Scarlet macaw

Here’s the latest public mural in Jaco, Costa Rica – WOW:

Artists: Dulk, Mantra Rea

Wisconsin winter scenes:

 

 

 

 

 

    

Deer trail and resting spots:

  

Great-grandfather:

A treat for an icy, cold, gray day:

From San Francisco:

-Jean

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Llevarla suave – “wear it soft”

In other words, “take it easy”.

It’s a Spanish expression heard in Costa Rica — and it is easy to follow!

About a month ago I visited this fascinating country. It’s a mix of old and new, abundant flora and fauna, some head-scratching challenges, and heat. The last one was particularly welcome!

The hotel I stayed at on the front and back end of the trip in San Jose was an easy choice as they had all the amenities I needed. On the third day, while waiting for the rental car that the hotel coordinated, I noticed a few crude concrete benches were colorfully painted:

         

A drive north over a mountain and into the next valley revealed a few delights.

Below is shown a female Anhinga bird.  They dry their wings in this position after being in the water, as they cannot fly with wet wings.

Below left: I spotted the one-inch long Strawberry poison dart frog while taking a walk near a river. The frog’s skin contains highly toxic compounds.

Right: The orange Julia butterfly is often found in butterfly houses. This one was on a driveway.

   

Below top: Red Hibiscus is seen nearly everywhere and is a joyful burst of red/pink color.

Bottom: El bastón de emperador, or “Torch Ginger” has red, pink, or orange flowers, and can grow up to 20 feet tall.

   

A Chestnut-mandibled toucan, perched out in the open, was snacking on the red fruits of a palm tree. This scene took place a minute’s walk from Ara Ambigua‘s open-air restaurant.

         

Bananas are a common diet source for many birds in Costa Rica.

Top: Montezuma Oropendola. Learn more here.

Middle: Left: Blue-gray Tanager; Upper center: two female Scarlet-rumped Tanagers; Right: Green Honeycreeper

Bottom: Left: Black-cheeked Woodpecker; Right: Red-legged Honeycreeper

       

The Airbnb rental house near Jaco had a hammock and a pool AND a fabulous view:

Great Kiskadee birds were everywhere! Listen to their calls at the link provided.

MORE nature!

Clockwise starting with left:

Inca Dove; Golden Orb Weaver spider; flying insect nest (can anyone identify?); Zebra longwing butterfly; scorpion in the washing machine (after it jumped from my armful of dirty clothes and survived a full wash cycle)

            

Walking along the beach at sunset:

Sand art created by a creature (crab?):

There are flashy areas of Jaco:

Artist: Farid Rueda

Artist: Fio Silva

Artist: Aquino

One must go to a coffee farm tour while in Costa Rica!  I tasted the three different roasts of coffee produced at this farm (light, medium, dark) ….mmm.

   

Coffee beans that are stripped from the fruit are dried in the sun.

The orange-blossoming Poro Tree can be planted to create shade for coffee plants.

A blue-purple flower cluster – and linear design a critter made in a banana leaf:

   

The flight home took us over Glover’s Reef, Belize – one of three atolls the country has (ring-shaped coral reef):

The plane entered the United States through Texas. I think the whitish plume (in the Gulf of Mexico) in the upper center of the photograph below is Aransas Pass. Nearby is the small town of Port Aransas, the only town on Mustang Island. Yes, wild horses ranged here in the mid-1800s!

Next up, I’ll give you a flavor of winter in Wisconsin 🙂

-Jean

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Winter visit to the Copper state

Do you know what state that is?

Arizona – because it’s the largest industrial producer of Copper in the United States.

When it was still warm-ish in Wisconsin (relatively speaking), I enjoyed some December days in Arizona with a friend and then by myself. It was a welcome change of scenery.

In Phoenix, we visited the Desert Botanical Garden – what a treat!

From the Garden – At left below are the raspberry-colored fruits of the Prickly Pear cactus – that can be eaten (although there is much work involved). On the right is the Paper Spine Cholla cactus – named for the thin papery spines attached to the segments.

   

This Saguaro cactus (pronounced “sah-wah-ro”) can host at least two bird species:

The Gila woodpecker (below left) digs out a nest hole in the cactus, while the Cactus wren (below right) nest is made within the thorns on the outside, commonly between the main cactus and one of its arms. (The arms usually begin to grow only after the cactus is about 15 feet tall and around 75 years old!)

     

There are many different shapes and textures of cactus.

     

An hour drive from Phoenix is Boyce Thompson Arboretum. One can easily spend several hours here on multiple trails.  The drive alone is worth it.

The Creosote bush is an evergreen shrub and looks rather spindly to me. Interestingly, it has antimicrobial and antifungal properties – and the flower buds, pickled in vinegar, are eaten in parts of Mexico.

Again, the various shapes and textures – and flowers – are gorgeous!

      

Here’s one view of the area:

I almost missed this Walkingstick! I learned they use crypsis, a combination of camouflage and mimicry, to avoid being eaten by potential predators.

And here are additional items of interest:

     

     

The Tucson Botanical Gardens is another wonderful place to visit. The first thing that struck me was the colorful and artistic benches!

Artist: Santa Theresa Tile Works

Artist: Santa Theresa Tile Works

Artist: Santa Theresa Tile Works

The Cox Butterfly and Orchid Pavilion (at the Tucson Botanical Gardens) inspired many photographs.

     

Simply stunning.

And there were plenty of native butterflies outside of the Pavilion:

       

Another day I traveled to the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area of the Coronado National Forest near Tucson.

A Roadrunner posed for me along a trail.

And the fiery bright blooms of the Globe (Desert) Mallow plant caught my eye.

     

Here are a few scenes from Tucson:

Artists: Joe O’Connell and Blessing Hancock

Artist: Luis Mena

One last look at some butterflies from the Cox Pavilion:

One of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver, died recently.  She “found solace in nature”.

Here’s her obituary if you want to read more.

-Jean

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Travel tips

I’ve been planning vacations for years and along the way have picked up tips for saving time and money – and having great experiences. In this post, I’ll describe each tip. Maybe one or more can help you!

Copenhagen, Denmark

Before I start – full disclosure:  I am not an expert with using all of the tips. And, things change so what may be helpful in the past may not be helpful in the future.  Lastly, I am not paid for recommending these services. Basically, the information here includes my opinions only and when you use these services, you accept all risks.

West coast of Ireland

Before I describe my tips, I need to tell you about searching in INCOGNITO MODE.  This is a way to browse online in private so that your website history is not saved. I’ve read it prevents airline, rental car, etc. prices from increasing once your history is “learned”. And I think it’s true – I’ve seen an increase in price occur when not browsing in incognito mode vs. browsing incognito. So, before you do any searching for travel-related costs that can fluctuate, first create a new incognito window:

For Windows: Press CTRL + SHIFT + N

For Mac: Press COMMAND + SHIFT + N

Here’s how it looks on a Windows computer:

From bing.com - filter "free to share and use" - en.wikipedia.org

From here you can search for anything and the website history is not recorded.

NYC subway

WHERE TO GO?

  1. Lonely Planet books – Get travel ideas from these books. I would bet most libraries have these (mine does and I buy the older copies at book sales). Lodging, restaurants, nightlife, attractions, history, and more are provided. They also include itineraries depending on how much time you have and what you’d like to do.
  2. Blogs – Free. They’re out there, so search for them. Like this one for Hawaii. Look for posts that provide tips on where to go or what to do in a city or country.
  3. TripAdvisor – Free. I mainly use this site to look for top-rated  Things to Do and Restaurants. But there is also a Travel Forum where you can try to find answers to your questions, like what’s a good city to stay in that is a few hours train ride from Zurich.
  4. Thorntree forum – Free. Similar to TripAdvisor’s Travel Forum, but IMO Thorntree has more of an adventure/outdoor vibe.
  5. Rick Steves – Free. The website states he is the leading authority on European travel. It’s ALL here. He also has an audio Europe app that I use to learn more about certain countries and their cultures.
  6. Travelzoo – Free. They also publish a Top 20 list each week and you can subscribe to receive an email with this list.

FLIGHTS

  1. Google flights – Free. Sign into your google account and once you’ve defined the search filters for airports, dates, etc. you can track the search and receive an email when the price changes. When it’s low, buy! The Price Graph, Flight Duration, and trip Times are especially helpful. Play around with the filters to get the results you want.
  2. Skyscanner – Free. This has a flight search engine and I’ve used it a handful of times. It can also be used for hotels and car rental.
  3. Momondo – Free. Yet another flight search engine. I like the visual of the price differences between dates as a bar graph. The results are listed by cheapest, quickest, and best. It can also be used for hotels and car rental.
  4. Airline carrier – When you’re ready to purchase airline tickets, take the extra step to check the airline’s website, because it may be the least expensive.
  5. Secret Flying – I subscribe to the free email that lists the cheapest fairs for the day. Like New York to Copenhagen for $294 RT. Go to the FAQ page to find the link for the daily email. For a monthly fee, you can become a member and unlock personalized results. I have not yet booked a flight deal found through SF.
  6. Scott’s Cheap Flights – I subscribe to the free email that is sent when cheap international flights occur. The best flight deals are emailed to premium users who pay a yearly fee. I have not yet booked a flight deal found through SCF but someday I will because the prices are so tempting!
  7. GoEuro – Free. This site compares prices for travel via flights, trains, and buses in Europe. I’ve used it a few times and it’s convenient.
  8. Expert Flyer – Free. Create a new Seat Alert to determine the seats that are occupied for a flight. It’s very handy if you’re particular about where you want to sit. Or maybe you are thinking about buying tickets but this site reveals there are many open seats so you may want to wait to see if the price goes down. There is a limit to how many free Seat Alerts you create per day. A Pro subscription is available for a fee.
  9. Seat Guru – Free. I use this site to learn the layout of the seats on the flight I’m interested in. For example, Aer Lingus has planes with two (vs. three) seats on each side, convenient for a couple. Or if you don’t like to fly on the huge planes, this site will help point them out and you can avoid them.
  10. The Points Guy – Free. If you reserve flights with points or miles, sign up for this newsletter. There are also other articles about credit cards, lodging, reviews, etc.

LODGING

  1. Airbnb – Free. Find a home or a room to rent – and more. This is my preferred lodging choice because I like to stay with the locals in a neighborhood in my own place with a kitchen. If you join Airbnb this coupon will give your $40 off your first trip of $75+.
  2. TripAdvisor – Free. This site can also help you find a top hotel/motel/inn/B&B in your price range.
  3. Sabbatical Homes – A fee is charged for home rental, exchange, sitting, and sharing. I would like to try this someday, perhaps an exchange with a home in Europe.
  4. Trusted Housesitters – You can stay for free at someone’s home if you take care of their pet(s). They could be donkeys or guinea pigs or something else (but are mostly dogs and cats). A fee is charged. I have not used this service but would like to.
  5. MindmyHouse – For house/pet sitters. A fee is charged. I have not used this service but am intrigued.
  6. Couchsurfing – Stay with hosts from all over the world for free. Get to know them and their culture. You don’t always have to sleep on a couch! I’ve done this a few times in New Hampshire and Canada.

CAR RENTAL (HIRE)

  1. AutoSlash – Free. Provide a few pieces of information such as where you want to pick up and drop off the rental car, dates and times, and car size and AutoSlash does the searching for you to find the lowest Pay Now and Pay Later prices. And with free cancellation, you can reserve, cancel, and reserve at a better price (what I did 3x when I rented a car in Phoenix).
  2. Hotwire – Free. For many years this was my go-to site for renting a car. (Hotels and flights are also available.) Now it looks like most rentals do not have free cancellation.
  3. Turo car rental – Free. Everyday people rent their car to you. It seems worth a try.
  4. Uber / Lyft – Free. Everyday people drive you where you want to go for a fee. I’ve used Uber to get to the airport or get picked up at the airport. It’s fast and easy.
  5. Taxi – In some cities/countries this may be the only service available; e.g. in Paris, I used a taxi from the stand at the airport and a G7 taxi within the city.
  6. Sixt car rental – Free. Vehicles are available in over 100 countries. I’ve used this site several times. Oftentimes free cancellation rates are available.

TRAIN & FERRY

  1. Seat61 – Free. THE site for learning about worldwide train and ferry travel. I’ve used this site multiple times when researching train travel in Europe.

NAVIGATION

  1. Google Maps – Free. Use the app to download one or more offline maps for the locations where you’ll be – and accessing those maps during travel does not require internet service. I do this every time I travel.
  2. Citymapper – Free. Use the app to travel via different modes. There are over 30 worldwide cities included and counting. I used this when visiting NYC to provide instructions for getting from one point to the other via subway.
  3. Waze – Free. Use the app when driving anywhere in the world. Other users (wazers) warn of traffic, accidents, etc. I’ve used this and once took an alternate route to avoid a traffic problem in Indiana.

MONEY

  1. Currency Converter – Free. Get the app to convert any two currencies.
  2. Global ATM locators – Free. Here’s one for Mastercard and one for Visa.

LANGUAGE

  1. Google Translate – Free. The app translates text in different languages in multiple ways. One way is to use the Camera functionality to view printed material such as a restaurant menu or a sign; it will be converted before your eyes.
  2. Duolingo – Free. Learn a language. I’ve tried using this to learn Swedish and thought it was too slow-going but you may have better luck.

Lunch in France

Afternoon tea in England

Please enter a comment if you have experience with one or more of these tips – and/or have additional tips!

Happy Travels,

Jean

England Airbnb

Norway mountain roundabout

 

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Motown Museum and more

About a month ago my partner and I went to the Motown Museum in Detroit with friends.  It was great! In 1959, “a young African-American songwriter named Berry Gordy founded his company with a loan of $800 from his family, marking the birth of the Motown Records Corporation.” Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, and many more got their start here.

August 3rd – Here’s a female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Joe-Pye Weed in our backyard.

     

A foggy morning blends the boundary between the sky and Lake Mendota:

Mid-August is prime time for blooming Common chicory along roadsides. It apparently has many health benefits, such as boosting immunity and improving heart health. And I thought it was just a coffee substitute.

Biocore Prairie is part of the Lakeshore Nature Preserve near the University of Wisconsin’s (UW) Picnic Point, located west of the campus. The prairie was an abandoned agricultural field and is now an outdoor teaching area. It is a quiet and pleasant place and I encourage you to visit it.

I spotted this Northern Cardinal at Biocore. It appears to be leucistic in that there is a small white patch above the eye and there is no characteristic “mask” of black on the face. Leucism is a genetic mutation that prevents pigment from being deposited on a bird’s feathers.

Examples of prairie flowers:

A gentian – perhaps Hybrid Bottle Gentian:

Cup Plant:

Rough Blazingstar – one of my favorites:

The Lakeshore Nature Preserve Audio Trail is available by calling 608.327.5715. I called the number and selected “6” – and learned of a fire that consumed the area in 1935. It burned down a 15-room farmhouse, barn, and outbuildings. Prior to the fire, prosperous Madisonians would ride their horses on trails in the area, and then return to the farmhouse to sit on the porch with a cool drink. The owner of the farm also build the fieldstone wall at the entrance to Picnic Point (see later in this post).

In the woods adjacent to the prairie there were a few Jack-In-The-Pulpit plants. Each red berry produces 1-5 seeds. And they are poisonous.

Found on the periphery of the woods, White Snakeroot is a member of the Aster family. These are very prolific in spreading and will easily take over a yard or field. The plant is toxic, and has caused ‘Milk Sickness’ fatalities because the toxins can pass through the milk of dairy cows to humans.

I think I accidentally stumbled upon a theme here – poisonous plants. While walking back to the car from the prairie, I encountered Pokeweed. Although birds can eat the berries without a problem, all parts of the plant are poisonous to humans.

The UW campus Picnic Point entrance displays a massive fieldstone wall built in the late 1920s. Apparently the rocks were hand-picked from farm fields. There are many interesting specimens.

Dragonflies like the rocks, too. This is a darner but I cannot determine the exact species – can you?

I took pictures of various rocks on the wall. According to the fieldstone website (also includes definitions), the pinkish area of this rock contains Feldspar Megacrysts:

This bubbly-looking rock is Calcite cemented sandstone:

This rock is not identified on the website – any geologists out there know it?

There is evidence of differential weathering in this rock: “Removal by physical or chemical processes of components of a rock by preference to their hardness or chemical reactivity, resulting in an uneven surface.”

I don’t know….?…but it’s cool.

A deer wandered into our backyard on September 8th. That’s not unusual, but it was during the day and it appeared to be resting in an exposed area. It stayed several hours. We quietly investigated and it clumsily got up, putting most of it’s weight on the front legs. A call to Fellow Mortals Wildlife Hospital in Lake Geneva instructed us to give the animal time, space, and some water.  They thought perhaps it had been hit by a car.

Later that day it moved to a secret spot within one of our rain gardens:

And then a day or so later it moved to a neighbor’s backyard. We were encouraged by it’s mobility. The deer ate a steady diet of the neighbor’s hostas. A few days before it left I snapped these pictures from inside the house. In all, the deer stayed 10 days.

   

A female Monarch butterfly in the backyard emerged from a chrysalis late in the season – September 22nd:

Speaking of butterflies!

My new children’s picture book My First Book of Common Wisconsin Butterflies is now available at the Madison library and through Amazon.

If there is one photograph on a page, the male and female of the species look similar/same. If they look different, the male is shown at the top of the page and the female at the bottom.

Lastly, if you haven’t heard of them, Groundswell Conservancy is a remarkable organization. It “protects special places, forever, in and around Dane County, Wisconsin.” They host events and one can also volunteer for them.

Enjoy the natural variety of days and nights in your neighborhood,

-Jean

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Scandi Nature Sampler

My sweetie and I vacationed in Scandinavia the early part of the summer and I thought I’d share some nature moments from that. All three countries – Denmark, Sweden, and Norway – were beautiful and interesting in their own ways.

We arrived in Copenhagen, and, wanting to stretch our legs after a long flight, decided to walk some of the city. We read that Hans Christian Andersen was buried in the nearby Assistens Cemetery.  Anderson is the author of many fairy tales, including The Little Mermaid, The Princess and the Pea, and The Emperor’s New Clothes.

The graves are arranged in small sections, with multiple paths and abundant greenery, making for a lovely park-like setting. In fact, we learned that for hundreds of years people have gathered here to use it as a park – have tea, or a bottle of wine, or a few beers and lounge around, socializing. What a great idea!

Copenhagen is FILLED with bicyclists. Wikipedia states “almost as many people commute by bicycle in greater Copenhagen as do those who cycle to work in the entire United States”. Way to go!

Culture and specifically art is very important to the Danes. Here’s an example of one of many statues found in the parks throughout Copenhagen:

Troll that smells Christian blood, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek Museum Garden. Artist: Niels Hansen Jacobsen

Sweden was next on the itinerary. We took a train there, got a rental car, and drove to our lodging, located roughly between Stockholm and Gothenburg.  The area actually looks a lot like Wisconsin! One day our hosts gave us their bicycles to use and provided a map outlining a path, plus a favorite swimming spot to experience. How could we resist?

We walked nearby roads and trails in the evenings. It is a lovely area.

Ach – a big black slug!

And – a Fieldfare bird – a member of the thrush family – much like our American Robin.

      

Oslo, Norway was our next stop. It is about the same latitude as Anchorage, Alaska.  And we were there in June. That means it never truly gets dark. It’s 10:12 pm – time for bed!

An enchanting 7-hour train ride from Oslo to Bergen, on the west coast of Norway, was a highlight. We gained altitude, peaked, and then returned to sea level. Below are a few photographs from the journey.

Our lodging in Bergen was situated on the slope of Mount Floyen.  One morning we hiked to the top and were rewarded with stunning views of the harbor. We took the Funicular (mountain tram) back to the city – and it took only six minutes!

Our next lodging was several hours away overlooking a fjord that is less-traveled by cruise ships. During the drive there we took in many new scenes. Below is the Steinsdalsfossen Waterfall. It’s been there since 1699, and you can walk safely behind it. Fun!

Our final destination was overlooking Hardangerfjord – what do you think of this view?

One morning we hiked up the mountain behind us…

…all the way to the top, a little more than 1,000 meters.

Norway has 18 scenic tourist routes. One day we drove the Hardangervidda route. There was impressive scenery everywhere. Below is a photograph of the Vøringsfossen waterfall. There’s a hotel on the top of the cliff.

Here’s another scene from the route that was higher in elevation:

We visited the Norwegian Museum of Hydropower and Industry. It was a hydro-power station from 1908 to 1989. It is an eerily quiet, fascinating place, full of the original machinery and control room equipment.

On our flight home we passed over Greenland. I got very excited about this!

   

In closing, I learned of several Norwegian sayings that don’t make much sense. Here’s one:

“Der er ugler i mosen”

Translation: There are owls in the bog.

Meaning: There is something secretive about a situation.

-Jean

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A Multitude of Monarchs

On July 9th I found five of these small white dots on different Common milkweed plants:

It’s a monarch butterfly egg! They are laid singly, are about 1 mm long, oval-shaped, white to off-white, and have longitudinal ridges. The egg stage is 3-8 days in length.

Once a larva hatches from the egg, it eats the eggshell and then eats only milkweed leaves. That’s its only job. The body grows so fast it must molt the outer skin four times. After each molting, the larva is in a new instar stage, bigger in size than the last. Each instar stage lasts 1-5 days. The fifth instar larva forms a pupa (commonly called a cocoon) and 1-2 weeks later, a monarch butterfly emerges. The below photograph shows all of the life stages on a Common milkweed leaf (except for the pupa):

Stages of Monarch Development – Caterpillar and Butterfly (by Brett Billings/USFWS from bing.com – license=free to share and use – https://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwsmidwest/29151663936)

Here are two larvae on a Tropical milkweed (aka Blood flower) annual plant on July 17th:

They are likely 4th instar. Notice the fecal droppings too. They are eating machines.

That same day I was weeding around the house and found an empty pupa / chrysalis tucked within iris leaves:

It’s July 20th, shortly after a rain shower, and I check on the Blood flower. Sure enough, both larva are still there. Here’s one:

And the other:

They  joined one another for a final photograph:

I’m thinking they are both 5th instar larvae.

Here’s another type of Tropical milkweed – “Silky Gold” – and it is a perennial. Monarchs should use it as well (and ants like it too, apparently):

Monarchs produce a new generation of butterflies in about a month. The butterflies live 2-6 weeks which means they are more noticeable as the summer goes on. The monarchs that migrate to Mexico in the fall will be the 4th generation, the great-great-grandchildren of those that left Mexico in the spring. This generation also live 6-8 MONTHS.

Fascinating stuff!

The Joe-Pye-Weed in the rain garden is about five feet tall now and will attract various butterflies soon (if not already):

I was reading that the flowers were named after a man who used the plant medicinally for those suffering with typhus fever. Also, the flowers and seeds were used in producing pink dye for textiles.

Purple coneflower seems to be at its blooming peak now. It’s such a reliable and stunning addition to any garden, and attracts both butterflies and birds.

Recently I noticed this dragonfly in the front yard. After doing some investigating, I think it is an Autumn Meadowhawk skimmer. It typically appears in mid to late July in Wisconsin. Here is more information about the species.

We recently re-watched the movie Jaws 43 years after it was released. It is still scary. Great white sharks, the top predators in every ocean, are intelligent and can swim up to 35 mph. I hope I never get to meet one!

Jaws movie (From bing.com – free to share and use – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jaws_(film))

Until next time,

Jean

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