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Cassiopeia

Cassiopeia is the “M” shaped constellation at the top of the image.  The short version of the myth is that she was a goddess who was placed in the sky as punishment for her vanity.

I think she’s still pretty beautiful up there!

Groundhog

Did the groundhog see its shadow today?  If so, you’re in for six more weeks of winter…or so goes the uniquely American superstition.

Besides being a silly holiday, “Groundhog Day” is also a neat movie.  A comedy with a moral?  Absolutely!

Spoiler alert:  Who among us has never wished for a “do-over?”

Yeah, I thought so.  I could use several do-overs in my own life…but I digress.

Happy Groundhog Day!

Ostriches

Ah, the eternal dance of courtship!

Eland

Meet the eland (Taurotragus oryx).  This one happens to be a young male.  Duh, you say.

Okay, let’s pretend we can only see the front half of the animal.  How can we tell its gender, since both male and female elands have horns?

For one thing, the horns of a male eland will get longer and more tightly spiraled than that of a female, but it may be too early to tell, especially if there isn’t a similarly aged female eland around for comparison.

A third way to differentiate gender in elands is the dewlap.  Only male elands develop a dewlap, which is the dangly flap of skin below the neck.

Doesn’t this young eland have a dapper dewlap?

Pigeon Point Lighthouse

Today is the 142nd Anniversary of the first lighting of the Pigeon Point Lighthouse near Pescadero, California…but something tells me it was lit a little bit differently in 1872!

The lighthouse–tall, slender, elegant and a bit bedraggled–is under the “care” of the California State Park system.  That explains why it’s been closed since 2001 when a chunk fell off the top.  (Note the very attractive chain link fencing surrounding the lighthouse so it doesn’t try to escape!)  The state of California can’t–or won’t–come up with the money necessary to repair and restore the grand old dame, and open the tower back up to visitors.

It’s a darn shame, because I’ve climbed up to the top of the lighthouse many times before it was closed, and the views on a clear day are stunning.

The lighthouse used to get fully lit at the top once a year on its anniversary, which was an annual photo-op not to be missed if you were in or near San Mateo County in mid-November.  Sadly, that doesn’t happen anymore.

But this year, the lighthouse got lit up from the outside.  Images were projected onto the outside of the lighthouse starting at sunset.  The images began with a series of fractals, then there was a series of paintings by the late Galen Wolf, a local artist, and finally some nature photographs.

There was an announcement made that the show would be delayed past it’s 5:30 PM start time because there was “too much light” in the sky.  Sigh.  My favorite images are the handful I made during the tail end of the “blue hour” when there was still enough light in the sky to distinguish the clouds and the foreground.  The images made after dark don’t have anywhere near the drama.

This is my favorite.

I happened to be in San Francisco this evening, and it was remarkable.  It was one of those amazing Autumn evenings when it stays in the mid-seventies well after sunset.  Usually tons of people would be out on such an evening, strolling with the sweeties, walking their dogs, and standing in long lines for ice cream.  But it was darn near a ghost town.

Was it the zombie apocalypse?  No, everyone was in their homes and apartments, or at their favorite bar, watching a baseball game.  It was the seventh game of the World Series, and the SF Giants were playing the Kansas City Royals.

I drove up to Twin Peaks to see if the city landmarks were lit orange as they were a couple of years ago when the Giants played in the World Series, and sure enough, all of the following were sporting orange glows

  • Coit Tower
  • Transamerica (Pyramid) Building
  • Ferry Building (top)
  • City Hall
  • Embarcadero Center

It was the bottom of the eighth, and SF was leading Kansas City by one run.  I pulled the game up on my phone and tracked the ninth inning.  Then it was the bottom of the ninth, Kansas City had two outs…and then I realized I could put my phone away and just listen.  I’d be able to tell soon enough if we won.

Sure enough, in a couple of minutes the screaming began.  I literally heard the city begin to scream.  Have you ever heard several thousand people screaming at the same time?  It was impressive.  Then the whistles began blowing, the horns began honking, the fireworks began going off all over town, and I even heard a train whistle that I swear was sounded in celebration by a local engineer who was a Giants fan.

Congratulations, SF.  Way to go!

Rhino head

Rhinos will be better off without their horns…at least that’s what the Namibian government believes.  They recently announced their intention to de-horn all the rhinos in Namibia to try to prevent poaching.

I say TRY to prevent because de-horned rhinos are still poached.  Yes, really.  Sometimes they’re killed because it’s impossible to remove 100% of the horn with de-horning, so about 5-10% remains (maybe 1″-2″) and there are people who will still kill a rhino just to get their hands on that tiny stump.  Sometimes they’re probably killed because a poacher takes a shot at them not realizing they’ve been de-horned, like if they’re spotted in heavy brush and the head isn’t clearly visible.  And sometimes they’re probably killed just out of spite.

Rhino horns WILL regrow after they’re sawed off, so the de-horning will not be a one-time occurrence, but will need to be repeated every year or two.

De-horning isn’t cheap (several hundred dollars per animal), and it isn’t without risk to the rhino.  Though the horn isn’t living tissue (think GIANT fingernail!) and cutting it off doesn’t hurt the rhino, the process of tranquilizing the huge beasts is dangerous to them.  Some will die from a bad reaction to the tranquilizer, and that risk increases each subsequent time the rhino is tranquilized.  And pregnant rhinos can’t be tranquilized at all.

There are no easy answers to the poaching that kills hundreds of rhinos every year.

For more information about de-horning programs, see the Save the Rhino site:  http://www.savetherhino.org/

This link will take you to the excellent article on the Save the Rhino site which will explain the de-horning dilemma in greater detail than I did here:  http://www.savetherhino.org/rhino_info/issues_for_debate/de-horning

Rhino front

One distinct feature of the Southern White Rhino is its lips.  Doesn’t it look like this rhino had an appointment with Angelina Jolie’s cosmetologist for some collagen injections?

Those huge squared-off lips are designed for grazing on grasses (the rhino’s, not Angelina’s).  Looking at the lips of a rhino is an easy way to distinguish a White Rhino from a Black Rhino, since neither species is literally white or black.  Instead, both species can be grey or brown.

Unlike their pouty-lipped White Rhino cousins, Black Rhinos have pointy, triangular-shaped lips that are designed for eating foliage, specifically for stripping the leaves off of twigs and branches.

I’m endlessly amazed at both the big and small evolutionary modifications to different creatures’ anatomies that enable them to thrive in a particular environment!

two rhinos front and side view-2

These two Southern White Rhinos decided to strike a pose straight out of a zoology textbook:  Rhino A, anterior view and Rhino B, lateral view.  One thing I love about rhinos is that they manage to simultaneously appear both fearsome and comical.  Although every inch a mammal, to me they have a prehistoric, dinosaur-like appearance.

two rhinos

These two southern white rhinos (Ceratotherium simum simum) were hanging out together, lying side by side under a tree.  You can see how their breath is stirring up the dust under their noses, but they didn’t seem to mind…they were lost in their rhino daydreams!

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