Friday, 23 December 2016

Adventure in the Retezat Mountains

A butterfly sucks the salt off my sweat-soaked socks as they dry on a boulder in front of me. Flies buzz around my face and I am very hot and very thirsty. Leaning back on the bench I hug the small strip of shade cast by the overhang of the cabana roof and look up. The kindly old man at the cabana brings us hot, sweet wild tea, brewed from the wild herbs he gathers here in a narrow valley between great mountains of broken rock and dwarf pine. Nestled in a thicket of spruce, silver fir and stone pine, Cabana Gentiana is the gateway into the heart of Romania's Retezat Mountains.


The Retezat is a truly special place and with my great pal and fantastic guide Dog (see our summit pic!) we did some adventuring, making the most of the long, sun-baked days. Above the main forest treeline is a zone of the amazing thicket of dwarf pine or Pinus mugo. Higher still this zone breaks up and there are wild mountain meadows crammed with wildflowers (there are 1,200 species of plant in the Park) and butterflies galore. And the occasional pile of very fresh bear poo! 

Hiiking up through the different zones we took the great ridge-line to Valful Pelegea, the highest point here at 2,509 m then over the fantastic Porţile Închise and dropping back down to a searingly cold mountain lake and back down into the dwarf pine and then once more into the depths of the forest.

The area of wild forest is huge and wild and it is home to bear, lynx and wolf. Following the trail deep into the forest we took a side trail to a small acid pool and found these!!


We never actually saw a bear although hiking through a forest wherein you know there is a predator much bigger than you is an exciting experience. We took an old side trail that led us through a spectacular part of the forest past great boulders and over a log bridge, making it back in time for a beer in the last of the evening sun, a truly incredible place!


Monday, 19 December 2016

Neolithic treasure in a Scot's pine wood!

Today was a day for a treasure hunt in a small wood on top of a tiny hill overlooking the Forth and Fife beyond! For many moons I have treasured a scrap of paper on which are some details about some ancient cup and ring marks incised onto slabs of stone somewhere in the Ratho area. Assuming it was far off and hard to find I hadn't really paid much attention, until today that is. Rereading the route showed it to lie very close to Ratho village indeed. In fact it turns out that I have driven past it many times.

Tormain Hill is the place and it has amazing views to the Pentlands, the Ochils and the Forth bridges. In a cluster on the hilltop on natural rocky outcrops are 'a rich collection of man-made markings...[and]...vary from a single large cup on one rock to a set of circles, concentric rings and grooves." There is one stone with a really funky pattern of concentric arcs and cups and it looked a bit magical in the late afternoon sun. We are talking 2nd millenium BC and no-one really knows what or why or who, but there in the Scot's pine wood, bathed in red-gold light from a setting sun, it is easy to dream up images.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Autumn gold at the Gu Guanyin Buddhist Temple

The Ginkgo biloba is an all round brilliant tree and when I say brilliant, I mean brilliant! See this fantastic Colossal posting of an ancient towering ginkgo tree located within the walls of the Gu Guanyin Buddhist Temple in China's Zhongnan Mountains. The leaves of this 1,400 year old tree lie like piles of shining gold leaf. My attempts of a fine wee Ginkgo at Glasgow Botanic Gardens this autumn now seem so sun-bleached and dull in comparison (ahem, it'll be all that Scottish sun-bleaching...). WIKI points out the Ginkgo is also the official tree of the Japanese capital of Tokyo.

Summer adventures: the oak

There is always magic to be found, right on your doorstep. Today was a day for such an adventure, something my pal Ashley calls micro adventures. Hiking in to the local woods with rucksacks of rope, Carla and I soon set our sights set on a very fine lanky oak. This tree runs at a slight angle with  branches for quite some way making getting a line in some fun. And throwing is way harder than it looks (ask my friend Geoff!). It's that winning combo between explosive thrust and trajectory; concentrate too much on the first and the latter goes out of the window, or more accurately, behind you! A few throws soon got us to a neat fork at about 20m. Some climbing later, Carla and I hung out in the undercanopy, which for this Tim is the best thing in the world!


Monday, 28 November 2016

Summer adventures: the beech

Early one August morning before breakfast while it was still cool, we nipped up this gorgeous beech. The smooth, spreading limbs were deliciously cool to the touch. We were soon lost in the canopy and only rumbling tums persuaded us to return to earth. On the way back down we found a cracker of a branch for branch walking!

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Fall spectacular!!

Here is a wee taster of the spectacular that is Fall in Ontario. With lots of people are out and about looking at the crazy colours, there's even big road signs warning drivers to go slow as people go a bit daft with Fall fever and are apt to park anywhere and leap out to see the best trees! See here for where to go for the best colours. Full of great birds and hot weather, my adventure to the Bruce Peninsula and southern Ontario has been so much better than I'd ever dreamed it would be. There's been little time to blog so lots more will follow one day soon! In the meantime, there's some camping to be done, Algonquin Park here we come...hoping there are still a few fiery sugar maples to be seen although it looks like they are past peak. There is still bears and wolves and moose though, that is something to think about from inside a tent...!


Friday, 9 September 2016


Every morning and every evening a great streaming rabble of corvids makes it way out of and back into the heart of the city of Timisoara. Leaving in great waves, they first circle up out of the park and then head on to breakfast. I estimated that at peak flow was about 100 birds per minute and it lasted for well over 50 minutes with maybe 90% were jackdaws with rooks making up the remainder. Where do they feed, how far do they travel, and why do they make this daily journey? And does each wave travel to a different sector? On the way to the arboretum we passed a hay field full of foraging corvids, maybe 10km from the roost site.

Sibu has also has a huge gathering of crows (see here). And this happens all over the world, like in Davis, California with their massive roost of American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos). In fact, corvid roosts are an ancient phenomenon. Why they do it is not known but there are some plausible explanations.

 Corvids flying in to roost in Timisoara

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Redwood adventures

I'm standing at the foot of my garden. Over there across the valley two Sequoias quietly tower over the woodland. Those gentle giants have always been on my horizon, watching in their way, as I have watched the sun rise behind, and set on, them for nearly four decades. I return to the house to pack because today is a special day - today I get to share the magic of tree climbing with an amazing lady! We will climb one of these gentle giants, S2.

Climbing trees and just being in trees is very special. Earlier in the year I spent a day up there, reading and I also measured this fine Sequoiadendron giganteum at just over 34m. This time the rigging took a little longer than I'd intended as the first throwline snapped just as the ropes reached the top! This meant I had to start all over again and re-climb to rig the SRT lines (100m SS climbing line, 60m SS safety line). Anyhow, we climbed to 30m in the gorgeous evening sunlight and watched the last of the sun before it began to sink below the hills to the north. 



A very happy and triumphant Carla at 30m - top work!!


Descending in the sunset glow within the network of branches was pure red-gold, to be treasured for ever. As we'd left the torches on the ground we had to head all the way down and as we hauled the ropes out and packed up, the first bats had already re-claimed the space for their own.

Descending the tree on a Petzl ID

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Sleeping out is the way to go!

Sleeping out in the summer or autumn is the way to go and for me, sleeping out in a DD hammock is the bees knees. To set up that hammock of course you need something to suspend it from, and nothing is finer than a tree rooted in the very earth below your feet. The chosen tree doesn't have to be vast like a Yellow Meranti (Shorea faguetiana) or even a Champion Tree, and a few feet above the ground is height enough to feel a bit of that that magic: being in a tree instantly surrounds me in a deeper sense of contentment and harmony. Relative to us the great trees grow slowly and steadily; maybe it is this lack of feverish haste that offers a chance to again taste the essence of slow time.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Storm Petrels ahoy!

We arrive in the dusk and stand on the clifftop looking out to sea. Out there the lights of fishing vessels grow brighter and then fade, and all is momentarily lit by the regular turning beam of the big lighthouse to the north. It is in this darkness that storm petrels dare to venture to land when sharp eyes and beaks of marauding gulls are safely tucked under wings. Storm petrels come ashore only to breed and so spend the rest of their lives out at sea, feeding on "planktonic crustaceans and small fish picked from the surface, typically while hovering."  Highly vocal in their breeding burrows and around the colony, storm petrels sound so strange - here is a fine example - quite eerie to say the least! We play recordings of these calls to entice any birds to visit and they are then carefully ringed, weighed, measured and then released back out into the night, to flutter off like a large bats, visible for a fraction of a second and then gone. These passing birds may have bred in Shetland, islands off the west coast of Scotland, or even as far as Portugal 

In the quiet spells we watch shooting stars and the constellations, and a trawler heads out to sea, all lights blazing: we watch it until it is a tiny stuttering flicker on the southern horizon. 17 of these beautiful birds come a-visiting, and they now each carry a tiny unique BTO ring. We are still learning so much about the movements of even common birds and this data is vital to help us understand how and what to conserve. As we pack up just before the sky gets light, it is wonderful to know that out there there are storm petrels ahoy! See blog from last year for photos of stormies.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

September's Mystery pic - what is it?

Hi all, I thought it was about time there was another Mystery Pic. Sure this will be far too easy....what you think?

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Waking up in wonderful Wakehurst

A few weeks ago I was very privileged to work as a Instructor for The Great Big Tree Climbing Company at Wakehurst Place, Kew's garden in Sussex. In my spare time I was able to explore a little of the great expanse of gardens and trees, finding many wonderful trees. The staccato calls of green woodpeckers percolated out of the thick green and in the valley below the big meadow, the forest seemed vast, as if never-ending, as if I could walk for miles in any direction and still I would be deep in the heart of it.


Some of the gems to be found at Wakehurst.

The funky cones of the Monteray pine, Pinus radiata and the incredible lanky cones of Pinus wallichiana, the Bhutan pine.

Check out the giant needles of the Apache pine Pinus engelmannii! And below is another pine with a super silhouette.

There are many fantastic redwood at Wakehurst. This Sequoiadendron giganteum is my favourite, with a great tall stem and maybe around 20m to the first whorl of branches. Tucked into the edge of the trees it stands there, humble, understated, a true gentle giant.

And of course you can't talk about Wakehurst without mentioning their new world record for the longest straw bale picnic table ever constructed!

Tulip tree leaf after rain