Saturday, 30 April 2016

Z IS FOR ZEBRA : A-Z Challenge

Welcome to the final day of the 2016 A-Z Blogging Challenge and my Wildlife Encounters theme.

I began the Challenge in Africa with A is for Aardvark, so it seems only fitting to complete the Challenge in Africa with Z is for Zebra.

We were in the Etosha National Park on our self-drive tour of Namibia. I had a map showing the location of the waterholes because they’re always a good place to view wildlife.

We were heading towards a waterhole we hadn’t visited before when we came upon two Burchell’s zebras right on the road.

The animals were very calm and unconcerned by our proximity: it was a perfect photo opportunity. 

In fact one passed the car so closely I couldn’t fit it in the frame!

In Kenya’s Samburu National Park we saw a beautiful male Grevy’s zebra.

This zebra is chunkier, with narrow stripes shaped like chevrons. It’s the only zebra with an all-white belly.

I have also seen Mountain Zebra in South Africa, but they were so distant my photographs of them aren’t worth posting.

Thank you for following my blog during this Challenge – it has been a real pleasure to meet you and I hope you’ll look in from time to time in the future. 

I usually blog once a week. I have a weakness for running mini-series. Past subjects have been Foreign Markets, Insects and On the Road Surprises – all of which will continue on an ad-hoc basis coupled with new subjects.

Friday, 29 April 2016


Welcome to Day 25 of the A-Z Blogging Challenge.  My theme is:

Wildlife Encounters

When it comes to the underwater world I have some favourite creatures which I’m always thrilled to see. An animal might be elevated to ‘favourite’ status because of its beauty, but more often it’s because it’s unusual, weird, super-ugly or full of character. (see my U for Unicornfish post)

Grey Reef Shark, Fiji
There are certain creatures that my husband and I always point out to each other. In addition to the obvious stars like mantas, sharks or turtles, we have a raft of smaller denizens which we love to see.

Spotted Boxfish, Thailand

In what has become a large repertoire of favourite reef fish one of my all time favourites is the Boxfish, so named due to their shape. 

The first time I saw a Boxfish I was diving in Thailand. I was highly amused. A living, breathing, swimming box? How mad! How wonderful!

Young Adult Yellow Boxfish

There are several species of Boxfish. It took me a while to learn how to identify the different species, not least because these fish look quite different in each stage of their development.

Intermediate Yellow Boxfish

Juvenile Yellow Boxfish, Thailand

When I saw my first baby Yellow Boxfish I was delighted. It was no bigger than my thumb and one of the cutest little fish I have ever seen. 

Juvenile Yellow Boxfish, Thailand
These tiny juveniles can be challenging to photograph because as soon as you approach they do their best to hide from you. I have seen many now over the years, yet I still experience a thrill every time I see one.

See you tomorrow – I’m heading west. Can you guess where and what the last animal will be?

If you want to blog-hop to the next A-Z Challenge blog, please click HERE

Thursday, 28 April 2016


Welcome to Day 24 of the A-Z Blogging Challenge.  My theme is:

Wildlife Encounters

There are about forty species of triggerfish many of which have very beautiful markings. Xanthichthys auromarginatus - or the Gilded Triggerfish is one such fish and I was delighted to see it whilst diving in the Philippines. 

Male Gilded Triggerfish

Blue Triggerfish
Hunting triggerfish are fascinating to watch. They use their fins to flap away debris and squirt water from their mouths in their search on the seabed for prey such as worms or crabs. 

Triggerfish have a reputation with divers as being aggressive. Their aggression is usually triggered (sorry) when they are protecting their nests. 

My husband and I were once attacked by Titan triggerfish when we inadvertently swam over an area of nests. We had fish coming at us from all directions. We positioned ourselves back to back so that we could kick out to prevent being bitten, whilst at the same time swimming out of their territory!

Apo Island, Phillippines

Keeping a wary eye on a Titan Triggerfish
Normally it’s not difficult to avoid triggerfish attacks – but I do keep a cautious eye on Titan triggerfish when I see them.

The Gilded Triggerfish has a reputation for being far more docile.

See you tomorrow – I’m heading west and slightly north. Can you guess where and what the next animal will be?

If you want to blog-hop to the next A-Z Challenge blog, please click HERE

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

W IS FOR WHALE : A-Z Challenge

Welcome to Day 23 of the A-Z Blogging Challenge. My theme is:

 Wildlife Encounters

I am fortunate to have seen Humpback Whales in South Africa and the South Pacific. Here are the relevant (edited) snippets from two of my articles.

 Extract from an English language newspaper in Spain:

The Greater St Lucia Wetland Park is on the shores of the Indian Ocean.  Inland from St Lucia, the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi game reserve is the oldest proclaimed national park in Africa.  At 960 square kilometres, it is far smaller than Kruger, but has a good reputation. We visited the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi reserve first, electing to do the Umfolozi side since we could pronounce it.  

The slightly scruffy town of St Lucia sits at the mouth of the St Lucia estuary. Advantage Deepsea Charters arrange trips to view humpback whales from July to October.  

We boarded the boat directly off the beach.  The skipper gunned the engine and we were soon bucking and slamming through the breakers.  Once past the breakers we were permitted to remove our lifejackets,  although the ocean was as rough as a washing machine.

Three of us joined Skipper Danie on a small viewing platform with a secondary wheel. From this lofty perch we could see for miles.

All eyes were peeled, searching for tell-tale 'blows'; the plume of spray that is a whale exhaling.  My husband spotted a blow.  Suddenly we were chaperoning five humpback whales for a few miles of their mammoth journey south.  

It is hard to assimilate how large a humpback is as you glimpse the curve of a back or the span of a tail as it dives.  The eye thinks it is being deceived, but they really are as large as trucks.

The return to our embarkation point entailed a scary high speed ride so bone rattling I was nearly catapulted overboard.

Air-Pacific in-flight magazine extract:

“Mantas!”  James leapt to his feet and raced out on deck. 
We swiftly followed. Manta rays were breaking the surface two hundred metres from our boat.  

In no time flat we were enjoying an impromptu dive with possibly the most elegant animals to grace our oceans.

For the diving enthusiast, or person who wants to learn scuba diving, there is nothing quite like a dive live-aboard cruise. It gives you the opportunity to live and breathe this addictive sport for several days with like-minded people. Couple this with a cruise around Fiji’s abundance of exquisite small islands and you have a perfect holiday combination.

In addition to diving the reefs around Makogai Island, we made landfall.  Villagers gathered on the beach to welcome us with a song.  We were garlanded with sweetly fragrant leis and village chief Watson shook everyone’s hand…

It was at Makogai that ‘blows’ were spotted.  

Before you could say “humpback whale” we were speeding out in the skiff for a closer look at a mother and her calf as they lazily breached and dove for several magical minutes.

See you tomorrow – I’m heading north west. Can you guess where and what the next animal will be?

If you want to blog-hop to the next A-Z Challenge blog, please click HERE

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

V IS FOR VULTURE : A-Z Challenge

Welcome to Day 22 of the A-Z Blogging Challenge. My theme is:

Wildlife Encounters

The thing about vultures is that it’s easy to focus on their looks and underestimate just how fabulous these birds actually are. Their importance in the food chain cannot be exaggerated.

Vultures act as a clean-up crew which helps stop diseases caused from rotting carcasses and they are fully adapted and designed to do just that. 

African White Backed Vultures on an elephant carcass 
It does however mean that they lack feathers on their heads. Some species also lack feathers on their necks too, (these are the ones that insert their heads inside carcasses to delve for juicy treats). 

Vultures’ abilities as scavengers rely on features like powerful beaks and talons and their ability to sniff out or spot a rotting corpse. These features are hardly endearing to most humans, but believe it or not, I do find vultures endearing. They are so perfectly adapted to do what they do, and there is something strangely sweet about a flock of these mighty scavengers waiting patiently for a hyena to eat its fill whilst also keeping watch to see if they can pinch a  morsel when the predator isn’t looking. 

Feisty, clever, patient and with incredible skills which enable them to reduce a dead animal to almost nothing, what’s not to admire about vultures?

Did you know that a group of Vultures is known as a ‘venue’ and when the group is seen in the air, circling together, it is called a ‘kettle’?

Apologies (again) for the picture quality – these are scanned photos from a Kenyan safari taken before I switched to digital.

See you tomorrow – I’m heading to two locations. The first is south of Kenya and the second is quite a long way east from there. Can you guess where and what the next animal will be?

If you want to blog-hop to the next A-Z Challenge blog, please click HERE

Monday, 25 April 2016


Welcome to Day 21 of the A-Z Blogging Challenge. My theme is:

'Wildlife Encounters'

Amended version of a 2015 blog post titled Touching the Unicorn

The first time someone mentioned unicornfish I was intrigued. Unicornfish? 
Surely the stuff of legends and fairytales! 
Of course the reason for this name is more prosaic. Unicornfish have a protrusion between their eyes, some more obvious than others.  I have to confess to feeling somewhat disappointed when I identified my first unicornfish. Visions of endearing fish in My Little Pony colours were shattered. Generally drab coloured, it is the ‘horn’ that makes the unicornfish instantly recognisable rather than its ‘plumage’.

So, I ignored unicornfish in favour of the flamboyant and flirtatious strumpets of the fish world.

Yet, the unicornfish had something up their metaphoric fishy sleeves that would knock the others’ behaviour into a cocked hat… their curiosity of divers and our bubbles.

Pause for any length of time around unicornfish and they’ll hover above you in your stream of bubbles. There is something enormously appealing about any wild creature that is willing to interact.

Now, whenever I spotted unicornfish on a dive, I would wait to see whether they would approach and hang out in my bubbles.

On the last two occasions that I went diving in The Maldives I enjoyed close encounters with unicornfish. 

The first experience was with a unicornfish who stayed put when I reflexively reached out towards it, allowing my fingers to brush against its surprisingly velvety skin.

The second experience occurred just last month. A unicornfish faced me head on. We looked at each other. I reached out and to my astonishment it approached and touched the tip of my finger with its soft mouth in what felt like a little kiss.

See you tomorrow – I’m heading south west. Can you guess where and what the next animal will be?

If you want to blog-hop to the next A-Z Challenge blog, please click HERE

Saturday, 23 April 2016

T IS FOR TIGER : A-Z Challenge

Welcome to Day 20 of the A-Z Blogging Challenge. My theme is:

'Wildlife Encounters'

This is an edited version of a piece of flash fiction I wrote for an online competition. It is loosely based on a real experience:

The tigress sat high on the ridge washing her face. She pricked her ears. The humans were stirring.
‘Hurry, hurry,’ said Ashok.
In the watery-grey dawn his guests bundled into the jeep.

‘Let’s go.’ Ashok threw the vehicle into gear and they were away, bumping along the rutted road at bone-rattling speed. The stinging winter wind snatched at their clothes. 

They slid to a halt at a waterhole. Ashok examined the sandy soil.
‘Look.’ He pointed at fresh pug marks. ‘The tiger was here last night.’
They raced on. A second waterhole yielded more evidence. Spotted deer barked in alarm. Ashok's head snapped up. He shot off in the direction of the barks, bouncing onto a corrugated track. 

Ashok braked. ‘Shh!’
The deer called again. They scanned the ridge with their binoculars and the tigress sat quietly in the impenetrable vegetation.
Ashok wobbled his head. 'Tiger's up there, laying still.'

The jeep wove up a steep track, negotiating fallen rocks, swaying tortuously. Ashok paused to listen for the alarm calls, pinpointing the cat’s position. As they closed in, she languidly rose and melted into the jungle.

My apologies for the quality of the tiger photos... but they were taken on genuine game drives in Rajasthan!

See you on Monday – I’m heading south west. Can you guess where and what the next animal will be?

If you want to blog-hop to the next A-Z Challenge blog, please click HERE

Friday, 22 April 2016

S IS FOR SHARK : A-Z Challenge

Welcome to Day 19 of the A-Z Blogging Challenge. My theme is:

'Wildlife Encounters'

Here is an edited extract from one of my South African articles which was published in a newspaper in Spain titled 'Facing Fear'. I subsequently wrote a fictional version of this experience which was published on the Cafe Lit Website titled 'Shark Bait'.

Off the coast of Walker Bay, Dyer Island is home to a colony of Cape Fur Seals and the strip of water between the mainland and the island is called Shark Alley.

Our boat was small and the one person cage looked puny, but we were assured that the sharks never attack the cage. It’s the bait they’re interested in, not canned diver.

We lurched out into the choppy water. Eventually the anchor was lowered and the boat sat bucking and bouncing like it was struggling to break free.
Frankie and his crew got to work with tuna bait and a seal decoy. They lowered the cage into the water.

We suited up.  
We waited.
An immense shadowy figure began to circle us. Abruptly it lunged for the bait which Frankie tweaked away to encourage it to stay on the surface and fight for its meal. Spooked, it vanished instead. Another came to investigate the bait.

It was time to go shark cage diving.

I plopped into the bobbing cage, gasping from the freezing water. Unthinking, I hooked my toes through a lower rail in the cage for balance. 

Tension mounted as I waited in the water for a Great White Shark.

Suddenly I realised where my toes were and with a little spurt of fear, jerked them to safety.

After a body numbing aeon, the shout came, ‘Dive down!’

I dropped underwater and there I was, eyeball to eyeball with a Great White Shark. 

This beautiful animal, shimmering and sleek as it sliced through the water inches from the cage made me forget where I was until I realised I needed to breathe.

Great White Shark, South Africa

In the years I have been scuba diving I have had numerous shark encounters.  Despite the bad press, sharks are not scary or dangerous to divers underwater. Shark attacks occur when an animal mistakes a human for prey – all too often it’s surfers who come under attack because the shark thinks the surfer is a seal.

Nurse Shark, Maldives

I have nothing but admiration for these immensely beautiful and important predators in our oceans. 

Grey Reef Shark, Fiji

Scalloped Hammerhead, Fiji

Oh, yes – and please, please boycott all restaurants which serve shark fin soup so that these animals will finally stop being slaughtered before it is too late!

Great White Shark, South Africa

See you tomorrow – I’m heading north east. Can you guess where and what the next animal will be?

If you want to blog-hop to the next A-Z Challenge blog, please click HERE

Thursday, 21 April 2016


Welcome to Day 18 of the A-Z Blogging Challenge. My theme is:

'Wildlife Encounters'

We knew that there were rare black rhinos in the Etosha National Park in Namibia but we were hazy about actual numbers because the authorities deliberately do not disclose this sensitive information. However, we were aware that numbers were low enough that we should have zero expectations of seeing any.

Although rhinos visit waterholes, it’s often at dusk: the time you are obliged to return to your fenced camp, or face being locked out overnight.

Wildebeest at waterhole at dusk
As it was, we cut it fine a couple of times.

We were heading along an empty gravel road. The terrain was scattered with trees and scrubby bushes and pimpled by termite mounds. 

Suddenly there was an almighty crashing and a black rhino hurtled from the side of the road back into the bush.
My husband stopped the car. The rhino was standing amongst the trees, looking straight at us. Clearly the animal had been about to cross the road when we had come along and startled it. But now our stationary car was directly in its path.
 ‘We need to move,’ I said.
‘Isn’t he incredible?’ said my husband.
The rhino pawed the ground. (I am not making this up.)
‘He’s also very big and we need to move,’ I said.
‘Stop panicking.’
The rhino fidgeted and pawed the ground again.
My voice went up an octave. ‘We need to move.’
‘Okay, okay.’
He put the car in gear and we slowly slid forwards. The rhino took a couple of steps towards us. My husband accelerated away.
As we fully registered what had just happened we began to laugh, slightly hysterically.
‘That was amazing,’ I said.
‘Did you get his picture?’ said my husband.
I thumped his arm. 

Since I didn't take a photo of the black rhino in the heat of the moment here are some white rhino photos I took in South Africa instead.

See you tomorrow – I’m heading south east. Can you guess where and what the next animal will be?

If you want to blog-hop to the next A-Z Challenge blog, please click HERE

Wednesday, 20 April 2016


Welcome to Day 17 of the A-Z Blogging Challenge. My theme is:

'Wildlife Encounters'

One of the prime areas to find seriously queer or weird creatures is the Lembeh Strait in North Sulawesi, Indonesia. I have had articles published about this location in Australia’s Sport Diving Magazine and in a newspaper in Spain. Here are a few random extracts from these publications in no particular order:

I was finning slow and low over the black sand.

A flash of electric blue caught my attention. I had been about to swim directly over a blue ring octopus. 

I was far too excited by the sighting to consider the implications of my near collision with one of the most dangerous animals in our oceans.

Pfeffer's flamboyant cuttlefish pulsed yellow and purple when we approached. Longhorn cowfish and helmut gurnards skimmed fast and low.

Frogfish - or anglerfish - in an unlikely range of colours remained motionless no matter how closely we approached; stoical and somehow dignified despite their absurdly comical appearance.  

Hairy Frogfish
I fell for the hairy version big-time. Of course it's not hair at all but skin filaments.  Nevertheless the hairy frogfish looks cute and cuddly enough to pet.

Lethally camouflaged dragonets, waspfish, scorpionfish and lionfish required constant vigilance as we homed in on likely spots in our search for critters. 

Snake eels hole-up in the sand with just their heads protruding. As we were photographing one a ghostly spaghetti-like tentacle emerged from the sand.  It quested blindly for a few seconds before vanishing again.  Never has the underwater world felt as alien as it did for those few eerie moments.

As a dive destination, North Sulawesi is a great place to find unusual, rare and beautiful animals (or queer underwater creatures, if you will).

See you tomorrow - I'll be heading west. Can you guess where and what the next animal will be?

If you want to blog-hop to the next A-Z Challenge blog, please click HERE