In the green heart of Africa, on the edge of the Albertine Rift where the land shifts and splits, dense rainforest covers the mountains. Tourists come to these forests to spend a peaceful hour in the company of mountain gorillas. The gorilla families go about their business. It is just another day for them. For their visitors, it is an experience they will not forget.
But the gorillas, and the troops of chimpanzees that whoop and shriek in the canopy, and forest elephants that can knock down trees but can also disappear into the darkness like ghosts, are only a…
Western Australia was where I fell in love with Banksias. I had seen Scarlet Banksia (Banksia coccinea) in bouquets and floral arrangements, but there was something not quite real about these spectacular flowers when they were snipped off their stems and stripped of their leaves and presented in a neat and artificial setting. But at Waychinicup, in the south-west of the state, I saw Scarlet Banksias in their wild, wind-blown, insect-nibbled glory.
Only a handful of Banksia species grow along the east coast — and even fewer in the Wet Tropics, where I live — but the south-west of the…
It had been raining for days, and rivers were spilling over. Some said it was a one in a hundred years event, others were sceptical — one in ten years, maybe. It rains a lot on Chiloé Island.
The wooden bridge was closed to vehicular traffic, but the guard let us go through on foot. We were not planning to cross the river. We stopped halfway, raised our binoculars, and scanned the trees for kingfishers.
Only one species of kingfisher lives on the island. The Ringed Kingfisher is a handsome steel grey and rust-red bird with a pure white collar…
Baobab trees are said to grow upside down, with their branches deep in the earth and their roots reaching into the sky. Between earth and sky, the bulbous trunk is unlike that of most other species. It is filled with spongy tissue that takes up water to see it through the dry times. It sees people through the dry times too. The baobab is a precious tree.
While my intrepid and energetic friends slogged up the mountain to look for the spectacular Black Sicklebills, I wandered around the lodge grounds, where the local guides had established a garden filled with plant species native to the New Guinea Highlands. They had built it both as a showcase of the extraordinary diversity of the country’s flora, and as a place of peace and beauty. It achieved both aims.
I am on a cliff at the edge of the ocean. The tip of South America is 600 kilometres to the West, and Antarctica is somewhere to the south. The wind shepherds white-caps onto the beach and rushes up the cliff face to sweep across the springy turf. The air tastes of salt.
A Southern Giant Petrel glides past, the tip of one long wing a few metres from my face. A water drop clings to the bird’s pale green beak. We look into each other’s eyes. And then the bird slips away on the wind, its curiosity satisfied.
Name: Showy Mistletoe
Relationship: It’s complicated.
As wildlife spectacles go, the dance of the Mistletoebird is at the modest end of the scale. It is an intimate moment between bird, bottom, and branch. But the world is made up of intimate moments, and one after another they lead to other things.
The Mistletoebird is a flowerpecker, the only Australian member of family Dicaeidae. Like other flowerpeckers, it feeds on berries, especially those of the showy mistletoes (family Loranthaceae), which are named for their brightly coloured blooms. …
On the first day of every month, my local native plant nursery releases its latest stock list. And I watch their website like a hawk, waiting for the update. What new species will they have for sale? How many of them will fit my collection policy? And will I break my self-imposed rules if they offer something really unusual? (Spoiler: Yes. Yes, I will. In a heartbeat.)
This month, I treated myself to a Mount Blackwood Holly (Graptophyllum ilicifolium, Acanthaceae). Also known as Holly-leaved Fuchsia, it is neither a holly nor a fuchsia — those common names come from the…
And, “Do we meet once again?” said a zoophyte to a seaweed (a Corallina ) in whose company he had been thrown ashore,– “Do we meet once again? This is a real pleasure. What strange adventures we have gone through since the waves flung us on the sands together!”
Margaret Gatty, Parables from Nature, 1855
In the late Georgian and early Victorian eras, seaweed collecting was a popular pastime among those who had the means to escape the smoggy cities and travel to the coast to take the air. Women gathered these ‘flowers of the sea’, and dried and pressed…
Warty, and snorty
In January 2020, I was birdwatching in Uganda with a group of friends. It was the last overseas trip we would be taking for a while.
We saw extraordinary animals. At Lake Victoria, we witnessed a Shoebill (a definite weirdo) catch an African Lungfish (another weirdo). You can see photos and read about it here:
In the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, we chilled out with a family of Mountain Gorillas (not weirdos), and on the savannah, we accompanied a ranger tracking White Rhinos (weird-ish). …