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Animals, Family Travel, Greece, Travel, Turtles

Searching for Loggerhead Turtles in Kefalonia

It felt quiet, calm, more like a church than a beach. As we walked along the sand we spotted the wide tracks that looked like a child had pulled a toboggan from the sea up towards the dry mud cliffs.
Up the track was a small pile of sand, like a sandcastle waiting for a child to pat the edges flat.
The clues were all there. 
A female loggerhead turtle had hauled herself up the beach just hours before us, digging a  deep nest for her ping pong shaped eggs.
We all laid down flat on the tracks of sand, listening, as if we could still hear her heartbeat. 
Even the turtle’s tracks enthralled our imagination. We took big gasps of the salty sea air, filling our souls.
A British man, Nigel, in a wide brimmed hat with a friendly dog came walking towards us. He collected long sticks and with great care placed them in a circle around the nest to warn sunbathers that this was a sacred spot, not to be damaged with the pole of an umbrella.
As his dog bounced around the beach he told us that he lives in London but comes to Koroni several times a year to run retreats.

Koroni Beach, Southwest Kefalonia. Greece

He explained the mud cliffs have special healing minerals. He uses the mud in massages for his clients.
We made the mud into a paste, plastered it on our skin and let the sun dry it until it cracked. Then we ran into the sea to wash it off.
It was more exciting than any spa and our skin was really soft.
It was a full moon, perfect for turtles to lay their eggs. But our youngest children were tired and hungry so reluctantly we headed up the mountain to a hillside bar, Sesto, for some food.
The children laid on huge floor cushions and we sat at tables with palm frond sun roofs looking out at the spectacular bay. We ate delicious Greek salad, tatziki, chips cooked with oregano, and stared out at the beautiful sea imagining the turtles out at sea waiting to lay their eggs.
The tracks had left us desperate to see the turtles. The next morning Stuart and Summer, our 4-year-old went down to the beach just after light hoping to see a turtle. It was quiet and there were no signs of any more nests.
They drove to Mounda beach about 20 minutes away. Mounda was a place where there used to be many turtle nests. Perhaps it was too early in the season, but there were no nests evident at all. Maybe the deckchairs and tourists had put the turtles off.
In the local shop where they stopped to buy fresh figs and apricots, the owner’s mother told them we must go to Argostoli Harbour to see Caretta Caretta – the turtles.
The fishermen feed them scraps from their catch so we would almost definitely see them.
Stuart picked us up and we headed straight there.  As we drove up the main road in Argostoli  we spotted a crowd of people gathered by the harbour. Many of them had sky blue T-shirts with WildSense printed on the front and researcher on the back.
We parked and ran as fast as we could in the heat towards the people. The researchers had caught a loggerhead turtle and were carefully shading her in a wooden crate so they could tag her and do health checks for their studies. 
All we could really see was her reddish brown slightly heart shaped shell.
The lead researcher, Chanel, kindly explained to her excited volunteers what they needed to do and each one carefully helped with their precious catch. 
Then they gently lifted the giant turtle out of the crate and lowered her into the water. In a second she disappeared.
Chanel told us there are around 50 resident turtles living in the lagoon. They are the world’s only resident loggerhead turtles. She said that if we rented a pedallo we may see them swimming around.
At the lagoon we jumped into the motorised pedallos and set straight off. 
About ten minutes later we were lucky.
’Stop,’ cried Emil, ‘I can see a turtle.’ 
Just below the surface of the water we saw the shell as it glided by so fast. Then we saw his head pop up from the water like a periscope close to the boat.
We were all desperate to jump in the water and swim with him, but loggerhead turtles are a protected species and we were not allowed to.

Koroni Beach

It was 6pm when we got out of the boats. Paneri Panagiotia, whose family started the business four years, was so enthusiastic about the turtles. She was delighted that we were so excited to see them. As we stood chatting she spotted one gliding towards the harbour wall. She jumped in a boat to drive Stuart closer to him so he could take pictures.
The huge turtle glided right up to the harbour wall. He was one of
the largest resident males. He weaved his huge body effortlessly in and out the seaweed foraging for crabs.
Summer tried to launch herself towards him, she had only just learnt to swim, but she didn’t care. ‘I’m going in to see him,’ she said.
I really wished we both could jump in, but I held her hand tightly. 
Then a second turtle glided straight towards the large male. They banged their flippers on the water, spinning their heads around
as they lunged wide opened mouths at each other trying to bite. They were fighting over a female, explained Paneri.
Watching these turtles, it really felt like we were watching one of life’s miracles. Only 1 in 1,000  baby turtles survive until adulthood. These turtles made it through the perils at sea, the predators like crabs and gulls hoping for a tasty meal, they have avoided the fishing nets and human light pollution, deckchairs and umbrellas. 
We went home feeling deeply happy to have seen these ancient, beautiful turtles.
Wildlife Sense is a sea turtle research & conservation organization based on the beautiful island of Kefalonia, Greece
Argostoli Lagoon Activities for renting pedalos, electric boat or hydro bike

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Animals, Birds, Conservation, Family Travel, Islands, Photography, Travel, Wildlife

Perfectly Puffin

Every year thousands of puffins land on a select few islands and we have three short months to see them before they go out to sea again for the rest of the year.
We took our four children to the Farne Islands off the coast of Northumberland for their annual puffin pilgrimage.
There’s a storm brewing. The sea has turned a menacing petrol blue.
‘I’m sorry we have to cancel,’ says the captain. ‘You won’t enjoy it, there’s 47mph winds predicted. You don’t want to get thrown around on a boat out there.’
But that’s where he was wrong. My husband Stuart and my children don’t care about getting thrown around. They do care, however, about seeing the puffins.
The puffins have been elusive to us this year. We were in Scotland hoping to sail from Anstruther, in Fife, to the Isle Of May to visit them, but bad weather kept cancelling the boat.
Undeterred, we drove to Northumberland to try our luck in the Farne Islands, a seabird nirvana that we’d always intended to visit.
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Family Travel, Geology, Travel

Fossil Hunting in Watchet, Somerset

The film Jurassic World is creating a box office sensation, breaking records as the highest grossing debut of all time. We decided to take our children on a real Jurassic adventure and we discovered a vivid picture of what it was really like at the time of the dinosaurs.
 ‘Look up at the sky,’ says geologist Dr Andy King.
‘Imagine that all the seagulls you see flying above us are pterodactyls that look a bit like giant winged lizards.
‘If we were standing on this sand 195 million years ago, we would have been standing at the bottom of the sea.’
‘Look up again and imagine you are watching thousands of ammonites swimming around like enormous squids, with their tentacles extending from their shells waiting to catch their prey.’
My oldest children Yasmine, 9, and Emil, 7, are captivated by every word. Their four-year-old  sister Sissi keeps looking up at the sky nervously as if expecting flying dinosaurs to appear at any moment.
‘Now lets go and find some ammonites,’ says Dr King.
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Family Travel, Islands, Travel

Six Go On A Highland Adventure – Tanera Mòr, Summer Isles, Scotland

‘Let me get this straight. You are taking four children aged 9 years to 18 months on a train, car, boat and then smaller boat to an island where there are no cars, no shops, no TV and no internet,’ said my best friend her voice getting higher and higher as she realised from the look on my face that I was serious.
‘It’s a great idea,’ I said a little too cheerily, as her words seemed to bring home the monumental nature of the task.
The idea was simple, we wanted our children to experience the sense of freedom to explore that we had when we were children.
‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could let them be truly wild. It would be so good for them,’ I said to my husband Stuart, getting carried away with the idea after finishing a chapter from Swallows and Amazons.
I went online searching for a wild adventure and somehow the Summer Isles off the coast of the Highlands in Scotland popped up and I was sold.
Only one of the Summer Isles is inhabited, the beautiful Tanera Mòr. It has just six holiday cottages, a tiny post office and cafe, no cars, no modern life intruding. Bliss.

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Photography, Tonga, Travel, Whales

Snorkelling with Humpback Whales in Tonga

Looking down into the water, all I could see was the blue abyss. Then I looked up, and there she was: a 45ft humpback, floating just 20 feet away. In that moment, everything stopped. A marine encounter to top swimming with dolphins – swimming with whales.

By Julie Conway

For years I had longed to swim close to them and explore their world. And for months I had planned my trip, waiting patiently while they made their migration from Antarctica to Vava’u, a string of tiny islands in the Kingdom of Tonga, in the South Pacific seas, where they gather in large numbers to mate and give birth.

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Animals, Birds, Conservation, Ecuador, Islands, Photography, Travel

Photography – in The Galapagos

How to make the most of your camera in the Galapagos. Stuart Conway, an award-winning photographer, tells Julie Conway .

Splat. A splodge of goo landed right on my lens. It had been snorted out of the nose of a Marine Iguana sitting inches from my camera. Another narrowly missed my arm. This dragon-like creature wasn’t telling me to get out of his space; he was expelling salt water taken in while feeding.

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Animals, Birds, Travel

Flying Colours in the Rainforests of Trinidad & Tobago

The rainforests of Trinidad and Tobago are an ornithologists dream. Take a trip deep into the jungle to catch a glimpse of the bird of eternal darkness.

By Julie Conway

Darlington Chance saunters towards us just before 7am. We are caught without time for breakfast as we hoped he would follow Tobagonian custom by arriving at least half an hour late. Darlington is Tobago’s only Rastafarian guide. Wearing shorts, battered, unfastened walking boots, but no socks, he is ready for our trek. Despite the rising temperature, he is carrying no water. He chuckles at our attire: long trousers tucked into heavy socks that suffocate our sweating, trussed up feet; shirts covering us from our necks to our wrists; and enough insect repellent to warn birds within ten kilometres that something with a strange tang of citronella is entering their territory.

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Animals, Bahamas, Travel

Follow in the Footsteps of 007

So you’ve seen the film and fancy some of the old 007 magic?

Why not make it your mission to visit Nassau in the Bahamas, the backdrop for several Bond films.

By Julie Conway

Sitting in the swimming pool a rather dashing man sips a cocktail, a single eyebrow raised, as he tells a story to the bevy of beautiful bikini clad women around him who giggle simultaneously.

Palm trees surround the pool and just a few hundred yards away on the private beach yet more beauties frolic in the emerald coloured sea.

If this sounds like a scene from a James Bond film, it almost could be. For this is the British Colonial Hilton in Nassau, New Providence Island where scenes from Thunderball and Never Say Never Again were filmed.

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Animals, Catskills, Conservation, Travel

A Walk on the Wild Side

Just 160 kilometres northwest of one of the busiest and most congested cities in the world, over 1,000 black bears lurk in the wilderness, coyotes taunt and terrify domestic cats and mountain lions stalk their prey.

By Julie Conway

The road to wilderness from New York City is surprisingly simple. Head north on the Henry Hudson Parkway taking care to avoid the yellow taxis erratically changing lanes.

Drive straight over the George Washington Bridge and within two hours of the skyline disappearing from view you’ll be in bear country.

The Catskill mountains encompass over 9,000 square kilometers and are often referred to as America’s first wilderness because scholars trace the beginnings of the environmental conservation movement to this area. Continue Reading

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Animals, Catskills, Travel

Walk with the Bears

Over the past decade, Ben Kilham has raised over 33 orphan black bears, giving them all they need to get back to a life in the wild. Meet Ben and his cubs and hear the heart-warming, but often terrifying encounters with his charges.

By Julie Conway

My introduction to bears did not go exactly as planned. It was 9pm and our first night in a remote cabin in the Catskill Mountains a few hours north of New York.

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