Sunday, June 30, 2019

Okanagan Beauties

The rock outcrops in the Provincial Park were fine vantage points on which to sit and pass time watching the steadily unfolding view across Lake Okanagan, and ideal places.... wait patiently for the wildlife to come to us. These are cedar waxwings, part of a group of half a dozen which ignored us - as waxwings do - in their hunt for berries from the shrubs that surrounded us.

They must be the smartest of all birds. Sadly, I have only seen waxwings twice before, once in Scotland, where a lone waxwing visited us one Christmas day, and once in Edmonton, where a large group made themselves very conspicuous in the trees in the ravine below our son's house.

Swallowtails are the most spectacular of butterflies, and the Okanagan boasted at least two species. The yellow one is a western tiger and the black-and-white a pale swallowtail.

Nor did the dragonflies disappoint. This species was the most common and very difficult to photograph as individuals wouldn't sit still for more than a moment. It's an eight-spotted skimmer.

Saturday, June 29, 2019


The poppies which, in our absence in Canada, had seeded themselves and shot up at the end of the garden, are now past their best but have deepened the mystery of their origins by proving to be of three different types.

Most of them are this multi-petal type, which are mainly bright pink though some have a lilac tinge. Each plant has had a dozen or more blooms, so they've been quite spectacular.

Rather fewer are singles like this one, which seem to do best in attracting insects, from bees to hover flies to beetles, including....

....this bright green one which sports the most impressively developed rear thigh muscles. It's appropriately called a fat-legged flower beetle Oedemera nobilis of which only the male has these legs.

Then there are some which appear to be hybrids of the two above types and, finally....

....there are some uncommonly beautiful specimens of the common red poppy.

Gill has suggested that they may have come from the bird seed. Perhaps there is a secretive bird here which sows as well as eat.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Lake Okanagan

From Golden we travelled southwestwards to the shores of Lake Okanagan in British Columbia. A six-hour road journey is nothing by Canadian standards: not only are their roads superb....

....though the high passes at this snow-free time of year are busy with road improvements, but the price of petrol, in Alberta at least, is little more than 50p a litre.

We stayed in a rather different sort of cabin from the one at Golden, part of a lakeside gated complex in woodland, with all mod cons. The development had been sensitively done, compared to one....

....on the other side of the lake where the forest had simply been cleared to make way for dense housing, most of it, presumably, second homes.

We were also fortunate to be right next to one of British Columbia's many provincial parks. These are superbly maintained with toilets, picnic areas and well-designed camp sites. The upper part of this one was wilder but popular with mountain-bikers, so the sense of wilderness was somewhat lost.

It was, in any case, a naturally noisy place, the high-pitched shriek which continued for much of the daytime coming from these 3cm long crickets.

The woodland was home to mule deer which strayed across the fence into the gated community. While not entirely tame, they had little fear of humans, as when....

....this new mother, who had produced her young in the park campsite area, ran towards us when she was disturbed by people with dogs.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Cecil Moves to Zanzibar

By 1934 Cecil had had enough of Beira and was able to get a job in Mombasa through contacts he had made there when he passed through the town on his way from Port Sudan to Beira. He accepted a job with the African Mercantile (AMCo), a big, London-based ships’ agency and general trading company covering East Africa, on condition that he could have 'home' leave early as he hadn't seen England since leaving Port Sudan. He moved first to Zanzibar, leaving all his possessions, including a car and some very fine Persian rugs from his Port Sudan days, with his fiancee, Frances.

In this picture, my father is, very unusually, in a swimsuit. He had quickly made friends in the very cheerful environment of Zanzibar, including with Bunch Jones (left), who was later Helen's great friend and who worked in the Education Department. This picture from Cecil's album shows a group of them at Mangapwani (top picture) on a picnic.

He didn't stay long in Zanzibar before moving to Mombasa to the AMCo shipping department. While the office was much happier place than the one in Beira there were still problems: Cecil's immediate senior in the shipping department drank and was terrified of the general manager, and the assistant general manager spent most of his time on the shipping side, of which he sadly knew very little, which caused Cecil considerable irritation. To make up for it, the bachelors in the Mombasa mess had some pretty hilarious times.

Not very long after his arrival in Mombasa he received a letter from Frances breaking off the engagement as she had fallen in love with a young man employed by the Shell Company, and offering to return the engagement ring. Cecil told her to keep it and all the things he had left with her, including the brass trays and Persian rugs he had bought in Port Sudan; and he threw a party in the mess to celebrate the end of the engagement.

Cecil was soon courting Camilla, the daughter of the Manager of African Wharfage. She had a collection of young men and Cecil maintained that he got up to No.1 but fell from grace when he arrived somewhat inebriated to collect her for a party at the mess and she refused to come.

In 1936 the manager of the AMCo branch in Zanzibar went on leave and Cecil moved there to take over the office while he was away. By that time Helen Wilson had arrived in Zanzibar.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Golden Dragonflies

One of the highlights of our visit to Canada was that the ponds, creeks and cut off meanders of the Blaeberry River near Golden in British Columbia were home to a mass of dragon- and damselflies.

I don't think I have ever seen so many of these fascinating beasts skimming across the water. This smart individual is a male belted whiteface (Leucorrhinia proxima) while.... a pair of belted whitefaces form a 'wheel' as they mate.

The most common species in the area at this time of year seems to be the boreal whiteface (Leucorrhinia borealis)....

....the female being almost identical to the male except she uses a browny-yellow in place of his brilliant scarlet patches.

Her colour was picked up by this common species, the four-spotted skimmer (Libellula quadrimaculata).

Nor was the area short of damselflies, of which this one, the northern bluet (Enallagma annexum), was the most striking and common. By contrast....

....I have struggled to identify this damselfly, partly because I only managed one picture of it, with many of its features hidden. Its distinctive grey eyes suggest it may be a powdered dancer, Argia moesta. Does it matter?

Monday, June 24, 2019

Back into the Suffolk Countryside

For the first time since returning from our Canadian adventure a week ago we walked today into the Suffolk countryside to the west of the house, heading for the village of Kirton. In the month we've been away the crops in the fields have shot up, to the point where potatoes in one field were already being harvested and the wheat in another looked almost ripe.

I was looking for dragonflies and, as might be expected after the cornucopia of Canada, the numbers in the Suffolk countryside seemed disappointing but not the variety: we saw at least six different dragon- and damselflies, often sunning themselves along the paths cut through the crops, including....

....a number of male black-tailed skimmers, their blue abdomens almost luminous, and their rather duller....

....but still pretty female versions.

This one looked different from anything I had seen before but it turned out to be a species we'd often encountered but at a different stage: this is a teneral female, teneral meaning that she has only just emerged from the larval stage so her exoskeleton hasn't hardened. As a result she is very vulnerable to predators and is unable to fly well - which probably explains why she was so loath to move from her hiding place.

There were also plenty of common blue damselflies, some of them in mating wheels.

We went to Kirton, a walk of some six kilometres, to do some shopping, this in a dormitory village sadly lacking in services: it has two churches, a primary school and a village hall but its village shop has closed and its only other facility is a pub which doesn't open until 4pm. However, Kirton does have....

....a very traditional blacksmiths which doesn't have an internet presence and about which we only heard by word-of-mouth. We located it using Google maps (above, opposite the pub) and have now ordered a special washing line post at a very reasonable price.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Move to Kilchoan

From the time of our first visit to Ardnamurchan in 1993 we kept going up for our holidays as often as possible and finally decided to take another look at the shop. It wasn't in any better condition but in 1996 we made an offer for it, which was accepted.

What we bought was the house at left in this picture, a one-time cottar's cottage, along with the attached wooden garage and Calor gas compound, the shop which is to the right of the house and a large store room beyond it, and the petrol station on this side of the road. The previous owner's accounts were in a mess so we didn't know whether the business would make money but felt that it was time to make a change in our lives. David was at Felsted and could travel up for his holidays, the older girls were making their separate ways in life, and Rachael could attend the local primary school.

We left Maldon on 1st January 1997. The weather was cold, with snow on the ground. We drove to Shropshire to stay with Tony and Hilary, then on to North Wales, where Lizzie and Tom were working in an architect's practice. We spent the night with them, and then headed north, our next stop being Oban, where we met the accountant we had been recommended. The following day, the 6th January, we were in Fort William to meet the lawyer and drove on to Kilchoan that evening in a white frost. All the waterfalls were frozen so Rachael called them icefalls.

We stayed in a house in Kilchoan and spent a great deal of time in the shop learning how to run it, while Rachael joined Kilchoan Primary School. Despite considerable problems with establishing the ownership of the land on which the shop buildings were sited, mostly caused by our lawyer's dismal failure to carry out the proper searches, on 21st January 1997 we moved into the house next door to the shop and took over the business.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

International Painted Ladies

This morning, a painted lady settled on one of the many clover flowers on our lawn. These lovely butterflies arrive in Britain after a long migration from Morocco and, at the end of the year, migrate back again. However, since an individual lives less than a month, each butterfly arriving here is the result of several cycles of reproduction upon the way; and then they do the same on the way back.

It seems a very complicated and precarious way of life but, if they get it right, it's highly successful: thousands can appear at their most northerly point.

Imagine my surprise when some of the butterflies which came to sip nectar from the lilac flowers at the Buffalo Ranch in British Columbia were also painted ladies! They have a similar migratory system to the Eur-African ones, travelling from Mexico to the northern United States and Canada and back on an annual journey of up to 15,000 km (9,320 miles).

It happens that 2019 is a bumper year for the American version, prompted by good rainfall near the U.S.-Mexico border where the painted ladies feed on thistle and stinging nettle and lay their first batch of eggs. 

I simply do not understand how the same species exists on two sides of the Atlantic, following identical ways of life. Did they evolve and colonise both continents before they drifted apart as the Atlantic opened? And do they maintain their species by regular interbreeding across the Atlantic?

Friday, June 21, 2019

'Animals in Africa'

Here's another book which has survived over six decades of travels and, more recently, what is called 'downsizing' - 'Animals in Africa', an A4-sized book of photographs taken by a lady whose professional name was Ylla.

I don't know who gave it to me but it is most likely to have been my parents, probably in the last days of a summer holiday in Mombasa as a gift to take 'home' to England, a gift which would remind me of Africa. That I was at Glengorse indicates it was in one of the years 1954, 1955 or 1957 - the summer holiday of 1956 was spent in the UK.

Black and white photographs are integrated into the test, which was written by LSB Leakey, the famous palaeoanthropologist who was then Curator of the Corydon Museum in Nairobi, while the colour photographs are stuck on to thin black card pages.

By today's digital standards Ylla's pictures aren't spectacular - not until one considers the cumbersome equipment she was using and the risks she would have had to take to capture them. What is impressive are the animals she pictured: elephants with magnificent tusks and rhinos with horns that probably don't exist in the wilds of East Africa today.

When I looked up Ylla on the web, Wikipedia stated, "Ylla (born Camilla Koffler; 16 August 1911 – 30 March 1955), was a Hungarian photographer who specialized in animal photography. At the time of her death she 'was generally considered the most proficient animal photographer in the world'."

Ylla's 'Animals in Africa' was the result of a 1952 trip to Kenya and Uganda, where she spent three months. The book was published in 1954.

In 1955, Ylla was fatally injured after falling from a jeep while photographing a bullock cart race in India.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Buffalo Ranch

Near Golden, a small town in British Columbia which nestles in a trench between the Purcell and Rocky Mountains, lies the Rocky Mountain Buffalo Ranch where one can hire a cabin (at left in the picture). We had hardly climbed out of the car before we spotted.... anise swallowtail feeding on the nectar of a lilac bush which stood beside the picnic table.

Suddenly we were back in wilderness relatively untouched by man, in a place which.... well as being home to a herd of semi-domesticated bison....

....had a nearby river, the Blaeberry, which acted as a corridor for migrating herds of deer and their predators, including cougar, grizzly bear and wolf.

We didn't see any of the top predators but we did spot a coyote as we walked down to the river. In the mixed woodland and on the pebbly outwash of the braided river bed we found a wealth of wildflowers including....

....scarlet paintbrush, also called indian paintbrush....

 ....sitka columbine, a spectacular species of aquilegia, and....

....two orchids, yellow ladies slipper (above) and the more modest but delicately pretty round-leaved orchid.

This is the sort of place where I feel at home. While humans are taming the wilderness nature keeps coming back, so every new day there is something to see, something to excite.