Wildlife TV Programs This Week

One of my favorite ways to view wildlife is through TV programs on my favorite nature channel NatGeoWild (DirecTV 283). There is always something delightfully soothing, fascinating, mysterious, invigorating, or surprising to see–and always much to learn.

In the USA, two special options rendering reality in two very different styles will be broadcast this weekend. They are The Zoo on Animal Planet (channel 282) and Wild Scotland on NatGeoWild (channel 283).

The new episode of The Zoo (link to live streaming of season 1 episodes), a show I have yet to sample about adventures at the Bronx Zoo, is on next Saturday, April 1, at 10pm Eastern and features a desert fox, or fennec, named Charlie. I LOVE fennecs. The tall, pointy ears, the dark eyes, the foxiness, the elegance–truly entertaining canids.

Of course, I love Scotland, too, and until now have not seen a show advertised on NatGeoWild (channel 283) that focuses on Scotland’s natural treasures: Wild Scotland will air starting at 8pm Eastern next Sunday, April 2, in a series of 1-hour-long premiers, each focusing on a different season’s challenges and species in the Scottish wilds. Plus, it’s narrated by Ewan McGregor (at least the UK version is, which seems to focus on the Hebrides)–can’t wait!

Episodes for this series, part of a regular program known as Destination Wild in the U.S., start with “Spring Awakening” at 8pm (Eastern), about this unpredictable season’s effects on life in the Highlands. This new episode is followed by two others at 9pm and 10pm, “Mid Summer’s Night Dream,” and “Into the Woods” (I found no direct links for profiles on these episodes).

Earlier that day are additional, re-run episodes of Destination Wild, including Wild France. I added that to my DVR, also, just for good measure. Wild Alaska was one of the earliest in that line that I recall seeing years ago.

If you missed Big Cat Week on NatGeoWild this year, you missed some great shows set in North and South America including the Amazon jungle and Andes mountains. The majority of shows presented a diverse array of African savannahs, river deltas, deserts, and swamps. I DVR’d most of the shows and watched them later at my leisure. My preferences were the mountain lion, leopard, and cheetah episodes, as well as those involving, you guessed it, African wild dogs, aka African painted dogs.

Incidentally, although big cats are endangered in many places, the social life of lions leaves something to be desired with the males’ lack of protective instinct for younger sibling cubs and the infanticide of marauding adult male lions. Dogs, otters, and even bizarre hyenas are less dysfunctional. For a primer on how great African wild dogs are, see the footnote. *

Sometimes it’s a refreshing change of pace to watch individual animals tough it out–leopards, cheetahs, mountain lions, jaguars, even honey badgers. However, Shark Week (NatGeo) is a ways off, not till late summer, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show (previously on USA but this year on FS1) airs each year on Valentine’s Day, and Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet (channel 282) broadcasts as an alternative to the NFL Super Bowl (also early February for you non-sporting breeds). Those ships have sailed.

Generally, Animal Planet focuses more on adventure that may or may not involve animals, with programs such as North Woods Law, Pitbulls & Parolees, Tanked, and Treehouse Masters. I’m less of a fan overall of Animal Planet because I would rather see actual animals, not just people acting like them. There’s no substitute for the real thing.

These are not the only channels for observing wildlife on television, just the most obvious, most reliable, and most popular. Every once in a while, there is a special presentation, a Disney movie, films like March of the Penguins, and others on various channels from movie channels to science to family. Of course, now YouTube and other online venues offer even more opportunities to view animal and wilderness videos of all kinds. Our options continue to expand with streaming media and the mobility of videos being shared across social networks.

But if you’re more of a traditionalist as I tend to be, and you prefer good, old-fashioned TV for most of your visual home entertainment, check out this week’s offerings on NatGeoWild and Animal Planet throughout the week. I like The Incredible Dr. Pol, American Beaver, Otter Town, and anything to do with wild canids like foxes, wolves, jackals, coyotes, and dogs (including Dog Whisperer Cesar Milan shows). Tune in especially on Saturday for The Zoo at 10pm Eastern and for Wild Scotland starting at 8pm Eastern on Sunday. Enjoy!

Wild Scotland Reference

By the way, as I am in the process of presenting my multi-part series on Outlander-oriented tourism in Scotland–having visited the country last year but sadly seen little wildlife during that trip–I’m including below a few resources to learn more about exploring wild Scotland in person. 

For general tour guide sources about wild Scotland, I recommend:

Scotland the Best: Peter Irvine chooses his top 50 Scottish places to eat, stay and play – Daily Record – THE latest edition (book) of Scottish travel bible Scotland the best is out and here, author Peter Irvine selects his top 50 places to eat, stay and play.

Rough Guides – The Rough Guide to Scotland – The new, full-colour Rough Guide to Scotland is the definitive travel guide to this gem of a country. In-depth coverage of its burgeoning food scene, artistic innovations and awe-inspiring wild places

Walk Wild Scotland (walkwild.org) – Wilderness. Adventure. Culture. Relaxation.

Regional Guides and Guides by Type of Place or Activity

To begin to drill down into specifics, a helpful starting point for exploration is the Scottish Natural Heritage nature reserves and parks page. It provides different category links for types of sites and where to find them, including national, regional, and local nature reserves, national, regional, and country parks, national nature reserves and those managed by SNH, as well as other sites.

The following are some select resources I happened to come across while trip planning. This is in no way an exhaustive list; some vast territories are not covered.

In the South

WWT Caerlaverock – Wildfowl & Wetlands Centre near Caerlaverock Castle, managed by Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (wwt.org.uk)

Adjacent to WWT Caerlaverock is the Caerlaverock National Nature Reserve managed by Scottish Natural Heritage (snh.gov.uk) – “an internationally important coastal site on the North Solway Coast.” It is a birding hotspot (winter) and habitat for natterjack toads (summer) in the shallow pools on the northern edge of the reserve. “Winter attracts staggering numbers of wildfowl and waders. Oystercatcher, pintail and curlew feed on the mudflats and roost on the merse (local name for saltmarsh).”

St. Abb’s Head National Nature Reserve, Eyemouth, Scottish Borders (a National Trust Scotland site) – “A nature reserve and seabird colony on a dramatic cliff-top known for dolphin and puffin sightings.” – Google maps

Central Scotland & southern Highlands

In Fife, just north of Edinburgh, across the Firth of Forth: Welcome to Fife Coast & Countryside Trust and Local Nature Reserves.

Rannoch & Tummel (rannochandtummel.co.uk) – In the Big Trees Country of Perthshire: Loch Rannoch, Schiehallion munro, Dunalastair Estate, Blackwood of Rannoch (Scots Pine, remnants of the Great Forest of Caledonia), Kinloch Rannoch (village), Tummel Bridge and Loch Tummel, Rannoch Moor, Rannoch Station, churches, and more

Argyll & the Isles

Scottish Beaver Trials in Knapdale Forest – “Spot the signs of beaver activity in one of the most stunning parts of Scotland.” For information on the project, see the Scottish Natural Heritage page about it.

Argyll & the Isles (exploreargyll.co.uk) Wildlife and nature reserves page – a brief overview followed by three pages of specific results on wildlife and nature tourism in Argyll & the Isles, including Bute Forest, Islay Sea Adventures, Mull Eagle Watch, and Staffa National Nature Reserve.

Cairngorms National Park

Cairngorms National Park (visitcairngorms.com – official) – Activity search results for “Wildlife Watching” include well-established wildlife tours such as

UK Wildlife Safaris: Cairngorms Highland Wilderness–diverse, elaborate over 7 days, the tour offers sightings of red deer, wild goat, golden eagle, common seal, red squirrel, otter, pine marten, badger, and Capercaillie via treks to the Speyside Wildlife Hide, the Moray Firth, and through Caledonian pine forest–

and Rothiemurchus Safaris and Tours (Aviemore): osprey, badgers, red squirrels, red deer, pine martens. See Rothiemurchus.net for the full range of outdoor activities available, which include wildlife watching and photography, self-guided walks, pony treks, fishing, white water rafting, gorge swimming, hiking, kayaking, biking with bike hire, clay target shooting, quad bike treks, mountain climbing, archery, and special activities for kids.

For more Highland wildlife and bird watching safaris, go to VisitScotland.

Farther North and West

Scotland’s National Nature Reserves (nnr-scotland.org.uk) – Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve (lower northwest coast vicinity, Highland): On the hill you may see red deer, pine marten, mountain hares, foxes, voles and stoats.

Garbh Eilean Wildlife Hide (managed by Forestry Commission of Scotland) along Loch Sunart between Acharacle and Strontian, West Highland – otters, pine martens, a heronry, and, rarely, golden eagles and white-tailed eagles

Islands

Arguably the best place to see puffins is Handa Island. The Islands are generally best for waterfowl sightings year round.

Eilean Ban: The Brightwater Centre (eileanban.org), The Pier, Kyleakin, Isle of Skye island wildlife: “On the island you may see Voles, Pine Marten, Rock and Meadow Pipits, while in the water around, Shags and Cormorants are regularly seen feeding, and Eider Ducks have appeared in large numbers. Porpoises and both Harbour and Grey Seals are visitors, not to mention the resident Otters!

Don’t forget to learn about wildlife and nature in the Outer Hebrides, Orkney, and Shetland!

If you decide to hold off till the weekend, Wild Scotland is sure to be another great way to start exploring the Scottish wilderness. Watch it this Sunday, April 2, at 8pm Eastern on NatGeoWild.

The Zoo‘s latest episode called “Birds and the Bees” features the fennec fox, bee-eater birds, and a leopard; it airs Saturday, April 1, on Animal Planet at 10pm Eastern.


Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with any of these companies and make this recommendation from personal interest alone.

  • African wild dogs are the most efficient predators in Africa, with a percentage of hunts resulting in kills more than 90% of the time, and arguably the most humane. Rather than slowly suffocating or bleeding their prey, like big cats often do, African wild dogs immediately go for the belly, which induces the numbing effects of shock and results in a quick death. Again, dogs are better than cats–it’s just a fact. But they’re all endangered, and each ecosystem survives in a delicate balance. For a snapshot of other wild animals I enjoy, see Five-Phrase Friday (23): Cool Creatures.

Backyard Brief: Great Blue Birthday

January 21, 2017

Blessed on a mild, mid-winter Saturday by a close encounter with a great blue heron, we spotted him from the bridge over Tuscarawas Race. We paused at the threshold between the Coventry Oaks and Tuscarawas Meadows areas of Firestone Metropark in Akron, Ohio.

After a vigorous hill walk with views of downtown and a water tower, we came upon deer and dog tracks and droppings at the base of the bare field. Ahead, whispering, my husband called me to the bridge, toward the woods.

Shielded by leafless branches, the gray, reflecting apparition scarcely twitched before us, though our own insides leapt at the sight.

The long and short of it: 

Caught fishing, eating the fish, and switching banks to fish some more.

Wading, spying, preening, going about his business, he seemed to get used to us lingering there on the bridge as our crouched legs cramped up. Along with my shoulders and hands, they stiffened as I strained to capture, to hold, to know something I did not yet know.

With better sense, my husband stood before I did, and soon a rowdy family came along the path beside the great blue’s bank.

I finally rose but could not unbend without help; all my leg muscles and joints seemed to rebel as one mob. Grace belonged wholly to the heron.

Thus ended the suspense as it withdrew in silent flight down the race, perching on a stone in the water, perhaps to fish again. Our day was complete, our own next meal an easy catch.

A happy “10 and 30th” birthday to another seeker, indeed. And, with this photo gallery of its signature bird, happy 3rd anniversary to the fledgling pond called Philosofishal.


All images © C. L. Tangenberg

Clubbers Become Neighbors for a Week Each Year

The World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational happens essentially in our backyard this weekend, August 6-9. All of the golfers likely have arrived by now, and the weather looks as though it will be sunny, or at least manageable, until Monday or Tuesday, when rain is forecast.

We do need that rain; the usual lush greenness of the Ohio landscape has browned a bit these past couple of weeks. But fickle weather always makes an outdoor sports tournament more interesting. The high winds at St. Andrews were evidence of that during The Open Championship, of which I caught a few snippets on TV.

The Firestone Country Club hosts this week’s event every year. Although we cannot see the course from the house, my husband says the water tower is visible from the roof when he strings up the Christmas lights. And hints of the golfers’ presence come in several forms: heavy traffic, stuffed hotels, signs for volunteer parking and VIP shuttles, and the faint hum of activity and music just down the road, over a hill or two. A different sound for once competes with the usual flushing white noise of the highway not far in the opposite direction.

Great blue herons, ducks, and Canada geese frequent the ponds throughout the course and go fishing, as some local humans do, in the reservoir between the metro park and the country club. They’ve got the bank by the water cordoned off to prevent such ventures this week, though the crowds farther up the road should keep all but the most stubborn geese away and perhaps more likely to replace the usual fishermen in that spot.

Incidentally, I fish only figuratively. It seems as though millennia (well, one, anyway) have passed since my last fishing experience. I think it must have been with my maternal grandfather, gone for nearly a decade now.

Both of my grandfathers were golfers, as are my father-in-law, my parents, and my husband. I’m the usual arm-chair observer, yet I can see how being a spectator at the invitational in person would be more exciting than watching it on TV. My husband’s been to it a few times and found the experience rather enjoyable.

As I have been dwelling on many things Scottish lately–including the Gaelic language (I’m actually learning it), Scots English, learning about Scotch whiskey (and trying some here and there), the prospect of visiting Scotland, some of its politics with respect to the UK (all thanks, of course, to my obsessive love of all things Outlander this year)–I gravitate to thoughts about the game Scotland invented on this annual occasion in my home town.

The origin of the word “golf,” like the sport itself, comes from early medieval times, based on the word “club.” This is “club” in the sense of the instrument used to strike the ball, as opposed to clubs of the country variety where the sport is usually played. But the players themselves are clubbers in both senses. Further tidbits about the word’s origin can be found at ScottishGolfHistory.org.

Every time I hear or say the word “golf,” even in my head, I can’t help thinking of two things: (1) Randy Quaid’s line as Peter Blunt in Caddyshack II (I know, sacrilege not to put Caddyshack on a higher pedestal than the sequel; couldn’t be helped): “Golf, golf… what kinda name is “golf” anyway? Sounds like a sound you make when you’ve got something caught in your throat.” And (2) Robin Williams, who lampooned the sport in his stand-up act until his death almost a year ago now:

“The commentary is electrifying,” he mocks, and proceeds to demonstrate the hushed tones of the usual commentators reporting from the course as the player in view is about to take a stroke at the ball. Be forewarned, if you don’t know about Robin Williams’ stand-up habits, explicit language is par for the course (sorry) and at the end of this link (hey, that’s what it’s called): The best part of Williams’ golf sketch tackles the sport’s invention in Scotland as he portrays a drunken Scotsman describing the idea and emphasizing the game’s extreme difficulty.

Without my husband’s sports mania, I probably wouldn’t be aware of the golf world much at all. His usual TV programming is either soccer, rugby, Aussie rules football, golf, tennis, volleyball, track & field, Top Gear, or a political talk show such as Kennedy. (The last two are very entertaining, actually.) Although I am more inclined to pay attention to the soccer games or track & field, I, too, have come to appreciate golf’s dramatic shots, bated-breath putts (scintillating commentary or not), impossible angles, sand traps, play-offs, and the progress of great, fan-friendly golfers like Phil Mickelson.

Firestone Metro Park, also nearby, is even closer to our neighborhood than the country club is. I’ve taken none of my usual nature walks this summer despite my emphasis on such things through this blog. I’ve been more home-bound out of concern for my dog Elyse’s low blood sugar patterns. So, I’m gardening mostly, and taking pictures of the results, between dosing the dog, reading, writing, and tutoring.

This week would not be the time to go, anyway. The more crowded the area, the less unspoiled nature there is to enjoy. It’s a relatively popular park without a major event happening nearby, but I theoretically have the luxury of going during the typical working hours of most folks. Fall is one of the best times to visit the parks. It’s less humid, less busy, and more colorful.

Bridgestone is for champions only, so that heightens the prestige compared to other golf tournaments. Jordan Spieth, Zach Johnson, who won The Open Championship (St. Andrews), and Phil, among dozens of others, will participate. I understand the legendary Jack Nicklaus attended the banquet during the event in recent years, so there are bound to be all sorts of celebrities besides. Last year’s champion Rory McIlroy will miss the tournament this time, though, due to an ankle injury. If you’re curious, you can find past Bridgestone records and highlights of the 2015 competitors on the preview page of the PGA Tour’s website.

Honestly, I don’t care all that much about such details. My primary concern is to avoid the main entrance of our neighborhood between now and Monday so I don’t get stuck in a traffic jam. But I’m sure I’ll catch some of the competition on TV if my husband has anything to say about it.

This otherwise exciting golf competition reminds me of the fun I’m missing as summer wanes, the activities I can’t do, and people I have loved who have passed on–family and, yes, Robin Williams. It’s a good thing my husband took me on a date tonight! It’s also good to laugh at Williams’ video clips and to unwrap the two poetry collections I just bought online by beloved poets Elizabeth Bishop and Judith Wright.

Weighing the pros and cons of such a large event, though, I can’t help feeling a pride of place, knowing that celebrities and elite athletes are just a few golf strokes away. I also feel a sense of connection with Scotland and the world, through this very old tradition and its yearly spectacle in my own Akron, Ohio.

Winner of the 2014 Bridgestone Invitational, Rory McIlroy. Image credit Getty Images via Golf.com

Rory McIlroy, winner, 2014 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Image credit: Getty Images via Golf.com

Famous Poets’ Nature Poetry, 2: Elizabeth Bishop

American poet Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979) is one of my favorites of all time, and “The Fish” is one of my favorite poems of hers (not solely for its topic, mind you).

For my 100th post on this blog, samples of lines from “The Fish” and from her longer poem “The Moose” follow. Other great Bishop poems include, among others, “One Art” and “Filling Station.” I mentioned the latter here on Poem-in-Your-Pocket Day, 2014.

Excerpts from “The Fish” by Elizabeth Bishop, published in 1946:

He didn't fight. 
He hadn't fought at all. 
He hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely. (lines 5-9)

I thought of the course white flesh
packed in like feathers,
the big bones and the little bones,
the dramatic reds and blacks
of his shiny entrails,
and the pink swim-bladder
like a big peony. (lines 27-33)

I looked into his eyes 
which were far larger than mine
but shallower, and yellowed, 
the irises backed and packed
with tarnished tinfoil
seen through the lenses
of old scratched isinglass.
They shifted a little, but not
to return my stare.
--It was more like the tipping
of an object toward the light. (lines 34-44)

the turning point:

. . . from his lower lip 
--if you could call it a lip--
grim, wet, and weaponlike,
hung five old pieces of fish-line, . . . . 
Like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing from his aching jaw. . . . (lines 48-51, 61-64)

To take in more great descriptive details and find out what happens with the fish, see the whole poem.

Set in New Brunswick, Canada, here is an excerpt (lines 1-26) from “The Moose” by Elizabeth Bishop, published in 1976, thirty years after “The Fish” and three years before her passing:

From narrow provinces
of fish and bread and tea,
home of the long tides
where the bay leaves the sea
twice a day and takes
the herrings long rides, 

where if the river
enters or retreats
in a wall of brown foam
depends on if it meets
the bay coming in,
the bay not at home;

where, silted red,
sometimes the sun sets
facing a red sea,
and others, veins the flats' 
lavender, rich mud
in burning rivulets; 

on red, gravelly roads,
down rows of sugar maples,
past clapboard farmhouses
and neat, clapboard churches,
bleached, ridged as clamshells,
past twin silver birches,

through late afternoon
a bus journeys west, . . . .

When my college poetry professor first introduced us to Elizabeth Bishop, she said “The Moose” was widely agreed upon as the definitive example of her poetry. Obviously, I like it very much, too. Now that I’ve gotten you started, you have less of an excuse not to read the rest of this beautiful poem. And, yes, the travellers do encounter a moose.

A comprehensive collection of Bishop’s complete poems is available on Amazon.com.

Check out the next featured poem and poet in the series, the daffodils of Wordsworth.

And ICYMI: The start of this nature verse series consists of two posts exploring the theme of sunshine: Famous Poets’ Nature Poems, 1: Sun Spots, featuring four different poets’ work, and Famous Poets’ Nature Poems, 1a: “The Sunlight on the Garden,” with part of a poem by Louis MacNeice.