Blog Site by Appointment to His Regal Majesty the Maalie King

He who would be a Leader, let him be a Bridge

Crown Copyright: The Royal Maalie Court

Monday, October 27, 2008


My pumpkin! Watching the pansies!


Samhain is the Pagan Festival on 31st October that celebrates the end of the harvest season. Lying midway between the Autumn Equinox (Mabon) and the Winter Solstice (Yule), it is popularly regarded as the Celtic New Year. Like Halloween, it represents the tipping point between autumn and winter, and certainly it has been exactly that in Cumbria this year.

I returned from my travels to find Cumbria in the full mellowness of Autumn.

My research site, Roudsea Woods and Mosses National Nature Reserve, filters the autumn morning sunshine...

...while the trunks of silver birch trees reflect the sunlight...

...and fallen leaves gather on the surface of a flooded gully...

... while fruits of the Spindle Tree ("bishops' hats") provide an unexpected splash of colour

The stragglers of the summer migrant birds have finally departed, to be replaced by flocks of invaders from the north. The thrushes from Scandinavia like this handsome Fieldfare with his grey head and rump and black tail...

...and the Redwing with its bold eye-stripe and red underwing are now in evidence.

(Click on the pictures to locate the source)

Birds like this Marsh Tit (my study species) are coming back to feeders to snatch a sunflower seed

And then came winter...

Almost without warning the wind turned northerly and overnight saw the first frost of winter.

Cumbria awakes to find the fields covered with a layer of hoar frost...

A frozen flooded meadow catches the dawn light

Water freezes into crazy crystals

Samhain sunset, a few minutes from my doorstep

Fruits of the season, a variety of apples, pumpkin, mushrooms, walnuts, chestnuts, turnip and a of course an apple pie with full cream custard, washed down with vintage cider

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Lemurs of Madagascar

During the geological Eocene Epoch there was emerging in Africa a class of mammals that took to the trees and became primates. When Madagascar became isolated some 80-100 million years ago, some of these primates were geographically isolated from the "parent" population on the mainland. Those on the mainland progressed and radiated like a "family tree" into the primates we know today (monkeys, apes and Man) whilst those isolated on Madagascar evolved along a separate route and diversified into the present-day lemurs.

There are about 75 species of lemurs surviving on Madagascar, of which we saw about twelve.

The tiny Mouse Lemur - the smallest of the lemurs. It may be hard to imagine that this little fellow is our cousin (having evolved from a common primate ancestor). However the orbital convergence (forward facing eyes to give "binocular vision); the manual grasping hand with opposable thumb; the presence of finger nails (rather than claws); and the relatively large cranium (required for the eye-limb coordination in an arboreal life) are all clues.

The Bamboo Lemur - another very small lemur

Ring-tailed Lemurs are among the best known. They live in troupes and spend considerable time on the ground

Do you like my tail? The tail held high is considered to be like a "flag" that other members of a troupe can recognise

A Verreaux's Sifaka looks for a tree-top breakfast in dawn sunshine. You can see here the forward-facing eyes and manually grasping hands that are typical of primates

When crossing open spaces the Verr- eaux's Lemur prefers to "dance" his way across ...

...which is tempting to think this could represent the origin of Man's bi- pedalism (upright walking). However the lemurs diverged from mainstream primate evolution long before the hominids appeared on the scene. It may may however be be a case of convergent evolution.

A female Verreaux's Lemur with a young one clinging for dear life to its mother while she forages through the trees in gathering dusk

A Red-tailed Sportive Lemur peers inquisitively at us from his lofty perch in the Zombitse National Park

An aptly-named Wooly Lemur in the Ranomafana National Park

A beautiful Diadem Sifaka clings to a vine in typical lemur fashion

A Black-and-white Ruffed Lemur demonstrates articulation skills in its arboreal habitat

The "king" of the lemurs, the Indri, keeps a watchful lookout in the high forest canopy

We were lucky to find a family group of Indri moving through the Madagascan rain forest in the PĂ©rinet National Park

The tail-less Indri moves effortlessley through the jungle in search of leaves and fruits

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Madagascar wildlife

Here is a sample of Madagascar's wildlife

A chamaeleon. You find him hard to see? That is how he is meant to be!

Maybe is is easier to look him straight in the eye!

A tree boa sleeps away the day - he hunts mostly at night

The Radiated Tortoise is endangered, surviving only thanks to captive breeding programmes

A lizard emerges from his nocturnal hideaway to warm up his blood in the early morning sunshine

A three-eyed lizard treads deftly on the hot sand

A day gecko clings to the side of a building as he looks for flies

A giant fruit bat glides through the forest

A ring-tailed mongoose on the hunt for lizards and geckos...

...or a delicasy like this giant millipede (about 6 inches long) that crawled out from under my pillow

A giraffe-necked weevil, though no-one can think how it got its name...

A male weaver bird brings a straw to weave into his nest

The curious Hamerkop, an egret-like bird, hunts for frogs in a paddy field

The Black Egret forms a parasol with his wings, enticing little fish into the shade

A gaggle of White-faced Whistling ducks keeps an alert look-out for predators

A Madagascan tree fern

This post excludes the Madagasacan wildlife speciality, the lemurs. This will be the subject of my third post on Madagascar

Monday, October 13, 2008

Madagascar (Part 1)

The Traveller's Palm, the national symbol of Madagascar. The laterally compressed tree grows aligned east-west so a traveller can get his bearings without a compass. The orientation of the leaves collects water for a refreshing drink and there are other features which are of practical value to travellers.

Madagascar is an island lying off the south-eastern coast of Africa. It became separated from the continental land-mass some 80-100 million years ago and its isolation has resulted in a biodiverse flora and fauna, of which a very high proportion are endemic species. I have just returned from a two week trip to Madagascar, with the Travelling Naturalist tour company.

A Madagascan village
Madagascar was colonised by humans about 2000 years ago with peoples from Asia and Africa, resulting in a rich genetic diversity that became geographically isolated into some 18 distinct ethnic groups. The island has a comparatively large population of about 20 million, most of whom live in extreme poverty.

Zebu, the humped ox, is the staple meat diet...

... and the zebu cart is the principal form of transport

Coastal tribes use out-rigged canoes to gather seafood from the coral reef

Although desperately poor, the children always have smiling faces and are ready for a "kick-about" with a make-shift football whenever we stopped near a village
The vast proportion of Madagascar is under agricultural development. However there remains some natural habitats now protected as natural parks where it is illegal to damage native species. Broadly speaking, Madagascar has desert and sub-desert habitats, but with tropical rain-forest to the east of the central divide where the saturated prevailing easterly winds from the Indian Ocean drop their rain.

The sub-desert "spiny forest" dominates the arid areas to the south and west of Madagascar

We were lucky to see these spiny forest plants with their green shoots and flowerheads after a rare rainstorm during the previous week

A Bayabub grove in the spiny forest. There are six species of these curious trees endemic to Madagascar (there are only two in the whole of Africa).

Bayabub trees gathering the rising sunshine

The rocky Isalo National Park in central Madagascar

Rainforest to the East of Madagascar

Our lodge set in the rain forest

Mamy, our local Malagasy tour guide. A football fanatic , here seen wearing his beloved Swansea City shirt!

Part 2 in this series will depict some of Madagascar's wildlife