Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Fall fun before the snow ruins it all

Hello all. Just because I am not in an exotic place doesn't mean there isn't anything neat to write home about. I finally caught up with homework, and I got to go hiking, kayaking and hunting to places like Bear Lake (3000 ft), Deep Inlet, and a peak on Starrrigavan Ridge that I had wanted to climb (2800ft).

This first-winter golden-crowned sparrow Zonotrichia atricapilla is eating grass seeds in my house's lawn. As you can probably tell, my roommate and me aren't exactly the utlimate lawn mower warriors.

In Sitka the fall isn't glorious like it was in Anchorage, but still it can be a nice time of the year in bwtween rain squalls.

I regularly complain about Steller's sea lions Eumetopias jubatus scaring me when I go kayaking, and people don't seem to really believe me. This one didn't touch my kayak, as they have in the past, but it was definitely too close:

I cropped a photo for the first time! on Matt Goff's recommendation I have been using a free program called IrfanView to downsize my pictures, and it works great for cropping too. This fork-tailed storm-petrel Oceanodroma furcata was one of a dozen flitting about my kayak:

This tiny gentian is Gentiana douglasiana:

This is Andrew, the director of Sitka Conservation Society, on a deer-hunting trip around the back of the Starrigavan drainage. We didn't get a deer, but the hike was pretty good.

This beautiful Gentianacea is Swertia perennis:


Sunday, October 5, 2008

A little glimpse of Mongolian culture

The Mongolians are very, very proud of their heritage. People kept telling me about the names for different parts of horse equipment, giving me small bills so that I would remember the famous people depicted on them, and the government put up some shows so that the soldiers from all those different country would come away with a broadened knowledge of Mongolian culture. This woman is doing a fascinating snake dance (by the way, many Mongolian women are very beautiful):

I had heard about horse violins before, but this cello version was even cooler:

Definitely my favorite was this concert, with two women dancing to a throat song, acting entranced. It was very, very impressive.

And another dancer:

Finally, an archer shooting the traditional bone bow.


"Yurts and ponies"

The two top questions I get now that I came back from Mongolia are: "Do people live in yurts?" and "Do they ride around on ponies?" Well, no and no. But also yes and yes.

"Yurt" is a Russian word, and it's simply not polite to call their tents that. In Mongolian they are called "ger," pronounced with a strong "g," a short rolling "r," and an almost non-existent "i" that just barely bridges the two consonants.

They ones that are inhabited (not for storage) have stoves, a television, and very often a solar panel or two. Many of them have old motorcycles next to them, a wooden strucure for tying horses, etc.

On the inside there are usually Buddhist altars with pictures of Gods and family members, little prayer wheels, etc. The owner of this ger is not religious (the communists fought Lamaism early on, destroyed temples, and executed thousands of monks), so he has a bunch of pictures and horse riding medals. The container in the middle is full of airag, an alcoholic drink made from fermented mare's milk.

The little ger is the camp store. The big, ornate one in the back is the camp's recreation tent, and the miscellaneous stuff on the ground is another ger, which the storekeeper has taken apart to go back to Ulaan Baatar. It is easy to see in this picture how portable the whole thing is.

Many ger are built in semi-permanent clusters with hard corrals for wintering horses, gear storage, and hay. In this picture, my friend SGT Dirkes gets on a horse, and he guy with a yellow belt is wearing a traditional del.

Which brings me to the ponies. In Mongolia, they're horses (moir), and they're not small. People take offense when they hear that. They are really proud of their horses.

The Mongolian ministry of Defense convinced some local herders to wrangle some horses in the cantonment area. It was a real treat, and I got to watch the guys herd and catch horses fairly close. This picture shows the Mongolian lasso, at the end of a pole.

This man is trying to catch a horse from the ground:

Once the horse is caught, it is submitted by a man on the ground who twists its ears, and ridden bareback by a man (a teenager, often), who either falls or tires the horse.

Everyone in Mongolian horse families, young or old, rides horses.

The kids are put on horses pretty early, and by the time they're ten years old they'll be galloping around the hills.


Thursday, October 2, 2008

Mongolia post #3: wildlife

I was largely clueless as to the identity of just about all the plants and wildlife I saw there, but I was sure impressed. This is a huge grasshopper that was common in the area (Tuv Aimag, Altanboulag Soum). This grasshopper looks like a specimen I saw in the Mongolian museum of natural history, which had two labels (!!!): Deracantha onos and Bradyporus multituberculatus. I think it is the latter. Well, I got some feedback - Deracantha it is - Thanks!

There was a lot of trapping activity by the locals in the area. These kids are looking on in glee as their dad prepares a fairly common local species, the Siberian marmot Marmota sibirica:

Birdwatching on foot in the high steppes of Mongolia is a little bit like pelagic bird watching in the middle of the ocean on a surfboard - not very effective... But I was able to tally about twenty species and caught glimpses of many, many other birds that well, I don't really know what they were...

common kestrel
black-eared kitehill pigeon
Daurian jackdaw
red-billed chough
carrion crow
Eurasian hobby
black-billed magpie
domestic pigeon
Mongolian lark
Eurasian tree sparrowbarn swallow
demoiselle cranegolden eagle
northern wheatear
common raven
isabelline wheatear
great-horned owl (great observation while climbing)pied wheatear
white wagtail
Daurian partridge
horned lark