Inner Nature

Inner Slug
Inner Slug

When we talk about past lives or spirit animals, do you ever think who was that guy that was crushed under a stone block while building the pyramids? Or who’s spirit guide is an earwig? I’m always hearing about the Cleopatras and panthers, never Marie Antoinette’s chamber maid or the ant she stepped on. When the subject goes there that’s what I always think about. The lowlier and less famous. The you and mes of history or the animal kingdom. Yesterday’s prompt about nature even lead me that way because I was contemplating the nature of humanity versus nature nature. This morning I woke up and was thinking of my inner slug. Maybe it’s my inner sloth. Moving is hard some days. If we’re kind we could say it’s my hibernating grizzly bear. The day’s prompt hadn’t arrived. I’d been in and out of consciousness since my 5:30 AM hot flash. It’s become a regular thing. I fall asleep at 8:00 PM now because I am pretty much up a few hours before dawn riding the hormone train. I am grateful that (so far) I get a solid night of sleep in before I throw off the covers.

So there I was actually thinking of my inner slug. Reveling in my gooiness. The slackness of a formerly firm physique slumping all over the bed. Actually thinking: I am a slug and I like being a slug. I had my phone in my hand. While lying there in my puddle of adipose tissue the prompt came in to think on our inner nature. The universe was talking.

My Chinese astrological sign is the snake. A Facebook quiz once said I was a great white shark. I do not deny these aspects of my personality. The old philosophy about human nature that says you’re either a lamb, a shepherd, or a wolf rings true to me. I’ve been told I’m a shepherd. Shepherds mostly tend their flock and protect them from wolves but shepherds also kill the lambs when it’s time to kill. Sometimes I wonder if I’m a wolf. These days a retired wolf.

If I could choose, I would opt to be a grizzly bear or a blue whale. I like the grizzly bear because they sleep half the year, eat as much as they like and still look good, and they only procreate when there are sufficient resources for survival. I like the blue whale because it’s the biggest thing in the history of the world. Imagine that. Bigger than anything else alive in the history of ever. What is your inner animal?

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Connect with Nature

Palms and sky
Palms and sky

Today’s prompt was to connect with nature. Find something inspiring in nature and write about it. Seeing as this is about all I regularly write about it gave a good laugh. Even Burt said, “Where would you begin?”

Twenty years as a regulator with the EPA wasn’t for the money and prestige and fun. The money was a good but it was a thankless job full of conflict and insults. Many people didn’t understand our role. But I stayed because I succeeded in doing many things and I believed in my work. I protected birds from oil pits. I cleaned up aquifers. I saw to it that hazardous waste was safely disposed. I was lucky to know quite a few other competent and committed professionals, too. But those days are behind me and much of the successes I as part of are being undone. Birds will no longer be protected in the oil fields thanks to our current administration. Incidental kills are now legal. I spent an entire year working with a team of colleagues from various agencies to save the tens of millions of birds killed in our oil fields. We achieved real success and were even awarded the EPA’s highest award. All that work down the drain. You might say I’m bitter. You’d be correct.

Meanwhile, here, now, I count birds everyday. I submit my data into an international database. I try to be part of the worldwide effort to protect and improve habitat of our feathered friends. Birds are still earning their keep as the proverbial canaries in the coal mine. They are telling us loud and clear about the health of our world and the changes in our climate system. If we can see that we are all inter-related maybe we can start taking action to protect us all. Each little part of our world depends on the rest.

On top of that, I’m trying to subtly influence my little human friends. Trips to the beach can lead to a love of the outdoors and that can lead to a love of nature.

We are all stuck here together. We have no place else to go. And, you know what, it’s a damn lovely home we have.

Algae
Algae and bees
Kids at beach
Kids at beach
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Overexposed

 

The gang's all here.
The gang’s all here.

When there’s blood in the first ten minutes you know you’re on an adventure. Vince is a kid that is kind and solitary. He’s got a ton of energy and he’s curious. He can also be a handful. Like many young boys and most men he doesn’t listen well and he takes action without thought of the consequences. Yesterday he joined our cast of thousands for a trip to the beach. In teh first 4 minutes he was causing a minor disruption. We were still withing sight of his house so I could say, “Vince, decide now if you want to go home or stay with us.” That settled him down nicely. No fear. Just a decision and it was his decision. He knew what I needed. In a car with 7 kids and no seatbelts there is no room for distraction.

Burt had decided it was time for a beach trip because it was Christmas break and we had an extra car. Also, the water is over heated and the weather is stunning. No joke on the water. Locals are starting to worry. The water is almost 10 degrees warmer than usual for this time of year. Hurricanes love warm water.

When we arrived at the beach I announced two rules. No littering and no going in the water until the adults arrived. We all walked together at a stately pace.  Last year only a few of the kids could swim. This year they all claimed to have the ability. I thought to myself, “This won’t be so bad. Twelve kids and four adults. We can manage.” Mayhem was on that sweet thoughts heels. Within seconds of entering the tepid water with inconsequential waves there was blood. Blood, when it’s gushing down a young person’s face is quite a visceral shock. I feared an accidental elbow to the nose or a tooth for the tooth fairy but it was just a routine bloody nose. I hadn’t thought about bloody noses since I was a kid. They seemed like a regular occurrence on the playground. I never had one. It kind of looked fun. I think I wanted to have one and enjoy the attention.

Vince the Bloody, was an expert. He held his head back and we walked back to my towel. He asked for a tissues to clean his face. He calmly cleaned up and then just lay there quietly. He told me it was a fairly common experience for him and I need not worry. I sat there for a moment and he sent me off to supervise the 11 swimmers. The epitome of manly maturity.

Meanwhile the kids were like atoms in Brownian motion. They expanded to fill the space. The just kept buzzing and bouncing further and further apart. The huge beach was flat and nearly empty and the waves were so small there was no fear effect to contain them. Usually they are afraid of the water and they cling to us.  Yesterday they were swimming and diving and running around liek teh proverbial maniacs. I must have counted to 12 six-hundred times. Every time I counted twelve kids I started over and counted again. Even Burt yelled at me once to try and get them closer together. Tom and Vikki were also standing guard and I could see Vikki counting, too. It’s hard to relax and count kids.

Vince was quickly back in action. Sand activities got some of the mob out of the water. My  still impressive cartwheel skills were in high demand. Soon we were doing yoga and back bends. These kids have zero cartwheeling experience. There is no grass here. None of them have lawns. I tried to explain the mechanics. I nearly became a bloody mess myself as feet flew towards my face. After six or so personal demonstrations I told them I had to stop. I am getting smarter. I’m only a little sore today.

Trips to the beach require snacks. We grouped up and sat in the sand eating tamales, fruit, and chips. The kids surprised me when they almost universally judged the tamales to be too spicy. For a group that takes chili on their watermelon they were kind of wimpy about some peppers in there pork.  As they say, more tamales for me.

Our journaling prompt for today was to draw a picture of ourselves when we felt invisible as a child. I did that but it’s not very inspiring. I felt invisible much of the time. Yesterday I was so visible and in such high demand that I teased the kids I was going to change my name so they couldn’t yell it.

Blood
Blood
Catching a wave Paola style.
Catching a wave Paola style.
7 year old man.
7 year old man.
Daniela and doll drawing
Daniela and doll drawing
Beto wows them all.
Beto wows them all.
Sand works
Sand works
La Yerasca
La Yerasca
Daniela y Vikki
Daniela y Vikki
Anahomi
Anahomi
My car. Okay, dad's car with my group.
My car. Okay, dad’s car with my group.
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Exhaustion Week

 

Tilt
Tilt

The first week in Mexico is a tug of war between getting settled and reestablishing social connections. Our yard was weeded by our neighbors Vikki and German before our arrival. Having that chore done in anticipation of landing is a tremendous improvement over past years of wallowing around in thigh high stickers and thorns. But once we get here there’s a lot more to do. The water system and electricity need to be reconnected. Our hot water heater is a glassed in box with a few score feet of black tubing. That system needs to be rebuilt and the pump reinstalled. Our water tank must be refilled. The electricity comes from our solar panels on the trailer. Thant gets reconnected. Then there’s some bugs. Usually our bathroom and rumpus room have some insect squatters. This year there were some termites in the bed frame. Add rebuilding the bed to the list of chores. The usual roaches and spiders and six months of dust were cleared out with a broom. The trailer itself also requires a seasonal purge after the summer of constant motion and the 1,000 mile drive down the dusty peninsula. The rugs, bedding, and towels from trailer and bodega all go to the laundry. Then the furniture needs to be moved out of storage and into the yard. It’s kind of an ordeal but not to terrible an ordeal.

Meanwhile it’s Christmas week. People from all our social circles want to see us and I’m just not a party girl. Despite appearances Burt is not much of a party guy either. Many years we arrive in Baja after Christmas and are able to avoid the manic crush of seasonal events.  This year we’ve landed at Christmas and our week of adapting is overlaid with a flood of invitations for holiday parties and the return of routine activities like Bridge, tennis, Spanish class, yoga, and the kid’s group. Add in the Audubon Christmas bird count, too.  Oh, and my mom’s brother and his family are in town. Seven rarely seen family members are in Cabo for nearly a week. They are penciled in for lunch tomorrow. Phew. I just want to sit down and have a cup of tea and read a book. Instead I’m pondering how to construct sentences in the subjunctive (past, present, and future) and thinking up a lesson plan for the kids and wondering what to bring to that pot luck. I can hardly find time to walk and practice the fiddle.

Today is the morning of day 6 since our arrival. The home front was officially under control yesterday afternoon. The rumpus room was restored to order just as the kids arrived. One kid, La Frixia, arrived 2 hours early but that’s another story. I set Frixia to coloring in the Jaguar reserve coloring book while I packaged up 12 sets of Christmas presents. Class was a smoothly chaotic session of the words of questions, Christmas vocabulary, and notes to Santa. We only had seven students. The tweeners didn’t show up. Not a surprise. They are always welcome but every year as soon as they hit 12 or 13 the kids start doing other things. And it’s Christmas vacation. Santa was asked for a doll, games, clothes, a trip to Sinaloa, and a trip to Europe. Vikki, the mom, wants Europe. I wish I could take her.

Things will settle down soon.

Surreal landscape is real.
Surreal landscape is real.
Christmas Bird Count
Christmas Bird Count
English Class
English Class
Christmas Goodies
Christmas Goodies. I had to sort and package.
Troop of girls
Troop of girls
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Daily Routine

Sea star
Sea star

The wonders of the Galapagos are widely covered in books and magazines and I am running out of time. Burt and I are headed into the Northern Jaguar Reserve tomorrow. I will be incommunicado for another two to three weeks. I can’t keep up. So here is a summary:

Naturalist Journeys runs a well organized, fortifying trip full of exciting wildlife and fun activities. You can check them out. Our tour had two daily walks, a daily scuba and about three sea kayaking adventures. No activity was too long or too draining. My favorite activity was snorkeling. What a surprise. I have had some bad snorkeling experiences and this was mesmerizing and fun. There was time for us to play some tunes and sing with our friends. The boat was well kept by a stellar crew. The naturalists were knowledgeable and generous. I encourage you to go while you can. It is a very active trip and it’s fun to do while strong and energetic. I have lots more photos on Facebook. If I have time I’ll put them up here.

The captain demonstrates how to make origami boobies.
The captain demonstrates how to make origami boobies.
Lava Lizard
Lava Lizard
Selfie
Selfie
Burt wake up.
Burt wakes up.
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Genovesa

Genovesa Island, Galapagos, Ecuador. Map by Ed Madej
Genovesa Island, Galapagos, Ecuador. Map by Ed Madej
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Swallowtail gull nesting on the Prince Phillip Steps.

Our fifteen hour cruise through rough waters took us to Genovesa Island.  Genovesa Island is shaped like partially eclipsed sun. The island is the tip of a defunct volcano barely peaking above sea level with a water filled crater. The Letty and four other ships were at anchor when we awoke. Access to sites in the Galapagos National Park are strictly regulated. Each ship was assigned this destination over a year ago. Throughout the day the 100 or so people scattered throughout the vessels would take their turns visiting the island and its surrounding waters. Our agenda included two walks, a snorkel, and a sea kayak. First up was a dry boat landing at the Prince Phillip steps for a morning walk.

The names of the archipelago features were originally in English when the first map of the area was made by the buccaneer Ambrose Crowley. In 1684 Crowley honored his fellow pirates and British royalty or noblemen. These names were in use at the time of Charles Darwin’s renowned voyage on the HMS Beagle and so became authoritative as the Beagle produced navigational charts of their expedition.  Eventually Ecuador took possession of the islands and chose to rename most prominent locales in honor of the 1492 expedition of Christopher Columbus. Genovesa Island is in honor of Genoa, Columbus’s home town. Prince Philip steps are in honor of Isabela’s husband, the Columbus expedition’s patron.

Prince Philip has a mighty memorable feature names after him. The walls of the crater are very steep lava. There’s hardly a break and one small beach. We’d be making a wet landing at the beach that afternoon but this morning our panga driver pushed the nose of the our shuttle up against the cliff and one by one we disembarked onto a narrow break in the cliff. Steep, irregular steps led up to the bird filled island body. Our line of eager visitors was immediately held up by a nesting swallowtail gull. There was no way to pass without violating the 6 foot rule. Welcome to the Galapagos. The wildlife has no fear. Our guide pushed ahead and lead us past. The gull did not flinch. A thousand people must pass every week.

Up on top we had our first in depth interpretive tour. The highlight was a Galapagos Mockingbird killing a giant centipede. Our group stopped and watched the mockingbird whip the centipede over and over again on the rocks. Satisfied the centipede was no longer a threat the bird ate the centipede’s brain and only its brain and flew away. The centipede’s legs were still moving. Our guides and Howard had never seen this behavior and has never seen a centipede of this size in the islands. Day one and we were already making history.

Next up was a heap of red-footed boobies in all stages of the reproductive cycle. We saw nesting, hatchlings, juveniles all at the same time. Our guide said it was unusual for the red-footed booby to have a mishmash of breeding at one time. The guide speculated climate change was triggering profound changes in currents and food and bird habits.

The swallowtail gulls were all around, too. These birds are the only nocturnal gulls in the world. Their eyes are rimmed in bright red trim that resembles plastic. Nobody knows for sure what the eye makeup does. At night we could see their ghostly shapes following our ship and diving for churned up squid or jellyfish.

After the walk we returned to the ship for lunch. Our afternoon was filled with another walk at Darwin Beach and a kayak and snorkel. More glorious wildlife above and below the seas and too much food. Food was always plentiful and delicious. There’s no snacking on the islands which initially caused me concern. I like to eat on a walk. The return from excursions was always met with fruit, snacks, and juice so I had no need to worry. My friend Pat told me it would be okay and she was right.

That afternoon we headed out to sea for another big overnight crossing.

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Chilly morning start at the northern most island of Genovesa.
Day 1 Galapagos enthusiasm. Trying to stay 6' back but the animals approach.
Day 1 Galapagos enthusiasm. Trying to stay 6′ back but the animals approach.
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Galapagos Mockingbird takes on a giant centipede.
Galapagos centipede 12". Killed by Galapagos Mockingbird.
Galapagos centipede 12″. Killed by Galapagos Mockingbird.
Booby Chick
Booby Chick
IMG_9704
Another booby chick.
IMG_9699
Red-footed Booby, Genovesa Island
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Descending the Prince Phillip Steps, Genovesa Island.
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Swallowtail Gulls nesting on foot path. That’s my foot edge on the right. Bright red eye trim.
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Exit of the crater. The open Pacific is beyond the gap.

Sea kayaking along the wall of the crater.

Panoramic of the crater.
Panoramic of the crater from our ship. Wetsuits hanging on the starboard side. Sea kayak hanging on the port side.

 

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Back to the itinerary

Our cabin on the Letty. We were at water level.
Our cabin on the Letty. We were at water level.

The good ship Letty was our vessel for the week. She’s about 30 years old but biannual dry dock upgrades have kept her in fine shape. I wish I could go in for a remodel every two years. Burt and I were bunked below deck in a room with three beds. The extra bed made for spacious storage. We had our guitar and mandolin and the usual necessities to stow and the bed made it much easier. Also, it’s generally considered more comfortable to sleep apart in rough seas. There’s nobody else rolling around in your bed. Elbows and knees fly about erratically when trying to exit the bed for a midnight pee. Not a very romantic situation.

The first excursion was to La Loberia on Isla San Cristobal. Here was a harem of sea lions lolling about and a ‘beach master’ bull male guarding his ladies. The beach master was lumbering in and out of the shallows and down the  shore break bellowing and grunting. He swung his head back and forth and if his flippers could reach he would have been beating his chest. The beach masters are mature males working hard to prevent competitors from accessing the females. Beach masters work so hard chasing off suitors they only last in charge a short while until they collapse from exhaustion and hunger. Every few weeks they are dethroned and a new beach master takes over until he too is drained of all virility.  This sounds entertaining for the ladies in more ways than one.

While the menfolk do what men do, the females are feeding and caring for the youngsters. We saw many nursing babes and juveniles snoozing in the waning sun. Well fed sea lions rolled around and did yoga poses and slept while we gaped and took photos. It was as if we were invisible. Our guides kept us a whole 6′ away. Years of conditioning made it hard to let an animal of this size this close. In a magnificent roll reversal I was more cautious of the sea lions than they were of me. I mean to tell you, those things have some serious teeth and despite the lack of legs they do move fast.

San Cristobal Island is one of teh oldest in the archipelago. At La Loberia the lava boulders are well worn and rounded because it is the oldest lava and the beach faces the harshest waves. Over the milleniums the rocks have been softened. Other places we were to see were full of jagged and scary rocks of new lava. Also, there are two types of lava: aa and pahoehoe. Aa lava is jagged from the time it erupts. Pahoehoe means robes and it is a softer, more sinuous lava. Pahoehoe rocks start out smoother. Our guides explained all this during our walk to the beach.

We returned to our ship where I had an octopus dinner. Burt had beef. The cruise’s food was good and surprising. The menus are very diverse. Lunches are more traditional with a base of beans and rice but dinner was influenced by world cuisine. That night was a 15 hour open ocean cruise north to Genovesa. I took a dramamine and woke up 12 hours later. I highly recommend dramamine if your are prone to motion sickness. I nearly threw up trying to brush my teeth. Once I took my pill and hit the hay I had not a care in the world.

Morning found us anchored in a sea filled volcanic crater. Coolio.

Female sea lion at La Loberia on San Cristobol Island.
Female sea lion at La Loberia on San Cristobol Island.
San Cristobal
San Cristobal
My new blue footed booby buff.
My new blue footed booby buff.
San Cristobal
San Cristobal
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Boobies

Nazca Booby
Nazca Booby

Everybody loves boobies. They are so darned cute. On the Galapagos Islands there are three species of boobies: Red-footed, Nazca (formerly masked), and blue-footed boobies. Foot color and intensity is an indication of health. Blue-footed boobies have an elaborate courtship dance that includes bowing and wing flapping and very sustained showing off of the feet. Look! My feet are bright blue! I am young and healthy! Pick me! Female boobies wave back with their feet if they like a guy. Lucky for us we saw a blue-footed booby couple dancing and calling. There was all kinds of foot waving and bowing.

Red-footed boobies are similar to blue-footed boobies that wave their feet and dance when looking for a sexual partner but the red-footed boobies also do a thing called sky-waving. They point their blue faces skyward and show off a blue throat. We did not see this but we did see nesting red-footed boobies and red-footed booby chicks. Red-footed boobies are very diverse in appearance. There is a white phase and a brown phase and several mixed phases between white and brown. Add to that juvenile versus adult coloration and sometime these boobies are hard to tell apart from other boobies.

Nazca boobies take a different approach. Nazca males find a tree based nesting spot and defends it. The ladies pick the males based on the desirability of the nesting site. Very sensible. Choosing real estate over theatrics and cosmetics is astute.

Boobies deep dive for fish. Their nostrils are permanently closed and a sac of air protects their brains from high impact dives. Each of these species fishes in a different area of the ocean. In close, out further, and out really far.  Blue-footed fish close to shore and the red-footed fish scores of miles out at sea. The Nazca booby fishes in between.

Nazca is the name of a region of Peru and the tectonic plate of the Galapagos islands. Nazca boobies can be found in the Nazca region of Peru as well as teh Galapagos Islands.

Boobies sometimes land on tourists heads. It almost happened to me.
Boobies sometimes land on tourist’s heads. It almost happened to me.
A flock of juvenile boobies.
A flock of juvenile boobies.
Red-footed booby
Red-footed booby. It has a blue face.
Baby booby.
Baby booby.
Blue-footed booby
Blue-footed booby and Sally Lightfoot crabs.
Marking territory with a circle of defecation.
Marking territory with a circle of defecation. a popular roosting spot. The poop stream changes as the bird moves to face the sun.
Red-footed Booby
Red-footed Booby
Nazca Boobies
Nazca Boobies
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Marine Iguanas

Marine Iguana country. Our ship in the background.
Marine Iguana country. Our ship in the background.

Marine iguanas are also, surprise, known as the Galapagos Marine Iguana. These reptiles are unique in the world. They forage at sea for algae. The larger males dive deep and can spend many minutes under water. Females and juveniles eat closer to shore and from the inter-tidal zone. Their noses and teeth are specially adapted to eat close growing algae off of rocks. Burt and I saw a few swim by while we were snorkeling. A lizard at sea. In times of scarce food, caused by current shifts, the iguanas can reabsorb bone and literally shrink in size. last year there was a food shortage and large numbers died. We saw many skeletons and got a good look at their vegetarian teeth. This year the food is abundant and the population is bouncing back. Several island have their own unique subspecies. Old mariners thought the iguanas were ugly. Carol Simon and I think they are sublime.  Carol is a herpetologist and the marine iguana is her favorite lizard. When watching sunning marine iguanas you will see them occasionally snort spurts of salty water. They expel excess salt through their noses.

Marine Iguana
Marine Iguana. Stub nose, strong swimming tail.
Warming in the sun
Warming in the sun
Marine Iguana teeth.
Marine Iguana teeth.
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Galapagos Highlights

Naturalist Journey's trip to see the Boobies. Three kinds in the Galapagos. Do you know which these are?
Naturalist Journey’s trip to see the Boobies. Three kinds of boobies live in the Galapagos. Do you know which these are?

I’m too tired to get into the blow by blow trip details. The Galapagos are famous for the friendly wildlife and amazing scenery. They are a volcanic archipelago bathed in cold sea currents. If you don’t know the name of some species of plant or animal stick the word Galapagos or Lava in front of it and you might be right. Lava gull, lava lizard, Galapagos mockingbird, Galapagos prickly pear….Our journey covered more than 500 nautical miles and 5 islands in 8 days. Naturalist Journeys hosts Howard and Carol gave 4 lectures covering the natural history, human history, evolution, and environmental threats. Our local guides were phenomenally well informed, energetic, and kind. Burt and I snorkeled in 8 locations. We saw more than 40 new species of birds and animals. I think you should check it out.

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Flying juvenile red-footed boobies. The red feet come later.
Dead Marine Iguana.
Dead Marine Iguana.
Many Marine Iguanas.
Many Marine Iguanas.
Lobo Marino or Sea Lion.
Lobo Marino or Sea Lion.
Galapagos lava
Galapagos lava
Cactus
Cactus
Galapagos Prickly Pear.
Galapagos Prickly Pear.
Land Iguanas. Males squaring off for a territorial battle.
Land Iguanas. Males squaring off for a territorial battle.
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