Recollection of Easters past

This blog has been cataloging the rebirth of Spring each year since 2012, so I thought it might be fun to look back at what I have posted on Easter each year. Since the dates of Easter vary so widely each year, and because we traveled to distant places some years, the landscapes of Easter scenes from the blog vary markedly.

The first Easter photo on the blog (April 8, 2012) was of eldest grandson holding a garter snake. A warm spring with the snow gone, the grasses greening up, and lots of animals emerging from “winter sleep”.
In 2013, Easter fell on the last day of March, and Minnesota still had a lot of snow and cold weather. That didn’t stop real Minnesotans from getting out to celebrate the holiday with a walk on a frozen lake.
In 2014, we were in northern California on Easter in late April (20) when I found a baby Scrub Jay poking its head out of nest. New life in the Springtime!
My Easter hike on April 15, 2015 at Grass Lake was rewarded with images of Ospreys mating, as the pair returned to rebuild the previous year’s stick nest on their 70 foot platform.
An early Easter on March 17, 2016 didn’t give us much to cheer about with winter conditions in MN, but I found some moss that was sprouting its spore capsules on a warm log in the forest at the Old Cedar Ave. bridge. The photo was taken with the magnifier app on my cell phone!
In 2017, we had traveled to Cave Creek ranch in southeastern Arizona where we found a Great Horned Owl roosting in a large tree in the parking lot of the local restaurant where we ate on Easter Sunday, April 16. I don’t know if this tree cavity had been its nest that year but it was quite a deep crevice in a huge tree trunk.
On Easter Sunday April 1, 2018, I posted my favorite landscapes of Peru where we had traveled during the previous month. This shot was taken on a 14,500 foot pass in the Andes on our way to Puna, Peru.
Easter Sunday April 21, 2019 found us traveling through the Wichita Mts. in Oklahoma on our way south to Texas for a bird photography workshop in Galveston. This mama Prairie Dog must have been feeding a lot of youngsters at this time in the spring season of rebirth.
Last year in 2020, we were at the beginning stages of a frightening year of death, and my Easter portrait of a Kildeer nest filled with fake Easter eggs was my attempt to bring a little smile to my readers.

A year later, the corona virus is still with us, but we look forward to Spring and the seasons beyond with more hopefulness and expectations than this time last year. I hope you feel the same, dear Reader.

the things you find in the woods

It’s pretty quiet in the backyard these days, and even the deer aren’t stopping by. But a walk in Reservoir Woods the other day produced some surprises, even if the wildlife weren’t cooperating.

I hadn’t visited this area since last spring when the warblers were here, and I didn’t notice this fir tree then, but with its bright Christmas decorations against the white snow, it’s hard to miss. I photographed the tree 8 years ago, when it was barely head high — and look how it’s grown.
Apparently, it’s become a tradition to decorate this little tree each year, and where the tree was decorated with mostly natural products like sumac seed heads and goldenrod flowers in 2012, now it has a wide variety of bulbs and home-made trinkets donated by what must have been dozens of individuals.

Continuing on down the trail, I found a variety of forts had been built around some of the cottonwoods and oaks in the forest. Some were simple constructions that might fit one pre-teen sized kid inside…

But one was a mammoth collection of sticks and logs, measruing about 30 feet long and 15-20 feet wide, with multiple niches inside for shelter.
Entry to the “fort”. I wonder if fort building is part of the P.E. program at virtual school now — at least it seems some kids (and maybe adults) are spending a lot of time outdoors during our covid quarantine.

But this next find was the real gem of my 4 mile stroll through Reservoir Woods.

This one made me chuckle, and I had to explore what was behind the little red door in the woods.
It seems to be Merlin’s Cave and it still has a present inside.

Even with all the very bad experiences that 2020 brought us, there are also quite a few pleasant surprises. People who take time to decorate a lonely little fir tree and who bring a moment of joy to a walker with their humorous construction are just a few of the “benefits” of time away from our usual busy routine to think more creatively, to get out and enjoy the natural world, maybe leaving a little piece of ourselves to bring joy to others.

Vermejo Park Ranch

We had an opportunity to explore some of the almost 600,000 acre mega-ranch at Vermejo Park, near Raton, New Mexico. This magnificent expanse of private lands stretches from Great Plains short grass prairie up in elevation through pinyon-juniper woodland and ponderosa woodland, into mixed coniferous forest and finally alpine tundra near the crest of the Sangre de Cristo mountains — altogether an area 3/4 the size of Rhode Island!

You immediately appreciate the size of the ranch when you see that the park boundary is 35 miles from park headquarters. Here, the prairie is dominated by short stature grasses, perennial shrubs, and a strange looking Gambel Oak, which in this arid environment, is a short shrub.
Short Grass prairie is prime habitat for grazing the approximately 1400 bison at Vermejo ParkRanch.
Shrubby Gambel Oaks completely carpet the rocky hillsides above the prairie.

The ranch was part of a very large Mexican land grant, made to landholders in 1814, and since then it has passed through various owners, including some Hollywood mega-stars, until it was purchased by Ted Turner in the 1990s for managing wildlife, including the native bison that once roamed these prairies. Today the multiple goals of the Vermejo Park Ranch include bison production, luxury wildlife tourism, and hunting, with the overall goal of managing wildlife conservation sustainably in a large landscape.

Mule deer, elk, pronghorn, antelope, and big horn sheep roam the short grass prairies and conifer woodlands. The ranch is also home to mountain lions, bobcats, black bears, but at present, no wolves.
Mule deer bucks stare at us (instead of running away) in a ponderosa pines woodland.
The Castle Rock formation stands out in a meadow parkland, with Ash Mountain in the background.
The 13,000 foot peaks of the Sangre de Cristo mountains loom over the high elevation mixed coniferous forest on the western edge of the ranch.
More than 20 lakes, some natural, some man-made provide breeding habitat for waterfowl, and a peaceful place to contemplate nature or enjoy a few hours of fishing.
Vermejo ranch has already had its first winter snow of 20 inches. The songbirds have left for warmer climates, the small mammals are hibernating, the bison have been moved to lower elevation, and I assume the elk are hiding from the hunters. But the grandeur of this wide-open landscape was captivating.

Why are some birds so common?

When we did our (exhaustive) photographic survey of birds during May this year, we usually encountered a subset of what we began to call “everyday birds” — that is, the birds you can count on seeing every day.  When you step outside your front (or back) door you likely encounter some of these “everyday birds”:  Crows, Robins, Blue Jays, Cardinals, Chickadees, House Finches, Goldfinches, and if you live in very urban areas, the ever-present House Sparrows and Starlings.

Some of the everyday birds: American Crow, Blue Jay, House Sparrow, Chickadee, Goldfinch, Robin, House Finch, Cardinal

Why are these birds so common, or so commonly seen in our residential communities?

Actually, there’s a simple answer:  we have made our front yards and backyards into buffet tables for birds, with fruits, seeds, feeders, nest boxes, and lots of vegetation for growing insects;  we have planted trees and shrubs for birds to hide, nest, mate, and feed in, and provided them with water structures to bathe in; the grass is short so reptilian and mammalian predators like snakes and foxes that love eggs and chicks can’t hide there; and the vegetation is diverse and structurally complex so that many bird species can coexist there.

My backyard garden, surrounded by big trees, has something for all the little critters that inhabit it.

Goldfinches, one of the many “everyday birds” love to pick apart the flowers of the Cup Plant in late summer, and before then, they dine on a variety of seeds in several types of sunflowers and coneflowers in the backyard garden.  In this garden there are seeds for them to consume, plant material for nests, feeders for the scarce food times, and vegetative cover to protect them. 

This urban or rural/farm landscape transformed by humans is an open and easily exploited niche.  However, birds must adapt to the presence of the humans there, and some do this much more easily and successfully than others.

House Sparrows, for example, are now so dependent on living in densely populated areas of humans (and their bird feeders and hedges) or around farmers’ barns that they are found only there.  This species that originated in the Middle East became intimately  linked to human agriculture and has spread over the globe by following humans everywhere they live.

The story of how House Sparrows became “the most common bird in the world” is a good read in Smithsonian magazine.

Quite by accident, Tree Swallows have become increasingly common in the past couple of decades as the Bluebird Recovery project introduced hundreds (if not thousands) of nest boxes into U.S. parks to help “save” the Bluebirds from being extirpated by hole-nesting Starlings and House Sparrows.  So, now we put up two nest boxes instead of just one for the Bluebird, and the two species can coexist in the same territory.  Neither species is deterred by humans walking by the nest or that come to peer into or open the boxes, although Tree Swallows will definitely dive-bomb you when you get to close to the nest.

Male Tree Swallow entering its nest box at a nearby park.

Our backyards are havens for not just birds, but tree frogs, toads, house mice, woodland mice, chipmunks and squirrels, prey for other, bigger birds to feast on.  The other day I saw a FB video of a Great Blue Heron that walked from a pond near someone’s backyard right into the garden area and captured a chipmunk that boldly sat by a bird feeder chomping on seed!  Great Horned Owls and Barred Owls, as well, have become more common in urban areas because of this buffet of tasty prey available, courtesy of human gardening habits.

Great Blue Herons don’t just occupy every pond and and lakeside in urban landscapes, but as good opportunistic hunters, they sometimes invade the backyard as well.

Bird feeders attract lots of birds, and those of us who love to feed birds make sure they put a variety of seed out to increase the bird diversity in their backyards.  However, Cooper’s Hawks have recently discovered this urban mecca of bird diversity as well, and now they are becoming one of the most common urban raptors.

This juvenile Cooper’s Hawk landed on the bird bath in the backyard, looked around at the birds scuttling for cover and made a grab at one, landing on the grass — without its prey.

This is just the tip of the iceberg in the discussion of “why are some birds so common?”, and I’ll try to address other reasons for avian success in another set of posts.  So, stay tuned.

Of squirrel tails and coat colors

In paying more attention to what’s going on in my own backyard these days, I’ve discovered there really is a lot of variation in Gray Squirrel looks and behavior, enough to kind of be able to tell them apart.  But first, let’s examine the obvious:  gray squirrels come in a variety of colors, and I’ve just seen my first blonde!

A novelty color variation in a “Gray” squirrel I’ve never seen before — a blonde!

But there are various mixtures of gray, brown, red, even black tones in the true “Gray” Squirrel coat.

Pretty red toes and red highlights in its fur and tail make this Gray Squirrel stand out.

Now we know that variation is the “spice of life”, and speaking biologically, it’s most often the thing that drives natural selection and evolution in species.  But inquiring minds want to know:  how does this variation in coat color in squirrels happen?

First, gray fur isn’t just a gray color — the grizzled look of the gray fur is achieved by a complex process of regulated pigment deposition in hair over time.  This is best seen in a comparison of the tails of two “gray” squirrels.

The individual hairs of reddish and grayish tails actually have a lot of color variation along their length. 

Gray hair in squirrels is actually a combination of brown pigment (eumelanin) deposition in the hair interspersed with a little yellow/red pigment (pheomelanin) deposition that is turned on and off as the hair grows so that there are spaces where no pigment is deposited and the hair is white.  Complex indeed — imagine the number of genes controlling that process: genes to stimulate specific pigment production, genes to regulate when that pigment is produced; genes to promote the other two sets to turn on and off; genes to control where in the body all the rest of those genes turn on and off. And so on…

The squirrel tail on the left (above) must have had more of the yellow/red pigment deposition than the brown pigment as the hair was growing, so its tail looks significantly redder.  Both tails have frosty tips (white = no pigment deposition), but the red tail has much longer white tips, meaning the pigment production was stopped for a longer period of time during tail hair growth.

But what about Blondie? How would this coat color be produced?

I bet you know enough about how color is produced and controlled in squirrel fur to answer this question now.  Please take a stab at it in your comments.

As an added challenge — how can we explain the fur color in this guy?  Note not just the dark color, but lack of pale whitish fur on its underside, a typical characteristic of Gray Squirrels.

A black Gray Squirrel acrobat

You might think at first glance that this was a different species, but it isn’t. Black-furred Gray Squirrels are common in some areas of the UK and the US, more common than the gray variety, yet the genes coding for black color are recessive to those that produce the “wild” type gray pattern and so the black color should be rarer.

Which brings us back to the role of variation in evolution, and it seems that black-furred Gray Squirrels have a significant thermal advantage in cold climates (as you might expect because of black color’s heat absorbing quality) and they also seem to be quite well camouflaged in the dark coniferous forests they inhabit.

As for Blondie, there are hawks and owls in my backyard, and it will be interesting to see how long she/he sticks around.

Embrace the fog

I’ve been playing with some of the images from our trip to Oregon using the most recent version of Luminar (4) photo editor.  I am impressed with this software as it is the easiest to learn and use of any I’ve tried, and produces some very pleasant results with relatively little effort.

The challenges of photographing the Oregon coast (at least on this trip) were the ubiquitous grayness and lots of fog.  Some people love these conditions for photography because it simplifies the images, giving them a more peaceful, serene quality.

Simplistic composition — perhaps entitled “Contemplation”.  The amount of fog obscures the incoming waves as well as the nearby hill.

However, I seem to be on the other end of the aesthetic spectrum because I love color and vibrance, and lots of interesting detail to look at.

The sun was barely peeking through the dense clouds (so I helped it do that). Editing helped bring out the light on the fog rolling over the waves.  I love the repeated acute angles of waves hitting the shore.  Lots to look at here.

The unedited version of the coastal image above.  Most of the detail is lost in the fog and the colors are quite dull.

So, I tried to embrace the fog and the gray mood, but couldn’t help interjecting a little spot of color or brightness into my monochromatic scenes.  You can compare the before and after editing to see what Luminar can do — and probably could do even better with a more experienced user.

Beach sunrise, with enhanced color and detail.

The scene as it was photographed. There is nothing wrong with the camera — it’s the fog and gloom making everything appear in dark shadow.

I thought the composition was interesting enough to try to salvage this poorly lit image.  Iconic Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach must be one of the most frequently photographed scenes along the Oregon coast.  But it was pretty difficult to get a good photo of it from anywhere on the beach,  so….just embrace the fog!

Luminar allows one to insert a replacement sky in an otherwise dull background. You can blend it into the original sky and still be able to embrace the fog…  A light vignette around the outside of the image brightens it up as well.

This image has possibilities, but it’s so dark and gloomy, you can’t see the expressions on their faces.

This one was easy to edit — just brighten it up a bit. The uniform white of the foggy background works well here, keeping the image all about the kids’ joy in running through the surf with no distractions.

Low tide at Half Moon Bay

Another timely visit to the ocean shore, this time in Northern California, just as the tide reached its lowest point and exposed wide stretches of rocky tide pools.

Monterey Cypress line the cliffs above the rocky tide pools exposed at low tide at Half Moon Bay, south of San Francisco, CA.

Colorful (but invasive) iceplant covers the cliff face so completely, native plants can’t compete.  Low tides always draw a crowd, especially on a sunny Saturday.

Some of the tidepools are just puddles, and some are quite large and deep. What sorts of things might you find in one of these pools?

Tidepool Sculpins are typical fish found in some of the larger pools. Their black and white coloration provides good camouflage in a rocky pool.

Sculpins are found in tidepools all along the eastern Pacific Ocean coast from the Bering Sea to Southern California.  They dart in and out of the vegetation chasing small crustacean, worm, and insect prey and have the ability to return to the same set of pools after each high tide.  If their tidepools evaporate too much during an extreme low tide, Sculpins can gulp oxygen from the air and hide out in moist vegetation until their pools fill again.

A row of globular sea anemones form a line on the bottom of one pool. They are closed up at low tide, noticeable only because of all the shell pieces they have collected on their surface to reflect sunlight and keep them cooler at low tide.  Two Hermit Crabs in black snail shells (top center) were checking out each other’s shells — to see if the neighbor’s shell might be a better fit.   A Chiton (type of mollusk) is attached to the rock in the lower left corner of the photo.  Chiton shells are composed of 8 overlapping plates that flex and bend as the animal slides over an uneven surface.

In one of the deeper pools, one sea anemone is still actively filtering the water for microorganisms. Their tentacles feel sticky when touched; when they contact a potential prey item the tentacles move to engulf it and pull it toward the central opening to their “stomach” (sort of a big open space for digestion).

Where the waves were breaking on the ocean side of the rocky shore, we could see the exposed tentacles of dinner-plate sized anemones and orange (ochre) sea stars.  Although this part of Half Moon Bay is a protected marine reserve, previous collecting in this area has markedly reduced the diversity of tidepool life here.  There should be numerous crabs, sea urchins, a variety of snails, and many different types and colors of sea stars here.

People aren’t the only tidepool explorers on this rocky beach…

Herring Gulls forage for crabs and snails at low tide. Extracting a Hermit Crab from its shell home isn’t easy though. Gulls try to extract them by pulling at their legs with their beak.  If that doesn’t work, they try dropping them or smashing them into the rock to break the shells.  It’s a small meal for a lot of work.

Looking back — 2019 in pictures

What a glorious year of travel to such beautiful and interesting places.  I re-worked some of the previously posted and some new images with some new photo editing software (Luminar 4) to accent some of the interesting sites we visited.  I hope you like the results.  Please click on any of the images to see them full screen, and use your back arrow to get back to the blog post.)

From January 2019 posts on crossing the U.S. in winter, this is the central Nevada landscape in winter at sunrise.  Stark and barren of life, but gorgeous in morning light.

Sunset light in the Sonoran desert north of Tucson, in Catalina State Park (January 2019).  Amazing plant diversity here in a warm desert that gets winter rain.

A very lucky coincidence that we stumbled on a huge concentration of Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese at Bosque del Apache in NM, right at sunset. (January 2019)

We visited the town of Ajijic and Lake Chapala, south of Guadalajara, Mexico, for pickleball camp in March. It’s always nice to escape MN winter weather for a while.

A fun rodeo at Fort Robinson, NE, in July. This was a father-daughter team of calf ropers showing off their skill.

Canyonlands National Park at sunset lights up the colorful mesas and rock formations, July 2019. It’s impossible to take a bad photo here.

Natural Bridges State Park, Santa Cruz CA

Natural Bridges State Park, Santa Cruz, CA with youngest grandchild dancing on the sea cliff. July, 2019.

Such a pastoral scene in Lassen National Park, CA, of the dormant volcano and meadow. August 2019.

Dramatic cliffs overlooking the Crooked River, north of Bend, OR.  With Luminar photo editor, I removed most of the haze from the distance.  August, 2019.

Just as we were ready to head out on a boating adventure on the Rio Claro in the Pantanal of Brazil, the sky lit up at sunrise. Now this is why I love photo editing software like Luminar, because it recovered all the highlights and color that I remembered but were a little too dim to see in my original image. September 2019.

Vast tracts of grassland in the Pantanal region of Brazil are devoted to cattle ranches. Pantaneiro cattle are a special hybrid mix of Portuguese and Zebu (South Asian) cattle bred to survive the heat and aridity here. September, 2019.

Beautiful Cloud Lake in the Porcupine Mts State Park, MI at sunset. There were swans swimming in the lake, but I couldn’t resist adding a few to the sky above (easily done with the double exposure feature in SnapSeed).  So this is a fake — but a pretty one. 🙂  October, 2019.

The Minneapolis skyline at sunset, enhanced using presets in Luminar.  November, 2019.

the love life of the Greater Rhea

At least one species of large flightless (ratite) bird inhabits each of the major southern continents: the ostrich in Africa, the emu in Australia, and the Rhea in South America.  All probably followed a parallel evolutionary path of flightlessness and gigantism from their flighted ancestors, once their continents had broken away from the southern supercontinent of Gondwanaland during the Cretaceous period.

Evolution of flightless (ratite) birds, from MappingIgnorance.org

While traveling through the Cerrado of Brazil, we spotted Rheas many times, as they foraged in agricultural fields and grassy, open areas of the Cerrado.

Question: How do flightless birds get over a fence?

Answer: they go under it!

Rheas stand over 5 feet tall, supporting their elongated neck and football-shaped body on long legs.  They are not particularly attractive, with their loosely feathered plumage that usually looks disarrayed and scraggly.

Three large, wide-spaced toes and long, sturdy legs support this 80 pound, giant omnivorous bird.

They do have pretty brown eyes, though.

Rheas spend a lot of their time, head down, walking slowly through open grassland or crop fields hunting for tidbits of grain, grass, insects, perhaps small nestling birds, or anything else edible to pick up and toss back into their gullet.

During the non-breeding season, they may be shy, and run from perceived threats. This bird is moving at a fast trot, but Rheas can run almost 40 mph, using their outstretched wings as rudders to steer right and left.

Other than being large and flightless, Rheas seem mostly unremarkable.  But not when it comes to their love life.

Males engage in chest-bumping and neck thrashing to establish their nesting territory.

Two male Rheas are duking it out, pushing against each other breast to breast while beaking each other.

Once they have established who is top dog in a particular area, a male actively courts and copulates with a number of females.  Then he builds a nest by trampling and scraping out a grassy disk, pushing dirt away from the center until he has built up a mound three feet across and 30 inches deep and invites his courted harem of females to lay their eggs within.  Before he begins incubating his clutch of eggs, there may be somewhere between a dozen to 50 eggs in his nest mound.  Incubation takes about a month, and the eggs hatch within hours of each other.  The chicks are protected by the male for up to six months.  So each male is making about a 7 month investment in his offspring.

Male Rhea and chicks (photo from https://www.animal.photos/bird4/rhea-gtr.htm)

Meanwhile, in a complete reversal of the usual female role in nurturing their offspring, the females have wandered off, looking for other, likely males with whom to mate, and deposit more of their eggs in another nest, leaving that male to incubate and rear their chicks.  They will have nothing further to do with the rearing of their chicks.

This complicated “romantic” breeding strategy has the fancy name polygynandric, which simply means males breed with more than one female (like Red-winged Blackbirds) and females breed with more than one male (like many shorebird species).

Footlose, and fancy free, a female Rhea, can just lay her eggs, and then walk off.

So, does this peculiar breeding strategy work?  As you might imagine, incubating such a large number of eggs might be disadvantageous, and in fact, only about 3/4 of such large clutches actually hatch.  Worse yet, territorial males sometimes give up incubating duties to another male so that they can go collect another harem at another nest site.  And 65% of the males were found to desert their nests in the middle of incubation, either because of disturbance from predators, livestock, or humans, or for no apparent reason.  In one study of 34 Rhea nests, only 20% hatched any chicks at all.

With this low reproductive success, Rheas in South America are a near-threatened species, especially with more of their Cerrado habitat being converted to agriculture.

Brazil’s giant savanna

You might be getting the impression from previous posts that everything in Brazil is “Giant”, and they do have the largest rainforest on earth and quite a few giant animals, but what is less well-known (and is disappearing even more rapidly than the Amazon rainforest) is the very large and most diverse savanna grassland on earth, the Cerrado of southern Brazil.

The Cerrado is the second largest biome in South America, after the Amazon rainforest, covering about 770,000 square miles, approximately 21% of all of Brazil.  The map highlights native and protected areas, but agriculture encroaches on that space more and more each year. (Map from Francisco et al. 2015. Natureza Consevaçao 13: 35-40.

The Cerrado is not just a vast grassland, but a collection of savanna, shrub, grass, mixed grass and shrub, dry forest, humid forest, riparian (stream side) habitats that give rise to the amazing species diversity of this area.

We got many opportunities to survey this habitat diversity (and the animals that live in these areas) on our games drives through Las Emas National Park, about 1000 km northwest of São Paulo.

Our Safari vehicle for cruising the backroads of Las Emas National Park.

Savanna habitat is largely grass with occasional trees.

Shrub habitat is comprised of low vegetation and short, woody shrubs and trees. Deer and human trails wind through the shrubland in places.

Grass habitat of the Cerrado, bordered by a fire road.  We had a nice sunset on our drive on this evening.

A Great (not Giant) Black Hawk perched on a low shrub for a view of its prey hidden in this mixed shrub-grassland, where there is less grass and more shrubs present.

This is a fire-maintained ecosystem, and we could see the transition from habitat type to habitat type, as areas recovered from periodic fires.

A firebreak, burned every year separates grassland from shrub land in the distance.

Dry forest is characterized by a lot of dry, crunchy leaves on the ground, but green leaves and flowers are budding out above. How do the trees manage this?

Humid, wet forest has small streams running through it, and is a welcome relief on hot, steamy days when temperatures are 10 degrees hotter in the savanna and shrub habitat just outside the forest. We were looking for the Pheasant Cuckoo here, which is a giant of the cuckoo family!

On our hike through the hot savanna, we came to a very clear, fast running stream bordered by gallery forest on both sides. That cool water looked very inviting on a hot day!

With this much habitat diversity, you can imagine how much diversity of life resides in this vast grass and shrub complex of the Cerrado.

Everything about the Cerrado is unique and surprising:

  • periods of torrential rain (2-6 FEET per year) followed by extensive drought (190 days and counting so far in 2019)
  • water storage in vast aquifers that are tapped by the deepest tree roots
  • unique vegetation (more than 10,000 species of plants), adapted to drought with more extensive biomass (root systems) below ground than above it
  • 837 bird species, about 30 of which are endemic (found no where else on earth)
  • 67 species of mammals, including the Giant Armadillo and Giant Anteater, as well as the Maned Wolf, found no where else in the world
  • 120 species of reptiles, 150 species of amphibians, and probably several million species of invertebrates, especially insects, still to be counted

But the Cerrado is a vast and flat land, perfect for cultivation, and so Brazilian farmers have converted much of it to agricultural production of soybeans, corn, cotton, and sugar cane. (Brazil is now the #1 exporter of soybeans, much to the dismay of U.S. farmers.)

The spread of agriculture and modern farming methods has cut back the native Cerrado habitats to 3% of their former land area. Photo from undark.org (“the slow death of ecology’s birthplace”)

Large expanses of crops have replaced the Cerrado vegetation.