Saturday, February 29, 2020

2019 in Review – July in Arizona, Texas, Oregon

It was unusual for my Marvelous Mato Grosso tour to cancel because of too few sign-ups, but I was glad to have the time to continue my search for a place to rent in Oregon as well as enjoy my last summer in southeastern Arizona. I packed the month full of outings.

My first little field trip at the beginning was to the Butterfly Peak trail with my friend Patty. In the mountains just north of Tucson you can drive to a habitat and climate that is a huge relief from the hot, dry desert. Patty is rather fond of spiders and is good at spotting them. I eventually identified this one as Frontinella huachuca in the odd little family Linyphiidae, the sheetweb and dwarf weavers. 
Frontinella huachuca

We also saw some nice birds, including this cooperative Olive Warbler – which is not olive, nor a warbler of any kind. It’s rather shaped like a warbler but in its very own family, distantly related to the family of New World warblers.
Olive Warbler

My next outing was a night drive near the Ironwood Forest National Monument, another way to escape the heat and see some interesting critters. It was fun to show five-year-old Roland his first Regal Horned Lizard, Phrynosoma solare.
Regal Horned Lizard, Phrynosoma solare

A common sight crossing the roads in this area is the spirobolid millipede Orthoporus ornatus.
Orthoporus ornatus

At home I monitored the porch light every evening, finding a few moths and other insects. This erebid is the common Heteranassa mima.
Heteranassa mima

I found time to try some new rye bread recipes, including this Fränkisches Krustenbrot.

A long-planned night of bug lighting with Margarethe Brummerman was in store, and one last time I chose Puerto Canyon just south of Tucson as the destination. Margarethe had never been there, and the thornscrub-like vegetation on the north slopes surely would host some interesting moths (and maybe a Buff-collared Nightjar would have taken up residence). There were no nightjars other than Common Poorwill, but we found quite a few local species of invertebrates at the northern edge of their range. While Margarethe mostly concentrated on beetles, and I photographed many moths, the sheets were really very busy with all kinds of invertebrates.

My posting of this photo to iNaturalist finally spurred the antlion experts to dive into the primary literature and figure out that this and a very few other sightings from SE Arizona belong to the name Glenurus snowi. One of the best field marks that distinguishes it from the much more common and well-known Glenurus luniger seems to be the two isolated black spots in the tip of the hind wing, though the fore wing pattern is also consistently different.
Glenurus snowi

I had some nice mornings sipping coffee and having breakfast in the Vine Avenue back yard, watching lizards, rabbits, bugs, and birds. One morning was particularly alive, and I watched this Cooper’s Hawk eyeing the Rock Squirrel burrow before it came to have a drink at the ouflow from my evaporative cooler.
Cooper's Hawk

Abert’s Towhees were rare in this part of town when I first moved here, but now there is a pair that breeds here every year.
Abert's Towhee

In the middle of July I decided to spend a full week in and near Austin to learn more about odonata and meet people who are also passionate about them. First, based in Bastrop for a weekend, was the Dragonfly Society of the America’s annual member meeting, with several field trips to all the best local spots. Almost everything was new for me here, and I really enjoyed the diversity of clubtails, dragonflies in the family Gomphidae (of which there are comparatively few in the West and in the tropics). This one is the Broad-striped Forcepstail, Aphylla angustifolia.
Broad-striped Forcepstail, Aphylla angustifolia

This Blue-faced Ringtail, Erpetogomphus eutainia, is a very rare and local species in Texas, so it was a special field trip to the one park where it is known to occur.
Blue-faced Ringtail, Erpetogomphus eutainia

The week following the DSA weekend was the biannual ICO, International Congress of Odonatology, hosted by the Worldwide Dragonfly Association. There was one field trip at the end of the week, but this meeting of people from all over the world was more academic, featuring talks and workshops from and for people who study dragonflies. The poster sessions was really good, and it was great to meet so many new people.

It was especially fun to hang out with Dennis Paulson and Netta Smith, who were with me 11 years ago on my Galapagos tour.

All this week, I was contemplating a Zillow ad that my friend Tim Meinzen emailed me just a few days before I left for Texas. I had actually just found a little cottage for rent in Eugene that wasn’t ideal but offered the security of landlords in the main house onsite, and the rent was reasonable. It was smaller than where I had been living in Tucson and didn’t have much of a yard to garden in, but I was seriously considering it for at least a year until something better came up. It wasn’t far from where Tim lives, and he even walked down there to check it out for me, but this Zillow ad was the house right next door to Tim and his wife Lisa. It looked amazing, but it was a house for sale, not for rent. The problem for me is that I travel so much for my job, and a house that might have issues that need immediate attention really requires that someone be home. My landlords in Tucson, for example, replaced the back door and windows both times I was burgled, as well as cleaned up a huge mess when the living room ceiling collapsed and deposited a strange blow-in insulation all over my books and furniture. They were there when the gas company noted a leak in my line and had to replace the entire connection from the street. I couldn’t really be a house owner, but…the house was perfectly small and the yard perfectly large. It was already landscaped by owners who cared about birds and insect pollinators, and they had planted fruit trees, constructed organic raised vegetable beds, and installed rain catching barrels. The plumbing and electrical were all new and up to code, as were the windows and siding. It was well insulated, recently painted, and had a roof that should have another 15 years on it. Then when Tim said they could keep an eye on the house when I’m away on tour, as well as keep the feeders full and even mow the lawn for me, I knew I needed to see the house for myself and figure out if I could actually afford it.

Instead of flying back to Tucson, I simply bought a one-way ticket from Austin to Eugene on the Saturday after the dragonfly meeting, not knowing how long it would take me to decide and maybe look at a couple other places. But to make a long story short, I bought the house and flew back to Tucson on Tuesday. Here’s me with my future new neighbors (and the banana bread I baked while staying with Alan Contreras).

Back in Arizona I began earnestly going through all my stuff, trying to get rid of as much as possible, while also cramming in as many outings as possible. A day trip with my young friend Dorian Escalante and his mom Glenda was something I’ve been meaning to do for some time. I was back up into the Santa Catalina mountains for the second time in a month.

Dorian is really good with bird voices and is even getting into invertebrates, so we had a good time with everything. Even Glenda is getting into birds now, so seeing this Red-faced Warbler was a treat.
Blue-faced Ringtail, Erpetogomphus eutainia

One last outing at the end of the month was another night drive with my friends Scott and Erin Olmstead and Nick Kemme, down to the mesquite desert grasslands in the western foothills of the Patagonia Mountains, close to the Mexican border. We saw plenty of toads, a gorgeous Black-tailed Rattlesnake, and three species of scorpions. I didn’t know it, but this turns out to the best location for the local species Diplocentrus spitzeri.
Diplocentrus spitzeri

By far the best find of the night was this stunning Sonoran Mountain Kingsnake. Some authorities now split this form from ones farther south and east as Lampropeltis knoblochi.
Lampropeltis knoblochi

Friday, February 28, 2020

2019 In Review – June in Gambell, Bisbee, and Utah

June was the time I set aside to get to some serious searching (online) for a place to live in Oregon, starting with my preferred Corvallis, but open to almost anywhere in the western part of the state, relatively close to an airport, if the perfect situation came up.

The month started while I was finishing up the cooking for the WINGS Gambell tour. The only snag in the logistics all week was that one of the two ovens stopped working on our next-to-last day. I eventually figured out that the pilot just wasn’t lighting the main gas emitters, and gas would build up inside the oven then ignite a small explosion that opened the oven door slightly and spewed soot all over the floor. Before we figured that out, I once opened the oven once to see a blue ball of flame, and the only sign that something might have been amiss was the vague smell of burnt hair. No one saw a thing, looking up at my 6’ 3” frame, but in the mirror I noticed the singe.

Towards the end of the week I had some time to join the group for an hour or so, and here’s Gavin with some of our participants near the point.

I then had six full days on my own to pack up all the WINGS kitchen supplies in an organized way, freeze all of our leftovers for the fall crew, and make inventory of our saved food. But I also hoped to find some cool rarities by walking through all of the boneyards and along the hillside. Unfortunately, a high pressure area stalled in the middle of the Bering Sea, creating the perfect migrant block, and nothing of note was found by me or the few other birders who lingered on, including my friend Dave Sonneborn, and here Aaron Lang of Alaska Wilderness.

At least the locally breeding Common Ringed-Plovers were readily found this year, and I enjoyed spending time photographing lichens, plants, and scenery.
Common Ringed-Plover

Back in Tucson, I finished post-tour work, edited photos, and spent a lot of time online not finding my ideal living situation. Places for rent in Corvallis were either large houses, too expensive, no yard, and/or with unknown neighbors. I continued my search with increasing radius from Corvallis. I also had time to finish these cashmere gloves, though not in time for Alaska.

I also joined Andrew for an overnight in Bisbee to see their short but very festive gay pride parade.

At the very end of the month I made a quick weekend trip to Utah, thanks to a cheap Allegiant direct flight from Tucson to Provo to visit two of my siblings and finally meet three of their grandchildren who were born in the past year. The oldest, Riley, had her first birthday while I was there. 

Thursday, February 20, 2020

2019 In Review – May Arizona, Oregon, Alaska

I gave myself very little time back home in Arizona – just five days after returning from Peru. I had to give my presentation on bird mimicry for the Maricopa Audubon Society, do the big shopping and shipping run for the non-perishable food for my annual Gambell cooking job, and pack for a month in Oregon and Alaska. The talk went really well, and I had prepared my shopping list well in advance, so I got the shopping done in one day, boxing most of the next day, and off it went.

Amazingly, all 19 boxes arrived together in about five days at Gambell, even though I had given them 2 ½ weeks, and nothing was damaged. I then left for Oregon, where I arrived three days in advance of my tour with the idea of looking at potential places to move to. On the flight we had an amazing view of Crater Lake, Oregon’s only National Park.
Crater Lake National Park

It was the wettest and coldest tour I’ve ever led in Oregon. We had at least some rain every day except the last, and we ended up having only four instead of the usual ten picnic lunches (one every day). My group was a happy one anyway, and we saw some beautiful country and great birds.

At Malheur National Wildlife Refuge this Sora put on quite a show; I took this out the driver’s window of the van.

Then at the end of the tour I dropped off the group in Portland, drove to my dad’s in Corvallis where I had stored the van’s back seats and where I dropped off all my tour supplies until next year’s tour. Early the next morning, I returned the van back up in Portland and flew to Anchorage where I had to begin my two days of grocery shopping and boxing of the perishable food. This is what my hotel room looks like after the first produce run. I turn the air conditioning on full blast, so my room is like a walk-in refrigerator, and I sleep in one bed, stealing all the blankets and comforters from the one in the photo.

The week of cooking went by super-fast, as usual, and there were no grand crises. This was the second year that I made this Coriander Seed Chicken with Brussels Sprouts, and it was very popular once again.

The end of this tour bled a bit into June, but this year I stayed on for a few days on my own, and I’ll show that in next month’s blog catch-up.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

2019 In Review – April in Florida, Jamaica, Tucson, and Peru

April of last year saw me leading two tours, but before I set off for Jamaica, I built in a layover to visit my older brother and his family in North Fort Myers. Randy and Michelle have a large yard in the country, and since they are close to a nature reserve, there is quite a good diversity of plants, insects, and birds in their yard. One of Florida’s insects that gives it such a tropical feel is the White Peacock, Anartia jatrophae. I see this insect on almost every one of my tours in the tropics, but it’s only a rare vagrant in Arizona.
Anartia jatrophae

The primary purpose of the layover was to spend time with family, and that included my niece and her son. This is he and his grandma, my sister-in-law, after our visit to the farmer’s market in Fort Myers.

I’ve lost count how many tours I’ve led to Jamaica, but I don’t tire of it. It’s a lovely country, with really nice people, and still lots of birds. It’s rare that I see any new birds here (rare migrants and vagrants are the only possibilities), but being here just one week a year means I still enjoy seeing the endemics such as this Jamaican Lizard-Cuckoo.
Jamaican Lizard-Cuckoo

I’m constantly learning more about the other nature on the island. I’ve seen this passionflower
Passiflora tacsonioides, only a couple times before, but I hadn’t photographed it in 12 years. It seems to be an uncommon endemic in the Cockpit Country’s unique limestone karsts.
Passiflora tacsonioides

After my successful tour in Jamaica, I had only three full days in Tucson. On the middle afternoon, my friend Keith Kamper and I went to Puerto Canyon (where I went last month) hoping for Buff-collared Nightjar. The habitat here is perfect, but it’s a small piece of it and far removed from any other patch.

We didn’t find any, but it wouldn’t surprise me to hear of a report from here in the future. It’s right in the center of a triangle formed by the bulk of records in the USA from the canyons in the Atascosa, Santa Rita, and Baboquivari mountain ranges.

With very little prompt we had great views of this pair of Western Screech-Owls.
Western Screech-Owl

The rest of April was occupied by a private tour to the Tambopata River of SE Peru with my frequent client Susanne Sourell, who actually teaches me about fungi while I’m her guide for birds and all other aspects of natural history. She’s trained my eyes well to search for all manner of tiny, unassuming fungi, especially the entomopathogenic members of the family Cordycipitaceae, popularly known as “zombie fungi.” The most amazing one I found was this Akanthomyces sp. that had infected and killed this large caterpillar, presumably a saturniid.
Akanthomyces sp.

Besides the amazing birds and some really cool snakes, my favorite find of the two-week trip was actually a mammal: this Spix’s Disk-winged Bat, Thyroptera tricolor. I first read about it years ago in a Costa Rica field guide and ever since have made it a habit to peer into furled up leaves of heliconias and prayer plants – hundreds of them, always empty. Except this time, and I literally squealed and jumped for joy, to Susanne’s befuddlement, until I showed her what I had found. Its thumbs really are modified to form perfect suction cups so it can cling to the smooth leaf surface when roosting.
Thyroptera tricolor

Monday, February 10, 2020

2019 In Review – Baja California, Costa Rica, and Tucson

I arrived home in Tucson on February 25 after seven amazing and restorative weeks in southern Africa, and in three days I was off to lead my first tour of the year, Baja California. Even here, on such a short tour and with relatively low biodiversity compared to most of my tours, I have a hard time choosing just two photos. We ate amazing food, had a very good Gray Whale experience, saw some nice damselflies and dragonflies (for once I had a serious iNaturalist and dragonflier as a participant), and of course saw the three endemic birds we had a chance for, including several endemic subspecies. One of those endemic species is Xantus’s Hummingbird, but this mostly white leucistic one was a shocker.
leucistic Xantus’s Hummingbird

It was nice to have warm enough weather for some lizards and butterflies. Silver-banded Hairstreak is regular near La Paz, and the Coast Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma coronatum) there was new for me. But the winner was this Baja California Rock Lizards, Petrosaurus thalassinus. This stunning male was re-growing its tail. Petrosaurus is in the same subfamily as our fence and spiny lizards.
Baja California Rock Lizards, Petrosaurus thalassinus

I had given myself just one full day at home before having to leave for my next tour, Costa Rica. Compared to Baja California, his was a huge jump in species count in every group thinkable other than whales (of which we saw none). So how do I choose just two photos among all the amazing things we saw? It’s a given that we saw some great birds – particularly memorable was a Great Tinamou that foraged along a trail at La Selva, walking within a foot of some of the members of my group as we stood still. We had a wonderful Baird’s Trogon at Bosque del Rio Tigre and a stunning Resplendent Quetzal in the Savegre Valley. We had 484 species of birds in total, including 41 hummingbirds. We also saw 25 species of mammals, 29 species of herps, and put names to nearly a hundred butterflies and moths. But my two favorite photos fall in the category of “miscellaneous invertebrates.”

This first is a thread-legged bug feeding on a spider, which we saw on a night walk at Bosque del Rio Tigre. These assassins are tiny, so it wasn’t clear what we were seeing until I took a macro photo and looked at the camera screen. The subfamily is Emesinae (of the assassin bug family Reduviidae), and their forelegs are held much like a praying mantis’s. Unlike a mantis, after grabbing their victim, they pierce it with their stylus, probably injecting a venom to subdue them. The spider, incidentally, is a longspinneret spider, family Hersiliidae.
Emesinae, Hersillidae

I’m cheating on this next photo by piecing two together, but I actually took these photos just 15 minutes apart, and they were within a few yards of each other. You might figure it out on your own by just looking at it, but this is a clear example of mimicry. On the left is an assassin bug (genus Apiomerus) and on the right is a weevil (Cactophagus sanguinolentus). They were both about the same height off the ground next to the trail, both about the same size, and both are exceedingly distinctive from other members of their respective genera. If the weevil can be determined to be numerically more abundant than the assassin, it would be pretty clear that the assassin is the mimic and the weevil the model. There has been quite a bit published about assassins that mimic bees, but I wasn’t able to find any citations that included weevils.
Apiomerus) and on the right is a weevil (Cactophagus sanguinolentus

At the end of the month I had six full days back in Tucson, and I’ll include a couple photos from the one outing took, to Puerto Canyon, with my friend Greg Corman. Puerto Canyon is a hidden gem in the northern end of the Tumacacori Mountains with at least a tiny bit of permanent water. It’s not far north of Tumacacori but west of the I-19 freeway. Here’s Greg in one of the wetter parts of the canyon.

I was pleased to find this moth Philtraea elegantaria, apparently uncommon and very local in southern Arizona (and apparently even rarer in southern California). It’s a geometrid, which surprised me, given that most of them hold their wings flat against the surface when at rest.
Philtraea elegantaria

This month also marked my first serious action towards moving back to Oregon. I’ve been wanting to move back to Oregon for several reasons (it’s never stopped feeling like home, basically) and for years have been telling friends this but haven’t really been able to do anything about it – money and time issues predominately. I’ve also have been loath to leave SE Arizona and my many friends there. I had an amazing living situation in Tucson as well – great landlords, rent I could afford, my own space in a free-standing guest house, a large yard full of birds and lizards, and within bicycling distance of nearly all my shopping needs. At one point I thought I should wait until my landlords’ daughter graduated from high school and moved away for college, as I moved in across the patio from them when she was three years old and watched her grow up. But her graduation year 2011 came and went. Even my friend Brian Gibbons remembers when he moved to Tucson in 2010 that I told him I was moving soon. I finally started planning, early in 2018, when seeing gaps in my 2019 tour schedule that would allow me to first look for a place and second to actually make the move.

So late this month I sent an email to over 50 friends and acquaintances in Oregon, asking them to please let me know if they come across any attractive places that become available. This got the ball rolling, even if slowly at first. I had a few more tours coming up to keep me from making much more progress on the move.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

2019 In Review – The Kingdom of Eswatini

My 50th year on this planet was a busy and momentous one for me. I was in 8 US states and 11 countries, being at or near home for just 111 days, or 30% of the year. Of all thing things I did, one thing I didn’t do was keep up on my blogging. So with a series of catch-up blogs in mind, I’ll try to post just a couple photos from each trip throughout the year.

The Kingdom of Eswatini

In January I visited the Coker-Galloway family in Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland) for seven weeks. My friend Andrew and his son Caspar joined me for the first couple of weeks. The stay included quite a few forays away from their home in the capital city of Mbabane, and after a fair bit of catchup work on tour reports on my computer, I made a real vacation out of it. After deciding to post just two photos from each trip, I decided that was impossible for the entire Africa trip, so there will be two photos from each outing, and I’m being generous with the term “outing.”

For example, just getting there was quite an outing. Andrew and I flew together from Tucson and had a very nice view of Chicago as we landed.

Then we had a layover in Madrid before our flight to Johannesburg, overnighting in a cheap hotel and seeing some nice sights, including this living wall.

We all gathered in Johannesburg, with Kate, Mich, the kids (who had been in the US for the Christmas break), and Caspar all arriving around the same time, and took off for the 3 ½ hour drive to Mbabane.

On just the day after we arrived, Andrew, Caspar, and I visited a protected area called Sibebe just a few minutes’ drive from Kate and Mich’s House. It’s considered the largest exposed granite pluton (or batholith) in the world. Next to Caspar in this photo is a really cool plant with relations that grow in similarly aged rocks in South America. It is Xerophyta retinervis, quite recognizably in the family Velloziaceae – a Gondwanaland plant family. This family is a member of a strange and unrecognizable order of plants that includes Pandanus, Cyclanths (which look more like palms), and the mycoheterotroph (leafless and living with fungi) Sciaphylla, which I see growing out of termite mounds in the rainforest understory at Cristalino. Go figure. I think I’ll give up on trying to understand plant orders, except for the easy and common Zingiberales, the ginger order.

One of the several lifebirds I had here was the Buff-streaked Bushchat.
Buff-streaked Bushchat

Malalotja Visit #1
The very next day, Kate took the three of us to Malalotja Nature Reserve, just 25 minutes from their house in Mbabane. It’s a huge, highland reserve famous for having breeding Blue Swallow, perhaps the rarest swallow in the world. But despite at least four visits, I never saw one. The open grassy ridges dominate the landscape, kept open by frequent fires.

The wildflowers are amazing in January. This relative of the familiar gladiolus is Watsonia pulchra.
Watsonia pulchra

For my 49th birthday on January 9, Andrew and Kate treated me to an overnight stay at Mkhaya Reserve, mostly famous for its small population of heavily protected White Rhinoceros. The rhinos here are rather used to people, and the guides take you on a walking safari to spot them. This female seemed to be getting rather protective of her calf as she began walking towards us, and the guide here was urging us to back up and hide behind the bushes.

Of course, it’s also full of birds. The most photogenic birds I found during my wanderings near the lodge were these White Helmetshrikes.
White Helmetshrike

We had just a couple days break back at Kate and Mich’s in Mbabane, and Andrew and I enjoyed spending time with the kids Mara and Malcolm.

Mich and I took a quick jaunt out to Hawane Reservoir, about 10 minutes up the freeway. This Wing-snapping Cisticola was one of 33 species we saw there in an hour.
Wing-snapping Cisticola

Our next outing was just a 90-minute drive into South Africa for a weekend camping trip to a famous rock-climbing site near Waterval-Boven. No rock climbing for me, thank you very much; but I did enjoy the scenery and watching crazy people do it from a distance.

I also had a blast botanizing and birding in a totally new area. One of the best birds Mich and I found in the area was this Knysna Turaco. Pronounced “NICE-na,” it’s a place name in South Africa.
Knysna Turaco

St. Lucia
With barely a pause in Mbabane, Andrew, Caspar, and I rented a car and drove to St. Lucia on the coast of South Africa not far from the southeastern border of Eswatini. The draw here for some is the subtropical coastal climate, making the town a retirement community that reminds me something of the posh parts of La Jolla, California. But it’s also a small, rather isolated town adjacent to the iSimangaliso Wetlands Park, a natural area with lots of large animals, so weekenders and nature lovers also flock here.

It's home to some very localized birds, such as this Rudd’s Apalis.
Rudd’s Apalis

On the way back to Mbabane I got caught in a speed trap. If only we had borrowed Mich’s spare car with diplomatic license plates, they would have ignored us. I was able to pay the police right there on the side of the road, less than $4.

Again, we had just a day in Mbabane, and Caspar took the opportunity to do some rock climbing with Kate and friends at the local outcropping near a part of town named Waterford. Andrew and I dropped him off and had to stop for this photo. The climate here is almost perpetually humid and hazy in summer, so a blast of dry air, presumably from the northwest, made for a spectacular view of the upper parts of Mbabane.

Kruger National Park
Then we were off again for another weekend camping trip in South Africa, this time to the famous Kruger National Park just to the north of Eswatini. In fact, the southern entrance gate is just two hours’ drive from Kate and Mich’s house. It’s hard to bear posting just two photos from this amazing long weekend. From the epic herd of elephants in a drying up lake, to the massive murmuration of Queleas, to good times with friends, it was hard to beat. So two charismatic megafauna make the cut: my first Leopard (ok, it’s just a mammal, but WHAT a mammal)…

…and a pair of super cool Saddle-billed Storks.
Saddle-billed Stork

Back in Mbabane for a few days, it was worth another visit to Malalotja Nature Preserve for another try for Blue Swallow, but again I dipped.  But the botanizing continued to be awesome here, for example this stunning orchid Satyrium cristatum.
Satyrium cristatum

Another lovely critter was this (obviously poisonous) grasshopper Dictyophorus spumans. Why obviously? Google “aposematic.” Some internet sources say dogs have been killed by eating them.
Dictyophorus spumans

Big Day
On January 26, Mich and I participated in the second annual Eswatini Birding Spectacular, a big day competition hosted by the Mbuluzi Game Reserve. The event started on the evening of the 25th with all groups assembling for a braai at Mbuluzi in the far NE corner of the country. While scouting I found this amazing flower emerging from the ground, showing no stem or leaves. It is Hydnora abyssinica, a wholly parasitic member of the family Aristolochiaceae. As it is pollinated by flies, you can probably guess what it smells like.
Hydnora abyssinica

On our scouting day I saw six lifebirds and during the competition day I had another nine. Our team (Mich and I were joined by Anton, a young South African doing a southern Africa big year) won second place with 198 species, but we were the first to record Narina Trogon, which won us a prize of a free weekend at Phophonyane Lodge, where we had this bird.
Narina Trogon

I then had a good two weeks in Mbabane to catch my breath. I helped with cooking and shopping, played with Mara and Malcolm, went on walks, joined Kate at pilates and yoga classes, jogged, went to the movies, and did natural history exploration in the yard. This is the Southern Tree Agama, Acanthocercus atricollis, which I saved from the kitchen when it ran in from the garden, frightening the day watchman and the nanny.
Acanthocercus atricollis

And of course I knitted. Here’s Kate’s sweater in the process of blocking before I stitched up and gave it to her.

Mich was able to escape with me to Namibia for a long weekend, thanks to the Presidents Day Weekend, an inexpensive non-stop flight from Johannesburg to Swakopmund, and Kate’s willingness to hold up the house and kids on her own for several days. It’s painfully hard to pick just two out of the 375 photos to show here – so many amazing plants, lizards, birds, insects, and scenery.

My most wanted form of life in Namibia has always been Welwitschia mirabilis, and we found a small population along a main road before we even got to the reserve named for this amazing plant. It became the third and final member of the division Gnetophyta for me, after having finally seen Gnetum leyboldii last year at Cristalino. The other member, Ephedra, is widespread and common, even occurring in Oregon.
Welwitschia mirabilis

So, finally after seeing Welwitschia on our first afternoon, I could enjoy the birds we were seeing. On our second morning of birding we found a group of stunning Burchell's Coursers feeding with these Benguela and Stark's Larks.
Burchell's Courser, Benguela Lark, Stark's Lark

I had 67 lifebirds in just 3 ½ days, and we really cleaned up. We were going to be in the country for five nights, but after our third night we started to realize that we weren’t going to be able to see more than one or two potentially new birds, which would have required a lot more driving and luck. So we changed our flights to return home a day earlier, and still picked up Bradfield’s Swift on our way to the airport, one of the only possibilities we thought we had missed.

My last week in Mbabane went by quickly. My entire 7 weeks went by quickly. Cheating a bit, here are four last photos from my last six days in Eswatini. Birding in the yard resulted in this African Harrier-Hawk on the chimney.
African Harrier-Hawk

I created my own recipe for dosas, using rice and dal flour instead of soaking whole grains and making mess, and I added my own sourdough starter the night before to kickstart the fermentation process. Filled with potato curry, these masala dosas got a big thumbs up from Kate’s Indian friend Jessica who couldn’t believe a white American man in Eswatini could immediately transport her back to her mother’s kitchen in India.

I joined Kate back up to her local rockclimbing spot near Waterford, and the Brunsvigia radulosa (family Amaryllidaceae) had reached its peak by now, mid-summer.
Brunsvigia radulosa

In a knitting frenzy I also knitted Mich as sweater as well. Here are four of my favorite people in the world, Kate and Mich in the sweaters (I also knit Mara and Malcolm socks, by the way).