The animal you never knew you wanted to hold

For those of us uninformed, when we think of Australia animals, we think kangaroos, koalas, Tasmanian devils. For those with a little more background, we may even think the gazillion poisonous snakes and spiders that wander around here.

How about them wombats?

Funny looking marsupials, closely related to koalas but burrow in the ground. They have pouches where they carry their babies and a very hard boney backside, which they use to snap at predators. It is not unheard of to see dead predators with broken heads and necks laying by the entrance of a wombat burrow.

OK, I’ll be honest. They are ugly animals. But the babies are SO CUTE!!!!!

We paid a visit to Majors Creek Wombat Refuge, a small self-run self-funded refuge focused on saving injured wombats. Most wombats they get are hit by cars or have mothers hit by cars. At the time of our visit, they have over ten babies in their care. And a few adults waiting to be released back into the wild.

The owner, Bill, has converted his large farm land into a series of wombat pens. The younger the babier, the more enclosed the pen, to protect from predators and disease carrying rodents. The older the wombat, the more open the pen.. although Bill admits he is losing the battle to their burrowing habits. Some of the metal walls he as put up are more buried than above ground.

We actually didn’t see many full grown wombats. Most of them were underground except for a couple that have been too injured to survive on their own.

 

For the babies, Bill and his wife fashioned fleece pouches from donated clothing. They had cut off the arms off the sweaters, sewed up the arm and neck openings, and hung the pouch off the side of the pens. The babies just knew to look for them, many of the more mobile ones automatically climbing into the pocket on their own to curl up and shut us out.

I never knew I wanted to meet a wombat.. let alone hold one. But, yes, I did. They made very little sound, and just wanted to be held in a warm embrace.. as if they were back in a pouch.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Foreshadow

We waited on our seats edge for the wildebeest migration to climax to the oft photographed Mara river crossing.. an excruciating hours end for the rather mindless beasts to actually gather the courage to stop loitering about and cross.. only to have the chorus of engine starts and rushing of the safari vehicles coming forward to cut off the line and literally scare the animals off from crossing here.

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The question that begs to be asked is how much worse will we get in disrupting nature, even in a park that is set aside to allow nature to run its own course.

All Aboard!! Badlands National Park

Ever since I saw photos from friends’ vacation at the Badlands, I’ve wanted to go. If people thought I was crazy to take the train in an indirect route, those friends drove all the way from the East Coast. Direct, but speedy, it wasn’t.

I didn’t know what to expect. I just saw photos and was enamored with the notion of taking equally cool photos. I didn’t know whether the cliffs went up or down.

I didn’t expect the Badlands to be so vast and sudden to the landscape.. yet so contained. It felt like I was still driving on flat midwestern plains when the ground suddenly opened up and dropped into crevices. Then half way through, it felt the other way around.. I descended down and was looking up at the colorful array of the buttes.

I was startled to see so many motorcycles. It took a while to realize, belatedly, that I am in South Dakota the time when it seems the most people in the year: Sturgis motorcycle rally. What a backdrop it was, with the swarms of motorcycles thundering by the ancient sandstone landscape.

I climbed up Saddle Pass.. and the shape felt exactly like it was called, a saddle. Steep at times, I found myself glancing below my toes nervously. I know it’s bad when I adjust to sling my camera across my chest so I free up both hands and knees. I didn’t hike beyond the actual climb. A true disadvantage of traveling alone is needing to plan my hikes so that I end up back where I left the car. The path was surprisingly solid. I don’t know why I had the impression the ground would be softer, I just did.

I was determined to hike more of the park, though. The landscape leveled out to grassy plains on the western end. I started using every pull over to explore for walking paths. The loop road that traversed the park took less than an hour to cover and, yet, with 244,000 acres of natural wildlife, I itched to explore the place more. Especially given its claim as the largest expanse of protected prairie ecosystem in the American national parks. Near the west entrance, I found myself looking at the flat plains, hankering a good walk.

I found a nice wide lot perfect for parking the car. I pulled over and stepped out to examine if there were signs of any beaten paths to follow. I had barely walked five steps when I levitated, jumping up a good distance into the air, as a rattle snake snapped at my flipflopped toes.

Right then, my desire to hike disappeared and I scampered back in to the car to drive back for the day.

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Wait.. that’s my lunch!

I was eating a late lunch at the outdoor balcony of a cafeteria. The usually packed narrow galley was empty except for me. Something soft knocked my head forward and, startled, I reflexively rocked forward. I sat back up befuddled. I looked up to see a blur of brown. It took a good second before I realized: my plate was empty.

A falcon had swooped down from behind me, wing brushing my head aside as it came over my shoulder, and grabbed the chicken off my plate. Fortunately, I already finished eating.

Oddly, it dropped the chicken. The falcon then perched on the closest tree, lowest branch, watching me. I waited a while before going to pick up the chicken, least someone slipped on it.

So, now what? Usually a wait staff clears the table so I was free to get up and leave. But I didn’t want them to clean up a mess the bird may make.

I tried to continue reading.. it was unnerving when an enormous predator of a bird was sitting there, staring me down. I gave up, and picked up the lunch tray to take inside. I reached the door and juggled with the tray to free up a hand to open the door. As I turned to walk in, I realized the bird had swooped back over my shoulder, only because I had shifted the tray to one hand, it was on the wrong side.

The bird was enormous. Wingspan over 5 feet. The wait staff jumped to my aid when they looked up to see the beast just flying by.

Only in Africa.