Friday/ summer solstice in the North

It’s the official start of summer here in the North today.
We have had mild temperatures (68°F/ 20°C) and not much rain in June, tracking at about 50% of the month’s average.
Sunset tonight was at its latest for the year, at 9.11 pm here in Seattle.

I walk by these neon pink flowers on their silvery gray stems almost every day, and finally looked it up: they are rose campions (Lychnis coronaria). They bloom in late spring and early summer, and like full sun and drained soil.

Saturday/ weed or not a weed?

Whoah .. is this a giant weed? It looks like one, I thought, as I walked by it tonight.
I looked it up and it’s the great mullein or common mullein. Mullein itself derives from the French word for soft, and yes, it’s a weed – kind of.

The Common Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) has giant, soft, hairy leaves and can grow to 6 ft tall.  It’s not so aggressive that it’s a problem in agriculture, but it can crowd out native grasses and herbs. It hosts a number of insects, some beneficial – but it can also host some fungal diseases. [Source: Wikipedia]
This one I know: it’s foxglove (genus: digitalis). Pretty, but don’t mess around with it, or chew on it! since the entire plant is poisonous from the roots up.

Wednesday/ hello, Steller’s jay

Steller’s jay (Cyanocitta stelleri). This must be a juvenile bird, with the fluffy feathers on its chest.

Here is a Steller’s jay that sat for a few minutes on the fence here at my house.

My camera’s 200 mm-equivalent zoom lens is not quite up to the task to get a tack sharp picture, but that’s OK.  I’m not ready to splurge on a 500mm lens just yet.

Saturday/ a rabbit invasion?

I found this wabbit* right here on 17th Avenue on Capitol Hill tonight. He was not too skittish. In fact, he rolled around for a bit in the flower bed dirt after he had spotted me.
*It’s an eastern cottontail rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus).

I see on the message boards that long-time residents think there is a bit of a rabbit invasion going on – an influx into Capitol Hill from other large green spaces such as the one around Husky Stadium.

Says one commenter: ‘Rabbits are a pest and an invasive species’. I think that is correct; they are prolific breeders.
‘People are an invasive species’ retorted another. I think that is a true statement as well.

Thursday/ three bears, breakfasting in style

Here’s a cute picture (taken in the late 1950s) of three black bears ‘having breakfast’ at Jasper Park Lodge in Alberta, Canada.
The black bear is the North American continent’s smallest and most widely distributed bear species.

Picture from National Geographic Society’s ‘Wild Animals of North America’, published in 1960. I picked up the book at a second-hand bookstore in Port Townsend.

Tuesday/ birds, bugs and more

Here are my bird and bug pictures of the weekend, with pictures of Mr Squirrel as well.

This little fella was venturing out from under its rock on the beach, and it is all of an inch or so wide. It is a green shore crab (Hemigrapsus oregonensis), very common in Puget Sound.
Mr Douglas Squirrel (Tamiasciurus douglasii) is eating his pine cone, while keeping me appraised. The little squirrels collect and hoard large numbers of pine cones in single or in multiple locations. The squirrels we have in the city are the bigger Western Gray Squirrel (Sciurus griseus).
Done eating, the squirrel dropped the pine cone core to the ground, and is still keeping an eye on me. (Nice little black whiskers).
Paul’s hummingbird feeder was buzzing with activity. This is a female Anna’s humming-bird (Calypte anna), a medium-sized hummingbird with bronze-green feathers above and gray below.
Here is the male Anna’s hummingbird (Calypte anna), with a beautiful iridescent red on its head and throat.
Here’s the male rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) in its browns with white on the chest.
The female rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus).
This is an orange-rumped bumble bee (Bombus melanopygus), sometimes called the black-tailed bumble bee. It is native to western North America from British Columbia to California, and as far east as Idaho.
This is a large white butterfly (Pieris brassicae). It has two black spots on top of each of its forewings but I could not get a picture that shows the spots. This is on the same bush that the bumble bee visited, near Point Hudson in the Port Townsend area.
Ladybugs belong to the insect family of Coccinellidae, a widespread family of small beetles ranging in size from 0.8 to 18 mm.  We call them liewenheersbesies in Afrikaans, which has a literal translation of ‘little bugs of the dear lord’.
A two-tailed swallowtail butterfly (Papilio multicaudata) on a rhododendron. This one, we spotted in Hansville. This is a big butterfly: their wingspan can reach reach 6.5 in. (16.5 cm).

Sunday/ a bed of sand dollars

There was a whole bed of black sand dollars on the beach late Sunday afternoon.

Sand dollars in the shallow water, using the incoming tide to catch food particles with their fuzzy spines. Tiny hairs (cilia) ferry the food particles along their bodies to a central mouth on their bottom side.
Sand dollars are flat sea urchins called echinoids.  Dead ones lose their spines and the skeleton becomes white, bleached by the sun.
This is the meadow by Shorewoods Beach. It is on the northern tip of the Kitsap Peninsula. There was an osprey in the treetop on the left (too small to see in the picture, though).

Wednesday/ an earthworm, for dinner

I took my big camera with the zoom lens tonight with me on my neighborhood walk, and was rewarded with catching this American robin (Turdus migratorius), catching an earthworm. The bird saw the worm wriggle into the grass sod, and ran up and pulled it out.


Friday/ the last of the camellia’s flowers

Here’s a camellia flower from the bush in my front yard. They are so beautiful, these flowers .. but so messy when they turn brown and plop to the ground!

It’s been dry here for the Pacific Northwest, with the snowpack in the Olympic Mountains reported to be only about half of what it should be.

Wednesday/ sunny May Day

It was a gorgeous, sunny May Day today. A helicopter hovered overhead downtown all afternoon. It kept an eye on the Seattle May Day parade for workers’ rights and immigrants’ rights.

I walked by this young ginkgo tree here on 17th Ave today, and checked its new leaves coming out. Ginkgo tree remains have been found in fossils of 270 million years ago. Its leaves were eaten by dinosaurs such as the Supersaurus and the Lambeosaurus! Whoah! The tree has been cultivated since the earliest times by humans, and can live for a thousand years.

Tuesday/ a pair of northern flickers

As I put the trash out for pick-up tonight, I saw a pair of woodpeckers in the back alley by my house. I’m sure they are the same ones that sometimes come and sit in the tall Douglas fir tree in my yard. I ran to get my camera for a few pictures.

This is the male of the woodpecker called a northern flicker (Colaptes auratus). The red whisker coloring is called ‘red-shafted’ and is the coloring of the birds out West here in the United States. The ones East have black whiskers with red on the nape of the neck.
Here is the female. She pecked at the crack in the paving in the back alley, trying to unearth a bug or a worm that might be hiding there.

Thursday/ don’t trample on the tulips!

It’s tulip season and the tulips are blooming up north in Skagit Valley here in Washington State, and also far away in the Netherlands.

I read in the Dutch newspaper that tulip tourists these days, tend to trample on the tulips, though — as they position themselves for the perfect selfie with a field of tulips as a backdrop. (Sigh).

These pretty red tulips are right around the corner from my house. Tulips belong to the genus Tulipa. There are some 15 tulip species, and thousands of cultivated varieties. Ultimately, all tulips belong to the lily family of flowering plants, though: Liliaceae.

Monday/ refuse, reuse, recycle: single-use plastics

NBC news reporter Gadi Schwartz making eyes at San Francisco for the mountains of plastic bottle waste that come out of the city every day.

Happy Earth Day, every one!
Humans are assaulting Mother Earth in many ways, and single-use plastics is a killer. It can take up to one thousand years to decompose in landfills. Or it ends up in the environment or the ocean, killing animals and fish.

So please: say no to plastic. If you absolutely must use a plastic bag or bottle, be sure to do your best to reuse and then recycle it.

Sunday/ Cougar Mountain Zoo

I ran out to Cougar Mountain Zoo today. It’s a smallish (11 acres) zoological park located on the north slope of Cougar Mountain about 15 miles east of Seattle. These are my pictures.

The grey crowned crane (Balearica regulorum) is native to eastern and southern Africa, and is the national bird of Uganda.
Here’s the best I shot I could get of the sarus crane (Grus antigone), found in parts of the Indian subcontinent, southeast Asia and Australia. They are the tallest of the flying birds, standing at a height of up to 5 ft 11 in (1.8 m).
The emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) from Australia is the second-largest living bird after the ostrich. They weigh about 80 lbs (36 kg).
Another Australian creature at the zoo, a marsupial called the wallaby. There are dozens of species and this one is a swamp wallaby, sometimes called a black wallaby (Wallabia bicolor).
This is a gray wolf or timber wolf (Canis lupis). They come in different color variations in their coats. Washington State’s wolf population has been doing OK in recent years, with the numbers slowly increasing. Most are found in the northeastern quarter of the state. At the end of 2017, there were at least 122 wolves counted in 22 packs, with 14 breeding pairs. (Man – that still does not sound like a very large number to me!).
It’s cold and there is no jungle here! .. so these ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta) huddle together. They are an endangered species, native the to island of Madagascar of the east coast of Africa.
Oh dear! Here we have the regular old garden variety of mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus), a deer indigenous to western North America. It is named for its ears, which are large like those of the mule. [Source: Wikipedia]
On to the exotic birds. Here is the hyacinthine macaw or blue macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus). It is a parrot native to central and eastern South America. It is the largest of the macaws, and can live up to 50 years of age.
This is a blue-and-gold macaw (Ara ararauna), also native in South America. This one’s name is Ejea. These macaws are considered to be one of the most trainable and intelligent birds of all the parrots. [Source: Wikipedia]
‘Hmm. I will just sit here and look spectacular in my red feather get-up’ .. is what this scarlet macaw (Ara macao) named Kiwi, seems to be thinking.
And here is Paco the African grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus), eating some food that got stuck on his foot. These parrots are native to equatorial Africa. These guys are great companion parrots, prized for their ability to mimic human speech, and may also live up to 50 years.
From Indonesia, the Moluccan cockatoo (Cacatua moluccensis).
And here is a reindeer (Rangifer tarandus), one of a little herd at the zoo. These deer are native to arctic, sub-arctic, tundra, boreal, and mountainous regions of northern Europe, Siberia, and North America. This zoo has the largest herd of Siberian Reindeer in the United States.
Tigers are still found in parts of India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Burma – but are critically endangered in the wild, and almost certain to become extinct in the next decade. This is a Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris), with the white color variation. This is not an albino, or a separate species from the orange and black Bengal tigers.
Here’s the classic orange-black-and-white coated Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris). I’m keeping my distance and using my zoom lens through one of the two fences. Even so, I was not of much interest to the big feline. It was getting ready to ..
.. y-a-a-a-wn!
Finally, here is the famous mountain lion or cougar (Puma concolor). I love its heavy tail. Sadly, the Eastern cougar (Puma concolor couguar) is now officially extinct. On the western side of North America, cougars are doing OK for now, in the wild.

Friday/ showers & camellia flowers

We’re finally getting some rain again here in the city (and 58 °F/ 14 °C).
Here’s a spectacular camellia flower that I found a few blocks from my house. I have a camellia shrub in my front yard as well, but its flowers are not quite as big these!

Tuesday/ Our Planet: can we save it?

The spectacular – and spectacularly upsetting, it looks like to me – Our Planet series of episodes from renowned filmmaker Sir David Attenborough (he’s 92) is set to debut on Friday on Netflix in 190 countries. It may draw a total audience of one billion viewers.

The material has been four years in the making, with filming done in 50 countries and with the collaboration of the World Wildlife Fund. No bones are made about the impact that human activity has had on the planet. Humans are accelerating what is called the Sixth Extinction, of plant and animal species across the globe.

Below is a preview and a few photos from the series, that the Irish Times had published over the weekend. The octopus in the last picture is off the coast of South Africa.



Here’s 16th Avenue at 7.08 pm today. (Sunset is at 7.32 pm).
Green leaf and flower buds are starting to sprout everywhere. These big gnarly trees that have seen many winters, are a little slower to wake up from their slumber.

Wednesday/ exploring Rotterdam

It was a gorgeous day here in Rotterdam, with the day temperature reaching 17°C/ 62°F. Here is a selection of sights from today.

This bike path & foot path is next to Het Park (‘The Park’), on the way to the Euromast.
Euromast is an observation tower (185 m/ 606 ft), built for the 1960 Floriade (an international exhibition). The tower is a concrete structure. It was built on a concrete block weighing some 2,000 metric tons, so that the center of gravity is below ground.
Here’s a view of the Erasmus Bridge (139 m/456 ft high, 802 m/ 0.5 mi long), from the panorama platform at 85 m (278 ft), drawn a little closer with my camera’s zoom lens. The bridge is a combined cable-stayed and bascule bridge over the Niewe Maas river. The bridge was named after Desiderius Erasmus, a prominent Christian Renaissance humanist. It opened in 1996.
Another view from the panorama platform. Look for the flat barge with the blue containers. It first entered the lock at the top (middle right of the picture), then water was pumped in to raise the barge by some 6 ft, and right now it is making its way under the second drawn bridge, into the canal.
This Egyptian goose (‘Kolgans’) is native to Southern Africa, but I guess one finds them in many other places in the world, as well. This is at a little lake in Het Park (‘The Park).
This eye-catching apartment building is close to Eendrachtsplein. I still have to look up its name and construction date.
This is the Metro train at Beurs station, a suburban train that runs to the outer suburbs of Rotterdam. It took me to Leuvehaven by the waters of the Niewe Maas river.
Here’s the Rotterdam Water Taxi, coming to pick up a couple at a stop on a canal close to Leuvenhaven station. The Niewe Maas river is on the other side of the buildings.
I started at the Erasmus Bridge (seen earlier from the Euromast), and then walked to the red Willemsbrug (Willem’s Bridge, named after named after King Willem III of the Netherlands, and of course, after ME too). Opened: 1981 | Height: 65 m 213 ft | Length: 318 m / 0.2 mi.
The gorgeous Witte Huis (‘White House’) is near Willemsbrug. It was built in 1898 in the art nouveau style, and was for long the tallest office building in Europe (the first ‘hoogbouw’ = tall build, at the time, with 10 floors).
This is the little Spanjaardsbrug (‘Spanish Bridge’) in the Oude Haven (‘Old Harbor’). The bridge was built in 1886, and I just love the art elements of the Victorian age, that went into it.
The crazy Cube houses at the Oude Haven is a set of innovative houses designed by architect Piet Blom. Yes, there are actually people living in them, and the design’s main purpose is said to optimize the space inside (hmm, OK). I was surprised to find out they had been built in 1977, already.
The Markthal (Market Hall) nearby, is a new residential and office building (2014) with a market hall underneath.
Beautiful and enormous mural artwork inside the Markthal. This depiction of a caterpillar might just be the largest in the world.
.. and finally, Willem says: Come to Willemswerf (Willem’s Yard) to park your car in Rotterdam!

Thursday/ sugarbush (I want you so)

The sugarbush is from the protea family. The ‘flowers’ are actually flower heads with a collection of true flowers in the center, surrounded by bracts (modified leaves). In days gone by, the nectar used to be collected and cooked into a syrup.

A famous Afrikaans folk dance song goes like this:
Suikerbossie ek wil jou hê (Sugarbush I want you so)
Suikerbossie ek wil jou hê (Sugarbush I want you so)
Suikerbossie ek wil jou hê (Sugarbush I want you so)
Wat sal jou mama daarvan sê (What will your mama say of that)

Dan loop ons so onder deur die maan (Then we walk under the moon)
Dan loop ons so onder deur die maan (Then we walk under the moon)
Dan loop ons so onder deur die maan (Then we walk under the moon)
Ek en my suikerbossie saam (My sugarbush and I together)

I found this beautiful sugarbush (Protea repens) flower in the Stellenbosch Botanical Garden today.

Wednesday/ a reprieve for horseshoe bats

There is a report in my German newspaper of the greater horseshoe-nose bat that had made a comeback in the Hohenburg area in Germany – albeit only through sustained efforts of conservationists. They made sure the bats had suitable roosting places, and that enough cows were around to produce the dung favored by dung beetles that the bats like to catch in flight !

Photo from Der Tagesspiegel newspaper (I could not resist adding the red lettering). Translation: The Value of the Nose Tip. Only 11 Greater Horseshoe Nose Bats were found in the 80s in the Hohenburg area. Since that time, there are now again more than 200 animals’. The bat is about 12 cm (5″) with a wingspan of 35 cm (14″). The horseshoe nose is for generating beeps for echolocation (the echoes then picked up by their special ears, of course).