30 November 2011

Wild Britain: S02E05: North Uist

This week Ray is in the Outer Hebrides. Off of the North West of Scotland, the Outer Hebrides is a chain of islands, of which North Uist is one.

Beginning at Loch Maddy, the largest sea loch on the island, we see that the loch has a large tidal variance. This ensures a variance of environment too, with plants – such as seaweed – and animals having to make a living wherever they can. Seaweed is a massive part of our lives, containing minerals and vitamins, and also used to be used as fertiliser. Crustaceans also use the seaweed, but this time for hideaways, in an attempt to create a successful hideaway from the birds that graze on them.

Going under the water, we look at Bladder Rack, a type of seaweed that grows in deeper water. We see the array of life that exists on the seabed. This includes some sea lettuce that Ray snatches as an ingredient for his supper, along with some large scallops! The scallops are fried and then eaten with the sea lettuce which is eaten just as is.

There is much evidence of hunter gatherers on the island, along with the transition to farming. We see a burial chamber made of many rocks. Because the burial chamber has been left alone for such a long time, it is ideal for slower growing flora.

A quick lesson in tracking teaches us that when we find a trail, we need to look at where the animal may have been heading. Then to look for a trail, such as grass that has been worn down in one direction. Also to look for scat, which will also give you an idea as to what they have been eating.

Ray then goes cruising to see a 2003 reintroduction to the area. The White Tailed Sea Eagle, with a wing span of up to 8ft. Birds are plentiful on the islands and seem to thrive. Watching a playful otter is a fun part of the episode. As with everything with these 22 minute episodes, we see some great things – but always in doses that are just too short.

28 November 2011

Book Review: Ice Master

It's 1913. Your leader has gone on a 'hunting trip' promising to be back in two weeks - two months ago. Your wooden ship is trapped on an icepack and drifting. Your main source of food is pemmican, a concentrated mixture of fat and protein. While you kind of know where you're drifting, you also know there's nothing you can do to change what's happening. The key question that echos through the minds of the scientists and crew is, 'How will it end'...

Jennifer Niven has written a wonderfully readable account of this ill-fated mission. At over 400 pages (of small font size), I never once wanted the book to end. Jennifer has done a great job with the research and weaves the accounts of the crew and scientists together into a coherent story. One that has us rooting for the good guys and feeling, to put it midly, distain for the less than good guys.

Today has been the first real day of cold weather since last winter and it had me thinking that if I feel cold now - what would I be feeling like fighting for survival in the Artic environment. That's what this book does, it puts you in the mindset of being there. Willing these people on, even though these things happened nearly 100 years ago and you know there's nothing you can say or do to change the outcome. It then leaves you thinking about them and the situation, coming back to the story even when you've finished reading it. I feel for every person that was stranded with the Karluk.

Captain Bartlett truly was a Ice Master, without whom all hands would have been lost to what, at most times, was a frozen and desolate wasteland.

For anyone interested in adventure, cold places, or just a fasinating true story - read this book. You won't be disappointed.

Own or Loan:         Loan
Read Again:           No
Recommend:         Yes
Overall out of Five:3

Dundas Basin

23 November 2011

The Adventurer's Guide to Britain

A quick post to say that this might be a good watch:


20 November 2011

Wild Britain: S02E04: Norfolk

This time around Ray is exploring the wildlife of Norfolk, East Anglia. Specifically looking at the environment of a lowland river, looking in, on, and around the River Wensum. 

A handy tip that Ray gives while looking at the river from one of the foot bridges is to take polarising lens glasses so that you can see into the river. Without them the glimmer of reflection of light on the surface of the river block any visibility.

The first creature we look at is the crayfish. The white clawed crayfish is the only crayfish that has adapted to the English rivers, having been native since the end of the ice ages. We need to watch out for the American crayfish, which carry a disease that is a plague for our native crayfish, as well as predating them. If the American crayfish do take over, it’s only a matter of 5 to 10 years before the English crayfish is wiped out. That’s the thing I like about this series, Ray talks to local experts, quite often experts from the Wildlife Trust of the area he is showing us. It really shows that he wants to give us the right knowledge, rather than just getting the information from Wikipedia and regurgitating it for the camera!

We hear that Wensum originates for the word winding. We next look at the plants of the river, from Woody Nightshade to Watercress – the deadly to the edible.

Looking at the little cliff edge of the river, we see Kingfisher nesting sites. Sticklebacks and Minnows would be its’ diet. Settling down into a hide and attempting to call a kingfisher, eventually works. The Kingfisher lands on the stick that Ray noticed mud deposits on, close to the nesting hole.

In part two we start with a traditional flood meadow, mowed by longhorn cattle. The cattle trample the ground, creating a diversity of plants and micro-environments for invertebrates. Southern marsh orchids, yellow rattle, ragged robin, and horsetails, are just a few of the plants that thrive in the flood meadow. This encourages a whole food web of animals. 

Bird netting is next, with Ray talking to people at a nature reserve along the Wensum. Apparently bird netting takes 2 years of training and requires a licence, but is important for understanding diversity and health of the birds along with the year on year rise and fall of numbers. We see that the Marsh Harrier has recently experienced a comeback of sorts. Over the past 10 years, more Marsh Harriers have been seen overwintering along the coast.

One animal that is still under threat is the water vole. Due to the American Mink and declining suitable habitats have lead to this. We have a wonderful sighting of the water vole, but are brought back down to Earth by the fact that over the past 40 years, the population has crashed by 94%. This is where the episode ends, but where our thinking about nature, the outdoors, and how to protect all of our wildlife should begin.