On The Road (To Crapo)

Crapo Swampland

The Chucks were nowhere to be seen on our return to the Blackwater refuge: probably taking a well-earned festive break. But their replacement, the cheerful Franny, kept us for nearly as long exclaiming about how much she’d love to live in England. She was one of those charming American ladies of advancing years whose affection for their own country is exceeded only by that for an idealised, floral-patterned, pomp and circumstance royal-wedding Britain. She’d gotten up at 5am for Will & Kate’s nuptials. I didn’t want to burst her bubble by mentioning the rain, cost of living, griminess of our towns, cities, and roadsides, public sector strikes, Eric Pickles, or the Daily Mail, so I played up to the image as best I could. Who am I to crush sweet old ladies’ dreams? “Anything in particular to look for today?” I enquired, hopefully, in my politest Queen’s English, when she’d finished. “Oh yes,” she replied, “have a look in the sightings book here!” Not exactly what I was hoping for (Chuck had been most knowledgable), but the book’s contents were pretty enticing.
Continue reading

(Un)Frozen Planet

This is actually Otmoor RSPB reserve in Oxfordshire. But last winter it may as well have been the arctic!

Like me, I imagine you have all been watching Frozen Planet. If not, where have you been? Go at once and watch episodes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6, then come back when you are finished. No, I mean it! Put the kettle on, and get watching. Now, wasn’t that astonishing? I’ve watched many scenes with my jaw scraping the carpet, incoherent ‘ooohs’ interspersed with us turning to each other and saying ‘Surely that isn’t real?!’ Meltwater on the Greenland ice cap in particular looked like advanced CGI, but I’m assured it really looks like that.

I always suspected I was keen on the polar regions. Something about their wildlife captures my imagination more vividly than the tropics, and it may have a little to do with my maintaining that I could cope much better with extreme cold than extreme heat and humidity. The latter you can’t escape from, but at least you can wrap up against cold. Give me winter fieldwork over sweat and mosquito bites any day! Although it is fair to say I was near to freezing solid in Hampshire on Friday in just modestly cold weather, and that I might find one or two more mosquitoes than I might like in the arctic tundra in summer. I can’t win, really, and would likely not do too well at Arctic survival in any season. Nonetheless, scenes of powerful ice over ancient rock, unmatched clarity of light and life clinging on at the edge of things, continue to take my breath away.
Continue reading