Sunday, June 26, 2011

Travel TidBits: Elephants

The Way of the Elephants

The following story was sent to me by a friend.  Initially I was not sure if I could verify the contents but thought from my reading of elephant behaviour it is plausible.  Now I checked with the lodge website [ ] and found images of the elephants walking the halls of the lodge there as well.

Elephants have ancient traveling routes that have been maintained through centuries. There have been incidents of destruction if objects, like villages, were obstructing their ways.  This story is endearing since the elephant herd has been accommodated and now is an attraction to amazed safari goers. 
Enjoy, Meggi

Elephants march through hotel lobby after it was built on their migration trail!

Zambia 's Mfuwe Lodge happens to have been built next to a Mango Grove that one family of Elephants have always visited when the fruit ripens. When people originally built the lodge, little did they know that the area was an ancient trail elephants use annually to feed on juicy mangoes!  When the elephants returned one year and found the luxury accommodation in the way, they simply walked through the lobby to reach their beloved grove of trees.  Today, Wonky Tusk (the matriarch) comes back every year with her herd, even if it means that she has to go through the safari lodge lobby!

The animals come in two-by-two. Hotel staff and visitors have gotten used to the Elephants casual strollsthrough the lobby. Now the family group, headed by their Matriarch 'Wonky Tusk' return every November and stay for four to six weeks to gorge on mangos - up to four times a day. Andy Hogg, 44, the Lodge Director, has lived in South Luangwa National Park since 1982. But in all his years of dealing with wild animals he has never seen suchintimate interaction between humans and wild animals. "This is the only place in the world where Elephants freelyget so close to humans," Says Andy. "The Elephants start coming through base camp in late November each year toeat the ripe mangos from our trees."

Living in the 5,000 square mile national park, the ten-strong Elephant herd is led to the lodge each day by 'Wonky Tusk' The Hotel was built directly in the path of the Elephant Walk to one of their favourite foods .... Mangoes.

"The most interesting thing about these wild animals," Explains Andy , "is that this is the only herd that comes through, and they come and go as they please."

Mfuwe Lodge consists of seven camps and the base camp where the Elephants walk through. Employing 150staff, the management of the lodge report that there have been no incidents involving the wild Elephants and visitors or staff up to date.

"The Elephants get reasonably close to the staff, as you can see in the pictures of the Elephants near the reception area," Andy explains. "But we do not allow the guests to get too close, they are after all wild beasts"

"Guests can stand in the lounge but only as long as there is a barrier between the Elephants and the guests," He added.
"The elephants are not aggressive but you wouldn't want to tempt them.. It is the Elephant's choice to be here and they have been coming here for the last ten years. There are other wild mango trees around, but they prefer ours. The Lodge was unwittingly built upon their path," Andy says, "so we had no idea they would do this. It wasn't a design error, we just didn't know. The Lodge was built and the Elephants just started walking through afterward."

"We keep people at a safe distance, but allow them close enough to see what is going on. These are still wild and dangerous animals, they cannot be trusted, so we must allow enough time for people to get safely away."

The Hotel is set in an idyllic national parkland. Naturally, the Lodge becomes busier for both Elephants and guests during November."We find that we get more people visiting us during the Elephant migration because of the unique experience of being so close to wild animals in an unusual environment," Says Andy . "But asI said this is a totally natural phenomenon, as the Elephants come here of their own accord. It is certainly a rare but magnificent sight."
Photocredit to Zoom/Barcroft Media

Check out Elephant Video by clicking below:

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


The Importance of Wildlife:

This is an excerpt from an excellent newspaper Op-Ed article written by someone affiliated with the San Diego Zoological Society.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Travel TidBits: On the Road again - Olympic Peninsula, WA

Sunrise over Discovery Bay

I woke up as sunrise colored the puffy clouds pink. It’s 5:20am! as the first sunrays already skim the surface of the water. The view from my bedroom over Discovery Bay towards east is gorgeous, specifically since the other mornings I saw only low hanging grey clouds and mist over the water. I am reminded that the Olympic Peninsula, WA, gets about 12 feet (144 inches) of rain each year – compare this to the ~12 inches that we experience in Palo Alto!

This is the day that I decide to drive up Hurricane Ridge – will I have a clear view of the Olympic Mountains? It is worth a try since so far they have been shrouded in clouds every day.

I am staying in Port Townsend (lower left hand corner) and my drive will take me to Port Angeles and then up into the mountains. Defying normal map conventions, the coast in the lower part of the image is actually pointing north! My drive will take me from sea level to 5242 ft in 17 miles – and from summer to winter!

The road up to the top of the mountains is steadily climbing and half way up the snow is still on the side of the road. On top, it’s over man’s high! The thin air and the twists and turns must have made me dizzy - 

but the view from here is magnificent with a panorama of snow-capped mountains.

As is so typical here, the weather changes, clouds are gathering again and soon the landscape is shrouded in mist and grey. Time to roll down to sea level again and explore the rain forest.

Back in Port Angeles, I am back on highway 101 (!) but far less crowded than in the Bay Area that will take me to Crescent Lake and the Marymere Waterfalls.

On my left is a lavender farms. The area around Sequim (pronounced Skwim?!) is sunny and the lavender is a big business here in this rural community.

Unfortunately, the plants are just sprouting – no colors yet - and their peak time is only in July with a big Lavender Festival – but I will be long gone by then.

Sunshine Lavender Farm

I soon reach Lake Crescent, a lovely lake nestled between the mountains that remind me of the lakes in the Canadian Rockies.

Lake Crescent Resort looks very inviting and I stop for a coffee before hiking to the Marymere Falls.

Lake Crescent Resort with lovely blooming rhododendrum bushes which are blooming profusely this time of the year. Rhododendrum is the WA State flower and I have been admiring many wonderful bushes in full bloom along the way.

As I leave the green meadows colored light blue by the myriad of Forget-Me-Not and enter the forest, there is Spanish moss everywhere, dripping from trees and branches. The new leaves sport their young bright green contrasting against the dark bark.

Spanish moss – telling the story of moisture and many, many days of rain!

The trail leads me along a small creek as I climb higher. I cross the creek on a bridge carved from a bit tree trunk balancing my tripod and camera as I reach the other side.

I can hear the roar of the waterfall getting louder and then I can see it through the trees:

With so much snow this winter – well over 150% of normal – the Marymere Falls are cascading down from enormous heights – well worth the hike!!

Marymere Falls, close to Lake Crescent

Just as I packed my tripod, the first drops of rain were falling. All the locals were retrieving their rain jackets from their packs – while mine was safely stored in my car!! Well, we Californians are just not prepared to that kind of changing weather. Live and learn. But my camera was well protected under my jacket while I briskly walked down the path while the rain was steadily increasing.

Once dry in the car, I had fun photographing through the windows capturing a wet world.

The rainy road home!

Rain or Shine - it was a great day out on the Olympic Peninsula!!

Til next time,

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Travel TidBits: Birds in Flight

Snowy Egret with nesting materials

After traveling to other continents in search of natural beauty, I am always so happy to discover or rediscover beautiful spots right here in my ‘backyard’. Interestingly, I started my photographic journey 10 years ago by capturing egrets and shorebirds during my early morning walks in Shoreline Park using my first small point-and-shoot digital camera. Focusing on wildlife, my equipment has morphed into bigger cameras and longer lenses and what a joy to rediscover that the egrets, night herons, avocets and American stilts, godwits and terns, gulls and once in a while a red tail hawk are still nesting near the water. Sadly, the white pelicans have so much diminished that we hardly see them any more.

Snowy Egret announcing his arrival

Red Tail Hawk

So learning that there is a hummingbird nest with a female Anna breeding, one late afternoon I grabbed my camera and with the friend who told me about the nest, off we went. Not having been at the Baylands for a while, the late afternoon light was wonderful, the birds were busy flying back and forth gathering nesting materials and the little hummer was sitting on her nest!

May 28th
June 4th
Hummingbird sitting on a nest with 1 egg

Since that afternoon less than 2 weeks ago, I have been drawn to the spot and it has highly rewarded me. I took on a new challenge by focusing on birds in flight. I quickly learned that some birds like the barn swallows are just going by in such a fast speed that I yet have to capture one on ‘film’. However, the snowy egrets and the night herons are beautiful carrying their nesting materials to build their home for the next generation.

Night Heron trying to pick just the right stick

Egret - delivering nesting materials to the waiting mate

Mating pair of Avocets

Avocets - mating

Oriole singing to the world

Egret Yoga - flying from one branch to a lower branch

Three night herons returning… A very unusual and special moment seeing 3 birds flying almost in formation!

American Stilt looking for little salt marsh critters

Snowy egret finding just the right stick

… and taking it home

Bad Hair Day!
A night heron trying to hold on when the wind was blowing strongly.

One afternoon, a pheasant appeared. I had seen pheasants before here, but usually in great distance. This fellow was just looking for his evening snack.

Elegance in the air!!

As the clouds became more menacing, the marsh lands became quiet; the birds tucked their heads under their wings, nestled in their home built for the season. I can’t wait for the fledglings to arrive.

So, till next time, look around in your own neighborhood for the wonders of nature; go out and photograph!! There is natural beauty all around us, we just need to open our eyes and mind!

The Baylands before the next storm

I bet she can’t wait to see her little new creation.