Washington National Cathedral

Nat’l Cathedral-Facade

In May I had the opportunity to visit the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. Technically, it is the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, DC. I accompanied friends as we attended a concert by a string quartet. The cathedral is being renovated. Although I had been to the cathedral while in graduate school many years ago, I saw it with new eyes, this time as a photographer. It was late afternoon when we arrived, but night had fallen by the time we left.

The cathedral is the second tallest church building in the United States, and the fourth tallest structure in DC. In fact, it is taller than the US Capital, so a special act of Congress was required for it to be built.

Several features mark the cathedral, including the “creation” rose window. The nave is lined by state flags. As you look on the left, Rhode Island’s flag is the sixth down the line.

Nat’l Cathedral-Rose Window

Other features include the high altar, carved from limestone. Texas limestone was used for the Christ figure, but limestone from a quarry outside Jerusalem was used for the rest. The Canterbury pulpit is where Martin Luther King, Jr., preached his last Sunday sermon before his death. Outside the Children’s Chapel the floor is inlaid with state medallions.

Enjoy this little slide show from the National Cathedral.

What Was Lost Today

ND-West Rose Window

The tragic fire that gutted Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris today destroyed magnificent treasures of Christianity. Begun in the 12th century and completed in the 13th, Notre Dame predates the Protestant Reformation and thus belongs to all Christians. I seek in this post to give you a poor representation of the beauty of Notre Dame. Please excuse the very poor images here–they are purchased slides from my trip to Paris in 1980. Now much faded and distorted, they were never very good.

As you no doubt learned in an art history course at some point, the structure of Notre Dame made a striking advance in architecture at the time. Early Christian cathedrals were modified from Roman style basilicas, with circular arches. A modern example of this style is the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. This style of construction leads to a more ponderous feel. What designers of Notre Dame wanted to achieve was a much more soaring effect, with lots of windows and light. This demanded a new architectural design, the gothic arch. With the greater strength the gothic arch provided they could raise the ceiling, insert side windows, and support massive rose windows. Those who have visited Notre Dame never fail to be impressed by these colorful masterpieces. To support the walls of the cathedral architects required the use of flying buttresses, impressive in their own right.

UPDATE: As of this morning, April 16, reports are that the structure is not deemed secure, but the organ and west rose window are OK.

The images in this gallery give you some slight hint of this magnificent edifice, meant both to inspire and to instruct.

African Penguins

Click For Animation

Click For Animation

A colony of African Penguins (Spheniscus demersus), also known as Jackass Penguins because of their call, nestles on the Cape Peninsula in South Africa.  Nestled as well are the penguins in their nesting burrows.  Other residents include Rock Hyraxes and visitors such as Cape Wagtails, Egyptian Geese, and Blacksmith Lapwings.

Penguin With Wagtail

Penguin With Cape Wagtail

African penguins are closely related to Magellanic Penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus) and Humboldt Penguins (Spheniscus humboldti).  The three  species can be distinguished by their location.  As their name suggests, African Penguins come to land to breed along the southern border of South Africa, whereas Magellanic Penguins breed along the southern coast of South American, in greater concentrations on the Atlantic side of that continent, and Humboldt Penguins nest further north, along the coast of Peru.  They also vary in appearance.  African Penguins generally have a bare (pink) skin patch that extends over the eye, and have a single dark breast band.  Magellanic Penguins have a less extensive bare patch and a double breast band.  In Humboldt Penguins, by contrast, the bare patch extends under the chin, and there is a single breast band.

Visitors access the colony via an extensive boardwalk.  As one walks along, one sees Rock Hyraxes feeding and adult and juvenile penguins near their nesting burrows.  The young birds are of various ages, as breeding is poorly synchronized.  Some are still in their downy plumage from birth, others have more adult plumage, still others are already heading out to the near shore to feed for themselves.  It takes approximately 14 months for the birds to reach adult plumage.

Juvenile Penguin

Juvenile Penguin

Penguins Heading Out To Feed

Penguins Heading Out To Feed

The birds head out to feed singly or in groups.  Watching them return to land and an upright posture can be very entertaining.  In the next image, “Penguins Heading Out To Feed,” I think the animal further out is a Southern White Sea Catfish, but that is only an educated guess.  If anyone reading this can provide a more definitive identification, I’d be glad to know of it.  It is not a shark, I am fairly certain.

Upon returning, the adult birds frequently reinforce their pair bonds by calling and by posturing and bowing to one another.

Young Penguin After Swim

Young Penguin After Swim

Penguins Renewing Pair Bond

Penguins Renewing Pair Bond

Enjoy this little gallery of penguin pics!

Cape Sugarbirds

Cape Sugarbird Male Singing, #1

Cape Sugarbird Male Singing, #1

Did you know there is an entire floristic kingdom almost exclusively found in South Africa?  It’s called “fynbos,” the Afrikaans name meaning fine-leaved.  In Afrikaans, “y” is pronounced as a long “a”, so “fynbos” would sound like “fain-boss”.  Fynbos is also the name of an ecological biome, confined almost exclusively to South Africa.  During our trip we saw several plants endemic (found exclusively in) to the fynbos of South Africa.  A number of fynbos plants belong to the genus Protea, also known as sugarbushes.  These beautiful plants are quite varied, having nectar-rich flowers and beautiful bracts colored pink, red, yellow, and/or orange.  Unfortunately, I’m a very long way from being a botanist, so I was totally overwhelmed by the plant species we encountered.  I had enough difficulty with the new bird groups with no counterparts in North America.  I cannot identify the species of protea these birds are feeding on.

One species of bird did put on quite a show for us on the third day (August 27), however, the Cape Sugarbird.  I was able to get enough photos of this bird to warrant its own post.  As you might expect, Sugarbirds feed on the sugarbush plants.  They are relatively large, larger than the Sunbirds, being 10-17 inches long, including the tail.  There are only two species found in Southern Africa, the ones we saw being Cape Sugarbirds.  This species is endemic to the fynbos, feeding almost exclusively on proteas and associated arthropods.  No hummingbirds are found in the Eastern Hemisphere, so Sunbirds and Sugarbirds fill the same ecological niche, feeding on nectar and thus pollinating the nectar-producing plants.

Looking For A Better Flower, #2

Looking For A Better Flower, #2

Male Sugarbirds have very long tails, with some variety in the length.  The one at the beginning of this post fared well in this regard.  Males will fly up and make a remarkable display, flapping their wings and clattering their tails.  Apparently females find this attractive, for various studies have found that longer tail length yields greater pair bonding success, but not necessarily greater reproductive success.  Those wiley females sometimes mate with shorter-tailed males in addition to their longer-tailed social partners!

We saw two males, one with a longer tail and one with a shorter tail.  Also hopping around and begging for food was a juvenile.

Enjoy this series of images of Cape Sugarbirds. 

Strandfontein Wetlands

From Strandfontein Wetlands

From Strandfontein Wetlands

We were blessed with good weather while at the Cape.  Prepared for rain and low temperatures, we were happily spared both, although South Africa as a whole needs rain.

Our second day, August 26, we traveled south from Cape Town to Strandfontein Wetlands.  This is actually a sewerage treatment area, but there’s little olfactory evidence of its actual purpose.  (In the US, we would use “sewage” instead of “sewerage,” the word used by the facility in South Africa.)  The area is also highly attractive to birds, both grassland species and waterbirds.  We saw some little grassland species, such as the Karoo Prinia and Levaillant’s Cisticola.  The Prinia’s call is a regular buzzy call, but the Cisticola’s is more melodious.

Levaillant's Cisticola, Front

Levaillant’s Cisticola, Front

When we arrived we learned that several avid birders, Twitchers by nick-name, were hoping for another glance of the Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin, the wayward migrant I mentioned in an earlier post.  We had several brief glimpses of the Fiscal Flycatcher while waiting.  We walked along, looked at the Prinia and Cisticola, then returned, just as the Scrub Robin appeared on a log, perking up its tail similarly to a wren.

Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin

Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Julie Zickefoose Amid Flowers

Julie Zickefoose Amid Flowers

That lovely surprise was followed by beautiful flowers and lots of waterbirds.  We saw Cape Teal and Red-billed Teal.  Teal are small ducks; we have a few species in North America, as well.  Both the Red-billed Teal and the Cape Teal have red bills.  The Red-billed, however, also has a black head.  Easy to tell them apart with that field mark.  We also saw Cape Shovelers, with that unique filtering bill that shovelers have.  The sexes look alike except for eye color; the male’s is yellow.

Cape Shoveler Pair, #1

Cape Shoveler Pair, #1

The teal seemed to enjoy the company of a Black-winged Stilt.  The reason for its name is obvious!  We made our way to an observation blind, called a hide locally, where Greater Flamingos abounded, flying back and forth.  Trying to capture these beautiful, but ungainly, flyers was quite a challenge.

Greater Flamingo Duet

Greater Flamingo Duet

Hanging out on some piers were Sacred Ibis, Hartlaub’s Gulls, and Swift Terns, also known as Greater Crested Terns.

Swift Tern Landing

Swift Tern Landing

After a long but lovely morning at the wetlands we sought out some lunch, then made our way to Table Mountain.  It was a beautiful day–no rain, not a lot of wind–so our hopes were high that we would ride the cable car to the top for some magnificent views of Cape Town and the rest of the vicinity.  No such luck.  We unloaded from the van, which Kim parked, then strolled down to the ticket booth, only to learn that summer hours didn’t begin until next week.  Nor were we the only ones disappointed.  As we engaged (argued) with the agent, another tour guide, with her entourage and a similar understanding as ours, aonly to be equally surprised and disappointed.  The cable cars were indeed running, but the final group had already ascended, and the cars were only bringing people down.  We debated briefly about trying to come the next day, but rejected that plan since it would come at the cost of something else more desirable.  Still, the view of Cape Town from the parking area is nevertheless lovely.

Cape Town from Table Mountain

Cape Town from Table Mountain

We ended the day with a beautiful sunset over Chapman’s Bay.

Chapman's Bay Sunset

Chapman’s Bay Sunset

Enjoy these images from south of Cape Town.