Shad does the Arundel Wetland Centre

Arundel Wetland Centre

The deepest of greens, the brightest of blues and richest of browns, birds come in a stunning variety of sizes and colours.   They chirp, twitter, chirrup and cheap, squawk, croak and whistle.  If there was a prize for the species with the widest ranges of noises, surely they’d win hands down!  Or beaks up!  I was so excited when John’s daughter Natasha pitched up at the house and we bundled into the car on this cloudy grey day to visit the Wildlife and Wetlands Trust site in Arundel, West Sussex.  The Trust has spent many years protecting the wetland landscapes and conserving the thousands of species who rely on it or live in it.  Like the Whirligig Beetle who looks like a shiny black opal that gyrates around the surface of the water looking for aquatic insects to feed on.  If you think the word Whirligig is amusing, there are lots of funny named creatures in the wetlands.  See if you can spot the Taiga Bean Goose in the photos, a speckled brown bird with striped wings and an orange patch on her beak.

Surges of adrenalin coursed through my veins every time I saw the flicker of a wing or heard the splash of water but I knew to keep my distance from the vibrant wildlife given my appearance as a sleek black predator.  If only the birds and mice knew that I’m a sophisticated feline who jointly runs a photography business and has an active interest in the caring for all things nature.  As I hopped over the gaps in the wooden slats of the walkway and headed towards the thatched hide, a pair of Brent Geese floated regally by on the water, their reflections perfectly captured in the shallows beneath.  I peeked through the thick pallid winter reeds to spy on a lapwing cruising towards the bank with his fabulous feathered crown standing proudly at the back of his black head.  Suddenly John whispered to me to look up and there a Canada Goose hurtled towards me from the skies above.  I ducked my head down and ran away as she landed on the water with an enormous splash, quickly regaining her composure before gliding off with relative grace.

The handsome Kingfisher is one of my favourite birds, smartly dressed in blue and orange and contrasting with the pair of Shoveler Ducks with their shovel-like bills that were drifting elegantly by.  A Curlew paddled across the sandy wet terrain looking for worms and seeds to eat whilst a pair of Mallards with their characteristic blue stripe on their sides headed towards the long dry grass in search of a cosy corner to spend the night.  The trees and bushes provided camouflage for many perching birds like the Blue Tits who weigh a tiny 10g and somehow don’t get blown away by the winds.  The slightly larger Great Tit was staring at the freckled Dunnock who had spotted a bug crawling along the branch below and I felt like there was going to be a rumble!  Meanwhile a Chaffinch puffed its pale pink-beige chest out in envy at the Long-tailed Tit who had found a yummy piece of suet just seconds before.  The red, yellow and brown Goldfinch kept his beady eyes on the log mound decorated with 3 giant Stag Beetle replicas.  I sat by the log mound for a rest and started chatting to a delightful little bank vole who told me she scampers to the back of the kitchens every night for crumbs and morsels of food which set me thinking about supper.  Natasha has incredible stamina and could have gone around the Centre one more time but John and I voted for home via an eating establishment after a wonderful day out.

Shad admires the clouded leopards

I heard a rumour on the cat grapevine about some 8 week old clouded leopard cubs going on display to the public for the first time in an animal park that has a proven track record in conservation.  And by conservation I mean active involvement in ensuring that wild animals live free in healthy habitats and stay protected from all forms of hunting and poaching.  I was particularly excited about these cubs because the clouded leopard with its rapidly declining numbers is shrouded in mystery.  Native to the Himalayan foothills through mainland Southeast Asia and into China, this charismatic spotted cat is among the most secretive and least understood cat species in the world.  So I was curious to meet them and hoping to get a few tips on ideal napping locations and effective food acquisition techniques.  So John and I took a trip to visit these clouded leopard cubs and their mum far from home in her wooded enclosure.


I surveyed her compound searching high and low for this elusive creature and wondered whether she would be happy to see a kindred spirit, albeit a smaller domesticated one.  But her reputation for blending into the background was spot-on and in her natural environment the cloud-like smudges on her coat provide the ultimate camouflage in the dappled light of the forest.  I remembered that she is arboreal meaning that she is adapted to living in the trees so I scanned the boughs of the foliage in her pen and there I saw a pair of eyes watching me inquisitively through a gap in the twigs.  They belonged to a plump joyful clouded-leopard cub that climbed upside down along the branch it was on and descended head first like a squirrel to the ground.  Another precious bundle of fluff came creeping along behind, a little more shy I thought, closely followed by the broad paws of mum looking out for her offspring.  It was charming to watch the two youngsters wrestling with each other, leaping clumsily over each other and practising their vocalisations which sounded like squeaky growls and snorts.  It reminded me of the innocence of my childhood before I was wise to the ways of the world and I hoped that these two would grow up strong and happy and able to contribute to the survival of this extraordinary species.


The health of clouded leopards in captivity has historically been poor due to inadequate housing, exposure to zoo visitors and proximity to resident large predators.  But clouded leopard research and conservation projects have led to a better understanding of their needs and decent zoos now provide more spacious enclosures with multiple nest boxes at a variety of heights to reduce stress.  While the clouded leopard cubs cavorted around, their mum showed me how she sleeps on thick branches on her belly with her paws dangling over the sides in what she calls the ‘downward dog’ position.  The trick is to keep your body straight which allows for balance and ensures you don’t fall off.  She also recommended food based enrichment activities which she said were fun and helped her young develop their hunting skills.  So I vowed to be more cooperative next time John got my biscuit ball out or put some of my dinner on the puzzle feeder.  It was soon time to depart and the zoo was keen to limit the amount of time these guys spend around humans so I wished her all the luck in the world.  Perhaps these little fledglings will one day form part of a reintroduction into the wild where they can live without threat from wildlife traffickers and the exotic animal trade.

Shad does the Rockefeller Centre

Sometimes I have to remind John that he is 5’10” tall and I am 9½ inches from toe to back which by my calculations makes him 7 times higher than me, causing things in my world appear 7 times bigger.  It makes sense to me ok!  So when he suggested a trip to the top of the Rockefeller I hope he appreciated just how brave and dare I say heroic I had to be!  Luckily I had inspiration from the Greek legend Prometheus who took the form of a bronze gilded statue in the plaza close to the entrance beside an inscription that read “… Prometheus, teacher in every art, brought the fire that hath proved to mortals a means to mighty ends …”  On the way up to the Top of the Rock Observation Deck my ears popped which I found alarming but as no one else in the lift (or elevator to use the American term) reacted, I decided to hold my nerve steady and walked resolutely on to the Observation Deck with my tail proudly in the vertical position.  Seventy floors up, the viewing area provides a 360-degree panoramic view of New York City and is the setting for a famous photograph that was taken in 1932 during construction of a group of workers sitting on a steel beam without safety harness eating lunch with an 840 feet drop to the ground below them.

Click on the Image to see a 360 view

Click on the Image to see a 360 view

From that great height the New York skyline comprised endless rows of concrete peaks until I spotted a huge green patch of trees which I discovered was Central Park.  It was a relief to find a morsel of nature amongst all the buildings and lights of Times Square and Broadway so I was delighted when John and I took a stroll along some of the many paths that zigzag across the Park.  There were joggers and cyclists enjoying the fume-free air, twitchers with binoculars bragging about the red-breasted nuthatch they had just seen on a branch, and people with dogs of all shapes and sizes trotting obediently beside them.  Hidden within this woodland wonder was Belvedere Castle, an architectural mix of Gothic and Romanesque styles intended to be a Victorian Folly, with parapet walls and a traditional corner tower topped with a cone-shaped cap.  A beautiful lawn stretched out below and there was a large pond full of turtles swimming casually in the water and sunbathing on the rocks.

Central Park was my favourite park closely followed by Battery Park located at the Southern tip of Manhattan Island.  Due to its strategic location where the Hudson and East Rivers meet, The Battery became an area of military importance where canons and fortifications were erected to defend the city back in the days when the area was first settled by the Dutch.  Now it’s a picturesque waterfront preserved as a green space to promote conservation and biodiversity.  I strongly support this concept although I did object to the wasp that chased me all the way from the Castle Clinton national monument to the bench opposite the wild flowers which thankfully drew its attention.  I thought one of the red squirrels sniggered as I scampered past him but John assured me that it was a cough!  Still I was a little miffed and suggested we head to the 9/11 memorial site which was close by.  There, set within the footprints of the original twin towers, were two mesmerising cascades of water that flowed into the earth surrounded by hundreds of oak trees.   The name of every person who died was etched in bronze around the memorial pools and it was exquisite yet understated, a fitting tribute to the events of that day.

Shad does the International Bognor Bird Man

I never cease to be baffled and amazed by the curious antics of human beings and the ingenious ways they find to amuse themselves. I’ve watched them hurtle down an ice chute, pile on top of each other to take possession of a round thing and now this latest encounter – a crowd of people whooping and cheering as they watched other people in funny costumes leap into the air from Bognor Regis pier and fall into the choppy grey water below. John explained that this craziness was actually a competition held every summer at the seaside resort that is our home town where inventive individuals launch themselves of the end of the pier in an attempt to fly as far as they can in a human-powered custom-built flying machine. It has been a rich local tradition since 1971 and apparently is the oldest birdman rally in the world.

I watched proceedings with my head cocked and lip curled and it occurred to me that everyone there was an ordinary person who had put time and effort into creating an event that could push boundaries, entertain onlookers and strengthen community relationships. Some participants flopped unceremoniously into the sea with careless abandon, frilly knickers and yellow tropical bird suits flapping in the wind. Others achieved their goals to glide gracefully across the waves in their flying machines which was impressive considering some of these contraptions looked like a bicycle with an ironing board attached! The competition was divided into serious aviators such as this year’s winner of the Condor Class who reached 71.5m in a type of hang-glider and the inventors with home-designed machines competing in the Leonardo da Vinci Class. The most amusing participants were those in the Kingfisher Class with generally no flying ability whatsoever who demonstrated a quirky taste in fancy dress and a bucket-load of enthusiasm!

Shad attends the Symphony

John and I decided to inject a little class into our lives with a trip to St Pauls Church in West Sussex to listen to the Chichester Symphony Orchestra play classical melodies from the likes of Bizet’s opera Carmen and the works of Russian-born composer Tchaikovsky.  Did you know that Tchaikovsky’s first known composition was a song written at the age of four.  Four!  Now that’s talent.  So the orchestra are highly regarded amateurs who only perform 3 concerts a year in Chichester and John and I were given special dispensation to attend in order to capture the scene.  In other words, it was a freebie, and with a tasty salmon snack at the interval and a soft blanket under the orange hue of a stained-glass window I was one satisfied feline!

At home my ears are often subjected to cheesy sounds from the seventies such as Metallica, Meatloaf, Deep Purple and Dire Straits or endless renditions of Starship’s ‘We Built This City’, Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ and Huey Lewis and the News ‘Stuck with You’.  This usually results in me curling up under the wardrobe with my paws in my ears or shutting myself in the biscuit cupboard in an attempt to dull the noise.  However John sometimes plays one particular CD that is guaranteed to entice me out of my hidey hole – the soothing tones of Josh Groban singing ‘Coffee on the Table’ or ‘Le Temps des Cathedrales’.  The rich melodic tones and instrumental brilliance of the Chichester Symphony Orchestra playing with the acoustics of a large 19th century church can now also go on my list of favourites.  It was an emotional roller-coaster of gloomy echoes followed by galloping tunes interspersed with thumps from the drums and blasts from the French horn that really made me jump!  I felt that the music conveyed the joys and sorrows of life with appeal and integrity.  In the end the talented performers led the music into a turbo-charged climax that left me shattered and flabbergasted at how so many instruments, a harp, a giant gong, flutes, violins, cellos, bassoons, a tuba and piccolo, can all be played at the same time in such harmony.

Shad visits the street dogs of Bulgaria

I wondered what they would think about a portly black cat from a nice home that had all the food, toys and love a domesticated feline could ever want.  They would see my good fortune in my round tummy and silky fur as soon as I walked through the gate.  But I had nothing to fear from Big Dog, Holly, Sable and Topaz, just some of the many dogs residing at the Rudozem Street Dog Rescue Centre in Bulgaria.  These dogs get so excited when they see a new face because they know it means lots of love and attention, but life was very different for every one of these animals before they were rescued.  This is not the place to go into details but the cruelty and neglect that these courageous canines have endured goes beyond my comprehension to the further reaches of the darkest souls.  This is why it filled my purring heart with joy to see Dazzle and Kalahni swishing their tails with delight as they chased their battered plastic ball across the yard looking plump and fluffy.


I travelled through cities like Sofia and Plovdiv to get to my destination and watched the scenery morph from concrete jungles into the stunning landscapes that surround the shelter.  Thick forests of bristle-coned pine trees in every shade of green looked 500 feet tall and mountains so high they were capped by snow and obscured by wispy clouds that floated across this part of the Rhodope Mountains in Southern Bulgaria near the Greek border.  I walked along the stony edge of a lively river that surged past the shelter with Albert, Khaleesi and Big Dog and they all laughed at me when I meticulously shook and licked each paw dry after our trek.  I helped bath Pippa, a cute long-haired red-head who had got in a mess and I cleaned Stanley the puppy’s wound so that he could heal and be introduced to some new playmates, like Boomer, Punch and Wills, a litter of puppies found wandering around in the road.

It’s not easy taking a traumatised animal with no reason to trust people and helping it grow into the loving and loyal hound it was always meant to be.  But Rudozem Street Dog Rescue is a place of refuge for humans and animals alike, a place of hope and restoration, of dependability and determination.  And I was proud and honoured to be a part of it.  RSDR founders Tony and Diane Rowles, whose commitment to waifs and strays is beyond measure, looked after me so well and I know there are many unseen hero’s working tirelessly behind the scenes to support their cause.  My thanks to the lads working in the shelter who looked like scallywags from the wrong side of the tracks but who would have stood up to an angry crowd if it meant protecting the welfare of the streets cats and dogs.  They cleared up the poo and kept me fed and watered so all I had left to do was the fun stuff – play, walk, talk and rub noses with the fantastic beasts at the Rudozem Street Dog Rescue.

Shad goes back to Bluebell

Planes, trains and automobiles.  John is an enthusiast of all things fast and roaring.  That must be why he loves me so much!  Ok ok, I’m not that fast, but I do roar a lot when I’m trying to get my point across, as I explained to the handsome black labrodor on the platform at Bluebell Railway the other day.  He said his name was Marmeduke but his friends call him Dukie (not Duckie apparently)!  Dukie was there with his owner, a strong young man covered in axel grease we had seen earlier working on an some kind of engine as part of a vintage car rally just by Horsted Keynes station.  I told Dukie how impressed I was with his patience and generally angelic behaviour, given that the last dog I met was a mad yappy thing that arrived at my house one day, got majorly on my nerves and never came back!  Dukie on the other hand was composed, dignified and rather fetching for a canine.  He chuckled and explained that he was as much of a train buff as his owner and could spend hours watching the trains come and go and enjoying the cultured atmosphere.

The attention to detail at the Bluebell Railway makes it easy to transport yourself through time to the 18th century when someone called Tobias Hornblower would have tipped a station employee to carry his leather studded trunk boxes on to the sleeper car while he escorted his lady friend Ellsepeth Humfray to the dining car for a meal of mutton with thyme, marrow-bone hash and oatmeal pudding (eeww)!  The working model train in the station museum was so meticulously made that it had an operational junction box, sign-writing on the passenger carriages and freight wagons, and even different expressions on the train guards’ faces.

Dukie and I wandered around talking about the polished veneer carriages and the intricate engine parts that required many hours of human labour to be maintained.  We admired the volunteers who gave up their time to preserve this unique bit of English heritage and agreed that the whistles, chuffs, puffs and sighs of the steam engines were delightful to hear.  He showed me how he can sniff out a dining car at over 100 paces and I showed him the most effective strategy for acquiring a meaty snack from the kitchen assistants.  Then I showed him the best spot for a nap inside the station master’s cabin and he shared his water bowl with me.  We had a lovely time.