Monday, April 5, 2021

IMAGINARY WORLDS at the Atlanta Botanical Garden by Caroline Arnold at The Intrepid Tourist

52 Places to Go: Week 14

Peacock living sculpture inside the orchid house at the Atlanta Botanical Garden

(Note: This article was originally posted in July 2018. For information on current exhibits and visiting the Atlanta Botanical Garden, check their website.)

A fearsome dragon, a caravan of camels, a spectacular peacock and a giant Earth goddess, all created from living plants, are just a few of the many delights of the Imaginary Worlds: Once Upon a Time exhibit in the Atlanta Botanical Garden. The exhibit is mounted in partnership with the International Mosaiculture of Montreal.

Chiluly glass sculpture, fountain at the Levy Parterre
In May, on a brief trip to Atlanta, I had the morning free and decided to visit the Botanical Garden, located in Piedmont Park, about a twenty-minute walk from my hotel in Mid-town. It was a beautiful sunny day and I joined other visitors and numerous school groups touring the garden.
Detail of Dragon sculpture; plants are plugged into a metal framework stuffed with planting mixture
The pieces in the exhibit are positioned throughout the garden along with the permanent plantings. They are created with a process known as mosaiculture. Mosaiculture first became popular in Europe in the 16th century as wealthy landowners commissioned elaborate three-dimensional gardens, or “embroidery beds,” for enjoying up close or at a distance. (By the late 1860's, the term “mosaiculture” was used for the first time in France, referring to the mosaic-like appearance of the surfaces of planted sculptures.)
Once Upon a Time "Storybook"
After purchasing my ticket and entering the garden I was greeted by the Storybooks sculpture. There I opted to go left toward the rose garden, great lawn and greenhouses. At the edge of the great lawn a huge dragon, who appeared ready to take flight, dominated the scene.
Dragon, mounted in the rock garden
From there I made my way toward the orchid center. On much of my tour I ended up following a school group taking a docent guided tour. At the Bogs and Poison Plant garden the kids were squatting on the ground trying to get a close-up looks at the Venus fly-traps and poking them with sticks to try to get them to snap shut.
The orchid house is truly spectacular, with orchids of every size, shape and color. In the center was a giant peacock, part of the Imaginary World exhibit.
Earth Goddess at the Cascades Garden
I then circled back to the entrance passing through the peaceful Japanese garden and taking the bridge to the Kendeda canopy walk where I got a view of the Earth Goddess presiding over the refreshing Cascades Garden. She has become a permanent feature of the Botanical Garden. The rest of the sculptures except for the Shaggy Dog are temporary.

On my way back to the entrance I almost missed the mammoth with its giant tusks, peeking through the greenery. For a moment, I thought it was real!

Imaginary Worlds: Once Upon a Time was on view May-October 2018.

The Atlanta Botanical Garden is currently open to visitors but with limited capacity. Timed tickets and Covid rules are in place.
For more information go to

Monday, March 29, 2021

BACK YARD WILDLIFE, Guest Post by Karen Minkowski at The Intrepid Tourist

52 Places to Go: Week 13

Hooded oriole (male)

My friend Karen Minkowski, a dedicated wildlife watcher and keen photographer, has made the most of her Covid confinement by discovering the wealth of wildlife in her Southern California back yard. I thank her for sharing her observations and wonderful photographs with The Intrepid Tourist.

2020 was the year my hiking shoes didn’t get much use…

I stopped walking in LA’s Santa Monica Mountains shortly before the March lockdown was imposed and after that didn’t leave my rented home much at all. Soon, I turned my attention to our suburban backyard, a patch of boring grass partly surrounded by tall mature trees with dense foliage and low maintenance non-native plants. Like millions of other people in their homes, I discovered that my backyard was a safe place to try to connect with a tiny bit of the natural world. And over the next year I saw more wildlife in the yard than I ever expected.

Black phoebe

The diversity of bird species that pass
through the yard is impressive. Some, like this Black Phoebe, visit almost daily. They perch out in the open to ensure a straight flight path to air-borne insects or those hiding in the lawn. Many birds forage in the trees, obscured by the foliage and moving too rapidly for me to capture a clear image, either in my mind or with the camera.


Crows are common, noisy and highly visible. Here’s one about to feed a begging

Eastern fox Squirrel

The ubiquitous Eastern Fox Squirrels are
an introduced (non-native) species in southern California. Their ability to thrive in fragmented habitat has led to the displacement of the Western Gray squirrel, which requires mostly undisturbed wooded or forested areas and now occupies the foothills and mountainous areas. Nonetheless, Fox Squirrels are fun to watch as they dig up edibles buried who knows when from caches they’ve dug in the ground; tumble as they chase each other across the lawn; gnaw on a fallen clothespin; or stretch along a tree limb to soak up the morning sun.


Early in the pandemic’s
first spring we spotted an opossum. As I photographed it over the next half hour, it seemed more curious than wary as it watched me. I never saw it again.

Hooded oriole (female)

In April the very vocal Hooded Orioles were likely breeding in the neighbors’ palm
trees. I would see them mostly when they were foraging. They remained in the area for several weeks before migrating south.

A Jacaranda tree dominates the backyard. 

Allen's hummingbird and jacaranda blossoms

Bee feeding on jacaranda blossom

Squirrel eating jacaranda flower

It bloomed in early spring, and by May its purple
blossoms were falling, providing food for at least three different families of animals: Allen’s hummingbird and honeybees drink the nectar, while squirrels ingest the whole flower.

Lesser goldfinch

During late spring and summer I often stood on
a ladder to watch birds in the neglected backyard of the house next door. Filled with flowering weeds, it attracted seed-eaters like this young Lesser Goldfinch (above) and the House Finch (below). 

House finch

One summer morning a bulldozer destroyed this productive patch of
suburbia gone wild, which is now almost completely covered by a construction project to extend and enlarge the existing house.

Cooper’s hawk. This common raptor in the San Fernando Valley nests here beginning in late-March.

For a few days in July a beautiful juvenile
Cooper’s hawk hung out in the backyard.

Allen's hummingbird.

In July I hung a hummingbird feeder and have enjoyed seeing Allen’s hummingbirds many times a day since then.

One early morning in autumn the crows were cawing relentlessly. I went outside to see what was disturbing them and glimpsed the silhouette of what resembled a large house cat high up in a tree. 

Great-horned owl

But something about the shape didn’t seem quite cat-like, and soon the increasing light revealed that we had a spectacular Great-horned Owl in our backyard. The owl rested here for a good twelve hours, rarely moving from its perch and seemingly unperturbed by the incessant vocal harassment of the crows, perched as close as six feet away. Next morning the owl was gone. Months later I still check the tree, awaiting its return.

Yellow-rumped warbler

Winter arrived… Occasionally I spot “new” bird species, like this lovely Yellow-rumped warbler.
It paused just long enough for me to snap its portrait as it darted quickly in search of insects, the winter diet for many omnivorous birds.

Bushtit, another insect eater.

Cedar waxwing

As winter began to wane and vaccines arrived my feet were
itching to walk through forests and woods. 

One day I put on my hiking shoes and drove to Franklin Canyon. Below are a few images of my first 2021 forays.

Red-shouldered hawk

Ruby-crowned kinglet. (The crown is seen only when a male becomes excited during the breeding season.)

California thrasher, singing his lovely song after the rain had stopped.

I still check my backyard, but
enjoying much more my return to LA’s more natural environments.

Monday, March 22, 2021

BIRDS, BEACH AND SUN: A Spring Weekend in La Jolla, CA, by Caroline Arnold at The Intrepid Tourist

 Week 12: 52 Places to Go

Surfers and gulls at La Jolla Shores, California
Until I moved to California I never knew how to pronounce La Jolla, the name of the beach town just north of San Diego famous for swimming, surfing and beautiful ocean views, not realizing the “j” sounds like “h” and the two “l’s” are like a “y”. The correct pronunciation is “ la hoya”.
Hang gliders above La Jolla
Brown pelicans
On a warm weekend in March 2018, Art and I spent a weekend at La Jolla Shores and enjoyed walking along the sand, exploring tidepools, and observing birds and seals from the cliff top path at nearby La Jolla Cove.
Cliff top path at La Jolla Cove
On our first day, we headed north along the sand toward the Scripps pier. (The buildings of the Scripps Research Institute are on the bluff above.) Fleets of pelicans zoomed overhead, sharing the sky with hang gliders, who had launched themselves just up the coast at Torrey Pines. The tide was out and flocks of gulls and shorebirds patrolled the water’s edge looking for tidbits in the sand.
Marbled Godwits
Beyond the birds, where the waves were breaking, surfers in wetsuits waited for the next big wave.  We stayed dry. It was early spring and the water was cold--although apparently not for swimmers we saw making their way between the buoy markers.
It was a great day for photography. Broken shells, bits of seaweed, and even a jellyfish had washed up on shore, creating nature's own abstract compositions.
Nature as artist--one stone with kelp washed up on the sand
On the next day, we went in the other direction, following the path along the top of the cliff at La Jolla Cove. Hundreds of cormorants perched on the rocks below, many of them tending nests.
This Brandt's cormorant has three hungry chicks to feed
We continued around the point and walked to Children’s Beach, now taken over by seals and sea lions. 
Sea Lions enjoying the sun. (Sea lions have external ears; seals do not.)

People are no longer permitted to use Children's Beach, but a walkway along the breakwater provides a close look at the animals–who were mostly sleeping and enjoying a warm day in the sun--just as we were.As we looked down from the walkway, we could see our shadows next to the tidepools.
For my report on a previous visit to Jolla Cove, see my post for February 10, 2014.

  All text and photos copyright Caroline Arnold

Monday, March 15, 2021


52 Places to Go: Week 11
Migrating wildebeest crossing the Mara River, Tanzania, Africa
Our friend Owen Floody, who recently retired from a career of teaching and research at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, has had the good fortune of being able to travel frequently. His trips have been divided between treks and safaris, reflecting his interests in seeing (and photographing) interesting landscapes and wildlife. Here is his report on his safari to Tanzania in late July and early August of 2017.  
Grey-crowned crane
Though I have visited Africa many times, I never had focused on, or adequately seen, the Great Migration of more than a million wildebeest, zebra and other animals that is concentrated in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park.
Wildebeest launching themselves into the Mara River to begin their crossing
In one sense the Great Migration is difficult to miss: Rather than being confined to a fraction of the year, its clockwise circulation of animals continues nearly year-round.  Still, there are parts of the migration that are more dramatic than others and one of the most dramatic of all seems to be that at which the animals are forced to cross the Mara River, near Serengeti’s northern border.  It is at this point that the wildebeest probably are at greatest risk of death due to drowning or predation by crocodiles.  It is estimated that about 6,500 wildebeest drown in the Mara each year, injecting tons of nutrients into the river ecosystem in the process (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114, 7647, 2017).
Wildebeest entering the Mara River
My desire to see a river crossing led me to work with Warrior Trails, my favorite Tanzanian tour operator, to plan a trip to the northern Serengeti in late July and early August, when crossing seemed likely.  Our plan committed us to five nights at a tented camp within striking distance of the Mara. It seemed most prudent to give ourselves several opportunities to catch crossings, assuming that we had guessed right on the time of year.
Wildebeest emerging from the river at the end of the crossing
So, did we see our crossing?  Yes, we did, and on the second day of our time in the north.  As crossings go, this seemed extremely benign: The river was low and slow, and the crocodiles must still have been digesting their meals from prior days as none of them made an appearance.  Nevertheless, the crossing was one of the most exciting spectacles I have seen.  And I did not feel cheated in the least by the uniform success of the animals we saw crossing: There was adequate evidence of past (and likely future) failures, and I did not really need to directly observe these.
This focus made for a relatively simple itinerary.  We flew into Kilimanjaro Airport, near Arusha, and essentially made a beeline for the northern Serengeti, a transfer that involved many hours of often dusty driving.  Upon the completion of our time there, we returned to Arusha almost as directly.  What terrible hardships we endured!  Lest you feel too sorry for us, bear in mind that we made several stops en route, at Lake Manyara National Park and in the central Serengeti on the way north, in central Serengeti again and at the Ngorongoro Crater on the return.  Also, bear in mind that Serengeti is varied and wonderful, possibly my favorite place in earth.  What a privilege to be “forced” to spend a couple of weeks there.
Female Leopard
Our early success freed us for a succession of game drives exploring different nearby parts of the Serengeti.  It exposed us to some of the variety of habitats that the park incorporates and helped to put the Great Migration in context by contrasting areas that the migrating animals were vacating versus occupying.  In addition, it provided us with the time we needed to find, view and enjoy some of the other wildlife (and scenery) for which the Serengeti is so famous.  
Grey-headed Kingfisher
In preparing for an African safari, I think it generally best to not become too invested in particular sightings: The chance element is too strong and there are too many wonderful things to be seen, any subset of which is likely to be thrilling. Altogether, our trip could not have been much more successful or pleasant.
Note: A wildebeest is a large dark antelope with a long head, a beard and mane, and a sloping back. It is also called a gnu. 
All text and photos copyright Caroline Arnold at The Intrepid Tourist

Monday, March 8, 2021

ANIMALS OF HWANGE NATIONAL PARK, ZIMBABWE by Karen Minkowski at The Intrepid Tourist

52 Places to Go: Week 10
Impala at Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
My friend Karen Minkowski spent several months in Africa in 2018-2019 and sent me some of her wonderful photos taken on a trip to Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. Karen and I were on the same memorable trip to East Africa in 1971 that I wrote about in my post on May 16, 2011. Karen has been back to Africa many times since then, both for work and for pleasure. I thank her for sharing her terrific photos and observations of African wildlife with The Intrepid Tourist.

I've been coming to Zimbabwe almost yearly since 2009, and at the end of 2018 I returned, hoping to spend six months volunteering for a foundation, while also seeing as much wildlife and birds as possible. Not long after arriving, an unexpected opportunity came up to spend four nights at a wonderful lodge in Hwange National Park at a special "rainy season" rate. Here are some of the highlights of this visit.
Young eland
The rainy season is birthing time for many antelope and gazelle  – here are some young eland from a herd of about 200, the largest eland group I've ever seen. Below, a bull, with his velvety coat.
Bull (male) eland
Hwange has one of the largest elephant populations in Africa, between 49 and 60 thousand.  In the dry season elephants concentrate in and around water holes. With the rains they disperse widely, as water is everywhere, and we saw elephants only once. This young teenager mock-charged our vehicle several times before rubbing his rear on a dead tree stump. As we started to drive away, he approached our vehicle, raised his trunk and trumpeted at us, convinced he was chasing us away.
Young elephant
When I go to Hwange I am accustomed to joining a walking safari. I love this way of seeing wildlife, following the tracker as he picks up the spoor of a lion or rhino. There's nothing between me and the wildlife, and ... I get to walk. On this safari we viewed everything from a vehicle, but I did appreciate that we were able to approach wildlife more closely without disturbing them and saw many more animals than when on foot.

Hwange has a great diversity of ungulates (hoofed mammals.)
Resting waterbuck
The sable is one of the most beautiful of all antelopes. We saw them in woodlands and grasslands.
Impala are one of Africa's most common gazelles, but I never tire of seeing these elegant, graceful animals. One afternoon we watched in amazement as a group of young impala raced round and round in large circles, seemingly for the pure joy of running and kicking their legs high in the air...they continued for quite a while.
Zebras are very affectionate!
In this season of abundant food and water, the animals seemed more relaxed than during the dry months – the need to be vigilant for predators is always present, but there's also time for fun and play and socializing. Meanwhile, the black-backed jackal (below) often hangs around on the grasslands, awaiting perhaps a lion kill? The jackal scavenges and preys opportunisticly.
While parked late one afternoon to enjoy drinks and watch the sunset. A lion begin to roar from perhaps 1/2 a mile away; soon he came into view, about 100 meters from us, still roaring. It is the best sound in the universe, soothing and comforting when you know you are in a safe place.
We continued watching as he roared his way towards one of Africa's spectacular sunsets...
For more about Hwange National Park, see Karen's post The Birds of Hwange National Park from March 4, 2019.
All text and photos copyright Caroline Arnold at The Intrepid Tourist