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Wildlife Viewing

Friday, April 26, 2013

May Birdwatching at Mount Auburn

By the time my wife and I arrive at Cambridge's Mount Auburn Cemetery at 6:30 am, the parking lot around the fountain is already full and minivans with birders from across New England are streaming in. We find a spot and stroll over to where we find our guide for the morning, Carol Decker, Director of Mass Audubon’s Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary. As if on cue, a red-tailed hawk flies overhead while to our left, a vibrant Baltimore oriole sits on a branch, twig in beak. While I’m always thrilled to see a hawk, especially as a diversion from writing when the large bird rests on a branch outside my office window, it is the orioles, scarlet tanagers, vireos, and the queen of neotropical migrants, the warbler, that has coaxed us to leave our pillows prematurely and arrive at this Cambridge birding hotspot. Wintering in the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, even South America, these enticing songbirds make their way north to New England and Canada to breed in the summer months. 
 
Mass Audubon schedules most of their spring walks at Mount Auburn the first two weeks of May, when the warbler migration reaches its peak. Anyone with a love of nature is urged to sign up, even a novice birder like myself. Sure I have a trusty pair of binoculars sitting next to me as I write, to savor that brightly yellow goldfinch when he inadvertently comes across my bird feeder, but I don’t memorize bird calls or carry a checklist. Perhaps that’s the reason why my wife and I found this outing last May to be so special. The colors on the backs and bellies of these birds were so spellbinding that I found it to be the aviary equivalent of going snorkeling in the Caribbean.
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 04/26/13 at 12:00 PM
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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Time to Go Whale Watching off Provincetown

Located 7 miles north of Provincetown, Stellwagen Bank is one of the Atlantic coast’s largest feeding grounds for whales. The 18-mile long crescent-shaped bank ranges from 80 to 500 feet below the surface. Currents slam into the bank, bringing nutrient rich cold water to the surface. This attracts fish, which in turn attracts numerous species of whales from April to November—humpbacks, the larger fins, and smaller minkes. One gulp from a hungry humpback whale can take in a ton of fish.

 
Many of these boats have naturalists on board who not only know many of the whales on a first name basis, but can list the names of their parents and children. They give an intriguing talk about the history of whales migrating up the Atlantic coast and the egregious practice of whaling that was so prominent in these parts in the mid-19th century. Naturalists also point out many of the shore birds that use the coast as an Atlantic Flyway. Rare piping plovers, least and common terns, marsh hawks, American oystercatchers (whose beaks looks like carrots), sandpipers, ospreys, even bald eagles might be spotted on these whale watching cruises. Add playful harbor seals and you have a wonderful wildlife experience.
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 04/16/13 at 12:00 PM
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Tuesday, March 05, 2013

A Good Time To Track Gorillas and Chimps in Uganda

Fed a steady diet of bleak wildlife conservation news out of Africa, especially with regard to the increase in poaching elephants in Kenya and Tanzania, I was delighted to hear the latest news out of Uganda. The last census reports a 12% increase in the gorilla population. The survey found that there are now 880 gorillas at Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, up from 786 in 2010. The best way to celebrate that news is to get yourself over to Uganda and see the gorillas firsthand, an unparalleled travel experience. If you visit Bwindi in April and May, the $500 per day permit will be reduced to $350. To make the most of your time, consider Africa Adventure Consultants new 10-day Uganda Flying Safari. Eliminating many of the longer drives, the trip starts in the Kibale forest, where you spend two days viewing the chimps. Then it’s on to Queen Elizabeth National Park, where you can see over 95 recorded mammal species and enjoy a boat excursion that takes you for a close-up look at the largest concentration of hippos in the world (reported to be about 30,000). Finish your safari with 2 days of gorilla trekking at Bwindi. Now that’s a memorable trip! 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/05/13 at 12:58 PM
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Thursday, November 08, 2012

Forgotten Eastern and Southern African Islands

While we’re on the subject of exotic locales, Chris McIntyre, managing director of Expert Africa, recently sent me an excellent blurb about off-the-beaten-track island destinations in southern and eastern Africa. “Unlike the Caribbean, these African islands are largely undeveloped,” says McIntyre. His list includes Mnemba Island, a private uninhabited island off the east coast of Zanzibar; Mozambique’s Vamizi Island, home to a lone eco-resort and some of the most endangered marine habitats and wildlife in the western Indian Ocean, including Green and Hawksbill turtles; and Malawi’s Likoma Island in Lake Malawi, an island populated primarily by fishermen. All of these choices are great places to relax after spending some time on safari. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 11/08/12 at 01:00 PM
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Friday, October 12, 2012

Tanzania’s Best Kept Secret

I was hoping to return to Africa later this month, but I just couldn’t squeeze the trip in. The one locale I was excited to check out was Tanzania’s Ruaha National Park. Home to one of the largest prides of lions in Africa, it’s shocking that Ruaha is still an undiscovered gem in Tanzania. Even more surprising when you learn that Ruaha is the second largest park in the country. Yet, simply because of its locale, in the far less frequented southern tourist circuit, far away from the camera clicking crowds of Serengeti and Ngorongoro, this rough tract of wilderness pulsates with the feel of a long-forgotten Africa. Only a little over 7,000 visitors annually come to this region of broken hills, sandy rivers, and an altogether harsher kind of landscape. The parched plains are littered with granite boulders and bizarre-looking baobab trees. Currently only one third of Ruaha’s 20,226 square kilometers is used for tourism, leaving a great majority of wilderness untouched and undiscovered. One of the highly touted places to stay in Ruaha is Mwagusi Safari Camp, owned by native Tanzanian Chris Fox. Download it to your Africa wish-list file, along with me.
 
I’m off to bike and hike in Zion National Park next week. I’ll be back with some of my favorite Caribbean getaways the week of October 22nd. In the meantime, keep active! 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 10/12/12 at 12:00 PM
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Thursday, September 13, 2012

“Love, Life, and Elephants,” A New Book by Dame Daphne Sheldrick

On my last trip to Nairobi, I had the pleasure of meeting Dame Daphne Sheldrick at the elephant orphanage she founded in 1977. I remember the mix of joy and sadness I felt upon entering the orphanage. Joy at seeing those miniature-sized elephants frolicking in the mud. Sadness at learning that their parents were brutally murdered by poachers who left these babies to wander in the bush.
         “We came to learn how intelligent these elephants are, with a familial instinct and an astounding memory,” Sheldrick told me as we sat at an outdoor table in the back patio of her house. Then her expression suddenly turned grave as she noted, “the elephant community is in a lot of trouble. Not only is poaching on the rise, but the intrusion of livestock into protected areas has led to a scarcity of water.” 
If last week’s New York Times article on the surge of African ivory being transported to Asia is any indication, the only elephants we might be seeing in the future will be orphans. You can read about Dame Daphne Sheldrick’s fascinating life in her just released memoir, “Love, Life, and Elephants: An African Love Story.” 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 09/13/12 at 12:00 PM
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Thursday, March 01, 2012

La Jolla and Its Silly Seal Problem

Boasting a stunning rocky coastline, where sand-lined coves are hemmed in by the rock, La Jolla is always a highlight on any trip to San Diego. Add the numerous seals that like to sunbathe on those beaches and swim in the nearby waters and you have a great destination for families that’s far cheaper than visiting nearby Sea World. I brought my family here last Saturday to stroll the boardwalk that leads to the famous La Jolla Cove. We stopped first at Children’s Pool Beach to see the seals and was surprised to find a women with a megaphone harassing visitors who were getting too close to the seals on the beach. I was even more surprised to find another guy with a megaphone harassing the seal advocate. Here’s how the conversation went:
 
Seal Advocate: “Please get off the beach. You’re too close to the seals. There are pregnant mothers who need to sleep.”
Dude at Other End, A Diver Advocating for Access to the Beach (to Seal Advocate): “Please stop harassing humans. They have every right to be on the beach.” 
 
This is ridiculous, I thought, straight out of a Saturday Night Live skit. Adding to the confusion was a rope on the beach that served as a barrier. Yet, it was only three-quarters of the way across, with signs that read, “Beach Open.” Huh? Listen, San Diego City Council, make a finite decision. Either the public is allowed on the beach or not. Then arrest any person with a megaphone, which is probably doing more harm to the seals than approaching them with a camera. At least it would stop the noise pollution at such an incredibly scenic and serene locale. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/01/12 at 02:00 PM
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Thursday, July 07, 2011

Wrong Way Penguin Starting to Eat Salmon

I love the story out of New Zealand three weeks ago that an Emperor penguin took a wrong turn while swimming in Antarctica and ended up 2,000 miles to the north, on the shores outside of Wellington. It was the first time in 44 years that an Emperor penguin has been sighted in New Zealand. Unfortunately, the young lad, who Kiwis are calling “Happy Feet,” started to eat sand, mistaking it for ice. He has since had four surgeries at the Wellington Zoo to remove all twigs and sand and is now on a fresh diet of salmon. The zoo hopes to keep him for another month, so he can regain his strength before hopefully making the long trek back home.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 07/07/11 at 01:00 PM
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Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Good News Out of Tanzania

Earlier this year, I reported on the Tanzanian government’s plan to build a 260-mile highway that would slice right through the southern part of Serengeti. The moronic move would not only disrupt one of the world’s great migrations of 2 million wildebeests traveling north into Kenya’s Masai Mara, but could have been an easy way in and out for poachers. Thankfully, after listening to numerous conservation groups and international travel operators, the government scrapped that idea. Tourism is the number one industry in Tanzania, so it seems like the government finally got wise to the fact that they shouldn’t cut off the hand that feeds them.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 07/05/11 at 01:00 PM
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Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Birdwatching at Mount Auburn Cemetery

On Friday, I’ll be waking up early to join Mass Audubon on a birdwatching outing at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Waking up early to visit a cemetery might sound like a macabre undertaking, but Mount Auburn is no ordinary cemetery. It was created on the outskirts of Boston in 1831 as America’s first rural or garden cemetery, a precursor to parks in urban areas. The city was yearning for a new aesthetic, a cemetery landscaped with rolling hills, ponds, flowering shrubs, and a mix of trees that provide shade not only for those in mourning, but for the entire public to enjoy their picnic lunch. It became a smashing success that would lay the groundwork for Frederick Law Olmstead to create Central Park in New York and the Emerald Necklace here in Boston some 40 to 50 years later.

Today, more than 200,000 visitors enter the gates of Mount Auburn annually. Sure, they might come to visit the final resting place of a relative or to stop and say thanks to a long list of luminaries in American arts and letters, like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Winslow Homer, and Buckminster Fuller, yet others like me simply follow in the footsteps of Roger Tory Peterson, the renowned ornithologist who once led bird walking tours here. The height of the spring migration for warblers usually happens around Mother’s Day each year. Bring your binocs and you might just spot the scruffy yellow chin of the divine Northern Parula warbler. To read more about Boston’s historic cemeteries, see my article from last summer’s American Way magazine, the inflight publication of American Airlines.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 05/04/11 at 01:00 PM
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Longtime Boston Globe travel writer, Steve Jermanok, dishes out his favorite travel locales and provides topical travel information that comes across his desk.

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