NatureLog - My Nature & Nature Travel Blog
Animals Through My Traveling Lens
Ok – so you’ve read about some Valentine gifts for your nature lover (blog 1) and you’re ready to marry it up with some Valentine personal time (blog 2). But you’re feeling adventurous and want to plan something BIGGER around this holiday. No problem. I’ve created this list – the final of my Valentine’s blog series - from my own “adventures” as a nature-aholic. All of them except #6 are ones that I’ve personally experienced (and #6 is on my to-do list) so I am happy to share from my own personal experience. There are plenty of other ideas that others will have experienced so this list certainly is not exhaustive for you “‘Go-Big’ers” out there. May it inspire you for whatever you plan!
Big Idea #1: Go on a donkey walk. Yep – I really mean a donkey walk. While they’re not prevalent globally, I can tell you they are around the UK and I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at Stokewater Meadows. Chris, the owner, is a delightful man who loves his donkeys, and his donkeys are playful, cheeky and fun. Not to mention you get to enjoy that quintessential charming English countryside along the way. There are plenty of options so go googling to find a donkey walk.
Big Idea #2: Go out for a Badger watch. I know – you really think I’m making these up now. Actually, this is another one from my trip to the Devon countryside in the UK. If you go in the fall or winter like I did, just make sure you pack the right number of layers. And yes, you DO see these cute black and white guys romping across the meadow in front of the hide. Just read this great article in The Guardian for some insights.
Big Idea #3: Visit a donkey sanctuary – it’s sure to be one of the most entertaining things your beloved can do. You’ll see the many pictures featured on my products to prove just how entertaining. My favorite is The Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth, UK for the beautiful trails, beauty, friendliness of the staff, museum and oh so many donkeys!
Big Idea #4: Plan a trip to Costa Rica. (https://www.visitcostarica.com/en) If your Valentine is a nature lover, this is bound to be on their bucket list. From the preserves where one can spot that famous and adorable sloth, to the famous colorful birds (remember the Toucan from the Fruit Loops box?), not to mention the broadest variety of Hummingbirds you’ll probably see anywhere, to the amazing beauty of the countryside, and seeing some of the largest turtles in the world lay eggs under the moonlight, to the tiny hatchlings heading to sea, it’s hard to top Costa Rica for natural diversity.
Big Idea #5: Go visit one of the U.S. National Parks. No matter which park you choose, there is something that nature lovers will love. Grizzlies, elk, moose, bison and mule deer at Yosemite and Grand Tetons, gorgeous red topography in the Utah parks, Mountain goats and edge-of-the-earth beauty in Glacier National Park. As many as I've visited, I still have more on my list to experience!
Big Idea #6: Alaska. Yes it’s a category unto itself. Whether it’s heading to the national park, taking a cruise focused on whales, glaciers, or other themes, or joining the bears to catch their salmon (just kidding – please just watch them from a distance), get researching because there is a LOT to plan! Because it can be overwhelming, you can follow this link to Nature and Wildlife experiences on Trip Advisor for some ideas.
Big Idea #7: Swim (respectfully only) with Spinner dolphins and Giant Manta Rays on the Big Island of Hawaii. Yes, just off Kona, you can have these lovely experiences. Please do your research and always be respectful of these gentle creatures. This company is one that I use because my experience is that they are highly respectful of all of the animals. There are other operators as well so do your research. You should be comfortable snorkeling – don’t learn while you’re doing this experience - you will spend too much time gulping sea water to enjoy yourself and miss the beautiful experience altogether. I've seen it happy so many times. Not to mention your stomach will *not* be happy processing that salt water. Trust me.
Big Idea #8: Swim with an Australia sea lion (ASL). Notice I didn’t say California sea lion (CSL). There’s no swimming with CSL’s in the U.S. and they are a bit unpredictable (not that any wild animal isn’t). I’ve had them leap over my kayak while originally quite some distance away.
There are 1 or 2 places elsewhere that allow it, but I prefer to exercise caution. I worked in marine mammal rehab with CSL’s and I know what they’re capable of. Enjoy watching these beautiful pinnipeds from the shore. If you fancy it, there are operators in Australia who will take you out safely to swim with the ASLs. But as with any wild animal, again always exercise caution. I swam with them in fairly shallow water and found that the one fellow passenger on my boat most comfortable swimming underwater was the most popular one with the ASLs. All of the them were following him - I think they thought they’d found a new playmate. I LOVED watching the underwater fun!
Big Idea #9: Swim with a whale shark. Yes, they *are* the largest shark. However, they’re docile and in fact usually are quite afraid of us. (Picture us humans frightened of a tiny bee and you can appreciate their perspective). They in fact don’t even have teeth to eat fish – they have tiny teeth and instead eat plankton. I found operators in Exmouth, Western Australia who treat them with the greatest respect. Please be sure to find an operator who is highly respectful of these gorgeous big fish.
Big Idea #10: GO BIG. Yep – I do mean big. Whale big. Plan a trip to meet the Baja Gray whales, kayak with the Humpbacks in Maui, or swim with the whales! There are very few places in the world you can do these activities, and only certain times of the year, so plan early and well. Our friend Jeff Pantukhoff of the Whaleman Foundation leads trips to meet the Gray whales in Baja and there are several good tour operators to kayak with Humpbacks in Maui. Here’s a link to our friends at Conscious Breath Adventures where we swim with the Humpbacks (over the U.S. winter), and Eye to Eye Marine Encounters for John Rumney and his lovely family to swim with the Dwarf Minke Whales (over the U.S. summer) out on the Australia Great Barrier Reef. I’ve saved these trips for last because they are truly the most treasured experiences of my life. And I hope to keep returning for many years to come!
While I’ll leave the “experience” gifts to you, you’ll certainly see their inspiration in some of my products and photographs in my Collections and storefronts.
Whatever you do, wherever you go, here’s wishing you and your special Nature Lover someone a wonderful Valentine’s Day….
eThis time of year is so exciting to me. Many winter migrants have arrived and I’m always eager to set out early mornings to see who has arrived overnight or over the last week. Do you know which birds come through your own area this time of year? If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, you will see birds who have flown south to warmer climates. They are either stopping through or staying through the winter. The benefit of stepping out or looking out of your window for these birds is multi-fold. Realizing there is a whole ecosystem of life outside our own helps draw us into the present moment – dissolving our troubling or stressful thoughts.
The birds that you see have risked their lives, skipped many meals, flown many hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles, to arrive. Spending your morning with a loved one, exploring – either through the window or at a local park – is a nice way to enjoy your day. My mother regularly peeks out her window and shows her great-grandchildren the many birds that come through. She’s thrilled that her great-granddaughter, Alaina, proudly ensures other people know about the birds she encounters now, too. What a blessing - a gift - to a young child who to be introduced to and to enjoy the wonders of nature.
I love being a traveling birdwatcher but I still avidly watch my own yard every day. There, this winter, I’ve discovered at least 2 new species I’ve not seen here before. We’ve lived in the same house over 10 years, so seeing new bird was amazing! It’s likely due to a slight change in habitat these new species seek. Our garden has more growth from new low shrubs and purple sage this year and a clearing from trees that we had to cut down due to disease. We’ve seen Golden-crowned Sparrows and Orange-crowned Warblers, the latter of which I never even knew existed.
I’ve also been heading out along the San Francisco Bay’s many parks and to Monterey Bay, never disappointed. Right now on San Francisco Bay, we’re seeing Northern Shovelers, Gadwalls, Green-winged Teals, Blue-winged Teals, Avocets, Black-necked Stilts, Ruddy Ducks, and the latest arrivals, Lesser Scaup. The irony: I’ve seen SO MANY Northern Shovelers over the years at Palo Alto Baylands that I almost ignore them now. But this year, as they took to the skies or rose up on their haunches, I discovered even more colors on their plumage. They are even more captivating when their wings are open! Now my new obsession: being in the right spot, in the right light, at the right time, and the right angle with their back towards me, to catch this same beauty aflight. So far, only blurry pictures.... Luckily, I have the whole winter to keep trying! ;-)
Where will you go this winter to explore? Whether you are a traveling birdwatcher or stick close to home, will you take your grandkids, your sons and daughters, your husband or wife, your mother or father, your best friend and go explore? As John Muir once said....
“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”
“Could it be?”, I thought to myself, as I drove down into the campground area. “It looks like a dark sign from here, but….. it’s moving ….. Yes, I believe it is!!!!!!!” At long last, I had found that colorful, beautiful-in-its-own way, large, endangered bird of Australia: the Southern Cassowary. In each of 3 trips to Far North Queensland (FNQ - Aussies’ name for this northern area of the state), I had hoped to see one. Daintree Village, Daintree Rainforest - tantalized by the “frequent sightings” comments and road signs displayed along the way in the Rainforest. I scanned the edges of the Daintree River at the ferry. My friend, Margit, in the Atherton Tablelands shared stories with me of the Cassowaries they see from time to time in their area. She sent me to Mount Hypipamee National Park where she’d recently seen a Cassowary family coming and going near the parking lot. All to no avail. So on this, my third trip, I stayed in Kuranda and visited Barron Falls Estate for a meandering ATV ride where Cassowaries frequented their fruit orchards – with a ~95% sighting rate.
But alas, on this day, for this eager fan, it was not to happen. And so I continued my drive down to one of my 2 last options – the first, the town of Mission Beach. I booked into a B&B there, passing all of the Cassowary warning signs along my drive, keeping my eyes peeled left and right, front and back. Nothing. I drove the next day and scanned the beaches where they are known to frequent, and took a hike where they had informational exhibits about, and occasional sightings of, the infamous bird. Still, no Cassowary. As I awoke my last morning of this visit to FNQ, I had one option left enroute back to Cairns airport: Etty Bay. I’d heard from Margit and others that THIS was the place to see a Cassowary. But how many times had I heard that of the other areas? I had booked a late flight out of Cairns to give myself ample time, but still, to say that I was hopeful at this point would be overstating my feelings. But what did I have to lose other than a ~20 minute detour to my drive? So here I was, driving into this tiny little area, essentially no more than a lovely campground on the water (mental note: come back here and enjoy the views when I have more time).
Driving down the descent into the campground, looking onto this lovely beach, I spotted something dark. Again, my initial thought: “Could it be?” But then corrected myself that it must be a sign I just simply couldn’t yet read. Yet as I continued my slow drive, it indeed moved! And so here he or she was – the Southern Cassowary!!! At long last! I parked and watched her walk along the beach, picking up fruit along the ground here and there. This is the bird from which all of the signs warn you to stay back, for fear of attack. Ambling through the campground, she walked past Aussies who acted as if it was just another day at the campground. I finally laughed out loud in front of one Aussie gent, noting my humor in his ‘just a usual day at the park’ demeanor as she walked right past him. He laughed and sat and chatted with me for some time about Cassowaries and the respect for this wild bird which goes on its way, without human bother here. Music to my ears. As with any encounter with wildlife, it’s contextual – don’t feed them and habituate them. Don’t corner them or appear to threaten their young. And so here I was: face to face with this amazing bird as she walked straight toward me, looked right at me ever so nonchalantly, and made a slight right to walk around my car where I sat in admiration. I was elated….touched….emotional. Pinching myself that this had just happened.
Why all of the fuss about the Cassowary? The Southern Cassowary is found only in this part of Australia, and is, sadly, endangered. I’ve heard all of my friends in FNQ lament the birds’ status and challenges. Apparently only 20–25% of their original habitat remains here - habitat loss and fragmentation cited in studies as the primary reasons for that loss. Looking specifically at birds who had perished, the studies found vehicle strikes accounted for 55% of their deaths, and dog attacks another 18% - thus the road signs asking drivers to slow down and keep them safe. Other Cassowary species exist in Papua New Guinea and nearby islands but apparently even less is known about those species. [Read more about the studies and the Cassowary here.]
Meanwhile, I’m still left thinking about that special moment, after long last, when we were eye to eye: does she know how much I admire her species and wish for them a safe and continued success? I’d like to think so….
When have you had the moment lately to reap the rewards of coming ‘eye to eye’ with nature? You don’t have to have endangered species in your backyard to fully appreciate them, and allow those special encounters to ground you, lower your blood pressure, and give you an otherwise more positive outlook. What are you waiting for? ….
As always, please contact your local wildlife rehabilitator if you find a bird or newborn chick, or any animal, in need.
Pamela, Eyes4Nature's proprietor, enjoying life out in the field among the animals and the peacefulness of nature.