Monday, October 29, 2012

We Live Here ― Lake View

This home has a scenic view of Lake Waban in Wellesley, Massachusetts and looks as if it could have come out of the pages of The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.

It is likely that the occupants have a network of burrows that allow them access to higher ground during flooding rains. In the event of sustained high winds and power outages, this home is a safe place to sit out Hurricane Sandy, which is heading our way.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

We Live Here ― Exclusive Waterfront Properties

Homes with a waterfront view

These year-round residences often go unnoticed by humans. The fact that they are sited near water makes them especially attractive for occupants that feed on or near water. Of course, having your drinking water steps from the front door is another feature that makes these properties so desirable. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

We Live Here Redux

Do not disturb someone lives here

Last summer (July 22 ― August 1, 2012) I wrote a series of posts called We Live Here to raise awareness about wildlife habitat and how you can maintain and preserve it.

It seems like a good time to say more about this topic now that many animals are preparing to hunker down for winter. It's important not to disturb their dens and burrows as you walk in the woods or work in your backyard. 

In Massachusetts, animals like groundhogs begin their hibernation in late fall and emerge in the spring. Others, like skunks and chipmunks, are not true hibernators. Skunks become active for brief periods when nighttime temperatures rise above freezing.

Chipmunks enter a torpid state, in which their body temperature and heartbeat decrease, but they wake every few days to feed on stockpiled food and defecate. Chipmunks enter their burrows in late October and, except briefly during warm spells, do not emerge until March or April.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Huge Ivory Seizure

From a New York Times story by Bettina Wassener: 

HONG KONG — The authorities in Hong Kong have intercepted one of the largest shipments of illegal ivory in history — 1,209 elephant tusks and ivory ornaments weighing more than 8,400 pounds.

 The Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department announced the seizure on Saturday of 3,813 kilograms of ivory hidden inside two containers shipped from Tanzania and Kenya. One container was labeled as carrying plastic scrap, the other was marked as dried beans. It was the largest-ever seizure of contraband ivory in Hong Kong. Even within the context of soaring wildlife poaching, the numbers are staggering: the equivalent of more than 600 dead elephants. Read the entire story here.

For an in depth expose on the ivory trade visit National Geographic Magazine and read their November cover story Blood Ivory.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Nick Brandt: Gifted Photographer and Dedicated Activist

 A cheetah with cubs
Chimp portrait
Walking through grass (Poachers killed the leading matriarch in 2009) Amboseli, Kenya, 2008

These are just some of the magnificent photographs by Nick Brandt who works exclusively in Africa. Brandt's newest book, ON THIS EARTH, A SHADOW FALLS is a visually poetic last testament to the wild animals and places there before they are gone at the hands of man. 

"I realized that I could no longer watch the destruction of this extraordinary ecosystem and its animals," said Brandt, and so in September 2010 he established the Big Life Foundation, a non-profit organization, in an effort to halt an alarming and massive escalation of poaching in East Africa.

Brandt explains:
In the Amboseli region of East Africa an extraordinary 2 million acre ecosystem in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro, straddling Kenya and Tanzania ― this elephant was just one of many elephants killed in the last few years by poachers. In fact, most of the large-tusked elephants that are featured in my books are now dead, killed by poachers for their ivory.

Since 2008, there has been a massively increased demand for ivory from China and the Far East. Ivory prices have soared from $200 a kilo in 2004 to more than $5,000 today. Some experts estimate that as much as 35,000 elephants a year are being slaughtered, 10% of Africa's elephant population each year alone. 

And the killing isn't limited to just elephants. An ounce of powdered rhino horn is now more expensive than an ounce of gold. There are now just 20,000 lions left in Africa a staggering 75% drop in just the last 20 years to the point that now no lions left outside protected areas, and even those are being poisoned when they roam outside those borders. This isn’t just due to population pressure they are also being killed for body parts for China now there are so few tigers left.  

The plains animals are getting slaughtered as well: Giraffes here in the region are being killed at a faster rate for bush meat. There are even contracts out on zebras, as their skins are the latest fad in Asia.

The Amboseli ecosystem, which in my opinion, has the greatest population of elephants left in East Africa, has until now been incredibly vulnerable, suffering badly from insufficient funding for government and (the very few) non-profit organizations alike. 

So far, working within the Amboseli ecosystem of Kenya and Northern Tanzania, the Big Life teams have successfully dramatically reduced the level of killings of animals in the region.

The problem remains rampant elsewhere. Please go to to donate. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Adopt a lion

BRUTUS was born in approximately 2002 and arrived at the Drakenstein Lion Park Sanctuary in South Africa in 2010. He was confiscated from a French circus. He had been brutally declawed and was so severely beaten when younger that his jaw was broken and never reset. This resulted in permanent disfigurement. 

His rescue was made possible by the Foundation Assistance Aux Animaux, Natuurhulpcentrum (Belgium) and the Bridget Bardot Foundation. Special thanks must also be given to Animal Travel Services ( and Havillam Abrahams from Highmoor Freight who assisted with the import free of charge.

You can adopt a lion like Brutus or donate online to help rescue and save other lions at the Drakenstein Lion Park in South Africa.

You can also help lions through the Campaign Against Canned Hunting.

Saving one animal may not change the world, but surely for that one animal the world will change forever.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

What is happening to big cats?

Photograph by Nick Brandt  

"Who will now care for the animals, for they cannot look after themselves? Are there young men and women who are willing to take on this charge? Who will raise their voices, when mine is carried away on the wind, to plead their case?"
 ~ George Adamson

Excerpted from Elsa's Legacy: The Born Free Story, Disappearing Cats

While Joy and George Adamson were living in the wide expanse of the Kenyan bush in the mid-twentieth century, there was little interest in lion conservation. The big cat was considered widespread and abundant; their future seemed guaranteed. But times have changed.

Current studies tell us that there or only 6 or 7 viable populations of 1,000 or more lions left in the key wildlife reserves in Africa, with a possible total of only 20,000 to 25,000 in all living in the wild. Today, lions cover only 10% of the continent, primarily in the southern and eastern regions. 

The issues plaguing the lion are similar to the ones that threaten many other species. Human-animal conflict tops the list. As human populations grow, people and animals increasingly compete for resources. And as humans take over more land, the lion’s territory becomes severely fragmented. Inbreeding tends to increase when prides are confined to small, disconnected pockets of land and with less genetic diversity, lions become more susceptible to disease.

People have also attacked lions in order to protect livestock that might otherwise become a lion’s lunch. And trophy hunting, a highly lucrative business, can be particularly harmful when unregulated. Until human-lion relations improve, the future of the big cat looks grim.

Read the entire story here.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Books by the Adamsons

A complete list of books by George and Joy Adamson, DVDs, videos and artwork can be found here

I highly recommend Elsa's Legacy: The Born Free Story, an episode on the PBS series, Nature.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

The man who lived with lions

Baba ya Simba  (Father of Lions)
George with his beloved Boy who is buried beside him
A young lion with a twig in his mouth visits George's grave

“There was no doubt that he was inextricably linked with Nature for all time and that Nature, in her turn, accepted him unconditionally into her fold."
                 ~Veterinarian and author Sue Hart

 George Adamson dedicated his life to saving lions. His journey began when he and his wife Joy raised a small lion cub named Elsa. That story would later become a book and movie beloved around the world

Adamson's work allowed 23 lions, which otherwise would have been put in zoos, to live in the wild. While his passion was raising lions and releasing them back to the wild, he loved and communed easily with all wildlife. Those who knew him best believed his natural way with animals was due to his calm, quiet manner, his ability to quickly earn their trust, and his deep and abiding respect for each one as individuals in their own right. 

In August 1989 Adamson was shot dead by Somali bandits in an ambush a few miles from his isolated camp at Kora in northern Kenya. His wife Joy, from whom he had been separated for several years, was murdered in 1980 at her camp in Kenya by a disgruntled employee. 

In an obituary for the New York Times, Jane Perlez wrote: "After separating from his wife, Mr. Adamson moved to Kora and built a compound. He always slept under the stars. He was a generous host but preferred to be alone. In his autobiography, he wrote of Kenya: 'Promises of solitude, of wild animals in a profusion to delight the heart of Noah, and of the spice of danger, were always honored. Today, of these three, you are only likely to encounter the danger.'

George Alexander Graham Adamson was born in Etawah, India (then British India) on the 3rd of February 1906. His mother Katherine was English and his father Harry, who helped to train an army for the Rajah of Dholpur, was Irish. As a youth George attended a boarding school in England. He and his brother Terrance enjoyed hiking in Scotland and the two were very close. Read his complete biography here.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Fitzjohn and Adamson

 Adamson and Fitzjohn together at Kora
Fitzjohn with Bugsy (photos courtesy of

More on Tony Fitzjohn, an internationally renowned field expert on African wildlife, best known for the 19 years he spent helping Born Free’s George Adamson return more than forty leopards and lions―including the celebrated Christian―to the wild in central Kenya. 

The George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust was formed in England in 1979 to raise funds for the work being done in the Kora National Park in northern Kenya by Adamson and Fitzjohn. In Kora, Adamson helped Christian learn how to live in the wild. 

Read about Tony's work on projects in Kenya and Tanzania to help protect African wildlife and improve the lives of the people that live there. 

My next post will be devoted to George Adamson (1906-1989). Virginia McKenna, star of Born Free and Founder and Trustee of the Born Free Foundation, says it best:

"There will never be another person like George Adamson. His was a rugged life style, in a bush camp with only a few modern conveniences. He lived in harmony with nature and he shared a truly beautiful and almost unbelievable friendship with his beloved lion friends.  He was truly a unique and wonderful gentleman who devoted his life to helping wildlife and to protecting the unique environment in which they lived."

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Born Wild by Tony Fitzjohn

I just finished a remarkable book called Born Wild by Tony Fitzjohn. If you have a passion for the environment, care about African wildlife, especially big cats, Fitzjohn is someone you’ll want to learn more about.

Begin by reading his fascinating and hard-to-put-down memoir and prepare yourself for an incredible journey that begins in 1971 and includes many years working alongside his mentor, the legendary George Adamson of Born Free fame.
Fitzjohn is carrying out Adamson’s work and has taken it to a level Adamson dared not dream possible.

 Writer Annie Stein explains:
"Fitzjohn’s interest in Africa began when he was a young boy growing up in a working class suburb of north London. A month in bed with Typhus gave him an opportunity to read Tarzan Of The Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs ― multiple times. In between the fever and the cold sweats, he fell in love with the land and the animals, and developed what he refers to as his “call to Africa.” Fitzjohn considers it ironic that his passion was ignited by a writer who never once stepped foot on African soil."

 More on Fitzjohn and Adamson in the next post.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Children's Eyes On Earth

Photograph:  Kseniya Saberzhanova

Thousands of young photographers worldwide submitted their images to the Children's Eyes on Earth 2012 Photography Contest sponsored by The Guardian. The Contest "aims to raise awareness of environmental issues. Children aged 17 and under were encouraged to illustrate the themes of 'I love nature' and 'I hate pollution'." 

These 19 photographs are amazing, disturbing and thought provoking. Adults, your children are sending you a message. Please take action to save the planet.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Six at five

Mother hen in foreground (center).
Auntie hen facing water dish (right). 

When you look at the four poults next to their mother and auntie, you can see that they're almost full grown. Since hatching in May they've gone from surviving to thriving.  

This is their first autumn and they seem to be adjusting well to the gradual cool down. Both hens continue to watch over and teach them the important skills they will need to survive their first New England winter. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Mushroom cities

Click on these for close up views

I'm not a mycologist (a person who studies mushrooms), but I do have an appreciation for mushrooms. For weeks I've being seeing scores of them on my woodland walks and along the edges of my own back yard.

You can learn to identify mushrooms that are safe to eat, but I've read too many news stories about people who have come very close to dying by ingesting what they thought were safe mushrooms. It's not a chance I'm willing to take.

If you want to learn more, you'll find a wealth of information and some excellent books at But stay safe and pick your mushrooms at the farmer's market or local grocery store instead.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Go no-mow

Reinvent your landscape

Last summer I took the plunge and downsized my lawn. I was tired of mowing, watering, fertilizing and spending too much money to maintain a large lawn. Even though I was using organic fertilizers and leaving mulched clippings on the lawn, I wanted to enjoy an environmentally-friendly green space that would be more attractive to wildlife. It turned out to be a great decision. 

You'll find a list of other benefits here. 

I chose to eliminate whole sections of my lawn, but there are many ways to achieve a no-mow or hardly-ever-mow landscape. Evelyn J. Hadden offers lots of great ideas in her terrific book, "Beautiful No-Mow Yards: 50 Amazing Lawn Alternatives.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

In clover

A clover lawn is a healthy lawn

It's been cool and rainy in my corner of the world for several days now. The weather forecaster says October has been rather gloomy so far. That may be true, but if you want to add clover to your existing lawn or plant clover on its own, this weather is ideal for starting Dutch White Clover seed.

Why clover? Well, for one thing, it's quite nice to look at and is very beneficial for the soil. Clover is also low-maintenance and environmentally friendly. It offers these benefits:

1. ability to withstand drought
2. thrives in poor soil 
3. heals soil that's nitrogen-deficient
4. supplies nitrogen to other plants
5. reduces the need to fertilize
6. clover flowers attract bees

Using clover has helped me reduce a 5,000 square foot lawn to one that is now about 1,500 square feet. Green and healthy, my smaller lawn is organic, easy to maintain and more drought resistant. Converting a large lawn into a smaller one is more of a process than a project. And it's easier than you think.  

Read more about clover here and I also recommend this excellent article at The Old Farmer's Almanac.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Turkish baths

Wild turkeys make these dust baths bowls

Anyone who reads this blog knows by now that I live with a bunch of turkeys ― wild turkeys, that is. These peaceful and intelligent birds enjoy a simple life, feeding mainly on insects and raising their young in family groups with two or more hens keeping watch over the poults. 

Wild turkeys just love taking dust baths. The poults learn to dust their downy feathers only days after hatching. 

Click here for more about Turkish baths. And click on the photos above to see feathers and footprints.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Nicotiana sylvestris

 This nicotiana persists in the fall garden
Heavenly scented flowers open in the evening

I have been growing Nicotiana sylvestris, an heirloom plant, in my garden for the last 15 years. It is also known as 'Only the Lonely' because it grows so tall (4 to 6 feet) that it stands alone as a sight to behold, especially in an all white or moon garden. Clusters of four-inch-long, tubular white trumpet-shaped flowers open in the evening and exude the most heavenly fragrance. Cutting the plant back after the first flushes of bloom in mid- to late-summer will often trigger a second round of flowering, which is the case here, even as many other blooming plants begin to subside in the fall garden. 

Please note: All parts of this plant are poisonous if ingested, hence it is not suitable for planting in a garden where children play. Cats and dogs seem to have no interest in it. However, if you are the least bit concerned, refrain from planting it or grow it in a container that you can place on top of a tall planter or urn. 'Only the Lonely' blooms well in part shade, likes a fertile, moist but well-drained soil and may need staking. Treat it as an annual and save the seeds for planting the following year as this tender perennial will not survive a frost. In Zones 5 and 6 it can easily be grown from surface-sown seed in mid-spring.

 The National Gardening Bureau named  2009 the Year of the Nicotiana and 'Only the Lonely' was touted as one of the most fragrant flowering tobacco cultivars: 

 "In Victorian times, Nicotiana sylvestris was planted along walkways and paths so that those strolling by could enjoy the sweet fragrance of the flowers.

 "Noted garden writer of the early 20th century Louise Beebe Wilder described nicotiana as a "poor figure by day ... but with the coming of the night the long creamy tubes freshen and expand and give forth their rich perfume and we are then glad we have so much of it..." The poet Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote, 'Where at dusk the dumb white nicotine awakes and utters her fragrance in a garden sleeping.'

 "It appears that nicotiana fell out of favor with many gardeners because the tall plants often needed to be staked or supported to keep them looking nice in the garden. Today there is renewed interest and appreciation of both the heirloom species and modern hybrids as nicotianas find a home in contemporary gardens."

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park

The Great Barrier Reef 
Lizard Island

The huge and friendly Potato Rockcod

I conclude my discussion of ocean acidification (see October 1st post), with an homage to the Great Barrier Reef. So many years later the dream-like images of the GBR remain indelibly etched in my memory, and it is difficult to grasp how imperiled all coral reefs are due to global warming and ocean acidification. 

While visiting the GBR, I stayed on Lizard Island, a very remote area located 17 miles off the coast of Far North Queensland. An intrepid traveler (that would be me) could easily continue on to Papua New Guinea from there.

It is an easy boat ride from Lizard Island into the heart of  the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. A visit to Cod Hole, where you can meet the affable but goofy Potato Cod (Epinephelus tukula), face to face is a must.

I was excited to learn that dwarf Minke whales are now regular visitors to the GBR Marine Park area. However,  ocean acidification is lethal to krill, the mainstay of the whale diet. Studies show that increased levels of carbon dioxide kill the krill embryos.

From Islands Australia

"Lizard Island will always have a place in Australia's earliest European history. When captain James Cook first explored the east coast of Australia, he became trapped in the waters inside the Great Barrier Reef in the vicinity of Lizard Island. He was unable to locate a passage through the reef to get to the open sea so he landed on Lizard Island and climbed to its highest peak to see where the reefs were located. His efforts were rewarded and he found a passage through the reef that allowed him to escape into the Coral Sea. The passage is now known as Cook's Passage. Cook also named the island after the many monitor lizards he saw there.

"Lizard Island today is still generally the same as it was when Cook visited. The only difference is the addition of an airstrip and a five star resort that has been built on a beautiful bay on the northern side of the island. The island is surrounded by  reefs that provide some of the best dive sites in Australia Some of the most famous dive sites like Cod Hole and the drop offs along the Ribbon Reefs are located close to Lizard Island.

"A new phenomenon also now attracts many tourists. A large group of dwarf Minke Whales are now being seen on a regular basis by divers in the area. These whales have become very inquisitive and have provided a fantastic and exciting new draw for the region."