Sara Dykman biked from the monarchs’ overwintering grounds in Mexico to Canada and back, covering a total distance of 10,201 miles in 264 days. (Timber Press)
We have featured the plight of monarch butterflies plenty of times on this platform. And bicycle travelogues feature, together with bicycle activism, even more frequently. Today, at the intersection of butterflies and bicycles, we thank Sara Dykman for writing and Smithsonian for publishing this travel-with-a-cause story:
I set off to be the first person to cycle alongside the butterflies to raise awareness of their alarming decline
Dykman works in amphibian research and as an outdoor educator. (Tom Weistar)
The idea to bike from Mexico to Canada and back with the migrating monarch butterflies arose from a simple wish to visit them. In 2013, crossing Mexico by bike for the first time, a friend and I entertained the idea of visiting the monarchs at their overwintering sites. Because it was April and the monarchs had already begun migrating north, we decided to forego the side trip.
I spent the next few years idly daydreaming about returning. Continue reading
Blanton Museum of Art, for one more day, offers this:
Exactly 500 years ago, in August of 1519, an expedition led by the Spanish explorer Hernando Cortés began marching inland into Mexican territory. Just two years later, what today is Mexico City fell to an ethnically diverse army composed of both Spanish and local peoples from other cities, starting a long period of European colonization. This exhibition aims to expand our perspective on these events by featuring a selection of maps, known as Mapas de las Relaciones Geográficas, created by Indigenous artists around 1580. These unique documents show some of the visual strategies used by native communities for the endurance and perseverance of their cultures throughout the so-called colonial period and well beyond.
To learn more about the map click Teozacoalco Map. Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for bringing this to our attention:
The Mapping Memory exhibition in at the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, Texas, displays maps made in the late 1500s of what is now Mexico. They were created by indigenous peoples to help Spanish invaders map occupied lands. This watercolor and ink map of Meztitlán was made in 1579 by Gabriel de Chavez. Blanton Museum of Art
Pedro de San Agustín created this watercolor map of Culhuacán in 1580. He was a judge — a powerful figure in the town. “Before the conquest, nobles were the only ones trained as painters,” exhibit curator Rosario Granados explains. She notes that this map is made on bark paper, the traditional material used before the Spaniards arrived. Blanton Museum of Art
At the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, Texas, 19 maps, nearly 440 years old, are on display — and they look spectacular. “Works on paper are delicate so we’re only allowed to put them on display for nine months out of 10 years,” says Blanton Museum communications director Carlotta Stankiewicz.
The Mapping Memory exhibition contains work by indigenous mapmakers from the late 1500s. The maps demonstrate a very different sense of space than maps drawn by Europeans. They’re not drawn to scale; instead, they’re deeply utilitarian.
A map of Culhuacán, for example, shows rivers running straight, with tiny arrows in the middle, indicating which way they flow. The pathways curve like snakes, with footprints or hoofprints indicating whether the paths can be walked or ridden. Continue reading
The archaeologist Guillermo de Anda next to pre-Columbian artifacts in a cave at the Maya ruins of Chichén Itzá. Credit Karla Ortega/Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology, via Associated Press
This new discovery in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula came to our attention just when we’re on an archaeological roll. It definitely gives us pause that there are still such important finds in the world.
In a cave under the ancient city of Chichén Itzá, Mexican archaeologists discovered a trove of ceramic artifacts that appear to be over 1,000 years old.
Archaeologists announced this week that they had discovered an extraordinary trove of well-preserved Maya artifacts under the ancient city of Chichén Itzá in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula.
The artifacts were found in a cave called Balamkú, less than two miles from the famed pyramid known as the Temple of Kukulcan, or The Castle, which sits in the center of the site.
Guillermo de Anda, an investigator with the National Institute of Anthropology and History, said in a statement on Monday that the remarkable discovery could help researchers rewrite the history of Chichén Itzá, which flourished from roughly A.D. 750 to 1200.
The city was built on top of a network of waterways, including sinkholes called cenotes, which the ancient Maya believed were sacred places that provided a portal to the underworld. Its name is sometimes translated as “the mouth of the well of the Itza,” the name of the main ethnic group in the area at the time.
Crist’s post about this fascinating National Geographic article last week touched on its excellent graphics but barely began to scratch the surface of the amazing technology that would certainly have left the readers of the early issues of the magazine speechless.
In addition to the world-class photography, the interactive 3-D graphic of the frieze above uses SketchFab technology to allow viewers to not only zoom in and out, but to turn the object around in all directions, as if handling it in person. Do take the time to play with it! Continue reading
Back in August, I shared a short video of this behavior that didn’t do the phenomenon justice. Now, with a couple months of filming opportunities behind me, I’ve been able to put together a much more satisfying compilation of jumping behavior footage:
My previous video of mobula rays jumping Continue reading
In the video below, watch a Cactus Wren and Northern Cardinal sing to mark their territory, a Hooded Oriole bathe, and a young Loggerhead Shrike call for food to be brought by its parent:
We’ve mentioned Cabo Pulmo here several times in the context of marine conservation, as well as from a personal visit. Although I still haven’t had a chance to go out on a scuba diving expedition here, a couple weeks ago Jocelyn and I were able to accompany some Villa del Faro guests on a snorkeling trip outfitted by Cabo Pulmo Sport Center, which is run by members of the Castro family mentioned in the posts linked above. The tour took two hours, but I’ve condensed the experience into almost fifteen minutes of video that I took on a rented GoPro:
As I approach my 100th checklist submitted to the Villa del Faro eBird hotspot, I’ve been putting together video compilations of footage taken over the last seven months here. The one in this post happens to be about birds, and most of them are, but I’ll also be sharing some whale breaches, ray jumps, and non-avian desert animal behavior. In the video below you can see two Greater Roadrunners (filmed months apart), a California Quail, and a Gray Thrasher (endemic to the Baja Peninsula) recorded at or ten minutes from Villa del Faro.
Make sure you have the volume up for the Greater Roadrunner section in particular, as the first individual engages in some interesting bill-clacks, and the second one was vocalizing in a low toot that I’ve only heard the one time so far, but seems to be a mating call.
a male Xantus’ Hummingbird, endemic to Baja California Sur, photographed during the GBBC
For last year’s GBBC, I was working in Costa Rica, in the Central Valley. This time around, I was on the job in Baja California Sur, Mexico, at Villa del Faro. Over the course of the four days that comprise the Great Backyard Bird Count, I was able to go out three mornings and one afternoon in search for birds.
By the last day, I had seen most of the usual suspects, although I was unable to spot a Pyrrhuloxia, one of my favorite species here in Baja, which is quite shy. In total, however, I saw 38 species around Villa del Faro, which has a hotspot with 76 species, so I saw exactly half the birds recorded here so far (and two of them were only just reported for the first time yesterday). Continue reading
Oasis Playa Las Palmas de San Pedro, near Todos Santos
Check out my last post for an introduction to this series and to read about the Sierra de la Laguna.
At three hours away from Villa del Faro, the town of Todos Santos is a bit of a stretch for a day trip, but could be accomplished by a determined driver or could be an addition to a stay here on the East Cape. Todos Santos is a very pleasant town on the Pacific coast of the southern Baja Peninsula, and two spots in particular are relatively well-visited by birders in the region: a little wetland area right by the beach at the southern edge of town called La Poza de Todos Santos (poza meaning “pool” or “puddle”) and a hotel associated with the spot called Hotel Posada la Poza (posada meaning “inn” or “lodge”).
Sierra de la Laguna and its highest point, El Picacho, as seen from SJD International Airport
Check out my last post for an introduction to this series and to read about the San José Estuary.
Down here at the tip of Baja California Sur, some part of the Sierra de la Laguna mountain range can be seen pretty much from anywhere with a good view inland. In fact, when you land in the Cabos airport, it feels next-door. When we were last here at Villa del Faro in July, Jocelyn wrote about some spots in the southern region of the Sierra Biosphere Reserve, and for our second trip last week, we visited the north (the middle is the most mountainous, with no access roads that we know of, just 6-hour hiking trails).
Scenic side road on the way to El Triunfo.
If queso was a food group it would certainly be my favorite. But that’s not what this post is about – even though cheese is a primary ingredient in many Mexican dishes and I had lots of it this past weekend. What this post is really about is the kinds of unexpected quirks one encounters when road tripping in Baja California Sur (B.C.S) and the unusual, but interesting conversations that come up with locals. Seth and I covered three towns: La Rivera, El Triunfo, and Todos Santos, for different lengths of time, but each with a distinctive story to tell.
Since last week, I’ve been based back at Villa del Faro in Baja California Sur, Mexico, where I’ll be co-managing the property with Jocelyn for a good while. In addition to having the opportunity to see what kind of birds show up here in their winter migration, I’m also hoping to have time to check out the surrounding region for other birding hotspots. I’ll do this not only for my own interest, but also because we may get guests here in the future who are bird-watchers. I’d like to be able to recommend areas based on my own experience, so they don’t have to rely solely on eBird, which helps find certain spots but can’t give you any directions that Google Maps doesn’t have.
Nevertheless, eBird is one of the best ways to quickly figure out what locations within a region are popular for birding, whether because they have lots of species or because lots of birders pass through there (or both). Continue reading
Green is not the first color I associate with Baja California Sur and as the coastal outline slowly became clearer through my plane window I was stunned by the vibrancy of color I was witnessing. The “rainy” season of Baja, which only means a few inches of rain in a span of three months, had transformed the dry, craggy landscape into a verdant, blossoming oasis. In my previous trip to Baja, I had been informed of this phenomenon but I was unprepared, nonetheless, for the volume of greenery and pop of pink and blue flowers.
The title may be reminiscent of recent movies like “American Sniper,” or “American Hustle,” or slightly older ones such as “American Psycho” and “American Beauty.” But as the video suggests, the American Coot is a type of bird, a wading species in a family called Rallidae, which most non-birders probably haven’t heard of because the birds are typically either near water or hiding in dense vegetation. Coots, along with rails, gallinules, and crakes, make up the Rallidae family, and all these types of birds like to stay on the ground, very rarely flying or venturing into trees unless it helps escape a predator. They’re more closely related to cranes than to ducks.
Ranchos, mountains, and coastline make up the bulk of Baja California Sur. The languid cattle or skittish chickens are what one most commonly sees when one is driving along the dirt roads, but if you take what might look like a short cut or a fun exploration route, you are most likely driving on someone’s driveway and will find a ranchero’s home at the end of it. I was keen to do some off-road exploring, particularly through the arroyos, but a car would not make it through and walking seemed too inefficient. We were told by our neighbors (the only family that comes to vacation at their beach house exclusively in the summer time) two houses down from Villa del Faro that the family who delivers the water has a mule that they let people ride. As we talked more about the possibility of riding their mule up the arroyo, I learned that it was not a typical offer the family made to strangers, so that meant we were going to have to get introduced.
The shore down below Villa del Faro is known as Boca del Tule, since the Tule arroyo –– a seasonal river in the desert –– runs into the ocean at that point (boca means mouth in Spanish). The beach is public but very few people are ever on it, partly because we’re an hour away from the closest city, San José del Cabo, via dirt road. Now and then you’ll see a couple fishermen, or if the waves are good, some surfers. Last week, Jocelyn and I tried surfing both here at Boca del Tule and also at a better-known surfing beach just twenty minutes south called Nine Palms.
Both spots offered fair surfing for either experienced or newbie surfers, since Continue reading
The main building in dawn light
My last post on this topic involved the ocean, but the bulk of that morning earlier this week was actually spent out in the chaparral: scrubby, thorny, and sparse vegetation in the desert just outside of Villa del Faro. Right before I exited the property I spotted a black-tailed jackrabbit warily watching me as I descended the hill–these hares are a common sight on the side of the dirt coastal road out here.
Thirty minutes north from Villa del Faro is a place called Los Arbolitos, which translates to “the little trees,” and is part of Cabo Pulmo National Park. I will just state from the beginning that this area does not have any trees, or small trees for that matter, only a sturdy watchtower on top of a sandbank that from a distance could perhaps look like the outline of a tree, and some scrubby bushes. Los Arbolitos is a small, secluded bay with crisp white sand and smooth crystalline waters, making it an ideal spot for snorkeling. Continue reading
Yesterday morning I got up early to see the sun rise from the balcony at the hotel, and was pleased to see the full golden orb rise from the watery horizon to the east. While facing the ocean, I heard some distant slaps, like someone smacking their palm against the surface of the water, and looked across the kilometer or so (less, most likely) between the balcony and the shore to see some rays––eagle rays, I think––leaping out of the water, but also just poking the tips of their “wings,” or side fins, into the air without leaving the waves themselves.