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October 22, 2002

Fox encounter

Last week was the October holiday here in Denmark. Chris was over to see Berit, Nina was off university, and we all ate and drank far too much. Chris had his credit card retained by an ATM for no reason at all, and was lucky to retrieve it before they sent it to the UK, where he no longer lives. ADSL was finally installed into the flat on Friday, giving us an always-on connection, except when windows98 crashes, which is half of the time.

We spent the weekend at the summerhouse with Lisbeth and Jesper, and on Saturday evening we all sat down to eat a lovely dinner of steak. The back door is right next to the table, and it was open to let in some fresh air when suddenly Nina shouted that a dog had just come in and run out again. We jumped up and looked out onto the porch to see a fox holding one of Nina's trainers in it's mouth, which it had just grabbed from inside! Nina, whilst being amazed to see a fox so close, was a bit concerned in case her trainer got rabies, and so I was sent out to retrieve it from the fox. It dropped it happily, as I'm sure it didn't taste very good, and I got it back, but the fox was really tame and just stood looking at me so we gave it some steak, which it seemed to like, and eventually we sat down to dinner again. It continued to look through the window at us for twenty minutes or so until finally it wandered off into the trees again.

(all pictures on this page can be clicked for a bigger image)

October 25, 2002

Anti-globalisation protests

While cycling into town the other day, we noticed a bright yellow circle painted on a wall, and wondered if it had been someone warchalking without chalk. As we continued into Copenhagen, however, they became more and more common, until finally there was one on almost every shop. Then we spotted some lettering in the same day-glo yellow - the word lott.dk. So we checked the site when we got home. As Denmark currently has presidency of the EU, the next EU summit will be held in Copenhagen on Friday the 13th December, which is perhaps not the wisest choice of dates. Lott.dk appear to be planning a huge 'day of action' on that date, and their website describes it in a frighteningly black, fairytale style. Worrying stuff.

Wired is reporting that water voles are being pushed towards extinction in Britain due to people confusing them with rats and killing them. They are now the country's fastest declining mammal, having disappeared from 90% of their sites in the last 60 years. The Wildlife Trusts website helps you discover the difference.

I found this Bush Speech Generator on BoingBoing today. Make your own George Bush speeches, then watch him read them out!

November 15, 2002

Leonid shower

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The annual Leonid meteor storm begins on Monday night, with possibly hundreds or thousands of shooting stars visible per hour. This article from Nasa explains where and when to look, assuming that we get clear skies on the night. The BBC is also running this story, in which it says that this could be the best chance to see the meteor shower for the next 30 years.

November 20, 2002

The Big Gay Leonid Show

The sky finally cleared the other night, so at 04:00, I got on my bike and cycled out to the countryside and up a nearby hill to watch the Leonids. It turned out to be fairly impressive too, with sometimes two or three shooting stars at a time crossing the sky and leaving green trails in their path. When I arrived, there were only a few people there, but gradually more and more turned up until finally there were about 25 of us. Later, when I told Nina about it, she asked if everybody had been there to see the stars, or if I'd unwittingly stumbled into a gay pick-up place. I'd wondered why everyone was so friendly.

April 21, 2003

Lizard Lounge

I seem to be sharing my room with a lizard at the moment which appears to be living under my bed. When I least expect it, it suddenly decides to run out across the floor, scaring the crap out of me every time!

September 28, 2003

Living with Crabs

We seem to have had a crab living in our sink drain. I guess it crawled up from under the boat and you can see it looking at you from the drain, then it runs out into the sink, grabs any scraps of food it can find, and runs away again. Yesterday, however, I forgot about this when I was making pasta and poured all the boiling water down the sink...

January 22, 2004

Green Flash

It was a gorgeous day today so I had a 15km walk down to the south of Formentera and along Mitjorn Beach, the longest beach on the island. It was quite hard to imagine that in the summer the entire length of it would be covered with naked bodies, as today I hardly passed anyone. At the end of the beach I stopped and stood watching the sun going down, as you don't see enough sunsets in life. As the last of the sun sank into the Mediterranean, an amazing thing happened - there was a green flash!

My book on weather describes it thus, "On very rare occasions, when the sun is on the point of disappearing below the horizon, a green light will be visible above it for a few seconds. This phenomenon is known as a green flash." Apparently it's caused by refraction of the sun's light by dust in the atmosphere and is only visible when there's unusually little dust. I'd been watching sunsets for years waiting for one, and today I was finally rewarded!

Now, of course, I found myself at the wrong end of the island with darkness quickly approaching. I found a bus stop, but according to it's winter timetable I'd missed the last bus back by hours. I started to walk, reckoning it was only about 10km. Although I wasn't hitchhiking, however, after an hour or so a motrbike stopped just ahead of me. The guy on it asked me where I was going and told me to get on. Suddenly, and unexpectedly, rather than spending the next two hours walking back to the boat, I found myself flying across Formentera on the back of a motorcross bike, hanging on for life, without a helmet, of course. Isn't it great when strangers are nice to you for no reason at all?

March 16, 2005

Guernsey Bass

Mark sent this link to a petition to pressure Guernsey to introduce a closed fishing season to conserve Bass fish stocks.

The intention of this petition is to force Guernsey's Sea Fisheries dept. to declare a 'close season' or much tighter catch quotas for bass between January and April. This is to allow the slow-growing bass to spawn and ensure sufficient stocks for future generations.

December 21, 2005

Winter Solstice

stoness.jpgToday's the shortest day of the year in the northern hemishere, which in Helsinki means the sun rises for less than six hours and doesn't rise at all in the north of Finland. With midsummer being such a big celebration in Scandinavia I'd been wondering why no-one seems to celebrate mid-winter until I was reminded that the Christian church superimposed Christmas over that pagan festival.

The chambered cairn of Maeshowe in Orkney fascinated me since I read about it at school. Built almost 5,000 years ago, it's entrance passage is carefully aligned so the last rays of setting sun on the winter solstice shine directly down, strike a wall, and illuminate it's interior, showing just how important this day used to be. It's a shame we've lost track of celebrating this fundamental, seasonal event, and I think that building wicker men and sacrificing virgins would be much more fun than doing Christmas shopping and fighting our way around supermarkets.

February 9, 2006

Taratao National Park

Although I've been to Thailand on several trips, this is the first time I've made it to one of the country's 100+ national parks. Taratao National Marine Park covers 51 islands but only three of them have any kind of accomodation or facilities. Koh Taratao is the largest of these, with bungalows and tents to rent or you can pitch your own. There isn't much nightlife, no internet or mobile coverage, and only six hours of electricity a day, but it felt really liberating to get away from all of that and get back to nature.

The island's an important site for turtle breeding, and although we were too late in the year to see any, it's still packed full of wildlife. It's also the best island in the park for hiking through the jungle, with several full day treks and four restaurants scattered around.

The sand was so soft it squeeked beneath our feet as we walked along the beach on the first evening. Crab-eating Macaque monkeys watched us from the edge of the forest, waiting to feast on the big crabs that would come out at sunset.

We soon found ourselves getting into a natural rhythm of wakening at sunrise and going to bed after dinner - something that never happens in Northern Europe. On our first early morning walk we stood below a tree with about forty monkeys in it as they jumped to other branches and ran into the safety of the forest then we continued along to the river and were amazed to spot a 1.5 metre monitor lizard run for cover.

Awed by so much wildlife I then managed to lock myself in the bungalow whilst Carita was at the beach. The lock had failed on the door and it took some time for anyone to hear my cries for help and come to my assistance.

Revitalised by my new found freedom, we spent the following day walking to the waterfall near Ao San beach. The last hour or two was through dense jungle and climbing over boulders as we followed the river towards it's source, but it was worth it. Finally we emerged at a waterfall cascading into idyllic rock pools, and as we were alone we stripped off and took a swim to cool down. The fish nibbled at our skin, making me more than a little anxious about being naked in the water with them, but it was one of the most fantastic places I've ever been.

Lunch with the Monitor Lizards

After several fruitless walks back to the river to see if we could spot the monitor lizard again, we were finishing off our lunch one day just after the restaurant had closed when we had some unexpected company.

A massive, two metre long, grey monitor lizard came wallowing in from the trees, went around the back of the building, and walked into the bin room. I went off to grab my camera, and whilst Carita was standing watching it a passing ranger shouted to tell her that there was another one coming up behind her.

It seemed that all the animals in the jungle knew when the restaurant closed and soon it was full of monitor lizards and monkeys, with hornbills sitting around in the trees watching the feast. A couple of the restaurant staff came over but seemed particularly concerned about the komodo-like lizards and beat a hasty retreat.

We slowly crept around, close to a large male monkey, to get a good shot of all the action. As I pressed the shutter, however, it instantly looked up surprised and leapt at me, screaming angrily and showing it's teeth, thinking that I was after it's food. With less than a metre from being monkey food myself I dodged away and we ran around the corner from it, but realised too late that we were now surrounded by hungry, large monitor lizards and a pack of monkeys. Suddenly feeling like the hunted, we had to stop and take a few deep breaths to compose ourselves before carefully moving between the animals and out of danger.

We stood watching all the beasts munching their way through the rubbish for over an hour, feeling very lucky to be able to watch such powerful, wild animals so closely. Eventually, a warden came over to the restaurant and we warned him about the huge monitor lizard in the building. He just laughed and said, "I know. They come every day."

November 20, 2006

Back in Ceylon

After a few days in Colombo we caught the charity's van down to the house on Saturday - a three hour journey just to cover 100km due to Sri Lankan driving and the amount of traffic on the road. What was once a nerve racking trip down the coast against suicide drivers has now become a mundane weekly occurrence for me, occasionally livened by police roadblocks (looking for terrorists) or sometimes an elephant on the back of a truck.

Faye and I were quite worried about what we might find in the house after being away for two weeks. Monsoon season has gone on longer than anyone can remember this year, with the rain still falling in torrents every afternoon, and this seems to have caused a small mudslide in the back garden. With visions of snakes, spiders and families of cockroaches living happily in the house, we entered cautiously, not knowing quite what to expect, but things turned out to be all right with only a collection of dead bugs lying around on the floor, and our family of geckos on the ceilings. The garden's still full of wildlife, however, and not long after opening the back door a huge snake appeared, looking like it wanted to come in, before thankfully changing it's mind and disappearing away into the jungle.

November 23, 2006

Loft Inhabitants

We seem to have finally discovered what's living in the roofing space in our house. We've heard footsteps and the occasional fight coming from the ceiling for months and had been guessing that it was either palm-squirrels or a mongoose.

Tonight, however, there was a loud thud on the ground and we looked out the front door to see a small bundle of fur sitting there dazed, and a bunch of big eyed, inquisitive faces looking out from a hole in our eaves! The mother, black and white and about the size of a small fox, jumped down to rescue it and they climbed back up the peppercorn tree outside our door amidst lots of squeaking from the others. Later, one of the adults walked casually along the phone-line like a tightrope, high above us, before disappearing into the trees.

From the books we've looked at so far we think it's a family of Common Indian Palm-Cats, which look like a cross between a mongoose and a cat, but they're something we've never seen before, and we're constantly surprised by how many animals we seem to be living in close proximity with here.

January 27, 2007

Buddhist Squirrels

We came back to our jungle house last weekend after a week away in Dambulla and Colombo, unsure, as always, as to what we might find living there in our absence. Opening the door we saw a huge nest had been built in the alcove where the Buddha statue is - the squirrels had moved back in! We've always had one squirrel nest in the living room above the window, in which they have front and back doors so they can leave their nest to go outside or come into the house, but they've never gone over to the Buddha statue before.

During our first days back they didn't seem to come in. It was only on Thursday evening, just after 5pm, that I was sitting at my laptop and a face appeared looking around the curtain at me. After running up and down the curtains, sizing me up, it leaped onto a chair and then onto our bookcase edge, shimmied up that, along a tiny ledge at the top, and up into the Buddha alcove. There, it stood on it's hind legs checking that it's nest was still ok, before jumping into it, pulling it down over itself, and didn't reappear until noon the following day.

May 16, 2008

Looking for Loris

I've just come back from a few days in Nuwara Eliya with Gehan, the CEO of Jetwing Eco Tourism, looking for, and trying to photograph, the very rare Mountain Loris. It's one of the 25 most endangered primates in the world, so, not surprisingly, we didn't find any. We spent 2 nights shining red torches up into trees watching for eyes shining back at us, but nothing appeared.

At almost 2000m, Nuwara Eliya is the highest town in Sri Lanka which means that it actually gets cold at night - it's quite odd to be in a completely different climate just a few hours after leaving Colombo. Jetwing kindly put me up in St Andrew's Hotel and jumping into bed at the end of a Loris watch I was surprised to find a hot water bottle in there! Still, it was a very pleasant trip - apart from the appalling roads in the area - and we did manage to spend some time in Horton Plains National Park after dark looking for the elusive Loris but instead found Sambar deer sticking their heads in through the car windows looking for sandwiches.

May 27, 2008

Talangama

Last weekend Faye and her mum treated me to a couple of days in Talangama Villa - a lovely, modern villa next to Talangama Lake and nature reserve, which Faye and I had all to ourselves. Duleep, our regular tuk-tuk driver took us there through the maze of tiny roads that wind between huge houses, and we wondered if he would ever find his way back to Colombo alone.

The shock of suddenly finding yourself somewhere serene and peaceful with only the sound of birds after a week in the pandemonium of Colombo is incredible. It really felt like we'd gone far, far away rather than just a tuk-tuk ride - it was so relaxing.

We spent most of the time evenly divided between swimming in the pool and eating the fantastic food their chef seemed to continually prepare for us. Gehan dropped by in the evening and we did a bit of bird and bat-watching at his nearby hide. Very generously, he left his 600mm lens for me to use for the rest of the weekend - which is just about the biggest lens that Canon make - and very easy to get used to!

Hungover from too much good wine and terrific food as we were, I therefore had to make good use of it and get up the following morning to photograph some of the birds on the lake. We then spent the rest of the day chilling out and eating too much before returning to the dirt and pollution of the city.