Wildlife

Butterfly books for kids

Lepidoptera are near and dear to this household.  Our garden is full of native and other flowering plants to attract butterflies.  We rear anything we can find the eggs for.  We’ve also participated in the citizen science of tagging our reared Monarch butterflies.  We have found many great reads for this theme that is so fun revisit every spring and summer.

              Product Details 

 

Books We Love
Homeschooling
My life with bugs
Wildlife

Comments Off on Butterfly books for kids

Permalink

Hatch The Quail

My daughter will be the first one to excitedly tell you, “guess what we’re getting April 20th!?  We’re getting Quails!  When they hatch they are the size of quarters!”

Well, we’re getting seven quail eggs, the incubator, a candle light, a cage and enough feed to care for the hatchlings for a few weeks for a fun spring project.  The company Rent the Chicken also provides a service called “Hatch the Quail” and they will deliver to your home, provide a 30-45 minute presentation, 17 page observation/activity book and pick up the quails after five weeks.  I’m already putting together a unit study for the week(s) prior to and after their arrival on birds, eggs, and raising chickens and quails.  Besides… chicks the size of QUARTERS!

Homeschooling
Wildlife

Comments Off on Hatch The Quail

Permalink

Wildlife

I’ve been a terrible blogger as of late, I know. I have the attention span of a gnat at times and the appeal of the “micro-blogging” in status updates on Facebook or with Tweets on Twitter, has been more than enough to convey what I’ve been up to. Sometimes, 140 characters is all you need. Today though, I present you with some wildlife.

Muntjac DeerThere are the tiny Muntjac Deer, that are dog sized, that have become a very common sight around our house. There’s a pair that seem to be making a home in the brushy area at the end of our driveway. They are an introduced species, a native of China, having escaped and established feral populations from parks in the early twentieth century. They are also referred to as “barking deer” for characteristic loud barking, which we hear in the night seemingly just outside our windows.

DSC_8953Pheasants are another extremely common visitor to our yard. This female has become a sort of “guard bird” of our back yard, patrolling the perimeter, carefully making her way along the greenery and settling down for a snooze on the ivy. The males are all around us too. We hear their loud barks constantly, it is like having a very funny shaped dog loitering on our roof tops and garages on our Close.

Spring has fully sprung here, song birds are going berserk, the bluebells are starting up again, so I anticipate another sojourn through some bluebell woods again soon.

Wildlife

Comments Off on Wildlife

Permalink

England: Dorset, Bloody-Nose Beetle

Bloody-nosed Beetle

Timarcha tenebricosa

A lumbering, flightless leaf beetle, often seen plodding across paths or through grass. In this case, he was fighting against the stiff breeze on the top of a cliff on the Jurassic Coast at Lulworth Cove. When disturbed, these beetles exude a drop of bright red, blood-like fluid from their mouth. I must not have disturbed him, he didn’t spew any goo at me. This photo doesn’t capture the color very well, but the elytra had a metallic purple sheen too it.

After Lulworth Cove, we drove to Durdle Door, a natural limestone arch on the Dorset coast.

More Durdle Door

After Lulworth Cove, we drove to Durdle Door, a natural limestone arch on the Dorset coast. This coast line is riddled with interesting geology and features. If you can imagine a layer cake with three cake layers turned on it’s side: a layer of vanilla, a layer of chocolate and a layer of carrot cakes, you can imagine what this coast looks like geologically. The layers of rock have been uplifted and tilted, revealing interesting patterns in the strata, eroding differentially making these coves and arches.

We sat on the pebbly beach and dipped our feet in the cold cold water. Mark was significantly braver than me and went for a swim. Just to say he swam through Durdle Door. Mark remarked on the fact that we knew we were going to the coast, to the beach, and at no point did we even consider bringing swimsuits or towels. I was bundled up in a sweater. It was a gorgeous sunny day, no doubt, but the stiff breeze was chilly.

There is so much more to explore on the southern coast, we’ll need to make another trip, or a longer trip :)

England Sites
Hiking
My life with bugs
Travel
Travel: England
Wildlife

Comments (1)

Permalink

Lucanus cervus – Stag Beetle

Male and female Lucanus cervusa.k.a. our evening’s entertainment. This stag beetle is the U.K.’s largest beetle, Lucanus cervus. Apparently, these beetles are rare outside the Thames valley and populations have declined or are extinct beyond southern England. Fortunately, we live in the Thames valley and the males have been buzzing through the air tonight like miniature helicopters in numbers. The larva spend four years feeding in rotting wood, when they emerge as adults, they live for a few months simply to reproduce.

I nearly stepped on a female who was casually hanging out on our gravel walkway. What a perfect subject for a little macro photography. She is a photogenic beetle. Shortly thereafter we caught a male that flew close enough to the ground to capture. We kept seeing them silhouetted against the pale lit dusk sky up near the tree limbs and leaves.

Mating pair of Lucanus cervusOnce inside and with my expert beetle wrangling and Mark’s lighting idea, we had plenty to amuse ourselves. We improvised a soft light box with a laundry basket and a white sheet. We photographed them individually and then brought the two love birds, er, love beetles together. Only in this house would this constitute a fun Saturday night, capturing and photographing insects!

The Complete Photo Set

Musings & adventures
My life with bugs
Wildlife

Comments (1)

Permalink

Scotland: Highlands and Isle of Skye

What was intended to not be a day of driving turned into yet another day of driving.  We weighed our options and decided on heading out separately.  We would meet up at Eilean Donan Castle, regroup and make for the Isle of Skye.  On which we would drive a circular circuit going clockwise.

The drive to Eilean Donan was, again, incredibly lovely, through the Scottish highlands.  We drove right by Ben Nevis, at 4,409 feet it is the highest peak in the U.K.   The surrounding rocky range piercing the skyline.  The twisty roads are so well suited for a zippy sporty convertible.  I have to repeat the phrase that while driving through such an amazing landscape, the journey really is the destination.

Eilean Donan Castle was interesting, it stands on an island where three lochs meet.  The site has been occupied for 1500 years or so with the first fortified building erected in 13th century.  It has a long and colorful history and is the seat of the clan MacCrae.  It wasn’t the best castle we’ve visited, but there were certainly details of it that I loved.  All the built in window seats overlooking the mountains and water.  Each room had it’s own little fireplace.  And there were just so many little nooks and crannies to explore.

What I found most interesting was that as you walked through the rooms, with all the family photos on the walls and sitting on furniture, you really felt like you were in someone’s home.  Suzanne commented that it was like going through an “open house” of a property for sale.  I had to ask about the photos, who they were.  The room guard/guide explained that they were photos of the current owner’s family.  The matriarch, a MacCrae pictured in an oil painting above the fire place in the room, had five daughters, 20 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

The castle was the family home until the mid 1980’s.  They occasionally opened it’s doors to visitors from time to time.  But when it became obvious that the property would be more suited as a historic tourist attraction, the family moved into the servent quarters.  The castle is still used frequently for family gatherings, the matriarch will be celebrating her 80th birthday there next month and her oldest daughter recently turned 50.

We refueled with some soup and bread. Although I was curious about the Cullin Skink that was on the menu, my imagination was telling me it was probably something awful.  On the road again, we reached the Isle of Skye.  It was different.  Different scenery.  Flatter.  We stoppd a while to commune with the sheep.  Which made me wonder about a few statistics.  There are a lot of sheep, I mean A LOT of sheep on the Isle.  The general population of sheep is high across the whole of the U.K. but on Skye, it just seemed inordinately high.  I’m wondering about the ratio of sheep to people on this island.

The whole place,  at least the north west region we circuited, seemed rather barren.  I started also wondering what the species diversity overall was for the island (I need to look up some checklists for these statistics).   This apparent barrenness combined with the widespread large scale clear cutting of the pine trees was making me a little depressed.   Fields chewed to the nub and swaths of recently cut tree stumps does not paint the best picture of the island.  We decided we like the main land better and made the executive decision to head back to the mainland, where it was prettier, cutting our loop short.  It was the right thing to do.  We were able to get back to Glencoe relatively early and relax over dinner (and another football game, this time between two teams from Scotland).

Expat Observations
Historic Sites & Monuments
Travel
Travel: Scotland
Wildlife

Comments Off on Scotland: Highlands and Isle of Skye

Permalink

Revisiting Blue Bell Woods

On our taxi ride back from the airport we saw them out of the corner of our eyes. Splashes of blue. The bluebells were out in force. That meant we needed to get out again to see them. This time, it was a visit to Philipshill Wood in Chorleywood.

On the motorcycle ride out, we caught glimpses of several dense pockets. I gasped at the sight of some of them. A mere sample of what was to come once we entered the wood. A few words come to mind with this phenomenon. Stunning. Breath taking. Amazing. This truly is an incredible and remarkable natural display. We hiked in, found a clear spot and just sat under the beech trees with their new leaves amongst the blue haze. The sun dappling through the canopy.

Cooking
England Sites
Expat Observations
Musings & adventures
Simple pleasures
Travel
Travel: England
Wildlife

Comments Off on Revisiting Blue Bell Woods

Permalink

Bluebell Woods

Mark in the bluebellsWe’ve had several days of amazing non-boring weather. One minute it’s clear blue skies, sun shining, the next, it’s thunder, lightening and hail. Lather, rinse, repeat. I love the mildness of the weather in England in general, but I do miss the occasional insane sort of weather we would get back home, especially loud rolling thunder storms.

In the Bluebell bloomAs much as I enjoy this bi-polar weather, it was putting a slight damper on our weekend plans of getting outside. We didn’t let it stop us. I made the decree, we would go in search of Bluebell woods, come rain or come shine. It just happened that it worked out perfectly around us, raining before we went into the woods, where we stopped for a Sunday Roast. And just as we made it back to the car after the hike it started hailing and thundering again. We’re going to be away at possibly the precise time that it would be best to see the bluebells, so I wanted to make sure we didn’t miss seeing them at all.

I had been keeping my eye on the Woodland Trust‘s website. Here they have a collection of the most marvelous phenology maps of British wildlife. I’ve been closely monitoring the sightings of Bluebells reported. There was a sharp peak in first bloom sightings about five days ago. I was hoping this meant we would at least get to see the start of this spectacular phenomenon. We were not disappointed.

Deep blue violet colorWe visited College Wood, a 130 acre woodland just outside Nash. It’s a designated “Bluebell Wood.” What does this mean? The native Bluebells are a protected species in the UK. It means we would be treated to an incredible display of native flowers. The forest floor is carpeted in Bluebells. A soft violet blue haze hovering over the rich green foliage. Their fragrance delicately perfuming the air. What we saw today is only the beginning, I can just imagine what a sight it will be in a weeks time. Hopefully they will still be out in force when we return at the end of the month. There are a couple of sites closer to us we can check out, maybe we’ll be able to catch the tail end of this phenomenon.

The Complete Bluebell Photoset

England Sites
Expat Observations
Hiking
Simple pleasures
Travel: England
Wildlife

Comments Off on Bluebell Woods

Permalink

Foxy?

Late last night, or very early this morning, I heard an unusual noise from outside. Even though it was freezing outside, I opened the window and had a better listen in the darkness. It was a noise so bizarre and so unfamiliar. A coughing, grunting sort of cry, difficult to explain. I quickly ran back downstairs and alerted Mark about the noise and there we stood in the open door way, heads cocked listening intently. Mark was hypothesizing that it might be a badger, I thought perhaps a deer. It made its noise a few more times and stopped. A couple hours later, we heard it again while laying in bed.

After a bit of internet sleuthing this morning, we determined it to be a fox call. Sort of like the “territorial call” on that site, but a deeper, more guttural sounding call. When we first moved here and were remarking on how awesome it was to have pheasants and ducks out our front door, the neighbors mentioned that, “we have a fox too.” We have not seen or heard any fox until now. It is possible a fox tore into some of our garbage once. But still no fox sighting.

We’ll have to keep our ears peeled, we may need to have a late night romp onto the trails to track down and see a red fox.

Expat Observations
Wildlife

Comments Off on Foxy?

Permalink

Simple Pleasures

Sitting on the back patio on a sunny afternoon, cup of coffee in one hand, a good book in the other (currently reading Dry Store Room #1). I keep getting distracted by all the song birds, so I fill the bird feeder again. In the branches of the large Pussy Willow above me there are a few of the infamous green parakeets of England, I didn’t know they occurred this far out of the city, they usually haunt Kew Gardens and surrounding environs. But there they are.

And lastly, dark chocolate Hob Nobs are simply divine.

Expat Observations
Reading
Simple pleasures
Wildlife

Comments Off on Simple Pleasures

Permalink

A Long Walk

Still life tree in English countrysideToday’s hike: a 5.5 mile loop

We went for a walk this afternoon to clear the dark clouds and cobwebs out of our minds, get some sunlight and fresh air. It turned into a rather long walk that really did us some good.

Up and down hills and over rather slick and slippery mud making for a challenging hike. We just haven’t adopted using “Wellies” on our walks. Although my muddied jean legs and five pounds of soil sticking to either shoe would seem argument enough to use them.

Some of the smaller back pools of water were frozen over, I honestly didn’t think it was getting cold enough for that, but I guess being in the shadow of the hillside has contributed to that. These shaded areas were much less tricky to navigate, the mud solid like we were traveling across permafrost. With camera in tow and a new lens to play with, we of course could not resist a little photography, a pleasant distraction too.

Complete Photoset from today

Hiking
Wildlife

Comments Off on A Long Walk

Permalink

The Flowers of January

Almost missed these ones tucked awayIt’s January and there are flowers starting to bloom all over the place. Snowdrops, crocuses, primroses, even daffodils and myrtle. Most of what is going to flower is already showing five to six inches of growth above ground and laden with buds getting ready.

I’m sharing these in light of the past week the folks at home experienced, a week of high temperatures that barely exceeded freezing. It hasn’t even been cold enough for a frost in the evenings here in recent weeks.

I love winter in England.

Expat Observations
Simple pleasures
Wildlife

Comments (1)

Permalink

A Page Out My History

scan132-EditOnce upon a time, or sometime in 1998, whichever comes first, deep in the wilds of Zelienople just north of Pittsburgh, our brave heroine encountered the rare diminutive water fountain lion, a distinct sub-species (Panthera leo aquafontanelle) in this particular micro habitat of city park land. She couldn’t believe her luck as the intrepid explorer stalked the elusive animal. She fortunately survived this brutal attack and lives to share her remarkable tale.

Musings & adventures
Wildlife

Comments (2)

Permalink

Cookham Loop

Deb along the ThamesCookham Loop Map

We’ll take England winter weather over Pittsburgh any day. It was sunny and pleasant today, they can keep their snow showers, grey barren trees. Even in the middle of winter, compared to home, England is so green and lush looking. The open green fields, there are enough evergreen trees and ivy filling the tree line with color. The air smelling so fresh and clean. We walked a favorite four mile loop taking us along the Thames in into Cookham. We stopped for a lovely lunch at the Bel and Dragon and continued on our walk home.

Expat Observations
Hiking
Wildlife

Comments Off on Cookham Loop

Permalink

Germany: A Second day in Saarbrucken

Heron in the Franco-Deutsh GardensThere was so much to see in Saarbrucken that I decided on a second day in the city. First stop, the Franco-German Gardens. This is a botanical garden near the border between the two countries. It was built as a symbol cooperation. There is a large lake with protected islands for waterfowl. There are heaps of trails leading through landscaped tree and flower gardens. I’m sure it’s much more impressive than this grey December day in the spring.

Headstones in GardensInside the gardens on the far end is a strange memorial. A memorial containing the headstones of military and civilian, French and German victims from French-German conflicts in the 1880’s. What is particularly odd, is that they only moved the headstones, and not the graves. There is only one woman’s headstone here. She was a local to the Saarbrucken region and worked to help the injured on both sides. It’s tucked in a thick patch of pines creating a dark and quiet space. Fresh flowers were on one stone, a lit candle on another. This place is meaningful to somebody today.

I walked the several miles from the gardens into town. I decided to go to the Saarland Art museum, where there was a spectacular special exhibition of Picasso works. It’s amazing how just a few strokes, a few lines on his sketches can communicate so much. On the other hand, there were crayon or finger painted primitive pieces that looked like what is stuck to refrigerators of parents of toddlers everywhere.

Deb with the prizesWe won a prize at dinner tonight! Actually, Mark made the winning roll of the dice. 6-6-5. Out of everyone in the restaurant (which admittedly weren’t very many), but still, we won! And we won a bottle of locally produced Riesling, my favorite type of wine and a little chocolate egg with a creepy toy inside.

Botanical Gardens
Historic Sites & Monuments
Museums
Travel: Germany
Wildlife

Comments Off on Germany: A Second day in Saarbrucken

Permalink

England: Burnham Beeches

It was so sunny and inviting outside this morning I proclaimed to Mark, “we need to *go* somewhere, or *do* something!” We started looking around for nearby National Trust attractions or parks or caves. We came up with a few ideas that warrant revisiting with a little more planning. For instance, visiting Cheddar, where the largest gorge in England is located along with more cave systems. Or Warwick Castle. Mark came up with the idea of going to Burham Beeches, which is a nature reserve of over 500 acres just a few miles from where we live.

Although I know we weren’t going very far from civilization, both the drive and this park make you feel like you are driving into the middle of nowhere. We were on several single track roads ensconced by trees in full autumn regalia. Once we found a place to park we made our way in on the paths and forest floor carpeted in crunchy leaves. It turns out this is a very special piece of woodland. It is a slice of ancient woodland. More than sixty of the species of plants and animals here are either rare or under threat nationally. The area is protected as a National Nature Reserve and as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

We had such a lovely walk in the woods. Climbing the amazing pollarded trees and running through the leaves. The pollarded (yes, it’s a verb) trees are cut as a woodland management practice. This is where tree limbs are all lopped off at two or three meter height. This encourages a knobbly growth and was used for harvesting firewood that didn’t actually kill the tree. The result are these enormous trees that are hundreds of years old that look fabulously crooked and crinkled with a spray of numerous limbs sprouting from a single point.

England Sites
Hiking
Travel: England
Wildlife

Comments Off on England: Burnham Beeches

Permalink

England: Blackpool – Sand Dune Nature Reserve

Here we are again, in Blackpool, in the off season, again. What to do? I can always find somewhere for a hike. On the far south end of the long stretch of beach is a treasure. I spent several hours in and around the Lytham St. Anne Sand Dune Nature Reserve. Here lies but 25 hectares of what was once a huge expanse of habitat. Rolling sand dunes that meet the coast. The vibrant green grasses and sedges buffeted about and rustling in the strong breeze. The soft honey colored limestone sand easily whipped up in the wind. Mini landscapes are carved out by the action of the wind. Is this a mighty desert of undulating naked dunes?

It’s a sunny day on the beach and I’m bundled up in a warm coat and scarf. The wind is chilled and gusting periodically. It’s not so cold, but cold enough that with the speed it hits it causes my ears to ache and eyes to run with tears. No chance to see mini beasts today.

England Sites
Hiking
Travel: England
Wildlife

Comments Off on England: Blackpool – Sand Dune Nature Reserve

Permalink

Austria: Siez

Low clouds over the mountains, morningWe awoke to a foggy drizzly morning in Siez. After Mark left for work I consulted the hiking map. I was given advice on two routes. The first was toward the smaller rolling mountains across the road. It sounded like the perfect hike for this morning, a couple of hours up the hill to where there was a cafe to have lunch and coffee. The other took me behind the hotel, up into the higher peaks, as was told it’s better when the weather clears up, there are views for miles up there. Unlike the previous hotel that had detailed hiking maps of trails around Leoben that I could take with me, I didn’t have a map to take with me. I studied the map and made notes before heading out.

I headed out the door to the cafe on the hill. It was moist, misty and foggy, but not enough to deter me. However, the driving rain that started to fall an hour later was plenty reason to head back. Not too mention the map I had consulted seemed to have no bearing on reality. There was a major highway in front of me that was not on the map and with no immediately obvious way to get around it I decided to head back to the hotel.

Mur river in SeizAfter a suitable drying out period, the day looked like it might actually clear up, I decided to head into the higher trail. For a while I felt as if I was following a path laid out by a Hash House Harrier. It may have been coincidence or on purpose, but there were white arrows spray painted on the ground leading me along where the map said I needed to go. One intersection indicated either direction would do. I followed these along, thinking at some point I would see or be directed into the woods on onto an obvious trail. Instead, I was led along extremely narrow country lanes where the one or two cars that happened to fly by were flying by at obscene speeds.

And then the skies opened up again, rain pouring around me, the country lane started to resemble a small mountain stream as I hiked back past the farms and fields to the hotel. I’m not terribly disappointed, they were both nice walks that were interrupted by rain. And frankly, I was still recovering from the trauma of the previous day. I didn’t really feel like pushing myself. I decided it would be a good idea to head into Leoben tomorrow, where there are things to do indoors in case of rain.

Hiking
Travel: Austria
Wildlife

Comments Off on Austria: Siez

Permalink

Austria: Eisriesenwelt

Salzach valleyWe flew into Salzburg and drove through the Alps to get to Leoben. The mountains were towering nearby, we were excited as I had picked a driving route that would take us straight into the Northern Limestone Alps and down into the Central Alps. The Northern Limestone Alps are formed of soft carbonate rocks and although they have steep slopes the peaks are more rounded. The Central Alps consist of hard crystalline rocks like gneisses and shale. These have the characteristic steep slopes and craggy sharp peaks. Even now on a late summer day (well, early autumn now) that was in the seventies and sunny, snow was still capping the peaks. We marveled at how it seemed these mountains just didn’t seem to be high enough to have caps of snow.

Amidst this spectacular landscape, on the way to Leoben, we stopped at Eisriesenwelt, the ice caves in Werfen, the largest system of ice and rock caves on Earth, on top of the mountain Achselkopf, about 1575 meters (5167 feet) above sea level. How many caves have we been in lately? Chalk caves in England, countless Tuff caves in Turkey, now, an ice cave in Austria. These ice caves involved a twisty drive up part of one of the mountains, then a twenty minute hike up to the funicular, which was steep and fast on the exposed mountainside, then another twenty minutes or so further walking up the mountain to the cave entrance. Even at the cave entrance, we could see our breath in the air and we pulled on our warmer clothes to go in. Inside, it reaches freezing temperatures.

Our guide for scale, ice cavesIt takes about an hour to go on the guided tour that takes you in as far as the first kilometer or so of the cave system, and up 700 stairs and back down 700 stairs in a nice loop. There are over 42km of caves in this mountain. Although the caves were known by local hunters, they weren’t “discovered” until Anton Posselt, a natural scientist from Salzburg, did in 1879. As we passed the opening to the rest of the cave system, I wondered about how many spelunkers come to these caves and just how well mapped out the system is. At this point in the cave, we could see equipment used to measure the depth of ice as scientists were working out just how old some of this ice is.

Deb looking over the edge in funicularWe were given carbide lanterns to carry, Mark recognized the smell of the lanterns before we even saw them. The lanterns lit the ice formations eerily as we trekked up the steep stairs built into the cave (so we would could actually get up into the caves and so people don’t damage the ice by walking on it). There is a natural strong wind that builds and is at full strength at the entrance. Wind finds its way into the caves through various small cracks, there is no other entrance to the cave. As the air cools it sinks to the lowest parts of the cave system, the wind caused by the dramatic difference in air temperature outside the caves.

Before heading back down the funicular, we stopped at the mountainside cafe and enjoyed some frittatensuppe, a beef consomme with strips of the Austrian crepe like pancakes in it. Before us was the panoramic views over the Salzach Valley. The Salzach river below us, milky white with eroded particles from the mountains.

Caves
Travel: Austria
Wildlife

Comments Off on Austria: Eisriesenwelt

Permalink

Turkey: Istanbul – Heybeliada and Asia

Motor vehicles shunned on the islandMorning and Mark is feeling less miserable, still some symptoms but feeling good enough for a bit of an adventure. We broke off as a small group and took off across the Marmara Sea on a ferry to the Prince’s Island of Heybeliada. These islands where motorized vehicles are shunned and transport is by horse and donkey drawn carriages. This was also the place where I first encountered the traditional Turkish toilet which amounts to a hole on the ground over which you squat and is well advised to have tissues with you as they don’t usually have toilet paper in them.

We really had no plan coming to the island and once we solved the problem of finding a map at a bike rental place, we decided on renting bicycles for the day and circumnavigating the island. It was a particularly mountainous place, it seemed more than half the time we were walking our bikes up the steep hills. Although the downhill bits sure were refreshing. The map also turned out to be misleading and we ended up doing a bit of off roading to make it to the small protected sandy beach. The water was clear and warm and full of small jellyfish. I just needed a little more time to buff my feet in the sand.

Pine tree of Heybeliada IslandThe entire island is covered with the same species of pine tree and while peddling around I started noticing Lindgren funnel traps hanging in the trees. I shouted out to the others ahead of me, “Hey! Entomology is being done here!” I’m sure with a mono culture pine island there would be great concern for and need to monitor native and invasive bark beetle populations.

Taking a break on the hillLunch included a smattering of mezes, small shared plates of roasted eggplant, yogurt salad, sea bass in lemon and bread. Other than breakfast, we haven’t had a repeat of menu items at meals yet. All the food has been wonderful. I’ve also become a huge fan of Vişne Suyu, it’s sour cherry juice that is tart like cranberry. Discussions on how to market and import this juice unanimously agreed that anything with the word “Sour” in it would not sell well. I couldn’t get enough of the stuff while there. Breakfasts involved Vişne Receli, sour cherry jam which was awesome on breads and even better over the feta, it made the feta rather like having cottage cheese with fruit. It’s on my list of what to buy before heading home.

Today I added a new continent to my places I’ve been list. After the island visit, we met up on the Asian Side of Instanbul with everyone else where we walked through the area where our friend grew up and hung out. Along the long avenue of shops and restaurants we stopped for ice cream, it was only our first dessert for the day, but for everyone else, apparently this was their third. I ordered the Kesme which is a type of ice cream that has such a texture you eat it with a knife and fork. Three slabs on my plate, chocolate, vanilla and pistachio served with a variety of sauces and more pistachios. I missed out on the sahlep that was on the menu which I had read about and was definitely intrigued. But it’s a warm beverage usually only served in winter made from orchid roots. I’ve read it’s milky and sort of like hot chocolate but not chocolaty and often served with cinnamon.

Continue Reading »

Travel: Turkey
Wildlife

Comments Off on Turkey: Istanbul – Heybeliada and Asia

Permalink

Paddling the Thames: Day 4

Near Mapledurham to Mill End

Gmaps route: 16.6 miles

Day 3 campWe were up fairly early and particularly well rested. Although I could have easily crawled back into my warm sleeping bag and enjoyed a lazy morning with a cup of tea. Our campsite was visited by the super cute and rather musically chatting English Robins. They were pretty bold, sitting on our canoe right next to our tent, we must have been in his territory that he was trying to defend or chase us away from, but we just thought he was insanely cute.

The wind was in our faces most of the day and there were far more boats on the water creating a lot of chop which slowed us down. The locks were also time consuming today, we were near more populated areas with larger numbers of boats, not too mention the ferry boats where only one would take up the entire lock, making us wait through several cycles. We lost a lot of time at the locks.

English Robin on our canoeToday we passed through Reading. Here the paths along the river and half a dozen large ferries were riddled with ASBO’s coming from the Reading Festival over this Bank Holiday weekend. It was interesting to note that we were paddling faster than the rocked out campers. On the surface and from the way the paddles and canoe seemed to be moving through the water, we thought possibly we were paddling faster and stronger than we had all weekend. Or maybe the river started to actually have a current. Standing on the bank of the Thames in Bourne End, it really seems like the river is raging past you, surely we’ve reached a point where there current finally has picked up. Alas, I don’t think this was the case at all with the wind coming directly at us and the heavy chop, this really wore us down, as evidenced by the day total of 16.6 miles.

Still no sign of cream tea. I was completely fixated on the idea of having cream tea and scones with clotted cream today. At the Sonning Lock where we ended up waiting through multiple cycles, Mark got out of the boat to see what was going on, he comes back to show me the photo he took on his phone, a picture of a sign saying, “Now serving cream teas!”

We had a special mini-goal of meeting friends at the St. George and Dragon for lunch. After hours of paddling with no breakfast and passing up the lock’s cream tea, and then the waitress telling us they had stopped taking food orders for the next twenty-five minutes and then nearly having an aneurysm at the news, lunch was so well earned, an entire pizza and a steak was quickly inhaled by the two of us. Henley-on-Thames was a particularly lively and festive town, I enjoyed the band and dancers on the upper deck of one of the larger ferry-like boats.

Mark with the River ThamesAfter paddling a couple more hours we started talking about what time or where to stop. We had a number to call to get picked up, we could stop short of our goal if we stopped at a lock and called from there. Not five minutes later, we get a phone call from one of the canoe folks wondering how far along we were and when we thought we anticipated reaching our original goal of Bourne End. It was after four pm and at that point we had about ten miles to go. Paddling around two miles per hour would put us home much later than we would have liked.

We decided to stop early and arranged a pick up point a half mile beyond the next lock. Those last few miles seemed to be the longest and hardest to paddle, the instant we set our end goal short it became so far away.

91.8 miles is an impressive amount and I’m incredibly proud of both of us for what we accomplished. It’s 11.8 miles more than we thought we were getting ourselves into, so it’s a win and quite the accomplishment no matter how we look at it.

Canoeing
England Sites
Wildlife

Comments Off on Paddling the Thames: Day 4

Permalink

Paddling the Thames: Day 3

Abbingdon to around Mapledurham

Gmaps route: 25.3 miles

Setting off on Day Three!Day three and still no sign of cream tea for breakfast or ice cream as a treat. Despite the rude awakening of the fire alarm in the night and not hearing our alarm but being awakened by breakfast at our door, we woke up fairly refreshed. Sore and stiff, but refreshed none-the-less. We set out bright eyed and bushy tailed, as we paddled through and out of Abbingdon, church bells were ringing from the towers. The river is well into being an actual river in size at this point. Still, no real help from the current.

Moulsford Railway BridgeWe were not nearly as delirious today. Well fed and well rested we were able to make good progress without getting too tired through the first part of the day. We paddled along and passed through our first big city, Oxford, the river became considerably busier today. We passed by where the two rivers Isis and Thame come together to form the Thames (around mile 59) without noticing the other river. I’m not sure how we missed it, we were looking for it to merge on the left. It was one of the landmarks to look for.

We marked our miles by setting mini-goals to look forward too. 2.5 miles to the next lock, 4 miles to the next bridge, 3 miles to the next landmark. This was important on the small scale, not looking or thinking too far forward. It made us feel like we were making progress. Frequently we would again state the obvious, “What mile does this Whitechurch lock mark?” I’d ask for the sixth time, “we’re at 73 miles,” Mark would say, I would then repeat matter-of-factly as if this was surprising new news, “Do you realize we’ve paddled 73 miles so far!”

Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus)It seemed for awhile that we had started to work the kinks out of our muscles and joints. But, taking a break seemed to only make paddling harder, restarting became harder. I did reach a breaking point today, I think it was before we stopped for dinner, possibly after. The sun was intense today, even with sun screen we are both thoroughly sunburned. The air temperature was nice, but the direct sun wore on us, not too mention the indirect light reflecting back up at us from the water surface. I just needed to stop, but in interest of continuing to make progress, I just sort of laid down in the canoe, leaning back over our gear behind me, while Mark continued paddling. Mark checked up on me, wanting to know where I was mentally, we could abort, stop at the next lock and call it a trip well done. But I was still optimistic that we could and would make it the entire one hundred miles. I just needed this little break, staring at the wisps of clouds and contrails in the clear blue skies above.

We found a nice little secluded nook in sight of the Mapledurham lock to set up camp for the night, and managed to do so at a reasonable hour. Even with our bright yellow little tent you would have been hard pressed to see us. We sat up along the side of the river for a bit, basking in the full moon light that was casting sharp shadows. We both slept well, even for sleeping in a tent, even with as chilly as it did get over night.

Canoeing
England Sites
Wildlife

Comments Off on Paddling the Thames: Day 3

Permalink

Paddling the Thames: Day 2

Carswell Marsh to Abbingdon

Gmaps route: 28.47 miles

Morning of Day Two, in sight of the riverWe woke up to a world soaked in dew, it hadn’t rained, but everything so wet it might as well have. As we decrinkled ourselves little did we know what was ahead of us on what would turn out to be our longest day of paddling.

We had our two oranges to eat for breakfast and that’s all. They were super juicy though. In the morning, spirits were still high, but as the day rolled on, the paddling did get significantly harder. Remember those gliding sentinels and clouds of damselflies, in our exhaustion and hunger induced delirium, we discussed the merits about the possibility of physically harnessing the flying and swimming biota around us, having a menagerie armada of a chariot, pulling us through the water that at times felt as thick as molasses.

Hot Air Balloons floating aboveWe were treated to some wonderful sights today. Including a couple of hot air balloons crossing our path. I had too wonder as we were looking up and taking photos of the balloons if the balloon people were looking down on and photographing us, the lone canoers on the Thames.

We discovered that some of our assumptions we had about this trip were wildly wrong. Assumption #1: The river has a current. We seriously thought we would have much more help from the current of this river. River! HA! Portions of which, we swear, had a barely perceptible current, it’s just one really long narrow winding lake! In the faster portions, Mark estimated the water was flowing at about one mile per hour. And this is with the river high and in theory moving fast!

Assumption #2: That we could reasonably paddle three miles per hour. No, at best we think we were hitting two and half miles per hour. When talking about distances on the scale of 80-100 miles, the difference between two miles per hour and three miles per hour is a colossal amount of time and energy.

No, that's not a happy DebAssumption #3: That there would be canoe friendly pubs we could paddle up to with welcoming energy providing meals. Did I mention the flooding? The kitchen too damaged to be open for food? Even two pubs, directly across the river from eachother, both boasting signs saying food served all day, both closed for repairs (note my grimace in the photo to the left upon discovering they were both closed). Or the pubs whose kitchens are only open 12-2 and then 7-10pm? And we arrive at said pub shortly after or before kitchen hours?

I’m sure there were further assumptions we had misconceived and discussed, but they currently slip my mind.

Ruins on the riversideWe were operating on the assumption that the guide that said we had 100 miles to cover was the correct mileage (and it was) so we really needed to cover more miles and pressed on well after dark. There were ruins gleaming in the sunset as we paddled on. With a nearly full moon, we had plenty of light to work with. I turned to Mark and remarked, “we are paddling the Thames by moonlight” I know it sounds strange to state the obvious while you are doing the obvious thing, but it was amazing and beautiful and still, with just the sound of our paddles pushing us through the water under the silvery light.

Deb in a lockLock workers leave the locks at 7pm, after which the boaters take charge for their own passage. These are complicated systems, Mark can discuss these in better detail than I could. But to suffice it to say, after 7pm, it was simpler to portage our boat (i.e. empty it’s contents and carry it and contents to the other side of the lock). We were coming up onto one more lock, “Just one more lock,” Mark said, “then we’ll find someplace for the night, the next town is just a half mile after this lock” My spirits were pretty low. I was tired, hungry and rapidly getting a bit cranky.

We weakly paddled into Abbingdon at 10:30 at night hoping to find a room at an inn on the water. I was seriously prepared to cry if Mark came out saying they had no rooms. My psyche was in such a fragile state I nearly shed a tear on hearing that we had a room! Oh, the decadent luxury of a bed and a shower and fast food in town, since all other restaurants kitchens had already closed for the night. And the hotel’s kitchen was closed due to repairs from the flood.

Until 1:00am… I woke up to shouting outside… then the fire alarm went off. Was this for real? Soon, pounding at the door, we needed to get out. It was a false alarm, the arguing had been with one of the workers and the hotel manager. We sat outside for an hour, the entire time the alarm screaming in the background. This is what we get for *not* camping out in the quiet solitude of our tent. We did meet and chat with a fellow American ex-pat and his son until we got the okay to go back in. We again sacked out quickly and too soon our continental breakfast knock on the door rudely awakened us.

Canoeing
England Sites
Wildlife

Comments Off on Paddling the Thames: Day 2

Permalink

Paddling the Thames: Day 1

Cricklade to near Carswell Marsh

Gmaps route: 21.5 miles

Just about to set off from CrickladeAs we set off this morning, our spirits and morale were high, we were excited about this adventure in true Denovich style. One that sounds, and probably is, a bit insane. Planning to paddle 80 miles of the Thames in four days.

Although technically we were starting on the River Isis, the Thames wouldn’t really be called the Thames until the Thame (with no “s”) River joins the Isis 59 miles down stream. But we are in the headwaters of the Thames starting in Cricklade. We are only able to start this far up stream at this time of year due to how excessively wet this summer has been. The Isis can be a dry trickle normally this far up in August. Where we put in, we could almost reach both banks with outstretched arms, it’s not so much a river as it is a shallow stream.

The first several miles were riddled with fallen trees and debris from the flooding. It was slow going at first, we paddled straight through some branches before getting the knack of maneuvering around these obstacles.

Taking an early break on the bankI also must mention we lucked out on the weather for all four days we were out. Summer really just never happened in England this year, we had that one day that reached 84 degrees, but since then it’s been chilly, gray, drizzly sweater wearing weather. These four days were all sunshine and warm 70’s. We couldn’t have asked for better weather or temperatures for what we were doing.

We had “Canoing the Thames” guides printed out with conflicting distances. The spreadsheet the Thames Canoe folks provided us gave us 80 miles vs. the 100 miles on the detailed mile by mile guide Mark had found online. Twenty miles is a huge margin of error and caused us some distress considering we can paddle maybe 2.5 miles per hour.

Deb and another bridgeThese guides also had listed inns, canoe friendly pubs and camp sites along the way. We anticipated having plenty of places to stop to eat, so we didn’t provision ourselves with a lot of food. Just snacking bits. We did not anticipate nor know the flooding from recent weeks had closed down many of our expected stops for repairs. What does this translate into? For our first day we only ate one meal. When we are paddling for 10 hours a day, not being properly fueled is a problem.

Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)We were not disappointed with our wildlife sightings. Cormorants, herons, Great Crested Grebes galore and flashes of electric blue Kingfishers skimming the water’s surface ahead of us. We frequently had the white swan sentinels of the river gliding gracefully in front of us as if we were in a chariot and they were our steeds. Fluttering emerald and sapphire jewels of Banded Demoiselle damselflies were ever present clouds around us. Paddling along we were in a meandering maze lined with Great Willowherb, forests of Phragmites and towering Typha (Common Reed and Cat Tails, I just enjoy the alliteration of the genus names).

We more or less had the river to ourselves for the entire first day. A couple kayakers here and there and more smaller boats as we got closer to our campsite. We set up camp just past the Tadpole bridge. We were out for the night quickly, day one was exhausting. Several times in the night I awoke thinking someone was shining a light on our tent only to realize it was the moonlight from the nearly full moon.

Continue Reading »

Canoeing
England Sites
Expat Observations
Travel: England
Wildlife

Comments Off on Paddling the Thames: Day 1

Permalink

HEDGEHOG!

There is a hedgehog, A HEDGEHOG, in our back yard, RIGHT NOW! It’s so cute! THIS Hedgehog (my hand for scale):

Hedgehog in our backyard! Deb's hand for scale

I heard a shuffling noise outside and since we had the back door wide open I didn’t want something randomly wandering in on this warm night. With just a phone light in hand, I followed this shuffling to the side of the house, and lo and behold the little bugger stood! A HEDGEHOG! Whee! It’s still out there, shuffling about! I hope we didn’t traumatize him too much with our excitement and flashing camera!

This adds another new animal to my personal species list, (Erinaceus europaeus). Hedgehogs are far more interesting and exciting than the U.S. groundhogs. I was at Kew and purchased a bag of “hedgehog niblets” from the garden wildlife section. This way I have food to encourage hedgehogs to keep coming to our yard.

Expat Observations
Simple pleasures
Wildlife

Comments Off on HEDGEHOG!

Permalink