Another stop on my travels through my photo drive archives is Merced National Wildlife Refuge. We stopped there in January 2012, on the way to Yosemite. The refuge is host to an incredible variety of birds, including many migratory birds that overwinter there. We saw Ross’s geese, sandhill cranes, blackbirds, herons, and many other waterbirds. The refuge also uses cattle crazing to control invasive weeds and keep varied grass heights to support all the different species’ needs.
In February, I went to an ecology conference in Oulu, Finland. I’ve wanted to travel to Finland for years, and this was particularly neat because for complicated reasons Oulu is actually my employing university, even though my research is based in Germany. Our first few days the temperatures were well below freezing–we had ice crystals forming on our eyelashes–but the snow and ice made for stunning landscapes.
One of our favorite weekend activities is walking to the Wildpark, a zoo/wildlife preserve for native animals in the southern part of Leipzig. The Wildpark is located within a stretch of forested park areas, and is always crowded with families. We especially like seeing the baby boar, raccoons* in trees, birds**, and albino reindeer. On one visit we arrived around feeding time, when the grey heron flew into the river otter enclosure to steal some fish, and the little mink ran around excitedly for twenty minutes before devouring his “prey.”
* raccoons are called Waschbär in German, which literally translates to “wash-bear.” I love this name for these mini-bears that wash their paws and food!
** including the European robin, which is much cuter than it’s North American counterpart
Last weekend we visited a region called Saxony-Switzerland, which is in Saxony (Germany, not Switzerland), and reminds me a lot of Pinnacles National Park. With castles, because Germany. We walked around the ruins of Neurathen castle, a rock fortress that perched on the towering cliff formations during the Middle Ages, and the Basteibrücke, a sandstone bridge constructed in the 1800s for tourists. (The original bridge to the fortress was wooden, so it could be broken if enemies tried to cross). It was amazing seeing the high rocks where people walked, worked, and lived–and the modern climbers scaling the sandstone peaks.
Last December after a winter storm, a friend and I drove out to Washington’s west coast. We went to Ruby Beach, one of my favorites of the Olympic National Park beaches. To my surprise, the storm hadn’t washed up much, but the trip didn’t disappoint, with beautiful grey skies and eagles overhead. And on our drive back, we came across a herd of elk occupying the Forks airstrip.
We went on multiple jungle walks in Chitwan, including a visit to a watering hole. On each of these adventures, the highlight was pairs of rhinos, each a mother with a calf. Young rhinos stay with their mothers for about four years, until her next child is born. One of the calves was pretty small. It was fun to see them wander around, with the mothers always watching nearby. We also had a great time watching the tame elephants, who provide security and continuously munch on their favorite forest plants.
*Pachyderm is a term often used to describe elephants, rhinoceroses, and hippopotamuses, all large vegetarian mammals with thick skin. Despite their similarities, these animals are not closely related, and are all taxonomically grouped into different orders.
One of my favorite things about my time in Kenya was the wildlife and birds I saw from my porch. Chitwan National Park in Nepal is similarly rich in diversity. We were fortunate to see tame elephants and wild rhinos (more pictures of both to come) on our short trip there. But we also had a lot of fun birdwatching at the resort, and seeing all the animals in the trees and vines around our tent. Some of my favorites were the fantail bird and the eyelashes on the hornbill.
Wrapping up my trip through 2011 photos was a September trip to Yosemite, another one of my absolute favorite places. Of all my trips there, this one stuck in my mind for negative connections with a family emergency that happened just afterwards. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed returning to these photos. The short trip was packed full of classic Yosemite moments: an icy morning in Tuolumne Meadows, a scramble hike to Gaylor and Granite Lakes, afternoon and sunset along the Tuolumne River, a quick stop at Fern Springs, ravens and El Capitan views from Taft Point, and a final sunset on Sentinel Dome. My approach and style has changed in the last eight years, but there were still a lot of shots I like. I hope they make you smile too.
We spent our second week in Nepal at Chitwan National Park, at the Tiger Tops lodge. The lodge is situated near the edge of the park, and hosts guided walks through the jungle to see the wildlife. In addition to the naturalists walking along with us, mahouts rode elephants at the front and back of the group. The elephants acted as security detail. If wild animals were to charge, the mahouts would move the elephants in front of the group as a very hefty protective wall. This provides security for the hikers and employment for the mahouts without overburdening or harming the elephants. Just a few minutes into our hike, we saw three rhinos (a mother and baby, and another female) and got to watch them interact. Later on the hike, we came across the mother and baby again wallowing in a waterhole.