Last week I had the honour of presenting the Gold Duke of Edinburgh awards at Buckingham Palace. I talked to the awardees about my own journey of development, about the importance of pushing boundaries and always trying new things. After the ceremony was over, and while we were soaking up the atmosphere in the Palace gardens a young man approached me and asked me a question that caused me to stop and think. He asked me ‘after all that I’ve experienced through my travels and expeditions what is the greatest lesson I have learnt?’
We are nature people. We love the hills, mountains and coastline. Having traveled the world and lived across Western Europe I can hand on my heart say that the UK has some incredible coastlines and mountains and we enjoy nothing better to do on our weekends than to experience these wild places. So it was with trepidation that we moved inland to landlocked and flat Oxfordshire, a place so unfamiliar to the things we love that, despite the extensive countryside, we felt cooped in.
That's when we got hold of an inflatable boat. That’s when we discovered the rivers.
A squeak. That's the only way to describe the sound from baby stick duck. A palmful of black, yellow and red feathers brimming with a cuteness level beyond comprehension. Yes, Stick Duck is back and with a baby!
If you're wondering what/who is Stick Duck you need to read part 1 of this adventure in bird nesting on the banks of the Thames (click here).
[and if you're viewing this on your emails click on the title to see it in your web browser to see the photos]
So clearly I need to update this story.
Not long after Stick Duck was evicted from his nest by those nasty Grebes we returned from a weekend away to find the Grebe nest, which was built right next to Stick Duck's nest after they had evicted him, had disappeared, and so too did most of Stick Duck's nest. We were quite confused as to what/who had done this but it couldn't have been by accident and there is only one animal on this marina with the fidelity and motivation to do this, human. We were also a little aghast as now no birds were nesting in that location and couldn't imagine why someone would've done that.
But alas, what's done is done. Instead we enjoyed the sights of the other birds and their chicks emerging from tucked away corners of the river. A slight confession. I've never really cared for birds, I've always been a big fauna type of person. The bigger and badder the better. Partly I think that is due to having grown up in London, where even sparrows and robins were scarce and only the scavenging pigeon was commonplace. But living on the marina, a natural watering hole, nursery and gathering place for so many species has made me a convert. I've learnt very quickly the names and behavior of a variety of birds, the cormorant for instance can hold his breath for over 17 seconds whilst diving underwater fishing. And in order to do this he has to have a low level of buoyancy and so he swims very low in the water with almost his entire body submerged. So it's no surprise that when he's out of the water he spreads his big black wings, batman style, drying them.
Now I've digressed from a digression. One of the greatest delights has been seeing a family of swans coming into the marina each day. We've been watching the three chicks grow up to be bold and curious juveniles.
And here we are back on track. We had gone away for a period of about a month to celebrate our wedding in Portugal and upon our return we were greeted by the squeak from outside our window. It was none other than a little floating ball of fur, bobbing up and down like a rubber duck. It was baby Stick Duck.
Baby Stick Duck was tiny and so cute! When we saw baby Stick Duck for the first time all the other chicks had been kicking around for a few weeks. Stick Duck's chick was clearly late, but so incredible that Stick Duck succeeded against the odds. I dare say I did have a lump in my throat.
Good luck Stick Duck! :)
We've been watching 'Stick Duck' for over a month as he toiled tirelessly right outside our balcony in the marina lake moving sticks around. He fetched the sticks from the other side of the lake, or from the lake bed diving deep down and reappearing with a prized stick in his mouth. The sticks tended to be double his size and we watched as his little beak strained to hold onto them. But his hard work paid off and we were treated to see a nest emerge just under the next door neighbour's mooring. We can only glimpse the side of the nest from our vantage point but Stick Duck was clearly going to impress some female very soon!
Stick Duck isn't actually a duck but a coot, he is all black with a distinctive white forehead. Coots are also the smallest of the waterbirds that reside in the marina making his endeavours even more remarkable to watch.
We were mightily impressed by Stick Duck's work and undoubtedly Stick Duck must've been to. But then, a week ago the marina lake received a couple of visitors. These two visitors, Great Crested Grebes, started to hang around the lake by Stick Duck's nest. They were double the size of Stick Duck and double the number. In our naivety we thought nothing on it but they had other intentions. What happened next broke our hearts.
Over the course of two days a battle ensued between the two Grebes and Stick Duck and culminated this morning. I caught the fight from the kitchen window
Stick Duck was no match for these two and despite putting on a very aggressive show he was evicted from his nest that he spent the last month making. The two Grebes didn't waste any time and have started to increase the size of the nest at an industrial pace.
As for Stick Duck, he spent some time in the area, watching from afar... but now has gone elsewhere. :(
First time I've been on a Segway and contrary to what I thought it's more than just for lazy people at airports... so much fun!
With the sun high in the sky and visibility for miles it would be easy to become complacent with knowing exactly where you are.
But out on Dartmoor with few large features to home in on and a more temperamental weather system than a teenager’s mood, such complacency could be disastrous.
These pictures were taken 12 hours apart. Our campsite views were obliterated by the mist. It came down over the night and lasted the entire following day without relent.
Visibility reduced to mere metres, every direction looking the same. The difference then between an awesome bank holiday weekend in the hills and what could've been an epic battle for survival was knowing exactly where we made camp and just some quite basic compass skills.
We had the former, an awesome weekend away.
A wonderful weekend canoeing down the Wye.
A feeling of shame came over me last weekend. I was sitting in a canoe gently paddling down a river listening to an amazing chorus given off by a multitude of birds. I wasn’t in the wilds of the Amazon, Africa or even Scandinavia. I was here in the UK. A mere one and a half hours from Bristol, on the English and Welsh border I experienced something quite spectacular.
Red kites soared overhead descending close, right over our heads. Swifts darted between and around us, pulling the most impressive of aerobatic turns to prey on flying insects. Song thrushes perched on the bowed ends of reeds sang their sweet melody. A cuckoo interrupted and a woodpecker punctuated. Mallard ducks swam by the river banks watching closely at their brood of fluffy ducklings as they played amongst the fallen branches and the goosanders showed off their hairstyles.
This was all captured in one scene, a picture perfect postcard of Britain. Further along we canoed through a gang of swans, adolescent cygnets from the last season still sporting some grey. As we slowly paddled through they silently parted either side in the most poetic of dances. Another group in the distance took off, silhouettes, mere metres over our heads, whilst a mother curled her long body up over her precious eggs on the banks.
My shame came from my surprise to this feeling of amazement at having found this spring time paradise in our country. I attribute wilderness and wildlife to other places, not to industrialised Britain that I have accepted as tamed and boring. And I feel bitterly ashamed by this unconscious view I held. I feel embarrassed that with this view I am letting down all those people that have been trying to re-wild Britain, those that possess the imagination of what Britain can be and once was and with the faith to tirelessly campaign towards this goal.
So here’s to those activists, lobbyists, environmentalists that have taken up this baton. Here is to those giving a voice to the real natives of this fair land and to their successes allowing me to experience this beautiful nature, right on my doorstep.
The job though isn’t done and we didn’t see any otters. The next time I am canoeing down the Wye I am hopeful that I shall.
Prolonged a trip up to Glasgow with a weekend on the Isle of Arran. Incredible video quality from the iphone - a pity it can't stand up to the cold though.
Happy New Year from the Brecon Beacons. Enjoy this little video of our first few days of the year!
The Brecon Beacons national park in Wales is one of the UK's foremost national parks. This New Year's we celebrated the calendar reset in these magical hills. This video was filmed only on an iphone.
What a fantastic couple of weeks of weather we've had. It reminds me of the time I was a child and the summer's were (a little more) predictable. We used to have weeks and almost months of pleasant temperatures and when the conditions are just right there is no where else I'd rather be than in the English countryside.
We came to Cornwall on the summer's solstice to swim with Basking Sharks. Unfortunately we didn't see any but took the next best thing, SEALS!
They are inquisitive and cute, nipping at our fins as they glide past us. The young ones stare at us with big brown eyes, twitching their whiskers before sticking their heads out of the water to check us out more thoroughly.
On our way back we came across a pod of Reese's dolphins, jumping and slapping their tail right in front of our boat. One dolphin was played around with a giant jellyfish pushing him out of the water and back down again. But no photos of these (camera malfunction).