Posts Tagged ‘wildlife’

Black and White and Red, Too

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

Virginia BowerVirginia Bower is an expert on Chinese art and archaeology. Virginia did her graduate study at Princeton University and is now an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia; she also teaches regularly at Rutgers University. 

This spring, Virginia led a group of Smithsonian travelers on a journey though Classic China and Tibet. See her post from the trip below:


As we drove toward the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding after arriving in Chengdu from Xi’an and having a quick lunch, we were informed by our Chengdu guide that because it was not too hot the pandas would most likely be outside and possibly even somewhat active, although not necessarily all that easy to photograph.

That proved to be true. Still, we all caught many glimpses of black and white Giant Pandas, not to mention the red raccoon-like Lesser Pandas, and managed to capture a few good snapshots to take home with us.

It was great to hear that the important research work done by experts at this site was now completely resumed after the major earthquake of May 2008, which had damaged so much of this region of China.


Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. Photo by the author


Panda at play. Photo by author

Panda in tree

Panda resting in tree. Photo by author

red panda

Red Lesser Panda. Photo by author


Read more about Smithsonian Journeys’ Classic China and Tibet tour here.

Turkey’s Loggerhead Turtles

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

Janet Jones, Smithsonian Journeys Study Leader

Janet Jones is Professor of Classics at Bucknell University. Janet is an active field archaeologist specializing in Greek and Roman art and architecture, ancient urbanization, ancient technology with a focus on ancient glass production, and ancient environmental issues. She has published widely on the history of technology and is a frequent lecturer at universities and museums. This summer, she led a Smithsonian group around some of Turkey’s landmark classical sites and remarkable coastline. See her post from the trip below:

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A loggerhead turtle in Dalyon in the Mugla province of southwestern Turkey

A loggerhead turtle gets a morning meal. (Photo by author.)

Visits to Turkey always include astonishing cultural treasures, impressive archaeological sites, extraordinary landscapes, delectable meals, and friendly people. But loggerhead turtles? I hadn’t expected them. But there they were, four of them the morning we visited, getting a morning meal as we watched from the flat bottomed boat that had brought us down through the marshes from Dalyon to the platforms of the blue crab fisherman who share some of their catch with the local turtles to the delight of visitors.

Dalyon, in the Mugla province of southwestern Turkey, is named for the fishing weirs that guarantee a steady supply of bass, mullet, and sea bream to local markets. It’s a comfortable little town with a big statue of sea turtles in the main square and a beautiful park running along the Dalyan Cayi, the small river that flows down through the marshes to the sea. In ancient times, this river was known as the Calbys and marked the boundary between the ancient kingdoms of Lycia and Caria.

On a day trip from our four day cruise on gulets in the Bay of Fethiye, our group arrived at the Dalyan riverside to the sight of a flotilla of gaily decorated and Turkish-carpeted flat bottomed boats, waiting to take groups of visitors on a tour of the local marshes. Our boat passed alluring riverside cafes on the way to our first photo-stop, a cliff with imposing rock-cut tombs. Our boat then wound past the beautiful ruins of the ancient seaport of Kaunos. As we neared the mouth of the river, our boat passed through a gate in one of the fishing weirs (lowered for passing boats by an attendant) and emerged into an open lagoon in the lee of the barrier island. This island, Iztuzu Beach, serves both as protected nesting area and as an award-winning eco-friendly beach. The island is home to a research, rescue, and rehabilitation center that studies the loggerhead (Caretta caretta) and cares for injured turtles from the entire coast region.

The founding of this protected area is a heartening story of the victory of conservation over what had been minimally controlled development along this coast. In 1986, when plans for a resort hotel complex on Iztuzu Beach surfaced, the international outcry together with the request of Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, who was then President of the World Wildlife Fund, resulted not only in the suspension of the hotel project, but in the prohibition of construction and the establishment of a Special Environmental Protection Area (SEPA) covering 461 square meters in the region. This was the first protected area of its kind in Turkey, and it has since been joined by 13 other such protected areas. The wider Köyceğiz-Dalyan SEPA provides safe haven not only for loggerhead turtles but for, among others, the Nile turtle, a variety of herons and egrets, the European glass lizard, the rock nuthatch, the blue rock-thrush, the European roller, the Eurasian reed warbler, and sections of Turkish sweetgum and pine forests.

That day in the marshes was a bounty for the senses as we gazed at the enormous loggerheads gliding around our boat, breathed in the fragrance of the salt marsh, and listened to the wind in the reeds and the roar of the ocean beyond the narrow strip of sand.

A Smithsonian Journeys Group at the fishing weirs in Dalyon, Turkey

Life in the marshes. At the fishing weirs in Dalyon. (Photo by author.)

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Learn more about Smithsonian Journeys’ Legendary Turkey and the Turquoise Coast trip here, and check out Janet Jones’ upcoming trips.

In Search of the Resplendent Quetzal

Friday, May 25th, 2012

James Karr, Smithsonian Study LeaderSmithsonian Study Leader Jim Karr is Professor Emeritus of Ecology at the University of Washington, Seattle, specializing in tropical ecology, ornithology, water resources, and environmental policy. He also served as deputy director of Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama for four years in the 1980s. On his most recent trip with Smithsonian Journeys, he guided a group to some of his favorite locations in Costa Rica. Below is the second of two posts about the trip.

At our welcome meeting in San José, several participants spoke of their hope to see the legendary quetzal, the near mythical trogon with an iridescent emerald green back and, in the male, a ruby red breast and belly. Making the male even more gaudy, he sports on his 15-inch body, iridescent green feathers that extend up to 30 inches beyond his tail.

The group had its chance to look for the quetzal a few days later while visiting the Monte Verde forest. The search for quetzals often involves finding a fruiting tree in the avocado family, a favorite food of quetzals; the search also involves listening for their characteristic “kyow, kyow” call. To our dismay, we reached the end of our trail at a waterfall without finding a fruiting tree or hearing the call of the quetzal. Local workers even noted that the quetzals had moved out of the area.

But fear not, we had an even better treat ahead. Shortly after we turned back to return to the visitor’s center, we found a pair of quetzals, with the male working diligently to excavate a tree cavity for a nest site. After watching the birds for an extended period, we moved down the trail. As a bonus, our return route took us past yet another pair of quetzals, also excavating a nest cavity. In this case, the female was excavating while the nearby male called. By the end of our walk, we saw as many as 8 to 10 quetzals. I have visited this area of Costa Rica many times, but this was the first visit giving an opportunity to see adults excavating nest cavities.

Quetzals, Costa Rica

Quetzals excavating nest cavities. (The dark forest made it difficult to obtain high quality photographs without disturbing the energetic birds only a few feet away.) Photos (left and bottom right) by R. Tinko-Russell; photo (top right) by Jim Karr.

A Resplendent Quetzal, Costa Rica.

A Resplendent Quetzal. Photo by Jim Karr.

Another highlight of our travels in Costa Rica was seeing a male green basilisk lizard sunning on a streamside rock.

Basilisk lizard

A male green basilisk lizard. Photo by Jim Karr.

Throughout the trip, the tour director, coach driver, and I were able to show participants things that I have seen many times before. But I was also delighted to see plants and animals not seen on earlier trips. We saw more in two weeks than many early explorers were able to see in months of demanding travel.

Smithsonian Journeys group by a waterfall in Costa Rica

The Smithsonian Journeys group near a waterfall at Monte Verde before the first quetzal spotting. Photo by Jim Karr.

Read Jim Karr’s previous post, “Sampling Exotic Fruits in Costa Rica,” and learn more about Smithsonian Journeys’ Costa Rica adventure trip here.

Gardens of the Caribbean

Thursday, August 5th, 2010
The <i>Sea Cloud II</i> sailing the Caribbean.

The Sea Cloud II sailing the Caribbean.

The first thing most of us think about when we imagine the Caribbean is how fast we can get a bathing suit on and stick an umbrella on a sandy part of the beach. But the Caribbean is also a haven for beautiful gardens, unique animal species, and an eclectic ecosystem.

The region ranges in elevation from 40 meters below sea level to up to 3,000 meters, resulting in a variety of rare animals and plants that can only be found on these islands. The lowlands are don’t receive much rain and are considered semiarid, with some plants such as cactus scrubs being found on parts of Barbados, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico. At the same time, trade winds tend to push moisture in the highlands of the islands, creating a rainforest climate where completely different species of flora and fauna are found.

How special is the Caribbean when it comes to biodiversity? When you look at the numbers, it’s pretty amazing. There are over 13,000 plant species found on these islands, and 50.4% are only found in this region of the Earth. But it’s the amphibians that truly makes the islands special. Amazingly, 100% of the amphibians—over  170 species—are native to the islands. Then there is the unique diversity of mammals, reptiles, and birds that are found on each island.

The wildlife to view and appreciate in the Caribbean is everywhere, and if you have really good eyes, you might see a few of the tiny hummingbirds found in the tropics - all while getting a great tan.

Which Caribbean Island is your favorite to visit? Tell us why!

Marvel at the beautiful colonial architecture and gardens of the Caribbean this January aboard the Sea Cloud II with Smithsonian Journeys!

Antarctica: Who Claims It As Their Own?

Monday, August 2nd, 2010
A rockhopper penguin on the Falklands Islands

A rockhopper penguin on the Falklands Islands

We know there aren’t any indigenous groups who claim Antarctica, so which country actually has political control of it? The answer is pretty simple, but the explanation is a little more complex.

The answer is: No one.

Here’s why: It wasn’t until the early 1820s when British and American commercial operators began exploring the region, as did official British and Russian national expeditions. Even then, Antarctica was not confirmed to be a continent until 1840, since many groups believed there were only clusters of islands around the South Pole. The area did not become the focus of attention or human activity until early in the 20th century. After World War II, Antarctica became a multi-national center for scientific research.

During this time period, seven countries have attempted to make territorial claims. However, not all countries recognize these claims. As a result, no country has claim to the region. Instead, the Antarctic Treaty  was negotiated and signed in 1959—and it states that no country may deny nor give recognition to existing territorial claims.

29 countries now collaborate in scientific research in Antarctica, with most of the work being done during the summer season when the population balloons to 4,490 people (from its winter population of 1,100 people). The majority of the population is from Argentina, Chile and Australia, but includes scientists from India, South Korea, the Ukraine, and South Africa. Truly a worldwide effort in scientific research!

Click here  for more information on Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough’s recent visit to the white continent

Have you been to Antarctica? Share your favorite memories with us.