Categories
Me Nature

whale-watching

I’ve booked a whale-watching trip for tomorrow. I suspect this means a few dolphins and a pilot whale if you’re lucky, rather than enormous skeins of sperm whales stretching as far as the eye can see. But I figure it will also be a good way to see some pelagic birds – skuas, shearwaters, petrels and suchlike. It certainly seems worth a punt.

I am slightly worried that the famous local windiness will result in a trip mostly memorable for the vomiting, but hey-ho, the wind and the rain.

Categories
Nature

Top ten animals – #2, Snow Leopard

What actually got me started thinking about this top ten animals list was a documentary about the Snow Leopard, Uncia uncia. Two film-makers had spent three years in Kashmir and managed to get about two minutes of what of the kind of action footage you’d normally expect from a wildlife programme – the cats hunting, courting, and at their prey. Apart from a few shots of snow leopards walking through rocks, and film of the film makers not finding leopards, most of the rest of the hour-long documentary was filled out with footage taken by automatic cameras set up to be triggered by motion sensors. But the only places they could rely on the cats being were the sites where they marked their territories, so it was basically a whole hour of snow leopards pissing. Which they do surprisingly elegantly.

People just don’t see these animals. They live in incredibly inaccessible areas, they can have territories stretching hundreds of square miles, and even if you do happen to pass within a few hundred feet of one, they’re so well camouflaged for rocky terrain that you’ll probably not notice it.

Here’s a snow leopard in Mongolia:

Photo by Fritz Polking. Courtesy of Snow Leopard Trust, where you can also see some video of snow leopards.

I think that they’re also the most beautiful of the big cats. Look at the colouring! Look at the tail!

Categories
Nature

Top ten animals – #8, Narwhal

I was surprised by how many cetaceans made it into my longlist. Part of it, perhaps, is that the difficulty of seeing marine animals adds to their desirability. And of course a lot of whales are *big*. Anyway, I considered Blue Whale, Killer Whale, Beluga, and Sperm Whale, and though Sperm Whale came closest (Moby Dick!) in the end, I went for the Narwhal, Monodon monoceros.

By whale standards, it’s not that big – the body’s only 4-5m [only!] – although the male’s tusk can add another 3m. What an extraordinary thing, though, that long, spiralling tooth. We tend to imagine that narwhal tusks were taken as unicorn horns because of a coincidental similarity; that one long spiralling ‘horn’ was assumed to be another. But actually, that form, the long helical tooth, is pretty much unique to narwhals. All those medieval images of unicorns were derived from the narwhal horns.

Another picture:

These are really special animals.

Categories
Nature

Top ten animals – #9, Chimpanzee

To see any of the apes in the wild would be a big deal. In some ways, the others are more appealing; the huge but (relatively) gentle gorilla, the mournful-looking orange Orang*, and the currently trendy pan-sexual bonobo all have a glamour to them which the chimp has rather lost, with the PG Tips ads and the years spent hanging out with Ronald Reagan and Michael Jackson. I was even tempted to choose one of the gibbons; they may be ‘lesser’ apes, but they have a hell of an acrobatic way of getting through the trees.

In the end, though it had to be the Common Chimpanzee, Pan troglodytes.

(picture of chimp in the Gombe Reserve, Tanzania, from National Geographic).

The chimpanzees are our closest living relatives, of course. We’re equally closely related to common chimps and bonobos, but I picked P. troglodytes because – well, I don’t know, really.

One thing that’s not always appreciated about chimps is that if you ever see a trained chimp, in a Tarzan movie or an advert, it’s a juvenile. That’s because while a young chimp is cute, trainable and manageable, an adult male is 120 pounds of unpredictable, aggressive muscle. The one pictured above, named Frodo by Jane Goodall in one of her stupider moments, later stole, killed, and started to eat the child of a park employee. Tolkien would be proud.

Chimps aren’t nice. But they are clever. They crack nuts open with rocks, they strip leaves from twigs and use them to fish termites out of mounds, they hunt cooperatively, they’re political; you can even teach them some rudimentary language. They are nearly what we are; we are nearly what they are. They’re the point at which the mystery of evolution comes closest to home, and yet it’s still not easy to think of something like them turning into us.

Baby chimps look more human than the adults, with flatter faces:

At some stage in our evolution, the physical development of our heads became slowed or interrupted in some way. Desmond Morris called us ‘The Naked Ape’, but we’re also the baby-faced ape.

*isn’t it a pleasing coincidence that ‘orange’ and ‘orang’ are almost the same word?

Categories
Nature Other

wireless networks, bunnies

I’ve spent most of the afternoon browsing around the web looking for the best way to fix the wireless network* so that it works everywhere it needs to. I’ve now officially lost the will to live. Here’s a calming picture of some bunnies:

bunnies

*The problem is that the current router (a Belkin F5D7630, since you ask) isn’t very flexible or upgradeable – you can’t plug in an antenna, and Belkin’s own range extender thingy doesn’t work with it. So whatever I do is going to involve buying a new base station. My instinct is to just buy Apple stuff, since all the computers are Macs and will play nicely with it. An Airport Extreme base station and an Airport Express to act as a range extender would (probably) sort out the problem. And they look pretty. But they’re more expensive than the competition. There are various MIMO/Pre-N routers whch should have greater range and might sort out the problem – but if they didn’t, I’d be back where I started, except 60 quid down.

Categories
Nature

Singing Mice

This is a fabulous story, in the Guardian. Make sure you listen to the samples. The sound of singing mice doesn’t seem to freak out the cat, unlike slowed-down blackbird song. Via Metafilter.

[I couldn’t get that blackbird link to work today – I don’t know whether it’s just a problem with my connection or a problem with the website]