Half a century ago, Belgian Zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans first codified cryptozoology in his book On the Track of Unknown Animals.

The Centre for Fortean Zoology (CFZ) are still on the track, and have been since 1992. But as if chasing unknown animals wasn't enough, we are involved in education, conservation, and good old-fashioned natural history! We already have three journals, the largest cryptozoological publishing house in the world, CFZtv, and the largest cryptozoological conference in the English-speaking world, but in January 2009 someone suggested that we started a daily online magazine! The CFZ bloggo is a collaborative effort by a coalition of members, friends, and supporters of the CFZ, and covers all the subjects with which we deal, with a smattering of music, high strangeness and surreal humour to make up the mix.

It is edited by CFZ Director Jon Downes, and subbed by the lovely Lizzy Bitakara'mire (formerly Clancy), scourge of improper syntax. The daily newsblog is edited by Corinna Downes, head administratrix of the CFZ, and the indexing is done by Lee Canty and Kathy Imbriani. There is regular news from the CFZ Mystery Cat study group, and regular fortean bird news from 'The Watcher of the Skies'. Regular bloggers include Dr Karl Shuker, Dale Drinnon, Richard Muirhead and Richard Freeman.The CFZ bloggo is updated daily, and there's nothing quite like it anywhere else. Come and join us...

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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Loch Ness, A Scottish Fantasy by Johan de Meij

I have always been interested in music based on cryptozoological themes. Indeed I have composed a bit of that genre myself but to my knowledge, this is the first work of classical music based on a cryptid.

More about the composer...


BIGFOOT OF DARTMOOR (Try singing that to the tune of `Werewolves of London`)

It is a weird feeling being an orphan. My father died three years ago, and my mother seven. And not a day goes by that I don't think of some question that I wish I could have asked them. For example, today Oll was going through some cupboards that haven't been opened for years, and we found some Canadian medals, with no record of whose they were, and why we had them. I was irrisistibly reminded of the middle verse of Eric Bogle's Green Fields of France:

And did you leave a wife or a sweetheart behind?
In some loyal heart is your memory enshrined?
And, though you died back in 1916,
To that loyal heart are you forever 19?
Or are you a stranger without even a name,
Forever enshrined behind some glass pane,
In an old photograph, torn and tattered and stained,
And fading to yellow in a brown leather frame?

But that's not what I wanted to write about. A couple of weeks ago Naomi and Richie - CFZ bods from Texas - and Naomi's lovely mum, came to visit, and on one of the days they were here, Corinna and I took them to Dartmoor.

Now, I first visited Dartmoor forty years ago this summer; the summer I turned ten, and I remember seeing these odd indentations in the turf back then. I remember exclaiming (much as Naomi did a few weeks ago) that they looked like bigfoot prints. My father impatiently told me not to be silly, and then explained what they actually were. But I cannot remember.

Someone help!

RICHARD FREEMAN: The web of fear

Guest Blogger time for Richard Freeman again. It almost seems silly introducing Richard to you all once again when he makes an appearance as guest blogger several times a week. However, our viewing audience/ readers (whatever you like to call yourselves) is growing so fast that it is certain that some of you missed the last time I introduced him.

Recently a large orb weaver spider in Atherton, North Queensland captured a full-grown finch in its web, as these spectacular pictures show. Just a week later Townsville residents Tom and Judy Phillips took photos of a giant golden orb weaver spider eating a double-barred finch in their backyard. The finch was just over four inches long.

This got me to wondering what was the largest animal ever to be caught in a spider’s web? The tensile polymer is, after all, stronger than steel and kevlar.

In 2004 a 12-inch snake of unknown species was captured in the web of a Chinese house spider in Qingyuan county in the eastern Zhejiang province. After an 80 minute struggle, the spider managed to bite the snake in the neck and kill it. Though this was only a tiny snake the odds were still very much against the spider.
The same year Tania Robertson, a receptionist from Bloemfontein in South Africa, saw and photographed a brown button spider capturing, killing and partially eating an Aurora snake just under 6 inches long (see photograph).

      The spider had been nesting in the air-conditioning unit in her office.
        Both creatures are now in the National Museum.
              Once again the snake is a youngster but still much bigger and stronger than the spider.

                                  • In 2006 Lisa Parsonage from England snapped a picture of a red back spider killing a snake in a bush toilet at Henbury Meteorite Craters in the Northern Territory.
                                  • Again the snake is a small one. It seems to be that the snake gets its head tangled in webbing, giving the spider a chance to bite it then retreat to a safe distance.

                                  On youtube there are a number of films of spiders subduing vertebrate prey. These include several films of a live mouse been fed to a tarantula who swiftly subdues it without the aid of a web, as well as one eating a small lizard. All of these were filmed in captivity.

                                  A big factor is who gets the drop on whom. Giant centipedes often kill large spiders but here the centipede is killed by a tiny snake. http://www.youtube.com/watchv=FZFMhjTvWBI&feature=fvw

                                  Small bats also fall foul of spider’s webs. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZRQaCvCZeTo

                                  LAKE AND SEA MONSTERS: News from the Storsjoodjuret Project

                                  News from our friends at the Storsjoodjuret project, with a new picture....

                                  The summer is here! The summer is here for real and our summer attempts to catch The Great Lake Monster on film has once again begun. It has come some news since the last newsletter. For example, a very interesting picture of something mysterious in the water has been sent to us by a civilian who discovered the picture at our website using the camera function.

                                  The picture is now in the archive and you can also see it in the end of this newsletter. Observationcenter Svenstavik has also opened. Here you can watch all of the documented videos and pictures, registrated [sic] by our cameras and you can also watch some drawings of how a new observation center could look like. Adventually [sic] we will also have a small table for the children so they can sit and draw their own picture of The Great Lake Monster.

                                  So welcome in and we promise that more surprises are waiting! Observationcenter Svenstavik is open 12.00 – 17.00 weekdays and 10.00 – 14.00 Saturdays. The phone number to Observationcenter Svenstavik is 0046730808741. In the week 28 we are going to have an expedition here in Svenstavik, the so called “Summer expedition” of 2009.

                                  We are going to search for The Great Lake Monster using some modern underwater technologies like Sonar and Seago. Sonar, Sound Navigation and Ranging, is an underwater camera, specialized to track the sound under water and a Seago is an underwater robot with a camera. You will find more information about this in our next newsletter. We are looking forward to an exciting summer!

                                  THE CATS OF UPPER MINSTER: PART 14 - The Meeting

                                  The other week, as an amusing one-off , Tim Matthews wrote a silly short story spoofing some of the more ridiculous exploits of various self-styled big cat researchers over the years.

                                  It was so popular that he wrote another one and now - by public demand - it has become a serial. Every few days will see an episode of Timmo's new Fortean soap opera The Cats of Upper Minster. And having read the first few episodes I can confirm that it is bloody smashing and highly amusing. "I'll carry on until it stops being funny," says Tim, and you can't say fairer than that!

                                  A meeting was to be held at the Minster Village Hall and many villagers would be there out of concern. The local vicar, Thomas Harrison and the head of the Village Council, Lady Penelope Gregson, would be chairing the meeting at which The General would be speaking and locals would be able to ask some of the questions that were concerning them.

                                  The children were all going and Robin was bringing his camera to film events and to produce the first scenes for his internet movie, presenting, he hoped, a villager’s view of events. Many of the children’s friends would be going too and it was said that local farmers would be out in force almost certainly to give The General a hard time.

                                  The children met at the war memorial. Ellie had decided, after talking with Frieda, to stay away from the event and true to form, The General asked her to stay away because “things might get heavy”. He also didn’t fancy having any of the limelight being taken away from him by a pretty young girl, and a local one at that.

                                  As the children approached the meeting they said hello to lots of their friends and neighbours. All those attending had to fight their way past a strange man selling “Minster Beast” t-shirts and a van selling “Big Cat Burgers”. Disgusted, the children and their friends from the village mocked the money-makers and made their way into the hall.

                                  The place was a hive of activity; women from the local WRVS offering tea and sandwiches, the vicar speaking with a local radio station, Channel X TV personnel lauding it over the locals and setting up cameras for a “live link” and villagers mingling with strange people who looked like they rarely saw daylight. Various groups were giving out leaflets including the “Rendlesham Research Initiative”. Robin reliably informed his brother and sisters that in fact a lighthouse had been responsible for the sightings in 1980 but the people giving out leaflets – and asking for donations - said it was a government-alien cover-up, and that rabbits and radioactivity were also involved.

                                  The children sat to the left of the hall next to friends of theirs and Tom produced a huge bag of sweets including jelly snakes, curly wurlies and Sherbert Dip Dabs. He also had some other goodies in his bag but they were for later. (He was carrying materials that would be of use to friends; when the time was right.) Whilst munching away at their feast, Robin filmed various scenes and Frieda assisted by taking lots and lots of digital photos with mummy’s new camera. All would be included on a new website Robin had set up and that afternoon he’d used his pocket money to buy a website and domain name – www.minstercats.co.uk – which would become the main vehicle for putting out a sensible, balanced view of what was happening and also a lot of information designed to encourage all the visitors and trippers to leave as soon as possible.

                                  After around twenty minutes waiting, The Reverend Harrison stood up on stage and welcomed “friends and visitors” to the village, to the hall and to the meeting. He noted that such excitement was relatively unknown to locals and that some resentment had been caused but that he hoped that some understanding could be gained through the evening’s proceedings. “It is to be hoped that from tonight we can start to see thing’s from each other’s point of view and that the Spirit may guide us towards a common purpose,” he added. Lady Penelope then took the stage and declared that this was one reason why tonight’s meeting had been called; to see what could be done about the current state of affairs, the interruption to village life and what - if any - evidence there was for the many extraordinary claims being made. “It would be nice to see some of the outsiders acting with class and tact,” she added. Several people laughed.

                                  Reverend Harrison continued with a prayer and it was interesting to note that the villagers joined him and that the outsiders mocked. Just as the prayers were ending The General and his motley crew of shower dodgers burst in through the main door. His troupe pushed their way past some of the nice old ladies making tea and marched up to the front of the room where ABC sympathisers had saved some chairs for them.

                                  “I demand an audience,” screeched The General. “I must be heard!”

                                  His supporters, around 20 in all (probably the entire membership), clapped furiously as if The Messiah had entered the room but nobody else was impressed by this fake. Florence stood up and threw an empty bottle at him and was immediately chastised by her older brother even though it hit the target. “Silly girl,” he rasped. “We’re supposed to be pretending to just be here for the fun. Keep a low profile. Please keep calm my darling....” Florence went bright red but her actions met with the approval of her friends. It was a good shot. The General swung around with a look of hatred on his face and felt the back of his head to see if there was any damage. “Might knock some sense into him,” said Albert Brigstocke, a local gardener. Everyone nearby laughed.

                                  After a few minutes of bullying and loudness from The General, Reverend Harrison agreed to allow him to say a few words. What transpired can only be described as the rantings and ravings of a madman but to cut a long story short, The General basically said that Upper Minster had become, variously, a focus for dark forces, was being visited the devil and was “a centre for “Nephilim Activity.” The big cats were “a small part of it but evidence shows that Upper Minster is a window area for Paranormal activity.”

                                  He made some pretty offensive comments about local farmers too; so rude in fact that even the Barton family, who were sitting to the right of the hall near the back, were stunned. If he had been trying to win friends and influence people he had singularly failed but his brief from Yvonne Fawcett was to cause as much trouble as possible so she could get more dramatic scenes on camera and make it look as if the villagers had something to hide.

                                  After The General had finished, the floor was opened up to questions and it was at this point that local frustration and anger boiled over. It started with Susannah, the local vet, calmly but firmly asking The General a series of straightforward questions. “What evidence do you have for local big cat activity?” she asked.

                                  “Too much to mention here,” he said. “But Marj Seaton told me what she saw and there have been many other sightings too,” he replied.

                                  “Yes,” said Susannah, “but these reports, that I have seen on your website, could be anything. Having done five years training at Vetinary College and a further two years specialising, I can find no good evidence, no scientific evidence, to support your claims. Indeed,” she continued, working up a head of steam, “several of your supporters believe in aliens, UFOs, abductions, the global conspiracy and none of this has to do with big cats, and nothing to do with Upper Minster. Not one of you is a vet, none of you have any qualifications, none of you are experts and nowhere in anything you present is there any meaningful evidence. In fact, yesterday one of your supporters claimed to have found evidence of something you call “animal mutilation” of two field mice and I ask you, Mr Norman, why any of us here in Upper Minster should take you at all seriously beyond the offence and upset that you have caused.”

                                  Clearly shocked that a wretched local, and a damn vet too, should have inside information on his activities, The General struggled to maintain control. “Errm, well, yes, eh hem...yesterday we did make momentous discoveries down by the river and errr, we were ably assisted by, errm, local people, in making these finds. As I speak, the samples are being looked at by experts.”

                                  “There you go again,” interrupted Susannah. “Without meaning to bang my own drum and that of Minster Vets, which deals with all the local animals and provides an excellent service to people here,” (cue appreciative applause from local farmers and pet owners alike) she stormed, “I am the only real expert here. And you’re not talking to me and you haven’t asked for my help. What scientific methods are you using and which experts have you consulted? I think, given the interruption of village life you and these damn media whores have caused, that you should at least present us with evidence; a picture at least, or some detailed answers.”

                                  “Young lady,” The General replied, “you are clearly here to disrupt tonight’s proceedings and I am wondering who put you up to this!”

                                  “I put myself up to this. I realise you probably have trouble with women,” she added, much to everyone’s delight, “But I am asking questions that you don’t seem to be willing or able to answer. You are the one making the claims and I am the local vet. Now I do not discount the possibility that a large cat could be operating locally – one released into the wild perhaps - but you are coming here making ludicrous claims. I would like to know the names of the scientists you are working with and I can offer them my assistance and I am sure my friends here would prefer me to represent them than you misrepresenting them.” Massive applause erupted and people cheered Susannah. She was the local heroine.

                                  The General was beside himself and started shouting. He was a bully after all. At this, the mood changed from interest to anger. “Yes, she’s right,” shouted Will Smith, local shopkeeper. “Come on, tell us: who are the experts?”

                                  “Answer her questions you fat prat,” shouted Lynsey Stark, local mother of three. “You’re just talking lots and saying very little.”

                                  Other people joined in as Susannah sat down. Several local farmers got out of their seats and walked towards the stage wanting to have meaningful discussion with The General. He, meanwhile, was visibly distressed at this evil turn of events and fiddled with his glasses as Reverend Harrison struggled to maintain a semblance of order. Yvonne Fawcett was not pleased, either, as her propaganda coup was turning sour. It would look like she was working with idiots and her expensive live link was being ruined by what she saw as inbred locals.

                                  The General stood up and prepared to walk out with his people. The meeting was going nowhere but he figured that at least he was at the centre of attention and could present himself as the hero of the hour. Just then, on cue and as arranged, several of the Fox children’s friends armed themselves with some goodies Robin had prepared for the evening. Throughout the evening, Robin had been passing his friends little bags of ammunition. The General walked, with his nervous-looking troops, towards the back of the room, whose audience was shouting much abuse at him and telling him to clear off. As he approached the back, and the gaggle of journalists clamouring to ask him questions, a group of youngsters ran towards Farley Norman, shoved custard pies into his face and fired crazy string at him and his supporters. Others threw feathers. What a mess! The ABC Team was covered in bright colours and gunk and some looked shocked and terrified.

                                  Priceless! What a wonderful picture for live TV viewers and local media. Clearly, Big Cats Research had entered a new stage in its development....

                                  Robin Fox sat back and smiled. Things had gone nicely to plan. The General might think he was calling the shots and his sidekick, the Fawcett woman, might think she was famous and untouchable, but he was actually, a teenager, going to make things happening the way he and his family wanted them to happen.

                                  Tonight had gone very well for the Foxes.

                                  CFZ PEOPLE: LINDSAY SELBY WITH A USEFUL RESOURCE

                                  Lindsay Selby writes: 'The site below has lots of the old cryptozoological texts no longer available that you can read online for free. People might like to know about it.

                                  Also some good news, my daughter Naomi, who has ADHD and an autistic spectrum disorder, has just passed her MSC by research in plant science. I was told when she was 6 she would never come to anything and to put her in a special school but I didn't listen and even though there have been lots of tears on the way, she has made it and is looking to do a Phd. So I may have had to give up my masters degree but one of the family has succeeded. The university have said I can go back and finish my studies anytime I feel able to, but whether I will I don't know. It was mainly to keep me sane whilst unable to work. Now I have to decide what I can feasibly do and go for it.'

                                  Thanks hun

                                  'Legendary creatures play important roles in many ancient texts. Sometimes they are symbols of the hermetic processes of alchemy; in other cases they crop up in antique accounts of natural history. No doubt, these beings haunt our dreams and nightmares to this day. These are some of the books on dragons, were-wolves, unicorns, mermaids, giants and other elusive creatures at this site.

                                  Abominable Snowmen: Legend Come to Life by Ivan T. Sanderson [1961] The Bigfoot researchers' Bible, by the writer who coined the term cryptozoology.
                                  The Book of Were-Wolves by Sabine Baring-Gould. [1865] All killer, some filler.
                                  The Unicorn: A Mythological Investigation by Robert Brown [1881] Explore the deep mythological significance of the unicorn.
                                  Mythical Monsters by Charles Gould [1886] Dragons, Sea-serpents, Unicorns: fact or fiction?
                                  The Seven Tablets of Creation by L.W. King [1902] The Babylonian creation saga, including the battle between Marduk and Tiamat, a very angry goddess taking the form of a dragon.
                                  Fictitious and Symbolic Creatures in Art by John Vinycomb [1909] Lore of the fantastic beasts of English Heraldry.
                                  The Celtic Dragon Myth by J. F. Campbell and George Henderson [1911] The ur-myth of the struggle with the dragon, told in fine Celtic form with giants, mermaids and sidhe. (English and Gaelic)
                                  The Evolution of the Dragon by Grafton Elliot Smith [1919] The dragon: a neolithic symbol of the goddess, mutating into the prototype of the devil.
                                  Dragons and Dragon Lore by Ernest Ingersoll [1928] [EY]
                                  Lore of the Unicorn by Odell Shepard [1930] [EY] What is the reality of the myth of the unicorn?


                                  Richard Muirhead is an old friend of the CFZ. I have been friends with him for 40 years now, since we were kids together in Hong Kong. He is undoubtedly one of the two best researchers I have ever met; he and Nigel Wright both have what Charlie Fort would have no doubt called a wild talent; a talent for going into a library, unearthing a stack of old newspapers, and coming back with some hitherto overlooked gem of arcane knowledge. Twice a week he wanders into the Macclesfield Public Library and comes out with enough material for a blog post....

                                  Dear folks,

                                  these are stories from an uncorrected proof of News from the English Countryside 1750-1850 by Clifford Morsley (1979), which I found in a bookshop somewhere; I can`t recollect where.

                                  Boy eats cat

                                  Cambridge. On Tuesday evening a country lad, about 16, for a trifling wager, ate, at a public house in this town, a leg of mutton which weighed near eight pounds, besides a large quantity of bread, carrots, &c. The next night the cormorant devoured a whole cat smothered with onions.

                                  Cambridge Chronicle quoted in The British Chronicle 13 September 1770

                                  Strangest Phaenomenon within Living Memory

                                  Birbeck Feell, September 23. The following circumstance, however improbable, may be depended upon as a matter of fact. A farmer`s wife, in this neighbourhood, who attended duly to the milking of her cows morning and evening, observed for two or three mornings successively that her best cow was deficient in her usual quantities of milk; this made her suspect that some of her neighbours were not over honest, and communicating her suspicions to her husband, they resolved to watch all the succeeding night, which they did without making any discovery….
                                  Following her thither they observed a most enormous over-grown adder,or hag worm, crawl out of the root of the bush, and winding up one of the cow`s hind legs, apply its mouth to one of the paps, and begin to suck, which she suffered it patiently to do, till the farmer attacked it with a cudgel, and ere it could recover its den, kill it. It measured upwards of four feet in length and its skin, stuffed, may be seen at the farmer`s house.
                                  The whole is looked upon as the strangest phaenomenon that has been known within the memory of the oldest man living. The British Chronicle 15 October 1770

                                  Gigantic Goosebury

                                  A goosebury was gathered in the garden of Thomas Tebbit, a gardener of Soham, at the beginning of August, which measured 4 ½ inches in circumference. The Cambridge Chronicle and Journal. 27 August 1813

                                  Rider in the Sky

                                  The following story has appeared in several papers:

                                  Some months ago a very singular appearance apresented itself in the sky to several persons at Hartfordbridge, near Basingstoke. About noon was distinctly seen by many persons, without any difference among them as to the form of the figures in the clouds, a man on horseback riding at full speed, pursued by an eagle, which soon darted upon his head, when he lost hold of the reins, fell backward, and eagle,horse and man were seen no more. The figures were apparently of natural size. The County Chronicle 10 February 1818.

                                  Curious Fact

                                  Mr Charles Parker, of Arundel, brought home three very young rabbits, which for the sake of warmth were placed before the fire. The house cat had kittened the same day, and on discovering the young rabbits showed great affection for them; on the following morning all the kittens but one were destroyed, and the rabbits placed under the care of the cat, who has ever since showed the greatest solicitude for their welfare, and they are now thriving under the kind offices of their feline foster-mother.

                                  The Sussex Advertiser 4 April 1831

                                  GLEN VAUDREY: Copyright blog

                                  Glen is one of the newer additions to the bloggo family. He wrote to me out of the blue last year to ask whether we wanted a Western Isles volume in our Mystery Animals of Britain series. We agreed that we did indeed want one, and commissioned him. What we were not expecting was such a bloody good writer and all-round nice guy, who - by the way - is writing several other volumes for us, and he is even going to be speaking at the Weird Weekend. Wayhay!!

                                  BTW Lizzy and I are working through the final proof of Glen's book as we write, and it is smashing.

                                  While putting together the Mystery Animals of the Western Isles I came across a number of very interesting tales contained in various old books. Only some of these tales made it to the final draft but there was one about a phantom black dog on Mull that I definitely wished to include an account of. Eagerly and somewhat amateurishly, I approached the publishers of the book requesting permission to use the copyrighted material.

                                  When they asked what my offer was to reproduce this material was, I was momentarily stumped, then thought, 'I wonder if they would like one of my pictures?' Yes, they agreed and so it was that the Black Dog of Ardura can be found in all its gory glory. With publication of the book being on the horizon I have in the last few days posted off a picture in way of payment. It is one of the original concept sketches for the spotters guide that forms part of the book and features a rather dashing each uisge. I hope they like it as much as I did.

                                  NEIL ARNOLD: Zooform Phenomena - Mole Kingdom

                                  I have known Neil for fifteen years now, since he was a mod schoolboy with ambitions for adventure and I was an earnest young hippy who merely wanted to start a club for people interested in unknown animals. Nothing much has changed over the years; we are just both a tad older....

                                  It has often been theorised that a majority of ‘zooform’ creatures are 'tulpas', or unintentional manifestations created by the human psyche. There is also the possibility that such phantasms, or monsters from the id, can be created intentionally. One such example was researched by George Foot Moore, an American Orientalist and religious historian, who died in 1931, who took on the view that ‘monsters’ are mental projections, although it has never been explained as to how several people can muster a creature. However, over the centuries such ‘monsters’ have been born in the form of dragons, fairies, phantom hellhounds and the like, to the modern day manifestations known as Mothman, the Jersey Devil and the Bray Road Werewolf of Wisconsin.

                                  Polish expert Julian Ochorowicz coined the term ‘ideoplastic’, which he used to describe the unconscious power of a medium to create tangible and apparently autonomous physical forms. Another Polish researcher, Franek Kluski was said to have caused the materialisation of more than two-hundred apparitions, mostly in the form of animals. His most famous manifestation, or projection was the shaggy ape-man which appeared at a séance on 20th November 1921, under the supervision of Professor Geley. The bizarre beast materialised and Geley felt the apparition rub shoulders with him, and also give off a pungent stench. This monster resembled a similar ape-man conjured on August 10th 1923, and was said to have lifted several chairs (which women were sitting on at the time) and also overturned a sofa. Famous ghost hunter Harry Price also partook in several séances where ‘ghosts’ of children were manifested.

                                  This complex nature brings me to the tale of the ‘Mole Kingdom’. This strange place was created by the already mentioned Franek Kluski, but when he was a child. He described how he would often lay down for hours in the corner of the room of his parents house, and then as darkness drew in, he would arrange two chairs with a rug positioned over them, resembling a makeshift camp. Franek would then lie under the ‘camp’ and visit what he called the ‘Mole Kingdom’. Although his parents left him to it, knowing full well how the imagination of children worked, little did they realise that Franek was interacting with ‘creatures’ he’d manifested. On one occasion Franek invited a couple of friends to join him under the canopy of the rug where they all heard a vase break, a strike from a clock that had been broken for a long time, and the footsteps of the ‘Mole’. The vision appeared to be enshrouded in a bluish cloud, and was accompanied by two children who those in attendance knew had died some years ago. Franek told his friends that dead children often came back to life in the ‘Kingdom’.

                                  Scientist Charles Richet called this ‘place’ the ‘cryptocosm’, or in occult circles it has been known as the ‘astral world’; places where dreams come to life. Of course, those who raise such ‘monsters’ seem able to dispose of, or control such levels of strangeness, but is this world, which we inhabit, plagued by forces or apparitions and monsters, which we have, over thousands of years, unintentionally manifested? It seems so, and certainly, in my opinion, the only way we can fully describe what Jon Downes originally coined as ‘zooform phenomena’, peculiar ‘monsters’ or forms with animal characteristics, which are not your average ghost of a pet. However, with the full power of the mind as yet not understood, what creatures could we create intentionally if we really wanted to? And should we attempt such a practice?

                                  OLL LEWIS: Yesterday’s News Today


                                  I really can’t think of anything even remotely entertaining that I can do on Tuesdays as well as posting links to the latest cryptozoology news stories that Corinna has entered on the CFZ cryptozoology news blog, and ruining it all with a bad pun. If anyone does have any suggestions then write up a comment after this blog. However, before anyone gets too excited at the prospect, let me just pre-empt you by saying I DO NOT do poetry… under any circumstances. I had several ‘bard’ experiences (do you see what I did there?) with it.
                                  And now the news:

                                  Not just cuckoo's clock that's upset by climate change
                                  Two men guilty of badger digging
                                  Rare fish 'proves water quality'
                                  Map of elephant DNA reveals trail of ivory smugglers
                                  Heath fritillary butterfly sees boost in population
                                  The eagles have landed in Scotland
                                  Three Spix macaws, one of the world’s rarest birds, hatched in captivity
                                  Two New Frogs Discovered in Western Australia
                                  Thieves 'using Google Earth to steal koi carp'

                                  According to the police, the thieves get around by motorbike and side‘carp’.

                                  Monday, June 29, 2009

                                  CFZ PEOPLE: Kithra is a grandmother (again)

                                  Congratulations to Liz from Cornwall, aka Kithra of http://kithraskrystalkave.org.uk/ on the birth of her fifth grandchild, a girl called Brooklyn, who weighed in at 7lbs 3 oz. It is good to have some good news for a change....

                                  CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY

                                  It was Alan Friswell who told us about the Center for Biological Diversity (pedants please note: the organisation is based in the US so I use their spelling of Center/Centre, not ours, before someone starts accusing me of double standards), and he sent me a copy of their latest newsletter. I was very impressed and said so; so I checked out their website, which reads:

                                  'At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

                                  We want those who come after us to inherit a world where the wild is still alive.'

                                  Well, how the hell can you argue with that? I can't. The latest issue features news of a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Maricopa Audubon Society forced the U.S. Department of Agriculture to re-examine a tamarisk leaf-eating beetle programme that's been hurting the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher. Fascinating stuff.

                                  DOWN IN THE STREETS OR DOWN IN THE SEWER

                                  Sunila Sen Gupta from Switzerland sent us this:

                                  Uknown life form lives in sewers. Notice the retraction of a stiff nail-like object from the third and last creature from the seam in the pipe.

                                  NEIL ARNOLD: The Maidstone Monkey

                                  I have known Neil for fifteen years now, since he was a mod schoolboy with ambitions for adventure and I was an earnest young hippy who merely wanted to start a club for people interested in unknown animals. Nothing much has changed over the years; we are just both a tad older....

                                  A Mr Price reported that a year or so ago, in the wilds of Maidstone, he was awoken one night by a startled domestic cat. Upon reaching his bedroom window and looking out, he was amazed to see a 'monkey' bound along and head off towards the woods.
                                  Mr Price had seen a large puma a few years before but the last thing he expected was a monkey. In height he stated that the creature was Labrador-size, but the length smaller than a domestic cat, as on all fours it leaped by.

                                  Read On

                                  WHITE TIGER/CHIMP INTERACTION

                                  When I was a boy white tigers were exceptionally rare. Indeed, from memory, I remember reading something claiming that the only ones in the world were at Bristol Zoo, to which they had been presented by the Maharajah of somewhere or other in the 1920s.

                                  Now they seem to be everywhere.

                                  Either my Boy's Book of Knowledge, that my Auntie Phyllis gave me for a birthday present in about 1966, mislead me or Siegfried and Roy teamed up with the fugitive Josef Mengele somewhere in Bolivia in the 1970s and carried out a series of Boys from Brazil-type big cat breeding experiments. Or possibly there is a third explanation.

                                  However, that is not what I wanted to write about. Beth from Hartland Wildlife Rescue recently sent me a series of pictures (from which I have extracted these five) of some ridiculously cute Chimpanzee/ White tiger cub interaction.

                                  Having lived with Richard Freeman for the best part of a decade, and known him even longer, I have always been conditioned by him to think of chimps as mean, vicious killing machines, the "pilled up hobo with a hammer" of the higher primates. But surprisingly Richard confirmed that such interactions are not uncommon.

                                  He writes:

                                  The public's view of the common chimpanzee as a cute, cuddly, mischevious little scamp is one of the most egregiously wrong assesments of any animal. Around eight times stronger than a man, armed with savage teeth, and a demented hatred of almost everything and everyone, the chimp is one of the most dangerous and unpredictable animals on earth.

                                  I have worked with over 400 different species of animal and the chimp is the one I trust the least, and one of the very few for which I have an have an active dislike. Some animals will kill you for food or if they think you are a threat. Chimps will kill out of sheer malice and bloodlust. One of a chimp's favourate tricks is to tear a man's testicles off when attacking him.

                                  How odd it was, then, when I found out years ago, that chimps like cats and dogs. Back in my days as a keeper at Twycross Zoo (home of the now huge and vicious PG Tips chimps) I was told by keeper Betty Walsh that chimps love to play with dogs and cats, and are quite gentle with them.

                                  I have seen several film sequences of this occuring and the normally brutal chimps being as gentle as lambs.

                                  HAPPY BIRTHDAY RAY

                                  A few years ago, just before my father was taken ill, and I was forced to move from Exeter to North Devon, Richard and I went to a lecture at the Arts Centre in Exeter. It was by Ray Harryhausen, the master of stop-motion animation, and the father of such films as Jason and the Argonauts, Clash of the Titans, and various voyages of Sinbad.

                                  It was a fascinating evening, and shaking his hand afterwards is a memory of which I am very proud. In fact, of all the famous people I have met over the years, it is Harryhausen, Dave Brubeck (whom I interviewed in a Torquay Leisure Centre in 1989), and John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin that I ever dine out on, and of the three the greatest is Harryhausen.

                                  Why am I sharing this with you today? Well, Alan Friswell writes:

                                  Hi Jon.

                                  I don't know if you would like to post this up, but it's Ray Harryhausen's birthday today (29th), and he's still working on new projects at the age of 89, so there's hope for us all. I'm sure that everyone on the CFZ site would like to wish Ray many happy returns, and say thanks for all the great movies that he has given us through the years.

                                  Al :)

                                  Right on Al!

                                  STEVE JONES: Singing Mice

                                  It is always a pleasure to welcome a new blogger, and a double pleasure when the aforesaid new blogger is an old friend. Ladies and Gentlemen, may I introduce Steve Jones. Not the Sex Pistols guitar hero, but the Yorkshire JP and witch, who I take pleasure in introducing to people as "my mate the Pagan Magistrate"....

                                  I have just got around to finishing reading last years CFZ yearbook (In my defence, I have a pile of stuff to read!). I finished reading Jon's article on singing mice and thought I would turn to the trusty Google to see what else I could turn up. Cue lots of sites featuring an animation of a mouse singing "You Sexy thing" to a lump of cheese!

                                  However, it did turn up a copy of the article in Time in 1936 on a singing mouse already mentioned by Jon in his article. More interestingly, however, I found this article from 2005, which I don't recall having come across before:


                                  Not only have scientists found out that male mice do sing, but that it is a sexual response. I note that Jon's researches on the subject mentioned mainly male mice. The site has two mp3 recordings of singing mice for you all to listen too as well! It would seem, though, that as the mice are usually chirping ultra-sonically and thus beyond the normal human hearing range, the ones that became showbiz stars must have been the equivalent of mice Basso Profundo's!
                                  I now have a mental image of a mice opera in my head!

                                  Here is a link to the paper on singing male mice:
                                  It turns out that there is a lot of stuff on the net about singing mice. Here is a document on their distribution and song affected by climate:

                                  OLL LEWIS: Yesterday’s News Today

                                  Yesterday’s News Today

                                  Today is a Monday and Monday is Movie Monday on YNT. This week’s film is the other really good Stephen King prison story, The Green Mile:

                                  And now, the latest cryptozoology news and bad pun:

                                  Wildlife skyscraper wins design award
                                  Woylie Conservation Research Project
                                  Tracking device leads authorities to stolen snake
                                  Monkeys fall for visual illusion
                                  Fears over return of 'black plague'
                                  I share my home with 11 cats - four cheetahs, five lions and two tigers
                                  Scientists find tiny new bat species: Geneva museum

                                  ‘Bats’ really small.

                                  Sunday, June 28, 2009

                                  COLIN HIGGINS: Giant, hay-eating eel

                                  One of my favourite guest blogs is that of Colin Higgins from Yorkshire, who - incidentally - was the winner of the compy in January's On the Track, where he won my ever-lasting admiration by recognising Surabaya Johnny by the ever lovely Marianne Faithfull. He also went on the lash with Shane McGowan back in his student days, and is obviously a very fine fellow....

                                  R. Taylor, The Wonders of Nature and Art, 1780

                                  “Some time ago in the last century, the farmers near Yeovil, whose fields lay contiguous to the river, suffered greatly by losing vast quantities of hay; for which several people were taken up on suspicion of stealing the same; what added to the surprise of everyone was, that the hay missing did not appear to be cut, as it usually is, but pulled out as if by some beast, but that appeared a little improbable, as several loads were lost in the space of a few nights; a circumstance so alarming to the farmers induced them to offer a considerable reward to any who should discover how their hay was destroyed.

                                  A company of soldiers quartered then at Yeovil, some of them for the sake of the reward, undertook to find out the affair. They made their intention known to the people injured, who readily accepted their offer; and a night was fixed on, to begin their watching, in order to make a discovery. The appointed time came, and a dozen of the soldiers after eating and drinking plentifully at the respective farmer’s houses, went on their new enterprise with bayonets fixed, and muskets charged, as if going to engage an enemy. They had not been long in ambush before one of them espied a monstrous creature, crawling from the side of the river, towards one of the stacks of hay; he instantly told his comrades. A council was immediately called, and they all unanimously agreed, if the bear devoured any of the hay, that two of them should get behind the stack, and fire at it, while the others dispersed themselves at different parts of the field, in order to intercept it, if it escaped their comrades vigilance; but the precaution was needless, for the soldiers fired their pieces with such dexterity that they soon laid the monster sprawling. This done all ran to see what was slain; but the moon not shining very bright, their curiosity could not be satisfied; though some of them said it must be the devil, in the shape of a snake. Highly pleased with this exploit, they hastened to the farmers and made known how well they had succeeded in their enterprise.

                                  Next morning all the neighbours round, with the farmers, their servants, and the soldiers, went to see this amazing creature, and to their no small astonishment, found it to be a prodigious eel, which, it is supposed, not finding subsistence in the river, came out (ox-like) and fed on the hay. It’s size was such, that the farmers ordered their men to go out and harness eight of their best horses, in order to draw it to one of their houses, which with difficulty they did. When they got it home, the soldiers desired leave to roast it, there being a large kitchen with two fireplaces. This request was granted; and after cutting it in several pieces, fastening each piece to a young elm tree, by way of a spit, they put it down to roast. It had not been above an hour before the fire, until there was as much fat run out of it, as filled all the tubs, kettles, &c., in the house, which put them under the necessity of going out to borrow; but at their return they found the inundation of grease so prodigious, that it was running out of the keyhole and crevices of the door.”

                                  Quoted in Fish, Fishing and the Meaning of Life, selected and introduced by Jeremy Paxman, Michael Joseph 1994

                                  AN ANCIENT GREEK FEMALE ATHLETE FLUTTERS BY

                                  According to ancient Greek mythology, Atalanta was an Arcadian (according to Apollodorus) princess. Apollodorus is the only one who gives an account of Atalanta’s birth and upbringing. King Iasos wished for a son, and when Atalanta was born, he was greatly disappointed. He left the baby on the mountainside so Atalanta would die in the cold and from hunger, since he did not believe she was worth bringing up as a child.

                                  A she-bear found her and took Atalanta in order to live with her. The she-bear took care of the baby, nursing her and keeping the little child warm. After, kind hunters found her and took care of Atalanta. In the end, she was a wonderful hunteress, and skilled athlete.

                                  It has always seemed fitting to me that her name was given to one of the most striking British butterflies, the 'red admirable' (now red admiral), a glorious butterfly with a complicated life cycle. http://www.ukbutterflies.co.uk/ explains:

                                  "This species occurs in Britain as a migrant originating from northern Africa and southern Europe, and being an extremely mobile species, can turn up in any habitat including woodlands, grasslands, meadows, heathlands and moors, coastal habitats, riverbanks, low montane habitats, gardens, parks, allotments and town centres. Males also gather at certain grassland hilltop sites, apparently to intercept migrating females. The number of migrants varies according to variations in climate in Europe, and this greatly affects the number of UK bred butterflies seen later in the year.

                                  Migrants arriving in the early spring oviposit on stinging nettles growing along hedgerows or in woodland glades, producing a summer brood in the UK which typically emerges from mid July to early August. In late summer these butterflies migrate south, and there is some evidence that the butterflies attempt to overwinter in southern woodlands. There have also been several occasions when I have recorded Red Admirals entering factory buildings and houses in November. The butterflies awake on warmer days in early winter, and sightings are relatively common in woodlands on sunny days between December and late January. In hard winters they seem unable to survive the hard frosts of February, but in 2006 there were almost unbroken sightings in Hampshire and Dorset from January to April, providing fairly conclusive proof that the butterfly can successfully overwinter in southern England."

                                  Two magnificent males have turned up in the CFZ garden, and are strutting around the place as if they own it. Whether they are migrants freshly arrived from Africa, or newly emerged ones that have been gorging themselves on stinging nettles since the spring, I don't know, but they are certainly welcome additions to the butterfly fauna of the garden.

                                  We have had a fantastic year so far for butterflies in the CFZ garden. Not up to what it was like in the 1970s, certainly, but by recent standards, fantastic. We have recorded the following species:

                                  Large white (Peiris brassicae)
                                  Small white (P. rapae)
                                  Green-veined white (P. napi)

                                  Common blue (Polyommatus icarus)
                                  Holly blue (Celastrina argiolus)

                                  Red admiral (Vanessa atalanta)
                                  Painted lady (Vanessa cardui)
                                  Silver washed fritillary (Argynnis paphia)
                                  Speckled wood (Pararge aegeria)
                                  Wall (Lasiommata megera)
                                  Grayling (Hipparchia semele)
                                  Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus)
                                  Meadow brown (Maniola jurtina)
                                  Small heath (Coenonympha pamphilus)

                                  There are some notable absences from this list. I haven't seen a small tortoiseshell all year, and I haven't seen a comma, a brimstone, or a peacock since I returned to North Devon four years ago. The irony is that when I was a boy catching butterflies in this garden, I was not interested in the browns or Satyridae. They were too insignificant and dingy looking.

                                  Now, they are the biggest component of the garden butterfly fauna.

                                  We have our collective thinking caps on trying to work out ways of increasing our bio-diversity for the next season.

                                  OLL LEWIS: Yesterday’s News Today

                                  Yesterday’s News Today

                                  Today, for your viewing pleasure, I’d like to introduce you to a new themed day for the Yesterdays News Today bloglet; Stereoscopic Sunday. As some of you may know I recently acquired a Stereoscopic camera and have been showing it off to anyone I can press-gang into wearing red and cyan specs.

                                  This has also given me the opportunity to do things for the first time they’ve ever been done in the history of mankind. Sure, it might not be an achievement as impressive as, say, walking on the moon, which Neil Armstrong did or discovering America, as Prince Maddog did, but taking the first 3D photo of a mermaid is pretty damn cool in my book.

                                  And now, the news:

                                  Wood harvest puts pandas at risk
                                  Battle To Save Penguins Facing Extinction
                                  Cattle to graze on heathland
                                  Return for damselfly in distress
                                  Rare moth is sighted on Skye estate
                                  New mums ‘basking’ in glory of world exclusive pup births
                                  Dolphin 'super pod' seen in firth
                                  Baby pine martens back together again

                                  The poor little fellows were probably ‘pine’ing for each other.

                                  ONE PIECE OF GOOD NEWS

                                  A few weeks ago we asked is this the end for charity fish auctions?

                                  TIM ADDIS WRITES: I had to think hard about continuing the auctions as Alan had to pull out through continuing health problems. Alan's sisters also wanted to pull out so I had to decide to stop them or pull others into the organisation. I'm pleased to say I have had enough volunteers from those already attending the auctions to say we can now go forward & continue.
                                  Alan will hopefully still be coming to the auctions but he is finding it a little hard to do the heavy lifting at the moment, which is understandable. Next auction is booked for the 6th December. As always, details will be put on the usual web page with loads of reminders beforehand.

                                  So, that's one piece of good news.

                                  A COUPLE OF INTERESTING ARTICLES..

                                  Just a couple of interesting links that popped up in my in-box this morning:

                                  Screaming Kangaroos: Large Anomalous Marsupials in the USA? The largest, and perhaps most famous of the macropod family (that is, creatures with large feet) are Australia's iconic hopping delight, the kangaroo. Used as a national symbol appearing on the Australian coat of arms, some of its currency, and a variety of other places, this unique saltatating (jumping) creature has become a mainstay of Australian culture.

                                  Considered a cultural icon in their homeland, kangaroos are believed to exist only in their native Australia. But alas, perhaps all the wonderful treatment kangaroos get Down Under just isn't enough; in spite of our scientific understanding that the creatures are endemic to Australia, anomalous appearances of the creatures elsewhere have occasionally turned up over the years, lending to theories of Screaming Kangaroos, and large marsupials existing in parts of the United States.


                                  Spain: The Bigfoot of the Pyrenees Friday, June 26, 2009Spain: The Bigfoot of the Pyrenees INEXPLICATA has written elsewhere about the "simiots" of Spain's Catalunya and Upper Aragon - creatures that may well find their U.S. counterparts in our very own Bigfoot. Today, Raul Nuñez of the IIEE sends us an interesting article on another supersized inhabitant of the Pyrenees -- the towering "Basajaun", a regular feature of Basque folklore.


                                  I.T HELP NEEDED

                                  Colin Higgins, one of my favourite bloggers, has written:

                                  "For the past few weeks I've been getting occasional messages when I open a web page [on the bloggo]:

                                  "Internet explorer cannot open this website - connection aborted".

                                  This now happens with every page making the site unusable. Not IT literate enough to diagnose the problem myself but thought it might be worth reporting it case it's something your end."

                                  Has anyone else got this problem, or indeed, does anyone else know what could be causing this? It only happens on our pages, and not on other blogs in the bloggo network like Karl or Corinna.

                                  Suggestions please.

                                  Saturday, June 27, 2009

                                  LIFE IMITATES ART

                                  Yesterday Karl Shuker posted this story about thunderbirds, and illustrated it with a striking Bill Rebsamen illustration of a thunderbird attacking a small plane. Imagine my amusement, therefore, to find this: a video of an eagle attacking a remote conrolled aircraft....

                                  Raptor attack! from Billwhit on Vimeo.

                                  DARREN NAISH IS BOTH BIG AND CLEVER

                                  He has managed to get swearing and cryptozoology into a serious piece of work on his increasingly enteraining blog on Science Blogs.
                                  He writes:

                                  It's well known that elephants have a major impact on their environment; indeed, they're what's known as ecosystem engineers. In a new study, Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz, of the University of Tokyo, reports that Asian elephant dung might serve a hitherto unreported role as a microhabitat for certain small frog species. While inspecting Asian elephant Elephas maximus dung piles on Sri Lanka in 2008, Campos-Arceiz was surprised to discover individuals of the microhylid frogs Microhyla ornata and M. rubra and a species of the dicroglossid Sphaerotheca [shown here] hiding inside or under the piles (if you need to know where microhylids fit within the anuran radiation, see the Tet Zoo article here; I haven't got round to covering dicroglossids yet).
                                  Read on »
                                  Darren, dear boy, you are - as always - an inspiration to us all.

                                  THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN KINGS DIE

                                  I am more than slightly bonkers at the moment. It is ten past ten on saturday night, a time when all God-fearing cryptozoologists should be doing anything rather than lying in bed, medicated to the gills, with a smelly dog, a bottle of brandy and The Beastie Boys 2004 album To the 5 Boroughs blaring out into the over-warm midsummer evening. I only listen to hip hop when I feel ill, but it somehow strikes a chord with the psychotic side of my personality that only comes out when I am ill.

                                  However, apart from the fact that Biggles really doesn't like the sampled dog noises on one of the tracks, we are quite a peaceful sight. I don't really want to talk about my Mental Health issues - I have never made any secret of the fact that I am very severely bipolar with twinges of a schizoaffective disorder, but I mention it only to set the scene of why I am lying on the bed doing all this stuff at a time when normal people would be doing something else.

                                  I have spent the last two hours scouring the internet to find this 1977 music paper front cover. Why? Is it because I am psycho this evening?

                                  Not really. It is because I wanted to illustrate a weird coincidcence. As a fortean pundit, strange coincidences are my sock in trade.

                                  I still remember where I was on the night of August 16th 1977. I remember mosly because I wrote one of my better songs - Elvis died for our sins - about that night. The opening lines are:

                                  I was watching television
                                  when the newsflash came across
                                  Elvis died in Memphis,
                                  but I didn't give a toss
                                  because I wanna be adored by peasants
                                  (cos adoration's where its at)
                                  I wanna play Las Vegas twice a year,
                                  get crazy, stoned and fat

                                  Four days later I did what I always did every thursday between 1973 and about 1992 - I bought the music papers. And being a snotty young 17-year-old punk who bought wholesale into the Joe Strummer ethos of No Elvis, Beatles or Rolling Stones in 1977, I started ranting about "opportunistic capitalistic scum using dead rockstars to boost sales blah blah blah" but it was nothing of the sort. It was just a coincidence. The Elvis cover had purely been to illustrate a story about some rock and roll revival reissue rodeo (or something equally as alliterative).

                                  And for thirty-two years I have cited this as a weird example of acausal synchronicity. Now something strikingly similar has happened.

                                  Although in the years following his death I became somewhat of an Elvis fan (I have actually been reading one of the better biographies of the man, on and off, for the last few weeks), I never used the term 'The King of Rock and Roll'. Like calling Bernard Heuvelmans 'The Father of Cryptozoology', it is not true and merely vulgar hyperbole. However, for the first time since August 1977, someone in the entertainment industry, who had been given a 'royal' title by the music press has died suddenly. He was Elvis's son-in-law, and also - it is beginning to appear - died of polypharmacy at an early age.

                                  And look at the cover of Q, published just before he died....

                                  In 2009 I don't care about Michael Jackson's death much more than I did about that of Elvis back in 1977, but I do find acausal synchronicity enduringly fascinating!

                                  Weird, huh?

                                  PS: I only discovered this while sitting up in bed reading Q this morning, but this issue also includes an article on rockstar deaths. Prescient or what?

                                  WE WILL, I HOPE, BE BACK TO NORMAL TOMORROW

                                  I am sorry that the evening posts are so late. There have been a string of issues -personal, medical, computer, family, animal etc - which have got in the way. Don't worry - nothing terribly bad happened, but a lot of annoying things rolled into one. Also the ongoing jackdaw saga has meant we are running terribly late today, and I am feeling a little under the weather, and will be retiring to bed any moment. However, I hope that everything will be back to normal tomorrow.

                                  love to all,


                                  FROM THE ARCHIVES: What's been did and what's been hid

                                  What's been did and what been hid

                                  by Jonathan Downes

                                  I have been a fish keeper for nearly four decades now, and with the onset of middle age I find myself rapidly entering old git territory. One of the enviable traits of the middle-aged is that they can bore on about how things were much better in their youth. I remember, when I was about 12 or 13, my father spending an entire lunch telling me and my younger brother that the Led Zeppelin album that I had just received was atrocious, decadent, and not to be mentioned in the same breath as the Glenn Miller records of his youth. Don't worry, guys; I am not going to spend this entire article droning on about how much better fish keeping was in the 1960s. Mainly because it wasn't. Our hobby has come on apace, and I - for one - would hate to see a return to the bad old days.

                                  However, if you'll pardon me relapsing into old git territory, there are some notable absences from the show tanks of tropical tropical fish shops - mostly fish that used to be kept widely and which are now very seldom seen, but a few, which as far as I know, have never been kept within the trade and I have never understood why.

                                  The Mosquito Fish (Gambusia affinis)

                                  I have extolled the virtues of this singular species in these pages before. I think that it is true to say that if it were not for this particular fish, that the tropical fish hobby, and furthermore the multinational industry that supports it, would not exist. These were the first tropical fish to be kept in temperate climes. They are attractive, showy, engaging little fellows. If I may dare to be anthropomorphic - something I usually avoid like the plague - they are one of the few little fish that really seem to have characters. All the other members of the live bearers that I have come across are nice enough little beasts but hardly riveting company. Don't get me wrong - I have enjoyed keeping Platys any time since 1966, but even the most beautiful of them pales into insignificance besides a male gambusia in breeding colouration.

                                  Originally these little fish come from the warm areas of the southern United States and Central America, but they have a natural attribute that mankind has found irresistible. Their favourite diet is mosquito larvae, and they have been introduced to many parts of the world - including southern Europe - as a preventative measure against malaria. Sadly, however, they have lapsed in popularity as a pet (largely because of their pugnacious nature), and they are very seldom seen in the these anodyne days. If you actually manage to get hold of any please do - you won't be disappointed.

                                  Paddyfield Eel (Monopterus albus)

                                  I was brought up in the last days of the British Empire. Indeed, during my childhood in Hong Kong, I was a witness (though I did not know it at the time), to the last years of Empire proper, before the remaining jewel in the Crown succumbed to a creeping menace of laissez faire capitalism. I remember the governor driving past in his open-topped car and a hat decorated with ostrich plumes. I remember the cannon being fired each day at noon. My memories of the 1960s, therefore, are somewhat different to those of anybody who lived through the decade of love in the UK. My early years as an aquarist, therefore, were spent on the opposite side of the world and so I have no real idea whether this wonderful species was ever widely kept in the UK. Similarly, because I have not lived in the Orient since 1980, I have no idea whether paddyfield Eels are still kept as pets in Hong Kong. But if they ain't they damn well should be.

                                  Paddyfield eels are not eels at all, but members of the order Sybranchiformes or swamp eels. They grow to a length about a hundred centimetres, and are - as the name implies - vaguely eel-like in shape. They are mostly and muddy brown in colour, although there is a very striking chestnut colour morph. They are practically indestructible, and I have seen them kept alive on Chinese market stalls in wicker baskets, which are occasionally doused with water. Why, you must ask, am I extolling their virtues as pets? They ain't exactly attractive. No, they are not, but they are highly intelligent - and in my 38 years of fish keeping I believe that they are by far the cleverest fish that I have ever kept. Various girlfriends (and an ex wife), over the past two decades have complained that I keep fish and other animals in tanks and that you're not able to interact with them in the same way that you can a dog or cat. Well duh! They live in water for one thing, but if you are looking for a fish that will become your constant companion during those long winter evenings then you cannot do better than one of these.

                                  They can become hand tame, will feed from your hand, and will even learn to recognise different people in the room. Nobody ever believes me when I say this, but I even had one once that would let me pet it. They are fantastic fish, and I believe that although you cannot buy them in pet shops, they are imported for the Chinese food market.

                                  There is, of course, a downside. They will devour any other animal in the tank with them, and in parts of America and Hawaii they have become introduced into the wild where they have become an invasive pest. This has given them an enormous amount of bad press. However, I have been a journalist for many years and can whole-heartedly advise you not to believe all that you read in the papers. Try buying one of these fish - shove it in a tank by itself. Don't bother to decorate the tank, your new pet will destroy any ornamentation you care to provide, and will uproot all plants, but you'll have a friend for life.

                                  The Bitterling (Rhodeus amarus)

                                  Even 15 years ago these fish were commonly seen for sale in high street pet stores. However, I haven't seen them for years. This is a great pity, because they are cheap and delightful pets. They are attractive little things - of a strange violet hue, and are lively and fun to watch. But it is their breeding habits, which are most notable. In the spring the males possess all the colours of the rainbow, and the females develop a strange fleshy ovipositor. In order to breed successfully they need the presence of a freshwater mussel into which the female lays her eggs. The male guards the mussel until the eggs have hatched.

                                  Once upon a time these were very commonly kept, and as far as I'm aware it is purely because of the vagaries of fashion that they are no longer seen in pet shops. There are several closely related species of bitterling including some from the Far East, which can be kept in tropical tanks rather than cold-water ones. These charming little fish are well overdue a comeback.

                                  If you ever get a chance to keep them, please do. You will not be disappointed.

                                  Freshwater Pipefish

                                  For my final selection I would like to choose something a little bit different. Freshwater pipefish are occasionally seen on dealers lists in the USA but I have never seen any in this country. The Syngnathidae or Pipefish family includes over 200 species, distributed worldwide except for the polar regions, mostly in marine environments. A small number of species reside in freshwater habitats. The Syngnathidae family is characterised by a body encased in a series of bony rings; a tube-like snout; and a lack of pelvic fins. Eggs are incubated in the abdominal pouch of the male.

                                  Freshwater species are found in Africa, Indonesia and Central America. I first heard about them in one of Gerald Durrell's excellent books about animal collecting in Africa in the 1940s, and they have fascinated me ever since. From what I can gather, they are relatively easy to keep in a 35-45 gallon (132-170 l) tank. The tank should have a sand - preferably coral sand - substrate and be in a location that receives morning sun. Plant the tank heavily with plants that can tolerate the slightly brackish water conditions. The filter should create a moderate current and the tank must be well aerated. They can even be bred in captivity. With the growing popularity of exotic species such as freshwater stingrays, it is only a matter of time - I believe - before they are available commonly in British shops. When they are, remember where you read about them first.

                                  ANOTHER EMAIL FROM SOSTRATUS

                                  Dear Sir,

                                  Well, I seem to have made an unexpected splash with you and your community! I feel rather a celebrity. I must say you are the first person to find my name ‘fabulous’, myself included. I’m quite proud of myself: one of my grandchildren has just shown me how to do ‘smileys’ so :)

                                  I found this in the Daily Express yesterday and thought it might interest you.

                                  You’ll have to forgive me; I have no idea how to turn it round to the right way up.


                                  Sostratus Winston

                                  THE JACKDAW SAGA CONTINUES

                                  Yesterday, as you know, we released Jerry the Jackdaw into the garden. He hung around for the rest of the day, and I have to admit that I was getting worried. He 'squawked' plaintively, and then got all territorial and had a noisy face-off with the neighbourhood blackbirds. One particularly pugnacious cock blackbird who lives in the bushy hazel hedge behind the lower aviary block took great exception to Jerry, and a verbal sparring match ensued that lasted until dusk.

                                  Occasionally I would see two black shapes flying furiously over the bottom lawns, usually the blackbird chasing Jerry, but sometimes the other way around.

                                  Then at about 6:30 Beth Tyler-King, returned. The lovely Bethany is the doyenne of the Hartland Wildlife Rescue Service. In fact she pretty well is the Hartland Wildlife Rescue Service. She brought with her two more jackdaws; one with a manky eye (that was beginning to heal nicely), and another that had been hand-reared, and whilst not imprinted on humans, was so close and friendly to the one-eyed one (immediately christened 'One-Eyed Jack' by Corinna), that it seemed a pity to split them up.

                                  They were soon ensconsed in the jackdaw aviary, and fluttered about lustily while in the tree above them, Jerry 'squawked' enviously.

                                  This morning Jerry was still squawking plaintively in the tree, and the two newcomers seemed more than a little unsettled. One-Eyed Jack escaped when Oll went to feed them, and so - as there was actually nothing much wrong with the other, and she had only been there as a companion to Jack (Corinna had named her 'Black Pearl', btw) - we let her go. One-Eyed Jack flew straight up into the tree where Jerry was sitting. They sat together with every sign of friendliness, but when Black Pearl joined them, the two friends flew off leaving Jerry looking rarther forlorn.

                                  So, for the first time in weeks we were jackdaw-less. But not for long.

                                  I wasn't very well earlier, and so I went back to bed for a bit to take my 'mendicine' (as my mother used to call it when I was small). I awoke a couple of hours later to the news that Jerry had flown down from the tree-tops, voluntarily re-entered the aviary, and was pottering around the floor looking for mealworms. To protect him from cats we shut the aviary door again, and now we are back where we were yesterday.

                                  One-Eyed Jack and Black Pearl have flown off to pastures new (hopefully together), and Jerry is back in our protection eating mealworms like there was no tomorrow. Funny old world isn't it?

                                  MORE MILDLY AMUSING NONSENSE

                                  OLL LEWIS: Yesterday’s News Today

                                  Yesterday’s News Today

                                  Right, by now most of you should know the drill: every Saturday on this bloglett I attempt to build up my part with Soundtrack Saturday. It doesn’t really work of course because nobody actually reads this preamble, as evidenced by the fact that not one person even tried to answer Thursday’s trivia question. Anyway, enough of that. Yesterday (although 2 days ago by the date this will have been uploaded) we witnessed the death of Michael Jackson. Whatever you think of him as a man it has to be mentioned that he sang some damn good songs. For my money the best of his songs was not Thriller but the often overlooked Smooth Criminal:
                                  And now, the news:

                                  Wildlife Faces Cancer Threat
                                  Prairie dog of Bodmin
                                  Thailand a hub for growing illegal ivory trade
                                  France to face EU court over great hamster disappearance
                                  Many sharks 'facing extinction'
                                  More than 100 fish killed in pollution spill
                                  Thousands of eggs seized in raid
                                  Corncrake fights back from extinction
                                  Legless frogs mystery solved

                                  If I were a newt I’d be really worried right now about frogs encroaching on our similes….

                                  ANOTHER UNIDENTIFIED INSECT

                                  Found this bug in my garden. Don't know if it is a wasp or bee, or if it's native to the UK.

                                  Thanks, Steve