Pic of the Day

Certified Wildlife Habitat: Lizard


The Benefits of a Certified Wildlife Habitat


We’ve been interested in learning how to create a DIY wildlife habitat in our back yard ever since 2011, when we first wrote about it. But it wasn’t until our self-imposed 6-month break from travel that we had the time to do the manual labor involved in transforming our suburban yard into a haven for nature and wildlife.


It all started in March with GGT writer Jonathan Engels’ Permaculture Garden Guide, which offered simple step-by-step instructions for us to follow. We tilled the soil by hand, added compost and mulch from the woods behind our yard, lined the beds with fallen pine logs, made worm towers, and used organic fertilizer to improve soil quality without harmful chemicals.


We covered more than half our yard with cardboard to kill weeds and grass, then covered it with pine straw. We surrounded the yard with flowering plants to attract bees and butterflies. We added a birdbath, and feeders for regular birds and hummingbirds. We pruned the overgrown fruit trees and created a massive pile in the back of our property, to provide shelter from predators.


We’ve still got a good bit of work left to do, but the results we’ve seen in just 6 short weeks are pretty amazing. Our first-ever garden is flourishing, with enough fruits, vegetables and herbs growing to feed our family for the second half of this year. We find ourselves working and eating outside more than ever, enjoying Atlanta’s wonderfully temperate Spring weather.


But the unexpected benefit of our work has been the increasingly frequent wildlife sightings we’ve seen in our back yard over the last few days. There have been hundreds of birds, including Hawks, Woodpeckers, and a Great Blue Egret flying overhead.


We discovered a Possum living in one corner of our yard and an adorable pair of Chipmunks living on the opposite side. We’ve seen Tree Frogs, Skinks, and this handsome Lizard, who sunned himself atop our wheelbarrow yesterday. And the grand total of our investment, including all the plants, fertilizer, pine straw, an electric chain saw, and a tree pruning tool, has been less than $400.


It’s been a lot of work, to be sure. But the cost and labor involved in creating a certified wildlife habitat has paid off in spades, making our back yard a much more enjoyable space for our family. And the fact that we can grow our own food while also providing a haven for these animals just makes the process all the more rewarding. –Bret Love


If you enjoyed reading about the Benefits of a Certified Wildlife Habitat, you may also like:

GO GREEN TIP #114: DIY Permaculture Garden Guide 

GO GREEN TIP #108: Using Permaculture Principles in Travel

GO GREEN TIP #99: How to Make a DIY Vertical Garden 

GO GREEN TIP 97# : DIY Rainwater Harvesting Tips

GO GREEN TIP #91: How To Attract Birds To Your Garden

GO GREEN TIP #87: How To Compost At Home

GO GREEN TIP #60: How to Create a DIY Wildlife Habitat


Trekking in Rwanda's Parc National des Volcans


Trekking Rwanda’s Parc National des Volcans


There’s a powerful transformation that happens within the soul and spirit anytime we take the first step of a journey. And sometimes even the anticipation of adventure can be just as powerful as the adventure itself. Such was the case during our first visit to Rwanda’s Parc National des Volcans, more commonly known as Volcanoes National Park (not to be confused with the park on Hawaii’s Big Island).


Located in northwestern Rwanda and bordering Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda, Volcanoes is home to 5 of the 8 volcanoes in the Virunga Mountains. It’s most famous as home to more than 50% of the world’s endangered Mountain Gorillas, thanks in large part to the groundbreaking research and conservation efforts of Dian Fossey.


The excitement was palpable from the moment we entered the visitor center parking lot. There are 80 tourists a day who gather at sunrise for a once-in-a-lifetime trek to see one of 10 habituated gorilla groups. There were over 100 guides, trackers and porters there to ensure things run smoothly, as well as a young group performing traditional Rwandan songs and dances in front of a spectacular volcano backdrop.


We weren’t there to see the gorillas that day. Instead, we joined a group of 8 other travelers for a gentle trek to see Rwanda’s endangered Golden Monkeys, an endangered species found only in the Virunga Mountains. Found in groups of up to 60, the Golden Monkeys are significantly less well-known than the gorillas, and have only been habituated to human presence over the past 15 years.


The hike was almost impossibly picturesque, with majestic mountains towering above us on all sides. We passed by glorious fields of Pyrethrum flowers, which are known as “nature’s insecticide” and constitutes one of Rwanda’s most important cash crops. Kids from neighboring villages walked beside us for part of our journey, waving “Hello” and then giggling uncontrollably as we responded in kind.


The hour we spent with the monkeys, watching them leap from tree to tree and gnaw on bamboo shoots contentedly, was wonderful. But the journey was perhaps even more memorable than our ultimate destination, surrounded by spectacular sights we’d dreamed of seeing for decades. In this case, to paraphrase Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous quote, the great affair was to move. –Bret Love; photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett


If you enjoyed our post on Rwanda’s Parc National des Volcans, you might also like:

INTERVIEW: Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International CEO Tara Stoinski

PIC OF THE WEEK: Baby Mountain Gorilla in Parc National des Volcans


GO GREEN TIP #112: Simple Wildlife Photography Tips

NEPAL: Hiking The Annapurna Circuit

Sunset On The Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania


Sunset On The Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania


There are few places we’ve ever traveled that had the immediate “WOW!!!” impact of Tanzania’s massive Ngorongoro Crater. Formed two to three million years ago when a volcano exploded and collapsed on itself, this is the largest intact, inactive and unfilled volcanic crater in the world.


But as breathtaking as the scenery is from afar, exploring the 2000-foot-deep, 100 square mile-wide crater reveals amazing details you won’t see from the observation deck. Ngorongoro provides a home to more than 25,000 large mammals. There are buffalo, hippos, zebras, wildebeests, a remarkably dense lion population and even rhinos and elephants during the wet season.


Based on fossil evidence found at the nearby Olduvai Gorge, where Louis and Mary Leakey began their famous archaeological excavations in 1931, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area has been inhabited by various hominid species for approximately 3 million years. The Mbulu people arrived around 2,000 years ago and were joined by the Datooga in the 1700s, but the Maasai drove both tribes out of the region in the early 1800s and have lived here ever since.


Separated from Serengeti National Park in 1959, Ngorongoro (whose name in Maasai means “the gift of life”) became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. It’s unique because it’s the only conservation area in Tanzania that protects wildlife while also allowing humans to live there, prohibiting cultivation of the land at all but subsistence levels.


The number of tourists allowed into the park each day is very limited, with your admission including just six hours inside the crater. But that’s plenty of time to explore its surprisingly diverse ecosystems, which include montane forest highlands, open grassland, Acacia-dotted woodlands, Lake Magadi (which attracts thousands of Lesser Flamingoes) and various springs and streams.


We spotted a remarkable array of wildlife during our afternoon in the crater, from Warthogs, Hyenas and Hippos to Grey-Crowned Cranes and a Lion pride crossing the open plains. But our favorite image came as our guide, Rama Mmasa, raced up the hill towards the park’s exit. The gates close promptly at 6PM, so leaving late requires a government official’s approval.


We had less than 10 minutes left when we saw this stunning sunset shot between two hills and urged Rama to stop. A few clicks of the shutter was all we had time for, and we ended up making it to the gate with only a few minutes to spare. –Bret Love
Our trip to Tanzania was sponsored in part by Adventure Life and Tanzania Journeys, with safari clothing provided by ExOfficio. But we will never compromise our integrity at the expense of our readers, and our opinions remain our own.


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Baby Zebra in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania


Baby Zebra at Watering Hole in Serengeti National Park


Visiting Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park in mid-September, we weren’t expecting to see vast herds of animals (such as the one that protectively surrounded this Baby Zebra drinking from a watering hole).


After all, the 1,200-mile Great Migration from the Serengeti plains north to Kenya’s Maasai Mara– the largest terrestrial mammal migration in the world– begins in early summer. By September the majority of the herds are long gone to the haven of their dry season refuge.


But our exceptional Tanzania Journeys guide, Rama Mmasa, knew of a remote watering hole where herds of zebras, wildebeest and impalas tended to gather. So, on our second morning in Serengeti National Park, he took us there on the off chance we might spot lions coming in for a kill.


The herds certainly seemed anxious about the possible presence of predators, as hundreds of animals nervously milled about, waiting for their turn to drink. It was fascinating to watch them cautiously creep down the bank, often getting spooked by another animal and running off. It was barely controlled chaos.


We watched for over an hour, keeping a watchful eye out for Lions, Leopards or Crocodiles. Finally, as the light rose over the treetops, six Zebras entered the water warily, with a tiny Baby Zebra in a protective spot in the middle.


They all lined up perfectly, dipping their heads down to drink and occasionally lifting them to look around. We snapped this shot at a brief, serendipitous moment when all but one of the Zebras were drinking in unison, as the mama kept her watchful eye on us. –Bret Love; photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett


Our trip to Tanzania was sponsored in part by Adventure Life and Tanzania Journeys, with safari clothing provided by ExOfficio. But we will never compromise our integrity at the expense of our readers, and our opinions remain our own.


If you enjoyed our Baby Zebra photo, you might also like: 

TANZANIA: Exploring Magical Tarangire National Park

TANZANIA: Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro

PHOTO GALLERY: Serengeti National Park Wildlife Safari

PHOTO GALLERY: The Wilds of Amboseli National Park & Timbavati Game Reserve

SOUTH AFRICA: My Life-Changing Experience in South Africa

SOUTH AFRICA: Londolozi Game Reserve Safari

SOUTH AFRICA: Zulu Memories from KwaZulu Natal

Baby Gorilla in Volcanos National Park, Rwanda

PIC OF THE DAY: Baby Gorilla

in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda


Trekking to see the critically endangered Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda was one of those “bucket list” dreams we never imagined would come true. Even now, a month after we visited Volcanoes National Park, it feels strangely surreal, like something we saw in a movie long ago.


We’d been to the park the previous day to do a Golden Monkey trek, so there was lots of build-up and anticipation: waking up at the crack of dawn, arriving at the park to see hundreds of hikers and guides milling about, watching a traditional troupe of Rwandan singers and dancers perform, and splitting off into groups to get instructions before heading into the forest.


We’ll have the full story about our mountain gorilla trek (including our insane guide, Françoise, who worked as a porter for Dian Fossey back in the ’80s) coming next month, to coincide with the 30th anniversary of Fossey’s death.


But for now we wanted to share this handsome little fella– the very first gorilla we saw as we turned a corner in the thick underbrush and entered a clearing our trackers had made. He was sitting right at eye level in some shrubs, just a few feet away from his mama. She kept a watchful eye on the 10-month-old, but seemed completely unconcerned by our proximity.


But the baby? He was FASCINATED by our camera. He gradually moved closer to get a better look, those wide eyes full of curiosity and wonder. Several times he leaned forward and pounded his little chest, and I had to stifle my laughter in an effort to stay quiet.


After showing us who was boss, the baby gorilla sat back down and started eating the greenery that surrounded him. As he briefly looked up towards the sun, we snapped this photo, which proved to be my favorite by far of the hundreds we shot on that magical, memorable day in the mountains of Rwanda. –Bret Love



If you enjoyed our Baby Gorilla photo, you might also like: 

PHOTO GALLERY: Madagascar Animals

PHOTO GALLERY: Amboseli National Park & Timbavati Game Reserve

PHOTO GALLERY: J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge

PHOTO GALLERY: The Beauty of Galapagos Birds

PHOTO GALLERY: The Ansel Adams Wilderness by NatGeo’s Peter Essick

PHOTO GALLERY: Our Top 20 Photos of 2014

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Destinations We’ve Covered:

Egypt- Top 5 Eco Attractions
Madagascar- Ring-tailed Lemurs at Anja Reserve
Morocco- A Journey into the Atlas Mountains
South Africa- Londolozi Game Reserve Safari
South Africa- Kruger National Park
South Africa- South Africa- Zulu Memories
Tanzania- Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro

How To Get To Antarctica w/out Doing the Drake
The Haunting Beauty of Icebergs
Penguins of Antarctica
Taking the Polar Plunge
Top 5 Eco Attractions in Antarctica
Whales of Antarctica
Borneo- Sabah Ecotourism Attractions
India- Ranthambhore National Park
India- Tibetan Culture In Ladakh
Laos- The Pastoral Paradise of Muang Ngoi
Malaysia- Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre
Malaysia- Orangutan Conservation at Sepilok
Nepal- Hiking The Annapurna Circuit
Taiwan- Top 5 Eco Activities in Taipei
Thailand- Top 5 National Parks
Australia- Top 5 Eco Attractions
Australia-Kangaroo Island
Australia-Maria Island
New Zealand- Kapiti Island
New Zealand- Tongariro National Park
New Zealand- Top 5 Ecotourism Attractions
Tahiti- First Impressions
Tahiti- Photo Gallery
Tahiti- Moorea 4x4 Safari Tour
Tahiti- Moorea, Tiki Village Theater
Tahiti- Pearl Diving in Bora Bora
Tahiti- Ruahatu Marine Sanctuary, Bora Bora
Tahiti- Swimming With Sharks in Bora Bora
Tonga- Eua Island Eco Activities


Churchill- Into the Wild of Manitoba
Churchill- Polar Bear Fight
Churchill- Polar Bear Photo Gallery
Churchill- Tundra Wildlife

America’s Best Volcanoes
AL- Fishing Mobile Bay
AL- Mobile Carnival Museum
AK- Denali National Park
CA- Hiking The John Muir Trail
FL- Sanibel Island Eco Activities
FL- Crystal River, Swimming with Manatees
FL- Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge
GA- Barnsley Gardens
GA- Top 5 Autumn Activities Around Atlanta
GA- Best Christmas Light Displays
GA- Top 20 Atlanta Christmas Events
GA- Jekyll Island Eco Activities
GA- Weekend in North GA Mountains
GA- Top 5 Eco Attractions in North GA
HI- Hawaii’s Big Island
HI- Hawaiian Mythology
HI - Top 5 Kauai Nature Attractions
LA- Lafayette Cajun Food Tour
LA- Mardi Gras Indians Super Sunday
LA- Voodoo Museum
MT- Hiking Glacier National Park
NC- Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge
NC- Asheville's Green Restaurants Scene
NC- Asheville's Top Ecotourism Attractions
NC- Greensboro Travel Guide
NC- Great Smoky Mountains National Park
NC- Outer Banks Wild Horses
NM- Top 5 Eco Attractions
NY- Going Green in NYC
TX- Sea Turtle Rescue, South Padre Island
WV- Outdoor Adventures
Yellowstone- Mammoth Hot Springs
Yellowstone- Lamar Valley
Yellowstone- Grand Canyon & Hayden Valley
Yellowstone- Upper Geyser Basin
Yellowstone- Lower Geyser Basin

Cancun- Cancun Underwater Museum
Cancun- Mayan Museum of Archaeology
Cancun- Swimming with Whale Sharks
Riviera Maya- Monkeys, Pyramids & Pottery
Riviera Maya- Rio Secreto
Riviera Maya- Tulum & Coba