10 Alternatives To The Galapagos Islands

blue footed booby The Galapagos Islands are well known for their endemic wildlife, unique flora and strong ecological philosophy. However, the destination isn’t the only place in the world to experience an unparalleled natural setting. In fact, islands in Asia, South America, Europe and even the continent of Antarctica all feature one-of-a-kind encounters for those interested in seeing something new in the outdoors.

Scuba dive one of the most diverse coral reefs in the world in Vanuatu, relax on pristine white beaches on Brazil‘s Fernando de Noronha and witness the hundreds of sunbathing sea lions on Kangaroo Island in Australia. These are just a few of the experiences to be had in these worthwhile destinations.

For a more visual idea of these Galapagos alternatives, check out the gallery below.

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[Image above via Jessie on a Journey. Gallery images via Big Stock, mariemon, Hairworm]

Perverted Penguins Perplex Polar Pedestrian

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Dr. George Murray Levick was fascinated with penguin sex. Back in 1911 and 1912, he was the first scientist to stay for an entire mating season in Antarctica in order to study penguin procreation.

What he saw, however, confused him and shocked his traditional English morals. Penguin males were having gay sex, raping females, mounting the corpses of dead females and molesting penguin chicks. When he submitted his report to the Natural History Museum in London, the curators decided it was too shocking and cut those passages out of his report. They did publish an uncensored limited edition of 100 copies to circulate among leading scientists whose morals, supposedly, would not be corrupted by penguins.

Bird expert Douglas Russel explained necrophilia among penguins to the BBC, saying that the males don’t realize the females are dead. But what about the other unusual acts? These sexual variations are worthy of study. Why do animals and humans engage in sex acts that don’t lead to the creation of children? There doesn’t seem to be any practical purpose to it. Or perhaps the assumption that everything in nature has to have a practical purpose is a flawed one.

Dr. Levick was part of Robert Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition, an attempt to be the first to trek to the South Pole. The advance party reached their goal but had been beaten by the Norwegian team of Roald Amundsen. Scott and his advance party all died on the journey back. Levick was not in the advance party and survived. Dr. Levick’s notes have just been published in the journal “Polar Record.”

In the age of the Internet, penguin sex just isn’t that shocking anymore.

[Photo courtesy Brocken Inaglory]

English wildlife and nature to get more protection

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again–on a good day there’s no country more beautiful than England. Fans of hiking, nature, and wildlife have a real treat with England’s wild places, and those places just got a boost to the tune of £7.5 million ($12 million) in additional funding.

The government has selected twelve Nature Improvement Areas where nature will be protected and improved. Some spots like the salt marches along the Thames need cleaning up, while peat bogs will be restored after the recent drought in order to preserve their unique habitat and keep them from emitting their locked-up carbon if they dry out. Threatened wildlife such as the Duke of Burgundy butterfly and farmland birds will see their habitats improved under the new scheme, which will be a plus for the many wildlife enthusiasts who journey out into the English countryside every year.

These regions will not be fenced off from visitors. In fact, the improvements will encourage sustainable public use. It’s certainly a nice change in attitude from this time last year, when the government proposed selling off the nation’s forests to private investors, only to be forced to back down after a massive public outcry.

I love hiking in England. From the Oxfordshire countryside to the Yorkshire Moors up to Hadrian’s Wall on the border with Scotland, it’s my number one choice for an outdoor ramble. Look for more reports from the English countryside when I return this summer!

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

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.

Video: Starlings in Rome

If you needed yet another reason to add to the list of defensible reasons I am sure you already have for visiting Rome, the scores of Starlings in Rome each winter should make for worthwhile incentive. Nearly 5 million starlings pour into Rome during the winter of each year, taking spectacular flight nightly. Their chaotic aerial display is no accident. The Starlings dance this crazy dance in an effort to confuse the peregrine falcon, a nighttime predator. The iridescent plumage of the Starlings and illuminated by the sun, which you can watch in this video. The mesmeric waves formed by these starling flocks effectively confuses the falcon. But words can’t do this extraordinary display justice and, for what it’s worth, I’m guessing the video pales in comparison to the first-hand experience. Have any of you seen these birds in Rome or anywhere else (while their Rome display is beautiful, Starlings dot skies across the globe).

Rome's Problem with European Starlings