Category Archives: animals

Fire and Ice-Land 2 (Vik & South Coast)


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;

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Icelandic Horses – these tough guys spend the winter out in the elements.  Descended from ponies brought over by Vikings in the 12th century, they are used in sheep herding and more recently for “tourist herding”.
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A short stop at the LAVA Centre and there was this interactive model of Iceland showing all the earthquakes and tremors that occurred in the last 24 hours.
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The impressive Skógafoss waterfall
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The black volcanic sand beach at Vik
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It was a wild and windy day!
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You could actually lean backwards into the wind and the wind would be able to hold you up.
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But the wind was also pelting us with tiny bits of hail which was quite painful.  The round ice spheres can be seen clearly in contrast to the black sand.
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These are the basalt columns at the famous Reynisfjara beach near Vik.  Oh, and the sun came out briefly.
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They told me that seabirds nest on these rock stacks but all I saw were @#!$%#* tourists!
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The beach can be dangerous as the waves are violent and rogue waves are known to occur which can drag you into the cold North Atlantic.  The last fatality was in 2017.  We were told not to go too near the waves and also not to turn your back to the waves.
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But, it could also be very romantic!
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The ends of the basalt columns in the cave.
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Another view.  Notice the icicle at the top?
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A good place to roost after a long day on a tour bus.
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We also visited part of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier.
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These guys were returning from hiking on the glacier.
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Another beautiful waterfall – Seljalandsfoss Waterfall.  In warmer times, it is possible to walk behind the falling water.
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Wait a while and you might get the place to yourself.
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This little excursion along the south coast gets my thumbs up!

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).

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Know Your Bear Adversary


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.

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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”!

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Salmon Pink?  Maybe not in bear country.

Bear Necessities -Revisited (Unburied Nuts)


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.

Bear Climbing – See the Characteristic White Marking and Those Long Claws
The Teenage Girls
Snooze Time

Cat Catcher


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.

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Palm civet a.k.a. Musang

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.

B.B.C. – Cool Cat


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.

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The B.B.C. captured by camera trap (BBC Wildlife Magazine)

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?

 

Sapporo is Good Eating


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.

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