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Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Gran Canaria: Sharks, Sun Cream & Cats

Sun cream. The first day of the trip to Gran Canaria to find and hopefully film angel sharks, included the need to rub sun cream into the three bald patches in my hair on the sides of my head. Thanks to my over enthusiastic sister who rushed my pre-film trip haircut. At least one part of my head had an extremely long tuft, so I definitely didn't need to cream there.

The build up and organisation of the trip was immense, and after months of planning, scrutiny and re-planning, all the equipment, logistics and scripts were ready for the film ahead.

One night and a four-hour plane journey later, we were leaving the hotel, past the pool and to wait by the corner of the palm tree lined road. The morning sun already warm as I squinted my eyes in it's brightness. My old man used to tell me off for squinting. He wouldn't be impressed; the crows feet (I prefer the term bat-wings) from the corners of my eyes now well-defined as I have taken little measures to prevent the need to regularly squint. Swifts screamed and spun on the wing as they looked for nest sites high up on the hotel walls.

The Davy Jones Diving van picked us up, and the search for angel sharks had begun.

After meeting the team, we set the kit up, loaded the small van, and headed to the El Cabron reserve. A vast and barren landscape, windswept with little vegetation and a dark, jagged rocky coastline cutting into the sea. Being an island in the Atlantic Ocean, the winds get pretty high. Which means this jagged rocky coastline gets battered with some fairly strong waves and currents; making for some challenging entry and exits to the water! 

I have never been diving in this part of the world, and I was pleasantly surprised at how beautiful and rich the underwater life and landscapes are.

Being close to Africa gives the area a mix of typically North Atlantic species, as well as more tropical-like fish.

Once in the water and relaxed, we began the search for angels. Being a species of shark that is flattened, and buries itself in the sand to lie in wait for prey to swim past, we spent a fair bit of time looking over a sandy underwater landscape, mesmerising with the dancing beams of sunlight swirling across the sea floor.

Cuttlefish, with their insane ability to change the colour and pattern of their skin with pigments called chromatophores, lay invisible on the seabed or on the rocky reef. Completely unnoticeable until they pop up, hover in the water, raise two arms and propel off over the rocky reef and out of sight once again.

Barracuda always seem pretty chilled. Like they know that there isn't much that can mess with them. Whenever I've seen barracuda, they seem to steadily and confidently cruise past. No fuss.

Upon approaching an octopus squeezed into a gap under a boulder, it stretched out its arms, puffed out its chest and pushed itself through the water like a torpedo.

But we had come to film the sharks. The first thing you find are their beds in the sand. The places where they have been laying, with everything buried except their eyes and maybe a dorsal fin or two.

Diagonally, on the left handside you can make out where an angel was laying

With angel sharks, like all wildlife, it is hit or miss, pure chance, whether you are in the same place as them at the same time. And we can only stay down for as long as our equipment and dive time allows. Two dives a day for four days and, without spoiling too much, we found them. And I could not be happier with our encounters. My mum is not a shark fan, mostly because of their 'black, dead eyes'. Lots of species of sharks have varied and colourful eyes (Although, I admit, the greenland sharks eyes are pretty freakish: link greenland shark photo). And angel sharks, in my opinion, have one of the most beautiful eyes of any fish I have seen. Almost golden with camouflage and a thin slit for the pupil, their eyes are an extension of their bodies colouration.

Angel sharks are one of the rarest sharks in the world – wiped out from the majority of it's range across Europe. As part of the film, we met with some great dedicated scientists and conservationists for interviews, set up to study and ultimately help conserve angels sharks, as well as other marine life, using a variety of methods.
Please check out The Angel SharkProject, a collaboration between the University of Las Palmas Gran Canaria, the Zoological Society of London and the Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig.


We also met with Krupskaya from the ElasmoCan project

Top work!

I wanted some visually interesting locations for some presenter led parts of the film. So a long walk in temperatures that reached over 40 celcius to Gran Canaria's very own part of the Sahara desert was due. Maspalomas sand dunes.

Being close to the equator during summer time, the days felt unusually short, with sunrise at 07:30am and the darkness setting in well before 09:00pm. Every night we would walk the length of Playa del Ingles to get ice cream. And indulge in a bit of feral cat watching.

I didn't see a single lizard on this part of the island. Could the high cat and low lizard populations be linked? Or maybe the habitat for lizards is poor, I am not so sure.

A heap of thanks go to everyone involved at Davy Jones Diving. While I was there, we put together a little promotional video for Davy Jones. Check it out below...

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Canada Part II: Icefield Parkway & Vancouver Island

The following photos and journal extracts follow on from Canada Part I.


2nd August 2014

Bow River

Under a tree I sit by Bow River. A bald eagle soars overhead, gull chicks squawk and beg for food from the adults. Further downstream, the turquoise blue water crashes into a cascade of white, the spray of Bow Falls shimmering with rainbows.

Bow Falls

3rd August 2014

Before heading off in Sam and Tanya's car, aptly named Clifford (the big red dog), I did one more hike around Tunnel Mountain. A red shafted flicker, displeased at the presence of a bald eagle, perched in the tree top let out a loud, defensive alarm call. Ravens mobbed the eagle away.

Double eggers with 3 pancakes and bacon each. Drowned in maple. We are set for the adventure ahead.

Lake Louise in the evening

4th August 2014

Back to Lake Louise, and a hike to Canada's highest and oldest tea-house; Lake Agnes Tea-house. Sitting at 7,000 feet, it gets a single helicopter drop of supplies for the year, and the staff hike up the mountain every morning with the supplies for the day ahead. Oh, the homemade apple crumble. Delicious.

Little Beehive to the right, Lake Louise below. What a colour!

Ernie admires Lake Louise

Clarks Nutcracker waiting for scraps at Agnes Teahouse

A clarks nutcracker optimistically lingers around the teahouse for scraps. At the top of Little Beehive, a ground squirrel scuttled across my legs, and up onto my arm while I lay catching my breathe. Bold little critters.

5th August 2014

North bound. Up the Icefield Parkway. A stunning drive, packed with stunning mountains, lakes and glaciers around every turn in the road. The place feels vast.

Where the rivers start; Peyto Glacier to the left, melting into Lake Peyto, feeding the river below.

My favourite of the lakes; the ice cold Bow Lake. 

Moose Lake, just off of Moraine. The air intensely warm. The forest smells thick and sweet. A peaceful lake surrounded with tracks of moose. We sat drinking lukewarm water. Sam grabs my leg, frozen. On the shoreline 40 feet to our right, a young black bear ambles along the waters edge. It did not take long for the bear to notice us, and immediately scrambled up into the forest and out of sight. Our hearts raced. That was a massive life goal achieved right there. A moment I will remember for as long as I am sane. Just better make sure we keep our eyes peeled and keep talking loudly to prevent surprising a bear. I am sure Sam will manage just fine...

6th August 2014

The sea calm. In fact, perfectly flat and mostly glassy. To my right a pine forest covered Rockies falls into the Pacific Ocean. The intertidal zone is the only thing that separates the 2,000 metre mountains with the great depths of the ocean.

On the way to Vancouver Island

We have nearly reached Vancouver Island. The ocean air freshens the senses. Now to stare out to sea for a little while..

Ernie and I enjoying the sun and sea!

8th August 2014

Yesterday we continued our long and windy drive down to Tofino. Eventually making it in time for the sun set.

Sunset from Tofino

Tofino is a mix of fishing port, tourism and awe inspiring landscapes. I immediately liked the characterful place. It's the kind of place where deer kick back in peoples gardens.

A lady sat to the right of the deer knitting in a rocking chair. Wish I had seen her before I took this!

We have ended up staying in what can only be described as a car park. With each parking space packed with tents, screaming kids and extremely loud snorers. The beach, however, is stunning. And worth the disturbance and lack of privacy, if only for a day or two. Red rock crab shells and claws scatter across the strandline and in rock pools. The forest is immense. They call it the Brazil of the North. The trees grow huge, covered in moss and lichen. Wolves frequent these woods, so we kept our eyes peeled for tracks and signs when walking in the forest.

The beautiful by-the-wind sailors, a colony of hydroids to form a jellyfish-like animal. Related to the Man O'War. 
Brazil of the North
Walking the Wild Pacific Trail, we hugged the coastline and made our way on a great trek through the forest. We sat eating lunch on some rocks that jutted out to the sea. As we ate our sandwiches and crisps, and circling bald eagle plucked a fish from the sea, and settled down with its mate on the rocks opposite. We lunched with bald eagles. surrounded by giant kelp in the gullies, breaking waves and backed by the forest.

Huge. Immense. Powerful. The beautiful bald eagle.

The crest of the wonderful Stellars Jay. 
Cheeky and bold birds, the lower half of their bodies shines electric blue when caught in the sunlight.

We return to Tofino and grab some great grub. As we leave, and get into the car, I catch eyes with an Indian man. Slender, dressed in scuffed old running trainers, ripped and worn jeans and a plain shirt. He approached the car. Clearly drunk, he stumbled slightly, coming to a stop outside the door of the car. He leaned down, almost pressed his face against the glass, grinned with bright white teeth, and shouted with delight " I CARIBOUUU". We smiled as we drove off. This guy has reaffirmed my fondness for Vancouver Island. 

5:30am. My alarm is set. But I am restless with excitement. For tomorrow, we are looking for bear. 


Thank you for reading! Or, if you are like my sister, thank you for flicking through the images! I am starting Part III as I post this, so it will not be long (hopefully) before I conclude this giant trip to Canada. 

At the moment I am working on a foxy new film project. Sadly, this time of year sees an increase in fox kill on the roads as the young disperse, and look to find new territories. Around my town alone, I have found seven dead on the roads. It makes me feel a bit sick and angry at the ignorance of the modern world. I have never seen a fox alive in my own home town before. So I have set myself a challenge to firstly find a fox, then film it as close to home as possible. 

Report your sightings to if you have any near you! It isn't just fox that are killed, hedgehog, badger, deer, rodents, insects and sometimes reptiles too!

Over 100,000 fox die on Britain's roads each year

Thanks for reading!!

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Canada Part I: Chipmunk, Bald Eagle, Sunrises and too many tourists...

Part I of my trip to Canada. This post is made up entirely of writing directly, if edited slightly on occasions, from my journal. I hope you enjoy it!
29th July 2014
A red maple leaf brands each side of the passenger plane. Lightning and thunder blows across the skyline. Flashes of white light fill Heathrow airport. Canada Bound.
A violin plays. Three Australian lads walk past cracking up at each other. A Japanese lady poses for a photograph, slapping her belly firmly before pulling a smile. I am sitting under a tree in Banff Avenue. The sun beats down ferociously, air temperatures reaching 34 Celsius. I have just hiked to town from my campsite for the week, along The Hoodoos trail.
Bow River; walking the Hoodoos Trail
Ground squirrels scurry along the sides of the trails. Least chipmunks, smaller and more cautious in their movements, keep to the more overgrown and shaded areas.
Golden Mantled Ground Squirrel; bold and curious
Upon reaching Bow Falls, an American Robin collected insects as the crystal water rushed through the heavily scented forest. A large red-breasted thrush, the American Robin has plenty of insects to choose from, forgetting insect repellent, I soon found out as mosquitoes devoured my exposed skin. What could be grey fox tracks and deer prints were pressed into the riverside track i stumbled across after taking a wrong turn... two lessons were learned very quickly today. Wear insect repellent. Get a good map. 
American Robin; A red breasted thrush 
Now I have had my 'only a dollar, all summerrrr' iced tea from McDonalds (or is it 'All summerrrr, only a dollarrr'!?) and my sweat laden shirt has dried, I head out through the marshes to Vermilion Lakes.
Meadowhawk/dragonfly in the marshes
Vermilion Lakes; Mount Rundle overlooks the lakes
Bald eagle! The majestic and imposing size of this beautiful bird, as it circles, wings spread, soaring across the lakes and up above the craggy mountain peaks. I am filled with elation as the bird fades into the distance beyond the ridges.
Bald eagle soars above Mount Rundle
Back in town, a black billed magpie checks me out for food. Hopeful. As water is the only thing on the agenda for me today. How much do these differ from the magpies back home? I struggle to spot any major difference. The same intelligence sparkles in their eyes.  Later that evening, a large deer galloped through town and into someone's garden. A regular sight apparently! 
Black billed Magpie
30th July 2014
I join Tanya, Sam's friend, for a hike up Stoney Squaw mountain. A densely forest covered mountain, tens of thousands of moth flutter about the forest floor, spiders feasting on the unlucky ones caught in their webs. Bright orange lichens adorned the boulders and rocks, vivid lime green lichens cling to the trunks of the trees, while a khaki, almost beard-like, lichen hangs from the branches. Lichen are an amazing partnership formed between fungus and algae. The fungus hosts the algae and the algae photosynthesises, providing energy for both. They are extremely hardy, surviving in the extreme colds of the poles and the heat of the desert. Living thousands of years, some individual lichens are thought to be the oldest living organisms on the planet. Their presence in an ecosystem tends to be a good sign of air quality and a healthy environment. And these forests are inundated with them! 
Lichens; the fungi-algae A-Team!
What I am enjoying immensely, is the inability to identify a lot of the birds and wildlife I encounter. It's like the slate has been wiped clean and a whole new set of animals introduced. Which gives me a chance to appreciate every encounter as a new and exciting one, even for common animals. Although, the animals fill very similar niches to those back home, and as such, tend to be exotic variants of familiar species back home. With some pretty great sounding names thrown in as well (Junco and chickadee!).

Gray Jay
Red breasted nuthatch
Dark-eyed junco
31st July 2014
At 2,200 metres above sea level I sit, exhausted. I'm at Sanson peak, the summit of Sulphur mountain. Never have I seen such a vast area of forest, as the trees run across the entirety of the valleys, almost peak to peak, with the only bare patches being the alpine tundra. An ocean of pine. A dark blue tinge sits across the dawn valley. I started this hike at 5:40am, making the most of the early morning. Shards of sunlight cut across the valley as it rises from behind the peaks. Ravens bellow in the silence. Golden mantled ground squirrels scamper around my feet, a lot bolder than the chipmunks. 
Sunrise over Banff; the campsite sits beyond Tunnel mountain in the centre
I love adventure. Something that is apparently hard to come by specifically in this part of Canada. It felt amazing this morning. Alone. The first to summit by 6:50, with a spectacular sunrise across some of the most amazing views I have ever seen. I reached Sanson peak alone. The animals felt personal and truly wild. As I stare out over the vast wilderness below me, the pines, the jagged peaks, the powder blue waters of Bow River, I hear a clap. Followed by another clap. Then a squeal of delight, and a continuous clapping, as the Japanese woman, clearly astounded by the view, proceeded to slap her hands together for at least two minutes. Doesn't sound long, but give it a go. Clap for two minutes continuously. Or do it in the ear of someone enjoying a picnic in the park. Or someone busy at work. This was only the beginning. Invaded by the hoards of people that sat their arses on the gondola and walked the fifteen minutes to the final peak, any adventure, any solitude, any moments of peace, all gone. 
Sulphur Mountain Peak
This reaffirmed my disappointment for the town of Banff. A menu of trails for tourists, providing easy access for the masses. Which, hypocritically, I have spent doing for the most of this week as a tourist, but I would never choose to if I had the choice. Yes, the scenery is spectacular, and the wildlife accessible. But it is the McDonalds of The Rockies. The Starbucks of the mountains. Great, but cheap, commercialised, and not what I personally enjoy. Clearly thousands do, but if you are after adventure, or a feeling of connecting with the wilds of Canada, immersing yourself in the wonders of nature that this part of the world holds, don't spend it in and around Banff. A town run by tourists on work visas, for tourists on holidays.

Banff; the great juxtaposition - McDonalds in the foreground, backed by a great alpine tundra 
Like the front line of an army, people line up alongside the fence, wielding their cameras. A hoary marmot casually makes its way along the escarpment. I feel guilty that I am part of this. Although it does not seem to mind, I can not help feel uncomfortable by this mass intrusion of its habitat. Disheartened, and my left foot in agony (achilles tendon issues!), I am going to get the gondola down and find somewhere else to go. These are not the encounters I had envisioned. 
Sod the gondola. I'm descending the otherside of the mountain. It's a long trail that will take best part of the day, but I'm only here once. Prepare yourself left foot. 
What a great decision. Coming down the trail to the rear of Sanson's peak was a delight. Isolated and wild. Finally I was alone! Pika, a small-ish rodent, can throw its voice to avoid the attention of predators but still communicate. Everytime I thought I was facing the right way to get a photo of one, it would scurry away from the corner of my eye. Lots of hoary marmots! These are the largest ground squirrels in North America, and are known for their 'whistling' alarm calls. I sat still on the rocks on an escarpment, and soon enough, a hoary marmot lay a few feet away basking in the sun. The marmot fell asleep, while I took a few snaps and admired its beauty.

Pika, the great voice thrower!
Hoary Marmot; 'whistler' the largest ground squirrel in N America
Being alone, I could sit and be quiet, undisturbed. Which allowed a few chipmunks to gain my trust in a fairly short space of time. I sat and watched as the chipmunk first poked its eye above the rock line. Then the rest of its head followed. And then a paw. Eventually it was out, and scurrying around merrily searching for food. Chipmunks have food pouches in their cheeks, allowing them to carry and store lots of food at once.
Least Chipmunk; shy and cautious
A crashing and breaking of branches in the trees above reminded me that this is prime bear territory and I should be careful. I keep loose change in my pockets, which rattle and prevent my movements from being quiet and shocking a bear. 
A belted kingfisher, larger and more robust than the kingfishers of home, flew along Bow river and perched up on a dead tree near the marshes by Cave and Basin. This is the origin of Parks Canada. This sulphur underground thermal pool was discovered and a decision was made that is was worthy of protection. In it lives a species of tiny snail that exists only in the seven underground pools on Sulphur mountain, and nowhere else on Earth. 

Belted Kingfisher
1st August 2014
Sitting in the library with bird ID books and some wifi to send messages home to the family, I discover which birds I have been seeing and what else I can expect to see. This morning I climbed Tunnel Mountain at sunrise, and sat and ate breakfast (blueberries and cereal bars) overlooking Banff and the ranch that Sam works. A red tailed hawk soared above the forest, similar in shape and size to buzzards back home, but with a buff underside to its tail.

Sam's Ranch middle bottom from Tunnel Mountain
Sam and I enjoy a disastrous meal of banacon on our campfire in the forest. What survived the scorching flames, tasted delicious. The crackling of the flames, the glowing warmth, and the smokey air. Topped off with a beautiful sky full of stars. Tomorrow, we plan the next stage of the trip. North along the Icefields Parkway. Glaciers, lakes, and hopefully bear await us.
I hope you have enjoyed Part I, thank you for reading! Part II includes our first bear sighting, the oldest and highest teahouse in Canada, and some apple crumble. Mmm. Keep your eyes peeled for the next installment! 
As it was Vulture Awareness day last week, here is a photo of a King Vulture from ZSL London Zoo!

King Vulture
Check out this clip of a vulture taking on a jackal: Vulture vs JackalIt is a shame this was not back on over the weekend; A brilliant documentary about vultures by Charlie Hamilton James.