Nature Adventures

  • Colombia 2018 - Paujil and Cerulean Warbler Reserves

    Paujil Natural Reserve is known for its special bird, the Blue-billed Curassow. However, Scott and I will remember it most for its remoteness and travel challenges. Getting there and back was a chuckle, for sure.

    Here we are in a town picking up wine and goodies, watching the multitude of scooters with entire families riding along.

    Nearby we mounted up into a Chiva ("goat") , so named because it can go about anywhere and other cars just can't. These bus-like units are truck chassis with diesel engines, 4-wheel drive and benches built in for passengers. The roads they contract to travel are unbelievably rutted and washed out dirt, and birders just can't get to Paujil without one.

    I fell in love with our driver and his wife. We exchanged "snacks" and smiles. They were lovely like all Colombians we met. Juan, our bird guide, is on the left. The logistics he had to manage for this trip were truly complicated.

    Isn't this a cute picture of our driver and wife, taken from my position on the bench on the second row.

    Neither Chiva nor driver was dismayed by log bridges.

    The countryside in this area was amazing; "hilly" can't begin to describe it. The livestock took it in stride.

    With this view I finally discovered one use for the shoulder scarf worn by so many Colombians. Works as a horse whip.

    We saw a number of birds on the drive. 
    Capped Heron

    Blue-and-Yellow Macaws...usually paired up.

    More scenery. Lots of deciduous trees. 

    Northern Screamer

    Well, we're at the gate, but no longer in the Chiva. Every one of us and all our luggage is stuffed into a small pick-up and from here we experienced an up-and-down journey from Hell...some semblance of broken-up cement suggested a one-time road, but, well, no...couldn't call it that. The poor little pick-up (although it had been souped up for just such a purpose) could hardly make it, and there were some strange sounds emanating from the wheels.

    We made it, though, and our guide, Juan, trailed in right behind us in a scooter taxi. This is the thatched dining room and the yellow kitchen building.

    Here is the bedroom building...thank goodness there was air-conditioning here. It was hot and there were no windows in these rooms.

    The Blue-billed Curassow came around to be fed. This bird is so endangered that a decision was made to provide for its food in order to keep it on protected grounds. It's working so far. This is a male with the blue bill gobble thingee.

    He has a substantial tail that he can flash around.

    This is a female with a less exciting blue bill...but hey, she's showing a pretty good crest!

    This Grey-necked Wood-rail shared the corn put out on the ground for the Curassow.

    The last time I saw this bird it was in Belize in a mangrove swamp.

    I really love this guy.

    White-faced Capuchin monkey

    This one seems to be sending some kind of message.

    Straight-billed Woodcreeper

    Yellow-backed Tanager

     

    There were a couple of pet parrots picking around. They'd been rescued as babies and raised by the compound folks.

    I met up with this guy while wandering about on my own.

    Orange-chinned Parakeet

    Yellow-tailed Oriole

    White-fronted Nunbird, found on one of our guided walks

    White-fronted Nunbird. Quite a bill he has on him.

    Cinnamon Woodpecker

    When it was time to depart, our guide decided we'd make our exit in a boat instead of the little white pick-up that could. Note the man in orange is wearing the handy, almost ubiquitous Colombian scarf. 

    We then rendezvoused with our Chiva driver friends and their beastly Chiva who had come back to pick us up and return us to the highway where our bus was to meet us.

    On the way we found some birds

    Rufescent Tiger Heron

    Common Black Hawk

    Black-capped Donacobius

    Black-bellied Whistling Ducks

    White-headed Marsh Tyrant

    Once we met up with Hermes and the van again, we traveled along a very good highway followed by a decent but very curvy road up further in the Magdalena Valley to San Vincente de Chicuri so we could have access to the Cerulean Warbler Reserve the next day. I'm so grateful for our fine driver.

    We stayed in a darling little hotel, La Quinta Tibigaro. I loved this old quaint place and met the lovely young manager, Isabel. We became friendly and we still correspond on WhatsApp or Facebook. We birders got up the next day to drive further up, up, up to the Cerulean Warbler Reserve. Here we did three things: 1) Enjoyed their hummingbird and tanager feeders 2) Took a moist and slippery hike through wet grass, mud, and cow pies to see the more secretive Black Inca Hummingbird, I couldn't handle both my camera and my balance, so I left my camera behind on this hike. So, no pictures of the Black Inca. 3) Had a delightful lunch at the center. We did not see Cerulean Warblers. Apparently they don't hang out in accessible places on the Reserve. Scott and I got lost on the way back from the Black Inca, but met up with some farm girls who showed us the way back to the reserve.

    At the center, it was said that this was an Empress Brilliant

    Brown Violetear

    Female Black Mango

    Green Hermit

    Thick-billed Euphonia

    Lemon-rumped Tanager

    Bay-headed Tanager

    Female Thick-billed Euphonia

    Crimson-backed Tanager

    Golden-fronted Woodpecker

    Collared Aracari

     

    We bid farewell to our little hotel (and the chocolate the grandmother makes from local cacao beans) and bus-traveled our way back to the main highway where we went straight northish for a while, but then had to turn off again on a very good, but extremely curvy mountainous highway to Ocana, 3600 ft elev, for the next adventure.

  • Colombia 2018 - Rio Claro

    Rio Claro Natural Reserve is at approximately 1,000 ft elevation, much lower than Bogota, and has more palms and other tropical vegetation. Our little sleep buildings were cute and the rooms large and comfortable. There were no bugs to speak of. 

    This was a hysterical encounter on the birding trail the first day. An enormous, aggressive bull was being herded up and over the hill by a cowboy on horseback.  The bull was "held in check" by a single rope around the horns...not too reassuring given his size and his snorts and feints in our direction. We were told by the rancher to get the heck up the hill and after we did that, he told us to get FURTHER up the hill and hurry the heck up..his bull was getting feisty and impatient. We did so, but Juan stood guard in front of us all brandishing a stick he had found.  Driver Hermes, on the other hand, was the first one up the hill and the furthest one up. I never let him forget that during the whole trip. 

    Happily, no one was hurt. It was a serious encounter, but it was really funny, too.

    This Bay Wren, beautiful as it was, would not let me get a good picture. Nuts! He is a real stunner.

     Straight-billed Woodcreeper

    The first evening we went down to the oilbird cave to watch the oilbirds fly out into the night. Oilbirds are very large and squawk large, too. Entertaining!

    These little Purple Honeycreepers were hanging around the dining hall.

    As it turns out, Yellow-billed Toucans can and do scream from the treetops. Calls to match their size.

    Little Olivaceous Piculets, on the other hand, are tiny, but cute and remarkable for their spotted little heads.

    Although seen only high in the trees, the Black-faced Dacnis was a real treat.

    This bird kind of looked like a puffbird to me and sat just as quietly as a puffbird does, but it is a Tityra, a Black-capped Tityra, to be exact. The black cap is only barely visible in this shot.

    Thick-billed Euphonia

    White-mantled Barbet

    Awakening to a real flood...the Rio Claro couldn't hold all the overnight rain.

    Once the waters receded about 3 hours later, the guide and driver discovered that the van had been completely flooded and Juan's birding scope ruined. They had to put heads together and figure out how to manage, but they were absolute champs about it, very competent.

    While they did the difficult problem-solving, the rest of us just fooled around birding. I got good captures of this beautiful female Rufous-breasted Hermit.

    and I found this Cinnamon Becard,

    a White-tipped Dove

    and this charming and cooperative Barred Puffbird.

    I couldn't stop taking pictures of this posing guy.

    In short order, the tow truck had come and Juan and Hermes had a new van waiting for us to board.  Good-bye, beautiful, if a bit too exuberant, Rio Claro.

     

     

  • Colombia 2018 - Bogota area

    Colombia is topographically unique, home to where the magnificent Andes mountains, having traveled the entire length of South America on the west side, finally end by dividing into three finger-like ranges which finish near the northern coast.  These "fingers" of mountains along with their valleys make for a treasure trove of habitats in low and high places alike, and THAT makes for a great adventure offering us many miles of beautiful countryside in the pursuit of beautiful birds.
    We felt so lucky to spend 18 days in Colombia in the care of our  wonderful guide, Juan Cardona. I hope you enjoy these next blogposts about our priceless experience there.
    Yellow-hooded Blackbird
    We started around Bogota at La Florida Park where there were wetlands to explore. Elev. 8200 ft.
    Spot-flanked Gallinule and Greater Yellowlegs

    Bare-faced Ibis

    Greater Yellowlegs

    Tropical Kingbirds displaying

    Tropical Kingbird perched

    Smoky-brown Woodpecker

    Striated Heron

    Subtropical Doradito
    Apolinar's Wren
    Apolinar's Wren
    Bogota Rail
    Bogota Rail
    Great Thrush
    Lovely vegetation
    Leaving Bogota we stopped at Enchanted Garden, an inn with an impressive array of hummingbird feeders.
    Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
    Black Mango female
    Black Mango female
    Sparkling Violetear
    Sparkling Violetear
    Indigo-capped Hummingbird
    Sparkling Violetear
    Indigo-capped Hummingbird
    Sparkling Violetear
    Black Mango female
    Sparkling Violetear
    Indigo-capped Hummingbird
    Black Mango male
    Black Mango male
    Saffron Finch
    Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
    Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
    Gorgeted Woodstar female
    Gorgeted Woodstar male
    Black Mango female
    Black Mango male
    Ruby Topaz
    Ruby Topaz
    Ruby Topaz
    After this, we headed for Rio Claro Natural Reserve where Toucans and Tanagers awaited us. Stay tuned.
  • 2018 Florence

    After our idyllic stay in the Querceto de Castellini agriturismo, we drove to Florence without difficulty and turned in our rental car.  We took a taxi to the vicinity of our Airbnb, marveling all the way at the driver's adeptness in navigating Florence's busy, narrow and maze-like streets. After lunch it was time to check in to our place, so we dragged our suitcases down the street and up this hill to #5 door.

      This was exciting, because I had been looking forward to this apartment ever since I booked it. It advertised 80 steps up to the apartment (after the hill), but the reward of a terrific view from the apartment balcony at the top. We had packed light, but I still had visions of a struggle on the stairs. But, the lovely young lady who showed us to the room grabbed my suitcase and carried it up all 80 steps for me, despite my protestations. We were glad we had been studying Italian because she was happy to tell us all about the apartment and how to get around in Florence, but she didn't speak English. She was an awesome help, and it was a delight speaking Italian with her. Here are some pictures of our apartment.

    Yes, there are more stairs to the bedrooms and bathroom.

    The apartment is on the south side of the Arno, just across from all the action, so you can't beat this location.

    And the view did not disappoint!  It was everything I had wanted it to be...an amazing lookout over Florence that just took our breath away.

    From our bedroom onto the balcony...

    And beyond.

     

     

     

    We were directed to a wonderful grocery close by, Conad, and picked up enough stuff to cook a nice dinner, wine to drink, etc. and then tucked in for a fantastic evening on the balcony, planning our next day carefully.

    On our one day in Florence we crossed the Arno River via the Ponte Vecchio, just two blocks from us...

    The Arno was a very important key to commerce in Tuscany.

    Crewing on the Arno.

    On the other side of the Arno..

    At the end of the narrow street appears the Duomo.

     The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore

     

    Everything is made from marble. I didn't know there were different colors.

    The tower at the Duomo Piazza

    It was impressive, but we had no time to go inside. By 8 am crowds were bustling and we thought we'd better find the Academia for which we had tickets already. Warning: get your tickets ahead of time or you won't get in.

    We got our on-line tickets stamped, then waited in line for our group's time to go in. We first enjoyed the exhibit of musical instruments left behind by the Medicis who were major supporters of music and visual arts in their court.

    There were listening stations and we listened to one presentation about Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina who introduced and advanced the idea that you could have more than one voice singing at a time. It was thrilling to hear the choral singing of his music as they played it in your ear after you just viewed the Duomo where it was sung.

    Next we began to visit the sculptures, both plaster and marble, as well as the 2-dimensional paintings. 

    Women were represented in many sculptures, but often as dead. Many times a wealthy man would commission a sculptor to fashion a statue with his beloved wife lying on her death bed, perhaps with a small child hanging on the bed clothes. 

    Women's hairdos were apparently a big deal in the old days, changing from year to year and being memorialized in busts of women wearing various and sundry dos.

     

    These 12th century pieces were unsigned.

     But, the big event of the Academia for us was Michelangelo's David, as it is for many. I was caught off-guard, moving with the huge crowd around the rooms, eventually turning a corner where all of a sudden David came into view out in the middle of the room. He seemed HUGE, and actually made me breathe funny and grab onto my husband's arm. He was that impressive. Granted he was placed high on a 6-ft. pedestal, and that contributed to his seeming size, but even knowing that, he was absolutely spell-binding, and HUGE, and made of the smoothest imaginable marble...definitely worth seeing. David's statue was, for a long time, outside in a park, but was moved indoors to protect him from weathering. We heard, though, that now he is suffering mini-fractures due to the footsteps of so many people pounding the floor of the room he is in. 

    Here he is.

    Even now I get that awed feeling when I look at his picture.

    After David, we found a Leonardo da Vinci museum which we just loved. It had reproductions of many of Da Vinci's inventions, writings, and paintings. There were two large rooms of machines featuring gears, wings, levers, and other machines. The man was an amazing genius and he was allowed to just invent, invent, invent without interference by those who supported his activities. He left a huge body of work.

    Two large rooms were filled with all kinds of wooden machines, with every kind of wing and gear, performing all sorts of useful tasks, all inventions of the genius engineer Da Vinci. I'm not sure why I don't have pictures of those replications, but they were hands-on, functional and fascinating, and there were SO many!!

    We then visited the Medici Palace which was grand and had a lot of paintings, mostly of Medici relatives and some great statues.

    Cosimo Medici

     

    This is a painting in the chapel of Ferdinand Medici where we overheard an art interpreter explaining that Fernando was proud of having met with kings from the far East, so the painting of the three kings painted in his chapel might have a double entendre, representing the three kinds visiting Jesus, but also his (Fernando's)  international association with kings from far-away countries, especially with the dark-skinned king on the horse.

    Lorenzo the Magnificent

    This one tickled me. A mirror in a painting. See me?

    Then we took to the streets to just wander about.

    Here are eggplants coming to the city in a van.

    Street art.

    I wonder what this pharmacy was dispensing in 1561.

    Motorcycles can navigate these tiny streets better than cars.

    After wandering about for a bit longer we trekked home for another pasta dinner in our adorable apartment. I do regret we didn't have the energy to hike up the hill above our apartment house to the Boboli Gardens. They would've been great. It was just up this hill from our apartment in the green trees and apparently was full of Michelangelo and other sculptures. Sigh.

    Florence at night is lit up big time...just filled our little bedroom with light.

    Next morning a taxi got us back to the airport and we had to come home.

    Florence to Paris goes over the Alps.

  • 2019 Total Lunar Eclipse

    It was a struggle, but I managed to get a few pictures of the glorious total eclipse of the wolf blood moon. 

     

  • 2018 Pisa and Tuscany

    From Monterosso we took the lovely train ride along the

    Mediterranean coast to  Pisa.

    Along the way we noted that the station pillars were made of marble.

    After picking up our rental car, and exchanging it out for a smaller one (wise move), we visited the Piazza dei Miracoli. This is the impressive Duomo di Pisa and the Torre behind.

    Yes, it's leaning.

    There is always military security at the ancient treasures. Here you can see the jeep, and the soldiers are armed and nearby.

    Battistero di San Giovanni.

    Then we drove from Pisa to our agriturismo which we highly recommend to anyone going to Tuscany.  I give you Querceto di Castellina.

    This doorway leads to our two-bedroom apartment, the Riccio.

    Fully-equipped kitchen.

    Single bedroom.

    Bathroom.

    King bedroom.

     Wine on the terrace.

    It's a wonderful functioning organic winery. See the vineyards.

    This is the tasting room. 

    Filippo will give you a fantastic tasting experience free if you stay here.

    Gorgeous tree behind our apartment.

    Looking out over Chianti.

     

    Another apartment entrance behind ours.

    The vineyard owner's family lives here.

    Part of the owner's property.

    Vineyards need to be on slopes so water drains away from the roots.

    The next day we went out birding and visiting the countryside with Marco Valtriani, a guide we highly recommend. He lives in Arezzo, about 2 hours away.

    He was kind enough to pick us up and drive us all over the place in Chianti and Crete Senesi. 

    He found us a few birds. This is a Serin.

    This is a real Turtle Dove. We don't have them in the US. 

    The always-beautiful European Bee-eater.

    Did you know they nest in holes in the ground?

    Chianti has been a wine-growing region since the Etruscans were here. The Romans put them to work supplying wine to the empire.

    It's an arid, rocky area. We were there in May, cactus-blooming time.

    It is a wide-open agricultural area broken up only by the farm homes or ancient security villages which are ALWAYS on a hill.

    Absolutely amazing was our visit to Murlo in Fiore (Murlo in Bloom). It is a small circular wall of medieval stone buildings built to protect inhabitants of the region when a battle was on, which was often. They were effective protections, but the people who came in for refuge here were often under siege from enemies.

    This is the entry arch.

    Etruscans lived here in the 2nd-9th Centuries. Below is the church where a bishop served. It is now an archeological museum. 

    This is where the bishop lived, next to the church in the middle of the circle of protective walls.

    This may have been a well, centrally located. Obviously, a source of water within the walls was essential during times of siege.

    Murlo is still inhabited and is kept looking beautiful and spotless.

    We three were the ONLY souls within these walls when we were there. Everyone must have been at work somewhere. NO TOURISTS.

    Perhaps another well.

    Well, we did meet up with these patient souls.

    Cutest town ever.

    Even the larger towns in the area are beautiful. We had lunch in

    Vescovado nearby. The picture below may or may not be Vescovado.

    Another lovely working winery. No tourists.

    They were happy to let us look around.

    Wine barrels can be stainless steel.

    or oak.

    This is one of the many ancient olive oil urns that we saw on every farm.

    Terracing has been an important skill for centuries.

    I remember the WW I disaster that took so many lives and settled nothing.

    Poppies have overtaken the bloody battlefields of World War I and in 1915 they inspired Canadian Lt. Colonel John McCrae to write the poem "In Flanders Field."

    Many wear a single poppy to remember that war and its losses.

    The day of this posting is the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month 1918 when the guns finally fell silent. One hundred years ago today.

    We were able to roam about several farms. I found Scott.

    I found this nook behind the house.

    Vegetable garden.

    Crete Senesi is named after its clay soil. It is just south of Chianti and has an entirely different agriculture. Wine can't grow here, but grains and other crops do, and sheep-raising is important here.

    A little church in a little town.

     

    Sheep farming and cheese making. Pecorino cheese is made from sheep milk a little further south than the cow cheeses from the northern regions of Italy.

    This sheep dog is retired and not threatening...but be careful of the ones at work guarding their flocks. They are serious about their work and can be dangerous to trespassers.

    The land was covered with trees when the Etruscans arrived from the Middle East, but by the 7th Century was almost completely cleared for agricultural pursuits. These are fields of grains.

    The next day we visited San Gimignano, a large fortress city. It was built in a  same style and for the same reasons as Murlo, but came to its peak a bit later, in the 12th and 13th Centuries. It is full of tourists, but the scale of it is impressive and is worth the visit.

     

    Towers were important reconnaisance tools and church bells no doubt important early-warning signals when armies approached. San Gimignano sports 15 towers now and at one time had 72.

    This is a functioning city...people live and work here.

    Here is the old central well...or one of them at least.

    Eats at San Gimignano.

    Italian style was impressive. Shoes must fill their closets. 

    No time to check out this Da Vinci museum...one of many in Italy.

    Statue nooks.

    Then was Siena...a magnificent hilly jumble of buildings and narrow streets where getting lost is just what you do there. These street signs don't really help much and maps of the city are hopelessly useless.

    Find the magic escalator...yes, there is a HUGE one near the parking lot, but hidden, of course. Then follows these ladies.

    They are probably headed this way. Although there are more than ten cathedrals in Siena, this is the most famous, the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta, built in the 13th century (very gothic). Within its doors and in the spaces surrounding are multiple artistic treasures by Bernini, Donatello, Michelangelo, and Pinturicchio. It must be stunning in there, but we just didn't have time to pay and go in.

     

    There are statues of multiple prophets and patriarchs on the facade.

    There is also a prominent statue of Romulus and Remus, twin brothers raised by a she-wolf, of course, who are the main characters in the Roman myth about the founding of Rome.

    This is the Piazza del Campo, a huge square dedicated to public celebrations, including the famous horse race, the Palio, that takes place here twice a year.

    Peaking in an archway, I saw some pretty good mountain bikes which would be needed to ride this city,

    and outside the plaque which refers to a University of Economics you can attend there. Wouldn't that be a kick?

    z

    Wandering about in the rain, 

    we found the Basilica di San Francesco.

    Then made our way to one of the exits in the city wall. 

    Tomorrow we will be sad to leave our lovely Chianti agriturismo, but eager to drive to Florence. 

    See you there.