Category Archives: Animals

How to make the best FREE DIY cat toy ever in just 5 minutes

I feel like the cat toys you buy in pet shops are made, not to attract cats, but to attract humans. After all, the toys are there to be sold, and it’s the human who has the money, not the cat. So the manufacturers make the toy look like something the human thinks a cat might like, something cute with bright colours and perhaps a cheeky little face or something, and of course cats couldn’t care less about that kind of thing.

The last few cats I’ve either looked after or owned have ranged from an incredibly hyperactive 1 year old (who once got so excited about a sunbird hovering over the water of the lake that he jumped into the lake itself) to a un-neutered male Norwegian forest cat who at about 2 years old was as much like a surly teenager as it’s possible for a cat to be, to a stout and dignified 14 year old lady.

The only thing all three of them have had in common is that they’ve absolutely LOVED the toy I’m about to describe. Even the old lady cat whose expansive belly made it quite hard for her to run around.

First of all, you need a short piece of string, some black thread (and scissors to cut it) and two elastic bands. I got the elastic bands off some bunches of asparagus that I bought, so if you don’t have any right now just save the ones you get when you buy vegetables.

Then you need to go for a walk in your local park, and pick up all the feathers you can see (unless they are old and yucky, and a stick (long and straight is better, but it needs to be reasonably strong).
Final step: Add cat!

Depending on how much spin you get on the toy you might find the cotton thread gets wound round a bit, so you’ll need to let it dangle somewhere to unwind it periodically. The cats also seem to like chewing the toy and kicking at it, so the rubber band is ideal but don’t be tempted to add anything metal to it to weigh it down or anything.

Once play time is over you’ll need to hide the toy away, don’t leave it anywhere the cats can access it or they might eat it and choke or something.

Hair wars

I put out some of the remnants of my haircut for the birds for nesting material, and it’s proved a hit!

First there have been some very sweet little bluetits, diligently hauling away beakfulls of hair every few hours. Everything was peaceful, until…
Dum dum DUM! Have you ever seen a more menacing pair? These are great tits, you can tell the difference by their black heads.
They were also very keen on my hair, but they were interested in the seeds I put out for them too.
The poor little bluetit could only look on in disgust, but this wasn’t the end of her troubles!
Seagulls and magpies! The real bullies of the bird world were soon to follow.

Three months of adventure, penguins, tinned food and no showers on the incredible Nightingale Island

Late last year I had the privilege of collecting field data for my Conservation Biology MSc thesis on Nightingale Island. I kind of shot myself in the foot a bit with that because it meant I had 3 months less time to write up than all of my classmates. I have little to no experience writing up scientific papers, and although I have good writing skills in general I’ve learned that scientific writing is a peculiar beast which requires weeks of sweat, blood and tears (oh, so many tears!) to wrestle into submission for those who have not encountered it before. I’ve had to get an extension for my write-up – I am very lucky that my supervisors are so kind, supportive and helpful – but living on Nightingale and working with the penguins was worth all of the trouble a thousand times over.

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Sun spider

On my holiday in the Karoo desert, the day before I was stung by a scorpion which had climbed into my bed:



I found an interesting looking spider half hidden under my pillow, which I have just managed to identify online. It gave me a bit of a shock at the time, because it was huge and hairy with big pincers:



And frankly I did not want to share a pillow with it. I captured it in a container, admired it for a bit (it was terribly energetic and had very fine beautiful white hair all over its legs and body), and then released it outside a short walk away from the house.

Anyway, today I found these pictures of it, and after a bit of hunting around I’ve found out that this is not actually a spider, but a Solifugid, an order in the Arachnida class like spiders and scorpions. Those huge fangs have no venom, and although they could give a human being a nasty nip they are pretty much harmless, although they can be rather aggressive hunters. And their natural prey is…….. can you guess? Scorpions.

Sun spider

What a lovely brave scorpion-eating thing

Yet another lesson that human interference with ecosystems (even if that ecosystem happens to be your bed) will only ever backfire. Who knows, maybe if I’d just peacefully let it share my duvet it would have killed and eaten the scorpion before it stung me that night, and I wouldn’t have had such a fright from it!


On my birthday (November the 5th) when I was asleep I was stung in the face by a scorpion in the Karoo National Park. It gave me a bit of a shock!

I would be perfectly happy never seeing one of these things ever again. I can’t help wondering whether it’s some sort of spooky sign that I shouldn’t be doing the conservation biology masters course I’ve signed up to next year, or maybe it’s the scorpion’s way of giving me a big scorpiony hug to say thank you for deciding to become a champion of biodiversity. Hmm…