Category: Natural history


Yesterday I came across a slug out walking the dogs. I realise, on re-reading this first sentence, that it is open to misinterpretation so let me state plainly that it was me out walking the dogs and not the slug. The slug just happened to be crossing the dirt track which links two sections of roughly-paved road. The track itself is little used. In the recent rains it becomes very slippery and so vehicles tend to keep off it and, as a result, plants grow freely down the middle. Continue reading

On Thursday I opened my annual account with the carp on my local river, the Guadalhorce. I made a single withdrawal of what I imagine was about five pounds, or maybe a little more. It was a typically spirited fish and slugged it out like a heavyweight before I managed to ease into the bankside shallows and beach it. Continue reading

On Saturday a bunch of us went on a long walk that took us to the top of a mountain called La Concha. All told, we covered about 17km over pretty unforgiving terrain, often in single file. I suppose you should work on your fitness before such an undertaking but I thought it best to prepare by sitting on the sofa with my father in law and watching Bear Grylls on the telly!

Bear Grylls tells us that drinking urine is a convenient substitute for coffee when out in the wilderness and there is nowhere to plug in a kettle (and of course it has no caffeine!) and that eating rabbit droppings is just a simple question of mind over matter: just pop them in your mouth and imagine they´re maltesers! Continue reading

This morning Catriona and I took Pippa to Euston station for her journey back to university in Glasgow. Not wanting to miss the opportunities available in the heart of London, we discussed places that we might visit. On account of it being my birthday, I was offered the casting vote and decided that we ought to go whale watching.

“Hope” is the name given to the 22 metre blue whale skeleton displayed in the Hintze Hall of the Natural History Museum. She is a real show stopper. She was stranded in Wexford Harbour in Ireland in 1891 and was bought by the museum which was only 10 years old at that time.  She is the only whale skeleton in the world to be displayed in a diving lunge feeding position and has been the headline act here since July 2017 when this amazing display was revealed to the public for the first time. Continue reading

I don´t know about you but I´ve spent the Christmas period sitting on my arse with my feet up on the coffee table. I noticed that some idiot left an open box of Quality Street lying around. They won´t do that again in a hurry!

This shameful self-indulgence is tolerated and even encouraged at this time of year and usually acts as a catalyst to sign up to healthy new year´s resolution like marathon running, cross-channel swimming, mountain climbing or at least taking the dogs for a walk. Continue reading

A very odd thing happened yesterday when I was fishing with Colin McLachlan. I was sneaking around the shore of a reservoir called Embalse de Gabriel y Galán in Extremadura when I came across a full grown griffon vulture on the slope leading to the shoreline. I had been so intent on looking for barbel in the shallows that I approached reasonably closely before I noticed. It is very unusual to see a vulture like this on the ground and there was no sign of a carcass that might have attracted it. Continue reading

It´s not quite summertime yet and it may be a little early yet for the cotton to be high, but fish are certainly jumping. On the way back from fishing on Saturday, I came across some gypsy barbel on the Guadalhorce who treated me to to a fine display of their aerial acrobatics. Continue reading

You should never pass up the opportunity to put on a pair of wellies and stand in a puddle. If you don´t believe me just ask a kid, any kid. They may not be able to explain what makes it so much fun to be simply splashing around. They just know that it is. Kids are wise that way. For me there is something about being partially immersed in a muddy liquid while your feet are warm and dry that is very satisfying, Christ knows why. Continue reading

The other day an email arrived from my brother Sean. He was not full of news but a means of sharing with myself and our old fishing buddy Mark McCann, a photograph of a particularly beautiful trout caught on Lough Sheelin. Continue reading

I came back from the river on Saturday night and realised nobody else was home. Faced with the prospect of an evening in my own company (believe me, there is nothing worse) I decided it would be a good move to get in touch with my neighbour Pete and see if I could tag along with him when he headed out, as he does most evenings, to have a couple of drinks at the local watering hole.

Pete is good company. He has good stories to tell and on Saturday he told me about a time he came face to face with a monkey in India.

It so happens that, back in the sixties Pete used to run overland trips from Liverpool to India. They loaded up a couple of Land Rovers and a camper van kind of thing with provisions and a dozen or so adventurous spirits hopped aboard. Their journey took them down through southern Europe, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, along the Khyber Pass into Pakistan and then into India.

It goes without saying that you would have no chance today of repeating this epic journey. For one thing it would be too dangerous but, back in the sixties when Pete was in his mid 20´s things were a little easier. It was still risky though and so, as a precaution, they brought along a pump action shot gun and a .38 pistol.

Anyway, back to the monkey. Their littles convoy arrived in the Taj Mahal which, in those days, was far more accessible and less of the tourist draw than it has since become. They drove right inside and made camp there, amazing as that may now seem. In the cool dawn, with everything shrouded by a heavy mist, Pete unzips his mosquito net and pops his head out of his tent only to discover, a big male monkey staring him right in the eye. It was about 15 feet away.

By the time I heard this part of the story I had downed a couple of pints and Pete, with a couple vino tintos inside him, had travelled through time and was right back inside the Taj Mahal during that brief moment when only two things existed; Pete and this monkey. Each was staring into the eyes of the other with unrelenting intensity and, while this was going on, time simply stopped.

The monkey was clearly top dog in those parts and showed the self-assurance of one who will simply not back away.  Pete, for his part, remained unfazed. He had the confidence of a man who sleeps with a loaded shotgun in his tent and who had it close to hand.

For what may have seemed like an eternity but was probably only a short moment, the standoff between these two continued. And then, emerging from the mist, came a whole troop of monkeys. There were young and old, babies suspended beneath their mothers´ tummies, others bareback riding on their mothers´ backs. The adult male locked into a visual dual with Pete was simply the escort and protector of this group. It is probably fair to say that that he was overseeing their safe passage of his relatives in much the same way as Pete himself oversaw the safe overland passage of the band of adventurers he led from Liverpool.

In a matter of a few moments the troop was gone, then the dominant male withdrew without a sound and vanished also.

Pete spoke about this as if it had happened only yesterday.

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In the original telling of this tale, Pete suggested he had come face to face with a baboon but baboons seem to be restricted in their distribution to Africa and Arabia. I would suggest that he might have instead come across a rhesus monkey which are commonly encountered in this region. This photograph was pinched from a story in the telegraph which is well worth reading. Here is the link: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/india/11386681/Indian-brides-wanting-perfect-wedding-day-hiring-large-monkeys-to-scare-off-smaller-ones.html