Early in the morning, this woman in Udaipur, Rajasthan, India, is sweeping the street. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Udaipur is a delightful city in southern Rajasthan, India, situated around the gorgeous Pichola Lake. As early as the 10th Century, the Hindu Mewar Rajputs established a town here, named Ayad, which became a thriving trading centre.
Udaipur was founded in 1559 during the reign of Maharana Udai Singh II, the ruler of Chittorgarh, further north. Chittorgarh, situated in a flat tableland, was vulnerable to attacks from the Maharana’s enemies, notably Muslims, who had conquered parts of northern India. Following the emergence of artillery warfare in the 16th century, Udai Singh decided to move his capital to a more secure location, choosing Ayad. However, as Ayad was prone to flooding, he decided to establish his new capital on a ridge east of the Pichola Lake. To protect the new city from attacks, Udai Singh ordered a 6-km-long wall, with seven gates, to be built around the city.
This picture shows two different types of renovation in Udaipur: garbage collectors, passing by zebu oxen, which are eating garbage. The zebu is described in depth on the page Animals: Animals as servants of Man. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
People and sheep, on their way home, stand out against the bleak desert mountains around the city of Shigatse, Tibet. Read more about this area of Tibet on the page Travel episodes – Tibet 1987: Tibetan summer. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This man has fallen asleep on a bench near Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam. The Vietnamese flag, and a temple flag, are reflected in the lake. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Drongos (Dicrurus) constitute a separate family, Dicruridae, with altogether 25 species. The generic name is from the Greek dikros (‘forked’) and oura (‘tail’), referring to the forked tail of these birds. The plumage of most species is black, often with a sheen.
The black drongo (Dicrurus macrocercus) is a common resident in tropical and some subtropical areas of Asia, from southern Iran through the Indian Subcontinent to southern China and Taiwan, and thence southwards to Indonesia. It has also been introduced to certain Pacific islands, where it constitutes a threat to native bird species.
The black drongo lives in open areas, where it catches flying insects from a prominent perch, such as an electric wire or a bare branch. As its name implies, the plumage of this species is jet-black, with very little sheen. Previously, it was regarded as con-specific with the African fork-tailed drongo, which is today treated as a separate species, named Dicrurus adsimilis.
Black drongo, perched on a dead tree, Keoladeo National Park, Rajasthan, north-western India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Subspecies harterti of the black drongo is very common in the lowlands of Taiwan, found in open areas, such as farmland and city parks. This picture is from Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Several species of drongo are excellent imitators, including the greater racket-tailed drongo (Dicrurus paradiseus), which is distributed from the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and Hainan southwards to Borneo and Java. In his book Jungle Lore (1953), British hunter, writer, and conservationist Jim Corbett (1875-1955) relates a remarkable example of the abilities of this bird:
“(…) the racket-tailed drongo is a never-ending source of pleasure and interest for, in addition to being the most courageous bird in our jungles, he can imitate to perfection the calls of most birds and of one animal, the cheetal [spotted deer, Axis axis], and he has a great sense of humour. Attaching himself to a flock of ground-feeding birds – junglefowl, babblers, or thrushes – he takes up a commanding position on a dead branch and, while regaling the jungle with his own songs and the songs of other birds, keeps a sharp look-out for enemies in the way of hawks, cats, snakes, and small boys armed with catapults, [the author’s reference to himself] and his warning of the approach of danger is never disregarded. His services are not disinterested, for in return for protection, he expects the flock he is guarding to provide him with food. His sharp eyes miss nothing, and the moment he sees that one of the birds industriously scratching up or turning over the dead leaves below him has unearthed a fat centipede or a juicy scorpion he darts at it screaming like a hawk, or screaming as a bird of the species he is trying to dispossess does when caught by a hawk. Nine times out of ten he succeeds in wresting the prize from the finder, and returning to his perch kills and eats the titbit at his leisure, and having done so continues his interrupted song.”
Greater racket-tailed drongo, Periyar National Park, Kerala, South India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The Nilgiri tahr (Nilgiritragus hylocrius) is a rare species of sheep, which is restricted to mountains of South India. Formerly, this species, which numbers around 3,100 individuals, was placed in the genus Hemitragus, together with the Himalayan tahr and the Arabian tahr. However, recent genetic research has shown that it is more closely related to sheep of the genus Ovis than to tahrs, and, consequently, it was moved to a separate genus.
Eravikulam National Park, Kerala, where this picture was taken, is a stronghold of the Nilgiri tahr, housing an estimated 700-800 individuals, app. one-fourth of the total population. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Reverse silhouette: Irrigation near Agency Lake, Oregon, United States. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The Norway spruce (Picea abies) is native from Scandinavia and the Alps, south to the Balkans and eastwards to somewhere in Russia. Its eastern limit is very difficult to define, as it hybridizes freely with the Siberian spruce (P. obovata), which is distributed from western Russia and eastern Finland eastwards across Siberia. Norway spruce is widely planted elsewhere for its wood. The specific name abies is the Latin generic name of firs. This name was given in allusion to the fact that Norway spruce, at some distance, often resembles the common fir (Abies alba).
Early in the morning, a Norway spruce is seen as a silhouette against the mountain Sassolungo (3,181m), Dolomites, northern Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In Chinese mythology, the dragon is a symbol of power, strength, and good luck, and most Daoist temples abound with images of these creatures.
Dragons, and other aspects of Daoism, are presented on the page Religion: Daoism in Taiwan.
Dragons and other sculptures, adorning Bai Sa Wan Mazu, a Daoist temple near Tongxiao, western Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Men, performing a dragon dance outside a Daoist temple, dedicated to Wang-yeh, the god of diseases, Beimen, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Goblin Valley State Park is an area of Entrada Sandstone, situated on the Colorado Plateau, Utah, United States, eroded by rainfall and wind into the weirdest forms, called goblins.
More pictures of these formations, as well as other geological phenomena on the Colorado Plateau, may be seen on the page Nature: Nature’s art.
This formation in Goblin Valley State Park might be called Snoopy kissing E.T. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Originally, the native area of the collared dove (Streptopelia decaocto) was the Indian Subcontinent, but during the Middle Ages it spread to the Near East, reaching Istanbul in the 1700s. In the 1820s, it had spread to the Balkans, whereas the expansion of the major part of Europe took place very rapidly, between the 1930s and 1950s. Today, it is common all over Europe, mainly living in urban areas.
The cooing of this bird is a rather monotonous, continuously repeated “cuh-coooor-cuh”, which can at times be rather annoying. When I was young and prepared for high school examinations, it was quite hot, so I had to leave a window open. A favourite cooing place of a collared dove was our neighbour’s flag pole, situated about 15 m from my window. Its cooing got so annoying that I had to go out and chase it away, but five minutes later it was back on the pole. Well, I did pass my exams anyway.
Collared dove, sitting on a TV antenna, Funen, Denmark. The first observation of this species in Denmark was in 1948, and since then it has spread to almost the entire country. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The spotted, or pearl-necked dove (Spilopelia chinensis), is a pretty bird, distinguished by its pearl-like white spots on black background on the side of the neck. Formerly, it was included in the same genus as the collared dove, Streptopelia, but studies on vocalization, together with DNA analyses, led to the conclusion, that this species and its near relative, the laughing dove (Spilopelia senegalensis), differed sufficiently from the other Streptopelia species to form a separate genus. The spotted dove is widely distributed in Asia, from the Indian Subcontinent eastwards to China and Taiwan, thence south through the Philippines and Southeast Asia to Indonesia.
The nominate race of the spotted dove, chinensis, is very common in Taiwan, also in cities. In this picture, a pair is sitting on a lamp in Taichung Science Park. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The tiny red turtle dove (Streptopelia tranquebarica) is found from Pakistan eastwards to eastern China and Taiwan, and thence southwards to Southeast Asia and the island of Luzon, Philippines. The male is quite distinct, having grey head, black collar on the hind neck, red wings, and reddish breast, which has given rise to the name of the species. The female is brownish, also with a black collar. The specific name means ‘from Tranquebar’, a former Danish colony on the east coast of present-day Tamil Nadu, South India. Presumably, the type specimen of this species was collected here. – Incidentally, Tranquebar is presented on the page Culture: Entrances.
Eastern race humilis of red turtle dove is common in the lowlands of Taiwan, especially in the south. This picture shows a pair, sitting in a dead tree, together with two Taiwan house swallows (Hirundo javanica ssp. namiyei), Aogu Wetlands. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Silhouetted against the evening light, this couple is walking hand-in-hand under a bridge, Jutland, Denmark. Ousted Church is seen in the background. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In former days, the pretty painted stork (Mycteria leucocephala) had a wide distribution in Asia, found in the Indus Valley in Pakistan, in India, Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, and southern China. Today, however, it is only common locally in India and Sri Lanka, elsewhere it is either very rare, or has disappeared entirely.
Painted storks at sunset, Keoladeo National Park, Rajasthan, India. It is a common breeding bird in this sanctuary. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Abdim’s stork (Ciconia abdimii), also known as white-bellied stork, is distributed across the Sahel Zone of northern Africa, to Ethiopia, northern Kenya, Somalia, and the south-western tip of the Arabian Peninsula, and in south-eastern Africa, from southern Tanzania to South Africa. The name of this small stork commemorates Bey el-Arnaut Abdim (1780–1827), Turkish governor of Wadi Halfa, Sudan.
Abdim’s storks, resting in a tree, Cameroun. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Pinus is a huge genus of conifers, counting between 126 and 160 species. Three species are shown below, whereas others are described on the page Plants: Ancient and huge trees.
Four subspecies of the lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) are widely distributed in western North America, from sea level to subalpine montane forests. The nominate subspecies contorta is coastal, found on the Pacific Coast from southern Alaska southwards to north-western California. Another coastal subspecies is bolanderi, which is endemic to Mendocino County, north-western California. It is threatened by urban development. The tamarack pine, or Sierra lodgepole pine, ssp. murrayana, is widely distributed in mountains, from Washington southwards to northern Baja California, and thence eastwards to southern Nevada. Finally, ssp. latifolia is found in the Rocky Mountains, from Yukon and Saskatchewan southwards to Colorado.
The specific name contorta is from the Latin con (‘with’) and torqueo (‘twisted’), referring to the low, twisted trees, commonly found along the Pacific Coast. This is also reflected in one of the common names of this species, twisted pine.
More pictures of this species may be seen on the page Plants – Mountain plants: Plants of the Sierra Nevada.
Sunshine, illuminating foliage of a Sierra lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta ssp. murrayana), Yosemite National Park, Sierra Nevada, California. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The natural range of the Monterey pine (Pinus radiata) is limited to a few locations in Santa Cruz and San Luis Obispo Counties, central California, and two islands, Guadalupe and Cedros, off the west coast of northern Baja California, Mexico. In its natural range, it is seriously threatened by an introduced species of fungus, the pitch canker (Fusarium circinatum).
Elsewhere, however, this tree has been planted extensively, especially in Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Kenya, South Africa, and the island of Tristan da Cunha.
Wind-shaped Monterey pine, Muriwai Beach, New Zealand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The blue pine (Pinus wallichiana) is distributed in montane areas from Afghanistan and the Himalaya eastwards to south-western China. The name blue pine stems from its needles, which have a bluish tinge. In Nepal, honey dew from aphids living on the needles is eaten as candy.
The medicinal usage of this plant is described on the page Traditional medicine.
Rocks and blue pines, silhouetted against the snow-clad peak of Annapurna II (7,937 m), Upper Marsyangdi Valley, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The bishop pine (Pinus muricata) is a coastal species with a very restricted distribution, found only on a few localities on the Californian coast, on some of the Channel Islands, and two places in Baja California, Mexico. The name bishop pine arose, when this tree was first identified near the Mission of San Luis Obispo, California.
Sunset behind an old bishop pine, Salt Point State Park, California. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) is very widely distributed across subarctic, temperate, and subtropical areas of North America, Eurasia, and North Africa, southwards to Mexico, Morocco, Egypt, Pakistan, and China, and it has also been introduced to many other places as a hunting object, including South America, New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa. The drake is a gorgeous bird in breeding plumage, with grey sides, purple breast, and glossy-green head, with a blue shine from certain angles. The female is a uniform speckled brown.
Pond at dawn with mallards, Funen, Denmark. The pale birds in upper right corner are domestic geese. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The railroad between Ohakune and Raetihi, New Zealand, was completed in 1912. Prior to that, passengers would disembark at Ohakune and go by stagecoach to Raihiti. – You may read more about this railroad on the page Culture: Railways.
This iron sculpture in Ohakune commemorates the transition period between stagecoach and train. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The place of origin of the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera) is unknown, and today it is found everywhere along tropical coasts, in some areas also inland. This species is utilized for countless purposes. Oil from the nuts, and also dried copra, is used in cooking and in lamps. Mats, weaved from the leaves, are used as walls and roofs in houses, and mats and rope are produced from the fibres in the husk. Charcoal is made from the shells, and the trunk is utilized as timber and firewood.
Sunrise behind coconut palms, Goa, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The doum palm (Hyphaene thebaica) differs from most other palms in that the trunk branches, with leaves at the end of each branch. It is distributed across the African Sahel zone, and in East Africa, from northern Tanzania north to Egypt, and also in Israel, Jordan, and the Arabian Peninsula.
Doum palms, photographed late in the afternoon, Moradi, Niger. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Doum palms at dawn, Fuloha Oasis, Ethiopia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
As early as c. 3000 B.C., the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera) was cultivated in Mesopotamia, between the rivers Euphrates and Tigris, and it was sacred in Ancient Egypt. This is not very odd, its overwhelming production of dates taken into consideration. Not only the fruits are edible – the young and tender leaves are eaten as cabbage. Juice is extracted from the young shoots at the top of the trunk to produce alcohol, and when the tree dies, the trunk is utilized as excellent timber.
This boy has climbed to the top of a dead date palm near Tamanrasset, Algeria. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Today, most authorities divide cormorants into three genera: Phalacrocorax (c. 20 extant species), Leucocarbo (15 species), usually called shags, and Microcarbo (5 or 6 small species). According to some genetic studies, five species, presently in Phalacrocorax, should be transferred to Leucocarbo.
On several occasions, at various places around the world, I have photographed cormorants as silhouettes. These birds often have exposed roosting sites on rocks or in trees, thus being very photogenic against the light. Below, a number of pictures show various cormorant species. Others may be seen on the page Fishing.
The generic name Phalacrocorax is from the Greek phalakros (‘bald’) and korax (‘raven’), thus ‘the bald raven’, where bald refers to the white crown of the great cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) during the breeding season, whereas raven refers to its predominantly black plumage. This bird has an extremely wide, but rather patchy, distribution, found all over Europe and most of Asia, in Australia and New Zealand, and in north-eastern North America and Greenland. In the 1800s, it was persecuted all over Europe, partly because it was competing with fishermen, partly because its guano destroyed the trees, in which it was breeding.
For thousands of years, fishermen at various locations in China have been using tamed great cormorants (subspecies sinensis) for fishing. A picture of this practice is found on the page Fishing.
Great cormorants, gathered on their night roost on a rock in the Atlantic Ocean, Vendée, France. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The picture below is from Nature Reserve Vorsø, Denmark, where the great cormorant re-established itself as a breeding bird during the 1940s, after being eradicated from the island – and from almost the entire country – in the 1800s. You may read more about this interesting reserve and its cormorants on the page Nature Reserve Vorsø.
(Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Brandt’s cormorant (Phalacrocorax penicillatus) is a marine species, distributed along the entire North American Pacific Coast, from Alaska southwards to Baja California and the coast of Sinaloa, Mexico.
Coastal rocks with resting Brandt’s cormorants, Golden Gate, San Francisco, California. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The small reed cormorant (Microcarbo africanus), also called long-tailed cormorant, breeds in the major part of sub-Saharan Africa, in Ethiopia, and on Madagascar.
Reed cormorants, gathered in a Casuarina tree on the shores of Lake Awassa, Ethiopia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Divided into five subspecies, the double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) is very common in the major part of North America, from the Aleutian Islands in the Bering Sea across the continent to eastern Canada, southwards through the entire United States to northern Mexico and the Bahamas. The specific name auritus means ‘eared’ in Latin, which, like the common name double-crested, refers to its twin crests during the breeding season, one on each side of the head.
A close-up picture, depicting this species, is found on the page Animals: Predator and prey.
Double-crested cormorants, resting on a rock in the St. Lawrence River, near Niagara Falls, United States. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The little cormorant (Microcarbo niger) is widely distributed, found from the Indian Subcontinent eastwards to Southeast Asia, with an isolated population on the Indonesian island Java.
Little cormorant, resting on a rock, Sigiriya, Sri Lanka. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The ruin of Sankta Brita’s Kapell (‘Saint Birgitta’s Chapel’), situated at Kapelludden, on the east coast of Öland, Sweden, is 27 m long and 12 m wide. According to legend, the deceased Birgitta Birgersdotter (known as ‘Holy Birgitta’) was brought back from Rome in 1374 and landed at this place. Another legend has it that the chapel is dedicated to a Celtic female saint, Brigida.
Silhouettes of a lighthouse and the ruin of Saint Birgitta’s Chapel, Kapelludden, Öland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Morning fog gives way to sunshine in an oak forest near Ghare, Annapurna, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The flamboyant tree (Delonix regia), also called flame tree, is a huge tree of the pea family (Fabaceae), named for its gorgeous flowers. It is native to Madagascar, but is cultivated as an ornamental in almost all warmer countries.
More pictures of this species may be seen on the pages Nature: Ancient and huge trees, and Nature: Nature’s patterns.
This picture from Taiwan shows the huge pods of the flamboyant tree, which can up to 60 centimetres long and 5 cm wide. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Undoubtedly, the best known of all cactus species is the huge saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea), which can grow to 12 m tall. It has provided a decorative background in countless western films, but is in fact of a rather limited distribution, growing only in the Sonoran Desert of Mexico and southern Arizona, and in a small area of adjacent California.
Saguaro and Full Moon, Saguaro West National Park, Arizona. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The huge organ-pipe cactus (Stenocereus thurberi), growing to a height of 5 m, somewhat resembles the saguaro, but is branched from ground-level. It is distributed in north-western Mexico, in the Sonora Desert and on Baja California, with a small population in the extreme southern United States, notably in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona. The name organ-pipe cactus refers to the stems, which resemble pipes of a church organ. In Spanish, fruits of this species are known as pitaya dulce (‘sweet pitaya’), the word pitaya referring to edible fruits of Mexican cacti in general.
These two species and many other cacti are described in detail on the page Plants: Cacti.
Organ-pipe cactus at sunset, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The most widespread swallow in the world is the barn swallow (Hirundo rustica). This species is mostly nesting on or inside buildings, very often in stables or barns – hence its name. Six subspecies are spread across the major part of the Northern Hemisphere, from the British Isles eastwards to Japan, and from northern Norway, central Siberia, and Kamchatka southwards to North Africa, Egypt, southern Iran, and southern China, and in most of North America, from northern Canada southwards to southern Mexico. Four of the subspecies are migratory, spending the winter as far south as South Africa, northern Australia, and Argentina. The birds may be seen year-round in southern Mexico, southern Iberian Peninsula, Egypt, the Himalaya, southern China, and Taiwan.
The barn swallow is a common breeding bird in Denmark. These birds are resting on a ventilation shaft on a farm building in Jutland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Poplars (Populus), also called aspen or cottonwood, of the willow family (Salicaceae), is a genus of anywhere between 25 and 35 species of trees, some of which are indeed majestic, growing to 50 m tall, and with a trunk diameter up to 2.5 m. These trees are native to the major part of the Northern Hemisphere, from subarctic areas southwards to Mexico, North Africa, Iran, the Himalaya, and China.
Poplars are deciduous, and several species display brilliant yellow foliage in the autumn, examples of which may be seen on the page In praise of the colour yellow. Autumn foliage of a European species, the common aspen (Populus tremula), is shown on the page Nature Reserve Vorsø: Death in beauty.
Pruned poplars in winter, Jutland, Denmark. Pictures of other pruned poplars may be seen on the page Nature: Nature’s art. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
These dark poplars stand out strongly against the snow-clad Alborz Mountains, northern Iran. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Reverse silhouette: Sunshine, illuminating poplars in front of a dark rock, Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah, United States. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In the past, all grey langurs on the Indian Subcontinent were regarded as belonging to a single species, Semnopithecus entellus, which was divided into six subspecies. However, recent morphological studies, combined with DNA-analyses, have revealed that the grey langurs should be regarded as six full species: northern plains langur (S. entellus), terai langur (S. hector), Nepal langur (S. schistaceus), Kashmir langur (S. ajax), black-footed langur (S. hypoleucos), and tufted langur (S. priam).
The generic name Semnopithecus is from the Greek, semnos (‘sacred’) and pithekos (‘monkey’), alluding to the fact that monkeys are sacred to Hindus.
Langurs and many other monkeys are presented in depth on the page Animals: Monkeys and apes.
The northern plains langur (Semnopithecus entellus) is widespread in northern, central, and south-central India, from Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal southwards to Telangana and northern Karnataka and Kerala. This species is quite common, living in a variety of habitats, including forests, scrubland, temple groves, gardens, and towns, up to an altitude of c. 1,700 m.
Morning sunshine creates contours around these northern plains langurs, sitting in a tree in Ranthambhor National Park, Rajasthan, India. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The blackboard tree (Alstonia scholaris), also called a number of other names, including devil tree, milkwood-pine, and white cheesewood, belongs to the dogbane family (Apocynaceae). It grows in mixed forests from the Indian Subcontinent eastwards to south-western China, and thence south through Southeast Asia and the Philippines to the Indonesian Archipelago and New Guinea to northern Australia. Bark and leaves are utilized medicinally for headache, influenza, bronchitis, and pneumonia, and the wood is used for making coffins.
Blackboard tree is very commonly planted in Taiwan. This tree, with long, slender, pendent fruits, was observed in Tunghai University Park, Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
These women, who have been walking their dogs in a park in Copenhagen, Denmark, are now sitting on a bench, chatting. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Man, washing his child in the Rapti River, southern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Formerly, the large-billed crow (Corvus macrorhynchos) was called jungle crow, including two other crows, which are today treated as separate species, the Indian jungle crow (C. culminatus) and the eastern jungle crow (C. levaillantii). Despite these splits, the large-billed crow still has a very wide distribution, found from Afghanistan in the west, across the Himalaya and Tibet to northern China, south-eastern Siberia, and Taiwan, south through Southeast Asia to Indonesia and the Philippines. In the Indian Subcontinent, it is generally found at higher elevations than the Indian jungle crow.
This large-billed crow, sitting in the top of a blue pine (Pinus wallichiana), Upper Marsyangdi Valley, Nepal, is silhouetted against the snow-covered face of Annapurna II (7,937 m). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Another member of the crow family is the grey, or Himalayan, treepie (Dendrocitta formosae), which is distributed along the foothills of the Himalaya, eastwards through montane areas of northern Indochina and southern China to Taiwan. In Taiwan, however, the nominate subspecies, formosae, lives almost down to sea level. In most areas, this bird is rather shy, but in Taiwan it has become accustomed to people, showing no fear at all.
Other members of the crow family are described on the page Nature: Urban nature, whereas more photos of grey treepie may be seen on the page Animals: Birds in Taiwan.
Grey treepie, sitting on an antenna in the city of Taichung, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Chortens are the Tibetan variety of Buddhist stupas, whose various parts symbolize the elements, the base representing soil, the dome water, the rings or squares above the dome fire, the half-moon air, and the uppermost point space, sometimes depicted as a small sun. Chortens and other aspects of Buddhism are described on the page Religion: Buddhism.
Early in the morning, this chorten stands out against the barren hills surrounding Tso Kar, a saline lake in Ladakh, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The black vulture (Coragyps atratus) is a widespread and common scavenger, found from south-eastern United States, south to Chile and Uruguay. Although it mainly eats carrion and garbage, it is also able to kill smaller animals, notably newly hatched sea turtles, making their way towards the sea.
Black vulture, resting on a pole near the Pacific Ocean, Monterrico, Guatemala. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The silhouette of this rock in Gorge du Tarn, Cévennes, France, resembles a dancing couple. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The chestnut-headed bee-eater (Merops leschenaulti) is widely distributed, from the Indian Subcontinent east to southern China, and thence south through Indochina and Malaysia to Indonesia. It is mainly found in highlands of moderate elevation, breeding in open woodland.
Chestnut-headed bee-eaters, gathered at their night roost, Chitwan National Park, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The common eider (Somateria mollissima) has an almost circumpolar distribution, found along Arctic and Northern Temperate coasts, from the Kola Peninsula westwards across Scandinavia, the northern British Isles, Iceland, Greenland, Maine, Arctic Canada, and Alaska, to the extreme eastern Siberia.
The nest of this species is built near the seashore, lined with down, which the female plucks from her own breast. This soft down has been harvested by people for hundreds of years, used as filling in pillows, quilts, and jackets. This harvesting was done with no harm to the birds, as it took place when the ducklings had left the nest.
The scientific name is derived from the Greek soma (‘body’) and erion (‘wool’), and the Latin mollissimus (‘very soft indeed’), all referring to the soft down feathers. The name eider is a corruption of the Icelandic name of the bird, æðarfugl, which is derived from the Old Norse æthr.
In Northumberland, southern Scotland, the eider duck is known as the cuddy duck, named after Saint Cuthbert (c. 634-687), a monk, bishop, and hermit of the early Northumbrian Celtic Church. While on the Farne Islands, he instigated special laws to protect the ducks and other seabirds, nesting on these islands.
Common eiders, resting on coastal rocks on the islet of Christiansø, Bornholm, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Dragonfly, silhouetted against reflections in the Rapti River, southern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The Ifugao is one out of a dozen Malayan tribes, who inhabit northern Luzon, Philippines. At least 2,000 years ago, this people constructed fantastic terraced fields on the mountain slopes, irrigated through an advanced system of canals. On these terraces, they grow their main staple, rice, supplied with sweet potatoes, taro, and various vegetables. They also raise chickens and black pigs, and the men hunt wild animals in the jungle.
You may read about my adventures among this people on the page Travel episodes – Philippines 1984: Shamanism among Ifugao tribals.
This Ifugao boy is catching fish with a small net in an inundated rice field near Banawe, Luzon. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Darters (Anhinga), also called snakebirds due to their long, thin, flexible neck, are large water birds, comprising two or four species. The American darter (Anhinga anhinga), often called anhinga, lives in the New World, whereas one or three species are found in the Old World. If the three Old World darters are lumped, they are called A. melanogaster. Some authorities, however, recognize three full species: Oriental (A. melanogaster), African (A. rufa), and Australasian (A. novaehollandiae).
These pictures from Keoladeo National Park, Rajasthan, India, show oriental darters, drying their wings. In the lower picture, a water buffalo is walking past a darter and a little cormorant (Phalacrocorax niger). (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
When the Eiffel Tower was constructed for the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris, it was much criticized for its design by leading artists and intellectuals. However, since then, this iron lattice tower has become one of the most iconic structures in the world. In 2015, it was visited by a staggering number of people, almost 7 million.
The tower was named after French engineer Gustave Eiffel (1832-1923), who was the leading designer and builder of it.
Various views of the Eiffel Tower. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Originally, the fallow deer (Dama dama) was indigenous to Turkey, the Caucasus, and Iran, and possibly also the Balkans and Italy. At an early stage, it was introduced to deer parks all over Europe, and in modern times, it has also been introduced to many other countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, and the United States. It often forms feral populations.
Fallow deer, Jægersborg Deer Park, Zealand, Denmark. In the 1600s, fallow deer and red deer (Cervus elaphus) were introduced to this park as hunting objects for the king and his retinue. Today, about 1,600 fallow deer and 300 red deer live here. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Another deer, which somewhat resembles the fallow deer, is the handsome spotted deer (Axis axis), in India known as chital. This species is rather common in the major part of the Indian Subcontinent, but is found nowhere else.
Early in the morning, spotted deer are silhouetted against a grassy plain in Kanha National Park, Madhya Pradesh, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Mountains and trees, silhouetted against a white cloud, Jhong River Valley, Mustang, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Fishermen, hauling huge nets ashore from the sea, is a very photogenic motive, which can (still) be encountered in various countries. Three examples are shown below.
More pictures of fishermen may be seen on the page Fishing.
Early in the morning, fishermen are hauling a huge net ashore, Bali, Indonesia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Fishermen, hauling a huge net ashore, Hambantota, Sri Lanka. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Fishermen, rinsing a huge net in the sea, Colva Beach, Goa, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Wild angelica (Angelica sylvestris) is a large umbellifer, which may grow to 2.5 m tall. The stem is purplish, and the flowering branches emerge from large, inflated sheaths. The specific name sylvestris means ‘found in woodland’, from the Latin silva (‘forest’). However, forests and woodland are not its primary habitats, as it prefers rather open areas, such as marshes, fens, and edges of fields. In former times, it was eaten as spinach and was a valuable source of vitamin C.
This species is distributed from Europe and Turkey eastwards across Siberia to north-eastern China. It has also been introduced elsewhere, including Canada, where it has been declared an invasive weed.
A close relative, the garden angelica (Angelica archangelica), is presented on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.
Wild angelica, photographed one early winter morning, Funen, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Star fruit (Averrhoa carambola), also called carambola or five-corner, is a small evergreen tree in the wood-sorrel family (Oxalidaceae), native to the Indian Subcontinent and Southeast Asia. The small rose-red or purplish flowers later turn into large, yellow, five-angled fruits, which are juicy and edible, with a refreshing sour taste when young, sweeter, when they are older. It is widely cultivated for these fruits.
Reverse silhouette: Sunshine, penetrating a star fruit, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
For thousands of years, Arabs were trading along the East African coast, sailing in their typical dhows – an ancient Arabian type of sailboat. Africans have adopted the dhow, and today you still see them in large numbers along the East African coast.
Dhows and many other boat types are described on the page Culture: Boats.
Dhow, passing a fisherman, pulling his canoe, Somanga, Tanzania. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Two species of false cypresses, of the genus Chamaecyparis, are native to Taiwan, the Taiwan red cypress (C. formosensis) and the Taiwan yellow cypress (C. obtusa var. formosana), both growing in areas of high precipitation at medium elevations, between 1,300 and 2,600 m altitude. These magnificent trees are described in detail on the page Plants: Ancient and huge trees.
In Yushan National Park, central Taiwan, two large red cypresses were killed by a forest fire in 1963. The hardened trunks of these great trees, popularly known as the Fuci Trees, were standing for many years, until one toppled in 2019.
One of the Fuci Trees, seen as a silhouette. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California, is a suspension bridge, 2,737 m (8,981 feet) long, spanning the Golden Gate, the strait connecting San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. This bridge was opened in 1937, and, until 1964, it had the longest main span of any suspension bridge in the world, at 1,280 m (4,200 feet).
More pictures of this bridge, and many other bridges, are found on the page Culture: Bridges.
Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The Eurasian crane (Grus grus) is the most widely distributed crane species in the world, found from England, eastwards across the entire Siberian taiga to northern Mongolia and China, with small isolated populations in southern Europe, Turkey, the Caucasus, and Tibet. Subspecies archibaldi from Turkey and the Caucasus was described scientifically as late as 2008. Formerly, eastern Asian populations were regarded as a separate subspecies, lilfordi, but today most authorities consider these birds as belonging to the nominate race.
With a total population of nearly 700,000, the Eurasian crane is one of the most numerous crane species, only surpassed by the sandhill crane (Grus canadensis). In western Europe, breeding numbers have increased dramatically in several countries, including Sweden with 15,000 to 20,000 pairs, Germany with about 8.000 pairs, and Denmark with about 500 pairs. In 1998, the total number in Europe was estimated at 45,000 pairs, but this number has since increased significantly.
You may read about the sandhill crane on the page Animals: Sandhill cranes are a threat to Siberian breeding birds.
Feeding Eurasian cranes, Hornborgasjön, Sweden. This lake is visited by up to 10,000 cranes in March-April, resting here on their way to their breeding grounds. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Among the 13 species of true cranes, only the demoiselle crane (Anthropoides virgo) and the blue crane (A. paradisea) have feathered crowns. The demoiselle crane is still common, counting between 230,000 and 260,000, and this number is fairly stable. This species is distributed from Ukraine across Kazakhstan to Mongolia and north-eastern China. A tiny breeding population is also found in eastern Turkey. This was also previously the case in Morocco, where the demoiselle crane is today extinct. Formerly, it was also breeding in Romania.
In Europe, this species was first brought to France, where Queen Marie Antoinette (1755-93) found it so graceful that she dubbed it grue demoiselle. This name was later adopted by the British.
Traditionally, in the village of Kichan, Rajasthan, north-western India, wintering demoiselle cranes of this area, altogether 5,000-6,000, are fed every morning. At dawn, the cranes arrive at a particular yard in the village, where huge amounts of wheat and other cereals are strewn. This food is donated by rich businessmen, belonging to the Jain religion.
Pictures of several crane species may be seen in the gallery at Animals: Cranes, whereas the Jain religion is dealt with in detail on the page Religion: Jainism.
These women from the village of Kichan are watching demoiselle cranes, flying over. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The black plumage of the male blackbird (Turdus merula) has given rise to its name. Until about the 17th century, another name of this thrush was ouzel, or wosel, from Old English osle. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by William Shakespeare (1564-1616), the weaver Nick Bottom sings:
The woosell cocke, so blacke of hew,
With orenge-tawny bill,
The throstle, with his note so true,
The wren and little quill.
Formerly, the blackbird was a shy forest bird, but in the last hundred years or so, it has spread to virtually all urban areas in Europe, today being one of the most common city birds. It is distributed across Europe and the Middle East, eastwards to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, and it has also been introduced to Australia and New Zealand.
The blackbird and other thrushes are described in depth on the page Animals: Thrushes.
Blackbird, sitting on a straw roof at dawn, Funen, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
For thousands of years, a huge marsh area in southern Iraq, between the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers, was the home of the Madan tribe, whose way of life was completely adapted to the wet habitat. They moved about in canoes, built their reed houses on islets, and made a living by hunting and fishing, growing rice, and raising water buffaloes.
The regime of Saddam Hussein Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti (1979-2003) put an end to their way of life by draining the marshes, as a retaliation for the Madan siding with the Americans during the First Gulf War (1990-1991).
My visit to this interesting wetland is related on the pages Travel episodes – Iraq 1973: The hospitable mudir, and Iraq 1973: Dust storm and sheep’s head.
At dusk, this Madan is punting his canoe in the marshes of southern Iraq. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Ivy (Hedera) is a genus of 12-15 species of evergreen woody climbers in the ginseng family (Araliaceae). These plants are native from the major part of Europe, Turkey, and the Caucasus, eastwards to the Himalaya, China, Taiwan, and Japan, and also in North Africa, the Canary Islands, and Madeira. Several species have become invasive, especially in North America and Australia.
The generic name is the classical Latin name for the common, or English, ivy (Hedera helix), which is distributed in most of Europe and western Asia. Its specific name is derived from the Greek helix (‘twisted’ or ‘spiral’), of course referring to its climbing habit. The common name ivy is from Old English ifig, from the German Efeu, which is of unknown origin.
Trees, covered in common ivy, Kinnegad, Ireland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In Indian cities, platforms or stairs, called ghats, are often established along river sides. On these ghats, various activities take place, one being laundry washing. This washing is often carried out by men of a certain cast, called dhobi, derived from the Hindi dhona (‘to wash’). A wallah is a person, who is attached to a specific trade or work, and Indian laundrymen are labelled dhobi wallahs.
Dhobi wallahs at work on ghats along the Ganges River, Varanasi. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The hamerkop (Scopus umbretta) is a small, heron-like bird, which, however, forms a separate family of its own, Scopidae. When the Boer people arrived in South Africa in the 18th century, they named this bird hamerkop (‘hammer-head’ in Dutch), due to its maul-shaped crest. Later, this name was adopted by the British.
This bird has a huge distribution, covering most of sub-Saharan Africa, Madagascar, and the south-western tip of the Arabian Peninsula. Traditionally, this species is protected in many places, making it rather confident. This fact may be seen on the page Culture: Boats.
Hamerkop, Lake Baringo, Kenya. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Homeless man, looking for food in a trash can, Kowloon, Hong Kong. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In the Kashmir Valley, northern India, lakes and canals form important waterways for transportation of goods. More pictures from this area may be seen on the page Culture: Boats.
Early in the morning, this man is paddling his boat across Dal Lake, Kashmir. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
At Cape Reinga, the northernmost point in New Zealand, a prominent rock, called Te Reinga, is the place, where, according to Maori lore, the spirits enter the underworld. An ancient pohutukawa tree (Metrosideros excelsa), named Te Aroha, clings to the rock. The spirits descend to the water on steps, formed by the tree’s roots. They then continue to Hawaiki, their spiritual home. Unlike other pohutukawa trees, which display an abundance of red flowers in summer, Te Aroha has never been known to flower.
The pohutukawa tree is presented in detail on the page Plants: Ancient and huge trees.
Te Reinga, with the ancient pohutukawa tree, silhouetted against a rough Tasmanian Sea. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Anglers, trying their luck, San Francisco, California. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In Monument Valley, Arizona, United States, rainfall and wind have eroded rocks into bizarre forms. Other remarkable rock formations are shown on the page Nature: Rocks and boulders.
(Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The tree sparrow (Passer montanus) has a huge distribution, from western Europe across Central Asia to Japan, and thence southwards through Southeast Asia to Indonesia and the Philippines. This species is very common in Taiwan, where it has taken over the role of the house sparrow (Passer domesticus) as a city bird, as the latter is not found on the island.
Tree sparrows, gathered in a dying Casuarina tree, Taichung, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Morning mist along a road, Bagan, Myanmar. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Trees, silhouetted against the evening sky, Waitomo, New Zealand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
During the Hindu festival of Bada Dasain – also called Dassera or Durga Puja – gigantic swings are erected in many Nepalese villages, placed at the end of long ropes, hanging down from the top of four long bamboo poles, tied together above, or being tied to a large branch.
Other Hindu festivals are described on the pages Religion: Hinduism, and Travel episodes – India 1991: Attending Hindu festivals in Rajasthan.
Girl on a gigantic swing, Pokhara, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In the 1800s, about 2,000 wooden windmills were found on the Swedish island of Öland, but during the 1900s, many of these went into decay and were torn down. Today, about 355 are preserved.
Sunset behind a wooden windmill, Albrunna, Öland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Tree with doves, outlined against the setting sun, Keoladeo National Park, Rajasthan, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Angler, trying his luck on a beach near Colombo, Sri Lanka. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Gotland sheep in evening light, Zealand, Denmark. Domestic sheep are presented in detail on the page Animals: Animals as servants of Man. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Near the town of Puri, Odisha (formerly Orissa), eastern India, you can still watch fishermen, working the traditional way. Their flat-bottomed boats consist of planks, which are ’sewn’ together, using thick grass ropes. At dawn, the fishermen push these boats through the surf, placing a huge fishing net from the shore, so that it forms an inverted ‘U’. Now follows several hours of hard work, when the fishermen, often assisted by their wives, haul the net ashore. Usually, their catch is rather small, and in later years it has been further diminished due to overfishing by trawlers from Kolkata (Calcutta). The catch is placed in baskets or in carapaces of sea turtles, which the women place on their head, carrying it to their home just above the beach.
At dawn, Puri fishermen row their boat out through the surf. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The lesser flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor) breeds mainly in the Rift Valley Lakes of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania, while three smaller breeding populations occur in West Africa, Namibia, and Gujarat, India. When not breeding, this species occurs in virtually every sub-Saharan country, across the Arabian Peninsula to India and Sri Lanka. The global population has been estimated at between 2.2 and 3.2 million. (Source: iucnredlist.org/details/22697369/0)
Lake Bogoria is an alkaline lake in northern Kenya, which, at times, is visited by up to a million lesser flamingos. In this picture, the birds are silhouetted against mist from hot springs at the lake side. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Rays from the rising sun spread star-like into the sky behind a mountain, Lukla, Khumbu, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Dawn on the Ganges River, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Heavily loaded porter, passing through smoke, seeping out from a house, in which morning cooking is taking place, Marsyangdi Valley, Annapurna, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The last sun rays of the day illuminate cattle, gathered in a dairy farm, southern Tanzania. The taming of wild oxen is described on the page Animals: Animals as servants of Man. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Morning fog envelops the Durbar Square, Bhaktapur, Nepal. The population of this ancient city are mainly Newars, a people of mixed Mongolian and Indo-European descent. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Tombstones in the Veterans’ Graveyard, San Diego, California, are outlined against the morning sky. More pictures from this graveyard, as well as many others, may be seen on the page Culture: Graves. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Early morning at Chennai Railway Station, Tamil Nadu, South India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The long-crested eagle (Lophaetus occipitalis) is fairly common in open areas of sub-Saharan Africa, from Senegal eastwards to Ethiopia, and from here south to South Africa and Namibia.
Long-crested eagle, perched on a dead tree, Lake Manyara National Park, northern Tanzania. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) was first tamed in the Indus Valley about 5,500 years ago. This species and other elephants are presented in detail on the page Animals: Rise and fall of the mighty elephants.
Asian elephant and coconut palms (Cocos nucifera) on a beach near Negombo, Sri Lanka. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Fisherman, throwing his net into the Rapti River, southern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Erosion from sea and wind has shaped the soft Daliao Sandstone rocks in Yeliou Geopark, northern Taiwan, creating fantastic formations.
You may see more pictures of these formations on the page Nature: Nature’s art.
This formation in Yeliou Geopark, northern Taiwan, has been eroded into resembling Nefertiti, queen of Pharaoh Akhenaten, who ruled Ancient Egypt from 1353 to 1335 B.C. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Old-man’s-beard lichens (Usnea) are a large, worldwide genus of the family Parmeliaceae, comprising about 600 species. Most members of this genus are greyish-green, and most grow on trees. They are ubiquitous in wetter areas, where they often drape trees, hanging down from twigs and branches, and waving in the wind.
In his book Flora Danica, from 1648, Danish physician and herbalist Simon Paulli (1603-1680) gives this fascinating account of old-man’s-beard lichen: ”But above all other kinds of moss [lichens], which grow in the forests on trees, rocks and other places, the most famous one is Usnea, sev Muscus cranii humani, meaning: ’That moss which grows on human skulls’, which, although rarely, is sometimes found on the skulls of miscreants, who have been beheaded, or otherwise done away with, and whose heads have been placed on a stake.”
Below, two pictures depict reverse silhouettes of old man’s beard lichens, illuminated by sunshine.
Olympic National Park, Washington, United States (top), and Wushe, central Taiwan. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
House and spiny-leaved oaks (Quercus semecarpifolia) at dawn, Ghorepani, Annapurna, Nepal. The stunted appearance of the trees is caused by people, lopping their foliage for fodder. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Vorsø is a small island in Horsens Fjord, Denmark, which has been left largely untouched by humans since 1928. This interesting nature reserve is described in depth on the page Nature Reserve Vorsø.
Black rain cloud, passing over Vorsø. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
On Lake Tana, Ethiopia, reed boats, made from papyrus stems (Cyperus papyrus), have been made since the 9th Century B.C., or earlier. Reed boats and other boat types are presented in detail on the page Culture: Boats.
Girl, punting a primitive boat, made from a few papyrus stems, which are tied together, Lake Tana, Ethiopia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
(Uploaded October 2017)
(Latest update March 2020)