Archive for the ‘animals’ Category

Costa Rica 3 068, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

Maggie fans herself with a pamphlet in the heat. We are in the Tamarindo estuary with Meeener as our guide. From the main channel we weave in deeper through the mangrove roots. There are plenty of alligators, sting rays and birds of every variety. We eventually reached a point where the boat could go no further and we sat in silence eating pineapple and watching the wildlife. There is the high pitched shrill of the “chichira” – maybe it means cicada – and the smell of diesel from our boat. It rocks most alarmingly and is made of rotting plywood with a piece of bent rebar as an anchor.

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Bad attitude earns the big bucks.

Costa Rica 3 413, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

These are the bulls – the most ferocious in Central America. Guanacaste is famous for its bulls and these are the cream of the crop – killers every one of them. Guanacaste is especially well suited to raising cattle as its interior consists of vast dry plains – the only shade being the umbrella expanse of the Guanacaste tree.

The humped cattle or Zebu are more tolerant to heat and have far more sweat glands. Their oily skin helps shed parasites and ticks. The famous Brahman is a sub species of the Zebu along with other species such as the Gir, Afrikaner and the Indo Brazilian. To my untrained eye the above appear to be Brahman – first domesticated in India some 10 000 years ago but the cattle most commonly seen in Costa Rica are the Indo Brazillian. They have great hanging dewlaps and absurdly floppy ears.

Terrible meat and I would not reccomend them to anyone.

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His blue eye and white claw lead me to that conclusion.

IMG_6301, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

There we go – “Bad Old Chester”. Chester – the new “Rockhound”.

Sadly Shaka passed away in October. He had a tumor on his spleen – virtually unsaveable as the ensuing operation revealed. You may remember him from the post “Cave Police” (July 2006) and also “Bubbles at the Bear Lake Apatite Mine”(July 2006). Of course you can never replace so loved a member of your family but you can move on. I went through a slump that lasted several months during which time I found it hard to write or enjoy anything for that matter, but Maggie and I finally decided to get another golden. Chester came from a Mennonite farm up near Palmerston – his father an absolutely beautiful creature – pure white and of amazing temperament.

Chester has one white claw and it is this – according to Maggie – that makes him evil. I say it is his blue eye – the evil eye – try sleeping when he wants to play – you will understand the true meaning of evil. Joshua, my son also appears with Chester. Some suggest that it was from Joshua that the dog got his wicked nature.

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Fossilized creatures of the Devonian Age still lie along the ancient Lake erie shoreline.

100_1896, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

Anyway … To continue with the narrative about our “Caving off the radar”…

The Devonian Age rock (360 -408m yrs in age) first cuts the surface in Ontario as far east as Brantford. This is but a short drive from the homes of several prominant cave hunters and we have made a number of forays to this area in search of underground tunnels.

Ariel photographs show many sinking streams and by the prevalence of limestones and shales in the Devonian Age rocks we were somewhat optimistic.

The last of the Silurian Age rock – the Bertie formation appears as a coral-derived dolostone just south of Hamilton and from there on the unknown factor of the Devonian Age rock. “D” was absolutly blown away by the fossils on his first visit and he sent me the above photo that he took. On the way down today he ranted on in the car about their incredible variety and size – I think he should have been a paleontologist but instead he took the noble pursuit of ….. for a career. It seems oddly prevalent that many cavers follow that trade.

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Locals call him “old yellow mane”. 

IMG_1821, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

Though Doug Shier tells me that all roads in the area lead back to Cobalt, I am warned by an older gent in the Silver Load Hotel’s restaurant to be careful out there if I am exploring the ore piles. It was a little cryptic; you might say kind of creepy. I thanked him for the advice, finished pouring my coffee and headed out. I wondered what he might be alluding to. Maybe he was talking about getting lost or falling down a shaft like the Chinese laundering family-hmmmm (They all disappeared one night leaving the food still cooking on the stove – never to be seen again – see one of my earlier posts on Cobalt).

Once out there it really began to play on my mind. I had followed an old tramline down a narrow valley between towering white pines. I was in a hidden valley that for some reason had escaped the miners axe. There was supposedly an abandoned mill a few kilometres up the path. My source told me that it was on the left hand side just before the tailings swamp.

From the impressive “Little silver Vein Mine” I had followed a short incline up to the tramline. I soon found myself pushing along a tree-lined tunnel of soft, feathery-limbed tamarack and cedar. It was a wonderfully “organic experience” that started off in a relatively wholesome way but eventually began to feel quite creepy.

The further I went the more subdued the forest became. Eventually there was only deathly silence. I found myself dwelling on the oddly disturbing feeling of being watched. I thought back to something that I had recently read of. It was the appearance of “Old Yellow Mane”. He is Ontario’s northern Sasquatch. Yellow Mane had first been seen in 1906 by miners at the nearby Violet Mine. He was seen again in 1923 by two prospectors who surprised him while he was picking blueberries. They supposedly threw rocks at the poor fellow and he ran away. As was reported in the North Bay Nugget, Yellow Mane was seen for a third time in 1946. A woman and her son saw him ambling along beside some rail tracks. I never found the mill or “Old Yellow Mane” but the walk was quite surreal.

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Looking for Lizards in the Valley of Fire – Sounds psychadelic – something Jim Morrison might come up with.

old pics 143, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

Maggie and I won a free trip to Las Vegas some time ago. We rented a car and drove up the side of Lake Mead into the valley of fire.

Amongst the more memorable experiences were my being chased by wild mules after mistakenly agravating them (Long story – my fault) and also trying to coerce Maggie from tipping over rocks and looking for lizards. She first spotted them at a road side fireworks, guns and alchol place. We had wandered out around the surrounding contryside with a bottle of tequila to observe the litter of old pyrotechnics and everywhere there were things that moved and skittered for cover under the rocks. My concern was her upending a rock and coming face to face with a rattler.

In the above photo Maggie continues her “critter spotting” practices in an area of worn red sandstone. It is this red hue that the area derives its name from – “Valley of Fire”.

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IMG_1272, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

The Sarnac Zircon mine was undoubtably one of my stranger “rockhounding experiences in the Bancroft area. The approach was through the bear-ravaged Monmouth County Dump. Tripping down a stinking wave of torn blue garbage bags we wandered along what could only be describesd as a “bear’s highway”, all scat-strewn and gouged by claw marks beside a wall of impenetrable bush. Dark tunnels within this barrier could only have been made by vast hordes of bears on their nightly visits to the dump.

The zircon crystals at the dump location are found in a narrow valley that is overhung by thick bush. I wormed my way up to the digging face sheltered beneath an overhanging ledge. As you worked the sand showered down in a dusty cascade. It brought back long-buried memories of my adolescent “sandbox wars”, a malicious playmate throwing grit in my eyes. It must have been some squabble over turf and Tonka Toys.

With the exciting prospect of finding gem crystals I managed to ignore the physical discomfort and set myself to the task of tunnelling into the pegmatite vein. As I worked it felt as though there were giant spiders crawling across my neck. I swatted wildly but the sensation was imaginary, it was only the feathery caress of tree roots, a fibrous gauze veil that screened the front of the overhang. With my wooden handled mason’s hammer I swung into the soft decaying rock. It was like chopping into a mouthful of rotting teeth, crump, crump, crump.

Maggie and I had travelled here on this dripping, grey morning to hunt for zircon. Saranac Uranium Mines Limited had excavated the site in the mid 50’s and the discovery of zircon had been incidental to the search for uranite and other highly sought after radioactive minerals.

A zircon crystal generally appears as an elongated prism with a pyramidal termination at either end. I found it difficult to pick undamaged specimens from the rock. My extraction methods were rather crude. Pestered incessantly by a fearful wife I burrowed away, possibly with more haste than care. Maggie wriggled in behind me as the pegmatite crumbled beneath my hammer. I suspect she considered it to be safer than in the bear-infested woods. Helpfully she pointed out a well-formed glassy block of zircon. I managed to pry it loose. It was a whole prism of smoky brown crystal; far more translucent than I had expected. With Shaka’s arrival and attempted entry into my workspace I had to evict them both. The cramped conditions made it almost impossible to work.

When zircon was found as a colourless stone in Sri Lanka, locals, without our modern understanding of chemistry, believed them to be inferior quality diamonds. Because of their extreme lustre and the scintillating rainbow of colour that dances from the cut stone, the mistake was quite easily made. A zircon varies widely in weight and refractivity and because it’s hardness can change throughout the stone it is often difficult to polish. A gemmologist can quite easily distinguish between a colourless zircon and a diamond, as the light rays that enter a crystal of this nature are quite widely split. This property of being “doubly refracting” is present in most gem stones, but to a lesser extent than appears here. The diamond does not have this doubly refracting property as it is from the one crystal system that does not split light: the cubic crystal system. When looking through the crown of a zircon at the pavilion facets, every line in a cut zircon will appear to be doubled.

In Bancroft, many an avid mineral collector sets out to find zircon. It is typically found in igneous rocks such as granite, but on occasion it can also be found as an alluvial material in sedimentary rock. In the case of the Sarnac Mine zircon is found in a granitic pegmatite dyke.

The appearance of gem quality zircon at the now out-of-bounds, York River Skarn was by no means common in the Bancroft area. In his article, “York River Scarn Zone Near Bancroft, Ontario, Canada”, Michael Walter says that with the use of ultra violet light at night, zircon specimens can be seen to fluoresce bright yellow. A mustard yellow fluorescence under both short and long wave light is a feature typical to most zircon crystals. The York River Skarn specimens are most frequently small and white and sometimes found in proximity to far larger, well formed brown vesuvianite crystals. On one visit to the skarn, Michael extracted a large slab of calcite from beneath a ledge. It had several beautiful purple crystals with superb form and lustre. The crystals were within the calcite matrix, doubly terminated, and in one case at least an inch and a quarter long. They were amazing translucent gem quality zircons. It was a find that was unheard of by regular collectors to the site.

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I had recently been corresponding with one of this province’s cavers – James Sled, he has told me of a cave that sounds really promising – a pit on a high ridge in prime caving country. The pit is situated in the bottom of a 15 foot wide depression and beneath a river runs along a tunnel that eventually sumps.

Using the patchwork of topo maps that I was able to download from toporama and James’s directions I think I have managed to pinpoint the exact location.

At this time my good caving friend is recovering from an operation. I typically conduct my explorations with him. I am holding off the initial reconnisiance of the pit until he is in better shape – by the sounds of it his wound is supperating and I have suggested he calls a doctor fast – lets hope he does.

One the bright side I have just had my article on “Costa Rica River Travel” accepted by the New Zealand Herald, cant wait to get it in print. I am considering another travel article on the plight of Costa Rica’s howler monkey’s. In the town where we were staying (Tamarindo) they average two a day being electrocuted on the power lines. I think I will discuss that sorry situation in my next post. Mick

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This is the beginning of a 4 kilometer underwater tunnel – it finally ends up in a lake. Divers have followed over a kilometer into the tunnel, the initial stage of the underwater journey being with tanks pushed along in front in a low shelf.

IMG_5505, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

Anyone know what cave this is? I wrote about it in my book “Rockwatching: Adventures Above and Below Ontario”. Just before I took the picture a strange little water creature about an inch across flippered through the water, it looked like a giant beetle but on closer inspection I think it might have been a turtle – its frantic thrashing along made it look like one of those scurrying bettles in that movie”The Mummy”. Consider this a further appendage to the written literature. As I wrote in “Rockwatching” …

“I swam the East Sump to see if it was possible to continue on beyond the obvious end. Shortly after entering the water I looked down and saw, to my horror, a dark fringe writhing around my waist. It obscured the lower half of my body, a multitude of black ribbons converging on my torso. I thought they were leeches and scrambled madly from the pool, up the smooth sides of the tunnel ( a surface that I would not normally climb so easily). Alan and Johnny laughed mightily, “They are just minnows nibbling at the clay on your legs.”

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It is not so unusual to see long nosed bats in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica 3 356, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

The bats cluster here under a shaded tree trunk along the edge of the Tempisque River. They arrange themselves in this linear formation to emulate a serpent. When one moves they all move, it gives the impression of a wriggling line – something like a snake on the tree trunk. This fools would-be predators.

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