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Seasquirt

The adventures of Fe & Chris

Archive for Animals

The greatest bat show on Earth

We’ve just returned to Ayutthaya after lovely couple of days in Khao Yai national park. Inside a cave that also functioned as a Buddist temple, we saw thousands of bats of three different species from an enjoyably close proximity. I was quite happy with that but when treated with the spectacle of two million Wrinkled-nosed bats leaving their cave we were blown away. Pleasingly a few were knobbled by raptors on their way out to add to the fun.

Our tour group was an eclectic bunch. A perfectly pleasant couple from Bristol with humourous accents, an Israeli chap that had a comment on every topic imagineable, and a unusual Frenchman who was prone to inappropriate spontaneous outbursts of singing or wailing. Then there was us of course.

 Next morning we saw lovely White-handed Gibbons and Pig-tailed Macques along with numerous deer and copious elephant poo. Wild Dogs caused quite some excitement amongst our guides. The Bird of the Day award was a tricky choice between the monsterous Great Hornbill and the tiny Vernal Hanging Parrot.

Ican’ttellyouanymoreasthespacebaronthiskeyboarddoesnotwork. Itisdrivingmetodistraction. And we’ve got a train to catch…

Why is an elephant large grey and wrinkly?

If it was small white and round it would be an asprin.

Fiona and elephant

Fiona is so engrossed in the Thailand manual that she is oblivious to her surroundings.

We are in the former capital city of Ayutthaya. We have had a long day that started before 0500in Bangkok. Since then we have been wrestling with train timetables and bookings for our last few days of adventure. With so much to do and see we have taken to bikes and have had a very pleasant day learning to integrate ourselves with the local road system and its occupants.

Chris on a bike (nice rucsac)

There’s lots of old stuff here (I always forget about that). Temples that have lost their grandure and now show their red brick interior. We did see a restored massive gold buddha though, then nipped outside for a coconut refreshment.

An old temple

Tomorrow we head off to Khao Yai national park for a few birds, bats and beasts before heading north to Chaing Mai.

Travelling the Thai way II

This is how elephants get around in Thailand:

elejpg.JPG

We found Nemo

We have just returned from a fine couple of days diving at Ko Similan, an archipelago about 60 miles off the west coast. We we’re accommodated on a small live-aboard dive boat called Linda which was very nice, but had the firmest mattresses we have yet experienced in a country that revels in the firmness of a mattress. It was run by Sign Scuba who were great fun and are proudly “Wan hundet pahcen Thai”.

The diving was fantastic; the most colourful and abundantly fishy place we have dived yet. We saw lots of Clark’s anemonefish (recently popularised in a cartoon), several hawksbill turtles (one tried to nibble my toes - not quite as dangerous as the tiger that might have chewed my leg off previously but it could have inflicted a nasty nip), a black-tipped reef shark, and a multitude of colourful and pretty fish. The coral was good too, as were the shrimpy things.

We’re back in Khao Lak now. Heading to Krabi and Ko Lanta tomorrow.

Eyeshine, spiders and monkeys

We had a lovely couple of days around the Khao Sok National Park. We stayed in a lovely, and quite substantial shack, in a place that served up food in beautiful surroundings. For our breakfast viewing pleasure the staff hung up bananas to entice pretty birds to their flower clad dining area.

I was rather hoping to be able to provide you with a dramatic post - “A tiger chewed my leg off” or “An elephant sat on my sandwich” but the charismatic megafauna was not to be found. We did see some fluffy-headed White-crowned hornbills amongst other aves whilst Long-tailed macaques provided mammalian entertainment. We also saw more different, and impressive, species of butterfly than we have ever seen before.

After a lovely curry for tea we took a turn around some of the forest in the dark. We saw the eyes of a handful of mouse deer, chanced across a civet, some tree frogs and some very scary, but pretty, looking spiders.

It’s grim up North

We made it to the top of New Zealand (well, nearly), had a fine walk and a swim on a rather beautiful, long and sweeping, deserted beach, not half an hour’s walk from the procession of grockles heading to Cape Reinga lighthouse.

We camped by a beach on the other side of the Cape - a very  beautiful spot too. Only when the sun set did we discover the dark side of this delightful spot: more mosquitoes than I have ever seen before. The lee side of our van was black with them. All night we could hear the whine of these infernal beasts.

For the past eight months we have been cursing the mosquito net that we have been carrying around and have only used once. This night we used it - it fitted badly in the camper van, however it saved us from the hoards of mossies that we knew would find their way into the van.

In the morning we awoke to discover the power of Permethrin. Approximately 200 dead mosquitoes lined each side of our net (on the outside!). A few we still flying around, looking slightly intoxicated. We soon dispensed with them.

We are now in Rawene and heading south. Just one more week in New Zealand, then we are off to Thailand.

Poor Knights

We recently went diving in one of the world’s “top-ten” diving spots - the Poor Knights Islands off the east coast of Northland - we had been warned that the swells may make the trip out there a bit grim, but with two bits of crystallised ginger for breakfast, my stomach behaved very well.

We had a lovely day and had our first experience of ‘cold’ (21 degrees C) water diving, complete with 2-piece 7mm wetsuits (so 14mm total around our torso) they were a hassle to get in and out of, but they kept us nice and toasty, and we were probably warmer than in Honduras. They also affected our buoyancy somewhat, and I ended up with 10kg of weights, and still couldn’t sink that well!!

The marine life was amazing - there were literally hundreds of fish around us, and even as the boat arrived we saw shoals of trevally and blue maomao at the surface. Underwater we saw lots of pretty damoiselles and snappers, three types of eel and a few black angelfish to name a few. After finally getting to grips with my buoyancy I was able to relax a bit and do some impressive spots - two stingrays, a packhorse crayfish, and the only poisonous fish in these waters - the well camouflaged scorpion fish. We also saw lots of funky nudibranchs - some stripy blue and yellow, others bright orange with white spots. Oh and a cool firebrick starfish. Ah, if only I had an underwater camera….

As the skipper told us, this was different from diving on coral as we could handle things and not worry about kicking the bottom etc. We were therefore a bit peturbed on our first descent by the number of spiny urchins along the seafloor and walls - definitely a good reason for avoiding any surfaces!

The north of the South

Over the last few days we have been exploring the north coast of the South Island - we started off towards the west with the Abel Tasman national park - there is a coastal track and lots of kayaking going on around there - we went for a couple of day walks around the area to check out some of the beaches, seal and shag colonies that are around - we had lovely weather (with red nose and shoulders to prove it), and the sea was a beautiful colour - so tempting to go for a dip, although a paddle proved sufficiently chilly and refreshing. We punctuated our hard walking (ha!) with afternoon naps on the beach - a habit I could get used to.

We saw in the New Year in a layby with views to the estuary and bottle of Tui beer, lovely!

The second main national park on the coast comprises Queen Charlotte Sounds - on the east side of the island. We arrived late in the afternoon after a scenic if twisty and hilly journey - we stayed in a relatively busy campsite (in comparison to the laybys we had previously been using) and finally went for a swim in the warmish waters of the sound. Yesterday we checked out a small section of the Queen Charlotte Track, which runs along the coast and occasionally into some of the bays and tramped through some overgrown grass and reeds to find our own lovely little beach for lunch - a Weka came and said hello, and Chris went for a quick dip - I was too wimpy and stuck with the paddling.

We are currently in Picton debating whether to go on a boat trip this afternoon for some dolphin and bird spotting. Tomorrow we head off on the Cook Strait to the North Island.

Psycho penguins, argumentative albatrosses, and mellow furries

We enjoyed a fine couple of days in the environs of Kaikoura. The town itself is nothing to speak of but I was attracted by the opportunity to see plentiful seabirds over the edge of the continental shelf, close inshore.

As we approached town Fiona skillfully parked next to a group of Dusky Dolphins, both parties staying in their required moisture status. After finding a mediocre and expensive campsite in town we strolled along the fur seal dotted shore. The furries were all very well behaved compared to their Antarctic counterparts, they didn’t even attempt to bite badly behaved tourists.

We kept walking, away from the masses of grockles, until we found a cave. Of course, a cave must be explored, and inside we found a rather brazen Yellow-eyed Penguin, boldly staring down at us. At the time, I was surprised by his lack of fear of us - we subsequently found out he is locally known as ‘Psycho’, due to his tendancy to chase sheep, people, albatrosses - anything that comes near him.

From the cliff top we watched the whale watching boats and aircraft chasing Sperm Whales. The three big (50 people) boats chasing two whales, with only one boat getting reasonable views was enough to put us off and we opted for an early morning boat trip to the deep water to see seabirds. This turned out to be an excellent adventure - we saw lots of wandering albatrosses of the Antipodean and Gibson’s subspecies or species (depending on your taxonomic point of view). Salvin’s and White-capped albatross were plentiful too. All the birds hang around the back of the boat to try and get a bit of tempting fish liver, frozen, and in a cage, that is used to attract them.

I’ve never watched an albatross/petrel foraging event at sea so close before. Several of the wanderers used their courtship calls, even some Salvin’s seemed to be displaying to each other. Curious behaviour, as they can only form pair bonds with birds that live in their colony. The wanderers would also fight for prime feeding position. Vicious attacks with that big hooky bill are serious business.

Our skipper gave us hot chocolate and ginger biscuits. First class!

Later in the day we opted for a swim with the New Zealand Fur Seals. A touristy set up, but we needed to hire wetsuits and gear. We walked over to a small haul-out of surplus male seals (furries have harems) and jumped in. A few seals cruised around us, but few came close until a couple of boys decided we were interesting. Being eye to eye with a male fur seal is something I would only want to experience in the water: their breath smells and they bite. Under water they are supremely elegant, and even seem to have a nice personality.

Penguins, seals and albatrosses…

We’re in Dunedin, formally called New Edinburgh. It’s nothing like Old Edinburgh, but the street names are the same.

Nearby coastal wildlife abounds and we have enjoyed Yellow-eyed Penguins (they look rather like Gentoos - who gave them a genus all of their own?) and Little Blue Penguins waddling ashore in the dark, scared of skua’s that arn’t present (penguin evolution is a slow process).

The New Zealand Fur Seals we have met so far are surprisingly unaggressive compared to their southern cousins, but still smell bad. We had some fun with New Zealand Sea Lions on the beach yesterday; Fiona was alarmed when two medium sized boys started running towards her (one was herding the other - practice for herding females later on and had no regard for Fe’s presence!).

We visited the Royal Albatrosses on Taiaroa Head. $30 NZ for 30 minutes albatross watching is rather steep - birds should be free! With a telescope you could get a reasonable view from Amarona, across Otago Harbour. It was nice none the less.

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