It’s that time of the year again, when the bugs and the deer discover all the tasty plants in my garden. While the Japanese beetles ravage the leaves of the apple trees and raspberries, the deer fawns chow down on the wildflowers. I don’t mind them, though, they are pretty cute, and very shy.
The usual suspects have returned to the back yard this summer, but one of my favorites is still missing, the pretty little red foxes. So, here’s a glimpse of their visit to the backyard last year.
June 30, 2017: What a delight to see my favorite canids lounging in my Minnesota backyard this morning.
In addition to brief, one minute naps, there was quite a lot of scratching and grooming going on.
And when they stopped digging at their own fleas or whatever was itchy, they groomed each other.
I watched these two foxes for several minutes, but can’t figure out if they are a male-female pair, or two youngsters, or what. Male foxes are usually noticeably bigger then females, and these two seem to be identical in size. They do seem a bit small and skinny, so maybe they are younger, but this year’s kits would not be this big yet, having been born in late March, and just out of their den in early May. It’s a mystery.
Shot through the not very clean porch window at 500 mm —
It’s nice to see familiar wildlife in the backyard. These were my first (vertebrate) visitors since returning from May travels.
now if only the fox family would come to visit…
Rothiemurchas forest in the Cairngorm National Park of Scotland was once the center of the great 12th century Caledonian pine forest, and some of its patriarchal trees may still stand.
We found some new (to us) birds here, as well as some familiar ones, but one of the surprises was all the red squirrels in this part of the forest. They are about the size of the North American gray squirrel, but with much bushier tails, and ear tufts. In many places these native squirrels have been displaced by the introduced gray squirrels.
Although most of the birds were found high in the tree tops, a few cooperated by flying in close.
Everywhere we went in Peru, there was another beautiful landscape. It’s a rich country for archaeologists as well as outdoor enthusiasts, and certainly for photographers. Here are my favorite scenes: (best viewed by clicking on an image to view full screen in your browser)
Guinea pig (cuy, in Peru) is a much prized delicacy in Peru, eaten on special occasions, such as parties, celebrations, or festivals, or even as a treatment for a particular malady. Our tour guide repeatedly emphasized to us, “you turned our food into your pets; we did not turn your pets into our food”. In fact, wild guinea pigs, which can be still be found in farm fields in the Lake Titicaca area, and I suspect elsewhere in Peru also, were a favorite food item of the Incas back in the 1400-1500s.
Guinea pigs are farmed in Peru today, much like you would raise chickens. They sometimes occupy the attic of a house, or larger numbers are raised in guinea pig barns, provided with fresh greens from the field daily, and their manure collected to fertilize gardens. They are not related to pigs, but are rodents native to the South American Andes area.
Guinea pig farming provides a good income for farmers; the animals might sell for $8-10 a piece, are marketed to restaurants as far away as Lima, thus raising the farmers’ monthly income substantially.
The preferred preparation of guinea pig is roasted in a wood-fired oven, but families without oven facilities can bring their meats to a “Baker” whose large capacity wood-fired oven can handle baking breads, meats, etc. to order on a daily basis.
Guinea pig is so popular, you can even find it for sale on street corners in larger towns.
The European Hare is one of the most widespread mammals on earth, due not only to its ability to thrive and reproduce in a wide variety of habitats, but also to its intentional introduction to new geographical areas by humans.
For example, 36 hares were intentionally released in central Argentina in 1888 and just 20 years later, they were so widespread in Argentina, they were considered a major agricultural pest. Another intentional release of hares in southern Chile in 1896 may be the source of animals that have subsequently invaded Bolivia, and more recently, the southern tip of Peru, where they were first discovered as recently as 2002.
The mixed grassy field-small crop production areas, broken up by thickets and stone walls are perfect for this little invader, which seems to do well from sea level to high altitude zones. The only barrier to its rather rapid rate of dispersal in South America so far is the humid and complex tropical Amazon region and densely populated urban areas.
The spread of European hares in these small farming communities where plowing, planting, and harvesting is all done by hand on small plots would have a great impact on farmers’ yields.
In Argentina, hares are a favorite prey of Puma (cougar), but top cat predators are absent in this area of Lake Titicaca. It’s possible that avian predators in this area might take young hares, but adults are large, long-legged, fast runners with great endurance for escaping predators.
So for now, the European hare has an open niche to exploit, from coastal to high altiplano farms and fields in Peru.
We set out from Cusco to the city of Puno in the southern part of Peru, where the Andean plateau widens and rises to about 12,500 feet and continues as a wide expanse into Bolivia and Chile. This is the second largest and highest plateau in the world, after that in Tibet.
Along the road to the La Raya pass at 14,200 feet, wide expanses of green are broken up by small agricultural plots of beans, corn, quinoa, and other vegetables. Large herds of llamas and alpacas, a few cattle, and some sheep are more prominent here than they were in the lower valleys near Cusco.
The scenery on either side of the pass is as dramatic as any mountain scenery anywhere, especially realizing that the base of the mountains here is 12-14,000 feet. Only the most hearty and well acclimated can survive and prosper in this thin air, where the oxygen content is just 60% of what it is at sea level.
Long-tailed furry little mammals leaping long distances between the rocks at Machu Picchu were a surprise. Their color and body shape hid them well between the rocks.
Two species of Chinchilla are native to the Andes mountains of South America. Once widespread throughout the higher elevations in Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile, they were over hunted for their fur, and now are found only in remote parts of Chile. Chinchillas have the most dense fur of any land mammal, most likely an adaptation to the cold temperatures of their high elevation habitats. As a result they overheat very easily at moderate temperatures and are difficult to keep in captivity.
They are highly social, living in large groups or herds, in rocky crevices in the mountains, which makes them difficult to spot as well as capture. They look like easy prey for raptors, but have the unusual habit of spraying urine and releasing clumps of fur when attacked.
We were fortunate to see the Inca ruins at Machu Picchu on an almost clear day for at least two hours before heavy rain settled over the area. I was surprised to find so many llamas wandering through the site, but they created great photo opportunities.
Llamas actually originated in North America, and migrated to South America about 3 million years ago when the Panamanian land bridge was established. Today, there are no wild llamas, since they were domesticated soon after humans reached South America about 10,000 years ago and began to do more farming than hunting and gathering. Some say the conversion to agriculture would not have been possible without the use of llama dung as fertilizer.