up into a ball.  One was orange and the other wasn’t.  This is as close as I could come.DSC04152My other fail at photography has to do with hummingbirds.  This morning I saw one fly away from the morning glory (yes, one tiny vine has persisted even though I tried to root it out) and rush to the cardinal climber vine.  It was followed by either three baby hummingbirds or three big bugs that can fly really fast.  Wow, do I fail at nature.  Here’s what attracted them.DSC04156Not many flowers, but what there is, is choice.  Plus beautifully cut leaves.