Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year’s Day as we sing in the Virgin Islands

My parents and I were gliding across Belize and Central America and then we went back up to the States and did an excellent stupendous cross country road trip. We visited places like Yellowstone National Park and the Smithsonian where I got a behind the scenes tour as you can read about in my other blogs. And then we moved to the sunny Virgin Islands where we have been swimming with dolphins, snorkeling on coral reefs, and sailing around. Things have been crazy with moving and shifting in the past few months but we are going to settle down now and I hope to blog more frequently. I also hope to be doing some more birding and blog about that. Blogging is a way I can tell the world the world about what I’ve been doing. I hope you had happy holidays and wish you a Happy New Year.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Yellowstone (July 2010)

Yellowstone National Park is made up of explosive geysers, stellar views, amazing stupendous wildlife and much much more. We went there on our long and fun cross country trip from coast to coast. So where is Yellowstone? It is mostly in Wyoming. It is a gynormous chunk of land filled with many geothermal wonders. When we first came to the park, we set up a tent in a hustle bustle camp site.

With camp chores finish
ed we took off to explore.Our first stop was the Devil's Blue Gurgling Hole. If you are lucky enough you can see through all the thick vapors rising off the scalding waters. I was lucky enough to see it because the wind started blowing. It was beautiful. The color of the water looked like the Caribbean Sea which is mostly turquoise. It was a giant hot spring that was 180 degrees. There were other hot springs with different colors. Different kinds of bacteria, silt and mud helped made all the alluring beautiful colors. I saw every color of the rainbow expect for red and purple. The grand prismatic hot spring did not look like much from the ground but when you climbed the nearby ridge to look down on it, it was beautiful and amazing.

We drove a little bit and stopped to look at another of these interesting hot springs, we saw bubbling mud pots that looked like the Earth’s cup of bubbling hot mud chocolate. There were also several other of these bacterial mud hot pots which were steaming and bubbling up from down in the abyss and smelled like stinky sulfur. Some were even orange and brown.

Did you know that half the world’s geysers are in Yellowstone? We also saw lots of hot geysers. One shot yellowish scalding hot water 15 feet back at the Mud Pots. We also saw Old Faithful which is probably the most famous geyser in the world. Judging by the rangers schedule it was a little bit off that day and everyone was nervous. Just as we got there and settled down in our seat, it went off. It was crazy shooting very hot water high high up into the blue sky. Then the boiling toiling steaming water came fully back down to the ground and it sunk right in. It lasted for about 2 minutes. There were at least 100 people watching this very famous geyser and I was one of them.

We found another world in the park that was not so geothermal. We saw an amazing about of animal life which included buffalos, coyotes, marmots, grasshoppers, antelopes, elks, moose, deer, black bears, mountain goats, rat snakes, short tailed squirrels, Western Bluebirds, Magpies, Clark’s Nutcracker bird, a Grizzly Bear and many others.

We saw large herds of gynormous buffalos and elks that were grazing and chomping down the Yellowstone grass. It’s amazing that the grasses can keep growing with all the animal mowing. There were so many buffalos plus many windy roads that the buffalo created many traffic jams for the automobiles, we got stuck in a few of these. We would just have to wait through it all and take a lot of photos. They were almost brushing against the hood of our car. We saw a whole array of behaviors and moods and the buffalos were all different ages. There were big one and young ones staying close to Mommy and there even were rutting buffalo teenagers. Many were shaggy and losing their winter coat and it reminded me of Rastafarian dreadlocks, there was one buffalo that stood in the middle of the road blocking our car as he let all his females cross the street. It was really spectacular to see so many buffalo in these herds because in most places they are hunted out, but here they have land to roam and chomp grass freely.

The next day, we got in our car and drove to the base Mt Washburn. It was about a 6 mile hike with excellent views, gorgeous wildflowers, and a good variety of wildlife. There were lots of green meadows speckled with evergreens in the distance and a rainbow of wildflowers among the grasses. We had spectacular views in these clearings and I could see the Grand Tetons off in the distance. There was a rascally marmot standing on a rock and snuffling around who posed for some photographs. One of th

ose is in this blog where he is sticking out his little marmot tongue. We saw a Clark’s Nutcracker which was noted by by Lewis and Clark on their journey through this area. We played in the snow along our hike and this was in July. I was really really tired when we got to the summit and the snow got thicker as we got higher. There was a ranger station plopped right on the middle of the peak. We rested there, ate some peanut butter and jellies, and enjoyed the view. We saw 2 mountain goats a little off in the distance scrambling along a rocky outcropping.

On our way down a coyote trotted right by us using the same trail. I guess it was the easiest place for him to walk. When we got to the bottom, I was happy to sit down in the car and rest my legs, but I would love to hike this mountain again .

We also had another funny experience. We were driving along in our car and we spotted a grizzly bear down the street on the other side of a wide river. We drove a little farther and saw a nice sandy beach along our side of the river. We decided to park the car and go see the beach. Upon arriving at the beach we realized that the bear was not down the street anymore but on the other side just across from us. We thought he’d be happy on his side and we’d be happy on ours. Apparently this was his territory and he didn’t like us trespassing. He probably would have been OK with us, but a man with a camera went to the water’s edge. This made the bear rear up on his hind legs and then come gallumping across the river. So we ran up to the car and got in. By this time the rangers had arrived to make sure nobody else got startled by the bear. The photographer got chewed out by the ranger but nobody got hurt.

I thought Yellowstone was galangious stupendous excellentus which translates into, it was one of the most amazing places I have ever been. It was a big highlight of our summer road trip which included Glacier NP, the Badlands NP, Devils Tower, Big Horn Canyon, Big Horn Medicine Wheel, Effigy Mounds NP, and a lot lot more. See you next time on the Nudibranch Network.

Just click on the video links below and have fun

Geyser at Yellowstone

Geothermal River in Yellowstone National Park

Great Buffalo Herd in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Behind the Scenes Adventure at the Smithsonian Institution

Lots of people go to the Smithsonian Institution and I bet they wonder about all the interesting things behind the scenes and out of view. Well I was lucky enough to go see this for myself. Are you ready to hear about the personal tour I had with my family? Well we walked around the museum for about an hour before we sat down in a sea of hubbubbing people by a stuffed elephant that I called a taxidermy pachydermy.

We waited to meet an ornithologist named Dr. Carla Dove who was going to take us away from the noisy lobby. Then a lady came through the crowds and we knew our real adventure had begun. Dr. Dove had a happy smile that made everyone feel at ease. She was very nice and I really liked her from the start.

I first heard about Dr. Dove when there was an airplane hit some birds and crash landed into the Hudson River. She was the one who identified the bird that caused this accident by a piece of feather that was stuck on the airplane. I thought I would like to meet her because I like to ID feathers that I find on the ground. I thought that seeing her would be a good experience for my learning and love of birds.

Dr. Dove took us into the quiet world of the biologists working behind the scenes at the Smithsonian. We walked through an elaborate labyrinth of hallways, offices and many wooden cabinets full of animal specimens. Dr. Dove took us to her lab and we met her colleagues in the feather identification lab. The ornithology section is made up of several different offices and labs. It was huge.

We then went through a maze of passages into the specimen prep room where all the bird specimens are prepared. They were prepping an invasive bird collected in the Hawaiian Islands. Whenever they took the muscle out, they stuffed cotton in its place which is similar to the way I taxidermy birds. What was different is that they take out bones and wrap cotton around wooden sticks to replace the bone and muscle. They also used ground corn to dry out the birds. The final touch was to sew up the specimen and the legs were crossed and a tag with name and collection date was attached.

Then Dr. Dove took us back to her office where she has a microscope setup. She then found a microscope slide and showed me the difference between water fowl and a chicken. Dr. Dove described that chicken feather filaments looked like curtain rod rings while water fowl has little triangles at the ends. I found it easy to tell the difference.

Next we left her office to look at the giant collection of bird specimens. At the Museum of Natural History, they have 650,000 bird specimens. Dr. Dove opened up a drawer of some of the most colorful birds I had ever seen and some of them were extinct. There was a beautiful bird called a Passenger Pigeon. It went extinct like the dinosaurs except this happened in the last century and was caused by humans. The same thing happened with the Ivory Billed Woodpecker and the Carolina Parakeet. But lucky for us, most of the bird species we saw were still living but will still have the opportunity to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

One of the highlights was that I was able to see any bird in the world which I wanted to see. Carla Dove would take us to the right place from her memory. I touched an Emperor Penguin, a Tropic Bird, a Bird of Paradise, a Skua and a Parasitic Jaeger. This was so much better than looking in a book since you can pick it up and see the bird from every angle. I could see individual feathers with their different shapes, sizes and colors. The Emperor Penguin was extra extra heavy and had scaly flippers because penguins are the most primitive birds. I also saw the smallest bird called the Bee Hummingbird which had a wing span of only a couple of inches. It was amazing to think that it could even fly.

I was given a metallic purple and blue feather which I did not know the species or its origin. So I showed to Carla Dove and we looked through a few drawers. We took out several specimens for comparison and we found an exact match to the Magpie. It was a really fun learning experience to be working with an expert like Dr. Dove!

This adventure gave me a boost on birds. It made me love the study of birds or ornithology all the more. It was amazing to see someone make a career out of my passion. Seeing so many different species of birds I had never seen was an unbelievably inspiring experience.

For more information on Dr. Carla Dove check out

See you on the next edition of the Nudibranch Network.