Fabulous Fantastic Flying Foxes

Gray Headed Flying Foxes in huge colony along the river in the town of Inverell NSW. Mar 23 2013

Gray Headed Flying Foxes in huge colony along the river in the town of Inverell NSW. Mar 23 2013

Warning: Once again, I’m going to ignore the rules about short attention spans.  I’m one who is convinced that a few sentences just aren’t enough for the amazing stuff in our world.

Over the past couple of months, thousands of extraordinary animals called Flying Foxes (also known as Fruit Bats) have been roosting in trees along the river in a small Australian town named Inverell.

They look like ordinary bats…but on a science fiction scale.  Their wingspan is about three feet, roughly equal to a Canada goose.  And their body is about the size of a cat minus the long tail.   Unlike the tiny North American bats that snag insects in the air, Flying Foxes land in trees and clamber around like monkeys, feasting on fruit, nectar, and pollen.

There’s a staggering number of Flying Foxes roosting at Inverell–roughly estimated at 200,000.   They hang upside down in the trees like giant pears, and they’ve denuded the branches, broken limbs, bent trunks, and even killed good-sized trees. Continue reading

Posted in Australia, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

All Shook Up

My place viewed from just offshore Sitka Nov 2011

My house and garage, well beyond the reach of storms and tides…but what about a tsunami?

Last night we had a big earthquake and a warning to immediately head for high ground.

First, an instant wake-up at midnight–the house rattling, creaking, and shuddering, then heavier jolts accompanied by deep protracted rumbles. I splayed out on the bed, totally elated, savoring the power and racket, then relaxing as the jostles eased after about a minute

The quake–magnitude 7.5–was centered 110 miles south of Sitka, where I live. About fifteen minutes later the tsunami sirens started wailing. The radio warned everyone to evacuate low-lying areas. The phone rang—friends making sure I hadn’t miraculously snoozed through the jostle and fracas.

I dug out a recorder, switched it on, and talked breathlessly as I grabbed stuff and stumbled down to the truck, then shined a flashlight on the beach before taking off. Everything looked normal and quiet 15 minutes ahead of the tsunami’s predicted arrival. Continue reading

Posted in Alaska, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Hooked on Salmon

Spawning sockeye salmon

Spawning sockeye salmon

Eighteen months ago, Encounters received support from the Alaska Sustainable Salmon Fund to make two radio programs about salmon and to produce companion online materials.

At that point, the assignment seemed pretty straightforward.  No big deal.  But what happened is another story entirely.

Host Richard Nelson and I researched our topic, talked with scientists, resource managers, commercial and subsistence fisherman.  We watched the throngs of salmon spawning in our rivers and streams.  And we spent one frigid winter morning filming Secrets of a Winter Salmon Stream where there was no visible evidence of salmon at all.

And in the process, we became completely enthralled by salmon—arguably the most important wild species of our time. Continue reading

Posted in Alaska, Salmon, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Twitcher’s Paradise

Cockatoos drinking from water fountain

Thirsty cockatoos in Canberra, the national capitol of Australia

A few days ago, I stumbled off the jet after a 13 hour marathon flight from Los Angeles to Canberra, the national capital of Australia.  Soon afterward, I was cool and cozy in the home of my good friends Libby Robin and Tom Griffiths, who live on a shady street about a twenty minute walk from downtown and not much farther from the sprawling lawns around Australia’s Parliament.

As you’d expect, Canberra is a thriving urban center with tall buildings, neckties, and high heels.  But surprisingly, it’s also loaded with wildlife.  I’ve never seen a city with so many amazing birds.   Every morning, I’d step out the door at sunrise and into a great natural concert featuring some of the most beautiful singers on earth—magpies and shrike-thrushes, currawongs and kookaburras.

And not only that, Canberra is absolutely loaded with parrots.  As you might know, parrots are not exactly operatic, as if their evolution focused on good looks rather than good vocals.   For a North American, the native parrots of Australia are shockingly beautiful and exotic. Continue reading

Posted in Australia, Birds, Uncategorized | 2 Comments