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Archive for the 'Nature' Category

Spider Cures and Superstitions

While doing some research for one of my books, I came across several superstitions regarding spiders. On the whole spiders are considered positive, and many people protected them from harm because they were considered lucky.

Here are a few superstitions:

1. If a spider is sighted during the evening, expect a letter in the morning.

2. If you kill a spider, it will rain the following day.

3. If you see a spider running toward you in the morning, misfortune will follow.

araneus diadematus

What I found slightly disturbing is that spiders were used to cure diseases such as ague, whooping cough and to treat bleeding.

The spiders were:

1. Swallowed as a medicine, disguised by jam or treacle. The spider was swallowed alive.

2. A type of pill was made enclosing the live spider in cobwebs and this was swallowed.

3. The spider was enclosed in a nut or a linen bag and worn around the neck until the spider died.

Not so good for the spider!

Spider webs were also used to bind wounds and stop bleeding. I’m not sure how well this works, but I think I’ll stick with plasters rather than experiment.

The use of spiders as medicine contradicts the idea that spiders were considered lucky.

An Orkney saying goes: If you wish to thrive, let the spider go alive.

While a Devon saying goes: Who kills a spider, bad luck betides her.

Where do you fall on the spider scale? Are they lucky or unlucky?

Source: The Penguin Guide to the Superstitions of Britain and Ireland

The Lost Moa

The moa is a flightless New Zealand bird that became extinct around the arrival of Europeans. There were several types of moa, the largest of which was taller than a full-grown man.

They had long necks, big sturdy clawed feet, an ostrich-like body and soft brown feathers that were almost like fur.

Moa in Auckland Museum

In 1993, three trampers reported seeing a moa while hiking near Authur’s Pass in the South Island of New Zealand. They walked around a corner and came across a large reddish-brown bird. The bird ran off but former British Army Commando, Paddy Freaney took photos of the bird and the footprints it left.

The sighting made world headlines. The three trampers were questioned and their stories were identical. The photos were blurry and not positive proof of a sighting. Some people thought the sighting was a hoax to attract customers to Paddy Freaney’s nearby pub. Paddy died in 2012 and never admitted to a hoax.

I love the idea of big birds wandering the plains of Canterbury and other locations in New Zealand. There are still occasional finds of moa bones and sometimes rarer moa eggs. Visitors can learn more about the moa in our museums.

My fascination led me to use these birds in one of my House of the Cat books, Hunted & Seduced. My characters Ellard and Gweneth meet the giant birds while they’re in the jungle on the planet Narenda.

What do you think of the trampers’ report? Hoax or not?

Sirocco: The Kakapo Ambassador

New Zealand has some fascinating birds, some of which are rare these days due to man encroaching on their habitats and predators killing chicks or eating the birds’ eggs.

While I’ve been privileged to see many of our rare birds, I’ve never seen a kakapo. When hubby and I had an opportunity to see one, we grabbed it and flew to Wellington to visit Sirocco.

So, what is a kakapo? It’s a large, flightless parrot—the largest in the world—that is native to New Zealand. Not so long ago, there were only 18 left. A disaster, since kakapo do not breed every year. Breeding depends on whether there is sufficient food, and in the kakapo’s case this is the fruit of the rimu tree.

The kakapo were taken to predator-free off-shore islands where they were monitored and given supplementary feeding.

Sirocco hatched in 1997. As a chick, he suffered respiratory problems and it was decided to hand feed him and treat his breathing problems. Sirocco responded well to the treatments, but when it came time for him to return to the wild and the other kakapo, he refused. He’d imprinted on humans and didn’t recognize his species. The rangers attempted various ways to get him to stay with his own kind. One night, a ranger carried him to the other side of the island sanctuary, several miles away and left him before returning to the rangers’ hut. Sirroco was there to greet him on his return.

Sirocco became world famous when he jumped on wildlife photographer Mark Carwardine’s head and attempted to mate with him. The video appeared on YouTube and Sirocco became an overnight sensation.

These days, Sirocco is the ambassador for conservation. Although he spends much of his time in the wild, he also visits different parts of New Zealand to help raise awareness of the kakapo species.

Hubby and I visited Sirocco at Zealandia in Wellington. We watched a film about kakapo and Sirocco, then walked through the sanctuary to visit Sirocco and his handler.

At 18 years of age, Sirocco weighs 2.5kg and is the size of medium-sized cat. He’s very friendly and loves people. He was so cute – I wanted to steal him. I told hubby and one of the guides overheard me. She threatened to frisk me on the way out.

Sirocco is in a special enclosure with perspex windows. It made photos difficult due to reflections, but I liked this one of me and Sirocco.

Sirocco and Shelley

Sirocco with Shelley (reflection in the window)

IMG_1415

Sirocco, the VIP (Very Important Parrot)

Sirocco has the cutest face with green and brown feathers. We spent about twenty minutes with him, and it went so quickly. It was a privilege to see Sirocco in person, and I’m so glad we made the effort to visit.

PS – The kakapo numbers now stand at 125.

A Weta House in a Rimu Tree

We visited relations during the weekend, and one of them keeps a weta house in their garden. She says it’s so the wetas don’t jump out at her while she’s in the garden.

Rimu tree

This is a native rimu tree and where the wetas live. The rimu tree is very cool. You can’t tell from this picture but the leaves are actually long green strands, sort of like coarse hair.

Weta House

This is the weta house, perched in the branches of the rimu tree. Hubby took it out of the tree and opened it for me to see the wetas inside.

Weta House Open

You can see the wetas inside. When hubby opened the house, one fell out. We picked it up on a stick, took photos and then returned it to the house.

Weta

And this is a close up of a weta. They’re very cool and quite big. The weta is native to New Zealand.

What do you think – cool or totally gross?

Is this the face of a murderer?

Bella

I was out for most of the day, and I arrived home with my spiffy-looking hair to find Bella waiting at the door for me to let her inside. That’s not unusual, but what was out-of-the-ordinary was the body lying beside her.

Now, I know Bella gets a little irked at the birds taking baths in her water bowl. She chases them away if she sees them splashing in her bowl, but did she catch this bird and swiftly dispatch it?

Shelley, the detective, did some detecting…

1. There were no feathers littering the scene of the crime. They were all still on the bird.

2. Bella hadn’t tried to snack on the body. It was fully intact.

3. When Mr Munro removed the body there was blood pooled beneath the body. Shelley refused to touch it!

Detective Shelley concluded that this is not the face of a murderer and the bird killed itself by flying into the window.

Ah, the relief. We’re not harboring a felon.

Holy Tomatoes!

A few weeks ago hubby planted two tomato plants in tubs and put them in our patio area. I’m in charge of watering and have been diligently doing my job. They’ve grown like Jack’s beanstalk and look really healthy. No fruit setting yet, but the two plants have heaps of flowers.

Tomatoes

The strawberries are also growing well. They’re huge this year, and I’ve just been out to the garden to pick a bowl full. Delicious!

Part-Time Lovers is due out at Samhain Publishing today. If you enjoyed Farmer Wants a Wife then you’ll want to read Part-Time Lovers since this book features Nolan Penrith, and he finally finds love. Read an excerpt for Part-Time Lovers here.

Z is for Zealandia

Z

Zealandia is a wildlife sanctuary in Wellington—an inland island where endangered native species are kept safe from predators in the hope of increasing dwindling populations. The 225 hectare site includes two dams that used to supply the city of Wellington with water. It was decided that the dams might crack or burst during an earthquake and a decision was made to lower the dams and use the area as an inland island. The first step was to fence the area with pest free fences.

Pest free fences, Karori Sanctuary

These fences stop possums, stoats, weasels, ferrets, rats and mice from entering the sanctuary. Once the fences were installed a pest-control plan was put in place. A year later all 13 major pests in the area were fully eradicated. Thousands of native trees were planted (the area was previously all in pine) and this planting continues. The long-term vision for the project is to return the area to its original undisturbed state and this will take around 500 years.

Native species such as brown teal ducks, the little spotted kiwi, giant wetas, tuatara, stitchbird, North Island saddleback, weka, North Island robin and bellbirds are some of the inhabitants.

On entry to the sanctuary, staff check bags for mice, cats, rats and other pests. Thankfully, my bag was found pest-free. I know I would have been more shocked than anyone if a mouse had jumped out. We explored some of the many paths, pausing to peer through the treetops for the elusive birds.

Old Resevior

This is the old reservoir.

Native Duck

Native New Zealand duck – the scaup. It’s the smallest of our native ducks. The scaup is a diving duck and disappears for long moments under the water.

Takahe

This is a takahe, one of our flightless birds. It was thought to be extinct after 1898 but was rediscovered in 1948. There are two takahe at Zealandia – a pair – although they are infertile so are not adding to the low population. They eat tussocks, grass, shoots and insects.

Kakariki

This is the kakariki parakeet, one of NZ’s natives. They have become endangered due to loss of their natural habitat.

The day of our visit was warm and sunny – the perfect weather to tempt the tuataras out of their burrows. Tuatara are rare reptiles that are found only in New Zealand. I’d never seen one before since they mostly live on off shore islands and at a few sanctuaries.

We saw their burrows and finally, much to our excitement we spotted a tuatara!

Tuatara in Disguise

Tuatara

I still get excited whenever I think about seeing them. We watched them for ages, not that they do much except sit there and soak in the heat from the sun. It was a real privilege to see such a rare creature.

Thanks so much for visiting my posts during the A-Z challenge. It’s been a blast meeting other bloggers and reading all the wonderful posts.

Today I have a guest post at Collette Cameron’s blog – Blue Rose Romance where I’m discussing mazes and labyrinths. I’m also doing a giveaway. I hope to see you there!

K is for Kiwi

K

The kiwi is New Zealand’s national bird. In fact, the New Zealand people are also known as kiwis.

Here are some facts about the kiwi:

1. The kiwi is a flightless bird.

2. Kiwis live in pairs and mate for life.

3. They are mostly nocturnal and live in burrows.

4. They can live for between 25 – 50 years.

5. The kiwi has nostrils at the end of their beak.

6. The kiwi has one of the largest egg-to-body ratio of any bird. They’re huge!

7. The male kiwi does most of the egg incubating.

8. There are five different species of kiwis.

9. The kiwi is vulnerable to introduced pests and numbers have declined. The populations are carefully managed to ensure the bird doesn’t become extinct.

10. It’s our national icon.

bigstock-North-Island-Brown-Kiwi-Apter-37200184

Have you seen a kiwi before?

H For Hippopotamus!

Hippos or hippopotamus (river horse) are known as the most dangerous animal in Africa, and they kill many people every year. You wouldn’t think they’d be dangerous, given their appearance. They’re plump with thick bodies and short legs, have a round head with small eyes and ears and a greyish-brown skin. They have no hair on their bodies except for a few bristles on their muzzle and at the end of their stubby tail.

Socializing hippos

A hippo spends its day lazing in the water. This is where it feels most comfortable and where it seeks refuge if it feels threatened. They can dive for up to 15 minutes but more commonly their dive times are one – five minutes. Water keeps their skin clean.

During the evening and at night, they go ashore to graze. They make a sound like a cow bellowing or a horse-like neigh when excited. They also snort when they’re in the water.

When we visited Malawi, we camped on the edge of a river. The next morning, we were all complaining about people snoring and accusing each other of the crime. It was in fact hippos wandering around our campsite. So glad I didn’t need a restroom visit in the middle of the night!

Hippo Bliss

Hippo bliss- a nice mud hole.

Hippos have a good sense of smell and also good hearing. Their sight is fairly good.

Apart from man, hippos have few enemies. Crocodiles might kill young hippos while on land groups of lions can possibly bring down a solitary animal.

The groups of animals consist mainly of females and non-breeding young. A group of females will be watched over by one male. Baby hippos are born in the water.

Off for a Wander

Off for a wander…

It’s not good to get between a hippo and water because this will make the creature feel threatened. Hippos are also very protective of their young and a person should never get between the mother and her baby. Hippos can run faster than a human over a short distance.

A group of hippos is called a pod, a herd or a bloat.

A male hippo is called a bull. A female hippo is called a cow and a baby is a calf.

I have to admit I’d never call them pretty, but they are an interesting animal. The pygmy ones are cute, especially the new born calves. I saw one on the news the other day and immediately wanted one for a pet.

Where does a hippo fit on your scale of likeable creatures?

Source: A Field Guide to Mammals of Africa by Theodor Haltenorth and Helmut Diller

Photos: P Munro – taken in Zambia, Africa.

A Tourist Paparazzi at the Zoo!

A few months ago hubby and I were in Sydney. It was a gorgeous day, and we decided to visit Taronga Zoo. We caught the ferry across the harbor and at the other side rode up the cable car to the top of the hill. The view from the zoo is incredible, especially from the giraffe enclosure.

Room With a View

Room with a view for the giraffes.

I joined the rest of the tourist paparazzi and roamed the zoo taking photos.

Kookobura

First up was this kookaburra. He didn’t seem to mind posing.

Koala 

Mr. Koola wasn’t very cooperative. In fact, he was a bit grumpy.

MountainSheep

Mr. Mountain Sheep was cooperative.

Meerkat

So was Mr. Meerkat

Meerkat 2

For a time. Then he turned his back and refused to pose.

Snow Leopard

Mr. Snow Leopard just wanted to snooze…

We had a fun visit, despite the uncooperative animals. Taronga zoo is in a gorgeous position, although comfortable shoes are a must.

Tell me about your favorite zoo experience.