Morning visitors

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.

White-tailed deer fawns

Breakfast at the wildflower garden buffet

White-tailed deer fawns

The twin is completely hidden underneath the giant cup plants.

White-tailed deer fawn

Hyssop must not taste good to deer; they left it for the bumblebees.

This time, last year: a foxy morning

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.

red fox-

In addition to brief, one minute naps, there was quite a lot of scratching and grooming going on.

red fox-

And when they stopped digging at their own fleas or whatever was itchy, they groomed each other.

red fox-

must be some good stuff inside the other fox’s ear…

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.

red fox-

Shot through the not very clean porch window at 500 mm —

Back yard visitors

It’s nice to see familiar wildlife in the backyard.  These were my first (vertebrate) visitors since returning from May travels.

A singleton fawn (no twin around?)

Single fawn without doe

No mom around either…maybe it’s just exploring on its own.

Tom Turkey

Tom Turkey came to visit because I finally filled the bird feeders again.

Tom Turkey displaying

His display was half-hearted (no tail fan), but his gobble was pretty loud.

Tom Turkey

A beautiful bird, with a homely face.

now if only the fox family would come to visit…

A walk in the forest

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.

Old Scotch pine, Grantown-on-Spey, Scotland

Rothiemurchas forest near Aviemore has some of the oldest and largest Scotch pine in the U.K.  

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.

Red squirrel, ScotlandRed squirrel, Scotland

Rothiemurchas forest near Grantown-on-Spey, Scotland

The forest here is a mixture of very young and very old pine, along with dense stands of birch, and remarkably little undergrowth.

Although most of the birds were found high in the tree tops, a few cooperated by flying in close.

Coal tit

Coal tits are close to the same size as Black-capped Chickadees, and resemble them in looks and behavior.

Siskin, Scotland

European Siskin look like a combination of American Goldfinch and Pine Siskin. The males are bright yellow, with paler females that look very much like the American Siskin.

Ewe and lambs, Scotland

This is lambing season in Scotland. Twins scamper over to their dams for reassurance and a drink when we get near to take their photos.

Favorite scenes from Peru

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)

Indiana village, Amazon

Market day at Indiana village, on the Amazon, at sunrise

Crossing the Amazon river

Crossing the Amazon river

Waiting for the boat taxi on the Amazon river

Waiting for the boat taxi on the Amazon river

Machu Picchu

Exploring the ruins of the lost city of the Incas, Machu Picchu, right before the rainstorm descended.

Terraces of Pisac, Peru

Terraces of Pisac overlooking the Urubamba river in the Sacred Valley


View of Cusco from Sacsayhuamán ruins

La Raya pass, road to Puno, Peru

View from La Raya pass, on the road to Puno, Peru, at 14,300 feet

Llamas grazing in the Altiplano, Andean plateau

Llamas grazing in the Altiplano, Andean plateau

Along the shore of Lake Titicaca

Along the shore of Lake Titicaca

Island in Umayo lake, near Puno, Peru

Island in the clouds: an island vicuña reserve in Umayo lake, near Puno, Peru

Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca


Not a pet…

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.

Peruvian woman preparing guinea pig for her family

A Peruvian woman gets ready to prepare fresh guinea pig for her guests — us! After humanely euthanizing the animal, she removes the hair and the guts, then places it in the frying pan on her wood-fired stove to cook.

Peruvian woman preparing guinea pig for her family

Divided among about 16 people, there is not much more than a mouthful of prepared guinea pig to taste, but it proves to be quite mild — just like chicken!

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 barn, Peru

We visited a farmer who started with 25 guinea pigs and now has a population of 300 he is raising to market in the barn built just for this purpose.

Guinea pig barn, Peru

In the interior of the guinea pig barn, pens separate individual families and weaned offspring from each other so there is minimal fighting.  The guinea pigs are provided with fresh greens daily, but don’t seem to require water in their diet.

Guinea pig barn, Peru

Farm-raised guinea pigs are white, tan or brown, or brown and white, with very soft fur, although their wild ancestor has more of a hoary, grizzled coat of rough hair.  They reach market size at about 3 months of age.

Wild guinea pig, Peru

Wild guinea pig from lake Titicaca.  Note the difference in the fur and eye color.  Selective breeding has changed the appearance of the animal.

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.

Peruvian baker with roasted guinea pig

A third generation “Baker” with an order of fresh roasted Guinea pig ready for pick up.  

Guinea pig is so popular, you can even find it for sale on street corners in larger towns.

roast guinea pig for sale in Peru

A young girl advertising roast guinea pig available at a local restaurant hopped on our bus briefly.

An unwanted invader

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.

European hare, Lake Titicaca, Peru

We saw this European hare in a small farming community on the shore of Lake Titicaca, Peru.

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.

European hare, Lake Titicaca, Peru

A dozen or so hares scampered through the brushy fields intermixed with small crops, fleeing as soon as they saw us.

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.

European hare, Lake Titicaca, Peru

It’s brown, tan, black and white blotchy fur pattern blends well with rocky areas of the same color, giving the hare some ability hide in plain sight.

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.

Mixed vegetable crops on the shore of lake Titicaca, Peru

Mixed vegetable crops on the shore of lake Titicaca are ripe for harvest by fast multiplying European hares.

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.

European hare, Lake Titicaca, Peru

Run, rabbit, run…

So for now, the European hare has an open niche to exploit, from coastal to high altiplano farms and fields in Peru.

the road to Puno

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.

Andean plateau on the road to Puno, Peru

Andean plateau on the road to Puno, Peru

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.

Andean plateau on the road to Puno, Peru

Llama herd on the road to Puno, Peru

Alpaca herd, Andean plateau, Peru

This herd of alpacas was tended by a single herdsman, without the help of fences or dogs to control the herd.

Train to Puno at La Raya pass, Peru

A train runs between Cusco and Puno over the 14,300 foot pass. Talk about taking your breath away…

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.

La Raya pass, Andean plateau, Peru

I’m guessing these peaks might be as much as 19-20,000 feet.  It’s a stunning landscape.

Chilly Chinchilla

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.

Chinchilla hiding in rocks

What is this? A picture of some rocks? No there is a chinchilla in the middle of the frame.

Chinchilla hiding in rocks

Long ears, long tail, and about the size of a rabbit, Chinchillas were highly valued for their soft, dense fur.

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.

the llamas of Machu Picchu

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 at Machu Picchu

Llamas are quite social and usually occur in groups. This one must have been entranced with the scenery.

Llamas at Machu Picchu

Llamas come in a variety of colors, from white to brown to black to spotted, probably as a result of selective breeding. Their wild relatives, the vicuña and guanaco, have uniform brown and white color patterns.

Llamas at Machu Picchu

The gestation period for llamas is 11.5 months, but female young develop quickly and are ready to breed in one year, while young males take as much as three years to become fully mature.

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.

Llamas at Machu Picchu

Like other members of the camel family, llamas are grass eaters and digest their food in a multi-compartmented stomach with the aid of bacteria there.

Llamas at Machu Picchu

Two pair of Incisors on top and bottom help them crop grass close to its roots with a yank of their head as they bite down. Nice long eyelashes too.

Llamas at Machu Picchu

What a beautiful place to live…