We don’t always get the best wildlife photos. Today we missed the fawn leaping across the road. Other days, as I fumbled for my camera, the young fox stared at us, turned away, and bounded into the bushes. Jonathan saw a badger peeping at us over the top of a mound of dirt. By the time I looked, it was gone. There’s lots of wildlife in Ohio, I just can’t quite get my camera lens on it all.
On the other hand, some wildlife freezes when it sees you, and then we get a shot, like a squirrel in a tree, or the cute toad that I held for long enough to take its picture. So cute, in a tiny toad sort of way. A week or so later, we found even tinier toads hopping around in the Peet Camp park.
Birdwatching has been good here, with lots of colorful birds visiting our bird feeder, like goldfinches, cardinals, and orioles. I had to take down our oriole feeder because the squirrel learned that though he couldn’t get into our squirrel-proof feeder full of seeds, he could put his face right into the jelly in the oriole feeder, and once that was gone, he could eat the oranges for dessert. I was worried he’d become diabetic! lol.
I was surprised to find bald eagles are relatively common along the shore of Lake Erie, fishing, and eating fish. They perch on stone jetties, or in the trees. We occasionally see them overhead, patrolling for a snack, their white heads and tails showing they are not the more common turkey vulture.
We’ve been in Lombard, IL for two and a half months, much longer than our normal stops. On June 1, when we should be flying from Athens to Vienna, we will be leaving Lombard, IL for Conneaut, OH, the last town before the PA border.
Lake Erie, for starters. We’ve never been there, and our new house overlooks the lake. There is also beach combing. Cleveland and other places threw all their trash into the lake for about a century and today pieces rounded by the water and sand wash up waiting for people like me to see them. I’m looking forward to new surroundings, and a lake for swimming.
The change of seasons has also gotten to us. Our cute house is cozy and warm in cold weather, but it doesn’t have air conditioning. Chicago has sneaky spring weather, staying cool, even chilly, into May. There’s a reason that people don’t plant their gardens until mid-May. One day, though, you open the front door and step into a cloud of hot steam. Step outside and it feels like you are breathing through a hot washcloth. Summer has arrived in Chicago! It will be hot and humid on many days between today and September. For us, it’s time to move on.
Our stay here began just before the official start of spring. We went for walks and started seeing birds, even when we had to bundle up in heavy coats, hats, scarves, and gloves. Back when the branches were bare, we got used to spotting smaller birds that we had barely seen before.
Birdwatching is made for the current times. We walk slowly, scrutinizing the sides of the path or looking up into the trees, turning away from anyone who may be passing on the other side of the path. Watching for a flicker of wings among the twigs and brambles my mind wanders, testing the cold, the wind, checking the angle of the sun. I understand how people who spend their lives outdoors know the season and the time by the feel of the day.
We occasionally stop and chat with people who are fishing or who ask what birds we have seen. Most park walkers are polite and observant of social distancing. Sometimes we meet a regular birdwatcher who points us toward a better viewing spot, or a new bird. That’s how I spotted a Blackburnian warbler.
Dupage County has more parks and forest preserves than we have been able to visit, places we never set foot in when we lived here for twenty-four years, but now we appreciate them day after day. The knoll at the center of Lincoln Marsh, its grove of tall trees ringed by a vast spread of brown reed stems, reminds me of The Invisible Island, one of my favorite books growing up.
There’s a list of the sixty-three different birds we’ve been able to identify at the end of this post. We’ve seen surprising animals, as well. I didn’t realize that beavers had made such a comeback in this region. There must be quite a few living in the Dupage River system, as we’ve seen beavers swimming by several times. One day, a beaver swam by us, and as we watched, it climbed out of the water (below), waddled into the reeds and returned with a stick in it’s mouth. It set off swimming down the river until we lost sight of it.
As the days passed, we got better at spotting woodpeckers up in the trees. I don’t feel like a walk is officially over until we’ve seen at least one woodpecker. They are so funny-looking, hopping up the tree like a colorful squirrel. The brush on either side of the path became slightly greener as the trees budded. It was a bit more difficult to see birds, but improved our spotting of warblers and kinglets.
Over the weeks, we visited more places, and through other birders, discovered the hotspots in Dupage County, like Elsen’s Hill, in W. Dupage Woods, where we saw bushes full of warblers.
There was a Great Horned Owl mother and baby at Lincoln Marsh, and the tiny nest of a blue-gray gnatcatcher, barely the size of a baseball, at Fabyan Forest Preserve. Every colorful bird is a marvel. At the top of a tree we spotted a male cardinal, scarlet red in all his glory, facing a Baltimore oriole in bright orange and black.
Now our stay here is ending, just as the goslings and ducklings are hatching. We saw a multi-mother flock of goslings on the Fox River, spreading out across the water as their mothers looked on. We must have gotten a bit too close, because one of the geese gave off a short sharp sound, and in seconds the group of more than 20 goslings merged into a single ball of fluff.
The brush along the trails has gone from a handful of gray sticks to a dense mat of green. There are wild phlox in little gaps in the trees and lining some of the picnic areas. The migrating birds have moved on toward Canada and the Arctic for the summer, leaving the permanent residents to raise their chicks, and often, to make another nest and do it all over again before fall arrives. We are moving on as well. Every day, I think about my family, and miss being able to visit them, and to hug each one. Instead, I am grateful for the company that nature has provided.
Clockwise from upper left: Eastern bluebird, Red-headed woodpecker, Swainson’s thrush, robin’s nest on our drainpipe, palm warbler.
Welcome to this post on our current home in New Brighton, New South Wales. This is also my 500th post on Llywindatravels.com (Where does the time go?) Thank you for reading and joining me on our travels. I hope you’ll keep coming back.
It’s been just over five years since we retired and set out to see the world, and we’ve met our goal many times over. The places we’ve been, the people we’ve met, and our adventures! It’s been amazing over and over again. Just this morning we went birdwatching with Bird Buddies, a group based in the area around Byron Bay, NSW. Everyone was welcoming and friendly, and helped us see the birds that may be common to them, but were new to us. We had a wonderful morning ending with a tea break where the list of all birds seen was compiled, and general conversation shared. It doesn’t get better than that.
New Brighton is our last stop before returning to the US, and we know we’ll miss Australia. Our home here is situated between Gold Coast (the sixth largest city in Australia–who knew?) and Byron Bay, two hours drive south of Brisbane. Our street is bounded by an estuary on one side, and the beach on the other, with birds twittering all around us, yet we are five minutes from a shopping center. This house is small and comfortable, with objects from our hosts’ extensive travels all around us (India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Mexico, Morocco, and many other destinations). We have lunch on our picnic table overlooking the water when we’re home. Australian magpies and pied butcherbirds stop by to beg. We’ve had to shoo them out of the house. Our neighbor says they come in and stand in front of her fridge waiting for snacks!
There’s wildlife in the neighborhood, too. Flying foxes hang from the trees across the estuary during the day. They unfurl and flap into the night about a half hour after sunset. Apparently, pythons cross the walkway to the beach regularly, though we haven’t seen any. Near the Byron Lighthouse, and at Hastings Point, we’ve see whales breaching and blowing puffs of mist into the air. There are signs along the roads for koala crossings, though none have crossed in front of us–yet.
There are excellent farmer’s markets during the week. We go to the New Brighton farmer’s market down the street from our house on Tuesdays. The last apples of the season appeared this week, right on the solstice. It’s the shortest day of the year here in Australia, but the coldest it gets all winter in this region is about 60°F. during the day, sunny and beautiful. Except when it rains.
On Friday, we went to check out the farmer’s market in Mullumbimby, a few miles from here. It is a larger than our local market and was full of delicious things. There was a stall selling exotic fruit. We tasted Brazilian cherries, a tiny, tart fruit the color of a tomato, and we bought hybrid limes, a cross between a finger lime and a regular type.
The bread in this region has been excellent. We bought a loaf of seedy, whole wheat sourdough that will make delicious toast. The patisserie stall yielded croissants and eclairs for a mid-morning snack.
We’ve been to weekend markets, too, with vendors selling crafts of all kinds, snacks, and all kinds of food. There is always live music and lots of children running around while parents try to shop while chatting with their friends.
We’ve bought macadamia nuts, finger lime jam, meat, cheese, baguettes, dukka (nutty, seedy dipping mix), stuffed animals, pillow covers, and colored prints of tropical birds.
We’ve been on walks through the rainforest, along the beach, and through the woods. We’ve taken some of the walks in a book here at the house, “Byron Trails: 50 walking adventures in Byron Bay and beyond” (by Mairead Cleary). Well never run out of things to do, and won’t even come close to taking all of the possible walks. Each time we set out I think briefly about the impending end of our stay in Australia. Then I get caught up in the day, the sunshine, the woods, and the ocean.
Jonathan and I saw a platypus in a darkened display (they are nocturnal) at the Healesville sanctuary outside Melbourne. We thought we had checked off one of those Australia bucket list activities: See a Platypus!!! The platypus was dark on top with a silvery-white belly, leaving a trail of bubbles as it swam across the surface of its pool. We loved it.
Shift gears to Cairns and our chance meeting with wildlife artist Pete Marshall at the Cattana Wetlands.
After chatting for a bit, Pete recommended looking for platypus in the creek by Yungaburra, describing the place where you park, go under the bridge and along the creek. It sounded like a good adventure, though we were dubious that we’d see these secretive little animals.
We suggested a platypus hunt to Amanda and Jim, and I found we could combine our search with a visit to the Yungaburra weekend market. We set out at 8 am Saturday–no dawn patrol for this group, and arrived at the Yungaburra Platypus Viewing Platform around 9:30 am. Sure enough, there is a trail along a creek where a sign lets you know there is a resident platypus family. From the bridge across the creek we saw nothing, and the water was cloudy with runoff from recent rains. We moved along the creek, avoiding the muddy patches. After about twenty minutes of watching without success, we decided to visit the market and give it another try later.
An hour or more later, we stowed our loot (veggies, dukkah, macadamia nuts, salami, oyster mushrooms, radishes, potatoes, and pastry) in the trunk and returned to the platypus zone, just a block or two from the park that hosts the market. We set out again, under the bridge and along the creek. Amanda and I tiptoed around a longish stretch of muddy path, squeezing along the edges to avoid sinking. I was staring at the water when Amanda whispered that she saw one! I turned and watched a dark little animal, definitely a platypus, much smaller than I thought from watching nature shows. We watched it dive, expecting it to return to the surface, but it disappeared. After a few more minutes, there was no sign on the surface and we headed back to the others. We told Jonathan and Jim that we’d seen a platypus and they tried to be enthusiastic, but we knew they wished they’d seen the platypus, too.
Right about then, the platypus emerged. For the next ten minutes, platypus dove and swam around the creek. There were three or four platypus swimming around as we watched. They paddled strangely but moved quickly through the water. I’m not sure why the group of platypus in this creek is awake during the day, but we enjoyed their performance.
I never thought I’d see a wild platypus, but there it is. A successful end to the Great Platypus Hunt.
Crepuscular: Active at twilight or before sunrise.
We started our day late, arriving at the Bonarong Wildlife Sanctuary when the day was already hot. Failing to learn the lesson of our visit to the albatross sanctuary on a similarly bright day, we entered to find that most of the animals are not very happy when it’s hot outside. The many Forester kangaroos that have the run of the place sprawled on the ground. Most couldn’t be bothered to approach the visitors eagerly holding out handfuls of kangaroo food that each person is given on entering. We saw a couple of kangaroos licking crumbs of oatmeal and kangaroo chow (?) off the ground from a largely prone position. It was pretty funny.
The listless kangaroos were a harbinger of what all the other animals were up to, resting in the shade. That meant that we couldn’t see the wombat, or any quolls–they were all deep in their burrows or clumps of tall grass avoiding the sun. We did see echidnas and a variety of birds. The koala was very cooperative because all they ever do is sit on a tree branch. We saw a Tasmanian devil. They look like little chubby puppies apart from their prominent toothy mouth.
We made the best of our visit, and even spotted a new bird, the noisy miner. Following the intelligent lead of the animals, we lay low for the rest of the very warm afternoon, catching up on writing. It turns out there are many different hopping pouched animals, including tree kangaroos, rat kangaroos, wallabies, quokkas, pademelons, wallaroos, euros, potoroos, and bettongs. I had never heard of most of these.
We ate dinner on the deck, looking across the valley, where two nights ago Jonathan spotted a flock of cockatoos roosting in trees at the far end of the valley. We decided that if they came again we’d try to find them. They were out again, almost 50 big white birds clustered on four or five trees. It was 8:30 pm, the sun was about to set, but there was still time to drive a mile. We turned off the highway onto a dirt road that wound into the hills toward the stand of trees covered with cockatoos. As we worked our way along, it became apparent that the trees were not accessible by road. We continued, hoping the road would turn again, when we were distracted by three wallabies hopping across the road. One stopped long enough for me to get its photo.
We moved on slowly to avoid spooking the animals, which is impossible. The reason there are so many dead wallabies and kangaroos by the roadside is because their instinct is to jump, which puts them in the middle of the highway on the first leap, often too late to take another. We kept going because we kept seeing wallabies. The road curved upward and we looked across fields full of wallabies. Our photos are “hidden pictures”. Find the six or seven wallabies staring at us.We never did find the trees full of cockatoos, but we saw fifty wallabies, maybe more. We got so good at recognizing wallabies that we knew we’d spotted something different on our way home. A bit of research showed we saw a pair of pademelons, a smaller pouched marsupial. We wondered whether these “crepuscular marsupials” settle down when it is really dark. Is all the roadkill a phenomenon of the hour after sunset and before sunrise? The wallabies we saw are safely tucked away in a sparsely populated rural area, but every time we go out in the car we see the remains of others. Evening speed limits don’t seem to help.
Taking advantage of lovely weather, we’ve been to Seven Mile Beach (where the weather changed), Nine Mile Beach (above, near Swansea), and today Lagoon Beach at the end of the Tasman Peninsula. The peninsula is a big hook, and at the end is the Lime Bay State Reserve. The road ends at a campground bordering the reserve. From there, a trail crosses to the west side of the peninsula at Lagoon Beach. It was an easy walk on a broad, sandy path to a beautiful beach. When the sun shone full on the sand, it looked like the Caribbean.
We picnicked among the dunes with a bit more blowing sand than is ideal, then strolled the shore looking at the seashells, the driftwood, the wombat poop. Wait! What! Yes, we recently read this article and as a result were able to identify wombat scat with 100% accuracy.
We didn’t see a live wombat, as they are mostly “crepuscular and nocturnal” (out at sunset and night). I think they would be afraid of us, but they are biggish (40-70 lb) and I wouldn’t want to get between a wombat and its destination.
We had a lovely walk and beach visit, and an encounter with a wombat’s neighborhood.
We found strange, brown cubes on the edge of the beach, and based on our recent scientific reading, realized that there are wombats living nearby! We didn’t see any, but we saw the undeniable evidence. (click below)
Wellington is not a large city and though it is hilly, the downtown is along the water and easy to walk. Even driving on the left it wasn’t too difficult to navigate. We’ve always been able to find parking and figure out how to pay for it. There are about three coffee shops on each block and not a Starbucks among them (There are only two or three in all of New Zealand). Coffee is served strong, no need to ask for extra shots!
We’ve now been to Wellington twice–both great days. We had to begin with a day of doctor visits. Fortunately, the morning visit was shorter than expected (!) and we had time to visit the Zealandia nature park. It’s a green fold in the land just above Wellington center. I don’t know why it wasn’t developed, as there are suburbs all around. It’s about the size of Central Park in Manhattan and a section of the park is walled and fenced to keep out non-native species. In New Zealand, there are no native mammals, so everything from cats and dogs to opossums and stoats are predators. Native New Zealand animals, including kiwis, never learned to hide from ground predators. There’s even a ground-dwelling parrot in New Zealand. They’re all endangered. We saw tuataras sitting at mouth of their burrows. They look ordinary but are the only surviving descendant of an ancient line of reptiles. For an animal-centric view of this country, read “Notes from New Zealand: A Book of Travel and Natural History,” by Ed Kanze.
There are bird feeders at Zealandia, where we saw Kaka, one of the native parrots. These clever birds have to operate a handle to open their food dish, both to keep them engaged and to keep the other birds from stealing their food pellets.
The walk was lovely and not difficult. One area was closed off to protect the nest of a Takahe, an oversized purple gallinule that is only found in New Zealand (endemic). I overheard a staff member excitedly chatting with a visitor–the egg is due to hatch in a week! We get so excited about the little things.
Our second trip to Wellington was entirely by choice, focusing on the Maori collection at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, called Te Papa. The Maori exhibit was fascinating. The sculpture is highly detailed, it is a shame that photos aren’t permitted beyond the entrance. There were some massive canoes, all highly decorated, along with sculpture, clubs, and tools.
From the museum, we crossed the Sea to City Bridge, an art piece on its own, and window-shopped on Cuba St. This is a lively neighborhood of restaurants and shops. Around the corner, we bought a loaf of multi-grain sourdough bread at Leeds St. Bakery just before it closed, and finished with lunch at Florinda’s where Jonathan’s tuatua pasta (pasta with clams) was so delicious that we decided to go clamming the next day.
Our final stop on both trips was Evans Beach. I found a web site that shares places around the world where you can look for beach glass, and I looked up Wellington. Our beach in Te Horo has lots of driftwood but not much glass. Evans Beach in Wellington was said to have beach glass, so we made our way there. We didn’t find a beach, just a few rocky stretches connected by cement walls holding up the highway. We found a less-developed stretch where we could pull over, but most of the shore was rock. The tide was low, so I went down to look at a gravelly spot–and there I found a great spread of beach glass! Jonathan was surprised that I found anything. It was such a surprise that we made a return trip the second time we were in Wellington to return the larger pieces and pick up smaller ones that I can use in my jewelry-making. Wellington is truly a something-for-everyone place.The Wellington waterfront from Te Papa.
We wanted to see the far north of New Zealand. We didn’t get to Cape Reinga, the tip of a long finger of land that points north from the rest of the island, but we got to the knuckles, around Doubtless Bay. One long sandy bay after another stretches along the north end of New Zealand’s north island. We left our spot on the beach near the town of Mangonui to see Tokerau Bay farther along. When we got there, it was the same gorgeous sand beach stretching for miles.
Beachcombing turned up lot of interesting shells, though only a couple of pieces of beach glass. Fragments of mussels and pen shells have iridescent interiors that reflect the sun in stripes of blue, green, and purple. Jonathan found the live oysters growing on the rocks irresistible.
We stayed at the Old Oak hotel, built in 1861 as the Mangonui hotel, renovated many times, and lovely. The small downtown area of Mangonui has photos showing buildings that have been in place since the 1890s. The only difference between then and now is that the buggies have changed to cars.
One of our goals in Northland was to see Ninety-Mile Beach. It spans the entire west side of that northern finger of New Zealand. Vehicles can drive the length of the beach at low tide and it’s a popular tour. We didn’t really want to drive for two hours up and then back, so we went for a look, and saw marks of the wheelies on the sand–at the end of the tour? Jonathan found people clamming along the shore and wanted a bucket so he could take home his own clams, but we’re not going to be home to the stove for two days and that might not be good for either the clams or for us after eating them, so we watched enviously while they worked. I admired the work of the woman who was clamming with a bucket in one hand and her cane in the other. That’s spirit for you.
Our chief souvenir from 90 mile beach was a flat tire. We changed the tire in record time and when we stopped at a wood carving shop just down the road, a woman directed us a few hundred yards to Awanui Tires. According to the young man fixing tires (tyres), the Monday morning rush had just ended and we chatted while he fixed the hole. He held up a strange piece of metal, neither bolt nor screw, that made the hole. We shook our heads and thanked the two men. The entire process from flat to fix had cost us less than an hour. We understood most of what they said…..New Zealanders can speak their own language when they want to and tourists–we’re on our own.
Last stop in the north was Whangarei (Fhan-gar-ey) the only city north of Auckland. Highlights included the Town Basin area where there is a sculpture walk along the water and shops and galleries selling beautiful local crafts. Polished and carved wood and resin from the kauri tree, distinctive and now rare, was one of the highlights.
Among the sculptures in the downtown area of Whangarei is an unusual small building covered with colored tiles and mirror. This turns out to be a prototype of materials and forms to be used in the Hundertwasser Museum. Hundertwasser was an Austrian artist and architect who was captivated by New Zealand and moved here in 1975 and spent the rest of his life near Kawakawa, outside Whangarei. I became aware of Hundertwasser’s imaginative paintings when I was in college. He drew floating cities with forests for roofs, presaging green roofs by quite a few years. He turned to fanciful architecture, building structures in Europe that resemble the work of Antoni Gaudi. He designed public toilets for the town of Kawakawa, a project that proved to be his last. Now, after years of public debate and fundraising, the Hundertwasser museum is under construction in Whangarei, to open in 2020.
On our way out of town we visited the Quarry Arts Center where a number of artists have studios in a delightful tiny neighborhood filled with sculptures of all kinds..
We ended up at Kiwi North, SW of Whangarei, to see the kiwi. They live in a controlled environment that leads them to believe day is night so they will come out to eat. What funny birds! They look like the back half of a cat with a long beak in the front that they use to snuffle about in fallen leaves. When startled, they zip back into their cave-like nest. We watched them in the dark until a keeper brought out food. That drew them out into what little light there was. After eating, the pair scuttled back into their burrow and we went on.
Kiwi North is a central place for culture in Northland, including historic structures moved from elsewhere, a small museum, rotating exhibits, the kiwi, and a series of regional museum/clubs including medical equipment, old cars, rocks and minerals, and others. These are not open on any particular schedule, but the campus-style setting provides a place for aficionados of different things to have a clubhouse/museum. It looks like a good arrangement for all.
Church made from a single tree’s lumber
Looking through a hollow log.
By this time, we had to make our way back to Piha. We packed a lot of looking around into a few days in Northland. There’s lots more to see–we missed the Hundertwasser toilets in Kawakawa! That will have to wait for another time.
What makes the Galapagos strange is not the variety of birds and animals. Most are familiar. Pelicans, cormorants, and other seabirds are in the air, sea lions and iguanas on the beach, turtles in the water. We’ve seen these before, on beaches and in documentaries about the Galapagos. It’s their indifference to us. We ride by sea lions in the zodiacs, and we swim with them. Young sea lions are curious about us and circle as we snorkel, they dive and approach, they hang upside down, even blowing bubbles in the faces of some lucky swimmers. The sea lions flop around in the surf while we stand in the water only a few feet away, they loaf on the rocks as we hike along the beach trails.
In the water with our snorkeling gear, penguins come in for a dip, though they zoom by so fast most people don’t see them. Cormorants and boobies dive for fish just a few feet away. One day we swam in an area where sea turtles were stacked four deep, just hanging in the water. The largest tropical fish I’ve ever seen swim around and below the turtles and sea lions. Some move like flocks of underwater sheep, grazing across the bottom, lazily waving their bright yellow triangular tails. Visitors may not touch any of the animals, but animals may brush against visitors and that’s a bit unnerving. What happens when a turtle wipes their shell on your chest, or kicks you? Do we want to swim along with marine iguanas? The iguanas don’t dog paddle with their tiny claws, but propel themselves along with their tail, like a snake. On shore, they pile up against one another in huge clusters.
The water is breathtakingly cold and an hour is as much as anyone can take. Snorkelers put up a hand to be collected by the boatman. We swim toward the zodiac, the ladder is lowered. We hand in our fins and climb out of the water, get a towel and sit on the black rubber surface, enjoying the heat it has absorbed from the sun. We may sip from our metal water bottle as we wait for the others. When everyone is back on board and our life jackets are on, we head to the ship where we disembark one at a time, wearing our mesh bags of gear so that our hands are free to grab a hand or railing and haul ourselves onto the ship. On a side deck we begin to shed layers of protective gear, rinsing mask, snorkel, fins, wet suit, and then hanging it all up. More flights of stairs to our room to shed the rest of our layers in the hot shower. Once dried and dressed, the wet gear goes back down to the spinner to squeeze out as much water as possible. There may be more snorkeling in the afternoon and we want it to be as dry as possible. Once all the gear is settled, we go for the drinks and snacks set out near our entry point to the ship. The process has taken a while, giving each person time to contemplate what they’ve seen as they transition from sea to land.
For me, snorkeling is a high point, and also the most taxing activity. I wear all the layers I have available: bathing suit, leggings, full body thin wet suit, shorty neoprene wet suit, dive socks, headcover. I wish I had gloves–a complete water ninja. As soon as I get in the water, I make fists and tuck them under my arms to keep my fingers warm as long as possible. I move with my fins and keep my hands tucked in, taking in the view without uncoiling my arms, trying to keep warm as long as I can. Even with all my layers, a wet suit can only keep me warm for about thirty minutes. After that, I either grit my teeth and keep swimming, or I raise my hand and head back. I don’t mind waiting for the others, it is comfortable bobbing with the zodiac, watching for penguins and turtles. I can barely believe I am in the Galapagos Islands, as seen on TV. This week, my life could be narrated by David Attenborough. A segment of his documentary of the islands is shown each evening.
Lonesome George wannabe sticking out his long neck.
Even on land, this trip is a bit surreal—we are really here in the land of the giant tortoises. We walked by two of them on a hike and they blandly watched us as we stared at them, then turned and crept into the bushes when they’d had enough. At the Charles Darwin Research Center, we saw tortoises born this year, just a few inches across, and groups of larger and larger sizes. Tortoises are not released into the wild until they are around 25 years old. Lonesome George, the last surviving Pinta Island giant tortoise, has a place of honor at the center. Since his death in 2012 at the ripe old age of 100+ he is a taxidermied specimen, posed with his long neck extended as though nibbling at leaves on a bush. He left no offspring, but don’t worry. Another tortoise, SuperDiego, has 1000 offspring and counting. We visited tortoises in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island, where they roam very, very slowly around cattle pastures, or what look like pastures. Some have numbers that were carved into their shells years ago, before the development of RFID tagging used now. They ignore us as they munch methodically on grass, leaves, and branches. We tried not to step on them or trip over them. The land iguanas were not troubled by our group of visitors at all, and sat unmoving in the center of the path. We tiptoed around them and continued on our way, circling the next one, the next one, and the next. The lack of fear in creatures, and the multitudes of them, is what makes the Galapagos remarkable. Birds, iguanas, sea lions, sea turtles, and tortoises permit us in their environment rather than hiding from us or running away. Anywhere else, they would be rare or extinct. In the Galapagos, the animals turn their cold eyes on humans and are unimpressed.
Every town in Scotland has a summer festival or agricultural show, meaning that on any given weekend you are within an hour’s drive of at least two such events. We had the Dalbeattie Civic Day on Saturday, culmination of a week-long series of events.
The parade started at 1 pm, led by a pipe band.
followed by activities and entertainment in the park, finishing with fireworks at 10:30 pm. I watched them from the back yard, since by 10:30 I was long past celebrating.
Civic Day princess
Who’s been watching “Land Girls”?
Austin Powers, really?
Soliciting for charity.
Batman and the batmobile.
On Sunday, there were sheep races in Moffat, highly recommended by a woman we met at a farmer’s market. Moffat’s advantage is that the main street consists of two parallel streets on either side of a narrow garden strip. One side can be cordoned off without paralyzing the town. Sheep race from down one block. Viewers can bet on the sheep and the money goes to a different local charity for each of the six races.
“Sheep” and race-caller
Sheep face art
The event opens with jugglers and people dressed as sheep.
How can you tell which sheep is which? Each one has a loony saddle tied around its middle, complete with rag doll rider and a big number. The program has the “names” and “breeding” of the entrants.
Distracted part way along the course
During the first race, one sheep got distracted half way down the course, but being sheep, all the others followed it. They had to be shooed to the end of the route by the brigade of helpers.
When you get a look at the racers, you realize that the sheep absolutely hate this. They try to get back in the pen before the race. A sheepdog gets the group started with the aid of three people shouting and waving their arms. When the despairing sheep realize they can’t get back in the pen, they scurry down to the other end of the course where there is another pen, which they rush into with great enthusiasm. We bet on three races and lost on all counts, but it was a very funny event. Afterward, we debated whether sheep ever die from fright during the races.
The town of Moffat has great pride when it comes to sheep. They have a bronze sheep rather than a famous man in the center of town.
The Shepherd and the Lass.
As part of the annual gala, they select representatives for the year, “The Shepherd and the Lass.” We met this year’s couple at the races.
Moffat is a pretty town, too, very accustomed to tourists. The town center is full of hotels, coffee houses, tea rooms, pubs and restaurants. We wondered where the people who live here actually shop. I assume there is a shopping center somewhere out by the highway. It was another great day.