We arrived after dark on the first day in Iceland and had taken the Flybus from the airport to downtown Reykjavik. For future travelers, this is a lot cheaper than taking a taxi but there is the inconvenience of having to change from the airport bus to a smaller shuttle bus which then takes you to a bus stop near your hotel. In our case, the bus stop was about 200 m from the hotel which would not be a problem if it weren’t for the driving snow and the slush on the roads making it unpleasant to be dragging luggage in the streets.
But bad weather is part of the nature of Iceland which one must accept. Still, it immediately spoiled our plans as the tour I had booked to go out that night to seek out the northern lights was cancelled on account of the weather. Although disappointed by that, I immediately activated plan B which was to get a good night sleep and take off early the next morning on a long bus ride out along the southern coast as far as the small town of Vik.
Here are some highlights from Day 2;
Next installment will be about snowmobiling and an ice cave in a glacier. See you then.
(All photos by LGS; please ask permission before using).
We interrupt our regular programme and postponed our scheduled post to bring you the shocking news of a great big Bear Dump over at Debra’s place. Yes! An enormous big pile of bear!
With the higher risk of human -bear encounters these days, I thought it only right to re-post this very important bit of information below.
As you can see, from a squirrel’s perspective, grizzlies are just cute bundles of fur but black bears are clearly to be avoided.
Many years ago, I saved up for a holiday in Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. My brother from Australia came over and joined me there. Both of us do enjoy the great wilderness experiences but neither of us have had any exposure to being in bear country; there being no bears in Australia and my own dangerous wildlife encounters in Malaysia were more of the tigers, crocodiles and elephant variety.
That being the case, both of us paid attention when a local ranger orientated us to the attractions of Banff National Park as well as gave us practical tips including how to behave in bear country and stay safe. Things like, talking or calling out when trekking, keeping food away from sleeping areas and throwing rubbish in bear-proof bins etc.
We listened attentively and at the end of the little lecture, the ranger looked at my brother and decided to add, “You probably shouldn’t dress up in salmon pink shirts either”!
And why not! Squirrels are your super cute friends. Even dolphins think so. If you liked this video, please show your appreciation and send some nuts. If each of you would send about a one kilogram bag of nuts, I would be all set up for the winter. Thank you.
Oh, and perhaps some fish too please………for my aquatic friends?
Squirrels love to bury their precious nuts so as to uncover them later to enjoy at leisure. In the same way, this blog, from time to time, brings an old post back for another short period in the sun. But this time, it is EXTRA SPECIAL. The following post was about a sun bear rescue and rehabilitation centre and when I posted it back in January 2011, it was a very new work and the assistant keeper that I mentioned was still a graduate student. Well, he is now Dr. Wong Siew Te and this month he was named as a CNN Hero. Congratulations!
BEAR NECESSITIES (January 2011)
Recently I posted about the Orang Utan at the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre on Borneo island. However, I was privileged to have had a peek on he new conservation effort being carried out there – sun bears. Sun bears (Ursus malayanus), also known as honey bears, are found only in South-east Asia and are the smallest bear in the world. adult bears stand only at about 1.2 metres. Like the Orang Utan, many sun bears are displaced by forest clearing for development, orphaned by poachers or were kept as pet and later abandoned when they got too big.
I met Mr. X who was the assistant keeper who enthusiastically explained how they were trying to rehabilitate the bears so that they could be successfully returned to the wild. Before they can be released, the young bears must be re-accustomised to the forest environment, must learn how to dig for food, climb trees and make nests to sleep in. Mr. X also fondly explained the varied and fascinating character of his charges.
The bears are kept in cages either in small groups or singly. Those in the cages by themselves are basically too grumpy to share a cage with other bears – there would be fighting. I suppose it is no surprise that these loners were all male. There was one cage with 4 young girls who all got on well with each other but even here there was a range of personalities. There was one girl who could be called the femme fatale cause she will appear friendly but go too close and she finds delight in ripping your trouser leg with her claws (too bad if you don’t wear trousers). Mr. X had various scars to demonstrate that he learned all this the hard way. On the other hand, there is Miss-Happy-go-lucky who seems to have a dumb smile for you in any situation.
Then I was introduced to two males who shared a cage. These two get long together like best of pals but it is like the Odd Couple. There is Mas who is quite bold where as Ah Chong is very timid. Each cage has a door that opens outside into a fenced enclosure. The door is opened for a few hours each day to encourage the bears to re-acquaint with the outdoors and forest. Ah Chong was probably abused badly so he feels safe only in his cage. Mas however, happily goes out as soon as the door opens and digs around for bugs to eat. When Mas is gone, Ah Chong gets very anxious and hovers near the door to keep an eye out for his cage mate. Later when Mas returns, Ah Chong gives him a bear hug and pushes Mas away fro the door and tries to keep Mas from going out again. Interesting, no?
This work is in its infancy. Hopefully the work will succeed though. This squirrel would like to thank everyone who works hard to rehabilitate traumatized animals, including squirrels.
Two posts in a row on cats! What is wrong with the Lone Grey Squirrel? Has his little squirrely brain gone nuts …….more than usual? Is it a case of cat scratch fever?
Editor’s Note:- Cat scratch fever is a real thing! And just another reason to get rid of your cats and adopt squirrels instead. Just another public service announcement.
The cat that I refer to in this post is the palm civet cat. It is also known as the toddy cat and in Malaysia as the “musang”. It’s scientific name is Paradoxurus hermaphroditus. However, just to confuse things, it is neither a true cat nor a hermaphrodite. Confused yet ?
But all this is unimportant to the telling of this true story.
What you need to know is that the musang is about 40 in or 100 cm from nose to tail and that it can sometimes be seen in urban areas. Being a nocturnal creature, it comes out under the cover of darkness and run across the roof of houses causing such a racket with their clawed feet that house owners are often awakened from slumber, thinking that a cat burglar is trying to gain entry.
I was once called to attend to a case involving the civet cat. The cat had fallen down an airwell into a house and had found its way into the master bedroom. Now trapped and panicky, it was running around scared, ripping the bedsheets with its claws and peeing and pooping all over the place.
The home owners knew me personally and knew that I was working as a science officer at a nature conservation organisation and called me to come help them out. It was meant to be a capture, relocate and release operation.
Now, we did have colleagues that were trained field biologists with practical experience in handling wild animals. Unfortunately, they were all out at that time doing their thing in the jungle. There was just Andy and me. Andy was our PR guy and I was actually trained in microbiology which meant that the only thing I knew how to catch was the flu!
The house owners were placing their hopes and expectations on us. Little did they know we both felt as scared and as panicky as the civet. We had zero field experience and zero equipment with us other than a large burlap bag in which we hoped to capture the animal. So there we were entering a room with an angry, scared and cornered wild animal and we all know a cornered animal is a dangerous one. I was thinking, if it bites me, I will have to get painful rabies shots. Yikes.
What followed was like something out of Keystone Cops. First we tried to get it to run towards us and the bag but when it started to run towards us, we dropped the bag and fled in fear. Then we tried to jump on it with the bag but it flashed past us leaving us in a heap. We tried chasing it but it ran way faster than us. We tried driving it into a corner but it got so angry that our courage failed.
Eventually it ran under the bed and stayed there. When we peered under the bed, we could make out its beady eyes in the darkness. And we stared at each other for a very long time; both civet and humans glad to have a pause in the frantic running around.
Andy and I did not really want another round of chase the cat. So we discussed what we would do instead and all the while the civet stayed put in the gloom under the bed.
That was when we had an eureka moment. The civet cat felt safe under the bed not just because the bed was a physical barrier but because being a nocturnal animal, it would always prefer to seek the safety of darkness.
We went out and brought back a long cardboard box, a broom and a couple of strong torchlights. We placed the box down with one end open. We then took positions on either side of the bed and then at the count of three we both switched on our torchlights. The civet had lost its dark hiding place and with the further inducement of a prodding broomstick, streaked out of there. But where would it now go? It ran straight into the safety of the dark interior of the box.
We quickly closed the box. Ta-da. Mission accomplished and I may add, the civet seemed to calm down quite a bit in its new dark sanctuary. After that, we were able to transfer the animal to a forest reserve and release it without further drama.
We were both proud of our newly learned civet catching skill but strangely enough we were never ever called to use that skill again.
Oh, did I mention that though we escaped physical injury, we both stank to high heaven from being around the civet’s secretions. There was a definite dip in social life for the near future. Yeah……on second thought, I am glad I never had to do it again.
I guess it goes without saying that squirrels and cats have a bit of a strained relationship; like Tom and Jerry, or Frodo and goblins, or Harry and “He who must not be named”. So when you say “rare cat”, I would usually say “not rare enough!”.
But being a liberal minded squirrel, I have to say in all fairness that some…..just a few….cats may not be all bad. Putting away my own horrific experiences with the cat version of Cujo; I have to grudgingly admit that the Bornean Bay Cat or B.B.C. is kinda cool looking.
Little is known about this shy elusive creature except that it is only found on the island of Borneo (part Malaysian and part Indonesian with a tiny little bit of it belonging to Brunei) and that it is very rare and rarely seen. In fact, it was only rediscovered by science in 1992 and the first photo of a live specimen taken in 1998 (photo above). It is about the size of a large domestic cat (head and body about 53 cm long and the tail about 39 cm long).
The reason I am posting about this rare kitty, apart that it is found in my neck of the woods, is that the very first video footage of it was captured just last year and here it is…….the B.B.C. – cool cat. So whaddya think?
My wife and I recently made a short trip to Japan with another couple. We went to Sapporo in the northern island of Hokkaido and to Toyama and Kanazawa on the main island of Honshu. As the other couple are ardent foodies, this was primarily an eating holiday with food markets, street food and restaurants being the order of the day. A couple of hiking trips, some shopping and sightseeing was done during the times we had to allow the food to digest.
On arrival in Sapporo, our first order of business was to seek out the seafood market (there are two, Nijo and Chuo-ku markets and we went to both). Our mission, apart from gawking at the variety of fish and marine creatures on sale, was to seek out and devour a heaping big serving of Taraba King Crab. These guys are monstrously, nightmarishly large but also delicious.
Another highlight was the Ganso Ramen Yokocho or Ramen Street. In the midst of the flashy neon lights of the modern, vibrant Susukino district, there is a small narrow lane between buildings which house a series of small stalls which seem to be a relic from another time and which serve some of the best ramen on the planet. These hole in the walls are small. The smallest could only accommodate about 6 diners while the largest could probably sit about 16 diners. We visited this street for dinner and supper a number of times. Once we went around the witching hour on a wet rainy night to find queues of men in business suits waiting patiently in the rain for their turn to sit in the few seats available. Our favorites included a delicious clam ramen served with basil oil and the Hokkaido local speciality of sweetcorn and butter ramen.
It may seem strange but we also tried out a French and an Italian restaurant and the Italian place, Picchu, was really memorable for using local Japanese ingredients in a creative interpretation of Italian cooking; a Taraba Crab meat sausage is an example.
Hokkaido is also famous for its milk and ice cream so a few helpings of that was also sampled especially the green tea ice cream.
Anyway, here are some photos to whet your appetite.
Hi everyone! I celebrated my birthday last week and I left clues in one of my posts to let you guys know where in the world I was. Well, I waited and waited but none of you showed up to my birthday party.
What’s wrong? Couldn’t solve the clues? Got lost? Got mugged in Tokyo and loss your memory? Got stomped on by Godzilla?
Well anyway, you didn’t show up and it was your loss cause I chose to celebrate my birthday in my birthday suit! Yes…..au naturel. Bet you are kicking yourself for not getting on that early flight to Japan.
After decades of thinking about it, I finally got a chance to go to a ryokan and go into an outdoor onsen. And I took the plunge! I embraced the whole experience which involves letting it all hang out in a public bath.
For the uninitiated, let me walk you through the process.
Step 1: Get Naked. – all you take with you is a tiny towel that is barely big enough to cover your privates. Now it seems that the native Japanese tend to strut around with the tiny towel folded neatly on top of their heads. Those less accustomed to public nudity may rather uncomfortably use it to shield the nether regions from prying eyes but it really doesn’t help much. I tend to subscribe to the strategy of using the towel to cover the face so that no one knows who you are.
Step 2: Soap and wash. – There are washing stations lined up along the side of a wall where you are expected to sit on tiny stools and wash and clean yourself thoroughly. NOTE:- You Have to be CLEAN before entering the hot spring pool. Soaping yourself in the hot pool is a major faux pas; nay – a major diplomatic incident; nay reason for going to war.
Step 3: Enter the hot spring fed pool and soak while enjoying the cold outdoors. The waters heal all kinds of physical and mental ailments and tiredness.
So here we go …….
Well, that’s pretty much the end of this post. If you were expecting some nudity, shame on you! Please remember this is a family oriented blog.
Now, do you really want to see the squirrel disrobed? I mean, do you really? Are you sure? Your final warning. It’s not too late to turn back. Last chance to save your eyes.
Regular readers will know that the Realm of the Lone Grey Squirrel loves to celebrate excellence……….excellence in failure, that is! Yes, there is something about epic fails that fills the heart with soul healing mirth and with admiration for the gumption of those who dared to try and fall flat on their faces. That is why, the IgNobel Awards are frequently feted here.
But recently, the Squirrel had been alerted to a new source of inspiration. Fieldwork Fails is a book that has a collection of stories of scientists hard at work in the field collecting data and making a fool of themselves in the process. Kind of a tribute to those who push the boundaries of science and find that the sometimes the boundaries push back.
Here is a couple of examples from Fieldwork Fails which is compiled and illustrated by Jim Jourdane.
Now I have a few personal examples that I could add to the compilation on account that I am a scientist, have done fieldwork and have experienced epic fails. But the following is one of my favorite, true, “cross my heart and hope to die” yarns.
This was early in my career as a conservationist and I joined a scientific expedition to a part of the Malaysian jungle that had been relatively poorly investigated by science. I was really inexperienced at that time but had the wonderful privilege of being in the company of some very respected biologists and botanists and learning from them. In return, all these eminent scientists asked of me was to carry all their heavy gear through the hot, steamy jungle.
We operated out of a base camp that was almost totally constructed of jungle material. We slept on stretcher like cots made out of wooden poles and canvas under a shelter that was constructed from various palm leaves laid over a wooden frame.
On one occasion, I had a chance to follow a group of three entomologists who were leaders in their field. (Entomologist = someone crazy about insects). After a long day out in the field collecting insect specimens from various traps, we returned to camp and plopped our tired bodies down on to adjacent cots.
It was there, while we lay in the fading light, nursing our sore muscles, that one of the guys spotted an extremely large stick insect up in the rafters of our crude shelter. Now, Malaysia is famous for its many species of stick insects – some of which are very large.
Anyway, all four of us continued to lie on our cots exhausted, observing the creature from afar and there then ensured an academic debate as to the identity of the curious visitor in our rafters. One was sure that it was a rare species. Another disagreed, citing the proportion of the body to the head did not fit the species characteristics. The third insisted it was yet another species based on the structure and positioning of the legs. For once, I was wise enough to keep silent and let the experts argue it out.
After, about 15 minutes of heated discussion, one of the experts declared, “There’s only one way to settle this!”. With that, he got up, reached for his butterfly net and scooped the insect from the rafters for closer examination. With the prize in hand, all three gathered round to make the final identification.
That’s when they realised that it wasn’t a stick insect at all, it was a …..stick.
This week LGS is stepping in the ol’ time machine (otherwise known as my dusty photo album) to go back some 15 years. It was not the best of times for me. I was very stressed, terribly unhealthy and quite unwell. During this dip in my life, I took a trip to Australia to visit relatives. I was so worn out that I slept most of the time there. But I did go on a road trip with them towards the interior of Oz.
Our journey started from Perth and we made our way south for hundreds of kilometers to Albany before we struck out to the north and inland towards the heart of the continent.
No chance of drowning or shark attack here!
Viewing the World Through the Observation of Squirrels