Tag Archives: nature

The Coming of Man

I hope you will take time to look at this video. Notice the squirrels right at the beginning. Now don’t you agree that the world would be a better place if you humans would just return it to squirrel rule?

If you are ready to discuss the terms of your surrender to the Squirrel World Domination Army, please leave a note in the comment section of this post.

Rubbing Wings Slowly

Warning!!  This is an early Christmas post!  Well, at least I waited till it was  December.

One of the cute things about my wife is that she heckles crickets!   Yup, she just can leave the little critters alone.  On occasion when we are walking in the countryside in the cool of the evenings, we would come across a chorus of crickets chirping.  The sound can be quite loud and in the relative quiet of the evening it is the most prominent sound to reach the ears.  Instead of just enjoying the natural sounds, my wife would always flash a mischievous smile and then she would ‘chirp”.

“Chirp! Chirp! Chirp!” goes my wife enthusiastically.

Then something amazing always happens;  ……………all the crickets stop chirping ……..completely…………just stunned silence!  You have to be there to really appreciate the sudden drop from cricket crescendo to stunned silence.   Well, just total silence really.  I say “stunned silence” because I always imagine the little insects stop rubbing their wings  (rubbing wings is how they produce the chirping sound) and sitting there on their blades of grass with their jaws dropped!

I can only imagine what goes through their minds.

Theory 1:  They think; “My, my, that is the most beautiful cricket voice I have ever heard!” (not likely!) .

Theory 2: They think, “Wow! That is really, really bad ….. an off-key ….. an plain awful!” (more likely)

Theory 3:  They think, “Surely, that’s a bird or a frog  trying to pretend that he is a cricket to get a quick meal.  Better keep quiet so he doesn’t know where I am.” (even more likely).

But just this week, I discovered this video below and I hope after my wife sees it, she will stop heckling the creatures.

Doesn’t that sound like a heavenly choir?  So that’s my early Christmas post!

Now, it seems that this was recorded by an American American musician, Jim Wilson, in the 1990’s.  It was used  on the album Medicine Songs as the track “Ballad of the Twister Hair.”   There are supposed to be two tracks superimposed on each other; the first is the cricket chirp at normal speed and the second is the same slowed down.  It is claimed that the melodious chorus sound was produced by slowing down a recording of chirping crickets by more than 800 times.  This was said to be done as crickets live their life in high speed with a  lifespan that is approximately 800 times shorter than that of a human.  In the liner notes it is explained;  “Though it may sound like a synthesizer or a chorus singing; it’s the crickets themselves slowed way down, creating the effect of a choir of human voices. The sound created is a simple diatonic 7-note scale chord progression and melody with a multi-layered structure.”

Skeptics doubt that this sound could have been accomplished just by slowing down the natural crickets’ sound.  Attempts have been made to reproduce it.  Some musicians have tried to reproduce the sound without crickets and have failed.  Others have made their own attempts to slow down recordings of cricket chirps.  The latter found some of the sounds were reproducible but found the sounds more repetitive than the flowing choral sound in Jim Wilson’s recording.    One theory is that it really is the sound of crickets slowed down but not purely from just that and that the melodic choral element may have resulted from some secondary manipulation of the sound.  The debate continues and you can check it out at Snopes.

Along The Paku River Trail


The Mulu National Park located on the island of Borneo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Although famous for its world beating cave systems and large colonies of bats, the Park also has an abundance of flora and fauna in various forest types interspersed amongst limestone outcrops and karst formations.  One easy walk is along the Sungai Paku (Paku River) Trail that leads to the Deer Cave.  Here are some of the things you might see along the 90 minutes walk.  At the end of the walk, there is a staging area where you can watch millions of bats take off in the early evening on their nightly food hunt but that is material for a different post.  Hope you enjoy the current photos (All photos by LGS).




Murmuration and Praise

In this post, the theme of flying is carried over from the previous post.

Do you know what a murmuration is?  Apparently neither does “spellcheck” which keeps on suggesting that what I really mean is “menstruation”.   But no, I don’t mean that at all.  According to the Merrian-Webster Dictionary, there are two meanings to the word “murmuration”.  The first and more obvious meaning is  the act of murmuring; the utterance of low continuous sounds or complaining noises as in one of my favorite English phrases, “the murmur of discontent”.

The second more uncommon and therefore more interesting usage is when describing a flock of starlings flying and forming a living cloud.  I, myself, only discovered this a couple of months ago and wondered how I went through so many years of life without knowing this.  Perhaps murmuration is not new to some of you gentle readers but for those of you who have never seen a murmuration, then a picture is worth a thousand words and a video is even better.

Below is a video shot by Sophie Windsor Clive and Liberty Smith, two intrepid women film-makers of Islands and Rivers which explains the wonder of murmuration much better than I ever could.


Vodpod videos no longer available.


On this Sunday, I have been meditating on the fact that God gives rest, peace and restores our strength when we come to Him  in our weariness and surrender ourselves to His comfort.

The Book of Isaiah 40 and verses 28 -31 says;

“Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.”

This has been my experience of God and I hope you will have similar experiences.  God’s grace and love is like the hot thermals that gives lift to the eagles’ wings and allow them to soar ……….or the wind beneath the wings of starlings celebrating life with the aerial art of murmuration.

Pygmies of Darkest Borneo

Readers may have been wondering where the intrepid squirrel had disappeared to that he wasn’t even participating actively in the “Dead or Alive” debate of the previous post.  Of course, readers may not even have noticed my absence but I try not to think about that.

Well, this brave explorer and tenacious reporter risked his furry neck by venturing into the dark heart of Borneo ……….. the mysterious land of head-hunters (the vicious head cutting type and not the corporate recruiter offering you a better job type) and pygmies.  Yes, there are pygmies in this magical land and from my forward exploration base ( also known as the remarkable Borneo Rainforest Lodge) in the Danum Valley Conservation Area, I got to see three different pygmies.

This little Pygmy played the trumpet…..

We went out on a jeep in the middle of the night along a jungle track.  If you looked straight up, you could see  the stars shining brightly in the cloudless sky but when you looked around, the rainforest pressing in on us was all darkness.  We had a spotter sitting on the roof of the jeep and his job was to shine a very bright spotlight into the inky blackness in the hopes of spotting an animal or catching its eye-shine (light reflected back by the tapetum lucidum, a layer located behind the retina and which is particularly bright fin the case of nocturnal animals).  And so, as we bumped along the track, we saw in turn, a couple of Sambar Deer, a distant slow loris, a sleeping bird, an agamid lizard, a bearded pig and an owl.  Then, as we nearly reached the furthest point of our night expedition, we turned round the corner and right in front of us was a herd of about 8 pygmy elephants grazing on the roadside vegetation. (These elephants are the smallest of all Asian elephants).  For one frozen moment, the elephants looked at our dropped jaws with their wide startled eyes and then with a grunt, they stormed away to a safe distance.  From there they eyed us suspiciously while we enjoyed observing them for the next 15 minutes with only the sound of their feeding and an occasional deep growl.  What a successful night excursion!

The Elusive Pygmy Elephant- all that is seen is usually just a heap of steaming dung

This little Pygmy had some lunch…….

The next morning, I left the camp really early with some bird-watchers.  Early means 5.30 am.  The forest was alive with the sound of birds chirping and the whooping of gibbons.  Then came the unmistakable whoosh whoosh whoosh sound of the beating wings of hornbills.  I followed the large birds and found them roosting in one of the tallest trees.  We saw rhinoceros, helmeted, wreathed, pied and black hornbills.  Then suddenly, a noise in a nearer tree got our attention and there hanging some 30 feet off the ground was the smelly pygmy …..el Pongo pygmaeus; otherwise known as the Orangutan, a name that means “Jungle Man”.  I took this picture by placing my camera at the end of a telescope.  I am quite pleased with the result.

Smile you red-haired beauty (photo by LGS)

And this little Pygmy went “¡Ándale! ¡Ándale!” all the way home.

On my last day, we were again walking about in the forest when a companion drew my attention to  tiny dark silhouette clinging to a thin climber vine.  Before I could say “squirrel” it zipped up the vine and out of sight like a runaway wind-up toy.  The 10 cm long creature is as energetic and fast as the famous Speedy Gonzales.   I was pleased to see my distant cousin as he zipped by.  Wish he could have stayed to chat for awhile but perhaps next time.

All three pygmies of Borneo were a real treat to see.

Tiny, Speedy, Pygmy

The last photo was from Dig Deep.


It seems hard to believe but it has already been a year since Michael Jackson passed away and last Friday, many of his fans worldwide met to celebrate the anniversary.  In Malaysia, a number of documentaries and tributes were shown on TV.

In his later years, his behaviour did seem rather eccentric and he was probably in need of help and perhaps even intervention which sadly and regretably, he did not get.  I really do not think he was the best role model for young people as some seem to make him out to be.

However, he clearly was an entertainer extraordinaire.  He was innovative and creative.  He has influenced and changed music and dance in a way that very few have ever done.  Among the innovations that was attributed to Michael Jackson was his famous “moonwalk” dance steps in which he would seem to glide effortlessly backwards.

In the world of science, I often contend that man rarely discovers or invents things which Mother nature has not already used.  In fact, many discoveries are made by the study of how nature works.  Swept-wing airplanes? Look at hawks.  Radar? Bats got there first.  Gyroscopes?  Dragonflies.

Same is also true of architecture.  Taiwan 101 was modeled on bamboo.  Beijing Olympic Stadium was inspired by a bird’s nest.  Sydney’s Opera House mimics the curves of seashells.  The examples are endless.

However, it did surprise me to learn just recently that a bird beat Michael Jackson to the moonwalk.  It seems that a family of birds (Piprdae) or the Manakins,  whose home range is from Mexico to South America, was the original inventor and performer of the dance.  Kudos to Kimberly Boswick of Cornell University who studied the birds and made the discovery known in 2005.

Nature and its biodiversity.  There is so much more to discover.  Let’s stop the loss of forests and gems such as these.  Enjoy the video.

Do You Know Where Your Coffee Has Been?

Do you know where your food comes from? In these times of modern transportation, we can enjoy food that comes from around the world. For example, a visit to your supermarket may avail you of bananas from South America, grapes from Australia, cheese from France, olives from Spain, oranges from South Africa and rice from India.

But let’s put food aside. I want to talk to you about your coffee because, let’s face it, without that cup of java in the morning many of us will not be conscious enough to eat (which is my exciting new theory of how the dinosaurs died out. First the weather grew cold and the dinosaurs gew sleepy but there just was not enough coffee to go around and so they fell asleep and starved to death.)

Do you know where your coffee comes from? If you aren’t sure, go ahead and go to the kitchen and check. I’ll wait.

Dum diddle do diddle dum diddle dee. Yabba dabba doo skiddooo. Ying tong iddle i po.

Oh, are you back? So, was your coffee from Columbia, Ethiopia, Zambia, Philippines or perhaps even good old Malaysia? Suckers! You are settling for second best.

After lengthy investigations and travel around the world sticking his nose where it did not belong, the Lone Grey Squirrel has found the source of the world’s best and costliest coffee. This coffee is so exotic and exclusive that only about 450 kg (1000 pounds) is processed a year and it sells at up to USD 600 per pound.

Where is this coffee from? Well, it comes primarily from Indonesia, Philippines and to some extent from Vietnam. More importantly the beans that make up the coffee is excreted out of the bum of civet cats. I refer to the Kopi Luwak.

Why is this coffee the king of coffees? Well, to start with, the Asian Palm Civet is highly skilled at picking the best and ripest coffee berries which it then ingests. Then something about the enzymes in the gut of the civet cat reacts with the beans of the coffee which effectively reduces the coffee’s bitterness and makes for a smoother coffee. So just to re-cap, the skill-fully picked coffee berries go in one end, the enzymes work on the beans and finally they pop out at the other end. Fortunately, these skilled workers work for next to nothing and have never unionised or else the price of this coffee could be even higher.

The Lone Grey Squirrel is then told that the poop is then collected, the semi-digested beans are taken out, washed and then lightly roasted and wallah …………the world’s costliest coffee. I am told that the human workers who have to collect and wash the poop do demand a higher salary and are unionised.

Weasel Coffeee (Photo by LGS)

Now, I can practically hear some of you protesting that coffee isn’t …… well, isn’t your cup of tea, so to speak. Don’t worry, for the discerning tea drinker, we have found for you, “Monkey picked tea”. In this case, there is no eating of the leaves and passing through the digestive system and any of that nonsense. No, this tea is special cause the monkeys are skilled at picking the youngest and tenderest leaves. Why do they do that? Well, let’s just say that in the middle of the jungle, there just isn’t any toilet paper. What is a civilised monkey supposed to use?
Monkey Tea (Photo by LGS)

Skilled Third World Coffee Picker and Processor

Picture has been licensed under a GFDL

LGS admits to telling the truth here and there and making up everything else. Ooops! Time for my coffee break.

Final 28 on the Wonder List

Last year, I posted about the on-line voting for selecting the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.
The process began with nominations from around the world which resulted in over 440 nominated sites. The top 77 sites are then reviewed by a special advisory committee and this has result in the selection of the 28 finalists.

The 28 finalists are as follows (in alphabetical order);

  1. Amazon (South America)
  2. Angel Falls (Venezuela)
  3. Bay of Fundy (Canada)
  4. Black Forest (Germany)
  5. Bu Tinah Shoals (United Arab Emirates)
  6. Cliffs of Moher (Ireland)
  7. Dead Sea (Middle East)
  8. El Yunque (Puerto Rico)
  9. Galapagos (Ecuador)
  10. Grand Canyon (USA)
  11. Great Barrier Reef (Australia)
  12. Halong Bay (Vietnam)
  13. Iguazu Falls (South America)
  14. Jeita Grotto (Lebanon)
  15. Jeju island (South Korea)
  16. Kilimanjaro (Tanzania)
  17. Komodo (Indonesia)
  18. Maldives (Maldives)
  19. Masurian Lake District (Poland)
  20. Matterhorn (Switzerland/Italy)
  21. Milford Sound (new Zealand)
  22. Mud Volcanoes (Azerbaijan)
  23. Puerto Princessa Underground River (Philippines)
  24. Sundarbans (India/Bangladesh)
  25. Table Mountain (South Africa)
  26. Uluru (Australia)
  27. Vesuvius (Italy)
  28. Yushan (Taiwan)

Well, only two of the sites I voted for in the first round has made it to the finalists. They are Angel Falls and Milford Sound.

I guess my final 7 choices from the 28 finalists will have to be;

  1. Angel Falls
  2. Milford Sound
  3. Amazon
  4. Great Barrier Reef
  5. Galapagos
  6. Halong Bay
  7. Dead Sea

If you would like to VOTE, go HERE.

More Reasons For Not Going Swimming Soon

If you know a fisherman or an angler, chances are you have heard some fishy story about the gigantic fish that got away. Most of the time we can chalk it down to friendly boasting and a little hyperbole on the description of the size.

Well, one time, I was with some friends in the relatively remote upper reaches of the Jasin River in Malaysia. We had been hiking through dense jungle for most of the day and now as the sun was low behind the trees, we gathered around one of the deep rocky pools of the river. Most of us rested on the rocks at the side, eating fruits we had collected along the way and dangling our legs into the cooling water. It was pleasant and calm and between telling a few jokes, we just sat and watched the water flow by or looked at a couple of our friends as they tried their luck with a rod and line.

Usually, in these deep pools there is this one large fish, the apex predator, the Toman. The Toman (Channa micropeltes) eats other fish, amphibians and even little birds. In fact, also known as the Giant Snakehead, it has even starred as the monster fish in several low-budget Hollywood B-Grade Monster movies. They can grow over 3 feet in length and weigh more than 25 kg. Their body can be as thick as a man’s thigh. They are a favorite of anglers because they can put up a good fight and they are quite tasty.

Our two friends had been casting their lure of crickets near a dark and deep part of the pool for a good twenty minutes. Suddenly there was a shout of excitement. They had hooked a toman and it was giving a good fight. There was water splashing as the fish trashed and jumped about. We caught glimpses of the fish and it was huge.

They struggled with the fish but slowly and surely, they were able to pull the tiring fish towards the shallows. Suddenly, we all saw the line grow taut and swing upstream. The guy holding the rod felt a strong jerk and then nothing. There was no more resistance. It was as if the toman had gotten free with one last desperate jerk.

He quickly reeled in the line and to all our surprises, as he lifted the rod up, there at the end of the line was the three foot long toman but something had taken such a huge bite out of its middle section that it was almost severed in two.

We all looked at the mangled fish, stunned. It was a few moments before we all stirred as one and took our legs out of the water and stared suspiciously into the dark waters. What could have been able to take such a bite out of the toman? Not anything we knew or expected in this river! This has remained our story about the mysterious monster fish that got away…….or in hindsight, perhaps the mysterious monster fish that we got away from.

Last evening, a colleague related a different but related story from the muddy waters of a river in the rainforests of Borneo. On one of his trips, he found some of the native forest people a little skittish about a particular stretch of river. To his enquiry, they told him that a monster was sometimes seen in this river. When he pressed for details, he was told that it was some form of fish but it is very wide and long. They claimed that it was as wide as a man is tall or approximately 2 metres. Again this is not something that is known by science to be there.

In the light of these two stories, it is interesting that National Geographic has launched a search for the Megafishes in the world’s freshwater sites. One of these is the Giant Stingray. These creatures were discovered by science as late as the 1980’s hiding in the murky waters of the Mekong, other rivers in Indochina and also northern Australia. It’s maximum size is reported to be as much as 197 inches (500 centimeters), 1,323 pounds (600 kilograms) and with a body diameter of 95 inches (240 centimeters). This recently re-made the news with the finding of a smaller specimen in Thailand this year.

My colleague feels this could easily be the monster that the natives were referring to as the Giant Stingray is immensely wide. However, I still don’t know what we encountered up in the Jasin River. Perhaps it is another as yet undiscovered Megafish.

All I know is that just when you thought it was safe to go into the water, they find something else to remind us that something big may still be lurking under the calm water surface. Cue the music from “Jaws”…..da…..dum,..da….dum, ..da..dum.

Hogan and a recent catch of the Giant Freshwater Stingrayin Thailand (2008) 

Giant StingRay
from Cambodia (2002)The current known champion of the freshwater heavyweights, the Mekong Giant Catfish

Jungle Stream and Mahua Falls

Mahua Sub-station, Crocker Range Park (LGS)
During my recent trip to Borneo, I made a visit to the Crocker Range Park. The Crocker Range is a range runs parallel to the western coast of Sabah. It is located about 2.5 hours from the town of Kota Kinabalu. At the north end of Crocker lies Mount Kinabalu which is the tallest mountain in South East Asia. The entire mountain range consists of sedimentary rocks laid out in layers of sandstone and shale which have been uplifted.
The Crocker Range Park was formed to protect the pristine forest and many endangered plants and animals but its primary function is to protect important watersheds to ensure a continued supply of clean, fresh water.
One of the stops was made to the Mahua Sub-station. From here, a short trail leads to the 50 foot high Mahua Falls.
Juvenile Cicada (LGS)
Mahua Stream (LGS)

Sedimentary Rock Layers at base of Mahua Falls (LGS)
Mahua Falls (LGS)