Sunday, December 27, 2009


Well you know how it goes, all the pretty wrappings have been ripped off the presents under the tree with the accompanying 'oohs' and 'ahhs.' Far too much food has been consumed and alcohol drunk. Endless hours of Christmas television have been viewed and now you just have to do something vaguely physical. A good brisk walk along the coast is just what the doctor ordered.

It was a windy, squally, brisk afternoon but it did feel good to get out and about after the holiday of gluttony and excess.

And the scenery was as spectacular as ever, with a few special effects thrown in by the meteorological department.

Now where are all those left-overs and chocolate and mince pies and Christmas cake and toffees and, and, and.....................................

Photo Credits - CJT & DominickV

Thursday, December 24, 2009


In Cornwall many of the seaside towns have a tradition of decorating around the harbour and seafront with nautical themed Christmas lights. The town where my parents live, Newlyn, is no exception. The little local fish monger has it's own decorations.

As does the local net locker.

One of the boats in the harbour is decorated

And the Fisherman's Chapel looks quite beautiful.

Along the sea-front a little Santa plays definite second fiddle to King Neptune with his trident in hand.

But I think my personal favorite is the big lobster out on the south pier.

In the next town over, Mousehole (pronounced Mowzul!) the lights have a different tale to tell. December 23rd is Tom Bowcocks Eve and, so the story goes, one winter, many years ago, the village of Mousehole was near starvation because constant storms had kept all the fishing boats in the harbour. Tom Bowcock set sail with a few intrepid men and his cat 'Mowzer' who, says the legend, sung the storm to sleep and enabled the men to make a fine catch of seven different kinds of fish. As Tom returned towards the harbour the sky darkened and the storm returned but he was guided back to safety by the people of the village, each holding a lantern. Tom Bowcock's Eve is still celebrated every year and 'Starr Gazy pie' is baked and eaten by hungry visitors. A delightful book called ‘The Mousehole Cat’ is based on the legend.
Pride of place amongst the Mousehole Lights is Mowzer the cat

And the somewhat bizarre Starr Gazey Pie

The deep religious strength that held these small fishing communities together in times past is also reflected in the light display on the pier.

The remaining lights have a more standard Christmas theme.

The cracker at the bottom of the slipway being a favorite

With an acknowledgment to the 'monsters of the deep,' Mobey Dick puts in an appearance

And, rather puzzlingly, so does the Loch Ness Monster! She must have strayed rather far from home!

We spent a perfect Christmas Eve walking around the harbour, enjoying the lights and the atmosphere. There was even a mulled wine vendor on the street, just to add to the festive spirit so it really was the perfect way to begin Christmas.

Photo Credits - CJT

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


We traveled to Cornwall last weekend to spend Christmas with my family. After having told everyone in the US how mild the southwest of England is, we arrived to a far chillier environment than normal, frost, sleet, hail and even the occasional snow shower.

However the day after we arrived the weather was clear and we took the opportunity to walk off a bit of our jet lag.

First stop, Chapel Carn Brea. The 'most westerly hill in Britain'. It is an outstanding landmark dominating the surrounding countryside. From its summit, some 657 feet above sea level it is possible to overlook St. Just to the north, Sennen and Lands End to the west and Mounts Bay to the southeast. There is a ruined Bronze Age Chambered Barrow at the summit as well as the former site of a medieval chapel. A fire beacon is lit here every Midsummer's eve. From there we went on to Porthgwarra (don't you love the Cornish place names.)

A superb , secluded Cornish Cove just under 3 miles southeast of Lands End. Porthgwarra is steeped in history and tradition - one time a busy fishing cove , now just one boat regularly works crab pots from here. The cliff path leads away west towards Lands End and east towards Porthcurno both very scenic and dramatic routes !
Above Porthgwarra is Gwennap Head.

Gwennap Head is the most southerly headland on the south coast of the Penwith peninsula. There are a pair of cone-shaped navigation markers on Gwennap Head, in line with the Runnelstone buoy. These are day markers warning vessels of the hazard of the Runnel Stone. The cone to the seaward side is painted red and the inland one is black and white. When at sea the black and white one should always be kept in sight in order to avoid the submerged rocks nearer the shore. If the black and white cone is completely obscured by the red cone then the vessel would be directly on top of the Runnel Stone. The black and white landmark was erected by the Corporation of Trinity House in 1821- an event recorded on a plaque on the back of the marker.

It was a stunning afternoon to be walking the cliff tops. It was so clear we could easily see the Isles of Scilly that are thirty miles away. At this time of year the sun sets early and the beautiful wash of colour this creates made the whole scene even more spectacular.

The sinking sun reflected off the cliffs to give them a deep orange hue.

A guaranteed cure for jet lag! :)

Photo Credits - CJT & Dominick

Sunday, December 20, 2009


Chester, our little Hognose Snake has been feeling a bit under the weather lately. We took him to the vet and he is now on a course of injections which I have to give him once every three days. In order to avoid him associating every time he gets handled with having a needle stuck in him we have been making a point of handling him every day for a while. The other day when I took him out, he hadn't been sitting on his heat pad so he felt quite chilly. I figured he would appreciate a little body heat and being as he is just a little chap, the breast pocket of my fleece shirt was a perfect fit.

I don't know if you have ever tried to take a picture into the breast pocket of your shirt while you are wearing it but believe me, it is not easy! Any way Chester certainly seemed to appreciate the warm, dark little space (after the pesky lady had stopped pointing a camera in his face!) and he snuggled in quite happily.

Photo Credits - CJT

Saturday, December 19, 2009


One of the duties of my job is to train staff and volunteers at the Museum to handle various animals for public programs. I also have to train the animals to tolerate it but that is a far easier process :) When it comes to training people to handle snakes it can be a slow process but generally people surprise themselves by doing a good job and then feeling a great sense of satisfaction at having overcome a new challenge.
One topic I do tend to emphasize heavily when I train is the snakes propensity to wind themselves in, around and through things. I often get an old fashioned look when I start on this particular topic, kind of 'oh come on how bad can it be?' Well on Thursday I managed to get some rather specific proof of 'how bad it can be!'
One of our volunteers came back into the lab looking a little shame-faced and said that Connie (one of our Corn Snakes) had manged to get through the label on the back of the neck of her shirt!

Well she wasn't kidding! Connie has wriggled her way in and was now firmly stuck. Unable to go forward because she was getting to the wider part of her body but unable to go back either because the label was so tight that her scales couldn't slide back out! In fact she was so tightly wedged that her eyes had started to bulge rather alarmingly!

You wouldn't normally see any of that white around her eyes! I roped Doug in to click away with his I-phone whilst we worked on her release. It was an extremely delicate process as there was no room for error between the label and the snake without cutting the snake.

Slowly and carefully Connie was released from her noose and no blood was shed.

She seems to be none the worse for her little misadventure and next time someone gets that glazed expression when I start telling them about being careful about letting the snakes get tangled around things I will have plenty of photographic evidence to make my point! Connie's eyes have returned to normal and so has my blood pressure! :)

Photo Credits - Doug

Sunday, December 13, 2009


How exciting, a new blog carnival, and one that is near and dear to me! Bugs and Birds get all kinds of sites but at last the Herps get their own spot to shine :) Don't get me wrong, I enjoy lots of Bug and Bird sites but it is most definitely a good thing that we now have a place to celebrate the Herps too at House of Herps.

Those of you who follow my blog know that I am actively involved in Blanding's Turtle Conservation Restoration. So they seemed like an obvious choice for my first post for the House of Herps. Not that this is a particularly busy time of year as far as field work goes. Hopefully all the turtles we released in the fall are buried down deep in the mud, out of harms way and we won't be going out tracking them again until it warms up, probably around mid May.

Then we will don our chest waders and plod off into the wetland and see how many of them we can track down.

In the mean time here at the Museum we continue to work to raise public awareness about the perils that this particular species faces. We have a wonderful custom-made tank where we show several hatchlings from this year as well as a couple of juvenile females that will eventually become part of the captive breeding program.

The tank is fitted with one-way glass so that the hatchlings will not get too habituated to humans before they are released, and their growth rates are carefully monitored.

We have just started a new public program timed to coincide with when the status of the Blanding's was elevated in the state of Illinois from threatened to endangered. The program educates visitors about why this species is struggling, the work that is being done throughout the state to help it and the ecology of this 'Great Lakes Turtle.'
Along with so many other organizations, we were hit by funding cuts this year which meant that the turtles we released in October were not equipped with the usual radio trackers. At $200 a pop, it is an expensive business! Instead we had to rely on carefully photographing the plastron of each individual prior to release, in the hopes that if one of them should wander into one of our traps in the future we will be able to identify it from the photo. Not an ideal system as the patterning does change over time.

In order to try and be better prepared for fall 2010 we have just launched a fund-raising scheme to encourage people to help with the work we do. We are going to use any monies raised to purchase more radio trackers for the turtles released in October.

With the extra transmitters we will be able to get a much more accurate picture of survival rates. It is also often possible even if a turtle doesn't survive to track down the transmitter and work out the cause of death. All this information will help us to create environments that will give this enigmatic creature the best chances of survival in an increasingly perilous world.

Photo Credits - CJT, & Vincent

Saturday, November 28, 2009


One last post from our recent visit to Tuscon. Just a few of the reasons why a reluctant Mid-west city dweller like me enjoys heading out in to the wide open spaces of the 'Wild (?!) West.'

The beautiful and varied scenery..............

The opportunity to relive my childhood dreams of being in the 'Wild West' with all those cowboys and 'injuns!'

The clear, endless blue skies.................

The wonderfully dry western sense of humour :)

And, of course, the achingly dramatic sunsets..................

Oh and not forgetting all those fantastic cacti :)

Photo Credits - CJT