Kangaroos, Cockatoos, Pinnacles and Dunes: 1770 and 2017

Last weekend, 17th June 2017, I saw my first wild kangaroos, in the Nambung National Park of Western Australia.

On 22 June 1770, 247 years ago, crew members from Cook's ship Endeavour had their first encounters with kangaroos.

The diary entries of Joseph Banks, the onboard naturalist, record the sequence of events:

Joseph Banks Journal, 22nd June 1770:
"In the morn I saw her leak which was very large: in the middle was a hole large enough to have sunk a ship with twice our pumps but here providence had most visibly workd in our favour, for it was in great measure pluggd up by a stone which was as big as a mans fist: round the Edges of this stone had all the water come in which had so near overcome us, and here we found the wool and oakum or fothering which had releivd us in so unexpected a manner. The effects of the Coral rock upon her bottom is dificult to describe but more to beleive; it had cut through her plank and deep into one of her timbers, smoothing the gashes still…

Alfred Russel Wallace (1869) on Rainbirds, Trogons and Barbets - and a visit to Bukit Fraser in the Present

Living in Southeast Asia, it is always enjoyable to walk in the footsteps of Alfred Russel Wallace as described in his "The Malay Archipelago" (first published in 1869).

After an excursion to Bukit Fraser, Malaysia, yesterday, I dipped into the Malay Peninsula portion of the book and found the following:

"The very first time I fired my gun I brought down one of the most curious and beautiful of the Malacca birds, the blue-billed gaper (Cymbirhynchus macrorhynchus), called by the Malays the 'Rainbird.' It is about the size of a starling, black and rich claret colour with white shoulder stripes, and a very large and broad bill of the most pure cobalt blue above and orange below, while the iris is emerald green. As the skins dry the bill turns dull black, but even then the bird is handsome. When fresh killed, the contrast of the vivid blue with the rich colours of the plumage is remarkably striking and beautiful. The lovely Eastern trogons, with their rich-brown b…

Urban Civets of Kuala Lumpur

I derive great pleasure from encountering wildlife in the wilds, but also enjoy observing wild creatures in urban settings, such as along the bayou that wanders through Houston, Texas.

I was delighted to find that in one of the world's most spectacular urban environments, the surroundings of the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, there is some fascinating wildlife to be observed with a little patience and awareness. I had seen tree shrews, squirrels and bats on morning walks in the park, but first came across the civets ("toddy cats") that live there on evening runs on the track that circles the park. From about 9:30 pm onwards as people leave the central part of the park, the civets make a start on their night time activities, sometimes alone, sometimes with a youngster or two. This is the Asian palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus), nocturnal omnivore, active both on the ground and in the trees.

Petronas twin towers at night. The KLCC park in front of the towers …

Before the Battle of Imphal: A walk between Gangtok and Darjeeling

On the 30th March 1993 I walked around the hill at the high point of Darjeeling and stopped to look across at Kangchenjunga.

On my return to England my father showed me a photograph he had taken from the same spot and sent to his parents on the 23rd February 1943. He had been on leave from his post in Calcutta (deploying radar), staying in a bungalow at Sing Tom, about half way down the hill from Darjeeling.

"This is the first of my Darjeeling photographic efforts for you. The cigarette the boy is smoking was his "baksheesh." The highest snow-clad mountain is Kangchenjunga, the next highest after Everest. Propose following this up with one of my efforts per week."

The big picture showing Calcutta, Darjeeling and surrounds, and Imphal.

View to the North over Darjeeling with Kangchenjunga the highest mountain and Gangtok in the far right distance. Places on the walk from Gangtok back to Sing Tom near Darjeeling are shown.

Suspension bridge over the Great Rangit Rive…

Horseshoe Crabs Past and Present: a NW Borneo Journey

Horseshoe crabs figured strongly in my week.

Last Saturday (April 1st 2017), I spoke with Kevin Laurie, a Hong Kong-based expert on horseshoe crab behaviour and conservation. He mentioned the existence of a wall decorated with horseshoe crabs in Kampung Ayer, the water village of Bandar, Brunei, in northwest Borneo. Armed with this tip, I visited Kampung Ayer on the evening of the following Thursday (April 6th), guided by two very knowledgeable locals, Wann and Mark Putera Delima.

Kampung Ayer is an interesting place in itself, with Antonio Pigafetta describing the place as he found it when the surviving Victoria and Trinidad of Ferdinand Magellan's fleet visited in July 1521 (shortly after Magellan's death in the Philippines). His description of "Burne" was as follows: "that city is entirely built in salt water, except the houses of the king and certain chiefs. It contains twenty-five thousand hearths. The houses are all constructed of wood and built up from t…

The Hike to Guadalupe Peak

Given a school half term and an urge to travel somewhere, James and I planned a hike up to Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas at 1667 m.

We flew to El Paso, picked up a rental car and drove east towards the Guadalupe Mountains. A short way past the border post (with its banks of cameras and guards with dogs) we saw a group of pronghorns (closest relatives, giraffes and okapis).

After two hours of driving, there was El Capitan's spectacular form, towering above us as the road looped closer.

El Capitan

The track to Guadalupe Peak. Notice the switchbacks up that first wall of limestone.

We stopped at the Pine Springs visitor center to take a look at the starting point for the trail and then turned off to drive along the road to Slaughter Canyon at dusk, often a good place for encountering wildlife. We came across a big group of mule deer and several jackrabbits with enormous ears. There were also red-tailed hawks and northern harriers, a kestrel, a spotted owl, and a comical…