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Plastic.

I was in a fantastic mood yesterday. Listening to Christmas songs, driving to my favourite beaches in Cyprus. The mood faded fast. I arrived at the beaches we call Esentepe 1 and 2. Plastic. Smalls and pleasure beach. Plastic. Tatlısu and Tal Bel… plastic.. you get the idea.

On the first beach, I drew a 2 by 2 meter square and picked up every water bottle lid I could see. There were thirty. THIRTY!! I picked up a handful of sand and wasn’t presented with flecks of golden shells and drift wood remnants, it was plastic. Worn down, tiny bits of plastic. Boulders seemed to be like magnets to the stuff, around the bottom of each huge lump was a wash of plastic. Bottles, lighters, toothbrushes…

Even writing this now it makes me want to scream. What on Earth are we all doing to this beautiful planet?!

I think about the sea turtles, fish, sharks, dolphins and all the other beautiful creatures in the sea. They are surrounded. They’re bloody helpless if you ask me. We’re all members of the Blue Planet, but we’re intoxicating it. In a few years, if you go for a paddle, you won’t come out with sea grass trailing around your ankle, it will be ripped up cement bag strands or plastic bags. Instead of making the painstaking walk down to the shore over pebbles and rocks, it will be plastic bottle lids and chunks of now unidentifiable rubbish. Golden beaches will be a thing of the past. Crystal blue waters too…

I remember the first turtle nest I ever excavated. The first hatchling I pulled from it was stuck in a plastic cup, unable to move. Nice way to start your life eh? Panicked and trapped. I’ve seen balloons in turtle stomachs, fishing wire in their throats. But who cares right? If you can’t see it, it’s not your problem…

I’m ranting, I know. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not perfect, I know I could use less plastic. But I try to cut down where possible.

– I use a metal water bottle. Why on Earth people have to use one use bottles is beyond me….

– I have a canvas bag for my everyday bag, they fit loads in and so they’re great if you do last minute food shops!

– I never use the small plastic bags when picking fresh fruit and veg, just put them in loose!

– I recycle.

– I reuse glass jars and containers (great for food storage and spices).

– And to the women, I have invested in a mooncup, you should take a look…https://www.mooncup.co.uk

I know I could improve my ways. And I will. I am going to buy myself a bamboo toothbrush. That’s my first step.

I think I will stop there.

But I just want to say. Anyone that reads this, please, please, try and think of one thing you could do to reduce your use of plastic. Just one. Let’s make 2018 clean. Let’s keep the planet healthy.

X

Cyprus Bird Project.

Merhaba!

A few months ago I was told I had been accepted to be project leader for a bird project out in Northern Cyprus. This part of the world is close to my heart, a second home for me. My Mum has a place there and I’ve been visiting for the past 8 or 9 years. I’ve done turtle work and a little bit of birding here before. I was thrilled to be chosen.

I’ve been in Cyprus for nearly a month now. My plan was to do a blog post each week with all the things I’ve been up to. My friend Louise came out to join me because the volunteers for this part of the year dropped out last minute. Her first day here was all go. We had a call saying a live turtle had been found at a beach in Famagusta and so headed there to check it out (the animal rehab group had taken it by the time we arrived). We went to goat shed to move furniture and what not. Non stop! The day didn’t end very well though. Louise ended up in quite a bad car accident. She has been such a trooper through the whole thing. Such a tough cookie! I’m so happy she is finally on the mend and we can even see some of the funny sides to the story. We have got the clothes changing routine down to a T! Needless to say, a lot of field work was put on hold and I stayed at the hospital with her to look after her and keep her company. We quickly picked up that the word for soup is Corba, and my mime skills came on leaps and bounds (trying to communicate medical terms with Turkish speaking nurses is a challenge). Finally we are back at my Mums place, we’ve hung up the tinsel and lit the advent candle. We are feeling as Christmassy as possible in the 20 degree sunshine.

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It’s not all hospital wards and soup though.. I have been doing field work too.

My second day in Cyprus I met with Damla, Robbo and Olkan to discuss my to do list. Check all the wetland sites at least once a month; walk as many beaches as possible to look for turtle strandings; conduct shore bird counts; do some bird ringing and finally, a bit of database work too. Robbo took me to pick up the truck, Hercules, and I headed off back home with a head full of excitement! Before Louise arrived I spent my days doing PhD work. It’s so handy that I can do it remotely!

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I have visited quite a few wetland sights now. Each one has its own unique beauty (even the sewage works site!!). There is a lovely chain of them in Famagusta, each having different species which is brilliant for a days birding. I have seen my first ever Bittern, Golden plover, Grey plover, Stone curlew, Moustached warbler, Sardinian warbler, Greenshank and Woodlark. I’ve seen hundreds of flamingos. They do a funny dance with their legs when they put their heads under the water, must be to get the best grubs in the silt! Birds of prey are fantastic here. Marsh harrier, pallid harrier, buzzard, kestrel and 2 gorgeous pairs of Bonelli’s eagles. Birding has been brilliant.

Aside from bird stuff, I have also been walking a few beaches checking for stranded turtles. So far so good, no turtles! I am going to be writing a separate post about the plastic issue on the beaches. It will probably end up as a slight rant and then a desperate plea for change.

Anyway…

One day I had a phone call off Robbo saying there was a dead turtle found near Lefke and that we should go and pick it up to necropsy. Robbo and I arrived at the persons farm. It was quite a strange situation, he had posed the turtle on a wheelbarrow. A bit odd. Robbo had to persuade him to give us the turtle and we quickly made our exit. In true Cyprus style, the necropsy was conducted on Robbo’s driveway. It was a huge loggerhead male. Very fat, stomach full of seagrass, obviously didn’t die of natural causes. We noticed a few lacerations where the flippers meet the body which were probably caused by fishing nets. It probably drowned. We got all the measurements and samples we needed and then took the carcass to a local University so they could do a taxidermy for a museum on the west coast. I smelt quite bad by the end of the day. A mix of fish and turtle poo.

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All of these mini adventures wouldn’t have happened without the amazing company I’ve had out here. A huge thanks to Olkan and Paul who have helped me in finding wetland sites. They’re both bloody lovely guys! Olkan also introduced me to these amazing biscuit/ bread things called Citlemek. They’re dotted with peppercorns and raisins and taste wonderful! If you find them, give them a whirl! Thanks to Robbo and Damla too for putting up with all the stress of hospital madness. I won’t lie, I had a slight breakdown, they cheered me up with amazing homemade kebabs on the BBQ.

In between all of this the car broke down. Robbo called it “teething problems”. My nana would call it “character building”. I call it a bloody nuisance. But at least I know where the mechanic is eh…..

That’s all for now.

x

 

 

Bird ringing

I’m sat at the airport, waiting to get my flight to Exeter to visit my wonderful cousin Megan, her husband Tom and the beautiful baby Max!

I haven’t written a blog post in ages. I have been so busy with PhD work and I’ve been doing loads of bird ringing.

So, it dawned on me. I can write on the go! I don’t have to be sat at my desk with my laptop. I can do this anywhere. On my travels, constant. Even if it is just a small post.

The past few weeks I have been out in the field doing a lot of bird ringing. For those of you who don’t know, this is where we catch birds in a huge, standing net (called a mist net) and give them individual metal rings on their legs for later individual identification. From this we can get all sorts of informations. Longevity of different species, migration movements, health, breeding season changes…. loads. It is my favourite hobby. I have the privilege of holding numerous lovely bird species, I get to learn lots of new bits of information and I get to see some beautiful field sights. It’s not all good though, sometimes we ring them at a sewage works….

A usual day of bird ringing consists of getting up before the crack of dawn, getting to the field site, putting up the nets and waiting. We check the nets every 30 minutes and take out any birds we have caught; place them in small holding bags to take back to the ringing station.

At the ringing station:

The ringing station can be anything from a foldaway table, car boot parcel shelf or a boulder in a forest. Either way, you need a secure place to hang bird bags, a flat surface to place the equipment and preferably a way of brewing up! Lately we’ve become pretty high-tech and take a camping stove to make toast or a bacon sandwich! We think we deserve it when we’re out for at least 7 hours in the -1 degrees of winter!

So, what do we actually do with the birds. Well, when a bird is caught and without a ring, we use small ringing pliers to safely secure the unique ID tag. This consists of a unique number and letter code and the address of the Natural History Museum in London (to let others know it was ringed in Britain). Of course we have to ID the species first to make sure we fit the right size ring. We then look at different cues of the birds appearance in order to age and sex it. The can be at very fine detail such as the edging to the greater coverts. Once that’s done, we blow on the throat/ chest of the bird to assess their fat and muscle score. This helps indicate the health of the bird! After this we measure the wing length and we weigh them. All this is written down and later added to a huge database with the BTO (British Trust of Ornithology).

Of course, some birds are caught that already have a ring, their information still gets taken and this way we can see where they were previously caught, how long ago this was etc… amazing!

My trainer was telling me recently about a Puffin that was recaught on the Shiants after 37 years!!!

The best bit about this whole process for me is letting them go. I always feel a bit like a Disney princess!

I have done ringing in all weathers. Sometimes I lose all feeling in my fingers and toes it’s so cold! I have ringed tiny wrens up to a magnificent Sparrow Hawk. I can tell you, quite confidently, that the blue tit gives the nastiest peck. I like this though, feisty and small. A bit like me! I have had the opportunity of ringing in the UK, Cyprus and Cameroon. I’m so lucky!

I think my favourite bird I have ringed so far is probably a Kingfisher. The colours up close are hypnotising.

I could go on and on. I love it. But I think you’ve probably read enough for now!

Have a fab week!

X

It’s been a year.

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My Great Grandad wrote diaries. We found a box full of them last year filled with simple sentences to sum up his day. Sentences like “Amie was born today” or “Rita rang today”. Grandy lived to be 101. I remember him sat in his armchair, smoking his pipe, always smiling and always putting up with me and my sister jumping around. I am writing this, sat at his old writing bureau. The hiding place of his old diaries. Back then it will have been filled with lovely stationary, important letters, stamps, an address book and a current diary. Now it contains a laptop, biros, a mousepad, an address book, field notebooks and diaries. Slightly different…..Sometimes when I tell people I write a diary they snigger and say it is for teenagers. I don’t think that at all. Diaries are a part of history. The smallest detail that I write down might fascinate someone in years to come. Why shouldn’t I be able to read back over my life and smile at the little things I would otherwise have forgotten. I get to re-live some amazing moments.

I started writing diaries for my exciting adventures. I have them for the two summers I was at the Marine Turtle Conservation Project in Cyprus; the times I was volunteering on the Isles of Scilly for the Seabird Recovery Project; the field trip to South Africa; a stint of field work in Kenya; more field work in Cameroon; and my recent trip to India.

Last year my Dad got me a lovely leather bound notebook and I started writing a daily diary of normal life. Just simple passages on day to day life for me. Through this, I began my blog. The anniversary of which was a year ago yesterday.

I really enjoy writing this blog. I might not be the most talented writer, but it’s a nice time to reflect on recent events, and sometimes to find a silver lining to certain situations. It’s nice to find the good in things.

I’m going to keep writing. If it was good enough for Grandy, then it is good enough for me. I like to think he’d be quite chuffed.

That’s all for now.

Stay happy.

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A Passage to India: Part 2 of 2

I’m going to take this opportunity to thank our wonderful driver, Sanjeev. His English was limited, and so was our Hindi, but somehow we managed to communicate. A smile goes a long way. He helped me find toilets, suggested nice dishes to eat and always seemed to have a happy mood. On the way to Haridwar we stopped off at a place to eat. There was a small cart outside with a glass cabinet containing various sweet treats. Sanjeev wanted to buy some for his children and offered me one to try. The first was a roll shaped, sesame seed tasting, sweet, sticky treat. The second was a coin shaped sesame seed snack. Both very nice.

Anyway…

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After an exciting week of adventure we finally arrived at Haridwar. The most spiritual place in India. A woman at the hotel arrived with a tray holding a pot of red powder, we each had a bindi painted on our forehead. After a week of being the odd one out (the only woman) and having a mattress on the floor of a shared room I was upgraded. I got my own room with a king sized bed! It was huge! We washed and changed and went to find a beer. Luckily our hotel wasn’t in the centre and so beer wasn’t too hard to find. On the top floor of the adjoining shopping centre we found “Captain’s Cavalry”. It was empty and didn’t have the best atmosphere, but we each had a magnum sized budwieser strong. 5 ft 2 me was pretty drunk after one. A Czech woman and Italian man joined us. They were going to the conference too. It seemed all the foreigners needed booze. We ate tea at the hotel, joined by Dan Stowell, a researcher originally from up North but working in London. He had a lovely falafel type dish and let me try it. Everyone I had met so far was so friendly, it made me less nervous about my first conference experience! That night I didn’t sleep too well. There was a mosquito sharing the room with me.

Joined Michal and Tomasz for breakfast. There was banana! I had this with some Indian style porridge. This is essentially very sweet, very milky semolina. It’s lovely and cosy. I went with Pawel.S to register for the conference and then we had some time to kill before the first talks. The conference hall entrance was lovely, there were bright orange and pink flowers strung down from the arch way and some women were painting flowers on the steps. I love all the colours here. It can’t help but make you smile. The conference began with a long introductory session. Various things were said in Hindi and English. At one point a candle was lit for the Goddess of knowledge. We sat through lots of interesting talks and ate more curry for dinner. In the afternoon me and the Pawel’s decided to go on a tuk tuk adventure. We found a keen driver who offered to take us to the centre for 50 rupees each. We sat in the tiny vehicle and made our way through the streets of Haridwar. It was dark by that point so the candles and lights from the small stalls were reflecting of the shining jewellery for sale and highlighting the heaps of bright flowers piled on the pavements. It was incredible. It reminded me of a flippogram, everything was just whizzing by so fast and colour, noise, smells were transforming before your eyes. Magic. Pawel. R described the scene as “a state of constant festivity”. We found a restaurant to eat in and had no clue what to choose. Luckily there was a man in there that spoke some English and so he ordered for us. Various sauces arrived with the specific, accompanying breads. Masala doha was the best. A huge triangle shaped crisp filled with potato. All of this was washed down with a delightful lassi drink. To a get a tuk tuk back to the hotel we had help from a group of guys who found us another cheap deal. People are so friendly. The interior of a tuk tuk is a delight. Curtains, decorated lamps, patterned ceilings. We had a great adventure.

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Another day of interesting talks was had. Some amazing research on human acoustics and the perception of height and attractiveness. In the afternoon it was my poster session. I was really nervous because there had been a printing error with mine and it was twice the size of everyone else’s. I faced the situation with humour, it wasn’t the worst thing that could happen. I’m glad to say I thoroughly enjoyed it! For those of you who don’t know, a poster session is where a number of participants pin up a scientific poster on their research. Other delegates are then able to walk around and browse the posters and ask any questions. It’s a brilliant way of brainstorming various ideas and to highlight key aspects of your research. I was approached by lots of lovely people who were all extremely interested in my duet matching research. It gave me such a boost in my confidence. I bloody love science! I can do it! After the poster session there was a cultural evening where a local school performed various dances and songs for us. Each dedicated to a different God or Goddess. There was even a yoga demonstration. After the culture overload we headed to Captains Cavalry for food and beer. Quite a few other conference goers sat with us and it was nice to get to know more people.

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Today was another talk filled day. In the afternoon it was Michal and Pawel’s turn to present their posters. A nice addition was a yoga session. A woman wanted to talk to us about Ashtanga yoga practice. There are 8 limbs of yoga, not just postures and breathing. She had the most relaxing voice and went through some principles of yoga practice and different breathing exercises. Did you know…you shouldn’t drink water standing up, you should eat sat down with your legs folded, you should do sun salutation with the sunrise and you should just breathe. After another science filled day we headed back to Captains Cavalry for beer and curry.

Today was only a half day because there was an optional excursion in the afternoon. There was a really interesting talk in the morning about tap-dancing cordon-bleus. Me and the guys decided to skip the excursion and created our own. We all squeezed into a tuk tuk and headed for the hills at the edge of Haridwar city. On our way we passed a school being painted with various pictures and signs. One of them said “Education is the pathway from darkness into light, you are so lucky you can read this”. It stuck with me for a long while, I just kept saying it over in my mind. Yes I am lucky. I hope one day I can give a bit of hope in the way of knowledge to others. I can try. We stopped at the end of a small road and carried on on foot. We just wanted to go higher and further. Our company came in the form of birds, monkeys, pigs and lizards. The Ganges was in sight and looked magnificent. At one point I stopped to take a photo of a nearby macaque munching on some fruit, not realising a few others were sneaking up behind me. I think I swore a little bit when I realised just how close they were. A bit further and we found very big cat footprints in the dirt. Leopard? Tiger? I really didn’t want to find out. Exciting though, proper adventure. We were quite high up and far from the centre of the city but the noise from the cars carried, it was still so loud. In the distance we could see two huge statues of Goddesses appearing from the river. After a while we decided to turn back and get closer to the Ganges. We wound our way through a maze of market stalls. A huge bull was blocking the way at one point, and another cow was sneakily munching on something off a nearby stall. Colour was everywhere. Shining metal of jewellery, vibrant materials to wear, bright white sea shells, aromatic spices. Eventually we got to the rivers edge and I couldn’t resist dipping my toe in. It was warm. All along the route there were small stalls set up with people creating small baskets from leaves and filling them with an assortment of flowers. You could buy them to lay on the Ganges. People of all ages were enjoying a wash in the river. The Ganges being the only physical Goddess in Hinduism. I felt so peaceful being there, the sun was setting and the atmosphere was just perfect. Me and Pawel.R sat amongst the crowd at the rivers edge at Har Ki Pauri to watch the Ganga Aarti (ceremony of the Ganges). Each day, at sunrise and sunset, a ceremony to the Ganges is performed. The Ganges is the divine mother in Hinduism and this site is the most spiritual in Haridwar. You cannot purchase any alcohol within a 10km radius of this point. There was lots of singing and chanting. Swifts were screeching above us. The sky was a wash of purple and orange. It was India. When the ceremony finished we made our way through the crowd and received a bindi off a local woman. We walked for a while through the city and eventually found a tuk tuk to take us back to the hotel. We left the tuk tuk and needed to cross two busy roads in front of the hotel. We crossed the first, dazzled by headlights of passing cars, and ran straight into a line of barbed wire! I came away with a single scratch. On checking the crossing in daylight the next day, there was only a couple of meters stretch of the snagging wire. What are the chances of us meeting it….

The next day arrived and I was still so happy from the previous afternoon. Me and Pawel.R carried on our Indian culture trip with a pre-conference yoga class. A man arrived in a motorbike helmet, work t shirt and a pair of tracksuit bottoms. Then a squad of super lean, super fit lads. Then two other men wearing robes. A lovely selection of yogis. We were told about various aspects of yoga and then went through poses. They were so strict with us, it was amazing. I was complimented on my cow pose. Towards the end we did a session of laughing yoga which was fantastic at releasing lots of energy. You laugh a lot and then relax, surrounded by the vibrations you just created. At the end of the class the yogis demonstrated advanced cleansing. First, they pour salt water into one nostril and out of the other. Then, they use a hardened piece of thick cotton to thread up a nostril, down into the back of their throat and out. No thanks. I’ll just stick to olbas oil for now I think. The rest of the day was full of amazing science. The evening was the social dinner. Let’s just say there was a free bar, with alcohol.

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Next day I felt quite jammy. I wasn’t too hungover. I made it to the first talk. Impressive eh!? Lots of interesting talks and then a quick trip into the centre of Haridwar for one last explore. Captains Cavalry was our final stop. We needed beer by this point. And curry.

The next day we made our way back to Delhi. The traffic was crazy and the driving was even worse. After 7 hours we made it, in one piece. We rested and enjoyed our last taste of proper curry.

And that was it. My first trip to India. Definitely not my last.

This country is too difficult to describe properly. Reading back I just don’t know how to get everything across. Of all the countries I have visited so far, India is without a doubt my favourite. I felt so welcome and happy the entire time I was there. I can’t wait to explore more in the future. It has made me want to bring more peace into life. Why worry so much?

Namaste.

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A Passage to India: Part 1 of 2

Namaste,

I don’t know how it will be possible for me to fit my Indian adventure into two posts. I think describing one day needs thousands of words. There are so many colours flashing before your eyes created by flowers, clothes and spices. The constant sound of car horns rings in your ears as you try to decipher this new form of communication. Humid heat wraps around you, but it makes you smile, you’re extending your summer. A fresh cup of chai leaves a cardamon zing on your tongue, the sweet and milky elixir brewed to perfection and delivered in there individual clay pots. India smells like heat and spices mixed with the muddy musk of cattle. And then there is your sixth sense, the one you use to really see India, to fully immerse yourself.

I’ll try my best, here goes…

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So we arrived in Delhi. We being me, Pawel.S, Pawel.R, Michal and Tomasz. We were all exhausted, I didn’t get any sleep on the journey over. Passport control was testing, it took 2 and a half hours for us to get through, but we were through. The first bird I saw was a ferrel pigeon. Not exactly exotic, but it was soon followed by a Common Myna, already a new species to add to my list. We met our guide Sharad and trundled into the car for the short journey to our hotel. We were staying at Airport Hotel for our first night. We sorted out our rooms, I was sharing with Pawel.S and Tomasz. It was still really early in the morning and so we had some time to nap and shower. We all felt a bit more human after that. We all loaded into the car again and went to find food. Sharad took us to Haldirams, an Indian fast food place. None of us had any idea what we should have and so Sharad took charge and selected a small feast for us. We had roti which is a small, circular flat bread, various sauces using amazing concoctions of spices, paneer which is the mild and soft Indian cheese and then other vegetarian delights. There was a sweet curd filled pastry for pudding and another intensely sweet profiterole sized, deep fried delight. No meat and no alcohol though. We didn’t realise it would be so strict. Our first authentic Indian food was a delight. Refuelled and ready to explore, we headed to the Red Fort. Delhi is alive. There is constant movement, sound and smell. Even the various vehicles are painted in multicolour, most carrying the sign “Please use your horn”. Car horns are a constant, they are crucial to the Indian way of driving. Undertaking and overtaking, weaving and nudging. Cars eventually get where they need to be, just in a very different way to the European norm. And Delhi is hot. Even my knees were sweating!!! The Red Fort is a series of buildings that were once used by nobles of India and even common people. At one point it was occupied by the British when Indian was in the Empire. There was a Mahal within the grounds, Mahal meaning “grand residence”. The Mahal here was built for the same Queen as the Taj Mahal, she must have been really something! After our tour around the Fort we headed to a shaded patch for a cold bottle of coke and a rest. A woman came up to me with her young daughter and asked if it was okay if she met me. Of course I said yes, and the young girl appeared from behind her Mum and shook my hand. I asked her name, but it was extremely hard for me to say, but apparently it means “beautiful being” in Hindi, so I agreed it was a lovely name. My first impression of Indian people is a smiley one. The day ended with a stop off at one of the very few alcohol establishments for a cool beer and then some curry.

An early start for our second day in India. It was curry for breakfast, quite different from my usual yogurt and fruit. We ate what we could and loaded into the car. Our driver was called Sanjeev and he would be with us until our arrival in Haridwar. We had 350km to drive today, I slept most of the way. I was still exhausted from traveling. We stopped a couple of times on the way to Nainital. Obviously we needed lunch and obviously this was more curry. It took us 11 hours in total to reach our next hotel. It was high up in the mountains, surrounded by mist and away from the noise of car horns. We had an amazing surprise at tea time, they served us chicken!

Quite a leisurely morning. Tomasz and I went for a wander further up the hills to try and spot some new birds. We saw several Greater Yellownape, they were beautiful. After a curry fix at breakfast we wandered a 1km down to Sattal Lake. We thought it would be an amazing bird spot but when we reached it it was more like a small resort for local holiday makers. Not many birds after all. A Common Kingfisher made his turquoise presence known as he zoomed by to the nearby perch. We stopped for a coffee before heading back up the mountain. The coffee and tea in India is so different to back home. It is usually very sweet and milky with a mix of subtle spices, usually cardamon. Amazing. Our afternoon was spent in the city of Nainital. It was so busy. The city surrounded another lake and so we just walked down the waters edge. We treated this as a sort of pavement. At the end of the lake there was a small shop, behind bars, selling booze! We stocked up. I got a few beers and the guys got whiskey. Nothing like a cold beer at the end of a busy day.

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Me and Pawel.S woke up early and went for a bird. Neither of us felt 100%, think the enormous amount of oil, curry and spices is a bit much all at once. The views further up the mountain are just incredible. Standing for a minute just made me smile. I’m so lucky. After a masala omelette for breakfast we drove off with Sanjeev and headed to Corbett National Park. On the way I was desperate for a wee and being the only woman in the group, it wasn’t as easy for me to find a spot to relieve myself whilst also keeping my dignity! Luckily Sanjeev understood and found me a toilet in a gym. No side of the road urination for me! After 3 hours we arrived at Gajraj Trails Resort. Curry for lunch and then off on our first safari. We saw Chital (a spotted deer), Sambar deer, Rhesus Macaques, Vervet monkeys and lots of new bird species. My favourite was probably the Greater Hornbill, it was huge. Peafowl were in abundance as well as the wild ancestor of our domestic chickens, Jungle Fowl. 3 hours into the safari and the only sign of a tiger were some footprints left in the dirt. We started heading to the exit and heard Chital alarm calls. A tiger was close. We stood in our jeep, silent and waiting. More alarm calls. Pawel. S had spotted it and so with his direction we were all able to catch a glimpse. A wild tiger. Words can’t describe. We all headed back to the hotel on a massive high. After tea we enjoyed some whiskey whilst being surrounded by hundreds of small, white moths. A nearby gecko was a bit spoilt for choice and just sat, confused as to which fluttering snack it should choose.

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Early morning safari meant leaving the resort at half 5. Being in the jungle was amazing, but the early start, no food and macaron tablets didn’t leave me feeling brilliant. When our safari finished I had to quickly leave the jeep because I thought I might be sick. I was all shaky and faint. Nearby there was a small stall and so I bought a cola do drink and give my bloody sugar a boost. Felt a lot better after that. Beans on toast for breakfast. A nap and a dehydration tablet seemed to help and I was raring to go back out on another Safari. This time we were joined by Alan McElligott,  researcher from the University of Roehampton who was also on his way to the conference. It was lovely chatting with him. His work is on animal welfare and the communication of goats, chickens and cows. Really interesting to talk to. We came across a group of monkeys using some rocks as a salt lick. We were so close and so just sat in the jeep for a while watching. Not far ahead we came across a small group of Indian Elephants. They didn’t stick around for long and soon disappeared into the vegetation. It still amazing me how something so huge can just disappear! On our way home a huge bull elephant was standing tall above some elephant grass. He was beautiful. They are quite different from African elephants. They have a lot smaller ears and they seem to have a more sloped back. Perfect end to another great safari. Table tennis after tea. Pawel. R was stuck with me. We were against Michal and Pawel.S. We lost. I’m really not very good. It was fun though.

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Still felt groggy but got up early and all went for a birding session. We walked down the dried up river bed. Animal  prints were left in the sand. Various bird species, monkeys, humans. A huge group of macaques were crossing, they soon ran into the jungle once they spotted us. We walked back along the main road, every now and then a jeep full of school kids would beep and hands would be waving frantically. Felt really shaky and faint again by the afternoon so skipped the last safari. I didn’t want to feel any worse.

The next day we headed to Haridwar for the International Bioacoustics Congress.

 

 

Being honest

It has nearly been a year since I took the plunge and moved from Manchester to Poznan. I have been writing blog entries about my exciting travels, new friends, new foods, new adventures. Everyone I talk to back home says when they read my blog it sounds like I am having the most amazing time. This much was true for the most part. I enjoyed getting to grips with a new language and culture, I enjoyed forest walks and the cold winter, I enjoyed forging new relationships and I enjoyed the pierogi. I do have to admit something though (which is possibly the most personal thing I have written on this blog), I was also really struggling.

I’m not one for getting homesick. Exploring the world is something I have always wanted to do and I know I’ll always have my family and friends back in England to return to. Moving abroad was a scary prospect but I took it in my stride. Unfortunately, a few months before my return to the UK for a summer break, things got too much for me. Living in Poznan is such a change from Manchester. I don’t feel there is much international acceptance, you’ll have read in other posts of mine that I have been at the end of some negative interactions. There is also a massive issue with sexism. These things, coupled with a massive language barrier, limited friends and hard work, meant I lost myself. I wasn’t Amie anymore. I wasn’t even fussed about birds! It was like everyday was ground hog day and I just had to get through. Each day was one day closer to going home to my family.

I went home to England for the summer. The first few weeks weren’t great. I didn’t realise how much of me had disappeared. With the support from my amazing family I got back on track and my mood picked up. I am now back to my smiling, happy self. It’s strange how things can happen without your control. How the body and mind cope with negative situations and you just can’t keep up.

Whilst being home, I made the decision to move back to the UK and continue my studies remotely. This was not an easy decision for me to make, but happiness and health are the only thing of true value in this world, they are the things that matter most. My team in Poznan have been so supportive of the decision. It has made the whole process a lot easier. I am actually quite proud of the choice I have made. I could have given up and quit or stayed and been unhappy. Instead I am adapting. Adaptation is the thing that gives any individual strength. Whether it’s birds adapting to the presence of a noisy road, or bees adapting to a lack of suitable flowers…Some will adapt at least. Those individuals will be stronger.

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I want people to read this and to think that they can do whatever they need to do. It may be hard. It may be awkward. It may be really annoying. But just do whatever makes you happy.

I now find myself smiling at the little things again. Long-tailed tit song, a fox in the golden dusk light, a really fat wood pigeon waddling around the garden. Even a really good cup of coffee is a thing of greatness now!

Years ago, my good friend Cat told me a quote:

“Let the sun bring you new energy by day and then the moon should restore you by night, the rain wash away your worries, the breeze blow new strength into your being and you should walk gently though the world knowing its beauty all of your life.”

Be happy. Keep smiling. Enjoy life.

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Lollapalooza, Berlin

What a weekend I have had. I write this whilst listening to Bear’s Den, a new band I discovered at the Lollapalooza festival in Berlin (“Above the clouds of Pompeii” is a lovely song). I’m just going to go ahead and tell you all about my first ever festival experience, trying not to make you jealous. Because honestly, it was one of my best weekends yet!

I met Donata on Saturday morning at Poznan central train station. We had decided to pack extremely light for our trip and so it was just me, my bum bag full of essentials and the clothes on my back. It wasn’t a camping festival so there was no need for a tent. We got a train at Poznan and off we headed to Berlin. I mean, how cool is that for a start? A train from one country to the next. Just a casual Saturday morning here in Europe. After a few hours we arrived at Berlin and I instantly loved Germany. Berlin is a buzzing city, full of people of all styles. I must say, I felt quite out of place with my wavy brown hair and short height, the go-to look is straight blonde hair with legs as high as my shoulders!!! Anyway, off of the train and onto the tram, we headed to the festival location along with hundreds of other Lollapalooza goers. Most girls were adorned with glitter and the guys armed with a bottle of beer. Yep, we were definitely heading the right way. By the end of the line the S-Bahn was packed, the doors opened at Hoppergarten and we followed the signs for the festival.

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We were quite early so the queues weren’t that big and we soon got in. There was colour everywhere, from giant flower statues, to a flashing ferris wheel, yep, this weekend would be fun. We had a wander around and made our way to main stage one where some amazingly energetic caribbean music was blaring. We checked the timetable and it was Bomba Estereo. The stage was alive and it was a brilliant way to start the festival, already a new band I’ll happily listen to again. After the Caribbean party we headed to main stage 2 to discover yet another new band, Bear’s Den. A group of lads from England, their music is beautiful and relaxing and a welcome addition to my music bank.

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Now for the first act we’d actually planned to see, George Ezra. We got right at the front row and could barely contain our excitement. I had some crazy idea he might gaze into my eyes whilst singing one of his tunes and fall madly in love with me and we could just travel the world with his guitar. That didn’t quite happen, but wow was it amazing to see him live. After his show we went and got something to eat before the next show. The food options were amazing with choices from all around the globe. Being in Germany we opted for a bratwurst, it was wonderful, they have a spice to them I really didn’t expect! Refuelled and ready for more music we headed back to main stage one for Mumford and sons. I was so excited. This band reminds me of road trips with my Dad back when I was scouting potential Uni’s. There we would be, donuts in hand, singing to their folk style songs, playing our air banjos. To see them live was such a treat for me. The crowd was huge but it just added to the atmosphere. We even got a surprise performance from Baaba Maal, a south african singer they collaborated with last year. This was a treat for me because I love South African music. An amazing two hour show and then we finished the night with another favourite band of mine, Two Door Cinema Club. One of there songs, “sun”, reminds me of my trip to Kenya. Hearing it live was breathtaking. I just looked up to the star filled sky with a huge smile, the noise from the bass shaking my body and making me feel electric. Nothing quite like it.

Getting to our guest house was a small nightmare. The festival organisers hadn’t quite thought through the mass of people that would need to get the s-bahn back to Berlin centre. It was chaos. To cut a very long story (that isn’t all that interesting) short, 2 and a half hours after leaving, we finally got to our beds!

 

Morning of day 2 and we were pretty tired from dancing and our late night but we were so excited for another day full of music. The guest house we were staying at was quite strange. I went to the loo before leaving to find a lady using the facilities with the door wide open. You meet alsorts on travels. Anyway… we set off and were embraced by warm sunshine and blue sky, a welcome change from the rain yesterday. We ate breakfast en-route to the festival and grabbed a caffeine boost from some much needed coffee. Sigrid was the first act of the day for us. We got right at the front again, we were getting pretty good at this festival thing now! She appeared on stage in a flowing, silver skirt, multi-coloured top and pink denim jacket. She’s a titchy, Norwegian singer and her presence on stage is delightful. Full of fun and smiles. Her singing style is really quirky and I challenge anyone not to want to dance to her music. What a way to start our second day.

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Lunch was amazing. I had frozen acai smoothie with an array of superfood toppings. I was recharged and ready for more dancing. We went to see Anne- Marie on main stage one. She said her songs were mainly about bad ex-boyfriends, they’ve not gotten the better of her though, she was full of smiles. Straight from there we went to another stage to see Rudimental. The crowd was fantastic. I don’t think I stopped moving for the entire set.

We needed a refuel and so grabbed some food and a sit down on the grass. London Grammar were next, and I have to say, the singers voice is a thing of beauty. It was nice to just stand and sway and appreciate the talent of the three people on stage. If you don’t know London Grammar I would listen to “Metal & Dust” or “Hey Now” off of there first album. I can’t think of anything better to listen to to just unwind with a cup of tea after a busy day.

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We rushed to the main stage after London Grammar just in time for the Foo Fighters. What an amazing night. The talent of that band is just ridiculous. I’ve never seen a band perform that were so absorbed by music. It was almost superhuman. They were so in sync with each other. I was completely lost in the music, I didn’t care what I looked like, how ridiculous my dancing was, I just wanted to go for it. Even as I write this my throat is sore and my ears are ringing. A reminder of the buzz of it all.

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We left the festival and got ahead of the crowd so our journey wasn’t as long as the previous day. We had to get back to Poznan and so we had arranged a pick up with a man called Paul through Blabla car. Unfortunately he was delayed by 2 hours and so we loitered at Berlin Airport (our pick up spot) until 2:30am. Many coffees later, we finally began our trip back to Poznan. Paul got us back safe and sound for about 5:30. Seeing no point in sleeping, I got a shower and headed to work. I lasted a few hours before admitting defeat and headed home for 40 winks.

 

This weekend was incredible. I am completely smitten by live music again. It has been a while, but now I feel like something has ignited inside me. Seriously, what is more amazing than hearing amazing talent and feeling the sound waves rush through you. It’s electric. Sorry if this was slightly long winded for what is essentially just a bog standard music festival. But I thoroughly enjoyed it. What am I going to do next? Get myself a record player and get my own vinyl collection going. Maybe my blog can become a place for nature and music and travel? A mash up of alsorts. For now, I’m going to go with the beat of life and probably catch some much needed sleep.

If you read this, why don’t you go and find your favourite song or album or artist and just sit and listen. Or dance. Just take a few minutes and smile.

There is nothing better.

Ludlow, Shropshire.

Again, I have to apologise for the lack of blogs recently. Being back at home I have just gotten too caught up in day to day bumbling about. But, I wanted to write a quick entry about a lovely little trip to Ludlow I had this weekend.

It took us nearly 3 hours to drive there due to bank holiday traffic. But eventually we arrived in the sweet town of Ludlow. When I say “we” I mean me, Dad, Molly and Aileen. We were staying in a higgledy-piggledy apartment full of character from its creation back in tudor times. Nothing was level, everything was on a wonk. It was great. We unloaded our stuff and went on a quick wander around the town. There are a few main streets so it’s easy to get your bearings. The first evening was spent at a lovely restaurant called “Bistro 7”. The food was lovely, the wine and gin even better. The evening ended with a slightly drunken draughts tournament back at the apartment. Dad was the winner. It turns out I’m not very good at draughts …

Day two was another potter around Ludlow. This time we went into the market and the different art galleries. Having a walk through the streets let us see all the quirks of Ludlow. Some of the buildings are so old and stick out at all sorts of angles! We also went into the castle grounds. It’s a ruin now, but with a little imagination you can imagine just how grand it must have been. I think I would have suited living back in castle dwelling times. All the door frames were very low, perfect for someone who measures just short of 5 foot 2!! Was there a role as a castle ornithologist? A castle bird ringer maybe? I could have fit right in!.. Whilst we were at the castle we searched for our surname in the database on the computer. It turns out “Wheeldon” originated in Chorley and it literally meant “a farmstead with a water wheel”. We also have our own family insignia which is “Virtue is more excellent than gold”. The database didn’t mention any noble lineage, but apparently the Wheeldon name has belonged to a few good cricket players as well as a convict called Annie who was sent to New Zealand at a mere 23 years of age! After our history lesson at the castle we went down by the river and had some lunch. We then attempted skimming stones, again, this is not a strength of mine. That afternoon we decided to play cards so I taught everyone how to play “shithead”. I kept getting a lot of luck which was very annoying for everyone else. In the evening we had an amazing thai meal and then headed back for more card games. We were addicted!!

The next day we had breakfast out and then leisurely got ready to head home. We stopped off at Delamere forest on the way back for a walk in the sunshine. Lovely way to finish off the weekend.

 

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Javea, Spain.

 

How on earth was this my first time on mainland Spain? Childhood holidays were spent in Tenerife, Mallorca and Minorca, so I felt I had experienced Spain. But oh no…

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I travelled to Alicante from Manchester and enjoyed the relatively short flight. Just enough time for a cup of coffee, a bite to eat and a read of a few chapters of my book (I’ve started the The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin). I landed and started down the steps from the plane. Boom, humidity hit me. I love that feeling. It was evening when I landed so I couldn’t get much of an idea about the look of Spain yet. Travelling to Javea I could see lots of houses dotted around on the hill sides. Yes, it was very hilly. I like that. I met my friend Louise at my bus drop off point. She’s lived in Spain since she was tiny but we met whilst doing our Masters research in Kenya. We were up until the early hours chatting about everything. Amazing first evening.

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Up and out relatively early the next day so Louise and her Mum could run some errands. This gave me a free hour on my own. I walked along the promenade at the port and sat at a sea front bar to enjoy a coffee. The mediterranean sea was glistening and the heat was quite exhausting, but I couldn’t help but smile. Sunshine is just wonderful. England has had a summer of showers this year so I will take any ray of sunshine I can get. Anyway… After my coffee I met Louise and her Mum for some lunch. We had a traditional Spanish dish called Tostada, a baguette type bread sliced in half and topped with chopped tomatoes. Very tasty and fresh. After a refuel we then went to the old town of Javea. This was beautiful. Jam packed full of old narrow streets, all with a different feel and character. The balconies of the buildings all have tiles underneath and so any foot passenger walking below has a lovely colourful view when they look to the sky. There is a huge church in the centre sprayed with bullet holes from the civil war. It was one of the nicest old towns I have seen. We also nipped into a nearby market and I treated myself to some fresh figs! They just don’t taste the same in England, they need heat. The afternoon was spent lounging in the sun and enjoying the swimming pool. We then got ourselves ready and went for a meal and then headed out for drinks. Tequila was had… That is all that needs to be said really.

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Due to said tequila, the next day was a write off. We just sat in the sun and chatted. We had so much to catch up on. Never a dull moment. A speedy evening meal out and an early night was had. Tequila is bad.

The next day was packed with fun. We woke up and left the house for 7 to go on a walk up the hill. There used to be a national park there but it was burnt down last year so it is quite bare now. It was extremely humid but worth the view. We caught the sunrise and it was beautiful. We shared our walk with the swooping swallows and swifts. They always look so busy in their aerial displays. We got back from the walk and then headed to the port to do some water sport. We decided on kayaking. I’ve never kayaked on the sea so it was quite exciting. We had an hour so we didn’t go too far, we just enjoyed being in the sea. The way back was tough, the waves were against us and the sun was very hot. I think it’s safe to say I’ll be sticking to my running, kayaking is tough! I was glad to be back by the end. We got back to Louise’s just in time for her other friend Amie to arrive. Yes, two Amie’s, both with an I E. What are the chances? Amie got settled and then we all met another friend, Sienna, for tapas by the sea. It was so tasty. We had squid, calamaris, pork, patatas bravas, bread with allioli. All so tasty. Spanish food is really nice. It’s so impressive hearing Louise speak Spanish. I want to learn, I’ve told her she has to be my teacher! The afternoon was spent relaxing by the pool. In the evening Louise, Amie and I went for a nice meal. I decided on a salad and that I wouldn’t be drinking. That plan failed. The salad part was fine, a nice tuna one. The non drinking part really didn’t go to plan, I blame peer pressure and tired eyes. I stayed strong for a while, drinking my virgin mojitos and soda waters. But tiredness set in, my eyes were so heavy but it was Amie’s first night and I needed to WAKE UP! One gin and tonic I said.. Just one.. 3 gin and tonics, 2 tequilas and a fruity shot later and I ended up swimming in Louise’s friends (Josh and Sam) pool at 05:30 in the morning, cooking spanish sausages on the BBQ and finally getting home at 07:30. It escalated so quickly. A proper Spanish night was had!

As you can imagine, another day was then spent being hungover and tired. We just sat around the pool and I enjoyed my last day in the sunshine. That evening we went for paella. I have never had it before and I’d been excited to try it. We got the mixed one and it came with langoustines, squid, chicken, pork and octopus. WOW. It was so tasty. I even got complimented on my langoustine peeling abilities. Not bad eh? The best bits were the scrapings from the bottom of the pan, nice and crispy and full of flavour. Perfect last meal in Spain. We sat for a drink at a sea front bar and then headed home. I had an early flight the next day and wanted a couple of hours sleep.

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And that about sums up my trip. Spain is such a brilliant place, or at least, the little corner of it I have seen is. The people, food and lifestyle is so refreshing. Laid back and happy is exactly what I wanted to be on that holiday and it is exactly what I got.

If you haven’t been then I urge you to go. Try all the foods and embrace the siestas and the late, late nights. Enjoy dipping your toes in the mediterranean sea and feeling the humidity on your cheeks. I did. I think it was just the detox I needed.

Spain and Louise, I’ll be back.

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