Don’t you love it when the sun comes out full and strong on a crisp, Fall day?
There is no place like it in the world, with a concentration of several thousand arches of red and buff sandstone, weathered by wind and water.
But the pride of Arches National Park is Delicate Arch, a single monolith surrounded by a sculpted basin of rock. To appreciate its size, note the tiny human standing by the right leg of the arch in the photos below.
As I look around at flower gardens in my backyard and in my neighborhood, I see a lot of purple. Where the first flowers of spring seemed to be largely pink in color, the first flowers of summer seem to be mostly purple, a color that is not all that common in plants. Why so much purple, and why now?
Purple is for the bees, and especially the solitary bees which are the most abundant and hearty pollinators we see in cool spring and early summer weather, before honeybees and butterflies have become active. Bee eyes can detect light wavelengths in the ultraviolet part of the spectrum, and it seems that plants have adapted their floral displays to guide the bees right to the places on the flower where their search for nectar or pollen will do the flower the most good (i.e., pollination).
One study with bumblebees in Germany showed that naive bees were highly attracted to flowers in the ultra-violet to blue range of wavelengths, and those flowers tended to produce more nectar or nectar with higher sugar concentrations than flowers of other colors. Purple flowers that attract solitary bees tend to have the highest sugar concentration in their nectar (20-50% sugar), compared to yellow and red hummingbird and butterfly flowers that average around 20-22% sugar in the nectar.
The variation in “purple-ness” of early summer flowers is due to the proportion of anthocyanin pigment in the flower in response to the pH of the soil environment. In the presence of acid (or hydrogen ion), the pigment is red (or pink), whereas in the presence of nitrogen base the pigment is blue, and in the presence of aluminum, it is violet. So, you can change the colors of your hydrangea or forget-me-nots by what you put in their soil.
Purple is a coveted color in the garden, because of its rarity, and the ephemeral nature of purple flowers. Looking back in our own history, we find that limited resources and the labor-intensive process used to create the color purple made it an expensive luxury, indulged in only by the most wealthy or by royalty. Regardless of expense, its calming (blue overtones), yet energizing (red hues) make purple a favorite color.
Oklahoma is flat, right? Except for a chunk of interesting geography called the Wichita mountains in southwestern OK near Lawton. The rocky 2000 foot promontories here are the result of a failed continental rift that filled with granite 500 million years ago, was covered with sediments of the inland sea, and was pushed up late in the Paleozoic.
A variety of wildlife, including bison (originally from the Jackson Hole herd) and elk, both of which had gone extinct here in the 1800s from hunting pressure, roam this almost 60,000 acre national wildlife refuge.
We managed a few hours stopover here on our way south to Texas. The wildflowers were blooming everywhere, especially the Indian Paintbrush and lupine, prairie dogs were sunning their new-born pups, and Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers were busily setting up territories.
We spent a lovely sunny afternoon at Ano Nuevo state park watching the elephant seals, but on the way to marvel at these gigantic beasts, we passed a pond with some Brown Pelicans, flying from fresh water to the nearby ocean. It was too good an opportunity to photograph these majestic flyers to pass up.
Now and then I get in a rut. Time to try something new, with the added bonus of trying out the latest camera technology (a mirrorless camera) and a chance to reduce the weight of camera plus telephoto lens package. What better time for experimentation than a parade down a local street for the “Slice of Shoreview” celebration. Here are the results of the experiment, using the newly released Sony a7iii model with a Canon 24-105 mm lens.
Wow, Sony’s focusing system is fast and accurate; there are lots of features to assist the process, and I’ve hardly scratched the surface of what the camera has to offer. So, I’ve got new motivation to get out in the backyard for more photo shoots with the new system.
One of the wonderful things about our trip to Peru was the interesting people we met everywhere we went (“oh, the people you’ll meet”… to copy from Dr. Seuss).
Peru is home to over 30 million people, the largest group of which (over 50%) are a Mestizo blend of native Indian and European (mostly Spanish). The next largest group (about 30%) is comprised of the indigenous AmerIndians, mainly the Quechua and Aymara people of the Andes, and the dozens of Indian tribes who still live in the Amazon basin. Immigrants from Europe, Africa, and Asia make up the remainder of people currently living in Peru. The population is a multiethnic blend of ancient and recent inhabitants that look quite different from each other, depending on where in the country you are. You would think with all the internal migration that goes on from rainforest village to city, and Andean highlands to coastal lowlands, there would be less distinction between sites — and of course, I had to wonder why that was.
Yagua communities are often remote, deep in the rainforest away from the main tributaries of the Amazon. They live on what the forest provides, fruit, game, roots and seeds, fish from the rivers, and grow some crops for their own consumption but do little trading with others living on the rivers.
Like the Yagua, riverside villagers harvest fish from the river and game, fruit and nuts from the forest, but they expect to grow and harvest more produce than they can consume so they can take it to local markets to sell in exchange for what they need to buy. There is not enough electricity in riverside homes to run a refrigerator, so fresh food must be harvested or bought each day.
Six hundred miles south and 9-10,000 feet up in the mountain villages of the Andes, people look and dress quite a bit differently, partly because it is much colder here and because their diet is quite different as well. The early inhabitants of this area of Peru were the Quechua (northern Andes) and Aymara (southern Andes) people, some groups of which traded with indigenous people in the Amazon basin. So, even though there might be genetic mixing of lowland and highland inhabitants, their different outward appearances may be more strongly influenced by diet.
The Andes plateau is the home of the potato, and over 4000 (not a typo) varieties are grown in Peru. Prepared and even preserved in a number of ways, this is a primary staple of the highland diet.
A high starch diet (potato, quinoa, and corn) with less meat and fruit than is typically consumed by people living in the Amazon basin produces a characteristic body type in Andean residents, especially in women, with weight concentrated in the central core.
And the change in body shape begins in childhood…
Interestingly, even with such high starch diets that drastically change body composition, Aymara people show low incidence of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. A medical journal article published in 2016 found that 69% of their 276 study subjects were overweight or obese, yet only 18% exhibited hypertension and only 7% were diagnosed diabetic. Lack of refined sugar in their diet and perhaps a higher level of physical activity might contribute to the reduced risk of disease in these people.
Another year draws to a close, and I’m looking back at the highlights through the “back yards” we visited this year.
A busy year of photographing the wonders of the global “back yard”, and a promise of more exciting stuff to come in 2018.
The backyard is quiet again, as the snow falls, temperatures drop, and the wildlife roam less far and wide (meaning, less likely to be seen in my backyard at least). So, I’ve dug through the collection of “best birds of 2017” to bring you my 12 favorites from our treks around the U.S. this year.
Texas (near Brownsville)
South-eastern Arizona (Tucson and Portal areas)
You don’t really have to go too far to see some special birds, not found in your own backyard. The trick is not just finding them, but getting them to cooperate for a photograph!