Category: travel

Dove & Pigeon Pages are Live, and additional bird news

Did you know that the mourning dove is a very distant relative of the dodo?

Or that the rock pigeon, domestic pigeon, and feral pigeon are all the same species (though possibly considered three different sub-species)?

These are just two of the facts I learned as I was doing my research for their bird pages. The four pages for the pigeons and doves (Order Columbiformes, Family Columbidae, Mourning Dove, and Street Pigeon) are live under the bird tab.

The mourning dove is a ‘constant’ visitor to our backyard during the year. Since we have so many feeders, they’re guaranteed to find some food somewhere in the yard.

Mourning doves on the fence in the backyard

The ‘street’ (feral or rock) pigeon I’ve only seen when I was out in Boston and then over in London–they seem to prefer larger cities where people gather more (larger parks, plazas, open shopping areas and food).

Pigeons and gulls at the entrance to the Tower of London

In addition to these pages, I’ve also added in the first of the four additional organizational pages: the ‘Raptors’ or birds of prey. This allowed me to group those bird orders together under a tab (each order is still listed separately, but easier to scroll to). The other three additional organizational pages (the song birds, the water birds, and all other birds) will be getting added over the next few weeks–the ‘raptors’ was the first on the list, and also the ‘easiest’ to do as I had all those groups done and up on the site. The others may still have more ‘orders’ being added.

The next group I’m going to look at starting will probably be the ducks, swans, and geese. This group will result in another fourteen to fifteen pages being added, in addition there are a few single pages I need to add to a few sections for the birds I had spotted over in the UK and forgot about until this week.

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Hiking and Kayaking within the Buffalo National River area

Another #throwbackthursdaytravel page is live under the travel tab. This week was highlighting our first trip to Arkansas, when we spent a few days in the Buffalo National River area.

Looking at the Buffalo River and the cliffs

My dad decided he wanted to do something a little different for our mini-vacation that year–and that was to paddle down a portion of the Buffalo River.

Showcasing what approximately ten miles of river looks like.

We managed to spend a couple of days exploring the area (hiking along various trails that followed the river), before we worked up the courage to actually put our kayaks in the water and head down the river.

As shown on the above map, we put our kayaks in the river at the Ponca site, and paddled/floated down the river for about 10 minutes until we got ‘out’ at Kyle’s Landing (luckily we had someone drive our van down there so we could get back to the cabin).

It was an interesting trip, and I learned quite a bit–such as inflatable kayaks probably weren’t the smartest choice of kayaks to use, class II rapids aren’t ‘baby rapids’, and I shouldn’t freak out when I flip the kayak.

One of the main rapids seen on the river

I would love to go back and visit the area again (and perhaps spend a little more time in the area), possibly spend more time hiking than floating down the river, but I am able to say that I did something that month that I’d never done before: kayaking over class I and II rapids in an inflatable kayak.

Wildflowers seen in the woods around the Buffalo River

Curious to know if you’ve been to the Buffalo River? If you’ve visited the area, did you just hike or did you kayak/canoe/float down the river and how far?

No Comments fitnessHealthnatureoutdoorsPhotographytravel

Waterfall Wednesday: Celebrating International Waterfall Day

Waterfall at Gooseberry Falls

So today is International Waterfall Day, and the most interesting fact about the ‘day’–is that it was actually ‘created’ last year (2020) in the midst of the pandemic by a couple from Rochester New York, who love to check out waterfalls on trips and they don’t care if a hike is required or not.

So there are no natural waterfalls within Stillwater (I don’t count the water that rushes over the back end of Boomer Lake after heavy rains as a waterfall), but there are several within the state–I just haven’t been to any of them.

All the waterfalls I’ve seen have been on vacation–either to Hawaii:

Rainbow Falls

This waterfall is on the Wailuku River in the Wailuku River State Park on the island of Hawaii, located within Hilo.

I both walked here on my own from my hotel, plus joined a group nature tour of the area as well.

In addition to the ‘normal’ waterfalls–there were plenty of ‘smaller ones as well around Hilo:

Mini waterfall seen within the park
Another waterfall within the park

I’m sure that there are more waterfalls on the island of Hawaii, but since I was staying ‘local’ to Hilo–these were the only ones I saw.

One thing I love about waterfalls is the ‘mystery’ they can invoke–I always wonder is there a door to another ‘world’ lurking behind the falls, or the door to a ‘treasure’ room? Maybe it’s protecting a hibernating dragon………

In terms of the waterfalls I’ve seen in Northern Minnesota–they always depend on the time of year visiting and the amount of rain/snow that has come down and/or melted to feed the rivers.

Another view of Gooseberry Falls

One favorite park in northern Minnesota is Gooseberry Falls along the north shore of Lake Superior.

While there are waterfalls, they also feed into little pools that everyone shows up to swim or sit in–but watch out for the leeches.

Waterfall on Temperance River

Other rivers also have waterfalls along them–you just usually have to hike to find them.

Another view of the river

Another river, another waterfall, another view

So as you can tell–I like taking outdoor, nature photographs. I could spend a day at each park taking probably a hundred pictures and while people would say that most are duplicates–I can probably point out the minute differences between them.

There are numerous waterfalls both within the US (most national parks have a river going through them–and therefore possibly a waterfall, but Yosmite National Park is one that has some waterfalls I would like to see), and abroad.

The other waterfalls include: Niagara Falls (between New York & Canada)–I know it’s a ‘standard’ vacation spot–but I’d be going strictly for the pictures; Victoria Falls (Zambia), Angel Falls (Venezuela), Kursunlu Falls (Turkey), Ban Gioc Waterfall (Vietnam), and if I’m up to the hike–Sutherlands Fall in New Zealand.

Have you been to any of those falls? Also–where is your favorite waterfall located?

No Comments natureoutdoorsPhotographyRandom Celebration DaysState ParkstravelWaterfalls

Adventures in the Outdoors: National Get Outdoors Day

So within the ‘Great Outdoors Month’, there is also ‘National Get Outside Day’.

This day was ‘established’ in 2008 as a means to get people outside for a ‘healthy, fun day of outdoor adventures’. This is a nationwide event that is coordinated by the US Forest Service and the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable (which is America’s leading coalition of outdoor recreation trade associations and organizations).

It falls on the second Saturday of June–which means for this year it is today (June 12th). This means that in theory, today one should have free parking and entrance to parks across the country (though one should always have money on hand just in case the particular park is still charging either entrance and/or parking fees)–though other fees (such as camping or fishing) may still be charged.

While I may not be able to head to a state or national park for the day–I will hopefully be sitting outside ‘enjoying’ the outdoors later this afternoon (we’re in our hot and humid phase, with heat indexes in the upper 90s or low 100s–so even just sitting outdoors is unpleasant unless there is a nice breeze). Though I did get ‘outdoors’ this morning when I went to get the newspaper (and it was already starting to get a little muggy).

Even though I’m not heading to the ‘great outdoors’ today, I thought I’d still share some nature photos from various trips and hikes I’ve taken over the years:

While its been the only cave system I’ve visited–I would have to rank Carlsbad Caverns (more on the caves in an up-coming #throwbackthursdaytravel post) pretty high on the list for both caves and national parks:

Various formations seen within the ‘great room’ in Carlsbad Caverns

For easy hikes, I would say it’s a toss-up between hiking in the Ozarks (at Devil’s Den) and wandering through the forests along the north shore of Lake Superior:

Water-bugs skimming the top of the water @ Temperance River State Park

I managed to get a decent picture of numerous water-bugs walking/skimming the top of the water. This was a ‘calm’ portion of the river, and not very deep. I think it took me about ten minutes or so from the parking lot to reach the spot. One nice thing about the North Shore of Lake Superior–most of the state parks allow free entry for hiking, the only ‘fees’ are if you’re wanting to camp for the night. So, we just found a nice hotel, and drove up and down the coast going to different parks for hiking each day.

Spotting Lee Creek through the trees

I didn’t really try to get down to the creek at Devil’s Den to see if I could spot any insects, fish, or amphibians–maybe next time.

So I’ve been to parks (both state and national) within the Midwest and Southwest, so if I had a ‘magic wand’ that could teleport me to any national park/monument in the country for the day, I would figure out how to split my time and go between Crater Lake Natioal Park in Oregon, Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve in Idaho, and Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky.

How are you spending National Get Outdoors Day?

No Comments Day TripsNational ParksnatureNature PreservesoutdoorsPhotographyRandom Celebration DaysState Parkstravel

Cormorant, relatives, and news: more bird pages are live

So this is a spin on doing a #FishyFriday post–instead of posting about a #fish, I’m posting about a couple of #fishers instead–namely the magnificent frigatebird and the double-crested cormorant.

Possible magnificent frigatebird resting in the lagoon

These two pages, along with their family pages (Family Fregatidae for the frigatebird, and Family Phalacrocoracidae for the cormorant), and the order page (Suliformes) are all live under the birding tab.

Young double-crested cormorants resting on logs in Boomer Lake

Getting these five pages up, have brought the birding section to a total of 68 pages, and I still have roughly another 83 pages to add for all the other birds I’ve seen. Therefore I’m going to possibly be adding in three or four new organizational pages to the birding section over the next week or so:

Raptors–and then have all the different birds of prey orders linked to this page

Songbirds–this will be the ‘organizational’ page for the order, with all its numerous families and species (this section actually accounts for over half the pages I still need to add)

‘Water Birds’–orders that are associated with the water

‘All other birds’–the game birds, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, and those that don’t fit into the other three categories

This way as I continue to bird watch and work on improving my birding photography, the tab/section will be better organized, and the drop down menu will be easier to navigate.

As the summer temperatures have settled in over Oklahoma, I realize that I probably won’t be seeing any cormorants until early to mid-fall (the last of the youngsters should have moved out of the area), and to try to get a better picture of a frigatebird means travel–and I’m not feeling comfortable yet to travel.

Have you been able to see the magnificent frigatebird in flight? If so–off of which coast?

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Hiking the Trails at Devil’s Den State Park: Throwback Travels

Since it looks like summer is here to stay, I’m slowly catching up on things. It is amazing how much more you can get done when it is too hot and humid to be outside (I think we have a heat advisory through tomorrow night).

So, I decided that I would try to see how many #ThursdayThrowbackTravel posts I could generate this summer and fall–both as blog posts and as pages under the travel tab.

The first entry for the ‘series’ is looking back at a trip we took to Arkansas a little over four years ago, when we visited Devil’s Den State Park. The park is located probably halfway between Fayetteville and Fort Smith within the Ozark National Forest.

The park offers three main outdoor activities: hiking (or walking), mountain bike riding, and horseback riding (as long as you supply the bike or horse). We went for the hiking/walking aspect. They also offer either camping or cabins for rent.

Cabin rental within Devil’s Den State Park

During our three to four day stay; at least half the day was spent out on different trails (that were either easy or moderate in terms fo difficulty–so not that much climbing or stairs involved).

There are approximately 13 trails within the park, with one or two being set aside strictly for mountain biking. The others you can hike, and on most of them–you also need to watch out for people on mountain bikes or horses.

Deer spotting

Taking these kind of trips take me right to one of my ‘happy places’–being out in nature. I enjoy trying to catch glimpses of different wildlife, seeing how many different birds I can spot, and taking numerous wildflower photos.

While the world is slowly opening back up–I’ve been slowly thinking of trying to plan a trip for sometime between 2022-2024 (nice time frame, right), though I know it may not be an outdoor trip (I prefer taking nature based trips with other people, safety in numbers), but possibly a trip to a new city/state or even country–if I’m feeling up to air travel (will have to see how things play out pandemic wise).

What is your favorite state park to visit? Then where is your favorite hiking trail?

No Comments bird watchingbutterfliesflowersinsectsnatureoutdoorsPhotographyState ParkstravelTurtles

Reflecting on World’s Ocean Day: Creatures seen in the wild

Oceans cover approximately 70% of the earth’s surface (with the five ocean basins being the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, Arctic, and Antarctic (newest one to be recognized)).

Aside from covering majority of the surface of the earth, they also produce ~50% of our oxygen (cyanobacteria and plankton), absorb ~30% of the carbon dioxide produced, and serve as both the main source of protein for over a seventh of the world’s population (over 1 billion people), and also as a source of income–~40 million people are to be employed by ocean-based industries by 2030.

But we’ve also depleted 90% of the big fish population, and (through global warming) have destroyed/killed about half the coral reefs (coral reef bleaching occurs when the coral expel the symbiotic cyanobacteria/plankton living within it due to ‘overheating’).

June 8 has been set aside as ‘World’ Ocean Day’ for several years now. Each year there is a theme for the day, and this year the theme is ‘The Ocean: Life and Livelihoods’. In addition to the launch of ‘A decade of challenges to [reach] the Sustainable Development Goal [#] 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources’ by 2030.

I’ve always been fascinated by the oceans–especially the number of creatures living under the waves. I even contemplated sutdying marine biology in college (either undergrad or grad)–but didn’t have the grades for a full scholarship at any school that offered teh degrees, so I’ve decided that I could always become an ‘amateur marine biologist’.

I’ve been to the ocean(s) only an handful of times throughout my life. I don’t remember the trips to the beach when I was a toddler; therefore the first time I was in the ‘ocean’ was in college on a class trip to Honduras and swimming in the Caribbean Sea.

Since that trip, I’ve been (back) to the Atlantic Ocean (when I was in Boston for my first postdoc), the Pacific Ocean (when I went to Hawaii after passing my qualifying exams in grad school), and the Gulf of Mexico on a family trip years ago.

I’ve managed see some wildlife and get pictures, and they include:

Green Sea Turtle swimming in Hilo Bay, Hilo Hawaii

Currently the only time I’ve seen a sea turtle in the wild was when I went to Hawaii back in 2009. I stayed on the island of Hawaii, and on Hilo Bay, so I would walk out and see what type of wildlife I could spot. The green sea turtle was present quite a few days, and according to some locals, if I’d gotten up a little earlier I would have also spotted the sting ray as well swimming through the bay.

I also managed to get some picture of some of the smaller marine fish as well on the trip:

Possibly the Moorish Idol swimming in Hilo Bay, Hilo Hawaii

My little handheld digital camera is waterproof to a certain depth, so once I spotted some fish I tried to stick the camera in and get some pictures (sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t). I would like to go back to Hawaii (and the Caribbean) to snorkel and get some more pictures of life under the waves.

When I was out in Boston, I managed to get a small handful of pictures of various marine life:

Whale watching

I went on several whale watching cruises, and the best pictures actually came from the second trip. I think this was a humpback slightly breaching the surface. I would like to go on another cruise (especially since I have a slightly better camera), as I’ve noticed when the aquarium posts pictures, other wildlife has also been spotted (large fish and even a shark or two).

Moon Jellyfish in the Boston Harbor

Since I also enjoyed walking along the harbor–one afternoon I spotted some jellyfish swimming in the harbor. Luckily I was able to get a couple of decent pictures of them.

Finally, when we were down at South Padre Island, Texas years ago I managed to get a couple pictures of various invertebrates in the bay:

Nautilus in the bay

One was a semi-close up of a young nautilus (a very ancient mollusk family–basically considered ‘living fossils’).

Nautilus and other hermit crabs in the bay

Here is a zoomed out picture showing the nautilus and other hermit crabs in the bay that evening.

I would love to get back to the ocean and snorkel (having either gotten contact lens and a good snorkel mask or just a good snorkel mask that could fit over my glasses–since I’m ‘blind’ as a bat without them), but also see other wildlife (from a good safe distance–so a cruise or boat ride) such as orcas, dolphins, or even a shark or two.

What marine animal(s) have you spotted in the wild?

Reference for world ocean day: https://www.un.org/en/observances/ocean-day

No Comments FishnatureoutdoorsPhotographyRandom Celebration DaysreptilestravelTurtles

Future travel plans need: mindfulness and purpose moving forward

So June is ‘National Outdoors Month’, and everyone is looking to head out on vacations, travel, and meet up with friends and family that they weren’t able to see last year due to the pandemic.

This ‘opening back up’ is due in large part to the fact that numerous companies are rolling out different vaccines against the SARS-CoV2 virus, and no–it wasn’t rushed. As a small aside–scientists had started working on a vaccine for SARS when that epidemic eased on its own, so when once the SARS-CoV2 virus was sequenced, scientists figured out how to make the platform for the SARS virus vaccine troubleshooting platform work for the SARS-CoV2 virus.

Some areas are doing better than others (we’re seeing both the dichotomy of wealth–where the ‘wealthier’ countries are vaccinating at a ‘higher’ rate compared to the ‘poorer’ countries, due to the ability to ‘purchase’ the vaccines; and the influence of anti-vaxxers [and I’m not going to ‘touch’ that subject right now]). I truthfully don’t think that there should be a ‘price’ tag on the vaccines–companies should be giving them (and the technology) away. Yes, it would ‘hurt’ the bottom lines for companies–but there shouldn’t be a price on human survival.

Since traveling is slowly starting up again, I’ve been thinking on all the plans I’d been slowly starting to make before the pandemic hit and forced a total change in plans.

I’d been planning on taking at least one international trip that would have been a mixture of recharging and possibly networking as I slowly tried to figure out what I wanted to do with the second half of my life. Since the pandemic started (and halted travel plans)–I’ve invested heavily in personal/professional development books and courses (and have been slowly making my way through them)–but it has eaten the money I’d ‘tentatively’ set aside for travel.

The SARS-CoV2 virus is here to stay (sorry to say), and that means that any travel plans I now make need to be both mindful and purposeful in nature–meaning I’m not just going to head off for a week (or two) vacation just because the experts say we can (if we’re careful and follow the rules).

I need to be mindful of the fact that there can (and probably will be) small ‘outbreaks’ of the virus, some areas may not want travleres showing up during certain parts of the year, and if I really want to travel (especially by plane)–I have to be willing to have a swab stuck up my nose (for COVID testing). Therefore I’m going to set some ‘criteria’ for traveling, and then really think/debate on any and all future travel plans.

My criteria for traveling will include:

Is it something to see (or possibly do) that I can’t see (or do) closer to home?

What is that something (park/zoo/landmark)?

Can I combine reasons for the trip (enjoyment/work/mental health break)?

Then the major factor/question: Can I afford the possible international health insurance (if I’m traveling abroad), and do I have enough money to also possibly afford ‘quarantine’ periods (if unable to return home quickly enough during another outbreak)? Or do I now someone in the area that I could possibly ‘bunk’ with during a ‘shutdown/quarantine’ period?

I do want to travel–but at the same time I know that my ‘new normal’ isn’t going to consist of constant travel (I do have a couple of pets to consider), but if I plan accordingly, I should be able to do a non-local trip every couple of years once things are better under control (more countries being able to vaccinate their citizens), and I feel safe leaving the house again.

While I have a nice ‘bucket’ list of places I’d still like to visit–if you’ve been to a zoo or an aquarium, where is you favorite?

No Comments Day TripsHistorical SitesNational ParksNature PreservesoutdoorsPandemic2020PhotographyReflectionsState ParkstravelZoos/Aquariums

Turtles & throwback photos: celebrating national trails day

Did you know that June is the ‘Great Outdoors Month’?

It started as the ‘Great Outdoors Week/end’ in the late 1990s under President Clinton, and was expanded under the presidents that followed. It has only been the past two years (since 2019) that it was officially designated as the ‘Great Outdoors Month’ by Congress.

It was designed as a way to get people outdoors and being active, plus showcase how outdoor activities are economically beneficial as well for everyone.

Within the month, there are also ‘specific’ days that get celebrated as well, such as:

National Trails Day (1st Saturday of the month–so for 2021, that would be today), and National Get Outdoors Day (2nd Saturday of teh month, so this year it will be on June 12th).

So, today is National Trails Day which was established to promote awareness to the massive trail system in the country that is maintained by the local, state, and federal governments.

Luckily, I live just a few blocks from a great walking trail–Boomer Lake (the trail goes all the way around, plus there are mini-paths that branch off from some of the sidewalk). While there are still areas that I haven’t really explored (during the summer there are ticks to be worried about, and the the cold temperatures in the winter), but I do try to get out on the trail at least once a month (if not once a week). I’m also going to try to get to Sanborn Lake and see what type of wildlife is around there as well sometime this year.

Red-eared slider seen sunning itself at Boomer Lake

There are other hiking trails that are nearby at one of the larger area lakes, but not within walking distance. Plus, walking/hiking the trails at Lake McMurtry requires you to be on the lookout for rattlesnakes. At least at Boomer Lake, it is only water snakes (and I don’t get close to those either).

When we managed to get up to northern Minnesota for vacation, there were always numerous hiking trails on the north shore of Lake Superior, and then just walking the roads around the area lakes also allowed for nature photography and watching. Depending on the time of year that we would go up there–it would either be in time to look for waterfalls, or take pictures of the different wildflowers growing.

Following the river (which I’m pretty sure was in Temperance River State Park)

One nice thing about hiking along the rivers, you could see where they entered Lake Superior:

Temperance River entering Lake Superior

Sometimes you can even follow the trail all the way down to the mouth of the river. Then you are able to see all the rocks that have collected over the centuries.

Smooth rocks in the river

I do like trying to find agates on the beach–on the rare occasion I’m successful, but most of the time I’m not (though since I’m not a geologist–I may have missed quite a few of them).

Wildflowers

I’ve managed to do several other small hikes over the years (these will possibly be their own pages under the travel section–coming soon[in addition to possible pages for the these hikes as well]), and hopefully will be able to do a several more in the future.

Where is your favorite hiking trail located, and is it an easy, medium, or hard hike?

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The ‘duck-like’ rails: American Coot & Common Gallinule pages are live

So another series of bird pages are live under the bird tab.

This week, I managed to add pages for the order Gruiformes, family Rallidae, and then for the following species: the American coot, and the common gallinule (also know previously as the common moorhen in most bird books).

The pages for the order and family are ‘short’ (less than 300 words), and I decided that I could add more information and update the pages throughout the year. I figured that it was more important in actually getting the pages ‘up’ than having a ‘perfect’ page–I’m slowly getting better at the whole progress over perfection.

American coots swimming at Boomer Lake

Of the 138 species that make up the family Rallidae, nine can be found within the United States. Though spotting roughly a little over half of them (five of the nine species are rails) will take quite a bit of patience on my part (it is easier to spot a coot, gallinule, or crake than it is to spot a rail). Of the remaining forty-five percent (four of the nine species)–I’ve managed to spot two: teh American coot (which is present at Boomer Lake, basically every winter), and the common gallinule (which I saw on a trip down to South Padre Island, Texas years ago).

Common Gallinule and chick grazing

It always amazes me when I see the coots out on Boomer Lake and I remember that they aren’t ducks, but members of the rail family (since they swim and occasionally ‘dabble’ like ducks), but once you see their yellow-green legs and lobbed toes, you realize you’re not looking at a duck.

If I want to try to spot the purple gallinule, that will require another trip to the gulf coast or Caribbean. Spotting the sora might be as difficult as spotting a rail (they’re not quite as secretive but pretty close), though they are a migratory species through Oklahoma–so I might be able to spot them close to the banks of either Boomer Lake or possibly Sanborn Lake this fall (if I’m willing to be closer to the ‘weeds’).

As I mentioned on the various pages in terms of the photography goals: overall I would like to get a picture of a member of each family (and for the Rallidae family–a picture of the other North American species, plus a picture of one on each of the other continents), and possibly a picture of one grazing with the young or possibly trying to take off in flight.

Next up in terms of bird pages will be either the order/family/species for the cormorant and freightbird, or the mourning dove and rock dove (feral pigeon).

Have you managed to see a rail in the wild? If so–where were you, and how long did you have to wait for it to come out of the thicket?

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