Footloose Forays is a small travel business begun in 1983 while I was still in graduate school at San Francisco State University. It has grown slowly and organically through the intervening years. I have taken over 10,000 people on various natural history outings ranging from 4-hour night hikes on Mt. Tam to three week adventures in Ecuador. I have enjoyed nearly every minute of this work. The Buddhists refer to the importance of right livelihood and I have been lucky enough to find that. I lead every single trip. Footloose Forays = Michael Ellis. I have no staff except when I enlist my lovely son to help me. I have a very high repeat business and most trips fill up way in advance. One of the many blessings is the lovely relationships that I have with my fellow naturalists all over the world.
Currently I am concentrating on international travel and only offer a few of my favorite Footloose Forays trips in this country, mostly week-long camping in the mountains or deserts. If any of these trips interest you please feel free to contact me.
In addition to my own natural history forays, I often lead trips for a number of Bay Area organizations. I have a BS in Botany and Masters in Marine Biology, though I firmly believe that formal schooling is only a small part of the educational process. I have been a regular contributor to the KQED-FM Perspective Series since 1988 and write the Ask the Naturalist column for Bay Nature Magazine.
First some business. Outings that still have room -
Natural History/Natural Mystery in western Sonoma County (but nearly full.)
The Mono Lake weekend is now from October 3 to 5 (I changed the date from
September so I could attend a Hula Hoop camp in Santa Cruz, CA!). The Birds
Birds Birds trips in December all have room. The 2015 adventures to Ecuador
(Galapagos and the Amazon) and Tanzania (the Serengeti!) trips are full with
long waiting lists. However there is room in both of these trips in 2016.
Contact me if you are interested because, believe it or not, they are already
filling. The boat trip into the Sea of Cortez in April 2015 has plenty of room.
And both Turkey trips next May and June are slowly filling but still have room.
OK my update. From July 19 to July 26 I will be
in the Lakes Basin region in the northern Sierra Nevada for my annual trip to
that wonderful part of the world. Wildflowers galore, black bears,
golden-mantled ground squirrels, high Sierra birds, refreshing lakes. But you
must act quickly for this one. If not this year then next, because it is one of
my favorite places and I do it every year.
Personal note: I had a wonderful trip to Turkey, which
included a full week of rest and relaxation along the Turquoise Coast. It was
wonderful to have very little to do except sleep, swim and eat. This is a
usually a challenge for me but I rose (or not) to the occasion. We also were in
Istanbul for Ramadan, which was very exciting. This is the most important of all
the Muslim holidays. It was quite festive around the Blue Mosque and the Aya
Sophia. Families came from all over Istanbul and outlying areas and
gathered with all of their food laid out on the grass waiting for the call from
the mosque to break their daily fast. Was so much fun. I love Turkey and look
forward to being back there next spring.
I flew back to California for one day and then
immediately went to Memphis to be with my sister. She is recovering very well
from pancreatic surgery. Although diabetes is a new paradigm for her and it
takes a while to adjust. Her son Patrick has been very very helpful. He should
be a nurse.
Hunter is now working for Backroads Bicycle Company. He's up
in Alaska cooking and working at camp support. He's laboring extremely
hard but also is enjoying himself immensely and is surrounded by wonderful
coworkers. I'm sure he'll get offered a job as a guide next year - apparently
like father, like son.
Here is my latest NPR Perspective from KQED on our
only native aquatic turtle.
THE WESTERN POND TURTLE
I just returned from my home state of Tennessee where I
encountered a couple of fierce snapping turtles along the Wolfe River in
Memphis. There are 16 species of turtles in Tennessee but here in the immense state
of California we have only two representatives of this ancient lineage of
reptiles. Our designated State Reptile, the desert tortoise, is of course
confined to the arid regions of Southern California but the rest of the state
only has the Western Pond turtle. That’s it, one indigenous species. In fact
this is the only fresh water turtle native to the entire Pacific coast, from
British Columbia to northern Baja.
Why only one species in this biologically rich province of
ours? One word – WATER. Or more properly, the lack of it. Because in
spite of the name these turtles are rarely found in ponds, which are mostly a
man-made phenomena here anyway. Originally they were found in marshes,
streams, rivers and lakes where good basking sites like logs or boulders let
them conserve energy. Since roughly 90% of all California’s wetlands have been
lost, it is not surprising that Western Pond turtle numbers have plummeted
since first being described by a Russian biologist visiting Fort Ross in 1841. The
Gold Rush didn’t help, either. Tens of thousands were eaten for their meat in
the stampede to get rich..
But one modern practice also has been unkind to this
species -- the release of pet turtles into the wild, particularly a native of
southern states and Northern Mexico, the red-eared slider. It’s the pet turtle of the pet trade.
And it’s listed by conservationists as one of the most invasive species in the
world. It is aggressive, competes directly with our native pond turtles and can
transmit diseases to them.
Turtle have been around since before the dinosaurs. They
made it through that catastrophic meteor impact 65 million years ago but it
remains to be seen whether they can survive mankind. This is Michael Ellis with
I will be in Turkey until July 7. I
am taking my wonderful friend Clarence Chan and his multi-generational family
on another private adventure. We really know how to have fun. Last summer it
was Bhutan, before that it was Belize, and 3 years ago we were all in Peru.
are in order for my dear friend Rick Bacigalupi. He was nominated to
receive a Northern California Emmy for his work with Bay Nature On the Air. I
am privileged to be one of the main hosts of this program. On June 14 at the
San Francisco Hilton was the award ceremony. In our category KGO Channel 7 won
for their excellent program on the new Exploratorium. We will be back next
year! Guaranteed. Http://baynature.org/2014/05/14/bay-nature-air-nominated-northern-california-emmy-award/
Footloose Forays outings that still have room are the Lakes Basin camping trip
in the Northern Sierra, Natural History/Natural Mystery in western Sonoma
County (but nearly full), and Mono Lake weekend in October (I changed the date
from from September to October so I could attend a Hula Hoop camp in Santa
Birds Birds outings in December all have room. The 2015 editions of the Ecuador
and Tanzania trips are full with long waiting lists. I do have room in both of
these places in 2016. Contact me if you are interested because, believe it or
not, they are already filling. The boat trip into the Sea of Cortez in April
2015 has plenty of room. And both Turkey trips next May and June are slowly
filling but still have room.
personal note my sister; Pamela Sue was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. On
June 7th she had the extensive Whipple procedure done (removal of the
pancreas, the spleen, and part of the small intestines). She had nearly the best
possible outcome. There are no invasive cancer cells present and she will not
have to undergo chemotherapy nor radiation treatment. She will be a diabetic
for the rest of her (now long) life. Blessings blessings blessings.
one of my recent Perspectives that runs regularly on KQED, San Francisco's NPR
By Michael Ellis
so many ant trails on the fire roads this time of year. Well-worn paths by
medium-sized dark ants that lead to huge debris piles. These are harvester
ants. They are easy to identify not because of shape, color or size but because
of the rubble they leave at the entrance to their underground homes. They are
harvesting seeds and the germ of the seed is the most nutritious part. The
chaff provides little sustenance, so surrounding the holes are huge mounds of
these hard working insects I immediately consider that biblical proverb and a
well known Aesop’s fable both from the indoctrination of my childhood.
Ants are often used as metaphors for industrious behavior, self-sacrifice for
the greater good and planning ahead for future scarcity. The proverb admonishes, "Go to the ant, you
sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise, which having no captain, overseer or
ruler, provides her supplies in the summer, and gathers her food in the
there is the ant and the grasshopper. The grasshopper that spent the nice warm
summer months just singing, while the ant prepared for winter. The grasshopper
begged for food, the ant refused. The grasshopper died. That'll
teach him! Like most people, I was more grasshopper than ant as a kid but
lately that ant is making more and more sense. Human species take note.
biomass of ants on the planet is greater than the total biomass of human
beings. Ants have been around for hundreds of millions of years and have
survived and evolved through several mass extinctions. There are well over 12,000
described species. They are found in nearly every habitat on every continent
humans are singing and fiddling away with climate change, the ants are
meanwhile thriving and adapting to the changes we are manifesting across the
environment. We shall see who survives the coming winter.
Michael Ellis with a Perspective.
am in Bhutan until May 22. I love this peaceful Buddhist country. Thanks
to a brand-new domestic airport we get to fly back from Eastern Bhutan instead
of making the return trip by bus on a very “long and winding road”. This enables
us to travel further east to areas seldom visited by western tourists. My friend,
colleague, and tour operator Sonam Jatso hails from this region, and we will get
the opportunity to visit his village. The Yak festival in the Ura Valley is one
reason I go in May, but also the 45-foot-tall rhododendrons will be in full
bloom under the primary forests of the Himalaya. This is a trip I do every
other year and one of my favorites. This year I have added a new adventure to the
(relatively) low-lying Royal Manus Park in Southern Bhutan, which will take
place next November. I have been waiting a decade for this park to open up to
tourists. Finally that dream is coming true.
Forays outings that still have room are the Lakes Basin camping trip in the
northern Sierra, Natural History/Natural Mystery in western Sonoma County (but
nearly full), Mono Lake weekend in September and the Birds Birds Birds outings
in December. Both Ecuador and the Galapagos and Tanzania – the Serengeti at the
beginning of 2015 are full with long waiting lists. There are trips to both of
these places in 2016 that have room. Contact me if you are interested because
believe it or not they are already filling. The boat trip into the Sea of
Cortez has plenty of room. And both Turkey trips next May and June are slowly
filling but still have room in both.
Here's one of my recent
Perspectives that runs regularly on KQED, San Francisco's NPR radio station.
At the northernmost
location of the Christmas bird count - Pt Barrow, Alaska - in the blackness o fnoon the
lone counter heads over to the dump and listens - kark! There is it, their one
bird --the Raven. Six months later in the searing heat of the afternoon, the
desert sun of the Mojave has baked every other form of life into weary
submission, but there overhead cawing as they fly are two large black birds
seemingly oblivious to the debilitating heat. Over cities, at the seashore,
foraging in garbage piles, frequenting farms and remote mountaintops from
Siberia to London to Mexico, ravens are thriving.
Crows and ravens are
similar but ravens are usually found in pairs, crows usually in flocks. Crows
are smaller. Ravens have wedge-shaped tails (V shaped as in V for raven). Crows
tails are squared off. We have both species in the Bay area.
One of the reasons I like
ravens is that they form long lasting pair bonds. Mr. and Mrs. Raven not only
get together in the spring to raise young but they hang together throughout the
whole year and seem to really enjoy each others company. I often see them
preening each other, cooing, playing, and generally behaving like a couple of
Ravens belong to the
Corvid family of birds, which also includes the crows and jays. This is a group
of very intelligent birds but ravens are definitely the rocket scientists of
the bunch. In one classic experiment tame crows were presented with a puzzle—how
to get a piece of meat dangling from a 24" long string. No matter how many
weeks the crows tried they never could figure out how to get the meat. But when
a raven was given the same dilemma he carefully examined the puzzle for 6 hours
and then flew down. He solved the problem by the pulling the string up with his
bill and then holding it with his feet while pulling more string up and so on
until the meat was within reach. Viola! Clever bird!
So go ahead call me a
birdbrain. I will take it as a compliment.
This is Michael Ellis
with a Perspective.
April 25th, 2014, Sonoma County
I'm back from Bali after taking my first "vacation" (besides Burning Man) in years. While I love travelling, it is always nice to be back home in Sonoma County during the springtime. I will be here jsut long enough to poke my head above water, and then its off to Bhutan on May 5th. I'll return from that lovely buddhist country on the 22nd. Until then, feel free to browse this write up of my mojave trip writeen by a very eloquent and well-spoken client. I should also be adding some pictures to the Photos section soon. And of course, you can always "like" Footloose forays on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/FootlooseForays