Tales from the stick house
Government sanctioned murder of a very British species

One of my earliest memories is walking with my Dad in Holford Combe on the Quantock Hills to look for a badger sett. Of course we didn’t see any as it was daylight but I was excited nevertheless. I did however get to meet a badger and her cubs not long after up at Fyne Court one evening at a talk given, I’m guessing, by the Somerset Wildlife Trust. She was magnificent and a delight to see.

Contrary to our local MP’s ill-conceived ideas of badger ‘extremists’ I attended a local public school, as a boarder, played hockey for Somerset and now even hold down a job and a mortgage too. At a young age I learnt to ride a horse and attended a well know riding school on the hills but luckily for me my parents taught me to love and respect wildlife and so my riding skills never took me into the murky world of hunting. For that I am eternally grateful.

So what have I learned since the badger cull…

Our British farming industry. Before the badger cull I ate meat and drank milk, I don’t and can’t anymore. Once you delve into the murky world of why we are having this cull and who is behind it you discover a world of horror and inhumanity in our farming industry here in the UK. Exporting live animals and intensive farming that leaves animals crippled.

Politicians. Before the badger cull I never took any notice of the goings on in Westminster let alone bothered to speak to my MP. Since the cull became a reality I have met my MP in the HoC & written to him on numerous occasions.

Spin, Lies & deceipt. The BBC was a brand I believed in and trusted since as long as I can remember. Now it comes across to me as a govt funded mouth-piece and sadly I have little faith in any of its news stories anymore. The newspapers and journalists seem to all have their balls being held in a tight grip by the govt too except for a few people sticking their necks out to tell people the truth behind the cull.

Defra. Like MAFF before them, can’t be trusted to look after our environment. Headed up by Owen Paterson and working with Richard ‘Buzzard’ Benyon & David Heath who all have their own agendas for backing the cull - MONEY from exports of our meat to overseas.

Bloodsport supporters. Show their true colours on social media and the worst side of human nature

HOWEVER, despite all of this and best of all I have met and made friends with some of the most amazing people, my kind of people, people from all walks of life with incredible skills who are going out into the fields every night & day to protect the badgers and their setts from the people being paid to shoot and kill them by our government acting on behalf of what seems like the National Farmers Union.

A lot of us are local people, who live and grew up in the area. Some of us are farmers, vets, doctors, lawyers, film makers, scientists, hunt sabs, NGO’s, housewives, retirees and children, not forgetting our four-legged friends. Many people have taken time off work to be there or are giving up their evenings to walk in patrols along public footpaths. Some are travelling in from outside the county as they feel that they can’t just sit by and do nothing. All of us standing side by side out there in the cold, wet and dark nights or at home on the internet, marching, protesting locally, wiriting to their MP’s, leafleting, speaking on the radio or writing articles in the press - Thank you. We have a great many people behind us but most of all we have the scientific community and what is RIGHT on our side.

image

Last weekend I joined a huge group of protesters at the gates of Hinkley Point nuclear power station. For me this was a deeply personal protest as I grew up in Shurton, the small hamlet of houses closest to the plant, about a mile away. My parents moved to Shurton when I was a baby and my sisters and I all grew up playing in the fields EDF have already marked out and started clearing to make way for the proposed new power station.

Our sledging hill marks the ridge that runs west and along the boundary of the land EDF have currently marked off. Where there were hedges full of birdlife there are now fences. To my family and I, this was the hill that in summer we would we sit at the top of and play i-spy and in the winter drag our sledges to through the snow.

If you walk west along the top of the sledging hill you reach Benhole lane, turning north takes you to Shurton Bars. Coleridge would have sat and written poetry here many moons before but as kids there was endless fun to be had on the beach. Rock pools full of wonderful creatures, fossil hunting when the tide was out and writing our names in the sand. Along the shoreline the rock pipit’s would play games of chase with our dog and she would wag her tail in bliss.

There is approximately 190 species of birds that visit the Bridgewater Bay NNR but my favourites are the oyster catchers with their haunting call. In summer the fields of oil seed rape are a bright yellow colour which kept our honey bees busy and bobbing up and down above them the skylarks who make their home there. If you’ve ever listened to Pink Floyd’s The Wall you will have heard a Skylark. For me it is the sound of the countryside and my home.

In writing this I made a conscious decision to leave out the politics and the controversy that surrounds the explansion of Hinkley, instead the idea was to capture a few personal memories from a lifetime of wandering the fields there. From lanterns blowing in the wind on the perimeter (well, we called them lanterns but they measured radioactivity), the regular venting of steam from the plant that sounded like a dragon roaring (as a child my imagination ran wild) and the orange glow of the lights of a nuclear city in the distance that made our house feel less isolated. How innocent I was. Who knows what future Hinkley might hold for the next generation of children that grow up in  Shurton?

For more information:

http://stopnewnuclear.org.uk/

http://www.foe.co.uk/campaigns/climate/issues/nuclear_index.html

Sundowners & the Zambezi (Zambia 2007)

Sometimes holidays go by and as soon as you get back the memories fade. For me, the memories seem to last forever. My flight landed in the early hours of the morning in Lusaka and I was met by the gang and jumped into the back of the truck for a 5 hour drive to the Lower Zambezi. The gang consisted of Mike, Inks and Saskia who was spending some time in Zambia working at a local school, teaching kickboxing classes.

Mike was Saskia’s 'manny' when she was a little girl and now he was back in Zambia managing a farm with his wife Inks and their dogs, cats and family.

So off we set, making a few stops on the way to collect supplies which gave us a chance to stretch our legs.

After so long on the dusty roads and sitting in the back of a truck, we were covered in dust. It was in our ears, eyes, up our noses and in our mouths. This is us below, dusty brown in colour and in a kind of post 5 hour truck drive mania.

The river looked SO inviting and how gutted were we when we realised that we couldn’t go for a swim. Crocs and Hippo lived in the river of course and so we had to make do with a bucket wash on the little jetty.

At the same time every night at dusk the quelea in their large flocks would weave their way down the river, much like our starlings do here in the UK. It was a fantastic sight and my snaps don’t do it justice at all.

Next the hippo chorus would start along with all the sounds of the night. Ellie’s too wandered free along the riverbank so we would have to hope they stepped carefully over our guy-ropes and didn’t wake us up.

There were lots of cool visitors in camp, I think this is an armoured corn cricket but I’m not sure. Evenings were the best, sitting around a campfire sipping our vanilla vodka’s & coke and enjoying a swirly sausage off the BBQ. Really good times. Only each others company and the sounds of nature.

It would be an early start in the morning to head to the park gates. As it happened after quite a restless night, we awoke before first light for one of the funniest mornings of my life (tho at the time I was terrified).

Saskia woke up and whispered that she needed to go to the loo URGENTLY!!(travellers tum). Unzipping the tent and looking out into the pitch black night we saw two eyes staring back at us and they seemed to be moving. Trying to persuade Saskia not to go was never gonna happen so she made a run for it with me in close pursuit. At any moment I was expecting to be chomped by a leopard.

It actually turned out to be a friend of Mike’s, who’s land we were pitched up on, carrying two buckets of water that the moon was reflecting off and making it look exactly like glinting eyes. I still had to keep guard outside the loo and we were by then killing ourselves laughing. You get to know people pretty well camping!

what a super day to see the park, in our own vehicle and free to drive where we wanted. Mike and Inks knew the layout pretty well but I seem to recall discussing what we might do ‘if’ we broke down. In a small clearing we chanced upon an elephant that was loitering in the bushes close to us. We had just started to drive slowly by when the elephant burst out of the trees and mock charged us. I say ‘mock’ but it felt like he got to within a hairs breadth of the truck. Scariest moment to date and a quick reminder of the power of these marvellous animals. I think I saw my life flash before my eyes. Mike was super brave and stood his ground with the ellie and eventually we moved away in one piece.

We stopped for lunch further down the river bank. We’d seen hippo, ellies and an array of splendid birds including vultures and ground hornbills with their fabulous red throats.

The farm land can be seen from their house on the hill above and now back at the farm it was definitely time to relax in the pool, where the dogs came to join us. They loved the water.

Mike took us for a tour of the farm and in the evening we went for a walk with Inks and the dogs too, we met their cows and saw the land kept irrigated for the crops. The dogs have such a great life there in all that space.

After dinner the evenings were for games and Amarula. The dogs brought us lemons from the tree (!) the cats sat on our laps and the monkey’s would tramp across the roof. It really didn’t get more perfect than this.

All too soon it was time to say goodbye to all the animals and wave goodbye to Mike and Inks and as we passed through the gates airside there were lots of tears. Good times and the fondest memories of the farm, the people who worked on it, all their family, sundowners on the balcony…

…and sunsets on the banks of the mighty Zambezi.

Thank you Mike & Inks for having me (I didn’t have a photo of you both so I pinched one of my faves)

Bandar Seri Begawan (Brunei 1989)

Halfway through a course in Bournemouth and the Summer holiday loomed. I was 19 and about to take my driving test again. Luckily second time around I passed and it was a good job too because a week later I would be heading to a small corner of Borneo where it would be impossible to get around without wheels. Brunei.

My uncle and aunt had moved from Kenya to Brunei a few years earlier and I’d been invited to join them and my cousins for the summer holiday. I met my cousin in Singapore and we took Royal Brunei Airlines onwards from there to the capital of Brunei, Bandar Seri Begawan.

image

The next morning I awoke to the sounds of cicadas, classical music and a terrible smell. For a joke my cousin had hidden a durian under my bed. Its a native fruit but is banned from most hotels and airplanes because its offensive stink.

image

After a tour of the house and garden alive with the sound of the tropics and now in daylight it was time for a cuddle with Abu, the cross-eyed cat and watcher of frogs in the storm drain. Also resident was a sunbird we called Gonzo. A healthy  breakfast of papaya and toast (so british) we headed into Bandar to visit the palace and wander the markets.

Looking like a giant golden onion, the roof of the palace is ‘supposed’ to be made from real gold, I suspect that might well be true as it is owned by the Sultan of Brunei. Other rumours were that the sultan had a vast garage of cars which included the van from the A-Team and Kit from Knight Rider, amongst others. We went to watch the sultan’s team play polo one afternoon, a family friend was teaching his children to ride. It’s a hectic game and the sultan is a very good horseman.

One nasi-goreng later, from a street cafe, we took a river taxi and headed for Kampong Ayer. Its the world’s largest water village where 30,000 people live above the Brunei river in houses on wooden stilts.

image

Wandering along the walkways in the incredible heat and humidity we were treated to aquatic displays by the children who jumped and summersaulted into the river with great squeals of delight. I was tempted to join them it was so hot.

image

In the afternoons it was time to pack up the coolbox and head for the coast and Crocodile Beach. Of course there are no crocodiles now but I guess at one time there might have been. You could have the whole beach to yourselves and the only nuisance was the sandflies and some local men who would come and watch us from the bushes. You got used to both, eventually.

image

Quite a few evenings was spent at RAF Berakas camp where at the time, the late eighties, it was one of the only places you could buy alcohol in the country. We hung out at a bar called Tudor Rose, a watering hole for ex-pats, hissing beatles and geckos. A fair drive from our house it was when I got most of my driving practice. One afternoon we actually got to go up in one of the army helicopters to deliver some packages of medicine to a village deep in the forest with the flying doctor.

image

It was totally cool and one of the most amazing experiences of my life. The doors of the helicopter open like in the films and the head-gear to talk to each other. We flew low over the sea and along the coast before flying over the rainforest to our destination.

A bunch of us, sailed out to the fishermen’s islands a few hours sailing from the mainland (Effectively we were illegal immigrants in Malaysia at this point, but I only found this out recently from my cousin). On the way out we hardly had any wind and had to use the motor. I have NEVER been so sea sick as I was that day. Still, when we got to the island it was BEAUTIFUL & I soon recovered. We hung up our hammocks, made a fire and to settle down for the first night.

image

This photo I took above was on my morning stroll along the beach with the local fisherman’s dog who I had snuck some food too, thus acquiring a new best friend.

image

We had a great big fry up for breakfast and then it was time to explore and go for a swim. There is no let up from the sun however and the photo below is of a much younger me getting some shade after a swim.

image

Luckily on the sail back home there was some wind and we ended up in a race with another of the boats moored in the same bay as us. Fantastic fun and I caught most of it on film without losing the camera and myself overboard. In those days I took more film than photos.

image

The summer flew by and it was nearly time to head home. I’d had a fabulous time. The forest came right up to the back of our garden and we’d ventured into it on a few occasions. Its very easy to lose your bearings once you’re in the forest but if you really get lost the gurkhas are on hand to find you and bring you home and I’ve heard that they often do. We saw amazing frilled lizards, giant pitcher plants, orchids and not to mention lots of very large ants.

image

Abu the cat kept a good watch on the frogs that lived in the air-con overflow pots but these two seemed very happy in their froggy embrace and paid no attention to me photographing them or the cat.

image

Beautiful orchids of all shapes and sizes grow in the garden and before I left we visited an orchid farm to handpick some orchids to carry on to the plane to take home for my mum and my granny. They made it and so did I in time for my last year at art college. Needless to say my driving was much improved as there is nothing like an old Subaru that had to be double declutched and muddy jungle tracks to pick up a few good driving skills.

Peshawar to Karachi (Pakistan 1996)

One February quite out of the blue, my boyfriend at the time and I got an invitation to visit his brother in Pakistan. His brother was working in Peshawar for an NGO and thought it would be fun for us to join him and his family for a couple of weeks on a trip to the coast. On the way we would be watching a few games of cricket too. The world cup was in town and both Tom and his brother were big fans of the game.

We stayed in and around Peshawar for the first week and went along to watch the first game at what turned out to be a fairly empty stadium. As Pakistan wasn’t playing there wasn’t a great deal of interest in tickets. It wasn’t long however before our small group had attracted a bit of attention with our British flag.

image

After a few days of wearing western clothes it actually became a lot easier to get about in the town if I wore the local dress, so a friend lent me a shalwar Kameez and a scarf to cover up my hair too. I certainly felt a lot less conspicuous.

Pakistan has an awful lot of beautiful buildings. You must forgive me here but its been a long time since I was there and I made no notes of what we saw and where we were when I took the photos.

image

I thought this was lovely though, a merry-go-round all hand made and lovingly maintained for the children to play on.

image

When we arrived it was coming to the end of Ramadam, which was marked by Eid at the end of a month’s long fast. We were invited to the British Consulate that night as there was going to be a party with the England cricket team and their guests. The only problem was, we had to get across town and there were a LOT of live rounds and traser fire being fired into the sky in celebration. When things calmed down we made a dash for it in our car, with everyone ducked down under the seats just in case of a stray bullet.

image

It was a fun night and we got to meet all the team. Above is Graham Thorpe and Mike Atherton. DeFreitas was being quite lively if I remember rightly, our translater and all round great bloke ‘Adrian’ (his father was Scottish, his mother Pakistani) always called him ‘DeepFreezer’ which he thought was hilarious.

Being a man in Pakistan offered a great deal more freedom and one morning Tom and his brother went off up into the mountains to join Adrian and some men at a village for tea. They ended up being invited to fire AK-47’s.

image

I’ve always loved this photo. This man gave my shoes the best polish they ever had in their lives that day.

image

This little boy followed us for quite a while. He was quite persistant but had a lovely face and so I sneaked him a small currency note on our way out of the market. You could start a stampede if you are seen handing out money and its best not too.

image

Before we left Adrian wanted to throw a party for us all at his house. It was the loveliest day. We flew kites from the roof with the children and we all got our hands painted with henna. The dancing in traditionally done by the men and boy did they dance. It was brilliant and I was sad to say goodbye to Adrian and his family.

So, the cricket moved on to Lahore, as did we however I have very little memory of Lahore as I spent most of the time in the bathroom, which I remember very well.

image

From Lahore we took the overnight train all the way to Karachi where we spent a night before heading off to the beach hut we had hired for a week. We passed a large salt refinery  on the way to beach and the Arabian sea. It was one of the most relaxing times I’ve ever had. No electricity, no running water no phones no nothing, but it was bliss. Men came with camel’s to deliver our water every day and we played cards and read in the evening by candle light.

We had visitors too, a stray dog and her pups who were adorable. Of course I sneaked food and water out to them when noone was looking.

image

Hawkes Bay beach turns out to be a nesting site for green turtles. During our stay we rescued a number of baby turtles and released them at night into the sea in small groups to give them a fighting chance.

image

From the shore at night you can see the endless stream of cargo ships heading up the coast. I was sad to leave the beach and the simple life but it was time to head back into town and the big game at the stadium for England vs Pakistan.

image

The atmosphere was incredible and unlike Peshawar it was crammed to the rafters. The crowd never stopped singing and banging their plastic coke bottles on the seats so they sounded like drums. We must have done at least ten mexican waves around the stadium. England got thrashed but it was still one hell of a day. The highlight for me was when I needed to use the loo. There were no ladies toilets so the police cleared the men’s out for me to use and stood guard over the doorway. They were armed too.What a way to end a fantastic trip.

And now for something completely different. A few of my favourites to be found in and around Shoreditch in the last year.

Maria the Giant Antpitta

This is the view from the airplane as you fly over Quito before turning around and landing on what appears to be a very small runway below. Its an amazing view and after nearly a day of travelling a welcome sight too.

Before setting off for Galapagos, first there was a few days birding to be done in the mountains.

Antpittas were on our itenerary but they sounded more like a weird mountain delicacy to me and not a bird so I was curious, but up until the moment I saw one I had no idea how much I would fall in love them.

Leaving Quito very early in the morning with our guide Vinnie, we climbed up into the mountains to join an old Inca Trail at over 10,500 ft, part of the Yanacocha Reserve. When the cloud clears you can get the most marvellous view across the mountains.

The trail was mostly flat but because of the lack of oxygen at this altitude walking was quite hard work so we all pottered along, stopping to spot the birds as Vinnie pointed them out. He was amazing, an incredible extra pair of eyes.

The bird above is the Masked Flowerpiercer of the Tanager family. Dad took this photo through the scope as it was a very long way away. What a beautiful bird.

Of course there were a multitude of hummingbird species, I don’t recall this one’s name but Vinnie would know and they were ALWAYS a joy to see.

The next day we drove to Sachatamia Lodge, Mindo in the cloud forest for an even earlier start the following morning.

http://sachatamia.com/SACHA2008/about_us.htm

We stayed in cabins in the forest around the main house that were beautifully decorated with bird paintings. During the night I was kept awake by what I called the ‘10 second frog’.  I was too excited to properly sleep anyway.

We walked for what seemed a good 40 mins down and down into the valley in only the light from our torches to a hide where we waited for the sky to lighten and for the birds to appear.

All of a sudden Vinnie whispered “there, Cock-of-the-Rock" and sure enough, at the furthest range of my binoculars was one of the most stunning birds I have ever seen. It was way too dark and far away for a photo, but there were a pair of them and they were lovely. They soon moved on and they never came any closer.

(THIS ISN’T MY PHOTO - but it shows the beauty of this marvellous chap perfectly)

All of a sudden it was light and we could hear the birds waking up and before long they were all at the feeders.

This one above is a Crimson-rumped Toucanet, he was very keen on the grapes. Also visiting were Toucan Barbets amongst others.

Next another walk through the forest to meet with Angel Paz who is descended from the Inca people. He was a farmer but formed an amazing relationship with the Antpittas that live in the valley and now a lot of his income comes from birders who want to see the birds and stay for a ‘second breakfast’ (1st breakfast was at 4am so by 9-10, you need a 2nd).

Me & Vinnie crossing the rickity bridge

Maria is a Giant Antpitta, about a foot tall, the largest species of the family and she stole my heart. She looks like a big brown egg with a beak and long spindly legs and she now comes when Angel calls her name. “Maria, Maria”, and she steps out to greet him.

Maria & Angel Paz

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PlnCzEYaMwc

the one and only Maria

This is the best photo I could get. But we spent a good while with her before she headed off into the undergrowth again and Willy, the Yellow Breasted Antpitta arrives for his share of the bounty.

I don’t expect she is still alive today but I’m sure her offspring live on, she had a nest of eggs when we visited. I wish Angel lots of luck in his conservation project to protect the land and the birds within it. A must for any birder who visits Ecuador.

A MASSIVE thank you to my Dad for this wonderful birthday present.

Little Eric. A new addition to my gerbil family.

Little Eric. A new addition to my gerbil family.

Kalahari meerkat adventure

Famous for selling car insurance and the stars of ‘Meerkat Manor’ who can resist a Meerkat. I finally succumbed in 2005 and signed up to join the research team from Cambridge University who have been studying groups in the Kuruman River Reserve, in their own corner of the Kalahari for over 13 years.

Years ago when I lived in Bristol I took a room in a shared house. Much to my delight I realised I was sharing with a couple who worked for the BBC Natural History unit and in their office were a couple of photos. One was of R with a meekat on his head. I guess it might be what triggered me to join the trip organised by Eathwatch, who I had travelled with before to Madagascar so I  knew that this would be a very unique experience too.

The mornings were cold but it soon warmed up quickly. We would get up early to be at the burrow with the meerkats as soon as they woke up.

This little chap above was having a stretch and a yawn while the group warmed up a little before heading off on a days foraging.

A shongololo (giant millipede) was a good find and they would defend their find from others trying to pinch it. Rolling the millipede in the sand first to rub off the nasty tasting toxins before they ate it. The groups we researched were very habituated to people as they have been studied for many years.

As it got closer to lunchtime they would settle down in the shade and playfight. Sometimes a rucksack might make a good vantage point for the lookout too. We were given rucksacks as meerkats can’t resist scenting things with their musky little bottoms.

Sometimes they would come across a snake hiding in the bushes. The gang would make a lot of noise when this happened and the mobbing would carry on until the snake left the area, much annoyed. My job varied day to day, sometimes taking GPS readings to track the foraging routes or noting what they are eating, helping with the weigh-ins that take place 1st thing and at the end of the day and also noting Drongo behaviour too.

The researchers who were based there full-time were all really friendly and helpful but the meerkat’s and their antics I could simply follow around all day. Its like going for a walk with lots of little dogs. They natter all day long too to keep in contact with each other. Sitting with them at night at the burrow as they wait for the signal to go to bed, was some of the best and most peaceful times I’ve ever spent.

One of the days we visited the local school which was great fun. I took in photos of my family to show them and talk about but now you could take an i-Pad and that would be amazing. The photo below is when I got them all to do the ‘lets rock’ two-horned salute. Brilliant.

Sadly my time at the reserve came to and end. My days of wandering in the sun, watching raptors soaring, weaver birds making their enormous nests, Drongo’s stealing, mongoose mooching, eland, snakes, scorpions and sundowners on the big dune, was all over and it was time to go home. There was a big braai on the last night and I really enjoyed having the chance to talk to the film crew and Tim who heads up the research team. Also there that week was Michael Portillo who joined us at the braai too!

I was sad to say goodbye to Puppy who lived with us in the volunteer camp. This photo was taken just before I jumped in the jeep for the long ride back to Upington. There were tears.

BUT….I got my photo of me & a meerkat. My colleague took the photo below when I wasn’t looking. For some reason the look-outs would always seem to find me a comfortable seat. I never tempted them to me they would just come. I consider myself a very lucky girl and had an altogether unforgettable adventure.

Thank you Earthwatch.

http://www.earthwatch.org/europe/exped/clutton-brock.html

Galapagos Revisited - Sally Lightfoot & friends

The Sally Lightfoot crab. Its a wonderful name and a wonderful little creature too. My fondess for crabs stems from years of rockpooling as a child in Somerset and then spending a whole summer on the Kenyan coast when I was eleven. We would play games chasing the Fiddler crabs who came up on our beach in the evenings. Of course we NEVER caught then.

Sealions are the tourists welcoming party. They are epic sleepers and can be found in big piles flopped about everywhere with the occasional kurfuffle. This one above was way up on a cliff top, quite a way from the beach, complelety on his own but he looked so blissful I had to take a picture. He raised an eyelid when I walked near by to let me know he knew I was there and then promptly went back sleep.

It had to be one of the hottest days we made the trip to the Galapagos Conservancy giant tortoise breeding centre. Lonesome George wasn’t on view, sensibly in the shade out of sight. However, there are many tortoises of various ages at the centre and this chap above was only too happy to say hello. Below is a link about the project if you want to read more.

http://www.galapagos.org/2008/index.php?id=69

A walk from the centre and you arrive at the town where our boat had gone ahead to meet us on the island of San Cristobal.

The fishing station was always a hub for wildlife. Sealions, gulls, pelicans all waiting for a few scraps of ‘sushi’ from the fishermen as they gut and pack the fish. This sealion took his job very seriously indeed. He really made me laugh.

ALong our route around the islands we would stop for a snorkel and here on Isla Bartoleme I ran into my first white tip shark. It swam towards me through a shoal of fish at the base of the pinnacle. Apparently a little ‘eep’ sound came out of the top of my snorkel, according to onlookers I swam like an olympic swimmer back to the shore, haha! A good reminder that we are just visitors in the sea.

Later a walk to the top of the extinct volcano on Isla Bartoleme affords you a wonderful view over the bay where we were swimming earlier, beneath the pinnacle. Its a bit of a climb but everyone made it and we watched the sun go down from there.

All too soon we would be back in Quito for a few days of birding in the Mindo cloudforest before heading home.

Galapagos Revisited - Birds

I suspect the real reason my Dad was so keen to go to Galapagos was for the birdlife and its all around you all day & night too.

Jeuvenile pelican’s kept me entertained with their antics around the boat. They let you get quite close and the one above in both photos, stuck close by us for quite a while, waiting for the chef to throw something out the galley window. How they hung on to the boat with their big webby feet I’ll never know, but they did.

Frigate birds

One of the first birds we saw was the big beautiful Frigate birds who were always chasing our boat for scraps as were the swallow-tailed gulls, who fly silently like little ghosts by the boat at night letting out the occasional ‘peep’. Frigate birds have a rather marvellous scarlet pouch and we were lucky to see this just once from a distance back at their nesting sites.

Out at sea and at fishing stations you could rely on the squabbling pelicans to put in an appearance but of course you can’t go to Galapagos without seeing the Blue-footed Boobies.

We only saw blue-footed boobies on one day, our first day and sadly I missed them for I stayed in the water swimming with the rays, penguins and turtles. Dad took the photo below so I at least have a photo of one, though we did see Nazca Boobies.

Blue Footed Boobie

Nazca Boobie

On grey days the Tropic birds really stood out against the sky.

Last but not least, there was this old bird…haha! here I am enjoying a peaceful post lunch snooze onboard.

ambulanceindisguise:

A Boa Constrictor wearing a Wooly Jumper.
I drew this for Noel Fielding. But then I started thinking of other ones, and now I can’t stop drawing these silly little creatures. Capibaras in Wellingtons coming soon.

ambulanceindisguise:

A Boa Constrictor wearing a Wooly Jumper.


I drew this for Noel Fielding. But then I started thinking of other ones, and now I can’t stop drawing these silly little creatures. Capibaras in Wellingtons coming soon.

Galapagos Revisited - Iguanas

This time two years ago I was getting ready to celebrate my BIG birthday and as a surprise my Dad paid for us to both go to Galapagos.There was honestly no happier girl in the world that day. Another dream come true and the best present ever. The first time I’d seen the islands was as a child watching Life on Earth, with a much younger David Attenborough of course and I was going!

Within an hour of arriving at the tiny airport we had landed our boat (a small boat for 15 people) on the sand and I finally got to see my first marine iguana. I couldn’t stop smiling. The males were all in beautiful breeding colours and not in the slightest bit bothered by our presence.

After a while you were tripping over iguanas loafing about everywhere but the novelty never wore off.

Galapagos land iguanas seemed to be a lot bigger and from island to island they differed slightly in their appearance. They too were big loafers.

In fact wherever you looked you could see them scampering around, they were a delight and a real highlight for me.

Next time I’ll post about the birds we saw there too…

Practicing my felting skills over christmas. Here’s one I made earlier. HUZZAH!

Practicing my felting skills over christmas. Here’s one I made earlier. HUZZAH!

4 - The Island (Isalo & Ranomafana)

Tina, Alicia & Katie, Rats Canyon

Back in Tulear, at the HQ for the NGO, I hooked up with Katie & Alicia who were both on the marine project. They too had become disappointed with their project and had left to see the island. We all decided to head off into Isalo NP together on a trek to the canyons with our guide Tina (who was a guy).

We found cheap digs in a hotel in Ranohira near the entrance to the park and went about buying provisions for our 3 day trek.

http://www.travelmadagascar.org/PARKS/Isalo-National-Park.html

Nothing can prepare you for the canyons that greet you, hot and dusty off the dry arid plains and welcome you into their lush steep-sided arms. It wasn’t long before we caught up with a troop of ring-tailed lemurs, my first wild ring-tail since Dotty, all those years ago at Bristol Zoo. They stuck around with us while we had our lunch then moved off.

Me in Maki Canyon

As I’m not a photographer I took a few snaps of them and the best is below, which is still out of focus, due to the very low light conditions. However for me it was the moment, a dream came true and not the photo that mattered.

After leaving Maki Canyon on the last day of the trek we had just started to head home when a cyclone hit, the 2nd of my trip so far. Torrential rain fell for the rest of the day and in the end, as my boots were so wet, for the rest of the way home I walked in bare feet. It rained solidly for the next couple of days which left us stuck in our rooms trying to dry clothes and tents out and keep warm. Ranohira was cut off as the river had swollen over the main road East, so we made the best of it as guests at the village mayor’s home. He invited us for supper and a sing-a-long as only the malagasy can. It was a really fun night.

Karaoke Malagasy style

Finally as the water level dropped a bit, trucks started to cross the river and we managed to get a taxi-brousse out of there for Fianar then east to Ranomafana. I had the priviledge of spending 2 weeks on a project there a few years earlier (see Part 1 of The Island) and I longed to return.

The road east is very hard going in places and due to the heavy rainfall there had been a lot of landslides, backing traffic back for miles as there is only one road there and back. You should always allow for hold-ups when travelling the island, it is inevitable.

The lush eastern forest and the gates of the park came into view and it felt like home. We stayed in the bunkhouse at the gate to the park and as it was still raining and getting dark we sat and ate chocolate pancakes and drank Three-Horses beer into the night surrounded by the flapping of comet moths and bats. By now we were a party of 6, joining up with another group from Ranohira.

View from the Parc Entrance at Ranomafana

Here’s an interview with Pat Wright who I met when I joined her research programme with Earthwatch;

http://news.mongabay.com/2007/0507-interview_pat_wright.html

Katie & Alicia in Ranomafana

The next morning the rain had stopped and we headed into the forest for a trek and then the town for a swim in the hot springs. I was sad to learn that my guide George had died in the short time I had been away, lots of excuses were made but in reality it was most likely to be alcohol poisoning. After a lot of asking around I found my other guide LJ who was quite ill and barely recognised me. It was a sad ending to this trip but seeing the (Milne Edwards) Sifaka’s doing well and thriving in the forest protected by the park, it left me hopeful. Who knows what it would look like if I returned today, I hope it will be left untouched. As for the lemurs there, without corridors to other lemur populations there is little hope for their long-term survival.

Back at Fianar I witnessed rather a nasty fight at the bus station and so decided to head back to Tana, leaving my new friends behind to hook up with the group coming back from the coast. There was one last stop for me before heading home, Perinet, to see and hear the Indri.