Sunday/ the giant red ones are here

They did come up: the giant red fly agaric mushrooms, in my backyard. Those other paler, smaller ones from earlier in October might be a different species or subspecies of mushroom. I made sure I took a few pictures before the squirrels took large bites out of it, the way they do sometimes.

Here’s a very large fly agaric (Scientific name: Amanita muscaria), the iconic ‘toadstool mushroom’, with its bright red cap and its white spots. This one is about 9 in. (23 cm) across.
A peek from below, revealing the fine white gills. Spores for propagating the mushroom are produced by specialized cells called basidia on the flat surfaces of the gills.
There he is: Mr Squirrel*, eyeing me from his perch in the Douglas fir above the mushroom. ‘Please don’t fall on me – we will both squeal like squirrels’, I thought. *Western Gray Squirrel (Scientific name: Sciurus griseus).

Tuesday/ more gilled mushrooms

Another type of gilled mushroom has appeared in my backyard, and as far as I can tell, these are Amanita gemmata. (No touching! These are poisonous).

Just last week, so-called ‘death cap’ mushrooms (Amanita phalloides), were found on the campus of the University of Washington here in the city. A gardener found 40 mushrooms on the east side of Benson Hall and confirmed their identity with a campus mycologist.

This is a mature Amanita gemmata with its cap flattened out. The gills are closely spaced and the flesh is white.
The cap on this specimen is about three inches across, sticky and it has white ‘warts’. The more poisonous Amanita phalloides ‘death cap’ mushroom has a smooth flecked cap with no warts.

Saturday/ why the truth is so hard to find

‘We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are’.
– from Seduction of the Minotaur, by Anais Nin (1961)


The entire Sept. issue of Scientific American is dedicated to the topic on the front page in bold letters: Truth, Lies & Uncertainty: Searching for Reality in Unreal Times. The articles are heavy on science and general philosophies about what is real and what is virtual. For example: to this day, philosophers cannot agree on whether mathematical objects (say, the number ‘7’) exist, or are pure fictions.

A summary of the article by Prof. Anil K. Seth that goes with the picture below, goes like this:
‘The reality we perceive is not a direct reflection of the external objective world. Instead it is the product of the brain’s predictions about the causes of incoming sensory signals. The property of realness that accompanies our perceptions may serve to guide our behavior so that we respond appropriately to the sources of sensory signals’.

So throw in Presidents that lie every day, greedy corporations with profit incentives, and worldwide social media networks ⁠— and holy cow: it’s more important than ever before to try to verify if something uncertain or new that we come across, is ‘true’.

Our realities are constructed by our brains, and no two brains are exactly alike.

Sunday/ another weaver

This is the southern masked weaver.
I found it in the green space adjacent to my AirBnB aparment, today.

The southern masked weaver (Ploceus velatus) is common throughout southern Africa. It eats insects, seeds and nectar, and weaves its nest from reed, palm or grass.

Friday/ sunbirds and sugarbirds

I caught several beautiful birds on camera while roaming the gardens during my visit at Kirstenbosch.
The most striking ones were sunbirds and sugarbirds.
Sunbirds (family Nectariniidae) are not hummingbirds ⁠(family Trochilidae) — even though both have sharp, curved bills and iridescent feathers.
Hummingbirds are native to the Americas and are related to swifts.
Sunbirds are native to Africa, Asia and Australia and are related to swallows.

An orange-breasted sunbird (Anthobaphes violacea) on a pin-cushion protea. These birds are found only in fynbos. They love flowers such as tube-shaped heaths, pin cushion proteas, pagodas and cape honeysuckle.
The male southern double-collared sunbird (Cinnyris chalybeus) has a brilliant red band across its chest, and a narrower metallic blue band below its green neck and head.
This is a female Cape sugarbird (Promerops cafer). Males have really long tail feathers. Their diet consists mainly of nectar, but also of small insects.
A male Cape batis (Batis capensis) with its striking eye-mask, white throat and black chest pattern, taking a bath at a water fountain. These are small but stout insect-eating birds.
A Cape white-eye (Zosterops virens) in the cycad garden in Kirstenbosch. They eat insects, soft fleshy flowers, nectar, fruit and small grains.
A Cape bulbul (Pycnonotus capensis, Afr. ‘Kaapse tiptol’). They are active and noisy, and tend to perch at the top of a bush.

Wednesday/ here’s Kirstenbosch

It is spring in South Africa, and I just had to stop by Kirstenbosch: one of the world’s finest botanical gardens.

All kinds of Namaqualand daisies are in bloom in September and October in Kirstenbosch, on the southeastern slopes of Table Mountain.
These are Livingstone daisies (Cleretum bellidiforme), also called Bokbaaivygie (Afr.), a flowering plant in the family Aizoaceae, native to the Cape Peninsula in South Africa.
I love the soft pinks, whites and yellows of the tassel heath (Erica coccinea). It’s a type of fynbos native to Potberg north of Cape Town.
The bees and the birds do it .. and so do long-horned beetles!
Pincushion protea (genus: Leucospermum), one of some 48 such species with the flowers in variations of oranges, reds and yellows. The plants are evergreen upright or creeping shrubs.
Here’s a red-eyed fly on a common pagoda (Mimetes cucullatus). This is a type of fynbos found on the Cape Peninsula.
The king of all the proteas, the iconic and beautiful King Protea (Protea cynaroides). It has the largest flower head of all the proteas.
This could be a scene from 200 million years ago on the slopes of Table Mountain. Most of these plants are Eastern Cape Giant Cycads (Encephalartos altensteinii). The dinosaur is a model of Aardonyx celestae ‘Earth Claw’, fossils of which were discovered in 2005 in rock in South Africa. Aardonyx was 7 m (21 ft) long and 1.5 m (5 ft) tall at the hips.
Here is the Tree Canopy Walkway, new-ish addition to Kirstenbosch (May 2014) of a curved steel and timber bridge that winds and dips its way through and over the trees of the Arboretum.
Here is the Conservatory by the main entrance to the gardens, with Africa’s southern-most boabab tree specimen.
The Conservatory houses a large collection of Namibian desert plants. This one is a Kobas (Cyphostemma currorii).
The curators have also gone to great lengths to cultivate a number of the weird and wonderful Welwitschia mirabilis desert plant. The enclosures are heated, as is the soil, so as to mimic desert conditions. Some specimens in the Namib desert are estimated to be 1,000 to 1,500 years old.
Heath (genus Erica) type fynbos vegetation. Fynbos (‘fine bush’) is a small belt of natural shrubland or heathland vegetation located in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape.

Tuesday/ more feathered friends

Here are some more feathered friends, spotted from my apartment’s balcony in the trees nearby.

The rosy-faced lovebird (Agapornis roseicollis), is a species of lovebird native to arid regions in southwestern Africa such as the Namib Desert. They are very social and constant chirpers, and like to congregate in small groups in the wild. The coloration can vary widely among populations, but plumage is identical in males and females.
A little lovebird kerfuffle on the tree branch? ‘Hey! Watch it!’ the middle one seems to say, while the one on the right is looking on.
Here’s the Cape weaver (Ploceus capensis) working on its nest. The nest makes it hard for predators (especially snakes) to get to the eggs or the chicks. Their diet consists mostly of flowers, small fruits and seeds.
The ring-necked dove (Streptopelia capicola) is also known as the Cape turtle dove or half-collared dove. Here’s one with its feather coat all fluffed up to ward off the chilly morning air.
And it seems a little later, that it felt it was OK to go back to ‘ops normal’ with its feather coat.

Friday/ look! a mousebird

Here is a mousebird that I spotted in a tree across from my  second-floor Airbnb apartment.

Per Wikipedia: Mousebirds are slender greyish or brown birds with soft, hairlike body feathers. They are arboreal (live in trees) and scurry through the leaves like rodents, in search of berries, fruit and buds. This habit, and their legs, gave rise to the group’s English name. They have strong claws and reversible outer toes (pamprodactyl feet). They also have crests and stubby bills.

The mousebirds are Coliiformes (their order). They could be considered ‘living fossils’, as the 6 species existing today are merely the survivors of a lineage that was massively more diverse in the early Paleogene period (up to 23 million yrs ago) and Miocene period (up to 5 million years ago).

The White-backed Mousebird (Colius colius). Check out its long tail-feathers. This species prefers scrubby dry habitats, such as thornveld, fynbos scrub and semi-desert.

Thursday/ torching the Amazon

And the world had to watch: Catastrophe for the climate – wildfires devour the Brazilian rainforest, says the front page of the Tagespiegel newspaper.


I cannot bear to watch news coverage of the torching of the Amazon rainforest. The Bolsonaro government of Brazil is defiant and doing nothing to stop it.

This is what happens when nationalistic dictators get into positions of power, and there is no one to stop them. Does this even register on the radar screen of the Trump Administration? Bah. Forget about it.

Friday/ bushtits

There was a bunch of little bushtits in the camelia in front of my house this morning, and I took a few pictures.

Bushtits (Psaltriparus minimus) are tiny little drab-gray birds that are very active and social. They do not migrate, and are found year-round on the west coast of Mexico and North America, all the way to the Pacific Northwest.
Their diet consists mostly of larvae and insects, as well as spiders. They do eat seeds, berries, and fruit — in seasons when insects are not as abundant.

Tuesday/ hey, aster, aster

Ai, aster, aster,
vat my hand en druk my vaster,
want my kop voel deurmekaar
as ek na jou skoonheid staar*

*a rough translation: (young man to his girlfriend)
‘hey aster, aster,
take my hand and hold me faster,
for my head is humming,
you are so stunning’.
– from the 1970’s Afrikaans folk song ‘Ai, meisie, meisie’ by Jan de Wet


The aster in front of my house is flowering. Its genus is Kalimeris, from the sunflower family. It was first described in 1825 by the French botanist Alexandre Henri Gabriel de Cassini.

Friday/ we had a little earthquake

Newspaper front page after the 2001 Nisqually earthquake.

I woke up to a shaking house at 3 a.m. this morning.
The shaking went on for only a few seconds, but I was sure it was an earthquake. It turned out there was a magnitude 3.5 quake, and the one I experienced must have been the 4.6 quake that followed just two minutes later.

The epicenter of the quake is about 26 miles from my house.  No real damage or injuries in the Puget Sound area or from elsewhere, were reported.

P.S. The Nisqually earthquake of 2001 near Olympia was several orders of magnitude stronger, at 6.8. It damaged the Alaskan Way Viaduct, the dome of the State Capitol building in Olympia, and Starbucks headquarters in Seattle.

Map and information from U.S. Geological Survey

Thursday/ a double rainbow

Here’s a beautiful double rainbow, that we saw on Wednesday night from my friends’ house in the Mt Baker neighborhood.

P.S. Yes, it’s not your imagination, there really is a second one above the first!

A double rainbow is seen when sunlight is reflected and refracted into its different wavelengths twice (in the suspended drops in the atmosphere). So the observer sees two different reflections, coming from different angles.

Monday/ a June beetle

June beetles are about 1 in. long when fully grown like this male. It uses its antennae to detect pheromones from females.

Here’s a ten-lined June beetle (sometimes called the watermelon beetle), that had landed on my porch.

They don’t bite, but they hiss and squeal when handled, I read online. (Handled? Who does that with a scary-looking bug? I flicked it off the porch with a piece of paper).

Saturday/ woodpecker visit

Here’s the woodpecker (northern flicker/ Colaptes auratus), that I see now and again by my house, searching for ants and bugs in the paving, and in the tree. This one is a male, with its bright red cheek.
They eat fruits, berries, seeds, and nuts, but their primary food is insects. Ants alone can make up 45% of their diet. [Source: Wikipedia].

 

Wednesday/ ‘Christmas roses’ in July

My hydrangea’s flowers are starting to appear. In South Africa we call them krismisrose (‘Christmas roses’) in Afrikaans.

Hydrangea is a genus of 70–75 species of flowering plants native to Asia and the Americas. Most hydrangeas thrive in rich, porous, somewhat moist soils.

Monday/ a Canadian lynx

Happy Canada Day!
Here’s a Canadian lynx being a ‘cool cat’, to celebrate.

The Canadian lynx (Lynx canadensis) is slightly larger than the bobcat, with which it shares parts of its range, and over twice the size of a typical domestic cat. They can weigh up to 40 lbs (18 kg).

Tuesday/ the Nile monitor

I am still scanning old pictures from my shoebox to add to my online photo albums.
This picture of a Nile monitor (Afr. ‘Waterlikkewaan‘) was taken in the early 1990’s close to my grandfather’s guest lodge in Botswana’s Tuli Block district.
I knew the spot in the rocky outcrop where the monster had been hiding, and had to wait patiently for it to make an appearance.

The orange in the map of Africa shows how widespread the distribution of the Nile monitor (Varanus niloticus) is. They like water,  and are found on the banks of the Nile river all the way up to Cairo. 

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.