The butterfly in me …

A few weeks ago I went to the IMAX theatre at the Museum of Civilization in Hull to see the movie “Flight of the Butterflies”.  In addition to being a visually spectacular film in 3D it told another amazing story.

Monarch butterfies weighing only a few grams migrate from our back yards in Ontario to one particular spot in Mexico where they spend the “winter” months.  They then fly back to the southern US where they lay eggs and a new generation is formed which makes the second migratory loop to the northern parts of North America.  The generation that goes through the egg/caterpillar/pupa/butterfly phase here in Canada is the one that goes back to Mexico.  This journey is incredible enough, given the size of the delicate butterfly and the distance traveled.  But even more unbelievable is that the butterfly that migrates back to Mexico has never been there. It was her grandmother that spent the previous winter at the same location.

What could be the explanation for this?  There must be something inate that leads the butterfly to Mexico – something in its DNA that acted as a homeing GPS.

I have often found it remarkable that caucasian visitors from the northern hemisphere (including me) who visit East Africa are drawn to return there.  I have this unusual inner voice drawing me back repeatedly.  I have often wondered what this is all about.

Now I know.  Or think I do.

I imagine that there is some little piece of my DNA that knows where I came from – not last year but hundreds of thousands of years ago.  I think that some of us have some tiny piece of genetic material that recognizes East Africa as the place of our origin and, although we are not a migrating species, there is some biological inner voice that draws us there.  If it can happen to a Monarch Buttefly or Pacific Salmon, why not us.

Homo Habilis Maxilla

This is an actual 1.5 million year old maxilla and teeth from Homo habilis – one of my extended family members?

I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to wander in the Rift Valley where humanity originated.  In a little museum in Arusha Tanzania, I have seen part of a 1.5 million-year-old skull of Homo habilis – one of my great, great, great, great, great, …x many greats ……..  grandparents, perhaps.

Science supports the idea that all humanity originated in East Africa.   It makes me wonder – does my DNA remember this in some primitive way and that is why, like the butterfly that returns to the place of its ancestors without a map, I am drawn to return to the Rift Valley of Kenya?

It is, I am sure,  my ancestral home.

The Rift Valley of Kenya - I am drawn to this place like a magnet is pulling me there.

The Rift Valley of Kenya – I am drawn to this place like a magnet is pulling me there.

African Butterflies

Red butterflyMy last blog about the Monarch Butterfly and Africa got me looking through photos I have taken of Butterflies in Africa.  Good segue into this one which will only be butterfly photos – give you a reading break.  I have enjoyed chasing butterflies all over Kenya and Uganda to get their pictures – more challenging than photographing giraffes. Butterflies don’t stay still for long.

I even wrote a children’s book for my grandchildren based on butterflies in Kibale Forest, Uganda. Some of these photos were taken on Poinsettia bushes in Kenya, others on the forest floor in Western Uganda. The one against the bricks is called a Christmas butterfly.  I hope you enjoy them.  Happy New Year.

butterfly 3

blue butterfly 2

christmas butterfly2butterfly 4

bflies 4458 art

Colours of Kibale Book cover

BIG and little

Sometimes we are drawn to BIG.

BIG tends to get a lot of attention.

I have been awed by the expansive views over the Rift Valley in Africa and can never capture that image in a photograph, no matter how hard I try.

I went on the whale watch, hoping to get the photo of a humpback fluke dripping water as the whale started to dive.

Elephants and hippos are hard to ignore and have an appeal that is unmistakable.

Last month I was visiting friends in Nova Scotia. One of my missions was to go whale-watching on the Bay of Fundy. The Humpbacks there are plentiful in July, having come over 2000 km from the Carribean to feed on the plankton and krill that populates the Bay during our summer months. You would think that a 40-ton mammal that is longer than a fishing boat would not be that hard to miss. But in the Ocean, this huge creature is small and takes some searching to find. BIG and little – it is all relative. And what sustains these huge mammals? Some of the tiniest organisms in the sea.

Watching several humming birds flit among the flowers and feeders at sunset was a treat.

Well, I did see the whales and, yes, they were impressive. But that same evening I got as much thrill photographing six hummingbirds that were feeding in the warm, waning sunlight. Standing in silence by the feeder and flowers, I was able to marvel at these little birds, peeping and whirring from flower to flower, their delicate wings cycling so fast I could not see them.

An African Elephant along the shore of Lake George in Uganda.

In Africa, as well, I have taken to watching tiny birds or insects. The challenge of catching a photo of a butterfly sometimes provides more satisfaction than one of an elephant. (Don’t get me wrong, the elephants still amaze me.)

A photographic challenge
Hobart’s Red Glider
(Cymothoe hobarti)

While staying near the Kibale Forest in Uganda, I spent a couple of days chasing down a red butterfly that was skimming up and down the forest path, ever elusive. It was more of a challenge to get a good photo of this little creature than it is of larger African animals.

BIG things tend to inspire awe and attract attention. Contemplating the vastness of the universe can be overwhelming but the recent discovery of the sub-atomic Higgs boson particle also drew a lot of notice. The little things in life sometimes need to be sought out but, once found, can be just as amazing as the BIG ones.