Scotland tells collector: stop stealing our eggs!

Scotland
An obsessive collector of rare birds’ eggs has been banned from visiting Scotland during nesting season. The ban was slapped on Matthew Gonshaw, 49, and lasts from February 1 to August 31 of every year for the ten years. He’s also banned from visiting land owned by the Wildlife Trust and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Gonshaw has been repeatedly arrested for stealing the eggs of rare birds and is currently serving his fourth prison term for the offense.

The ban came as an ASBO, an Anti-Social Behaviour Order. ASBOs ban individuals from certain activities that are annoying or potentially criminal. Public drunkenness, playing football in the street, and other minor offenses are often stopped through ASBOs. Some ASBOs are a bit odd, like banning a sixty year-old man from dressing as a schoolgirl, complete with plaid skirt. This guy was hanging around schools and making parents nervous. BBC has a list of some of the weirder ones here.

In Gonshaw’s case, the ASBO will hopefully keep him away from the rare bird’s eggs he’d rather stick on a shelf than let hatch. Scotland is one of the top destinations for bird watchers and if “collectors” like Gonshaw are allowed to steal eggs with impunity, Scotland’s wildlife could be seriously affected.

Photo courtesy Mr. T in DC via flickr.

Boat ride through forgotten Florida at Wakulla Springs State Park


Boat ride through forgotten Florida at Wakulla Springs State Park


Most people who visit Wakulla Springs go for the gators. Still others want to check out where Johnny Weissmuller swung through the “jungle” as Tarzan in the 1930s and 40s or the dark, swampy thicket where the “Creature from the Black Lagoon” was said to lurk. Above all, travelers come to see the pristine tangled wilderness that is becoming rarer to find as Florida develops.

This is Wakulla Springs State Park, one of the most popular day trips from Tallahassee, Florida’s capital. A three-mile pontoon trip down the Wakulla River is the park’s biggest draw, giving visitors the chance to spot wildlife and plug into nature for the 45-minute ride.

On a sunny day, alligators can be spotted lazing on the banks of the Wakulla River or grimacing among the reeds and cypress knees along the shoreline. If they’re out, alligators make for splendid photography subjects, unlike the myriad fowl – great blue herons, white ibis, anhingas – which fly off right as you get them in your camera cross-hairs, or the manatees, which swim slowly just below the water line, never surfacing for their close-up. The park claims that between 20 to 30 manatees can be spotted swimming in the springs and river each day. I was satisfied to have seen a herd of about seven sea cows (another name for manatees) when I visited the park in December. There are only about 4,500 of these aquatic mammals left in the world and the estuaries and backwoods springs of Florida are one of the premier places to see them, especially in winter.

Wakulla Springs doesn’t have to be a day trip. On site is the grand Wakulla Springs Lodge, built in 1937 by Edward Ball, the financier and conservationist who owned this stretch of north Florida from 1934 until the mid-1960s when he sold it to the state of Florida for the establishment of a state park. The 27-room, Mediterranean-revival-style lodge is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places and the surrounding park is a National Natural Landmark.

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Image by wilsonb/Flickr

Oh Ranger! ParkFinder guides you to public parkland

I often forget the amazing wealth of national parks, hiking trails and historic sites within easy access of my home. For instance, did you know there’s 260 sites within 100 miles of Brooklyn, NY? In fact, iPhone users can now find out for themselves just how many great outdoor sites are near their hometown using a great smartphone app called Oh Ranger! ParkFinder.

The American Park Network, a publishing company that creates visitor guides for national parks, is behind Oh Ranger, a searchable database of outdoor activities ranging from cycling to historical sites to camping to bird watching. In addition to their free web database, they’ve released Oh Ranger! ParkFinder for iPhone and iPad Touch, a fantastically useful mobile extension that makes it easy to track down your favorite activity at a park near you. Once you’ve downloaded the app, you can easily search for parks based on favorite activities, search for a specific park, or use your iPhone’s location to find sites nearby.

Whether you’re a die-hard outdoor lover or simply looking for some great weekend or daytrip getaways, Oh Ranger! Parkfinder is a nifty, convenient way to find it. You give it a try for free by downloading from the iTunes app store. Although there’s not yet an Android version of the app, the Oh Ranger website utilizes the same park database.

Key to Costa Rica offering 10% discount on Fall tours

Key to Costa Rica is offering a 10% discount on tours going to Costa Rica now through November 30, 2011. The focus of these tours is eco-tourism, with itineraries being planned by green travel consultant Beatrice Blake who has not only lived in Costa Rica for 13 years, but has been advising travels since 1996. For those who may not be familiar with eco-tourism, it is a type of travel, usually to a protected or fragile area of land, that is low-impact on the Earth and is meant to educate travelers, provide money for ecological programs, and give insight into the culture.

Travelers have the option to create customized Costa Rican tours or choose from one of the Key to Costa Rica trips, such as Enchanting Costa Rica, which includes bird watching, hiking, visiting an organic coffee farm, and lodging in traditional-style thatched roof cabins. Trips include itineraries for active families, children, nature lovers, and bird enthusiasts. There are also tours specifically for those who want to experience Slow Travel as well as those wishing to volunteer in the region.

Cocktails, Chilean style

cocktails pisco sourA few weeks ago, I was sitting at the bar of the very lovely Alto Atacama Desert Lodge & Spa, outside of San Pedro de Atacama in Northern Chile. I’d just returned from an afternoon at 12,600 feet, exploring the Andean Altiplano Lakes of Miscanti and Miñiques, and I was feeling parched.

Small wonder I was thirsty; Atacama is the driest desert on earth. Visually and geographically, it’s like the Southwest on steroids. If the love child of Sedona, Arizona and Abiquiu, New Mexico inherited a chain of conical, snow-dusted volcanoes, the largest salt flat in Chile, and shimmering lagoons full of flamingos, Atacama is what you’d get. Kraig recently wrote a great series on exploring Atacama, which you can find here.

San Pedro itself is a surprisingly sweet little village of adobe walls and buildings, with a whitewashed church and dusty streets. It’s the world’s least offensive tourist-mecca. Alto Atacama is located about a mile-and-a-half outside of town, in the middle of a river valley sided by craggy, brick-red rock.
cocktails pisco sour
Native plant gardens dot the property, there are resident llamas, the small restaurant serves many locally grown foods. But these are mere details. My biggest concern that evening was soothing my dust-coated throat with a cocktail.

I most definitely approved of the pisco sour made by Sebastián, the bartender. Pisco sours are a tricky thing; too often they’re made with old lemon juice or concentrate or too much sugar, and the result is a cloying, flat-tasting mess. But Sebastián squeezed fresh lemon juice (limón de pica, or Peruvian lime, which may or may not be the same species as key lime, depending upon who you ask). The final addition of good pisco made for a smooth, tangy, refreshing libation.

Sebastián raised his eyebrows at my swiftly drained glass. “Was good?” he enquired.

“Delicioso,” I assured him. “Uno mas, por favor.” As we spoke I watched him expertly muddling a mess of quartered limóns with something brown and sticky looking.

He followed my gaze. “It’s a Mojito Atacameño. Invented here at the hotel. You like to try?”

[Photo credit: Frank Budweg]cocktails pisco sourNever one to turn down a cocktail, I nodded. “What’s in it?” I asked.

“It’s made with chañar, a fruit found only in Atacama (I later found out that chañar-the fruit of Geoffroea decorticans-is also indigenous to parts of Argentina).”

“It’s very important. We use the arrope (preserved fruit in syrup) to flavor ice cream and other desserts. But it’s also a medicine,” Sebastián explained. The Atacameño’s– the local indigenous people, who have lived in the area for thousands of years–use chañar as a traditional cure for bronchitis and sore throat.

To further underscore the allure of this little round fruit, I bring you the following passage from author Edward R. Emerson (Beverages, Past and Present, 1908):


Its flavour is beyond description, and the way the Indians eat this fruit best shows in what estimation it is held. Early in the morning all hands repair to the chanares-chanar orchard (for, though wild, the trees grow in immense tracts) and proceed to eat of the fruit until locomotion, except in a crawling way, becomes almost impossible, and as soon as they have arrived at this state they crawl to the river, drink as much water as they can possibly hold, and then crawl back to the trees, where they stretch themselves out at full length and sleep until night, when they repeat the operation.

Sounds like the producers of “Intervention” could have had a field day.

Sebastián passed me a bottle of arrope de chañar to try. After a small taste, I realized that it reminded me, in appearance, consistency, and flavor, of tamarind paste. Tangy, a little sour, with an almost molasses-like sweetness. It was interesting, but not something I’d think of using in a cocktail. Nevertheless, I watched, dubiously, as Sebastián meticulously put together my Mojito Atacameño.
cocktails pisco sour
After muddling two quartered limóns, he added two tablespoons of powdered sugar (I assume because it’s traditionally used in a pisco sour, rather than simple syrup).

To this he added a dash of creme de menthe because fresh mint was out of season; the base was Absolut Mandarin Vodka (“You can use pisco, but I think vodka is better flavor.”).

When the finished drink was set before me, I contemplated it. It closely resembled the last fecal sample I’d had to submit after I accidentally drank unfiltered river water. The mojito had floaty bits of lime pulp and was cloudy from the thick arrope de chañar; It looked repulsive. I sniffed it, and took a cautious sip.

Fantastic. A beautiful balance of tart and sweet, with a clean, citrusy finish. Ass-kickingly strong. Sebastián was looking at me expectantly.

“Uno mas, por favor.”

My trip was sponsored by Wines of Chile, but the opinions expressed in this article are 100% my own.

How to Make Pisco Sour