Archive for the ‘conservation’ Category


Redwood, Muir Woods, California


Fall colors


El Drago Milenio, Tenerife, Canary Islands. Supposedly the oldest tree of its kind in the world 

Why Arbor Day? Why Trees?

Trees are a miracle of nature, beloved and used by most people. Trees have an enormous impact on the lives of all of us. They provide beauty, protection, a changing landscape, and food, as well as regulating the climate and environment.

This year, Earth Day and Arbor Day are very close, but it seems appropriate as many of the goals are the same. Over the years we have been lucky enough to travel to many places and we’ve collected up a lot of photos related to trees. I had fun going through some of them and trying to make a selection that shows some of the different trees and functions of trees. Enjoy going through them!

For me, the word “Trees” always evokes the poem of the same name:

” Trees” by Joyce Kilmer, 1886–1918  


Walking in Allerton Park, Illinois

I think that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest

Against the sweet earth’s flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,

And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear    


New tree, Urbana

A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;

Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,

But only God can make a tree.  

There are many poems, songs and quotations about trees and what they mean to people, as can be seen from this link below.


And, trees are honored and celebrated in a special day, Arbor Day on the last Friday in April (The Latin word for “tree” is “arbor”). It is a day to plant and dedicate a tree to help nature and the environment. The National Arbor Day Foundation provides an estimated 18+ million trees for planting each year.


Merritt Island, Florida. A place for water birds


Sequoia National Park, California 


Our deck, Urbana

Background to Arbor Day

National Arbor Day has been celebrated since 1872. The idea for the celebration began in 1854 when J. Sterling Morton, a journalist, moved from Detroit to the area that is now the state of Nebraska. At that time it was a largely treeless plain and Morton and his neighbors noticed that trees were needed to act as windbreaks to stabilize the soil and to give shade, fuel and building materials. Morton planted many trees around his own home but also wanted to encourage others to do the same.

So, in January 1872 at a Nebraska State Board of Agriculture meeting, he proposed a holiday to plant trees on April 10, 1872. This was known as “Arbor Day” and a total of about one million trees were planted in Nebraska on that first Arbor Day. In 1874, the Governor proclaimed that Arbor Day would be observed officially on April 10, and in 1885, it became a legal holiday and was moved to April 22, which was Morton’s birthday. Other states began to celebrate an Arbor Day too and former President Richard Nixon proclaimed the last Friday in April as National Arbor Day during his presidency in 1970.


Fall, our street


Fallen giant, Redwood National Park, California



All states in the US now have an official Arbor Day, usually at a time of year that has the right conditions for planting trees—generally in April, but some states have their Arbor Day during other months. Many countries around the world have similar events to encourage the planting and care of trees. The dates are usually chosen to coincide with the optimal season for planting or caring for native trees.

Although Arbor Day celebrations take on many different forms, nearly every one involves the planting of trees, and education about their importance and continued importance to the environment.


Trees are for playing


Trees are for shade. Craft market, South Africa


Trees are for eating. Pilansberg National Park, South Africa


The sign tells us this tree was 3,200 years old!

What’s Special About Trees

They are the biggest and longest-living organisms on earth. A miracle of biological engineering allows them to grow very tall and a complex chemical factory exists within their structure. Trees take water and minerals out of the earth and lift them up to the leaves, sometimes over 400 feet above. By photosynthesis the leaves take energy from sunlight and combine the water and minerals with carbon dioxide from the air to produce the nutrients that feed the tree. In this process, trees create wood as well as many chemicals, seeds and fruit that are beneficial to both humankind and animals.


Knightwood Oak Historic Tree, New Farm, England


Interesting sign showing some the benefits of trees


Redwoods National Forest, California

Some of the more obvious benefits of trees are:

—They provide important products from wood, such as lumber and paper, as well as other products like chewing gum and soap.

—They provide shade, which gives relief to people and animals in hot climates and can help us save on air-conditioning costs. They block wind, thereby saving on winter heating costs.

—They can increase property values by up to 10%, as most people prefer a property with leafy greenery of some sort.

—They clean the air by filtering and removing pollutants, such as carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, from the air.

—They provide food and habitat for wildlife, and many edible items for humans too.


Lounging leopard, Masai Mara Park, Kenya


Nutmeg tree, Grenada

—For many people trees also have a strong emotional influence as they are seen as a symbol of life, of growth, regeneration and sheltering protection. Research has shown that people who live near trees feel happier emotionally and are less likely to show depression or aggressive behavior.


Bananas, Grenada


Cork tree, Israel


A haven for birds


Tropical forest, Grenada

These days, much of our concern is related to conservation issues. Tropical rain forests are especially important; although they now occupy less than 6 per cent of the land surface of the earth they probably sustain more than half of the biological diversity on earth. All over the world, the forested area of the earth is steadily being depleted, which is leading to the degradation of the environment and the extinction of many species, both plants and animals.

There is now a real danger that in the not-too-distant future man will destroy a large proportion of the present population of species on earth, create an uninhabitable environment, and then die out himself. If this happens it will not be the first time that a large proportion of the species on the earth have been extinguished. It will not be only because of the loss of trees, but that will be a highly significant causative factor.


A fun house from an old tree trunk

So, please go plant a tree!



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Blue-footed Booby, Galapagos


Grand Canyon

Earth Day 2020 is on April 22nd

The theme for Earth Day 2020 is Climate Action, which sounds extremely relevant to me. In honor of Earth Day I’ve picked out some of our photos of wonderful places on our earth, and a couple of where we’ve seen evidence of pollution/plastic waste. Enjoy, and realize what it is that we may all lose if we cannot slow down this climate change and drastically reduce pollution. What humans are doing to the earth has a chain reaction on so many levels. For example, agriculture is affected in many ways (drought, flooding, higher temperatures, bees [as pollinators] in danger), and loss of habitat is extremely damaging to huge numbers of wild animals, such as African wildlife, and Monarch butterflies. Extending mining/hunting/logging, for example, in public lands and in or close to national parks can have devastating effects on these natural wonders.


Grand Tetons National Park



Rhino in Umfolozi Game Park, South Africa


Cows in France


Spring crocuses

Our earth is wonderful, so let’s help preserve it. During these times of shut-downs, lock-downs, and stay-at-home orders, I think many people have come to realize the healing and soothing power of Nature. If we are lucky enough to be allowed to exercise outside we’ve felt how great it is to see the blooming spring trees, the lawns emerging green, and the geese on the ponds. I come back from my outdoor walks feeling refreshed, as I’m sure many others do.

A very interesting side effect of the Covid-19 pandemic appears to be an obvious lessening of pollution in many places. For example, we have seen pictures and heard reports (which I assume are not fake) about clearer skies over some US cities, in parts of India, and over the Himalaya Mountains, and of cleaner waters in and around Venice so that swans and dolphins have returned.


Redwood trees, California


Cherry blossoms, Japan House, Urbana


Sheep, Scotland

This obviously shows us that the effect of humans and their actions can have an enormous effect. So let’s continue to find ways to continue. The theme for this year’s Earth Day was obviously chosen before this Covid-19 pandemic, so what’s happening is kind of prophetic in a way.


Sunset, Grenada


Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe 


Geyser, Yellowstone National Park

This year is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and the enormous challenge—but also the vast opportunities—of action on climate change has been identified as the most pressing issue. As the official Earth Day website says, “At the end of 2020, nations will be expected to increase their national commitments to the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. The time is now for citizens to call for greater global ambition to tackle our climate crisis. Unless every country in the world steps up – and steps up with urgency and ambition — we are consigning current and future generations to a dangerous future.


Pollution, north part of Hokkaido, Japan


Baled hay, France


Galapagos giant tortoises


Vineyards, France

Earth Day is celebrated every year on April 22nd to show support for environmental protection. It was first celebrated in 1970 and now includes events in more than 193 countries. In 1970 about 20 million Americans took to the streets, college campuses, and hundreds of cities to protest environmental ignorance and demand a new way forward for our planet. It was from this that the modern environmental movement was launched.

Here’s the website on the history of Earth Day if you want more information. https://www.earthday.org/history/ 


Pollution, Tiananmen Square, Beijing


Sunflowers, France


Yellowstone National Park






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Mr Big Beetle on an ash tree leaf



We love how the shadow of the leaf changes depending on time of day

I hope that all of you and your loved ones are doing okay during this Covid-19 pandemic. It certainly is changing all our lives, and will continue to do so in ways we probably can’t imagine yet.

Here in Urbana we are lucky as we are still allowed to walk outside, so long as we all keep the proper social-distancing rules and, now, preferably wearing masks. So, we walk every day—it’s good for us, and helps to break the day. We have a wonderful park in town, called Meadowbrook Park, which I’ve written about a couple of times before. Besides the walking paths, there are many outdoor sculptures, some of which I’ve described before. Sometimes they change, as some are just on loan for a while, and then a new one appears.


signThis one is relatively new. It’s lovely, but also has an interesting story.

The information board tells us it’s “Mr. Big Beetle Finds His Way”, by Janet Austin, 2015, stainless steel and glass mosaic. It was first shown in Lincoln Park Zoo in 2015, and recently came to Meadowbrook Park.

Janet Austin lives and works in Chicago. Her sculptures represent natural forms, mainly plants, larvae and insects. She believes that invasive and unappealing species are unfairly hated and people don’t appreciate their uniqueness and beauty. She feels that humankind needs to realize the importance of biodiversity, and the harm that applying pesticides does to the environment.

In the case of this beetle, what strikes one first is that, yes, it is big, and it is pretty with beetleiridescent green tiles. The interesting part is the meaning of “Finds His Way” in the title. He’s finding his way through a leaf maze, and the leaf is in the shape of an ash tree leaf. The larvae of the Emerald Ash Borer make trails like this in the bark of ash trees. The beetle came to this country from Asia, probably on wooden shipping palettes. In Asia there are many natural predators for the beetle, but not so here, so over the years many hundreds of thousands of ash trees were affected and had to be cut down. Including here in Urbana-Champaign.

For Janet Austin this creates a dilemma: the beetle is just doing what he has to in order to survive. We want to save the ash trees, for many reasons (such as shade, shelter for other creatures), but to do that we have to apply pesticides around the roots, which may affect other insects and birds eating those insects.

I find this a really thought-provoking idea, one that has no easy solution, but hopefully her work will make people think.





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IMG_8614Our town, Urbana, has a number of places where we can see swathes of re-created tall-grass prairie. One is at Meadowbrook Park, which I’ve written about before (see here https://viviennemackie.wordpress.com/2004/07/30/meadowbrook-park/ ), another is along part of the railway line, and another is along Florida Ave next to the house of the President of the University of Illinois. They are gorgeous, especially in summer and fall, when the plants are tall and beautiful with swathes of bright mostly purple and yellow flowers.

IMG_8615Why is this important? One of the nicknames for Illinois is the Prairie State (of course, another is Land of Lincoln). Prairie grassland was once the dominant ecosystem in Illinois, but prairie is largely forgotten and almost non-existent in our agricultural and urbanized landscape. About 60% of Illinois (approximately 22 million acres) was once prairie. Now, only about 2,500 acres remain. The rest became corn and soybean fields, pastures and hayfields, mostly in the period between 1820-1840, as more and more settlement of prairie areas in Illinois took place.

Various conservation groups want to continue to pay homage to the prairie and we are IMG_8609very happy that our town is part of that, so that people can still imagine what the state might have once looked like. There are other benefits to re-planting the prairie vegetation, such as increasing habitats for insects and wildlife.

Here are a few photos from the plot close to the president’s house.


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manybeachThe Boulders and its African Penguins

We have a lot of photos for this post, so please enjoy scrolling through. It was such a privilege to be able to see so many penguins.

Some of our family in South Africa live in Kommetjie on the Cape Peninsula, so after lunch one day they suggested a visit to The Boulders to see the penguins. They have a young daughter and said that she loves going there. Seeing as we had our young granddaughter with us on this trip, we thought that was a great idea. And it was, even though it was extremely windy.

The Boulders is a protected area, part of Table Mountain National Park.




beachThe Boulders is on a sheltered cove between Simonstown and Cape Point and is an area with quite a few small beaches and sheltered bays and many huge granite boulders that enclose them. It’s believed these boulders are about 540 million years old. When you see the area, it’s quite obvious where the name comes from!

One the one side the area is bordered by indigenous bush above the high-water mark, and on the other by the clear waters of False Bay. The Boulders has become world famous for the thriving colony of African Penguins. The cove is right next to a residential area, but it is one of the few sites where this endangered bird (Spheniscus demersus) can be seen at close range, wandering freely in a protected natural environment.




You can see a swimmer down there

Swimming is allowed at one of the beaches (Boulders Beach, off the second parking area) and we did see some people in the water, but not very close to a few penguins. None of us thought about swimming—besides having to pay, it just doesn’t seem right somehow to be in the water perhaps close to the penguins, either disturbing them, or helping to habituate them to humans.

There is a parking area at each end of the cove, connected by a small road for local residents on one end, and then a boardwalk, which is free. Local vendors set up stalls selling some South African souvenirs on the edge of the parking area—some look very nice, and our daughter actually did buy a dress for our granddaughter made from a local indigenous print.



EmboardWalking along the boardwalk (or running, in the case of the kids) was fun, as we saw lots of penguins just below in the vegetation buffer zone, plus hundreds further down on the beaches. We even saw a couple on the boardwalk, just waddling along, which thrilled our granddaughter. They are cute, almost comical-looking, birds and we felt very privileged to see so many. With their black and white plumage, it almost looks like they have tuxedoes on, with just a little pinkish-red color above the eyes!




There’s a penguin down there


viewdowncloserTo get even closer to the actual colony, on some looping boardwalks that go almost to Foxy Beach, you have to pay. For adult South Africans (over age 12) it was R78 each, and children R39. For other African countries close to South Africa (there are 14 SADC—Southern African Development Community—countries) it’s adults R152 and children R76; and for international visitors adult R303 and children R152. This sliding price scale applies to many special attractions and parks in South Africa, unfortunately. The motivation for this is to allow locals to experience the wonder of these popular destinations at a more affordable rate. Only a couple from our party did this, as we got a good look at the penguins from our walk.




Tweedledum and Tweedledee


Penguins in the water

The African Penguin is listed as an endangered species in the IUCN Red List (International Union for Conservation of Nature). From an estimated population of 1.5 million in 1910, by the end of the 20thcentury only about 10% remained. The main reasons were the harvesting of penguin eggs for food, and commercial trawling, which reduced the penguins’ food supply. At The Boulders the penguins have rebounded from just two breeding pairs in 1982 to a colony of about 2,200 in recent years. This is partly because commercial trawling has decreased, thereby increasing the supply of pilchards and anchovy, which form a large part of the penguins’ diet (they also like squid). It’s also because they are protected here.




An information board

one4There are a number of information boards along the board walk, giving lots of facts and figures about these birds and their life cycle. So, here are a few fun facts.


–They used to be called Jackass Penguins because of their donkey-like braying call. But a number of species of South American penguins have the same sound so these local birds were renamed African Penguins, as they are the only species that breed in Africa.

–They can swim an average of 7km (4.3 miles) per hour and can stay underwater for up to 2 minutes.

–Ocean enemies include sharks, Cape fur seals, and killer whales. Land enemies include viewdownpenguinsmongoose, genet, domestic cats and dogs, plus gulls that steal their eggs and new-born chicks.

—They make their nests in the ground as they cannot fly. They are social breeders so they nest in colonies, but protect the area around their particular nest. Breeding starts at about 4 years of age, and main breeding season starts in February. African Penguins are monogamous, and take turns to incubate their eggs and feed their young.

generalview–New-born chick are covered in down, which is not waterproof. After about 30 days, both parents head out to sea to find food. Many young chicks congregate then for protection. After about 60 days the chicks’ plumage changes to a waterproof blue-grey color, and they can learn to go to sea. At this stage they are called “Baby Blues”. After about a year to 2 years, the Baby Blues moult and get black-and-white plumage.

–During the annual moult old worn feathers are replaced. During this period the birds warningbitlose their waterproofing and cannot head out to sea for about 21 days, so the moulting period is often called the time of starvation and before the moult they need to fatten up.

–Peak moulting time is December, after which they head out to sea to feed, as they do not feed during moulting. They return in January to mate and begin nesting from February to August.

–Penguins have very sharp beaks and can cause serious injury if the bite or lunge. So, be aware.warningsign






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Rod M and El Drago trunk


El Drago

signEl Drago Milenario, the Dragon Tree

In Icod de los Vinos, Tenerife

This big old tree is advertised in all the guidebooks to Tenerife, so we decided we had to go and see it. It’s in a special park in Icod de los Vinos (Icod of the vines), a town not far along the coast from Garachico where we were staying. Parking is a huge problem as this is a big tourist attraction, and as I mentioned before there’s not a lot of parking space on the islands as there’s not a lot of flat land. So it’s best to follow the signs for the El Drago parking garage (not free).


Square Andes de Lorenzo-Caceres


El Drago and other smaller dragon trees in the park

We paid 3 euros each to get into the park (senior rate). You can see the tree from a pretty town square next to the park, the Square Andres de Lorenzo-Caceres around the Church of San Marcos, begun in the 16thcentury. But it’s worthwhile going into the actual park and walking in it a bit: you get closer to the tree and see many other trees and plants in the park.

Why is this tree one of the biggest tourist attractions of the island?

The El Drago (Dracaena draco) is supposedly the oldest tree of its kind in the world (it looked like some kind of euphorbia to us) but the actual age is disputed: some claiming that it’s up to 1,000 years old, but most experts say that’s very unlikely. It’s not a hardwood tree so it’s amazing that it’s that old anyway. It’s also the largest D.draco tree alive, partly because of its massive trunk formed by clusters of aerial roots that grew from the bases of the lowest branches and grew down to the soil.




A dragon tree with berries on Gran Canaria



Municipal Park, Arucas, on Gran Canaria

The park has many other dragon trees, much smaller (some were especially planted to hopefully replace this old tree when it does finally die). Other parts of Tenerife, Gran Canaria and three of the other Canary Islands also have some these trees in various places, so they are emblematic of the islands. However, they are not as prolific as before and are actually on an endangered list in some places.

The Dragon Tree is one of the most unusual plants on the Canary Islands. These are actually sub-tropical tree-like plants that are native to the Canary Islands, Cape Verde, Madeira and a part of western Morocco. They are, interestingly, a member of the asparagus family Asparagaceae! It has branches on the top, in a kind of umbrella shape, that end in tufts of spikey leaves. As Wikipedia says, “When young it has a single stem. At about 10–15 years of age the stem stops growing and produces a first flower spike with white, lily-like perfumed flowers, followed by coral berries. Soon a crown of terminal buds appears and the plant starts branching. Each branch grows for about 10–15 years and re-branches, so a mature plant has an umbrella-like habit. It grows slowly, requiring about ten years to reach 1.2 metres (4ft) in height but can grow much faster.”


In Arucas


At Casa del Vino on Tenerife


In Orotavo, Tenerife

Its red resin-like sap (known as “dragon’s blood”, el sange de drago) and its fruit were used in Roman times to make a medicinal powder, and it was used in pigments, paints and varnishes. The Guanches (original inhabitants of the Canaries) worshipped this tree and used the sap in their mummification process.

We were very happy that we visited this park to see this tree and learn something new about Nature. Around the islands we noticed many plaques, boards with emblems and/or names of places, and local flags that have the dragon tree on them in some form.


Hotel San Roque in Garachico


Crest on the square in Icod—with Guanches and the dragon tree

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The town of Garachico on the north coast of Tenerife Island. The sculpture is on one of those spits of volcanic rock 


The heart at Garachico

Recycling can be beautiful

We’ve recently returned from a wonderful trip to the Canary Islands, which I’ll start to cover in more detail from the next post. But, to start, I want to post about these unusual sculptures. As you know, we are fascinated with outdoor art, so these couldn’t fail to catch our attention.

These two interesting sculptures, which we discovered along the north coast of the island of Tenerife, were done in June 2017. One is on a pier-like spit of volcanic land in Garachico, and the other is in the square in front of the big church in Buenavista, the pretty town at the west end of the main road TF42. They are striking so we looked more closely. Each is a metal heart frame that’s being used as a recycling space for bottle tops and caps. What a great idea. They are basically the same, except the Buenavista one has a metal “B” shape opening for people to put plastic bags of caps, and the word Diversa (diverse or several) below.


The heart at Buenavista


Church square in Buenavista

signThe board for each is the same, and reads roughly (my Spanish isn’t the best!):


Educational Sculpture

The heart is symbol of goodness and solidarity.

When the artist holds out (his) hands,

One for help to yourself

And the other to everyone else.

The artist is Moises Afonso, who is a Tenerife sculptor, working largely with metal. He believes you can transform iron into anything you can imagine. He was born in Icod, on the north coast of Tenerife. His father was a blacksmith, so Alfonso grew up understanding metals. He is currently studying the creation of a School of Blacksmiths in the Canary Islands.


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“See that eagle high in that tree?”

Much of this information is set out at the Pere Marquette Visitor Center



—The term “bald” refers to the old English word “balde” meaning ‘white’, rather than ‘without feathers’. Adult birds (4-5 years old) have a distinctive white head and tail, and dark brown bodies.


—Young birds vary in color from solid dark brown to mottled brown and white plumage.

—Adult beaks and eyes are bright yellow. The hooked beaks are used for tearing flesh.

—Eyesight is very keen, up to 5 times better than human vision. They can see a rabbit about two miles away, for example. They have both monocular and binocular vision.

—eagles are one of the largest birds of prey in the world; they are 3 to 3.5 feet tall, with a 6.5 to 8-foot wingspan.


—Eagles mate for life and usually go back to the same nest, which they keep adding to. Some nests end up around 10ft wide, weighing hundreds of pounds.


Part of a nest in the Pere Marquette Visitor Center

—Females weigh up to 15lbs, males 8.5-9lbs.

—They eat fish mainly, but sometimes also eat ducks and geese. They can also be scavengers on dead or injured wildlife, such as ducks or deer, especially in winter. They also pirate food from other eagles or other birds.

—Their powerful 2-inch talons are used to take prey.

—They lay 1-3 eggs, which take 35 days to hatch. In 75 days the eaglet is almost full grown and ready to fly.


—The main predator is the raccoon, which takes eagle eggs.

—Eagles fly 20-40 mph in normal flight, but can reach speeds of 100 mph while diving. They can fly up to 300 miles per day when migrating!!


—The average age is about 15 years, but they can live up to 30 years in the wild, and to 50 years in captivity.



During the Bald Eagle Days festival in Alton, Illinois, you can even pat a costumed eagle!



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Liberty, a rescue bald eagle, on show at Alton Visitor Center


The Illinois River was mostly frozen over in early January 2018


A privilege and a thrill to watch the US national bird

Don’t forget your binoculars!

Eager to see an eagle? Well, you can watch our national bird, the Bald Eagle, soaring on six-foot wings, diving down at 100 mph to snatch a fish from the water’s surface, or perching on a tree branch. And Midwest residents don’t have to travel to Alaska (or Florida) to do that. Bald eagle sightings have increased along the Mississippi River this winter, on locks and dams in Iowa, Illinois and Missouri.

Just one hour north of St Louis is a great spot to see large numbers of these magnificent birds in winter, which we recently did in spite of the extreme cold.


P2040054.JPGAround Alton and Grafton, Illinois, is an area bounded by two rivers, the Illinois River and the Mississippi, with a third, the Missouri River, a few miles south. (In the native language of the then-local Illini tribe, ‘grafton’ means “gathering of waters’). State Parks and Wildlife Management Areas, Federal lands, and Nature Conservancy areas along these rivers recognize the importance of this area. Cliffs, bluffs, woods, wetlands, bottomlands and prairies provide a paradise for a wide variety of flora and fauna. This area is on the N-S bird migratory flyway, so it’s frequented by many migrating birds at different times of the year.


P2050074.JPGFor most people, the most famous visitor is the bald eagle, which is attracted here by large bodies of water with adequate food supplies and large land areas with minimal human disturbance. This is the second largest wintering ground for eagles flying from their nesting places in the Great Lakes States and Canada (the largest is in N. California and S. Oregon) and the chances of seeing eagles improve as the number of bald eagles continues to increase as a result of improving numbers. As our guide joked, “This is the eagles’ Florida”.

The bald eagle was on the Endangered Species List: Their numbers were down to as few as 417 nesting pairs in the 1960s, because of loss of habitat and widespread use of harmful pesticides, especially DDT. Banning DDT and increased habitat protection under federal law have led to a significant increase in the number of nesting bald eagles, so in 1995 the eagle’s status was downgraded from ‘endangered’ to ‘threatened’.

It is thought that this area supports an estimated winter population of 2500-3000 eagles, and the birds are spotted daily. The wintering eagles use large trees on the river banks for daytime perches, as food is readily available in the open water, especially near dams (they enjoy the fish that are confused/thrown up by the locks and ferries), but they prefer large trees in the nearby sheltered valleys and ravines for night roosts.


Woodlands in Pere Marquette State Park

mapThe 15-mile scenic Great River Road between Alton and Pere Marquette State Park is very accessible to eagle-watching enthusiasts. Here the road runs along the base of limestone bluffs that rise almost 200 feet above the Mississippi River. Early French explorers (such as Pere Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet) called these ramparts “broken castles” and the scenery alone makes the drive worthwhile.

In winter, many Eagle Events are planned (such as Bald Eagle Days from Pere Marquette State Park Visitors Center: reservations required) or you can plan eagle-viewing yourself with the aid of a pamphlet, “The Eagle Watchers Guide”, which you can pick up at the Alton Visitors Center, Pere Marquette Visitor Center, or the National Great Rivers Museum. Or more information at www.visitalton.com 


Like wolves and lions, eagles have captured people’s imaginations over the centuries. The Native American Indians revered the eagle as a messenger of the gods and, as your eye is drawn ever upward to admire its graceful soaring, you can understand why, and realize that actually legend is not a match for the reality (eagles have been tracked flying as high as 30,000 feet and because they fly so high is why the Indians thought they were delivering messages to the gods). Benjamin Franklin wanted the wild turkey as the national bird, but the eagle was chosen in 1782 because it’s a true American species (the only other endemic eagle in North America is the golden eagle) As we watch this magnificent bird, we’re very glad the turkey wasn’t chosen!



Pere Marquette Visitor Center


Liberty, a rescue eagle is 26 years old and very comfortable with crowds of people

Start at the Visitors’ Center in Pere Marquette State Park, a few miles beyond Grafton on Highway 100, the Great River Road (You can also begin at the Alton Visitor Center, which doesn’t have as many displays but did have a live rescue eagle on display this January). They have good displays on the flora and fauna and natural history of this area and lots of information on eagles, including an informative movie. (See Fun Facts about Bald Eagles in the next article). The Center offers its own Bald Eagle Days program on some days in the season, which you need to sign up for when there, or call 618-786-3323. We took part in this one Sunday, and it was excellent. A State Park interpreter leads the program, driving some people around in a van while others follow in their own vehicles.


We also saw trumpeter swans


Our guide, Scott, sets up a ‘scope and points out eagles and their nests

frozenriver3But, to do a viewing trip yourself, drive north from Pere Marquette about 8 miles on 100 to Fuller Lake Wildlife Management Area. Stop and look around at the trees along both sides of the river, and you may see eagles resting on the branches. Turn and retrace your steps past the park, keeping your eagle eyes open! You may see other cars stopped, which probably means they’ve spotted something, and if there’s a place to pull off the road, you can do the same. Just before Grafton is the free Brussels ferry over the Illinois River. It’s fun to drive your car onto the ferry and cross over to the Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge, where you may see bald eagles, pelicans, white geese or trumpeter swans. Cross back (the ferry runs 24/7, every 10-15 minutes so long as the river is not ice-bound) and drive along the Mississippi, watching out for the birds, past Alton to the National Great Rivers Museum at the site of Melvin Price Locks and Dam. You can often see eagles in flight and feeding around this massive structure, or resting in the trees along the river. This January, for the first time in our experience, we saw that the Illinois River was mostly frozen over. Quite amazing to see that!


So much ice!



Casey, a red-shouldered hawk

On the opposite side of the river (drive over the big bridge at Alton and turn left) is the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary (aka the Audubon Center), one of the best locations for eagle viewing. They (in conjunction with the Alton Visitor Center) were hosting the Alton-Audubon Eagle Ice Festival the day were were there, with fun activities for kids and a live red-shouldered hawk on display. It was also fascinating to see an artist carving an ice sculpture of an eagle from a huge block of ice at the Alton Visitor Center and to see some other finished ice sculptures there and at the Audubon Center. The weather was so cold that the sculptures didn’t melt even a little bit out in the weak sunshine!





SStrmmarketPere Marquette Lodge in Pere Marquette State Park has rooms in the Lodge or cabins in the grounds. For reservations call 618-786-2331or visit www.PMLodge.net . I’ll write more about Pere Marquette, the PM State Park and PM Lodge in a later post.

Other lodging options are listed at www.VisitAlton.com . Many restaurants in Grafton and Alton provide tasty lunch breaks. We really liked State Street Market in Alton.

NOTE: An alternative site in Illinois for eagle viewing is Starved Rock State Park on the upper Illinois River, much closer to Chicago.

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Tasty grass in Masai Mara, Kenya


Tasty bush in Hluhluwe-Umfolozi National Park, South Africa


Masai Mara grass plains

Fifth Annual World Elephant Day, August 12, 2016.

Bringing the World Together to Help Elephants

The first World Elephant Day was on August 12, 2012, and many organizations around the world are trying to help the plight of the elephants, such as WWF, Save the Elephants, and International Elephant Foundation.

In honor of this day and these animals, I found some of our pictures taken at different times. Enjoy!


Water hole at Pilansberg National Park, South Africa


Drinking at the water hole, Pilansberg


At Pilansberg


Follow the leader, Masai Mara

World Elephant Day is a celebration of these animals and a call for the protection of the giant creatures and a promotion of conservation. The African elephant weights roughly 22,000 pounds and is the largest land animal: the Asian elephant is smaller at 10,000 pounds. This great size has not prevented their decimation, however. Nor has the fact that elephants have been potent cultural symbols worldwide, especially in Buddhist and Hindu lore and religion.


Sand bath about to begin at Hluhluwe=Umfolozi


“Gotta get rid of this itch”, Pilansberg


Babies, Pilansberg

Like so many of the wonderful animal and plant species on our earth, elephants are endangered. According to the official World Elephant Day website, only 40,000 Asian elephants remain worldwide, and only 400,000 African elephants.

We are from southern Africa and love all the wildlife there, but I’ve always had a special soft spot for elephants. These huge creatures have an amazing social system, they are very intelligent—it’s been shown that they have feelings of empathy, grief for lost loved ones, an understanding of teamwork, and an ability to use tools.

On our many trips to various National Parks in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Kenya we’ve spent countless hours watching these giant creatures—and at times, many hours waiting for them to move off the road! It’s a lot of fun to watch elephants and their interactions in a group (from a safe place, of course). We’ve seen them on the grass plains, in wooded thickets, around water holes, and they are magnificent wherever they are.



One of the main reasons these (mostly) gentle giants are endangered is because of their ivory tusks, which are coveted in some parts of the world, leading to a huge illegal market in ivory. Other reasons are habitat loss and human-elephant conflict, usually over territory and crops. But I’ve also heard reports about elephants dying when hit by a speeding train in India.

What can we, as ordinary individuals, do to help?

—Support a ban on ivory trade

—Support any measures that will help stop poaching of elephants

–Support measures to conserve elephant habitats

–Ensure that captive elephants are treated properly

—Donate to one of the organizations if you are able

Following is a nice series of an elephant slowly sauntering along the road in Hluhluwe-Umfolozi National Park. You definitely wait until he/she decides to get off the road!



“Perhaps I’ll cross now”…


…”but maybe I’ll go on this side rather.”

Here is some information taken from the official website. It’s both sobering and encouraging reading.


Ivory Trade

In 1989, CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) issued an international ban on the ivory trade.

2013 saw the greatest quantity of ivory confiscated in the last 25 years.

The street value of a single tusk is approximately US$15,000.

The main market for illegal ivory is China, where a single tusk can fetch $100,000–200,000.

Tusks are found in African elephants of both sexes while only in Asian males.

An African bull’s tusks can grow to over 11 feet long and weigh 220 pounds.

May 2016, Kenya showed that it has zero-tolerance for the illegal ivory trade by torching 105 tons worth of ivory. The largest ivory burn in history.

June 2, 2016, US adopts a near-total ivory ban.

China has made several steps that indicate it might be heading towards a complete ban of commercial ivory.”

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