Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Face-to-Face With the Grizzly

Tours to view bears up close in the wilderness of British Columbia are on the rise

Nekite Valley, British Columbia

No matter how scary it may look, our guide tells us, if a grizzly bear gets close, don't run.
WSJ's Candice Jackson heads to British Columbia on a bear viewing expedition with Great Bear Nature Tours. (June 20)

As we spot our first bear tracks in the mud later that evening, it's clear that we're in bear country now -- and there isn't much to run to. We'll spend the next few nights in one of the most remote corners of the vast wilderness of British Columbia, a 40-minute seaplane ride from the nearest fishing village at a bear-viewing lodge built on a barge. In the mornings, we'll rise early to look for the bears, trekking through grassy marshes and boating along shallow inlets in one of the few places where grizzlies still outnumber humans. Our guide is an unarmed biologist.

Trips such as this one, offering tourists an up-close view of one of nature's largest predators in its natural habitat, are a fast-growing niche in British Columbia's eco-tourism industry. Operators say the tours are safer than they sound: The bears, despite their reputation, aren't prone to attack -- as long as they are approached correctly. And though bear hunting still draws tourists to Canada, bear viewing -- where guests shoot cameras, not rifles -- is angling to become the next big thing.

"We get a lot of people who have done the whole safari circuit," says Tom Rivest, co-owner of the Great Bear Nature Tours and my guide on a visit earlier this month. Four years ago, Mr. Rivest opened his five-bedroom bear-viewing lodge along British Columbia's Smith Inlet. During the past two or three years, he says, business has increased by about 25% a year. "There's a huge market out there who have come of age watching nature documentaries, and they're retiring and ready to travel," he says.

Great Bear Nature Tours

Most bear tour guides walk through the wilderness unarmed. Guides say they can respond without force in situations where bears are agitated, because they know how to read bears' body language and subtle behavioral signs. The guides say they don't back down when challenged, and they talk to the bears in a firm, but relaxed, voice. Though our remote location -- 50 miles from the closest town, Port Hardy -- meant that if something did go wrong, help would probably be a long time coming.

Bear attacks are uncommon. Bears in British Columbia have caused on average fewer than seven injuries a year, and fewer than one death a year, from 1985 to 2007, says Lance Sundquist, a conservation officer with the provincial government. Attacks on guided viewing tours are extremely rare, says Stephen Herrero, professor emeritus at the University of Calgary and author of "Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance." Tours usually take place where food, such as wild salmon, is plentiful, so the bears are not apt to feel threatened. As a safety precaution, most guides carry pepper spray, which Prof. Herrero says is effective in avoiding 80% to 90% of bear attacks.

Mr. Rivest says he's never used the bear spray he carries. Still, it gives me some comfort when he tells me about Beatrice, a grizzly who charged at a New Zealand film crew taking a tour last summer. Another guide talked the bear into backing off.

Bear viewers wait for a sighting.

Then we spotted Beatrice for ourselves. Mr. Rivest paddled our boat slowly toward her. At first, the only thing I could make out in the distance was what looked like a moving rock. But as we got closer, I could hear her chewing on sedge grass and no longer needed the zoom on my camera lens to get a close shot. She turned her blond head to look in our direction a couple of times, but mostly we just watched, whispering occasionally but mostly remaining silent, as she grazed and the sun went down. The inlet was still, with the entire landscape reflected in reverse on the water's surface.

"It was pretty awesome to see the bear in its natural form," says Isabella Ponder, a 25-year-old social worker from Sydney who heard about the grizzly bear viewing lodge on an Australian travel show. "The grizzlies looked a little more cuddly than I'd expected." She and her husband honeymooned in Egypt a couple years ago, and ever since, she says, they look for vacation adventures.

The bear tour, spectacular though it was, might not be for everyone. We spent up to four hours at a time floating around in small boats. It rained a lot. The lodge provided waterproof gear and wool socks -- which was good, because daytime highs in June were only in the 50s. And there was no guarantee we'd actually see a bear. We spent about eight hours in pursuit before a bear finally stuck around long enough for us to get a close look. In the meantime, though, we'd spotted minks, seals and bald eagles.

Some people worry that bear watching's growing popularity might be harmful to bears. "If [viewing] becomes too prevalent in an area, the bears can become habituated to the human presence and lose their respect of humans," says Mel Arnold, the president of British Columbia Wildlife Federation, a pro-hunting group that says it doesn't oppose bear viewing as long as the tours co-exist with hunters.
That isn't possible, according to some conservationists and tour operators. Dean Wyatt, who converted an old fishing lodge into a bear-viewing operation, the Knight Inlet Lodge, in 1998, favors a ban on hunting in areas where viewing tours operate. "It's not ethical to hunt the same population that you view," says Chris Genovali, executive director of the Raincoast Conservation Society.

Julius Strauss bought a bed-and-breakfast in British Columbia's Selkirk Mountains in 2006. After moving in and noticing bears all over the area, he and his wife converted the B&B into a bear- and wilderness-viewing lodge called Grizzly Bear Ranch. Guests stay in one of three wooden cabins and take rafting trips and walking tours that can include watching grizzly bears scoop salmon out of a nearby river in the fall. "More and more tourists want to see grizzly bears," he says. "And more want to take eco-holidays, where they're not just traipsing around where everyone's been."

For years, tourists have been thronging to Brooks Falls, in Katmai National Park in Alaska, to watch bears swipe at salmon as they swim to upstream-spawning grounds. British Columbia's bear-viewing operators say they offer a more intimate, immersive experience. Most take just a handful of guests, who spend the night in lodges and learn more about bears at evening lectures. Many lodges cater to travelers who want a semi-luxurious rustic experience, with fine wine and king-size beds.

British Columbia is home to an estimated 17,000 to 20,000 grizzly bears, or roughly 30% of North America's total brown-bear population, says Prof. Herrero. Biologists and bear guides say in some regions their numbers have dwindled recently, mostly because of habitat loss. Mr. Rivest says as many as 60 bears lived nearby when his lodge opened four years ago; the population last summer was down to about 40, he says.

People from outside British Columbia can hunt there only with a guide; British Columbian hunters, if they are licensed and win a lottery, may stalk grizzly bears without a guide. Five years ago, several bear-watching tour operators formed a trade group -- the Commercial Bear Viewing Association -- to set safety guidelines and to lobby against hunting. They say bear watching makes more economic sense: A bear can be observed many times over, but it can be killed only once. Mr. Arnold, of the British Columbia Wildlife Federation, says hunting contributes more than 1,700 jobs and more than $164 million of indirect spending in the region, citing 2003 numbers. Hunting's economic value, especially to local, rural economies, he says, "is huge."

Most bear-viewing tour operators want to stay off hunters' radar, for fear of losing their bear population and dodging bullets while out scouting for bears. Guides at Great Bear Nature Tours speak in code over their walkie-talkies when talking about a bear in the vicinity (a "bald eagle" is a grizzly bear), in case hunters are listening on their citizens' band radios. The owners of Grizzly Bear Ranch refuse to reveal their exact location until guests book.

At least one bear-hunting outfitter has crossed over. Leonard Ellis worked as a hunting guide for nearly 30 years around the coastal fishing village of Bella Coola but, after being pressured from conservation groups and bear-viewing tour operators, he says he agreed to sell the groups his hunting rights, effectively ending hunting tourism on his land.

Since then, Mr. Ellis has been leading bear-viewing tours. Next weekend, he'll open an overnight lodge, Bella Coola Grizzly Tours, with four wilderness cabins and its own salmon smokehouse. He still carries a rifle for safety reasons, he says. (Last month, Bella Coola made national news when a forest surveyor walking through the woods alone was mauled by a bear and badly injured.) Still, he says, bear viewing "just makes good business sense. ... It's the same thing as hunting, really. You're just shooting them with a camera."


Where to Stay
[Grizzly Bear Ranch]
Jakob Dulisse
Inside a cabin at the Grizzly Bear Ranch
Knight Inlet Lodge, the region's largest bear-viewing operation, has 15 rooms and viewing stands where small groups of guests can watch grizzlies; double rooms start at US$1,870 for a two-night package including tours (grizzlytours.com). Great Bear Nature Tours takes up to 10 guests with rustic but upscale accommodations in a lodge on a floating barge; double rooms start at $1,418 per night including tours (greatbeartours.com). Farther in British Columbia's interior is Grizzly Bear Ranch, with wildlife tours in summer and grizzly-bear viewing from mid-September through October; double rooms start at $1,969 for four-night packages (grizzlybearranch.ca). Guests stay in three private guest cabins with sundecks, and food is mostly locally sourced.
How to Get There
For Knight Inlet Lodge, fly into Vancouver (there are nonstop flights from the Midwest and the West Coast). Book a flight on Pacific Coastal Airlines to Campbell River, a town on the Vancouver Island's east coast. Stays include a night in town: A seaplane from the lodge picks up guests the next morning. To get to Great Bear Lodge, where I stayed, fly or drive from Vancouver to Port Hardy, a small town on Vancouver Island's northern tip; a seaplane picks up guests in the afternoon. Grizzly Bear Ranch, in the Selkirk Mountains, is a full day's drive from Calgary or Vancouver, or a half-day's drive from Spokane, Wash.
When to Go
Most British Columbia tours operate from late spring until fall. During spring -- which lasts through June in some locations -- grizzly bears feed in low-lying grass areas and are usually viewed from small boats. In fall, bear-viewing takes place alongside rivers and streams where the bears scoop salmon.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Bamboo Engulfs Defenseless Yards

Relentless Spread Foils
Poison, Pickax, 'Dozer;
The Polyethylene Cure
March 24, 2008; Page A1

Randy Bothwell, a police detective in Chester, Pa., considered and rejected a number of ways to rid his yard of bamboo: salt, an exorcism, shooting it with his service revolver. When he asked for advice at a local garden center, he says, they "laughed hysterically."

So Mr. Bothwell whacked the stand with a machete. It grew back. He bought a pickax and tried digging up the roots, a process that traced a 30-foot arc across his once-pristine lawn. One month and two broken shovels later, he rented a Bobcat minibulldozer and a big metal trash bin, acquired 14 gallons of poison and bought 24 cubic yards of dirt to fill the resulting hole. Total approximate cost: $1,500.

One year later, a single shoot appeared. "It gave me ... the final salute." Mr. Bothwell says. "I was like, 'Mother of God.' "

Bamboo is environmentally friendly, grows fast and forms a nifty screen that walls off the neighbors. It's also eating suburban America.

Bamboo spreads relentlessly, like kudzu and Japanese honeysuckle, two other species that drive gardeners to distraction. Its roots are like steel cable, and neighbors sometimes battle over the consequences. A 2002 lawsuit, which complained that the plants were threatening a pool and a retaining wall, summarized one part of the problem: "Bamboo is not indigenous to Long Island, New York."

"The client thought it was evil," says lawyer Steve Lester of Garden City, N.Y., who represented the plaintiff.

Brent Langdon, a software engineer in Sterling, Va., spent two years trying to clear 200 square feet of bamboo lodged in the hard Virginia clay at a home he had bought. He used a pickax to soften the roots and applied potent Roundup herbicide.

After one exhausting weekend, Mr. Langdon decided to cut it all down and rented a large commercial chipper to dispose of the remains. The bamboo jammed the machine. It "wrapped itself around the coils," he recalls. He had to rent a trailer to haul the debris to the dump instead.

There are two popular types of bamboo that grow in the U.S., known as running bamboo and clumping bamboo. Running bamboo, not surprisingly, is the problem. Depending on the species, it can grow up to 80 feet high and 7 to 8 inches in diameter. Bamboo roots tunnel far from the plant and spawn new shoots, often dozens of feet from the original stand.

Not only does bamboo grow fast, it's virtually indestructible. Bamboo growers claim the plant was the first to re-emerge after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. William Aley, an import specialist at the Agriculture Department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, says he can't say whether the story is true, but confirms that "depending on how deep the heat flash was at a bomb blast, the shoots are formidable enough to survive having the above-surface portions destroyed."

Bamboo, which is most commonly found in East and Southeast Asia, became popular in the U.S. in the 1970s when homeowners began planting it. More recently, scenes of gracefully wafting bamboo in the 2000 movie "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" did wonders for that particular species, says Brad Salmon, president of the American Bamboo Society. Besides being beautiful, say bamboo advocates, the plant, as a source of material for flooring and some other building materials, is an environmentally appealing alternative to cutting hardwood forests.

So even as some people struggle to get rid of bamboo, others are out there planting more of it. Mr. Salmon, for instance, runs a business called Needmore Bamboo Co. in Nashville, Ind.

Plastic Moat

In Seattle, James Clever, owner of Bamboo Gardener, both spreads bamboo and experiments with ways to keep it from spreading too far. He recommends encasing the planting area with high-density polyethylene sheeting, sunk 2½ feet into the ground.
[Pampas Grass]
Associated Press
Pampas grass, a native of South America, is invasive in California.

He started offering polyethylene with a thickness of 40 mil, a unit of measurement equal to 1/1000th of an inch. But the bamboo "pierces it like a spear," Mr. Clever says. He found a plastics manufacturer that would go to 60 mil, but even that was "compromised by black bamboo." Now, he recommends using only polyethylene of 80 mil, about 1/12 of an inch thick.

Mr. Clever loves bamboo. If it spreads too much, "the problem is not bamboo, the problem is a human error" in installing and siting a stand of it, he says. "That's how I keep busy: lots of people out there screwing it up and getting it wrong."

There's little agreement on the best way to eradicate bamboo when it gets out of hand. Natural remedies such as pouring on salt or undiluted vinegar are generally scoffed at. Many experts suggest cutting bamboo to the ground, adding weed killer and then mowing regularly to keep new shoots under control.

Erik Christiansen, a doctoral candidate in history at the University of Maryland, used bamboo canes he hacked out of his garden in Greenbelt, Md., to build a compost bin and a couple of trellises. As far as getting rid of it is concerned, he says, "to me the only thing that works is you cut it down, it grows back, you cut it down, it grows back, you cut it down, it grows back. And hopefully it doesn't grow back after the third time."


In Kensington, Md., Scott Robinson, owner of a business that makes sports novelties, hired a landscaper to dig a trench in front of his bamboo grove. It stretches 50 feet across the back of his yard. His landscaper lined the trench with the kind of metal flashing more commonly used for roofing.

The bamboo roots, however, disappeared below the barrier. They sprinted sideways into a neighbor's yard, then doubled back onto Mr. Robinson's. "Literally, short of using a backhoe to dig up the backyard, I don't have a solution," he sighs. "We could keep a herd of pandas."

Francis Gouin, a professor emeritus in ornamental horticulture at the University of Maryland, who decades ago experimented with the tropical defoliant Agent Orange, has developed what he says is an eradication strategy that really works, involving the application of doses of weed killer at precise times. Mr. Gouin has simpler advice, though: "Don't plant bamboo."

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Dazzle's Dazzling Tricks!

Dazzle The Border Collie is now 3 years old - she has been learning tricks since she was a pup.
There are about 60 separate tricks shown in the video.
The music behind the video is by Josh Woodward.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Curious Baby Sloth

These are some of the baby Sloths down in Costa Rica at the only sloth sanctuary in the world.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Tornado Roars Right Next To Video Probe

Stormchasers drop cam-equipped probe in tornado's path, then run like hell. The captured footage is about as close as you'll get to a live tornado without getting your clothes torn off.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Attack of the psycho goose

Relentless assault on a tiny boat by a maddened
goose. It really is a bit like Jaws filmed on a
handy-cam. Except it's rather more embarrassing
to be mauled to death by waterfowl.
Anybody that's ever dealt with an unruly goose can surely relate to this. I'm surprised the dog didn't massacre it

Thursday, June 5, 2008


The insect class comprises the most diverse group of animals on the earth and constitutes more than half of all described animal species. Insect species also make up close to 90 percent (800,000 of 900,000) of all arthropod species.

The most distinctive attributes of insects are their (generally) small size, wings and metamorphosis. Feeding habits are vastly different, depending on the species of insect. Some eat leaves, flowers, seeds, fruits, bark, or roots from plants; others feed on the nectar or collect the pollen from flowers; while some prey on other insects.


Insects are widely distributed around the world, more so than any other group of animals; they are everywhere that green plants grow. Although they are mainly terrestrial, there are also insects that live in aquatic habitats (both fresh water and marine).


Like all arthropods, insects have an exoskeleton to support muscles and protect their body. Touch receptors are found on the antennae, legs, and feet. Insect bodies are composed of three distinct regions: The head, the thorax, and the abdomen.

The head is where the insect’s mouth, eyes (if they have them), and antennae are located. The mouth generally has an upper lip, two pairs of jaws, a lower lip and a tongue-like hypopharynx. The jaws work from side to side, not up and down like most other animals. However this mouth structure is not true of many insects, notably butterflies, which instead have a tube-like proboscis (see photo, at left) that is used for sucking up nectars.

An insect’s thorax is divided into three sections, each with a pair of legs underneath. The spiracles, which are tiny openings in the body used for respiration, are often on the middle and last segment of the thorax. Wings are located on the thorax of flying insects. The abdomen is made of plates that form ring-like segments, and mostly consists of organs used for reproduction.

Growth and Development (Metamorphosis)

All insects begin as eggs. The development from egg to adult—called metamorphosis—varies greatly, depending on the species. There are four main types of metamorphosis: anamorphosis, ametamorphosis, simple metamorphosis, and complete metamorphosis. Each represents a distinct cycle of development from the insect’s egg stage into adulthood. Most insects go through a larval stage early in their development. During this period they may or may not look like the full-grown adult.

Insects increase in size by molting their outer layer. This occurs regularly in the larval stage because growth occurs very quickly.

Once they become adults, insects take part in the complex ritual of reproduction. Most insects differ from other animals in that egg fertilization does not happen during mating. Sperm is stored by the females until their eggs are ready, at which time they are fertilized. However, unfertilized eggs can sometimes produce young in certain species. This is called parthenogenesis.

Social Insects

Certain insects live together as cooperating members of a social colony, in which different members of the group provide certain services in a caste-like system. In these colonies, there is often one queen that lays eggs while workers, drones and soldiers keep everything else running smoothly. All termites and ants, as well as certain species of bees and wasps are social insects.

Insect Impact

Although insects are generally considered pests by humans, they play an important role in the health of ecosystems.

Insects provide a major food source for many vertebrates, including bats, birds, and frogs, as well as for invertebrates, including other insects. Learn more:


When an insect population decreases, there are major effects on other animals; there is often a decline in certain animal populations, and sometimes a growth in population of other insects that are considered pests.

bee on flowerInsects also play a major role in plant reproduction by pollinating certain plants. Some species of bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, flies, and wasps contribute by delivering pollen on the same plant or on another plant of the same species, which stimulates seed production. Close to 65 percent of all flowering plants use insects as pollinators.

The carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus) is pollinated exclusively by members of order Lepidoptera (butterflies, moths, and skippers). Yucca plants (family Agavaceae) are only pollinated by yucca moths (genus Tegeticula). The star of Bethlehem orchid (Angraecum sesquipedale) depends on a type of hawkmoth (Xanthopan morganii) for pollination.

All beetle needs is love

Linton Zoo director Kim Simmons with Billy the beetle. Cameraman: David Johnson

A GIANT beetle with an inch-long horn is looking for love after sneaking into Britain - in a shipment of bananas.

The elephant beetle - more at home in the rainforests of Costa Rica - is now fully grown at nearly five inches long.

And time is ticking because elephant beetles - an endangered species - live for just four months.

The creature arrived in a container shipment of bananas from Costa Rica to London and was handed to Linton Zoo, Cambs, by pest control officers last week.

They nicknamed him Billy and are busy satisfying his voracious appetite - he munches mangoes and bananas.

Zoo staff cannot tell his precise age but believe him to be full grown because he has a 4cm-long horn and weighs 35g.

Linton Zoo director Kim Simmons said: "Billy needs to mate.

"He is showing all the signs and keeps displaying. He bobs up and down on his branch and taps on the ground.

Home - Billy the beetle at Linton Zoo"He has been making the most of his new home and emits tiny mating calls. It's like he's saying 'here I am, come get me'."

But the hunt for a female elephant beetle has so far drawn a blank.

Kim said: "We haven't been able to find Billy a Betty from zoos. Now we're pinning our hopes on private collectors."

Zoo staff believe it is a miracle he survived the journey.

Kim said: "It's a very lucky and tough insect having survived the journey to Britain and the pesticides designed to prevent unwanted creatures entering the country."

The elephant beetle population has recently been depleted by the destruction of the rainforests, which has reduced their grounds for mating.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008