Wednesday, 25 August 2010

More weird - a bug-tastic weekend all round

So were back in Australia now, jet-lagged and busy keeping an eye out for spiders after spending time with Bugfest's Nick Wadham and his eight-legged friends, and chatting with author Carl Portman about his interest in Australian arachnids.

While the Weird Weekend didn't start off as an entomological excursion for us, it certainly seemed to end up like one - helped along by Mike's passion for bitey bugs.

You'd think after two weeks away the place would be awash with large, nomadic Huntsmen spiders, but (thankfully, I say) the cold weather has kept them at bay and out of the loungeroom!
It's always exciting talking to people about their passions, and while I am no spider lover, even I came away with a new respect for the bigger spiders - especially the ones that live for 25-30 years (yes, really! A spider hater's nightmare!).

So spending time talking to Nick while he had a dinner plate-sized tarantula on his wrist (I admit, I was actually standing about five feet away) was a very different and, dare I say, fun experience. Mike is pictured above getting up close and personal with Nick and one of his giant hairy tarantulas (just after the tetchy tarantula lowered its front legs and relaxed its fangs).

Nick's business Bugfest is insect education, and he and his wife Kara exhibit their Insecta menagerie all across the UK.

They don't just have spiders of course - they also keep giant burrowing cockroaches (incidentally, one of the latest pet crazes), stick insects, moths and other creepy crawlies.

Bugfest is immensely popular with children and provided a nice counterpoint to much of the other material discussed and on display over the weekend.

We didn’t have nearly enough time to catch up with everyone we wanted to see in the UK, and of course not everyone could make it to the Weird Weekend in picturesque Woolsery in North Devon.

So our chat with Carl Portman, author of A Daintree Diary, was not nearly long enough, but his Weird Weekend presentation on the Australian Whistling Spider was funny and entertaining, and his passion for arachnids, and Australia, was not only obvious but inspiring.

Carl hopes to come back to Australia sometime soon, and we hope he does come and stay with us - we think we might have swayed him to return with the promise of finding Funnel Web Spiders in the Blue Mountains!

It’s funny to think what he viewed as a somewhat elusive quarry on his last visit Down Under is probably creeping around our garbage bins as I write this - a great example of how we can take things living right under our nose so for granted.

Putting the shoe on the other foot, our visit to the UK afforded us a glimpse of some indigenous wildlife that elicited plenty of ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’.

Our excellent hosts at Hilltop Holidays - Kaye, Roy, David, Ross and Greg Braund-Phillips - undertake wildlife rescue work, and have some interesting animals in their care, and frequenting their farm, including hedgehogs (did you know they hiss like snakes when they’re annoyed?), squirrels, barn owls and deer - and an impressive Harris Hawk named Mars!

But by far one of the most interesting menageries we glimpsed was within the walls of CFZ HQ itself, which boasts an array of aquatic and amphibious creatures that would delight any aquarist’s heart.

Oll Lewis guided us around various aquariums, terrariums and enclosures, pointing out giant cockroaches, livebearers, and eel-like amphibians and turtles with soft shells and red ears. Memorable stuff indeed, and enough to fire the imagination of any young budding naturalist.

Further afield we encountered numerous ‘badger sets’ - including within the hallowed grounds of Glastonbury Abbey!

Sadly the only badgers we saw during our trip were road kill (three in all).

Despite being protected, they are frequently killed by farmers, as they spread tuberculosis to livestock.

It was also exciting to get out into the British countryside and walk through some of the farm paddocks and forests of Devon and the Cotswolds.

Tune in for our UK big cat write-up - our brief but memorable taste of big cats in Britain.

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