March 23, 2018

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

These islands, recently formed within the last ten million years are truly a laboratory to explore numerous endemic species and speculate on their origin and interactions. With extremely high endemism, appropriate to the distance from mainland South America, the mammals and birds have a surprising lack of fear to us humans, due to historic lack of land predators here.

Some of the notable littoral zone animals are the Galapagos Sea Lion, who might inquisitively follow you as you hike, or whimsically bask in mangrove trees; the Marine Iguana; Galapagos Lava Lizard, Giant Land Iguana and Sally Lightfoot Crab. All of these are present on most of the islands and in profusion. Birdlife is also abundant both in the littoral zone, as well as the Arid Zone and Humid Zone (progressively higher elevation ecosystems), Of great interest are the low lying nesting sites on North Seymour Island, where Blue=footed Booby, Brown Booby and Magnicent Frigatebird giant twig nests are seen in the scrub.

Hiking is superb, with opportunities I had for rocky and sandy littoral hikes as well as full ascent of some of the volcanic peaks. Much of the lava flow is quite fresh (e.g. from last two centuries) and plant colonization is slow, so that amazing geometrically artistic flows yield great photographs. Some pioneer colonizers are the Galapagos Lava Cactus and Sandmat Plant. On these lava expanses there are often no marked trails (e.g. no soil). Some of the interesting places are “islands” of soil that became totally surrounded by lava flow; thus one sees a mature arid zone ecosystem millennia old that is engulfed on all sides by a lava flow of two centuries earlier. These patches of mature arid scrub are replete with small trees, shrubs, herbs, insects, birds and lizards, while no other living things may be seen for hundreds of meters in any direction. Patch size of these remnants are typically 1000 to 10000 square meters.

Snorkeling was rather turbid on the days I entered the water, likely due to the rough seas for this isolated island group around 1000 km from the mainland; I did obtain some underwater photography with my new Gopro, but it is for more entertainment value, rather than scientific observation. Around some of the outer islands there are areas of decent coral; some degradation of coral reefs has occurred chiefly from overfishing. There has been no documented degradation from water temperature alteration, which is thought to be negligible at these locations. The main overfishing is occurring from Chinese fishing fleets, which are conducting illegal take; the Ecuadorian Navy and Coast Guard do not have sufficient resources to interdict such illegal fishing in the volumes being conducted.

Access to the Galapagos for land visitors is closely controlled, such that landing your own small boat is virtually impossible. You will most likely have to book a small boat facility with onboard accommodation, and actual landings (usually wet) are typically by zodiak vessel.This governmemta; control is necessary to limit visiting human populations and protect the islands.

When one carefully studies the natural wonders of the Galapagos, one sees that there is no confl­ict between the concepts of Creation and evolution. Recent adaptation of species here is simply a mechanism of the Creation.

Posted on March 23, 2018 18:30 by c_michael_hogan c_michael_hogan | 15 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

Napo Basin, Ecuador

Much of the Napo Basin, a sub-basin of the Amazon headwaters, is a pristine rainforest interlaced with swampy channels and boasting a plethora of birds, primates and flora. Access is difficult, since there are no roads in much of the watershed, so that ingress is typically by small boats and hiking jungle trails, often steeped in mud. The rewards are plentiful; in spite of high humidity, the prevailing blackwater swamps are inimical to mosquitoes. There are very few accommodations in the basin, my choice being the excellent Sacha Lodge, which has good guides, appropriate unpowered watercraft and adequate food. There are also opportunities to visit a few of the indigenous villages, accessible only by water; the village i chose was accessible only by water, and i was able to converse at length via my translator. The small tribe was one of the most self sufficient peoples i have ever known, producing all of their food, fiber and shelter from the land; the concept of government help was not only foreign , but repugnant to them....refreshing!

Primates i saw included the Colombian Red Howler Monkey and Black Mantled Tamarin. Attached are some of those photos as well as the Proboscis Bat seen near a large lagoon. Parrots were abundant including the Mealy Parrot and other Amazonian Parrots, which were especially abundant along the Napo River cliffs seen by small boat. The Spectacled Caiman was watched at length in the blackwater seamps. The soft silty sand banks of the Napo River gave rise to continoual creation of islands and bars along vast stretches of the river; most interesting were the thousands of micro-islands made of fragments of silt and organic material which looked like gray snow tufts on one portion of the river. These new islands were rapidly colonized by Cecropia trees.

Posted on March 23, 2018 15:14 by c_michael_hogan c_michael_hogan | 25 observations | 1 comments | Leave a comment

October 02, 2017

Olympic Peninsula, USA

This enormous land mass in northwestern Washington is anchored by Olympic National Park and rimmed by mostly private lands save for the western perimeter, which holds the most vast pristine wilderness coastal areas in the lower 48. The northwestern tip of the peninsula features Flattery Point, which is a superb rocky conifer forest, and the point itself is the westernmost point of the lower 48.

Many consider the crown jewel of the Olympic Peninsula to be the vast old growth temperate rainforests, epitoimized by the Hoh Rainforest, perpetually dripping in mosses. The Hoh Rainforest lies along the banks of the eponymous Hoh River and features gigantic Western Red Cedar, Sitka Spruce, Western Hemlock and an admixture of other conifers and a few broadleaf tree taxa such as Bigleaf Maple. The rainforests of the Olympic Peninsula boast upwards of 300 cm of rain annually, nurturing a verdant understory of Salal and other shrubs along with diverse ferns, mosses and lichens.

The true majesty of this peninsula lies in the rugged pristine wilderness areas along the west coast. Shrouds of fog and mist only add to the utter mystery of this generally inaccessible beach and forest realm. The foreshore holds sandy beaches, jagged rock outcrops and old growth forests that end abruptly at the backshore. The intertidal zone is strewn with fallen conifers that lived for centuries and are now the largest driftwood in North America. There is little road access to this coastal wilderness, and very few trails other than hikes alog the intertidal zone which must be carefully timed to high tide issues. High biodiversity of this coastal wonderland is palpable in the plethora of avifauna, conifer forest vascular plants as well as fungi and mosses; there are plenty of mammals present also, including American Black Bear, Bobcat, Fisher and Mountain Lions.

In the surrounding Pacific Ocean and San Juan de Fuca Strait one ay sight Grey and Humpback Whales; In the calmer strait one may also see Orcas and porpoises; however my best sightings of sealife were from a small boat in San Juan de Fuca Strait, where not only cetaceans, but a myriad of marine birds as well as sea lions and seals are obserbed on the hundreds of offshore skerries.

Special points of coastal access along San Juan de Fuca Strait are Pillar Point and Dungeness Spit; the former abounds in rocky titepools where one can walk out a hundred meters at low tide and explore diverse bivalves, rockweeds, barnacles and a variety of shorebirds. Dungeness Spit is one of the longest sand spits in North America and is embedded in a protected area with copious hiking trails.
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Posted on October 02, 2017 23:15 by c_michael_hogan c_michael_hogan | 1 comments | Leave a comment

May 23, 2017

Julian Alps, Slovenia

This entry addresses a portion of the Julian Alps in the far north of Slovenia, especially around Lake Bohinj, Lake Bled and Vintgar Gorge. This area is part of the Pannonian Mixed Forests ecoregion, which spans a broader alpine extent covering parts of Hungary, Austria and Croatia. There are conifer and broadleaf trees that dominate the higher elevations where the forests are well preserved, with canopies typically twenty to twenty five meetres high. The lower elevations are chiefly mixed broadleaf forests, with Lime, Elm, Horse chestnut, Manna ash and Downy oak in high proportion. Lower levels such as the base elevation of Lake Bohinj and Lake Bled also feature wildflower riven meadows, where beekeepers assist the pollination process. (There are 10,000 beekeepers in Slovenia, or one out of every 200 people!)

Lake Bohinj is the jewel of the region, with numerous hiking trails through pristine forests around the lake perieter and up the northern gorges where inflow feeds the lake. The mid May wildflower bloom is spectacular, no dBoubt aided by the beekeeping industry. Lake Bled is pleasant and well marketed, but Bohinj is far superior from the standpoint of fewer people and ore nature; one can visit nearby Lake Bled after dark for some dining or other tourist culture. Besides the qbundance of plants and avifauna at Lake Bohinj, the landscape scenery is spectacular, with dramatic limestone cliffs constrasting the verdant forests; the two toned green forests are particularly attractive, with broadleaf stands of light green contrasting with the darker green coniferous stands.

A visit to one of the best beekeepers was worthwhile, providing insights not only to the regional techniques for their craft, but also getting a first hand understanding of the areal extent that a large hive operation can support for pollination...a radius of up to several kilometres, that typically includes both forests and meadows. The beekeepers can actually speciate the honey composition by dominant forest tree in bloom at each part of the season. One can also sample these different nuances of honey flavours, including pollen embedded honey. Needless to say, the meadows around beekeepers are rich in wildflower observations with many Trifolium, Orchidaceae, and numerous Asteraceae taxa.

At Lake Bled there are two worthwhile stops: (1) the touristy and pricey boat trip to the island, where one will see a Mute swan or two nesting, and observe many flowering shrubs, wildflowers and trees; and (2) The former Tito estate, now known as Vila Bled. The latter sports several walking trails on the moderately steep and rocky areas, that provide ecological niches for many ferns, lichens, mosses, coniferous trees and other woody shrubs and wildflowers. Birdlife is also abundant at Tito's palace and around the lake in general.

A hike up the Vintgar Gorge is rewarding for its sheer scenic qualities as rapids carve ever deeper canyons through the limestone. The trail is mostly a boardwalk that allows you winding access through the lower parts of the gorge, so that you will be quite clise to the river for most of the hike. You tread close to the dripping liestone walls, which provide niches for a variety of ferns, mosses and flowering plants that are water-loving. The waterfall is stated as the destination, but it is uninspiring with its manmade ledge and unnatural aspect. Best spend time tarrying along the trail than trying to reach the waterfall if time is precious.

Posted on May 23, 2017 06:04 by c_michael_hogan c_michael_hogan | 18 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 22, 2017

Pag Island, Croatia

Pag is a remarkable Adriatic island, unspoiled for the most part and replete with medieval history and noteworthy for its diversity of habitat types. The eastern approach from the ferry port is austere and almost moonlike in its terrain and absence of vegetation. Limestone karst prevails and is absent of colonising flora.

After crossing a stony saddle moving westward, one is rewarded with a dramatic switch to lush mixed conifer and broadleaf forest, where Stone pine, downy oak, ash and various juniper trees form the canopy. There is also a superabundance of butterflies...more than any of the other 17 countries in Europe i have been to. There is also an understory of diverse woody shrubs and wildflowers, and considerable birdlife. The fauna is punctuated with sightings of the Cat snake and Italian wall lizard.

Moving north on the one main north-south road, one encounters very rocky limestone terrain, but colonised with an assortment of woody shrubs, wildflowers and grasses. A highlight here is the architecturally fascinating pygmy forests, where conifers like Stone pine and juniperus spp. are only one seventh their normal height. One can take a sidetrip to several coastline areas, but there are literally no sand beaches; it is as though the rocky coastal scrub encounters the Adriatic Sea without warning, at an abrupt rocky shoreline.

Near the northern end of the island lies a sizable area of pristine anscient olive dominant forest, with one specimen datng to the year 1 AD, according to the Preserve management. There are centuries old drystone walls distinguishing property rights to pick the wild olive trees. Here there are also taxa that are adapted to the rocky limestone terrain, including certain junipers, ash and oak.

Toward the southern end of the island there is the eponymous village of Pag, where centuries old saltworks and evaporation ponds have altered the mudflats and marshes, yielding the most disturbed habitat. Even in this vicinity there are interesting saline tolerant taxa and expansive coastal landscapes featuring many grass species.

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Posted on May 22, 2017 11:54 by c_michael_hogan c_michael_hogan | 30 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 04, 2017

Yala National Park, Sri Lanka

Yala presents a rich mixture of habitats, with the predominant being coastal dry deciduous forest; there are also very diverse types of ecosystem including scrubland, brackish lagoon, freshwater lagoon and coastal dunes. Due to robust plantlife, the Asiatic elephant is present in surprisingly large numbers, Sri Lanka as a whole having the highest density of this elephant of any world country. Other notable mammals are the Sri Lankan Leopard, Mongoose, Spotted Deer, and a variety of bats. There is an unusually large number of avifauna, includi ng forest birds as well as aquatic species drawn to the water features. Viewing of wildlife is particularly favourable, owing to the healthy wildlife population densities and to the relatively open forests. Birds readily seen during my March visit included: Green bee eater, Crested serpent eagle, White-bellied sea eagle, Yellow wagtail, Indian peafowl, and Chestnut petronia.

Frequent interesting sightings were made of small herds of the Asian elephant or Water buffalo bathing in the watering holes or deep marshy reaches of the river system. This is particularly evident in the hot afternoons, when temperatures could reach thirty degrees Celsius even in March. In the case of the elephants, they often engage in elaborate mud bathing rituals, not only to cool down, but also to carefully apply mud packs to their skin, in order to create a sunblock. The mother elephants can be seen assisting her children and teaching them the full technique.

There are interesting sightings of the Bengal monitor, especially excavating for amphibians in the dry streambeds. The Ruddy mongoose was in evidence, and bunches of Langurs and occasional Muggar crocodile were seen.

The forest architecture is beautiful, although not as diverse as i just saw in India and Nepal. In Yala the dominant canopy top trees are Rosewood and Ceylon oak, although seldom seen as dense stands. Understory elements are dominated by Cassia fistula, with large areas infested by Lantana; the latter invasive woody shrub is attractive, but diminishes habitat value for other organisms in this ecoregion.

The massive coastal boulders, some of which stand 40 metres in height, form a scenic backdrop to the forest, often with horizon views of the Indian Ocean. The most fascinating of these mammoth rocks features a staircase cut by man approimately two thousand years ago. The boulders have picturesque local names such as "Elephant Rock", "Leopard Rock" and "Man Head Rock".

While the National Park rules limit access to dunes and beach areas, there are ample opportunities to beachcomb by selecting a lodge with Indian Ocean frontage. Not only are the dunes magnificent landscape elements, but they provide good habitat for Warthogs, Buffalo and other wildlife, who will escort you across your resort property. There is also a plethora of washed up Mollusk shells and backshore/dunes vegetation to explore and photograph.

Posted on May 04, 2017 15:46 by c_michael_hogan c_michael_hogan | 14 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 26, 2017

Satpura National Park, India

Satpura is an extraordinary experience with its rich river system, including the mainstem Denwa River and numerous tributaties. The dry deciduous forest architecture is complex and boasts a great diversity of tree species. Correspondingly, the birdlife features a large number of taxa, including the magnificent assortment of waders and other aquatic oriented birds visiting the Denwa. The prize sighting was a close up of a female Indian Leopard, who was near for over twenty minutes, eventually sauntering to within three metres of me in the safari jeep. I was lucky to have an expert guide, who used the old fashioned method of pawprint tracking and use of prey alarm calls to triangulate and find this leopard as well as one other. The Sloth Bear mother with two cubs on board was another exceptional close range sighting. Canoeing on the Denwa River was spectacular and offered unobstructed views of many avafauna; the banks of the Denwa are a surreal expanse of mud, rendered depauperate of vegetation from the massive flows during monsoon. My March visit was perfect, missing the monsoon and intense summer heat; moreover, many trees had shed their leaves, permitting less obstructed views of mammals and birds. Let me know if you want tips on the best guide in the region and best place to lodge.

Posted on April 26, 2017 04:21 by c_michael_hogan c_michael_hogan | 18 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 17, 2017

Bandvahgarh National Park, India

Bandvahgarh comprises a dry deciduous forest and is one of the best places in India for spotting the Bengal tiger, numerous deer species, and a very considerable number of bird taxa. While it is a Sal tree dominant forest, the diversity of tree taxa and forest architectural features is astounding. I went on approximately 40 hours of jungle safari, including jeep and on foot.

Highlights of this adventure included tracking of Bengal tigers, Leopards, Sloth bears, Golden jackals and other mammals using pawprints and alarm calls of indicator prey. The guides and rangers were not allowed to use radio communications for animal tracking, so that this was a throwback to life without technology....a good throwback. I was lucky enough to have good sightings of Bengal tigers, Golden jackals and one Leopard. Some of these sightings were at ranges of two to five meters.

For me, the forest architecture was quite exciting....and a challenge to identify the great diversity of tree taxa, which are entirely different from forests in the Americas or Europe. I was lucky enough to have a superb guide, Saurabh Agrawal, who taught me enormous amounts about not only tree identification, but also forest ecology. Consequently I was able to assemble ecological relations to animals as well as lichen species

Posted on April 17, 2017 04:51 by c_michael_hogan c_michael_hogan | 14 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

February 05, 2017

Monterey Bay

Having visited Monterey Bay dozens of times, I was blessed to encounter many new taxa, along with re-acquaintance with numerous familiar plants, birds and marine mammals. Of note were sightings of thirty one Southern Sea Otters, some great lichens adapted to marine salty air, and a variety of kelp species. Even though i have had the earlier opportunity to conduct scientific research in the dunes area, this trip offered my first visit to the Fort Ord Dunes State Park; that visit surprised me with the massive surfside ongoing dunes erosion, which left the coastal zone virtually depauperate of plantlife. Access to the native area atop the dunes was severely limited at the time of my visit. It nevertheless gave me a time data point into the state of dunes here. The native vegetation stabilizing dunes tops were in seemingly great condition even though no path was open to view most of that coastal scrub close up.

Posted on February 05, 2017 19:05 by c_michael_hogan c_michael_hogan | 9 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

November 27, 2016

Lake Tahoe Basin

I expected this expedition to be depauperate of biota due to the snow and cold of the season, but i was pleasantly surprised to prove my prejudice wrong. A plethora of organisms greeted me, especially in niches other than the overrated forest habitat. The conifer forests are magnificent, but offer less biodiversity than the grasslands and shrublands that actually comprise about a quarter of the basin's cover. In searching for lichens, i found the best hunting grounds were the boulders exceeding two meters in height; apparently this is a reason able height for them to have access to the atmosphere even in moderately heavy snow. The firedot and wolf lichens were especially rewarding to see, and my better luck was climbing to higher elevation than the basin floor.

Another wondrous feature were the grass species, much more numerous than i expected, protruding from the snowpack. Even many herbs were identifiable, as they were present in their seed form, still showy above the snow level. Temperatures were lower than historic for my November trip, and i still saw numerous deer foraging in the snow. Trips like this are humbling, in that patience and looking carefully overcomes our human hubris, that our conventional wisdom can tell us when best to travel.

Posted on November 27, 2016 16:40 by c_michael_hogan c_michael_hogan | 5 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment