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In Their Habitat...

I have always been in awe of life on Earth and have spent more and more of my time seeking out the most iconic and most bizarre of creatures. I’ve always looked for them in their natural habitat - I don’t visit zoos or aquariums. Instead I’ve done hundreds of dives looking for the tiniest of nudibranches in the Philippines, I’ve helped bring a lost polar bear cub back to it’s mother in the Arctic, and I’ve had to run away from a very close encounter with an elephant in dense undergrowth whilst on a walking safari in Ethiopia.

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There are few wild creatures in the world that allow us to get so close to them.  Bizarrely the African penguin colony on the Cape Peninsula in South Africa barely notices us as we approach them to within metres.  

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Buffel The Elephant Seal

You know, I class myself a pretty lucky chap.  I’ve had the fortune to get up and close to some of the Earth’s most phenomenal creatures and so I’m not often lost for words when seeing something new.  But damn, the sheer size of Buffel took my breath away.

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Stick Duck's back!

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! :)

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The Trials and Tribulations of 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. :(

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ETHIOPIA: Episode 8 - In Search of Wildlife

For the last part of our journey we headed to southern Ethiopia famed, at least in Ethiopia, for it's wildlife.  What we found though was the immense pressure that livestock agriculture was having on the environment.

But that didn't stop us from having the most unique safari experience ever.  Join us for the eighth and last film of our journey around Ethiopia.  Episode 8 - In Search of Wildlife

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The Azores: Islands of Adventure

Peaking out of the vastness of the Atlantic ocean lie the volcanic islands of the Azores. Equidistant between Europe and North America they are neither from the old world or the new but instead a world of their own.  This summer, before which I never knew these islands existed, I was fortunate to spend a couple of weeks visiting.  They're incredible!

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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.

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Baffin Island 2011 - The Polar Bear Story

A re-edit of my 2011 short film documenting what should've been a straightforward journey to the start point of our Arctic expedition.  What actually happened blew us away.

A short film showing the start of our Penny Ice Cap crossing in Spring 2011. To get out to our start point we travel by snow mobile over sea ice for about eight hours. During which we came across some local wildlife...

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A New Year's Stomp in the Brecon Beacons

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.

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The Murmurs of Jamnagar

The much awaited new video is finally here. This is a poetic piece about one of the most beautiful wonders of nature.

In the North Western Indian state of Gujarat there is a city that is covered in hundreds of species of birds. In the winter months it is also the scene of the most beautiful murmurations of Rosy Starlings that you could ever see. I spent six months travelling through India in 2012-13. During this time I had the most wonderful of experiences and saw the most incredible wildlife such as the birds of Jamnagar.

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Swimming with seals

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).

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Finding Richard Parker

Tigers are extremely elusive, preferring the dense foliage of the forest to any open space where we could spot them from. But this tiger, in his charity offered us a little spy window through the trees where we could just make out his stripes - his camoflage failing - but only if one knows specifically where to look. He was pretty far off and all I could really see were some stripes in the forest which, to be honest, weren't so impressive. But then when the elephant trackers went too close he let out a tremendous roar that reverberated throughout the jungle and struck deep down into my core; rattling my bones and sending my soul cowering into a dark corner. This is without doubt the most impressive sound I have ever heard!

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