Natural Inclinations..

There’s something about returning to the land of my childhood, the temperate deciduous forests those of which I grew up exploring with my parents and birding with my beloved bird and nature-loving mentors. It’s the the symphony of songbirds that bring back memories of growing up. Its the plethora of woodpeckers that keep us company all year long and then, of course, some of the most fascinating are our spring and summertime jewels of the wood-warbler family, those impressive little sprites that we bird nerds call neotropical migrants.

Black-throated Blue Warbler

I simply feel akin to these birds that get their energy over the course of the year from both temperate and tropical climactic zones. For both me and these intrepid feathered beings, we both stray away from wintertime. When I see the late summer harvest amassing on the forest floors and the undeniably sweet smell of fall begins to creep into my consciousness I feel that urge to leave. It’s time to head south.

But even during the wintertime, I love to see our more northerly nesting birds like the dark-eyed junco and the white-throated sparrow which flit and through the forest undergrowth like popcorn. Nevertheless, I am a tropical girl and, like our neotropical migratory birds, I spend the majority of my year in the tropics. So while I prefer the warm tropics, I will always consider both my home.

So after a wonderful season this past year with Tranquilo Bay Eco-Adventure Lodge, I’m enjoying the low season visiting friends and family up here in the north. Next season will be here before I know it and in the meantime, I’m thankful to spend this time in the temperate landscape that colored my youth.

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Kowascoping birds around Tranquilo Bay

Just another regular day birding around Tranquilo Bay!

Created with iPhone 12 mini, Phoneskope Kit, and a Kowa Prominar TSN-883 Spotting Scope

TranquiloBay.com

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My Beloved Tranquilo Bay..

Heyo! So, now that I’m helping out Tranquilo Bay through the high season, I’ve managed to have missed the last four months of posting here but no complaints because it’s all thanks to the fact that tourism IS back (yay vaccinations!) and we have been BUSY!!

I’m making up for my lack of posting with a little video peek at this beautiful home of mine. I’m so pleased to have returned to Bocas and get to experience all this and more every day. And then there’s the beautiful community I get to be a part of again. Being back among the Tranquilo Bay family is such a pleasure and I love knowing that no matter where I am, all of my beautiful Ngäbe coworkers here and our bosses and their children will all always be family to me.

Feeling thankful 🙂

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Discover the Wild Nature of Los Angeles

Join me as I delve into the wild nature of Los Angeles, encountering the beautiful diversity of birds and other wildlife that can be easily found in this wild part of Southern California. Enjoy!

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Fall Wonders and Ponderings

Finding myself back in the United States for a spell, I do feel a lovely, warm kind of thankfulness that the only the fall season instills in me, I feel it in every inhalation of the earthy, organic richness of late summer.

While I know my tropical leanings will have me itching to head south in a few weeks as the crispness of winter starts to set in, I’m enjoying the perfect weather and the golden hour afternoon sunlight as the days get shorter.

Birding this time of year, I found I was a bit late to migration but I did manage to see some fairly hundreds of monarch butterflies parading southward along the ridgelines of Virginia. While this isn’t anything like the massive raptor migrations I’ve seen from the continental divide in Panama, I was seeing up to 60 individuals (spread out) over the course of a minute, I’d never seen them moving in such densities before!

These “super monarchs” are the generation within the natural yearly cycle of the species that travels the farthest and lives the longest. They’ll head south to their winter roost, the most famous of which in Central Mexico and in the spring, the super generation will head north again, but only make on step in the long journey north. That generation will lay its eggs on milkweed plants that they rely upon to hatch the next generation. But those next two or three generations will only get another step of the way before stopping to reproduce. The northern journey is done in segments, these natal generations only living for a handful of week to breed and die, simply to move the population back north again. Finally, the most northerly hatch will bear the super generation once again, ready to take the long southern route, all on one pair of wings.

So I’m left to my temperate zone ponderings after spending several months in Peru experiencing life in the Amazon. I participated in botanical investigations, measuring forest plots as part of a long term effort to measure forest composition, biomass and, through a series of calculations, determine potential carbon storage (the CO2 equivalent) of these tropical rainforest. By sequestering sucking up carbon dioxide, these forests are–just like all forests–conducting an important ecosystem service and by understanding this, we can put a value to landowners as a long-term incentive to not cut down their forests.

In addition to hugging hundreds of trees in the Amazon, I also had the pleasure and fortune to spend most of my time in the forest off trail, and delving into the rainforest was a beautiful thing. There’s so much you miss when you stay within the limits of these borders we create. We were treated to upwards of one hundred squirrel monkeys moving across the canopy above us one day, blue & yellow macaws flying above our boat as we moved between plots and just about every day we came across a new and magical insect or spider that sported yet another combination of dazzling colors. The work we were doing was something that I’m very excited about and just being able to walk straight through the forest and realize all that could be saved one day by the kind of work we were participating in was enough to feel pretty darn good.

A flurry of active wings fills the remaining fruiting bushes and trees as acorns and hickory nuts fall steadily to the forest floor.

The tulip poplars are bright yellow and the black walnuts roll underfoot.

I sit down amongst a blanket of dry, summer-weary leaves already crunchily cushioning the ground.

.A Swainson’s thrush lets out a musical drip note as it fills up along its journey south.

…the tropics are calling.

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New Vid! Watch: Birds of Sarasota’s Celery Fields

To see the full 3+ minute version, check out my patreon page and become a supporter of my work to help share the beauty and importance of nature with the world!

This is my tribute to my grandmother (one of many) and is thanks to her. Join me in this video to see the birds I grew up seeing on my annual childhood visits to see my grandparents. I also lived in Sarasota for a time, visiting my grandmother when she lived in an apartment overlooking the lake and we’d watch some of these very same birds. We spent time together every day and while living there as an adult, I truly discovered the gem that this place is, something I had the fortune of experiencing from a child to well into adulthood. Sarasota, Florida is a beautiful place rich with birdlife. It’s thanks to Grandy that I got to learn these birds and their ecosystems, the very same ones I teach about in the tropics where I now live. They make me think of her. 

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A Tribute to Grandy.

It’s hard to deny the nostalgia sitting here on the lanai of my beloved grandmother’s home, going back through bird and nature videos I made while living here in Sarasota, Florida. I stayed in this house those years to be close with my grandmother, time that so quickly has turned into the past. The wind chimes murmur and a nearby northern mocking bird quietly practices his spring repertoire of the blossoming year while a tufted titmouse rings from the neighbor’s yard. 

It’s the same but it’s different.

I’m working on a video, like I’ve done in this very spot a number of times during the periods I’ve spent living here. Normally, I’d be finishing up a morning of work studying Spanish or editing my next nature video or writing a new blog post before heading to the kitchen to prepare a picnic. I make sure the scrabble game is in the car before driving over to break Grandy out of assisted living so we can spend the afternoon in nature together. 

It’s strange to think those days are over, but at the same time, they’re not. She’s everywhere now, with me always. 

And I have this extrordinary, strong, independent woman to thank for who I’ve become and how close I am to these ecosystems and the biodiversity of species they support. And growing up learning about how she served in the Women’s Army Corps and travelled with McArthur’s party from Australia through Japan told me that it was in my ability to travel the world on my own.

Grandy helped instill in me the confidence to travel abroad solo, and she helped me carry this passion growing within me to other countries and biodiverse lands. She took me to Costa Rica in ‘99 for my high school graduation and, when we came back, I told my parents I was going to live down in those tropical lands one day. And I meant it. But Florida is where that trajectory started. It all started with Florida, where she and my grandfather moved for the golf and the sunshine, long before I was born.

Visiting Grandy and Gramps in the subtropic lands of the southeastern United States, the little bird-lover that was innately inside of me fluttered forth and I dove into this land that drips with life and biodiversity along with my outdoor-loving family and discovered the wonder and variety of the birdlife and the unique ecosystems of the east coast of the Gulf of Mexico. 

Hiking, canoeing, cycling, kayaking, our family would picnic under the live oaks hung with Spanish moss after tossing the frisbee in our bare feet and hopping over long leaf pine cones and fire ant mounds. Over a game of scrabble, we’d eat a picnic lunch perfectly prepared by a doting son, my father, and we’d tell Grandy what new wildlife discovery we’d made, provided she wasn’t right there on the hike or canoe-ride along with us. Above our heads out of the translucent drapes of Spanish moss emanated the songs and calls of the colorful northern parula warblers and wag-tailed blue-gray gnatcatchers, sounds that have inevitably been cemented for life into my memory. And now those very sounds evoke memories of a beloved grandmother.

To grow up familiarizing myself with the unique wilderness of this gem on Central Florida’s Gulf Coast I find myself treasuring more and more to the outdoor experiences I’d become accustomed to. And yet being witness to native, wild lands across the decades, you become unable to deny what’s changing. Forests once filled with red-shouldered hawks, red-bellied woodpeckers and armadillos are regularly ripped apart and chipped into piles and these newly vacant lots transformed into bustling shopping areas and seas of round tile roofs as far as the eye can see. And of course, the ever-present aura of the near by Gulf of Mexico paints so many aspects of southwestern Florida life, I’ve watched these ecosystems battling their own increasingly destructive war. I’ll let my video speak on that..

So I treasure even more the memories I’ve made with Grandy, I’ve had the chance to see the changes and I’ve gained so much perspective. And I dedicated my life to witnessing and sharing that perspective as a rule. It’s from an angle not many have had the chance to peer from. 

Thanks to her and what I’ve learned from going up coming here, the gorgeous and mysterious Florida outdoors will always invoke in me a proprietary feeling. I want it to stay the same, I want to protect it, I want future generations to see the bounty of life this place evolved to support. 

I’d say I’m gonna miss her but, truly, she’s everywhere now, with me always. The moments so quickly now in the past and what now remains as memory are what remind me that I’m indescribably fortunate to continue on and enjoy life and this extraordinary planet and its vast and varied wilds—while they still exist. Reliving memories shared in the natural landscapes of Florida with loved ones is what carries her on with me and keeps me company out there. Grandy, oh how I miss you and yet, we’re together..just like always. 

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Treasures of the Cloud Forest

Boquete. The land of rainbows, Resplendent Quetzals and moss-covered trees that drip with life, trailing vines and lianas and support an unimaginable quantity of bromeliads bedecking the branches like a row of pineapple tops in a shoulder to shoulder line of non-socially distant verdancy.

Black-faced Solitaire

The thick, dripping forest echos with the haunting high whistles of the black-faced solitaire a sound that immediately brings to my mind the slow movement of a metal gate, singing in a smooth, wavering squeal as it slides along its hinges, back and forth with the wind. This is a mysterious bird that is commonly heard but rarely seen. Its secretive nature makes for an exciting sighting if one was to be so fortunate. Determination and a fair bit of luck is the answer. To put a face, sooty indeed, to a song so iconic of the cloud forest ecosystem is something that will bring you yet another step into this wonderland full of hidden treasures.

And one of the most magnificent treasures, found up in this cloud-enshrouded forest is a bird that you might never know is there, as it sits quietly, high on a horizontal branch thickly blanketed in moss. With a backwards flick, it drops off the far side of a branch and a long, flowing tail flutters like two streaming emerald ribbons.

The Resplendent Quetzal.

This is the bird that every birder wants to find and you can’t blame anyone for having this on their “must see” list. It is the treasure of the cloud forest and during the months of February and March, this otherwise quiet, reserved bird calls, chuckles and courts its mate making this time of year the best for finding these lovely creatures.

The male, sports those long streaming tail feathers aren’t in fact the true tail feathers but the feathers that, on other birds, are much smaller and cover the top of the tail. In the quetzal, these feathers are monumentally elongated and, as you might be able to see in the photo, the true tail is underneath, outshined by these resplendent tail coverts.

And, as I recently read, that quick turn and drop off the back of the branch common in this bird could very well be its means to keep that tail in top shape, rather than flying forward off the branch and scraping the length of those entire elongated feathers on the top of the branch which, after how many times, could leave those tassels in ratty shambles!

More on the treasures of the cloud forest coming up next..stay tuned!

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Bocas by Bike

There’s something wonderfully meditative, zooming along on my mountain bike, bumping and bouncing down a sand and gravel road that meanders through tropical forests and farmland. The Caribbean coastline, if not in full view, is always within earshot. This time of year the waves crash with abandon as the surfers make sense of the frothing turmoil, slicing and carving through the thick breakers with ease.

COVID has left us in our own frothing turmoil and, as we roil in the confusion and darkness of uncertainty, we can only wait for hope to buoy us back up to the surface.

Pure energy courses through my muscles as I fly along. As usual, my shorts are splattered with gritty mud that kicks up from my tires as I carelessly tear through puddles along the sandy road to Bluff beach. I note every tropical kingbird on the wires above me and challenge the pelicans that glide swiftly over the water on a tiny cushion of air to a race, their bellies and wingtips mere centimeters above the waves.

For a dollar, a local kid appearing out of the forest will open a young green coconut, or “pipa”, that replenishes the massive amount of sweat that the humid climate evokes in me. He’s been waiting a long time for a customer in the enduring doldrums of COVID.

Riding the rugged trails out toward a magical, remote section of Bocas del Toro’s Isla Colón, Mimitimbi makes you feel like the entire island is yours. Not another human in sight, even when there are tourists. If you keep your eyes up, you’re likely to distinguish a sloth amongst the thick foliage or surprise a quiet troop of howler monkeys feeding on the leaves of a low tree. Agoutis, locally known as nuquis, run across the trail like large hamsters on stilt legs. A black hawk remains stock still on a bromeliad-laden branch until the last minute before taking off from a low perch, the stark white band on its tail the last thing you see before it disappears down the lane.

During the heat of the day, you’ll find it’s the best time to pull over to find some shade beside a nice open sunny spot, even better if you see flowers nearby. The butterflies of Bocas are an abundant and colorful delight. Orange fritillaries, regal banded peacocks and an array of heliconia butterflies flutter about during midday when other wildlife is hunkered from the blazing sun. A giant swallowtail or a gleaming blue morpho might get chased right past your head by an uppity white peacock butterfly as gleaming neon yellow sulfur moths bounce on the warm air pockets along the dirt road.

While the human world has been a pretty interesting mess that still seems a long way away from getting itself together, it’s more important than ever to get back to the basics. Nature is still here and thank goodness we can continue to get out and enjoy it.

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Caribbean Coral Restoration of Bocas del Toro

Guess who helped cleaned coral trees hung with fragments growing toward becoming vibrant, healthy, future reef with Caribbean Coral Restoration to finish off this doozie of a year?

I was invited to help for the second time to clean PVC “coral trees”, structures hung with coral fragments stationed at around 45ft of depth between the island archipelago where I live, in Caribbean Panama’s Bocas del Toro. This time we went to a site set between my “home” Bastimentos, and Isla Solarte. The underwater trees, adorned with staghorn coral fragments hung with zip ties from the pipes, have urgently had to be moved from their original, shallower location to 45 feet of depth after a 4-day bleaching event that occurred this winter. This event bleached out a great deal of reef ecosystems around the area, many might never recover. Along with these, a number of hard-won and exceedingly fragile staghorn fragments fell victim to soaring water temperatures before the trees were relocated to deeper waters by the CCR team.

Staghorn coral hung from PVC coral tree

To be a part, no matter how small, of Caribbean Coral Restoration’s ardent and grand-scale mission of restoring Bocas del Toros declining coral reef ecosystem is not just an honor, it’s how I feel better about being part of the problem.

Trying to neutralize the ecological sinkhole of a footprint I am responsible for as another US-born human is not a mere footprint anymore..our lives are just what I said years ago in a frustrated blogpost. I complained, back in two-thousand tickety eight, something along the lines of how each human added to our exploding population is a gash in the stomach of Mother Earth..every new one of us humans adds yet another. I continue to write things along those same lines on my blog site reserved for bitching about my exasperation at how we’re treating Mother Earth. If you can stomach it, check out earthwillprevail.wordpress.com.

It is devastating and beyond frustrating to witness the terrible bleaching that has occurred in recent months and years of late. The lack of rain we continue experienced in what is supposed to be the rainy parts of the year (not to mention this is a La Niña year which signifies an especially wet year, not to mention drought from prior years from which nature is still trying to recover) has resulted in extremely high water temps that directly causes coral bleaching. What is lost of this ecosystem cannot be replaced in time to outweigh the ever-increasing losses. And these losses can make null all the tireless efforts and investment for the future that Caribbean Coral Restoration has envisioned.

While cleaning the PVC pipe “branches” hung with staghorn coral fragments collected under permit by Caribbean Coral Restoration, I have them to thank for the new Best Friend Forever I made that day: a giant gray angelfish staring intently at me as it hung out within arm’s reach for the entire tank of air. Like many of the Bocas angelfish I’ve had the honor of getting to know in the past 2+ years, this one seemed quite curious about me, every now and then stopping from staring at me to grab a chunk of algae off a nearby coral. And along with the gray, I made friends with a big bright porkfish, an in-your-face yellow-tailed snapper, the ever present slippery dick and striped parrotfish and the occasional adult stoplight parrot fish chased off by the uppity three-spotted damselfish. So basically, I had my own personal peanut gallery giving advice on spots I missed as I scrubbed at PVC hung with thee remaining living fragments of precious staghorn coral.

Gray angelfish

The fish abundance and diversity where we cleaned today was refreshing to see but the habitat around Bocas as I’ve seen it and heard from other long term folks living and snorkeling or diving here across the years has has become ever more ravaged and depleted, which means we will see the echo response of fish and other marine life that exist because of the habitat that supplied. Large scale, devastating and ever-increasing coral losses are *permanently* changing the underwater world—not just in Bocas, but worldwide. We are all one. We suffer together from the consequences of the corners we’ve backed ourselves into.

Juvenile stoplight parrotfish

“Guilt. Just by being born, just by living, I am adding to the destruction of the planet. We all are. We begin marching to our own death as we emit our first exhalation. It starts small but then we learn that we are a middle class, white, american, and we buy our laptops and our ipods and cars, live in our overly air conditioned and heated homes and throw away our masses and masses of package waste. What would it look like if it followed us, if we had to step through it, drag it, wear it? Would we try harder to make sure it never even began? Every girl and boy comes to a point in their live where they are capable of the realization of their detrimental contribution to the earth and they can either do something about it or ignore it. Either way, so much has already been done. Every day, think about how many children are being born. Think about how each and every one of us is another bullet through the earth’s heart.”

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