Beautiful nature to brighten up the day
It used to be a secret. Each year around October / November I’d hear through the grapevine about sunflower fields popping up on Oahu’s North Shore and camera-toting enthusiasts venturing illegally onto private property to capture the beautiful blooms.
“So we decided, since people were determined to visit the fields, we’d open them up to the public,” says Derek, one of several DuPont employees minding the fields on Saturday, November 22, when I arrived toting my camera.
Actually, I had tried in years past but could never find the fields. “We moved them around from year to year,” says Derek, pointing to a brown patch of earth, which had once been a sunflower field further down the valley, “so they were in different places.”
Derek also mentioned that DuPont grew the fields for scientific purposes, testing growth rates of different seeds. Now, he says, computers can take over that job, so this might be the sunflower fields’ last year.
That is, unless DuPont decides to keep planting the fields as a community service. “We’re giving back to the community,” says Derek. “Your parking fee ($5) and profits from anything you buy here (t-shirts, souvenirs, food) go to support our local high school’s activities. By the way,” he adds, “the pineapple/guava lemonade is really good.”
I’ll never forget the jolt of amazement when I rounded a bend on the elevated walkway and saw this view. To capture the breadth and the feeling of power emanating from such close proximity to the rushing water and billowing spray, I took four images, from side to side, and later stitched them together in Photoshop, creating this stunning panorama, which includes the Iguazu River and San Martin island.
It’s early afternoon in Argentina’s Patagonia, and on Peninsula Valdes, the seaside town of Puerto Piramides is throbbing with tourists lining up to pay for their whale-watching tours. The little hamlet has grown up around these tours, with lodging, restaurants, souvenir shops and a tourist information bureau all catering to the trade and brimming with business.
Beyond the last restaurant, on an ultra-wide beach fronting a horseshoe bay, there are no boat ramps. Instead, tractors—like monstrous crabs—chug across the sand, pushing and pulling tour boats into and out of the ocean with the aid of long metal arms. Ignoring the vehicles, groups of sunbathers and daytrippers dot the sandy expanse. There’s plenty of room for everyone.
From the ticket office, we march in line to the beach after donning our bulky orange life jackets. Across the sand we go, up the metal steps to the boat’s deck in search of a good seat. During a lengthy orientation in both Spanish and English (mostly Spanish), a tractor pushes us into the sea, and at the proper depth, we float off the trailer and are on our way to see the whales.
It’s speculated that right whales, both Northern (Pacific and Atlantic) and Southern, got their name because whalers declared them the “right” whales to kill. Preferring shallow coastal waters, they swim slowly, passing close to ports and lingering on the surface. All of which made them easy to harpoon. And once killed, they conveniently floated thanks to their thick blubber layer, which was rendered into oil.
Eventually, they became even more prized for their baleen—a tough yet flexible material that forms a giant sieve in each side of the whale’s mouth, allowing it to strain flea-sized copepods (tiny crustaceans) and krill from the water for food. An adult whale must eat a billion copepods a day to supply the minimum 400,000 calories it needs. Polite society, however, decided that baleen was more useful as corset stays, stiffeners in fashionable gowns, umbrella ribs and horsewhips (hence the phrase, “He whaled on me.”)
Even though no longer harpooned for their blubber and baleen, right whales are still fighting for their lives. All are endangered, but the eastern North Pacific population, numbering less than 50 animals, is critically endangered, while the eastern North Atlantic population may be considered functionally extinct, with only ten or so individuals left. Leading causes of death include collisions with ships and entanglement in fishing gear, but in Patagonia there is a lesser-known problem: seagulls.
Kelp gulls might be responsible for hundreds of southern right whale deaths—especially calves—near Peninsula Valdes. They land on the whales, pecking at them to tear off chunks of skin and blubber for food. The hours of harassment and extensive wounds cause stress and weaken the whales at a time when mothers are fasting and expending energy to feed their young. Since this is a recent discovery, no solutions have been found.
Right whales can weigh up to 90 tons, and an adult female can grow to 49 feet long. The male’s testicles weigh around 1,100 pounds each—the largest of any animal and easily surpassing the larger blue-whale’s 120-pound testes.
On this day, no males are available for corroboration, but before long, we spot a mother and calf. They venture close to our small boat, a mass of black skin and white tubercles or callosities that look like clinging barnacles. The callosities appear white thanks to large colonies of cyamids (whale lice).
The whales bob up and down on the water’s surface, checking us out, the mother positioning herself between the boat and her calf. Familiar with barnacle-clad humpbacks that spy hop, I strain to see the right-whale’s eye watching us, but it’s nowhere to be found. I learn that it’s halfway down the massive head, near the corner of the mouth—a curved, plunging line that separates a voluminous lower law from a long, thin upper jaw that reminds me of a safe-deposit box lid with a low hinge, or a trap door leading to a storage cellar.
Perhaps because of the odd mouth and lack of a dorsal fin, it seems like the whale is swimming upside down. I’ve heard that these animals can dive to 600 feet, sometimes flipping over and brushing their flat heads along the seafloor, waiting for the currents to sweep food into their cavernous mouths.
On occasion, I can see the mother’s blowhole. It looks oddly like the thick-lipped mouth on the Dairy Queen commercial, opening wide to suck in air or blow out a water spray, then closing tight before a dive.
Other curious mother-calf pairs check us out, too, but finally we head for shore, passing various sea birds and a colony of seals. The crab tractors are waiting for us when we arrive at the beach.
You can check out Jerry’s video here:
According to one definition, a liquid is a sample of matter that conforms to the shape of its container, and which acquires a defined surface in the presence of gravity. Another calls it a substance that exhibits a characteristic readiness to flow, little or no tendency to disperse, and relatively high incompressibility. In other words, you would be hard pressed to compress it. Ever tried compressing water? I haven’t, but I feel sure it would be impossible. Squeeze it one way and it squirts out another.
But I digress. A liquid could be many things, but I choose my favorite liquid—water. How much of the human body is water? A Google search supplies conflicting answers, but I rather like this breakdown: the body is more than 60% water, blood is 92% water, the brain and muscles are 75% water, and bones—yes, even bones—are about 22% water. Now I’m definitely getting off track, so to get back on, I’ll take a pictorial look at water as found on the Garden Isle of Kauai. In addition to keeping our bodies hydrated at an optimum level, water can do all the following and more.
Entry to a great photo challenge by Where’s My Backpack?
Every February-March, my editor asks if I can once again update the Destination Hyatt books for the Maui, Kauai and Waikiki resorts. I look forward to this assignment because I’m a wordsmith, and it’s a chance for me to get creative, writing new sidebars, little-known facts, and intros for each of the resorts and the islands they inhabit. And that means I have to come up with new themes and ideas each year.
A few years ago, I wrote this one for Kauai. And since I just returned from six days on the Garden Isle, now seems like the perfect time to put words and photos together for a blog post. My husband calls this “flowery” writing, but I call it fitting for a garden island.
I hope you enjoy it, and if you have any Kauai experiences, do tell.
Kauai: The Magician
Abracadabra! Endless stretches of powdery-sand beaches strung together like jewels glittering gold in the sunlight. Throngs of red-footed boobies and other acrobatic sea birds soaring gracefully above the cliffs and lighthouse at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. An impregnable mountain fortress known as Na Pali flaunting its steepled spires, sea arches, and isolated, idyllic pillows of sand.
When it comes to sleight of hand, Kauai is a master, transforming the raw lava of a once barren volcano into an emerald-robed Garden of Eden complete with groves of coconut palms and a smorgasbord of fruits: papaya, banana, breadfruit, guava, lychee, mango, passion fruit, and the tempting mountain apple.
Like pulling a rabbit out of its hat, the island reveals hidden gardens filled with colorful tropical flowers, the languid Wailua River and its ethereal Fern Grotto, waterfalls galore, a replica Grand Canyon known as Waimea, and towering Mount Wai‘ale‘ale—the wettest place on earth.
Once Kauai has mesmerized, resistance is futile. You’ll find yourself playing 18 holes on a world-class, cliff-top golf course, hiking into Waimea Canyon’s wilderness of pastel reds and yellows or along Na Pali’s carved-into-the-cliffside footpath, kayaking a rainforest river, sipping coffee made from the island’s homegrown beans, relaxing in a rejuvenating spa, visiting locations where movies such as Jurassic Park and South Pacific were filmed, exploring by horseback or astride an ATV, stretching out on a beach in the company of a Hawaiian monk seal or green sea turtle.
Kauai waves its magic wand and you gladly fall under its spell.
Sharing this sunset from a few nights ago.
I’m standing on the rocks below Diamond Head, and the structure you can see on the hill at right is the Diamond Head Lighthouse. Most people view it from above, when they climb to the top of Diamond Head Crater on a hiking trail and look down from the pinnacle.
In the 1800s, with so many ships running aground on reefs and shoals during the night, something had to be done, and in 1878 a lookout station was built. Its first attendant, John Peterson (from Sweden), known as “Lighthouse Charlie,” was on duty seventeen hours a day, watching through his telescope for incoming vessels. He lived in a small cottage nearby and was paid $50 a month.
When a steamship ran aground in 1897, a stone tower topped by a fixed white light was built. In 1918, after Hawaii was annexed as a territory, the federal government built the current lighthouse, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. It stands 55 feet tall, 147 feet above sea level, and its 1,000-watt electric light magnified by a 7,300-candlepower lens can be seen 18 nautical miles away.
October 4 celebrated the Feast of St. Assisi, the patron saint of animals. It has also been designated World Animal day, so this is perfect timing, says Where’s my backpack? to share our animal photos. Perfect timing for me, too, since I’ve recently returned from a visit to the San Diego Zoo, where my camera caught many animals just hanging around and being their charming selves.
Just click on any of the photos to access larger images in the photo gallery. (My apologies for some of the incorrect designations [gazelle, not antelope; bonobo, not orangutang; etc.] I’m trying out the gallery style and still have a few kinks to work out)
Fascinating hummingbirds. They’re the tiniest birds in the world, weighing between 2 and 20 grams (a penny weighs 2.5 grams). They can see and hear better than humans. They can even see ultraviolet light. Yet they have no sense of smell. Their hearts beat about 250 times per minute at rest and up to 1,260 times a minute while flying. Their wings beat about 70 times per second, but up to 200 times per second when diving. Their metabolism is roughly 100 times that of an elephant.
I’ve never seen a hummingbird here in Hawaii, so on a recent visit to San Diego, I was delighted to find a colony of them hovering around my house-host’s feeder. I could have watched them all day, but time did not permit. Here are just a few shots from my short time with these captivating creatures. And some more hummingbird facts that might surprise you.
Hummingbirds are the only birds that can fly both forward and backwards. They can hover in midair, fly sideways and even upside down. They can fly at an average speed of 25-30 miles per hour but can dive up to 60 mph.
Hummingbirds do not mate for life. Females do all the nest building, and males do not help raise the young. Baby hummingbirds cannot fly and remain the nest for 3 weeks. A hummingbird’s average life span is 5 years, but some can live for more than 10 years.
A hummingbird’s brain is 4.2% of its body weight, the largest proportion in the bird kingdom.
Hummingbirds are very smart, and they can remember every flower they have been to and how long it will take a flower to refill.
A hummingbird does not drink through its beak like a straw. It uses its tongue, which is grooved in the shape of a W and has tiny hairs on its tip, to lap up nectar from flowers and feeders.
An average sized hummingbird will have about 940 feathers.
30% of a hummingbird’s weight consists of flight muscles. In comparison, human pectoral muscles are about 6% of body weight.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds have been known to travel 500 miles across the Gulf of Mexico to breeding grounds. The trip takes an estimated 20 hours. Some hummingbirds will travel over 2,000 miles, twice a year, during migrations.
Contrary to popular misconception, hummingbirds do not migrate on the backs of geese. Geese fly on different migration paths or fly zones than hummingbirds.
Hummingbirds need to eat on average 7 times per hour for about 30-60 seconds (so I have to ask myself, how does a hummingbird make it 500 miles across the Gulf of Mexico?), and will visit an average of 1,000 flowers per day for nectar, lapping it up at a rate of about 13 licks per second. They also eat small soft bugs for protein.
To sleep, hummingbirds go into a hibernation-like state called torpor to conserve energy. When in torpor, they appear dead and have occasionally been found hanging upside down. It takes up to an hour to fully recover from torpor.
Hummingbirds are only found naturally in the Americas, as far north as Alaska and as far south as Chile.
There are more than 300 species of hummingbirds.
A hummingbird’s favorite color is red. They pollinate flowers by rubbing their forehead and face in the flower as they get nectar.
Early Spanish explorers called hummingbirds flying jewels. Can’t argue with that.
Norway belongs to the sea. Along it’s western edge, the forces of water have carved a lacy filigree of bays, inlets and fjords like very few places on earth. It’s the fjords, of course, that capture the imagination. Ice Age glaciers creeping slowly across landmasses, carving out narrow channels that eventually fill with water as the glacier melts and retreats, and seawater encroaches. And they’re deep. Some, such as Sognefjord, plunge more than 4,000 feet below sea level, as deep as the height of mountains bordering them.
Where fjords meet the sea, glacially formed underwater valleys mix with other cross valleys to form a complex array of channels. These run parallel to the coast and are walled off from the sea by a chain of mountainous islands and rocks, making a protected passage along much of the entire 995-mile sea journey from Stavanger to North Cape, Norway.
During the winter, towns deep in fjord valleys can be cut off from the outside world. Snow buildups not only clog roads but can unleash avalanches of snow and rock that plunge into the water, sometimes resulting in fjord tidal waves over 100 feet high.
But in summer, cruise-ship passengers like us find fjords welcoming and awe inspiring, like peaceful blue-green lakes surrounded by snow-capped mountains and replete with ethereal waterfalls and picturesque towns.
I was at least twenty feet away from a fluffy seagull chick, but this mother seagull obviously thought I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. If looks could kill. She dive-bombed me multiple times before finally realizing that I wasn’t posing a threat.
I would have liked to ask her why she chose this spot for a baby outing. The chick was on a small church lawn in the middle of a busy Norwegian town.
Purple has long been the color of royalty. But in the Aloha Festivals Parade, purple is the color representing the island of Kauai. I used Photoshop to transport this lovely Kauai princess and her horse from the patchy sunlight at Ala Moana Park on Oahu, where they waited their turn to enter the parade, to a waterfall-fed grotto on the North Shore.
The pa’u outfit was originally developed as a cover so that Hawaiian women could keep their clothes clean while riding to their destinations.
Turkey is full of surprises. For example, it is commonly believed that tulips originated in Holland. In fact, tulips are native to Central Asia and Turkey. It seems that in the 16th century, someone brought them from Turkey to Holland where they became wildly popular.
In Turkey, under the reign of Sultan Ahmed III, the period between 1718 and 1730 became known as the Tulip Era—an era of peace in which handmade textiles, embroidery, carpets, clothing and other objects were adorned with tulip designs and large tulip gardens sprang up around the Golden Horn in Istanbul. When the sultan was dethroned, the Tulip Era came to an end, but tulip gardens can still be found in Istanbul, and the lovely designs still adorn many handmade goods (see photo below).
The botanical name for tulips, Tulipa, is derived from the Turkish word “tulbend,” meaning turban, which the flower resembles. The tulip is considered the king of bulbs and is Turkey’s national flower.