A Traveler's Log

Toucans and Hornbills represent the unexpected in travel, wildness, delight, and surprise. Where they live, other wonderful animals and plants flourish.

Travel entails new experiences - new sounds, different smells, surprises, sensations not like those at home. Some ideas, feelings, and impressions must be recorded immediately or they are lost; others are best recollected in tranquility (with a nod to Wordsworth).

Bethought: to think; to remind (oneself); to remember
Images and scenes bethought - evoking the moment and reliving it.
Why in the World? Where in the World?

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Bee Patrol

I swim slowly like an alligator
With just my eyes and snout above the water

A small perturbation
Ripples out from a bee

She miscalculated
can't lift off
and soon will drown

Wings and legs flailing
She swims in circles

I bring my hand up under her
a monstrous island
emerging from the sea

Rescued, she crawls
on the solid ground of my hand

I take her poolside
 and gently dump her on the coping

Wings glued to her body
she struggles forward, abdomen dragging
Leaving a small meander of water

She frees her abdomen from the water trail
And begins to groom
Six legs—all are employed
The first pair alternate and clean
antennae and eyes

The middle pair
stroke the thorax, drying the fine
hairs, unplastering the wings

The last pair
work the abdomen
scaling off the water

Finally, wings flex, whir
and she is gone


Monday, December 16, 2013

Urge to See #1

Urge to See - #1

Let us go then you and I in search of Toucans and Hornbills
into the blue or the green -  anyplace wilderness exists

Let us go then where peace comes dropping slow
in bee loud glades or
wherever churrs whirs chirps whistles caws

Let us go then you and I 
When the day dawns
with rosy fingers and the morning chorus
When stygian night has fallen
In search of
wrens and owls
In whatever land they roost, nest
Whatever air they ply

Let us go then you and I in search of
auroras and orcas,
baboons and periwinkles
and catch tigers in red weather

So let us go then you and I
to fulfill our urge to see
to bear witness
to do what we can do, for

We are here as on a darkling plain
Where ignorant armies 
Clash by day and night
And the world,  (so various, so beautiful...) the earth, the planet suffers and is undone.

Thanks to: T.S. Eliot (Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock), William Butler Yeats (The Lake Isle of Innisfree), Homer (Various works), Wallace Stevens (Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock), Matthew Arnold (Dover Beach).

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Resilience, Enthusiasm, and Philo 3 Elephants Killed in Samburu, Kenya: Bloody Ivory

Samburu Elephants

Elephant in Samburu 2003 (Samburu, Kenya. 2003. Photo:KESDonahue)

We've been to Samburu Reserve in Northern Kenya twice, once in 1999 and then again in 2003.  It is one of my favorite places in the world. The thorn scrub forest with its scattered acacia trees, rare branching palms and open vistas has a primeval appeal. Many different species live here and as we drove the dirt tracks wending through the Reserve, we saw most of them, including the marvelous Gerenuk, feeding completely upright on the overhead leaves. The most marvelous of all are the elephants; frequently in small groups, they amble and eat, they lounge in the shade, they enjoy a late afternoon bath or drink of water, often touching each other, clumping together reassuringly. They are easy to see and wonderful to just watch. I would return, if I could, hoping to see elephants.

Elephants in Ewaso Ng'iro River in the late afternoon, Samburu, Kenya. (Photo:KES Donahue)

Enjoying the river. Samburu. (Photo:KESDonahue)
After the Bath, Mother & Baby Elephant. Samburu (photo:KESDonahue)

Elephants, Samburu (Photo: KESDonahue)

Elephants in Samburu (Photo:KESDonahue)

Blood Ivory
Three elephants from Sanburu were  profiled on March 13, 2013 in the New York Times (See the link below for the article). They had names and were recognized by the people, the researchers, who studied them and loved them.  Two females, Resilience, aged 41, and her niece, Enthusiasm, aged 16, riddled with bullets by poachers, died last year; one young male, Philo, aged 15, was killed in January.  So now they are dead and somebody in China or some other Far Eastern country (Thailand excluded as of this moment) gets some bit of a gory carving for their shelf.  We condemned blood diamonds and we should howl and condemn blood ivory since it really is drenched in blood. 
Even on Reserves, Scant Protection for Elephants:
Three Stories From One Region. By Samantha Strindberg and Fiona Maisels.


After reading this article, I recognized in myself a self-serving, anthropocentric idea that all the individuals of different species of mammals (and others as well) are interchangeable; they are automatons in a way. I did not recognize them as individuals, as sentient beings, with thoughts and feelings.  Seeing one was just as good as seeing another. I couldn't tell them apart, so I supposed that they couldn't tell each other apart or miss each other. Research has disabused me of these ideas. Individuals of other species are just that--individuals; when they die, they are mourned and missed, by others of that species. 

When I looked at my photographs of elephants in Samburu, Kenya, I saw elephants, not recognizable individuals -- interchangeable pieces to be taken for granted living in this Reserve and there for me to see--for all human tourists to see and enjoy. Now, after reading the article in the New York Times, I am mourning individuals I may have met and, given their age and longevity, I could have met in future visits if they had not been slaughtered for their ivory.

The elephants I "met" and photographed may still be there; they may be fine, but there is every chance that that is not so and that they have been butchered for their ivory.

Elephants with Ivory, Samburu. (Photo:KESDonahue)


Thursday, January 3, 2013

Polar Bears

The Ultimate Indulgence
Visiting a Dangerous Place
in Safety 

Male looking up at us in the lodge (Photo: Donahue)
Twelve years ago we spent several days near Hudson Bay outside of Churchill, Manitoba. Our destination was a "lodge" parked in the snowy isolation of the tundra. It consisted of  a “train” of connected bedrooms, dining room, and lounge car - all on wheels.

Great White Bear Lodge (Photo: Donahue)

 It was designed to be stationed/parked for optimal polar bear viewing each season. For whatever reason there were only 14 of us plus our guide in the lodge, giving us plenty of room to spread out and a window on the snowy world for everyone.

Safe at 10 feet about the snow-covered ground, we watched the bears wander through or settle down by the big tires. All were waiting for the Bay to freeze so they could go where seals breed and lounge on the ice; all were hungry for a first good meal after many months of fasting. They nosed around the lodge, perhaps hoping that some tidbit (perhaps a careless tourist) would fall and give them something.

Our most faithful companions were a mother with two 1-year old cubs. Polar bears often have twins, and sometimes triplets, although if times are lean, the smallest of the cubs dies before reaching a year. They stayed close to each other, often touching, snuggling, or nuzzling.
Mother and two yearling cubs
(Photo: Donahue)

Mother and Cubs (Photo: Donahue)

Cubs pacing along near mother
(Photo: Donahue)

Snow on noses
(Photo: Donahue)

Large male hanging out near the Lodge
(Photo: Donahue)

At times a large male would arrive and the female and cubs would move off. Males will kill cubs. For us, watching from above, hands and arms kept well within the lodge, we sipped coffee in the morning, and wine in the evening. This is the extraordinary luxury of eco-travel; visit and briefly live in dangerous and harsh environments and see things that in the past only explorers and zoo visitors would see.

Arctic weather prevailed. Being secure and warm, I delighted in the blizzard-like conditions - the wind blew the snow sideways. Snow seemed to muffle sound even though the wind was gusting steadily. When it stopped blowing and snowing, it was silent - very cold and silent. Ah - but we had good food and drink and warmth - we were in our element and the polar bears and others were in theirs. Ours was a bubble.

Another option for polar bear viewing was to stay in Churchill and take a tundra buggy and drive out for the day.  I felt quite superior in our lodge as the "mobile tourists" gathered around "our" lodge viewing "our" polar bears. Eventually, they left, leaving us in the white quiet with the bears.

Tundra buggies from town and unconcerned polar bears
(Photo: Donahue)
In November 2000 I was not particularly aware of climate change and global warming. We spent time and money to see polar bears and whatever else came by. I recollect it with pleasure. However it is a pleasure now tempered with sadness. We returned home and serendipitously a photo article came out in the December National Geographic ("Bear Beginnings: new life on the ice" by Norbert Rosing, Dec. 2000). The photos of a mother and her new-born triplets were marvelous and endearing. Only in the last paragraph did the author raise the spectre of climate change, writing, "Sadly all is not well in the bear's realm." Now, 12 years later, it is clear that polar bears are in trouble due to warming of the arctic region.

I have loved nature films since watching the Disney films in the 50s. In a contrived way (I now know and probably suspected then) I was introduced to nature on the prairie, the desert, the arctic, the jungle, and more. Many of us trace our fascination and love of the environment to these films. I have watched many nature films and over the years, and a noticeable pattern developed in the "plotting." First, reveal the wonders and marvels of nature, then discuss the fly in the ointment - the threat to the eden just revealed. The pattern is so pervasive because the reality of the looming disaster is so evident and pervasive.  I now find it difficult to watch all of a nature film. I do watch however, but I do it out of obligation; I feel obligated to not look away at what we are doing. If we are going to destroy environments and all the species that live in them, we need to take responsibility - to bear witness and report.

Two young males waiting for the freeze (Photo: Donahue)
From the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species 

"Polar bears rely almost entirely on the marine sea ice environment for their survival so that large scale changes in their habitat will impact the population (Derocher et al. 2004). Global climate change posses a substantial threat to the habitat of polar bears. Recent modeling of the trends for sea ice extent, thickness and timing of coverage predicts dramatic reductions in sea ice coverage over the next 50-100 years (Hassol 2004). Sea ice has declined considerably over the past half century. Additional declines of roughly 10-50% of annual sea ice are predicted by 2100. The summer sea ice is projected to decrease by 50-100% during the same period. In addition the quality of the remaining ice will decline. This change may also have a negative effect on the population size (Derocher et al. 2004). The effects of sea ice change are likely to show large differences and variability by geographic location and periods of time, although the long term trends clearly reveal substantial global reductions of the extent of ice coverage in the Arctic and the annual time frames when ice is present.

While all bear species have shown adaptability in coping with their surroundings and environment, polar bears are highly specialized for life in the Arctic marine environment. Polar bears exhibit low reproductive rates with long generational spans. These factors make facultative adaptation by polar bears to significantly reduced ice coverage scenarios unlikely. Polar bears did adapt to warmer climate periods of the past. Due to their long generation time and the current greater speed of global warming, it seems unlikely that polar bear [sic] will be able to adapt to the current warming trend in the Arctic. If climatic trends continue polar bears may become extirpated from most of their range within 100 years."

So like today's nature films, first the wonder then the despair - tempered with hope - I hope.

Sunday, July 29, 2012


Earth may be near tipping point, scientists warn


"We have created a bubble of human population and economy … that is totally unsustainable and is either going to have to deflate gradually or is going to burst," said co-author James Brown, a distinguished professor of biology at the University of New Mexico. "If it's going to burst, the consequences are really going to be grim for people as well as biodiversity and the rest of the planet."

My take: 


Bubbles burst
Real Estate
They all explode in our faces
More or less of us are hurt

The biggest bubble of all
Has yet to go
Mother Nature (anthropomorphically speaking)
will explode 
It will hurt all of us
And rightly so.

Of our own making
We always fail to recognize them
Until, proverbially, it is too late.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

5 Fruits

5 Fruits: 2 to love; 2 to try - at least once (maybe); 1 to admire

Some fruits just don’t travel. For the most part, if you live in the continental U.S., you won’t see any of these in your local markets.  You must taste them where they live and grow.  These five truly deserve the title “exotic.” Try them all, some I can guarantee you will love.

Two To Love:
 Mangosteens, the most delicious
Mangosteens. These are from Bali.
The edible wedges are succulent,  sweet,  tangy, and indescribable

There are never many Mangosteens in the markets, so watch
 for small piles of them as you wander. A small mound of
Mangosteens (right side of the image) in an open air market on Bali.
Passion Fruit comes in a close second in the delectable category

The outer skin is tough;  crack it open with your
fingernails or open with a knife.
Don't be put off by the frog-egg-look of the fruit.

Just spoon it out and enjoy. Northern Territory, Australia
Two To Try:
Rambutan, the fiercest looking but the red spines are soft

Rambutans tied up for sale.
Rambutans displayed on a Sri Lankan roadside.

Very sweet and slick.

Buying Rambutans from a street vendor in
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. 
Durian, the smelliest.  Durian is an acquired taste, so they say, with a cult-like following; I am not a member of the club. What's not to like? the texture, the color, the smell, the taste - all were definitely off-putting. The odor is so strong the fruit is barred from certain hotels and public transportation in
Southeast Asia.

Durian and other fruits for sale at a gas station in Malaysia.
Mangosteens in the white crate; yellow Rambutans on the red crate.

Gloves are needed to get at the Durian interior;
JP enjoys and records the experience.

Maybe it's the color...or everything.  Try it just to say
you did. I did, and never again.
One To Admire:
Dragon Fruit or Pitaya, the most beautiful, lovely color inside and out--unfortunately it is bland, bland. It is the fruit of a variety of cactus. Admire them wherever you see them. We bought one in Hawaii and found it lovely, but bland. It looked best as decoration on the table.

In a market in Vietnam alongside Durian.

Even the inside is striking, but still bland.

Travel involves new sights, new smells, and new tastes. Since these 5 can't be found at home, seek them out and try them; they will tantalize your taste buds.  Three of the five are native to Southeast Asia; two are indigenous to tropical America but have spread throughout the tropics and sub-tropics of the world.

Interestingly, all of these fruits need peeling; the skins are not edible and in some cases are downright off-putting in appearance. Don't be discouraged.

The scientific low down:
Common Name                 Genus Species                                     Family
Mangosteen                     Garcinia mangostana                         Clusiaceae
Passion Fruit                   Passiflora edulis                                   Passifloraceae
Rambutan                         Nephelium lappaceum                         Sapindaceae
Durian                             Durio spp.                                             Malvaceae
Dragon Fruit                   Hylocereus         

Mangosteens come from a tropical evergreen tree believed to have originated in the Sunda Islands and the Moluccas of Indonesia. It is found throughout Southeast Asia.

The edible Passion Fruits (there are many inedible species) come from vines native to Paraguay, Brazil, and northern Argentina.  They are cultivated commercially in warmer, frost-free areas for their fruit and are widely grown in India, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, the Caribbean, Brazil, Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Indonesia, Peru, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, California, Florida, Haiti, Hawaii, Argentina, Australia, East Africa, Mexico, Israel, Costa Rica, South Africa, and Portugal. (They may be grown in California but I don't think I've ever seen them. I'll have to look.)  

Rambutan fruits come from a medium-sized tropical tree. It is native to Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

Durian is native to Brunei, Indonesia, Philippines and Malaysia, and has been known to the Western world for about 600 years.

Dragon Fruit is the fruit of several cactus species, most importantly of the genus Hylocereus (sweet pitayas). They are native to Mexico, Central America, and South America. Currently, they are also cultivated in East Asian and Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia (especially in western Java), Taiwan, Vietnam,Thailand, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and more recently Bangladesh. They are also found in Okinawa, Hawaii, Israel, Palestine, northern Australia, and southern China.

J & K enjoying tropical fruits at breakfast in Bangkok. Note the Passion Fruit on my plate. 

 Thank as always to my traveling companion, JPD. Also to Wikipedia, the source of information.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Last Seen?

Rufous Antpitta. This is not the bird we saw and is
undoubtedly not the Cajamarca race but it would look much
like this. We, unfortunately,  did not get a picture of our
Antpitta in its tiny patch of forest. ( Photo by Janos Olah, Jr.)

Last Seen?

In today’s parlance we’re Birders, but I’m probably more accurately described by the older, less fashionable descriptor, bird watcher. I don’t keep a list and I have a faulty memory for the myriad of birds I have seen. I just like seeing them; I like the chase; and I love being where they live. There are over 8000 bird species in the world and although it seems highly unlikely we’ll see them all, we travel to places where birds new to us may still be seen.

Birding today often consists of visiting wonderful pristine habitats that have been preserved by individuals, conservations organizations, and governments. In recognition of biological realities, large swaths of land have been set aside to protect all the plants and animals within its borders. But not all species live in these circumscribed, protected areas. Some persist in tiny fragments surrounded by farmers and their farms. Birds are picky, having evolved in a particular area, they don’t move when their homes are first isolated, then destroyed. So birders also seek out—hoping against hope—that tiny bit of wilderness that allows a stranded bird to survive.  It becomes a gesture of faith.

Our latest gesture of faith trip was to Peru, with its many diverse habitats: coastal scrub, wetlands, lowland jungles, highland forests, cloud forests, and grasslands above timberline. It is home to over a ¼ of all the bird species on the earth.  For 20 days we focused on a triangle of habitats in Northern Peru, driving from Chiclayo to Cajamarca.

The road between Celendín and Cajamarca winds through the broad, now mainly agricultural Maranon valley in the Northern Andes. Our itinerary called for “early morning birding in remnant humid forest and Polylepis scrub…We’ll make a special effort for the Cajamarca race of the Rufous Antpitta.” This charming plump, long-legged bird loves deep underbrush; it skulks, it hides, it flits quickly from twig to twig. It is hard to see, but fortunately for birders, it responds to previously taped recordings of its species’ call. 

 A remnant of forest, home to the Cajamarca race
 of the Rufous Antpitta, logged off. (Photo by Jane Bridges)
Our van dropped us off on the road and we slowly walked along the verge of the road, looking, listening, enjoying the cool morning. We rounded a curve and our bird guide, Silverio, a mild mannered man given to such strong language as “Oh Gosh” when we missed a bird, spit out an expletive in Spanish and stopped. The hillside, where our target bird the Cajamarca race of the Rufous Antpitta, was last seen was being logged off, clear cut, as we watched. The big trees were lying in a pile on the road; the dense tangle essential for the Antpitta was gone.  We continued down the road past the scalped slope to a tiny fragment of forest.  It hadn’t been cleared yet but it was riven with burro or cow sized tunnels making it easy for us to penetrate into the underbrush. Silverio played the tape and an Antpitta responded and very briefly popped into view.  Male birds respond to taped calls because they think a rival is invading their territory, but they call to attract females.  Our Antpitta continued to call as we moved away.  There was really no threat and no reason to scare away a rival, but I fear he would continue to call in his little fragment of forest and there would be no response—ever.

The next available bit of forest seemed too far away for this particular individual to pick up and move.

Other birders will look for this secretive bird, but given the minuscule size of his forest patch, our sighting may be noted in reports as “last seen on November 10, 2011.”