Tag Archives: Birds

20 unexpected things about South Africa

I was very fortunate to visit this staggeringly beautiful country and it’s been the most incredible, thrilling, awe-inspiring experience of my life. I feel so blessed to have seen magical places and animals, and meet such inspirational people along the way. It really has been a dream come true, but here are some of the MOST unexpected things I came across during my travels:

#1 Everyone has a braai

Virtually every Friday people have a braai- typically the same as a barbecue with PLENTY of unusual meats. On the menu is a wide variety, including kudu, ostrich, crocodile and the famous Biltong. Accompanied by much drinking, smoking, dancing, star gazing and laughs. And I thought people in Spain liked a fiesta…

#2 Everyone can speak at least 11 languages

You literally walk off the stuffy 10 hour flight from London Heathrow to Joho and hear a myriad of clicking sounds, trills, calls, hi’s, shouts of seemingly unconnected languages. People here are remarkably talented when it comes to speaking different languages, and makes me feel incredibly derisible to only speak a mere two. There are eleven official languages of South Africa: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu. Pheww! Dutch and English were the first official languages of South Africa from 1910 to 1925. Afrikaans was added as a part of Dutch in 1925, although in practice, Afrikaans effectively replaced Dutch, which was then no longer spoken. Thanks Wikipedia.

 

#3 How salty the sea is

This is an odd one- but having swallowed a bucket load during cage diving, sea kayaking, whale watching and surfing… the water is unusually salty compared to the Uk’s Atlantic. This is because the Agulhas Current which passes along the coast is, like the Gulf Stream, one of the strongest currents in the world ocean. It carries warm and salty water from the tropical Indian Ocean along South Africa’s east coast. South-west of Cape Town it makes an abrupt turn back into the Indian Ocean. In this process huge rings of water with diameters of hundreds of kilometre are cut off at intervals of 3 to 4 months. These so-called “Agulhas Rings” carry extra heat and salt into the South Atlantic, making this a key region for the whole Atlantic Ocean. Just take a look at the Etosha salt pans in Namibia, covering an area of approximately 1,900 square miles (4,800 square km). So get your surfers salt sea spray hair-do in South Africa!

Yeah baby, you can work it like this too!

Etosha Salt pans, Namibia

#4 Monkeys will raid your kitchen

Okay so we all know animals like to pinch your food. In the UK its usually seagulls at the coast and foxes raiding your bins at night. But when you see a 50kg Baboon legging it out of your kitchen bearing its HUGE canine teeth…then its rather grotesque bottom to you, you KNOW you’re in Africa. Vervet monkeys, although a lot smaller will also try their hand at pick pocketing. Having said that, within Europe it is possible to see a precocious primate pinch your picnic…Gibraltar in Spain is home to Europe’s only ape (other than ourselves), the Barbary ape. They’re notoriously known for stealing tourists’ food, so even at home you’re not safe!

#5 People smoke like there’s no tomorrow

I thought Spain was bad…but in South Africa, the cheap price of cigarettes (roughly £1.50, or €2 for the best quality makes) means people smoke as if they need it to breathe! The air is consistently filled with smoke, it’s seemingly unreal. SO if you’re a non-smoker like me, a strong Oust spray or perfume is required when you travel, otherwise you end up smelling like a chimney! In addition, the amount of cooking fires people have just about anywhere means you literally walk around smelling like a smoked salmon…yummy if you’re a brown bear. Thank goodness you’re in South Africa then.

#6 How bright the stars are…the wrong way round

When you look up at African skies- you’re instantly taken aback by the shear clarity and detail of our most beautiful galaxy. Billions of stars scattered across the vast expanse of the universe, like eternal diamonds, glinting and constant…but wait a minute, isn’t the Big Dipper supposed to be over there? So this this is to do with the rotation of the Sky. Because the earth is rotating the sky appears to rotate. Viewed from above the north pole, the earth is rotating counter-clockwise. For an observer on the earth, objects move from east to west (this is true for both northern and southern hemispheres). More accurately put, when looking north, objects in the sky move counter-clockwise. Though all objects rotate in the sky, the observed path stars make in the sky depend on the observer’s latitude. Some are always in the observer’s sky, some of the time, and others are never observable. SO don’t get your stars in a twist! Astrophotography is especially remarkable here, so remember to bring a tripod, I was lucky enough to witness a Blue moon too, as well as the crossing of Jupiter and Venus!

#7 Number of cows and quantity of meat you eat

Agriculture is HUGE in South Africa. In terms of cattle, in the UK there’s now 1.84 million dairy cows in the UK dairy herd, whilst approximately 80 % of agricultural land in South Africa is mainly suitable for extensive livestock farming… that’s a LOT OF COWS. South Africa produces 85% of its meat requirements, with 15% imported from Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland, Australia, New Zealand and the EU. Local demand generally outstrips production, even though there are untapped reserves in the communal farming areas. SO THAT’S WHY they have a lot of Braai’s. Of course it doesn’t stop at cows, you can also chomp on Zebra, Springbok, Kudu, Crocodile and the famous Ostrich. If you head over to Oudtshoorn, not only can you ride ostrich and have a selfie..but have a leather bag and burger to go with that. Not my cup of tea but hey!

#8 How cheap things are

Clutching shopping bags, glugging wine, and lounging on pristine beaches: South Africa’s weak rand is drawing few complaints from foreign tourists getting more bang for their buck. According to a recent Post Office study, a Briton buying £500 in local currency can get 22.3% more for their money, or an additional £91.03, compared with one year ago. The current exchange rates from £ to rand are: £1=20.7 South African rand. I mean that’s remarkably weak…having said that, in the past if was far weaker, only now are South Africans able to benefit from tourism. You can get your regular shop for less than a fiver, go out on a safari for £13, get a taxi for £5, fine-dining for £5, accommodation for £10 or less. Hence why there is such a draw to places such as Cape Town and Plett, the strength of the pound in particular means it’s hugely attractive for students too, looking to enjoy their student finance money!

#9 How little locals actually travel

A sad fact that reflects the state of poverty amongst many white and black South Africans. The strength of others currency against the rand and low wages means locals rarely have the spare cash to experience the delights of SA themselves. The median hourly wage in Pounds in the UK (net) is £5.90 versus £1.05 in South Africa. This is something that should definitely be addressed in terms of local discounts, but it’s encouraging to see that in National Parks residents pay half the price. SO we can consider ourselves very lucky!

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#10 The squeaky sound of the sand

The stunning sands of Plettenberg bay, Mossel bay and Knysna actually squeak! When Marco Polo heard them in the Gobi Desert, he believed they were spirit voices. Ancient Chinese literature describes ritual celebrations of their divine power. After generations of mystical interpretations, researchers are finally closing in on a scientific explanation for the acoustics of sand. They now agree that the phenomenon of noisemaking sand is made possible by the action of displacement, which produces musical instrument-like vibrations in sand grains. The exact recipe for noisy sands is still only wholly known in Mother Nature’s kitchen, so next time you walk on a squeaky beach, know that there’s even an equation that science provides to explain why (there’s even a book on squeaky sand…I’m not kidding!

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#10 The light

Probably one of the most magical things about Africa in general is the ephemeral light during dawn and sunset. When I recently visited, the sun rose 7am, painting the myriad of trees and mountains in golden, pink, burnt umber and orange shades. It brings about such a powerful feeling of belonging and inspiration– along with the equally magical chorus of bird song. At night, when sadly we have to see the sun slip away into the darkness, the hues and intense saturation truly makes you feel alive… casting sharp, vivid colours and creating immense silhouettes; a painters and photographers dream. But then as soon as the sun began to set, it seemingly disappears, as if someone has switched a light switch off, to then reveal a vast sky with scattered diamond-like stars winking at you from the distance. Small Cape river frogs will sing you to sleep with their sweet chirpings, as well as the amorous male crickets… (Anyone for “can you feel the love tonight?”) If you’re lucky you can see Venus and Jupiter in the distance, as well as the Milky way, Southern Cross, Dipper, but of course all in reverse in the Southern hemisphere!

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#11 The variety of birds

South Africa is world renowned for being a birdwatchers paradise, from the stunning iridescent plumage of the Orange-breasted Sunbird, to the cryptically coloured knysna warbler- it is most certainly a top-class spot for any avid twitcher. Of the 850 or so species that have been recorded in South Africa, about 725, (85%) are resident or annual visitors, and about 50 of these are endemic or near- endemic to South Africa, and can only be seen in the country. You can literally be walking in your back garden and spot a beautiful Golden Oriole, or hear the rather raucous calls of the Egyptian Geese. But if you’re not feeling adventurous and want to find the birds for yourself, head over to Birds Of Eden in the Crags- the world’s largest free-flight bird aviary- it truly is a class above the ones in Europe. Having volunteered there myself, the sustainability of the project is exceptional and the species you see are truly stunning.

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#10 Lack  of desserts 

I’m no foodie, but even I will indulge in a fruit salad or yogurt after dinner to cleanse the pallet. It seems here your daily food routine is: Breakfast: Granola, rusks or toast, Lunch: jam sandwich, Dinner: Meat and MORE MEAT…veg if you’re lucky! Also people eat REALLY LATE here: between 8-9pm. In Spain I must say it’s quite similar but I think an earlier 7pm dinner suits many of us better so we don’t all feel like an obese lion and have to literally roll to bed with all that meat in your belly. And during winter when the sun goes down by 5pm, you often feel like a torpid bat by 8pm. Slurp it all down with some Rooibos tea if you can, it’s excellent for digesting food!

#13 How empty houses are

Okay, so no, I didn’t break in like my monkey friends so often do to pinch a bag of apples. But the ghost-time quality of the more luxurious houses and overgrown weeds hinted the lack of human inhabitation. Also locals have told us how many Europeans and westerners will buy such homes as holiday get-always and visit during the summer to escape the increasingly wetter winters at home. So Plett is indeed a playground for the rich!

#14 Berg winds

A week after arriving I experienced an intense hot-blow drier wind which was truly glorious, despite it being winter. It’s one of Plettenberg Bay’s unusual weather phenomenon’s, where squally anticyclonic wind blowing off the interior plateau at 90 degrees to the coast will produce a hot dry outflow of air across the coast. It’s a welcoming change from the sharp cold air that dominates during the mornings and evenings, where the berg winds are especially frequent off the west coast and can raise temperatures to 25-35 °C. Humidity can also drop from 100% to 30% or less- a perfect night to go out and enjoy the stars with the clear dry air, or if you fancy a dance, heading into town with no need for straighteners to control that frizz girls… Berg-brilliant!

#15 The frequency with which you have to tip

I have NO problem at all with tipping- it feels good and people deserve it if they are giving you a service. However, so many people are willing to do things for you, as a student you soon run out of money! Literally everywhere: petrol stations, restaurants, EVERYWHERE YOU PARK YOUR CAR, attractions, even toilets! SO carry some spare change with you where you go!

#16 Surfing when sharks are about

Surfers are crazy- I will say this outright. But then again so are most extreme sports people; cavers who risk their lights busting mid ascent, climbers who play with the forces of gravity, and surfers who like to skim on shark infested waters..! But I really admire them; the way they glide over the water, moving their body in rhythm to the waves, tilted their body…waiting for the right moment to execute a move. And also the fact that they’re not in the slightest way deterred if a shark has been spotted. I recently photographed a surfer in Plettenberg Bay who insisted that a small shark close to the shore would pose no threat if he surfed correctly… Needless to say I gave up the offer of a lesson in return for taking photos! Maybe in Australia…

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#17 How many surfers actually inhabit Jeffery’s Bay

Okay so yes it’s the Surfing capital. But still, it feels like a student town but with surfers. It’s an amazing place to be, with such a cool al-fresco feel about it. We visited when it was raining, but they all seem to be very proud of this most ancient of sports, with a buzz in the air even after the International surfing competitions. We just arrived after the infamous Mick Fanning shark attack which was on everyone’s lips. No surfing today then!

#18 The number of activities you can do

It’s incredible the shear range of activities you can get up to here. In the 6 weeks I visited, I literally only had a single day where I didn’t do much, just because of the shear range of places to visit and get up all sorts of adventurous fun! Plettenberg Bay’s position in the Western Cape means it is perfectly situated to enable tourists to lounge and walk along their stunning white beaches, dine like a king (or queen) in many of its finest restaurants for less than £5, launch yourself of the world’s largest bungee, go on horseback ride safari’s, swim with seals, paraglide, skydive, rock climb, surf, see monkeys, big cats, falconry, craft markets, whale watching……The list is endless! The hikes are especially rewarding and offer the most spectacular scenery. Keep checking here for updates on how to do it on a student budget!

#19 How cold their winters actually are

JUST because its Africa doesn’t mean it doesn’t get cold! I initially thought this; perhaps it just me being foolish or hopeful, but I really did expect it to be warmer! My poncho was a lifesaver which I fashioned into a hiking rain jacket, beach towel, pillow and fashion throw… Do take one on your trip as well as waterproof hiking boots, socks, umbrella, rain jacket, warm jumpers and jackets to peel off. It will get warm all of a sudden when the sun comes out, but in the shade it can get to a chilly 10 or 2 at night!

#20 The Kindness of strangers

This isn’t unexpected I must point out, but its more of a beautiful fact… All my life I’ve been told how dangerous South Africa is; that everyone looking at you is simply there to steal, mug or kidnap you. And don’t get me wrong…I’ve had some pretty close shaves since being there which were unpleasant! As well as being stolen from. But the kindness of strangers is something that stands out the most for me: from locals helping 3 distressed girls on a busy motorway with a bust car (yep that happened to us!), to people offering their smiles, inspiration, laughter and reassurance… and now I can proudly say that many of them are now my friends!

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Western Washington University students and I at Addo National Park- my final leg of the journey!

GO TO SOUTH AFRICA- ITS AMAZING!

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London! Tales of Tigers and Talks

I know it seems odd I’ve never been to London before…BUT I grew up in Spain, so never really had the opportunity to go before- and I can tell you, in the words of Patsy, it was ABFAB! I saw the advert to go and see all of my wildlife film heroes, Doug Allan, Steve Backshall, Steve Leonard, Martin Hughes-Game and Lucy Cooke at the Lyric theatre, Shaftsbury Avenue, London on the 15th December. Train tickets were ridiculously cheap (£12 Leeds>London Kings Cross, London>Leeds £9), so I went for it! I couldn’t wait to go to London’s ZSL zoo either, I’ve been growing up seeing all these wonderful places on television and in the news- that it was thrilling to be heading there for the first time. The train journey was very comfortable itself, straight and direct and I got there at 1pm. So I headed off alone into the urban jungle, not knowing where on earth anything was. Even the bus I tried to catch wouldn’t let me pay in cash (WHAT?), only some weird oyster card, so the lovely conductor let me stay on for a bit…then the long trek to ZSL. I eventually got there by 2pm. The little canal along the way was lovely, a small Chinese restaurant was perched along its banks IMG_7539IMG_7897 The zoo was relatively quiet, but then again being a Monday, it would be! So much to see in so little time, I had so little time- less than two hours till it closed! First off- Gorillas. None about, all having dinner. TIGER TERRITORY! Very excited, lovingly recreated habitat, and the mother and two cubs were having a lie about. I hope the photos do these stunning Sumatran species justice- they were truly majestic and it was a special moment to be so close to such a superbly adapted predator. I took many different shots, hope you like them! Taken with Canon 600D, Tamron 70-300mm. IMG_7622 IMG_7646 IMG_7627 IMG_7643 IMG_7592 IMG_7596Fast asleep….  IMG_7608 IMG_7557 IMG_7544 This rather noisy Malayan Tapir had a right old good time calling for food, think its keepers heard it after a moments tantrum. Yes, a Tapier tantrum! Then I went off to the stunning aviary containing a plethora of bird species, truly stunning specimens of southern Africa. One bird that resembled a shoe bill was collecting nest material, lovely to see a bit of natural behaviour. IMG_7694 IMG_7692

Of course there was the “keystone” zoo species that every collection has, the mischievous meerkats and yellow mongoose which were enjoying a little thermal light as the natural light started to fade. The reptile house was equally as exciting, with a variety of constrictors and venomous species alike- my all-time favourite being this Rhino Snake consuming an unwitting mouse. The amphibians in the retile house (yes, that’s a bit weird!), were also fascinating and beautiful, like little jewelled darting flecks that were occupied with catching any conceivable small round thing that moved in their tanks. It’s truly tragic that such resplendent creatures that were the first tetrapods that led to the evolution of the amniotes, and us, are under threat from extinction from the chytrid fungus. Work is being done at ZSL by scientists (and Post Docs!) to work out how to halter this deadly killer.

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On a brighter note, I went to explore some more and came across this sagious looking Galapagos Tortoise having a drink, he seemed to take an age to slurp what seemed a cup-full of water, but hey, he’s in no hurry. This Komodo Dragon wasn’t very impressed by the peering eyes of the visitors, or perhaps it was the cold. IMG_7650 IMG_7663-001 IMG_7666-001 At the far side of the zoo was the especially stunning bird house, with a whole host of incredibly rare tropical species, impossible to take any clear shots, as the “jungle steam” fogged up my lens pretty bad! But the gorgeous feathers and sounds that filled the air were worth it. Along the back were some rather cute Adelie penguins having a dip, and 3 large pelicans that also had resplendent plumage. This one posed nicely for the camera! Flamingos also adorned the little pond.  I then went back round under the tunnel to go to the “Out of Africa” section, and saw some of my favourite ungulates in the world- giraffes! They were busy chomping away on vegetation. The Flamingos were stunning, and the sun was beginning to set casting a dappled orange glow on their pink plumage. IMG_7727 IMG_7741 IMG_7749 IMG_7744IMG_7816 IMG_7815 Pygmy hippos were lounging about into their warm pools too. The Rainforest section really was tropical, with the fog and steam effects accurately recreating a steam forest. Thee-toed sloths (a mother and baby) clung on browsing on fruit whilst the Tamrins swung above our heads. Unfortunately this meant its was downright impossible to get a photo! The Dark World of course was home to my research topic of study! BATS! These were Yingpterchiroptera– the Old world fruit bats which zipped around clicking their tongues (Yangochiroptera echolocate) and enjoying the fruit. The insanely CUTE Potto also lounged about, but was hidden from sight. The “Happy families section” included a not so happy but adorable Asian short clawed otters and Grey Heron. Looked like the heron wasn’t pleased with the otters eating its food…and the otters seemed to take an interest in my camera- thinking it a threat! IMG_7871 IMG_7851

Then I left the Zoo wanting to go to the Natural History Museum…but would have cost me £40+ in taxi fares to get there and back to the theatre…so London Covent gardens it was! Saw the lovely Paddington outside the Royal Opera House. It was such a vibrant city, here are just a few of the photos! Picadilly and Trafalgar square as stunning.The buses were really ODD THOUGH I must say, how can you NOT be allowed to pay cash? IMG_7952 IMG_7914 IMG_7916 IMG_7905IMG_7958 IMG_7903 IMG_7976 IMG_7969 Trafalgar Square with the national Gallery in the background!IMG_7964-001 IMG_7962 IMG_7971 The theatre was a right pain to find, but after much walking and running and asking annoyed Londoners, I found it..HALLLELHUIIIAA! IMG_7993 IMG_7990 IMG_7978 IMG_7959 The talk was BRILLIANT! I even got Steve Backshall to sign my book and he walked right in front of me ahha! Was a fantastic end to an exciting day! I got the 11:30 train back to Leeds, so was exhausted by the time I got back at 3am…then would have a photography job the next day! I will be back for more though London…NHM here I come after the exams! IMG_8009 IMG_8007 IMG_7998

The York Bird and Prey centre

“The sheer power and speed at which a Peregrine falcon torpedoes towards you as you swing its bate is truly a unforgettable experience.”

I visited the brilliant York Bird of Prey Centre, situated in York behind the walled garden at Burn Hall, Huby and houses over 70 different bird species. The place itself was only constructed and completed in June 2013 and has had visitors pouring in, especially when the weather had been good, to see its spectacular aerial displays, held twice daily. As well as this, you can attend the historical talks on the rich culture of Falconry as well as have your photo taken with some of the

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most impressive raptors.

The first aerial display was truly breath-taking. The European Eagle Owl certainly made an impression on visitors, and it was most surprising to hear that they are native to the UK! Such a large owl in our British landscape, a dark shadow to most as it glides majestically through the inky darkness of the night. I have occasionally heard and seen owls during my bat transect walks, but never really known what they were, apart from the time I stumbled upon a Tawny owl with my flashlight, he just sat there perched, blinking with his vastly adorable dark eyes. Such gorgeous birds.

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Then the Barn owls were equally as marvellous with their pale and clean complexion, they most definitely are the Nicole Kidman of the owl world. I must admit though, my favourite raptor has to be the black Kite, Shadow, who unremittingly kept on flying away and ignoring his keeper. It must be said though, that the keepers were absolutely fantastic and cared about their birds a great deal, so much so that they did not have the harness (creeance) and clip on them (or anklets)- and so the birds had the opportunity to fly away, never to return. As a scientist I would say that getting regular meals and favourites, as well as security and a dry home are most likely to be the reason for their sudden reappearance, but I would hope that it would be in part for their carers too.

The peregrine falcon however was the most spectacular of all of the birds. Such a small birds and yet the 120km/hr speeds it can reach are truly incredible. How such a small animal can reach frightening high speeds without doing any internal damage is what makes evolution extraordinary. The female that was used in this particular display was released for roughly an hour, and eventually, with such a high metabolism, the bird is forced back down to take the bait as the hydrochloric acid in its stomach consumes the last of its calories- hunger eventually gives way.

My friend got the fantastic opportunity to “jump train” her by swinging the bate and then releasing it as she came closer. He took a while to get the swing of it, but then again she was in no hurry to take it! She must have had a rather hearty breakfast prior to her flying. This is the basic application of how a falconer will train their bird, on the principal that their hunger will allow them to trust them enough to sit on them- this is called Conditioned Reinforcement (CR). These predators are solitary and so therefore would never really be in the presence of another bird let alone another species!

After the displays, we walked around the centre to look at some of the other intriguing species, one of my faves being the little owls and the cheeky Caracara– he also performed during the display and hopped around most of the time, trying to pinch the contents of your bag! In the wild these opportunistic raptors are the bandits of the Californian desert, and will actually hunt in teams to capture their prey. The vultures were also a great viewing, their sulky appearance can be deceiving, if they weren’t behind the cage they would sooner be flying off to scavenge than apparently seem recluse and skulk like a teenager.

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Falconry really is a fascinating tradition, if you want to get started or want to learn more, here are a few websites which I found rather useful and interesting:

http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Falconry/Training_Hawks

http://www.themodernapprentice.com/basics.htm

I got to hold a beautiful eagle towards the end of the day, rather heavy but still able to hold him. All staff were so friendly and volunteered to help clean, look after and do the talks. They were really knowledgeable too, and clearly passionate about what they did- so refreshing to see! I would again highly recommend a visit, I must admit it was a little tricky to find, its probably easier to punch in the postcode to Burn Hall next to it, then park up further along and walk straight in. I bought a Wowcher! Ticket so £6 for two people to enter was a bargain, and we were lucky it was such a sunny day too! They also offer falconry courses if your interested as well as private displays. I will most certainly be visiting again, keep an eye out for the videos I will be posting up soon.

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Ilkley Moor

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A splash of mauve grey and lilac contrasts prominently against the verdant green fern fronds, the rarity of azure skies made the scene one of even more serene beauty and wonder. Ilkley Moor certainly deserves its place amongst the expanses of the Jurassic Coast and the Lake District as a Site of Specific Scientific Interest, situated snuggly between Keightley (that’s “Keethly” to a Yorkshire person) and Ilkley, West Yorkshire. It was formed during the Carboniferous period some 325 million years ago, back when the moor was seeped by southern bound rivers and channels- creating a steamy tropical swamp-somewhat different to today.

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The force of the water chiselled away at the rock and the deposited sediment was as a result of the incoming ebb and flow of the rather tormentous tides- certainly what the UK is rather famous for, with the second largest tidal range in the Bristol Channel! The highest being in the Bay of Fundy, Eastern Canada at Burntcoat Head, of 11.7 meters. The moor is now well above sea level at 405m. The sediment eventually under the compaction pressure and eons of time formed hard rock layers. All manners of geological forces tilted the strata creating a continuous rippling of fractures and crevasse within the rocks, which is what makes this place a popular haunt for climbers. Further north are Rocky Valley and Ilkley Quarry, near the remote and little known village of Ben Rhydding.

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During the last Ice age, the glacier that shaped the wharfe valley cleaved its way through, smoothing the valleys and depositing glacial debris in the form of millstone grit- rather acidic which is what creates this gorgeous little habitat with its heather and scarred rock faces.

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The famous millstone “Cow and Calf” rock formation located at the Ilkley quarry is certainly an impressive rocky outcrop, definitely one to have your photo taken on! It is so called rather quirkily, due to the rocks resembling rather lucidly, a cow and a calf…legend has it that there was once an even larger boulder that once resided next to the calf and its mother that was deemed to be a “bull” but sadly this was said to be quarried during the 19th century spa boom… shame, would have felt more like home!

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It was my first time on the moor and it certainly was a perfect day for a hike. Armed with my GoPro, 600D and Wainwrights sketch note book, I felt ready to capture the memories! I am sorry to say… but I did pick a little heather, please don’t arrest me Natural England!

This very hardy and resistant shrub coexists with a whole host of other perfectly adapted species such as bracken and wavy-hair grass. The three species heather include cross-leaves, Bell-heather and Ling, the latter being the most prolific. Bilberries are scattered amongst this delicious assortment of green and lilac which apparently makes for an equally delectable summer pie. The almost jewel-like quality of the cranberries gives a splash of red to the scene, and adds a little flavour and spice to the otherwise cooler palate of blues, purples and greens.

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I felt very fortunate to see the stunning Red Grouse that reside here, one was hidden amongst the heather, and decided that he wasn’t very happy with me trampling on his favourite foraging site, and defiantly leapt up whilst uttering “ughghghghgghghgghhhh!” It almost has a clacking quality to it. Nevertheless, I pressed on determined to get a shot of him from below, as to not scare him further. He seemed to relax and I got the shot! See what you think.

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A smaller family were foraging on seeds, heather, berries and small insects. You can appreciate how well camouflaged they are from a distance; it was only till I stumbled upon them on the trail that I noticed them. However, it seems that they unphased by a fell runner, so I crawled a little closer to them to get some more shots. The bees were whizzing around the lilac flowers adorning the heather like little crocheted accessories, the locals actually sell honey which is especially made from this particular flower- will have to try some! http://www.denholmegatehoney.co.uk/

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I even spotted a Lizards tail as it dived into a heather patch… I thought I was seeing things- reptiles living in the UK! There are many brilliant bird species such as the cuckoo, Hen Harriers, Hawks, Kestrels, Plovers and starlings. It’s really easy to visit this historical site, you can get the X84 bus up or the train to the town, then it’s only a 10 minute walk up to the Moor itself, which is marked out with its Cow and calf café as well as the actual rock. Here is a link to upcoming events; I certainly will be joining the bat and GPS one! http://www.ilkleymoor.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/foim_events_2014_web1.pdf