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Kuala Lumpur Otters

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Over the years, I've met some very interesting wildlife within the limits of Kuala Lumpur. Two days ago, on a walk through a hilly area of forest in the city, I heard quite a large splash in a small lake hidden by trees and wondered if that could have been an otter. This afternoon I went back to focus on the lake and see what could be seen. Once again, there was a large splash and ripples moving across the surface of the lake, which I could only glimpse through small gaps in the trees. I found a way down towards the lakeside and there they were, four very lively otters splashing, surging, turning and making quite a lot of noise. I managed a couple of photographs, but once they noticed my presence, they disappeared, leaving a calm lake surface disrupted only by pond skaters and the occasional fish. Here are three of them boisterously chasing a fourth. They are smooth-coated otters ( Lutrogale perspicillata ). And here is the calm lake after their disappearance. I walked slowly and q

Monte Verde and the Peopling of the Americas: an abandoned potential World Heritage site made joyful with birdsong

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I had visited the site of Monte Verde in southern Chile once before, in 2011. On the 7th January 2024, I drove there again (from Puerto Montt) to see what has changed. A formerly attractive wooden house at the Monte Verde I site is now a decrepit ruin. There are some helpful information boards (kudos to whoever made these), now fading badly and with Monte Verde I and II mislabelled. A rudimentary archaeological theme park nearby appears to be entirely abandoned. This is a sad state of affairs for such an important site. Despite all the signs of abandonment and neglect, the place is a joy to visit for the vivid music of the varied birdsong. There were southern lapwings, buff-necked ibises, striped woodpeckers, a snipe, grasslands yellow finch, rufous collared sparrows, austral blackbirds, and Chilean swallows. Also, not far from the site is a line of burrowing owl colonies with their alert to dozy, but always utterly charming sentries, a complete delight to see. The rigorous archaeologi

An Encounter with a Pudu in Southern Chile

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Pudus are the smallest of deers. In 15 visits to southern Chile (where they live) over a period of 34 years, I had never encountered one. Then on Friday 29th December 2023, I (with wife Cristina and her sister Patti) finally saw the one shown below, nibbling the roadside grass between Petrohué and Ensenada, where the lower flanks of Volcán Osorno meet the Rio Petrohué between the Llanquihue and Todos Los Santos lakes. The area lies within the Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park. It took a moment to process - "Wow, that is a pudu." The southern pudu ( Pudu puda ) These southern pudus ( Pudu puda ) live in a beautiful green landscape of temperate forests between lakes and fast-running rivers with snow-capped volcanoes towering above. They are generally very shy and hardly ever seen. They prefer mature Nothofagus dombeyi (commonly known as coihue) forest, with a dense understory dominated by Chusquea quila , commonly known as quila. View showing three volcanoes (Calbuco lower

From Nike, Winged Goddess of Victory, to an Angel in Three Coins

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A winged goddess of victory has been a widespread image over the past two and a half millennia. Here I illustrate her transformation from Greek goddess to Roman goddess to Christian angel with three coins spanning a period of about 900 years.  She, Nike , appears in Archaic form in a statue from Delos , dating to the 6th century BCE and found in front of the old Temple of Artemis in 1887. A famous 5th century BCE sculpture of Nike by Paionios was found at Olympia in 1875 and the even more famous Winged Victory of Samothrace , dating to the second century BCE, was found in 1863. Nike also appeared on coins and a beautiful ancient Greek example from the fourth century BCE shows this winged goddess of victory carrying a wreath and a naval stylis (what appears to be a staff with angled trident head).   Reverse of gold stater of Alexander III (The Great), Ake mint, dating to 308/9 BCE, showing Nike with wreath in right hand and stylis in left hand. In her later Roman guise as the goddess

Classical mythology on an Iron Age boar coin

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The finely crafted artefacts of Ancient Rome were often a source of inspiration for peoples beyond their empire to the north. A particularly striking example is the early boar coinage of the Corieltauvi tribe based on the south side of the Humber Estuary in England, dating from the the middle of the first century BCE. The example shown below is the earliest version in a series. An elegant "celticised" horse beneath a sun symbol is depicted on one side. On the other side is a bold representation of a boar, with a spear in his back together with associated enigmatic symbols. The boar is depicted with erect bristles along his spine, a curly tail and even details the backward-pointing dewclaws, an exceptional feature in this example. This particular silver unit was found four years ago at Burgh le Marsh in Lincolnshire. Here is my drawing of the boar design. Was this an original work of art? Well, the design is distinctively stylised, though less abstract than many examples, incl

A visit to the Greenland Eastern Settlement

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As a youth, I was fascinated by stories of the Norse westward exploration and settlement. From about the 870s to around the year 1000, they reached first Iceland, then Greenland and finally Newfoundland and adjacent areas.  With a visit to Greenland this June 2023, I have now visited all of these places and seen something of their character and atmosphere: volcanoes, geysirs, waterfalls, icebergs and aurora in Iceland; snowy mountains, fjord-wide expanses of drift ice and eagles in Greenland; dolphins and moose plus hillsides covered in berries at that northern tip of Newfoundland.  I have also seen the Norse ruins in all these places, mostly just the foundations of buildings made of stone and turf. The experience of this particular “quest” feels in essence complete.  I started the dotted line on the map below in Rogaland (Norway), where we lived in the late 1990s. That's also where Erik the Red was born. The Norse westward expansion (simplified) from the 870s to around the year 10