Dreaming of Africa

I’ve been home a week and a half or so and am definitely back to work and back to my normal life. However, I find my mind wandering back to Africa every chance it gets. I think it is fair to say it will take a while for it to all sink in and settle out but in the meantime I thought I’d share some photos to give you a bit of an idea as to what we saw.

One of the first things we saw were these two white rhinos…


In this reserve, many of the rhinos have had their horns cut off, at least partially, which makes them much less attractive to poachers.

036One of the birds I really wanted to see on this trip was an ostrich. Lucky me, because I saw more than a few!

041We even saw this one on her nest with three babies. The eggs you can see will probably never hatch and have been abandoned. Sometimes more than one female lays eggs in a nest. In this case these eggs may have belonged to another female. As they used to say on Facebook, it’s complicated.

060Not long after, we saw our first meerkat, a mama to be, standing guard, rubbing her belly.

063One of the most beautiful and exciting birds we saw was this African hoopoe. It pretty much posed for us.


We saw our first giraffe and were wowed by the grace and nobility…


and then we saw our first elephants!


This is just a little sampling of how the trip began…I’ll be posting more so check back in when you can.

South African dreams…

After what felt like months of planning and anticipation I finally made my way to South Africa for a birding trip with Julie Zickefoose and Leon Marais of Lawson’s Birding and Wildlife Tours, put together by Holbrook Travel. The trip was about 10 days long, not including the long travel times to and from and was one of the most wonderful trips I’ve ever taken.

Most of the trip felt like a dream–and it was, my dream come true.

The landscapes of South Africa are varied and breathtaking. I will be adding many posts about the birds and animals we saw but I wanted to begin with the beauty that is in the landscapes….

Leaving Johannesburg, it looked like this….

  Up in the hill country of Mount Sheba we walked in an escarpment forest….
  Many rivers and lakes are almost dried up due to drought but we still found running water…  Blyde Canyon is the third largest canyon in the world and certainly one of the most beautiful….especially at sunset….
  There are waterfalls that are as magical as any found anywhere….  And rivers filled with rocks and reeds, hippos and birds. Yes, there are hippos in this photo….
    The savanna was dry but still beautiful…
  There were big rocks and really big rocks….  Flat hazy land with distant mountains….
  And marshlands…. South Africa is a truly amazing and beautiful land. Stay tuned for more posts from my trip….

What a beautiful Cape Cod summer!

It seems that summer is finally winding down but what a summer it has been here on Cape Cod.  We can still walk barefoot in the sand….
  The morning light has been quite lovely….  Even when it is foggy and a bit gray….
  There’s been time to pop the seed pods of the touch-me-not plants, also called jewelweed….  Mushrooms have been popping up all over….
  And there is still beautiful golden light to be had….  Late summer is the time of yellow….
  And Monarch butterflies…..  There may be a few last water lilies in the ponds…
  And the egrets are gathering in the marshes to feed and fatten up for long flights ahead….  There have been beautiful sunsets….
  And ice cream with beloved grandsons…..
  Building fairy houses with kids in the woods…  And watching for frogs and turtles at the pond….
  There’s been painting at the beach….  Lots and lots of bright sunny days by the sea….
  More lovely sunsets…..  Collecting things to draw….
  Teaching kids how to catch frogs and how to let them go….  There’s been painting in the woods….
 and oh, so many other things….

I love fall but am sad to see the summer leave….it has truly been one of the best I can remember….

Horseshoe crab sheds, not deads!

Right about this time of year everyone gets a little worried about the horseshoe crabs. They see dozens, even hundreds, of what appear to be dead horseshoe crabs washed up on the beach.

They might see them lined up in a wrack line, tossed about in piles of seaweed or just a few here and there as the tide recedes.

  As disturbing as this may seem, it’s perfectly normal for all these old shells, which are the outgrown exoskeletons of the horseshoe crabs to wash ashore. The horseshoe crabs are growing fine new shells that will accommodate their growing bodies. As a friend of mine likes to say, these are sheds, not deads!
  It’s the time of year when birds are molting feathers, mammals are molting summer coats and animals that have exoskeletons may be molting as well. This is why we are seeing all those crab shells on the shore and in the marshes as well. Pick one up. If it is as light as a feather, it’s a molt. If it is heavy and stinky, it is indeed a dead animal so don’t take that one home.  One of the things that fools people is that the sheds have legs, gills and all those important parts. When the crab leaves its shell it takes its actual legs, gills and other parts with it but leaves the old coverings behind. It’s pretty amazing when you stop to think how a horseshoe crab crawls out of its old shell and yet leaves it intact!
  So, if you’re walking the beach this weekend, don’t be surprised to find lots of horseshoe crab shells washed up. This shows that there’s a good population in your area and that’s a good thing for the horseshoe crabs, whose numbers have been dwindling in recent years. And pass the word along when you can….there are a lot of worried people out there thinking that hundreds of horseshoe crabs have died instead of just having molted their shells.

Enjoy the long weekend and get outside!

Beach rose hips are NOT beach plums and other things

Happy September!

It’s that time of year when everyone gets all confused about beach plums and beach rose hips. The rose hips are big, fat and juicy orange and red at this time of year and you’ll find them on those same bushes along the beaches and dunes where you saw the beach roses, Rosa rugosa earlier in the summer.

They are edible but quite tart! Some people make tea, jam or jelly with them but it seems to be harder than I want it to be so no jam for me. Jelly and tea, maybe….

Anyway, the photo below shows a beach rose hip.


  Beach plums have been ripe for a few weeks now and look quite different. They are small, hard purplish fruits and are much desired for making beach plum jelly. These photos were from the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary where the crop was lush and is always left for the wildlife to consume.
    Did you know beach plums were related to cherries? Check out their leaves. Below are some that are not quite ripe but these are desired by those that make jelly as well as the unripe fruit helps the rest of it set, especially if the jelly maker is not using pectin.
  Below is a choke cherry and you’ve probably been seeing lots of these around. The birds and many mammals go crazy over them! Note to all! Do not park under a choke cherry tree or you’ll be sorry!  Below is a photo of a wild lemonade I made using staghorn sumac. I know, crazy, huh?
  I have heard about it for years but this is the first year I actually made some and it was delicious! You add about 8 fully seeded heads to a pitcher full of cool water and let it steep for at least 4 hours. Do not heat!  Here are the seed heads before adding them to the water.
    And here is the seedhead on the staghorn sumac bush. These are all over the Cape but before eating, do make sure your ID is correct! Not all sumacs are good for you…. Anyway, that is just a little wild food inspired post for today…..enjoy!

Summer kids

As many of you know, getting the kids off the couch and away from the screens to do something fun outdoors is a bit of a passion of mine.

This summer I said yes to helping with the summer programs for kids at the Green Briar Nature Center in East Sandwich and it’s been a blast so far. Every morning you can find us out exploring somewhere or making something ….

 We hike all over the Game Farm as well as the Briar Patch and sometimes we go out in the canoe catamaran.

 Some days we make toys based on science and some days we paint stuff.


One thing we always do is have fun!

 There’s still plenty of summer left so find a kid and take them outside. You’ll be glad you did and so will they!

Hunting for mushrooms on Cape Cod

Mushrooms fascinate me. They pop up all over and they are all so different. I have attended various workshops over the years and have studied various field guides but there is a lot of complexity to identifying mushrooms properly. If there’s anything that really does need proper ID it is a mushroom, especially if you are thinking of eating one.  

This spring I joined the Cape Cod Mushroom Club and have gone on a couple of their walks. It is really a great way to learn and the leaders have been knowledgeable and terrific. Although I’ve learned a lot about identification and families of mushrooms I’ve also learned the importance of really being thorough.

Not being thorough could kill you or at least make you really sick. See how cute and innocent these little guys look? They are neither….they are different kinds of Amanitas and can make you very, very sick. The white death angel amanita is very common here and can kill you.

On the other hand, some are fine to sample like these black trumpets. Don’t use my photos, etc. as final ID. Have an expert check!

Some are just fun like these fairy stools

And these cool looking yellow headed jelly babies–at least I think that’s what they are.

There are lots of boletes  

And russulas….but prepare to fully identify them which isn’t easy…, 

For me, just learning a little bit more about the world I share with all these interesting life forms is where the fun is….and oh yeah, I like to draw them, too. Later this week I’ll put up photos of the sketches I did on the last walk but for now I’ll leave you with this one…

And then at the oriole feeder….

came all the newly fledged orioles, one after another. My feeder is so busy with young Baltimore orioles these days that they are hanging around in the nearby bushes bickering until they can take a turn. There are half a dozen adult orioles as well, leading me to believe I have at least 3 nests represented. One group has 3, another 2 and one male oriole brings one lone youngster every day….

003These youngsters are not brightly colored like their parents yet, allowing them to be well camouflaged as they flit about from tree to tree, bush to bush. They are foraging for insects as well as enjoying the grape jelly and oranges. Some of them are having a bit of a struggle with balance still and they often go bottoms up! Check out that lemon yellow tail  on the underside!

002This threesome has grown a lot over the week but the first day they arrived they were very unsure about how to get to the feeder so they just waited for dad to show them how it is done. Dad was not feeding them at this time so they begged from each other…sorry for the blurry photo but it does tell the tale…



Also this week I’ve had some other visitors to the oriole feeder.

010Check out that dull brown coloration when the wings are folded. Great camouflage! But look what happens when the butterfly opens its wings….

014It is hard to see the full coloration on the inside in this photo but I got good looks, if not good photos, of this little guy and I believe it to be what is called a question mark butterfly. That really is its name, by the way, and they are not uncommon here at this time of year.

012I’ve had other butterflies visit the feeder as well but none as cooperative as this one when it came to posing for the camera.

I also have catbirds visiting this feeder but so far I have only succeeded in capturing a gray blur….

Happy July, everyone!


Nature sketching on Cape Cod to welcome in summer

I love to sketch, I love nature and I love traveling around Cape Cod so on this sunny day in late June I packed my lunch and my sketching materials and headed to the lower Cape, hopefully beating the summer crowds.


I then headed to one of my favorite places for sketching flowers, etc., Fort Hill in Eastham.


It was picture perfect there, with fields full of flowers like these sweet peas…


I got out my trusty pen and little red Moleskine notebook and began to sketch. Almost all my field sketches are done in ink. I add the color later at home. This allows me to stand while I draw and to move along from subject to subject easily and quickly.


Later, I add the watercolor washes like these…

IMG_2187.JPG IMG_2188.JPG IMG_2190.JPG IMG_2191.JPG

Sometimes, though, I find a spot where it is perfect to just hang out a bit and paint, like this one in the beech woods by the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History, where I also went today. This spot is a favorite of mine going back to childhood and I have to say it still has the same magic for me today.


  I highly recommend getting out to do a little sketching and writing or even just daydreaming. It helps to capture a moment, an observation and refines our observation skills, something we can always improve upon. Never mind about talent or experience. Just begin where you are.

Happy summer!