Our friends the animals (part I)

It’s lockdown number two here in France and it’s hard to write about travelling as I’m stuck at home. So instead I decided to publish two articles with more pictures than texts for a change, focusing on the many different animals I met during my journeys around the world. Here is the first one, and the second one dedicated to the rich fauna of Australia will be online next week!

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Before going through a list of animal encounters country by country, I’d like to start with a throwback to two very special moments. The first one was last year in Switzerland; during a hike close to the city of Neuchâtel where I used to live, I randomly came across a group of ibexes, including a juvenile. Amazing!

The second is older: back in 2016, just before the beginning of my trip to Australia, I had a short stopover in Bangkok. I was relaxing in a little park directly behind the Grand Palace when I saw something moving in the water of a little pond. After staring at it for a little while, I realised it was a huge and foreboding varan! There was even another one lying on a branch of a large tree, 4 or 5 meters above the ground. They are actually quite common in Bangkok but the authorities are trying to capture them to maintain their population at a low level.

Canada

My first long solo trip was during the summer of 2015, with three weeks in North America. I didn’t see much of the countryside as I mostly stayed in cities (Boston, New York, Quebec, Montreal and Toronto), but before visiting Quebec City, I did a very short road trip along the St Laurent River until the village of Tadoussac with one goal: observing whales. Done!

Much more unexpected: I also saw two snakes while I was walking around Tadoussac. I have no idea if they were poisonous, so if anyone knowing anything about snakes reads this, I’m curious to learn what species it is!

And I couldn’t forget this curious squirrel who lived in the trees behind my Airbnb in Montreal.

montreal-squirrel

During my second trip to Canada in 2017, I went back to the St Laurent but this time on the southern side of the river, in the region of Gaspésie. I was hoping to see reindeers or bears, but instead I saw this super-cute porcupine

…a quite rare bald eagle

A bald eagle in the Gaspésie National Park

…a group of cormorants waking up at sunrise…

…and this beautiful (yet a little bit disgusting) caterpillar!

Caterpillar, Bic National Park

At the easternmost part of Gaspésie, next to the stunning Percé Rock, there’s a little island called Bonaventure Island which is a paradise for ornithologists because of its large northern gannets’ colony. But there are also dozens of seals living on its shores, as I discovered while the boat I took from the village of Percé was sailing around the island.

That experience of standing so close to the colony was unforgettable. It’s hard to describe; the noise, the smell, the thousands of birds just next to you… You could easily spend hours watching their very aggressive behaviour.

It seems that these birds have some predators on the island: while I was heading back to the boat, I bumped into this not shy at all fox.

Fox, Bonaventure Island

During that same trip, I also went to the other side of Canada, more specifically to Vancouver and on Vancouver Island. During the ferry trip to the island, I had the extraordinary luck to see a large pod of orcas close to the boat!

New Zealand

Do you know which animal is the symbol of New Zealand? It’s the kiwi! It’s extremely hard to see one in the wild, but there’s another little bird endemic to the country, with slightly the same size and also incapable to fly called the weka, that many tourists (including me!) confuse with a kiwi when they see it for the first time. So I unfortunately never saw a kiwi, but here’s a picture of a weka!

new-zealand-weka

The second less official symbol of New Zealand are sheep. They are everywhere! And way less complicated to spot than a kiwi…

I dedicated an entire article to the wildlife of the region between Dunedin and the Catlins, in the south-east of the South Island. In this part of the country, you can observe albatrosses at the tip of the Otago Peninsula, yellow-eyed penguins at a beautiful beach called Sandfly Bay, and rare Hector’s dolphins at Curio Bay.

But the most amazing place of this area is Surat Bay, a beach where you can approach huge sea lions (males can weigh more than 500kg!) from very close. Highly impressive!

Among the other animals I saw around New Zealand, there was this bee in the lavender fields of Lake Pukaki

Alpine Lavender Farm

…a fierce-looking seagull in Kaikoura north of Christchurch…

Seagull, Kaikoura

…a tiny frog hiding itself beneath the Farewell Spit’s sand dunes at the northernmost point of the South Island…

Frog, Farewell Spit

…and this cow living her best life and posing in front of the volcanic landscape of Tongariro National Park!

View from Mount Tauhara

Hawaii

From my first days in Hawaii, I remember these tiny crabs watching the gorgeous sunset, and this beautiful black horse on the shore.

But also these incredibly cute lizards on the breakfast table of my hostel in Kona!

The common cliché about Hawaii is white sand beaches and palm trees; it is true, but above all Hawaii is a volcanic archipelago, with its summit, the Mauna Kea, reaching the incredible height of 4.207m above sea level! At this altitude, there’s almost no vegetation, and the only large animal living under such extreme conditions is an endemic goose called nene.

Nene goose, Haleakala volcano, Maui

I also went snorkelling on the Hawaiian shore and saw dozens of colourful fishes, but unfortunately the pictures of my old GoPro don’t do them justice.

Finally, on my last evening in the archipelago, I had the chance to watch a stunning sunset from a beach on the north side of the island of Oahu, next to a couple of huge sea turtles who often like to rest on the sand there. A perfect ending for an amazing trip in Hawaii!

Japan

I only stayed two weeks in Japan and mostly in large cities (Tokyo, Hiroshima, Kyoto) so I only got a tiny glimpse on the fauna of the country. I saw a big group of Koi carps in a pond next to the stunning Kinkaku-ji temple in Kyoto (“Temple of the Golden Pavilion”)…

Koi carps, Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto

…a few deer and hinds accustomed to tourists on the island of Miyajima (and often trying to steal your food if you’re not paying attention!)…

…and this gathering of tortoises in Tokyo. They were so still that I first thought it was a statue, until one of them eventually moved!

Tortoises, Toji temple, Kyoto

I also saw many octopuses, but only fried and caught on sticks in street food markets. You would have to pay me a lot to make me try it.

Iceland

The second land of sheep after New Zealand! They were literally everywhere, even crossing the street sometimes without caring much about traffic.

Some were really fluffy, a must when you have to fight the winter temperatures of Iceland!

Dimmuborgir, sheep

Seals are also particularly adapted to the meteorological conditions on this part of the world. The best place to spot them is the fabulous glacier lagoon of Jökulsarlon.

At some point, I was standing still on the shore when I saw a seal swimming in my direction, obviously not aware of my presence. It was only when he was about 2 meters away that he finally saw me; he was really scared, dived very quickly and swam away. A few seconds later I saw his head coming out of the water about 15 meters further, staring at me, trying to recover from this moment of fear!

Jökulsarlon, lagoon, seal

Somewhere east of the country, I also saw a couple of reindeers in a field next to the road. There are about 3,000 reindeers living in Iceland; they were imported from Norway and they only live in the North and East of the island nowadays.

My main regret is that I didn’t spot any puffins, probably the bird with the cutest beak on Earth, among other things!

United States

The last but not the least country on this list, the United States. Let’s begin with a series of pictures of the desert’s wildlife, a complete change of scenery compared to the cold of Iceland.

The hot and arid deserts of Nevada, Arizona or Utah don’t look like the most hospitable places on Earth, but plenty of animals are living there anyway. During my trip, I saw all sorts of rodents

…some huge and quite foreboding lizards (called “chuckwallas” as I found out after some research) which seemed to like a lot the heat of the Death Valley

…a herd of nimble-footed bighorns in the Valley of Fire or in Zion National Park (some of them obviously enjoying being photographed)…

…a beautiful butterfly close to Sedona in Arizona…

Slide Rock State Park, butterfly

…and much more surprising to me, a tortoise! Native from the south-west of the United States, the desert tortoise can live up to 80 years. This one with a few others was in captivity at the Visitor’s centre of Red Rock Canyon close to Las Vegas.

Red Rock Canyon, desert tortoise

I was quite surprised also to see a few elks at the Grand Canyon, not really scared about the many cars and tourists around them.

One of my dreams was to observe a bison in the wild. Mission half accomplished: I saw a large herd in a pasture close to Zion National Park, but they were behind a fence so not exactly in the wild… Next time I’ll be in the US, I’ll go further north around Yellowstone where the chances to see some are higher!

Buffalos, Zion

After the desert, I went to the mountains of the Sierra Nevada, with the hope once again to see a bear. And my wish was granted this time! As I was hiking in Sequoia National Park, a black bear mother and her baby walked down the hill above me and crossed the footpath I was following, about 50m in front of where I was prudently standing still. And the best part of that story is that the place was called… Bear Hill! Quite an appropriate name…

I followed the Californian Coast during the last part of my road trip, a great place to spot seals, sea lions and a lot of birds.

I eventually arrived at San Francisco, end of the journey. You might have heard about the sea lion colony of Pier 39 (I talked about them in a previous article); this is one of the biggest tourist attractions of San Francisco, and it’s very impressive to observe them lying on the pier and sometimes fighting for a spot!

Before finishing this article, if you’re ever visiting the City by the Bay, don’t miss the island of Alcatraz; there aren’t any inmates in the penitentiary anymore, but thousands of birds use it as a nesting place.

Which of all these animals would you love to see in the wild? And what was the most amazing encounter with a wild animal that ever happened to you? Share it in the comments!

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