The spectacular Spectacled Bear

I try to keep my posts short, but this one is longer than usual. I have just returned from Ecuador, having seen some beautiful, fascinating natural wonders, so there will be a series of posts as I organize my photos and my thoughts.

The main driving force behind my itinerary was my desire to see a Spectacled Bear, otherwise known as Paddington, who lives in both “darkest Peru” and darkest Ecuador, being no respecter of national borders. Rather than keeping you in suspense, let me tell you that I found one (actually seven):

P1140357

So here is the story. They live high in the Paramo climate zone of the Andes, in this case at 4,300 meters, or 14,500 feet, in the Papallacta Pass in Cayambe-Coca National Park. There is a road through the middle of the park:

P1140435

But other than that it is gloriously wild, with a few gravel roads, and the very occasional trail:

P1140459P1140568P1140621

The park ranger hadn’t seen any bears that day:

P1140606

But over the course of three days with the help of my guide Andrea, and local Quichua guide Rodrigo (at left) and his father and brother we found them. (Despite their solemn faces, they were actually a cheerful, smily family, and very good at finding bears!)

P1140584

Only one was close enough to photograph; the others I saw through binoculars or indeed Andrea’s scope, including the highlight, a mother and two tiny cubs, the mother with perfect spectacle-shaped face markings.

The bears’ favorite food is a type of spiky bromeliad, which they eat just like we eat artichokes, discarding the leaves and going for the soft centre, which also contains their favorite grub.

P1140472P1140585

Getting closer to the bears is very hard because the terrain is composed of huge thigh-high clumps of grass, with no space between for your feet. It is steep, and you gasp for breath every few minutes because of the altitude.

 

P1140326

But Andrea spotted this young male bear, who moved out of the open into a clump of trees, but then he emerged on top of one eating the berries, and stayed there, watching us closely, as we trekked through the grasses to get a closer look.

P1140337

So I succeeded in my mission,  and can tell my grandson that I took Paddington to visit his family in South America.

P1140391

Also hunting for the bears were two young German wildlife film-makers, who had not got a single shot in 8 days before we arrived. I am glad to say they eventually caught up with the mother and cubs and apparently got some footage, but meanwhile they left their hat on their tripod, and so Paddington indeed seems to have come back home… (thanks to Andrea for noticing this, and for the photo!).

image5

The shots the BBC failed to get..

As you know the BBC broadcast Autumnwatch from Sherborne last week, and they really  wanted good footage of the local deer in daylight, not just on infrared, but they found them quite elusive. So I thought I could supplement their coverage with these shots, both taken in 2013 in Sherborne.

The first shot is of fallow deer, a single buck and a lot of does!

Fallow deer. One buck, 20 or so females

The second shot is of roe deer, with fresh antlers still covered in velvet, in the grounds of Sherborne House en route to eat our rose bushes. Judging by the way he is licking his lips, the daffodils also tasted good.

White markings round mouth are distinctive of roe deer.

I do admit, however, that the BBC caught footage through the trees of a pair of deer rutting in the woods, so not surprisingly they win this lop-sided wildlife photo contest.

Snakes in Shoreditch

My usual way of learning to look carefully at wildlife is to take photos, but last night I tried something new. I went to Shoreditch (London’s Brooklyn, but cooler) to a drawing class run by Wild Life Drawing, http://www.wildlifedrawing.co.uk, a wonderful idea started by Jennie Webber. They bring wild (or wild-ish) animals, give you paper and pencil, and let you draw them for a couple of hours. In the past they have had raptors, and wolf cubs, but this time it was snakes.

They are all rescue snakes abandoned by their owners for some reason. This is Peanut, a 14-foot long Burmese Python, investigating one of the artists.

IMG_9213

As some of you know, our son Andrew once had a boa constrictor, so I am comfortable around snakes, but this was the biggest one I have ever handled. Luckily Burmese Pythons are typically quite docile, and if it was your first snake experience you would never recoil from them again.

IMG_0226

Harking back to an earlier blog post of mine, his underside is pretty stunning too. Notice the large horizontal scales that he uses to grip as he moves.

IMG_0844

There were also four smaller snakes, including two Royal Pythons, and a Corn Snake. (The pumpkins were in honour of Halloween).

IMG_8239

I was 30 years older than anyone else in the room, and some of the others did beautiful watercolours or charcoal sketches. My drawings are not as impressive, though this smaller Royal Python seemed to like it:

IMG_0551

The larger one got bored:IMG_5212

We gathered a substantial crowd outside the windows who couldn’t quite believe what they were seeing. One small child came in to pat the biggest snake.

Many of these drawing sessions support wildlife trusts, which in addition to rescuing animals perform an important educational service, with open days and school visits. If anyone would like to know more about this reptile rescue centre, they are called Snakes Alive, http://www.snakesalive.co.uk.

IMG_1968PS: All these are iPhone photos, but they came out OK.

PPS: Since this is a posting from London, I decided to use British spelling!

Where the BBC and me spend our autumn

Every evening this week the BBC nature unit is broadcasting Autumnwatch from my village in the Cotswolds. So I thought I’d show you a corner of it, all photographed yesterday.

This is the Broadwater, a stream turned into a chain of small lakes by Lord Sherborne, and now sadly silting up because the National Trust has made a decision not to dredge them.

P1120648

There are fewer over-wintering ducks than there used to be, but we still have wigeon and of course mallard.

P1120630

And the swans and egrets are there year round.

P1120666

Away from the water, there are jackdaws, and horses too…

P1120613

(The weathervane is on top of the old stables block, they did things in style in those days.)

Urban life

Back in London, in the very centre of the city, I have a tiny courtyard back garden, heavily shaded. Even there, all kinds of life goes on. There are parakeets, but they won’t let me photograph them. So instead I have settled for a late bee! There’s very little nectar around at this time of year, but in a not-very-well-tended corner of the garden this bee has found my Fatsia japonica flowers.

P1120592

The flowers are tiny, but there is plenty of pollen for the bee to dislodge:

P1120579

and then carry on its hind legs to another flower.

P1120555

Undersides

I’ve left Maine, but going back through my photos I thought I’d write another blog or two from the summer’s joys.

Most of the time we look at the tops of things, because that is the first view we get. First impressions may be important, but looking underneath yields further pleasures.

The crusader moth is dramatic from above, P1080628but when it takes wing there is a flash of orange,

P1080618

and if you can persuade it to pose for you its underparts are a bright rusty shade.

P1080633

This enormous mushroom is dramatic enough (it weighs over 50lbs),

52lb Berkeley Polypore

but it’s underside is a maze of frilly canyons.

And the giant swallowtail butterfly is just as exquisite from underneath:

P1070609P1070589So don’t be content with the surface of things.

Summer’s end

I leave this evening, so a last few photos to help me remember through the winter.

The natural world is preparing in different ways, getting ready for a time when food will be scarcer. The animals seem to emerge from the woods a bit more, like this pair of ruffed grouse crossing the road by my house:

Ruffed grouse

My red squirrels are collecting, eating, and storing the nuts from the hickory tree inside its hollow tree trunk..

P1110838P1110641P1110864

The paper wasps are frantically building their nests, laying a single egg in each cell, then sealing it up.

P1120173

A late dragonfly, a Shadow Darner, was hunting through my flowerbeds.

Shadow Darner

And the lake is serene.

P1120170