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Chlidonias Goes To Asia, part six: 2019

Discussion in 'Asia - General' started by Chlidonias, 7 Dec 2019.

  1. Chlidonias

    Chlidonias Moderator Staff Member

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    For about five weeks during October and September I went MIA from the forum (that's "Missing In Asia"). I've been saving for quite a long time already for my next trip but because that one will be a Mega Trip and not just a Big Trip - and because there have been a few unexpected things I have had to fork over lots of money for - I suspected I wouldn't have enough money by the time the intended departure date came around at the start of 2020, so I've pushed it back another year to somewhere around the start of 2021.

    I hadn't been overseas for TWO years though - I came back from my last trip in mid-2017 - and that's not really acceptable. Therefore I planned out a quick trip where I would basically jump around a few different places, mostly targeting specific mammals I hadn't seen yet but for which I'd found (supposedly)-reliable sites. You could legitimately say this trip was mostly just a mammal-twitching trip (and I got nine new mammals, so it worked out quite well).

    I was trying to keep my pack weight down so I left my laptop at home and consequently was absent from the forum and out of contact with the world for most of the trip. That's why the writing of this trip thread is so far removed from the actual trip date. I find it much more difficult writing reports after the trip than I do during the trip, because all the normal work-life routines get in the way. Plus it is much easier writing about interesting things soon after they happen as opposed to months later. Hopefully it will all work out. Probably don't expect constant posts though - maybe one per week if lucky.

    My bag was still a bit heavier than I wanted even without the laptop - my check-in pack weighed 9.6kg (or 10kg on some airport scales, even with exactly the same contents) and my carry-on weighed about 4kg. The carry-on bag is for the "essential" breakables like camera and binoculars, but there was enough spare space in my main pack to put everything in there when not on a plane (i.e. I didn't have to walk around carrying two bags). It's funny how much very little ends up weighing.



    Normally in my trip threads I like to keep some mystery about where I'm off to on each step, but I've already posted the route and lists in the Big Year thread (and cannibalised that post for this post). So below is the outline of the trip:


    SYDNEY
    I had one night and the following day in Sydney, so I spent them at Warriewood Wetlands and Centennial Park.

    Targets: Sugar Glider and Southern Long-nosed Bandicoot at Warriewood; and Powerful Owl at Centennial Park.


    SINGAPORE
    There were two main objectives for my two days in Singapore. Firstly to visit Jurong before it closed, and see the Spix's Macaws, Lear's Macaws, and Philippine Eagles (I saw the last two, but the Spix's refused to show). Secondly to look for a pangolin. There is a particular spot where more than a handful of mammalwatchers have seen a Sunda Pangolin. One of those people was @lintworm and it is totally unacceptable for another moderator to have seen a wild pangolin when I have not. I know almost all the moderators have seen captive pangolins (it is a requirement of becoming a moderator) but a wild pangolin is a whole different ball-game. I wasn't actually that hopeful of seeing one, but I had my fingers crossed.

    Targets: Sunda Pangolin.


    MALAYSIA
    After Singapore I crossed over the strait to Peninsular Malaysia and headed to the Panti Forest for general animal-watching (mainly to try and see the local subspecies of Banded Leaf Monkeys), then went all the way up to Taiping to visit the Taiping Zoo (hoping their Marbled Cat was still on display, which it was). I also spent a day-ish at Maxwell Hill for Agile Gibbons, then a couple of days at Bukit Fraser, and then flew to Thailand.

    Targets: Banded Leaf Monkey and Agile Gibbon.


    THAILAND
    A couple of years ago (right after my last trip ended, annoyingly) I had found out about a couple of temples in the north of Thailand which are visited by habituated Assamese Macaques and Indochinese Grey Langurs respectively. I was in Thailand for less than three days, solely to visit these two spots. I felt a bit stupid going there just to dash between two temples to see habituated monkeys (the macaques in particular only come there for food), but I'd been waiting for a trip that I could tie them into and this was it.

    Targets: Assamese Macaque and Indochinese Grey Langur.


    LAOS
    The second of the aforementioned Thai temples is at Loei, which is not far from the main border-crossing with Laos, so it made sense to add that into the mix as well. This was the only "new" country of the trip. I went to a place called Ban Na Hin which has not fared well with poachers apparently and I saw very little, so I bailed and went back to Thailand.

    Targets: Laotian Langur and Bald-headed Bulbul.


    THAILAND again
    The original intention here was to just be passing through Thailand, basically travelling down from Laos to Bangkok the day before my flight homewards. However I had a bit longer here than anticipated (due to abandoning Laos) and managed to get in some birding at some of the local spots around Bangkok with wavering success.

    Targets: none.


    BRISBANE
    When sorting out the travel plans for this trip I discovered that there are now direct flights between Bangkok and Brisbane with Thai Air Asia, which only started in June this year. I'd only been to Brisbane once before, in 2008, and it rained every day I was there, so I was hoping to add at least a few new species to my life lists on this visit.

    Targets: Greater Glider, Squirrel Glider, Little Red Flying Fox, Dugong, and Australian Humpback Dolphin.



    I'd count the trip as successful. Of my thirteen "target mammals" I saw eight of them which, given that I generally only had one or two chances for each one, was a better-than-expected total.

    I only had one real "target bird", which was Powerful Owl, but the "always reliable" birds at Centennial Park in Sydney hadn't been seen in a few weeks so I missed out on those. I saw ten other life-birds though - three in Asia and the other seven in Queensland.

    Because there was rather more "travelling-between-places" than "being-in-places", relatively few of the days in Asia could be used for all-day birding - in fact, in Thailand (the first time I went through) there were no birding days at all, and literally all of the birds I saw were from bus windows or while walking along the road. So the three life-birds I did see in Asia were a welcome surprise.

    Out of interest, I counted up how many of the birds in my southeast Asia field guide I have seen. The book contains about 1290 species including all the vagrants and stragglers. Of those I have seen 860 species - two-thirds - hence why I see so few new birds when travelling there. There are still a handful of common birds which somehow I haven't managed to see yet, but mostly the ones I'm missing are species which have very restricted distributions, are reclusive rainforest-dwellers, or are just vagrants which I'm unlikely to see anyway.
     
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  2. DavidBrown

    DavidBrown Well-Known Member

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    Did you see the dugongs?

    And did TLD find a powerful enough stream of profanity and invective to complain about what a lucky %#$!%$ you are to have seen a marbled cat before he did?
     
  3. Chlidonias

    Chlidonias Moderator Staff Member

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    He's seen photos of Marbled Cats, so that's close enough. And I've posted photos before of Marbled Cats I've seen in museums and I think those satisfied him.
     
  4. TeaLovingDave

    TeaLovingDave Moderator Staff Member

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    Satisfied, or terrified - one of the two :p
     
  5. Chlidonias

    Chlidonias Moderator Staff Member

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    DAY ONE - the one with the tick



    When I travel to and within Asia I usually use Air Asia, my favourite airline for various reasons. On my last trip I flew with them from Auckland to Australia to Kuala Lumpur, which was going to also be my route on this trip. However, upon going to book the flights, I discovered that they had stopped flying out of Auckland at the start of the year due to low passenger numbers. My alternative was the obvious one of flying to one of the Australian cities (Melbourne, Sydney or Gold Coast), and then flying with Air Asia from there.

    I knew that the flights from Australia left in the evening (budget airlines almost always do international flights at unfortunate hours) but this was in my favour, because it meant that I could fly into Australia in the morning, spend all day looking for birds, and then fly out in the evening. It would basically be a free day's birding on the trip. While comparing the different flight times from the Australian cities I noticed a budget airline named Scoot which has direct flights between Sydney and Singapore. This was actually a lot more convenient because Singapore was my initial destination anyway - flying straight there would save me at least a day of getting down there from Kuala Lumpur. I had never heard of Scoot though; it sounded a bit dodgy. Turns out it is a budget branch of Singapore Airlines, so in fact an established and reliable carrier. I booked a flight with them.

    Sydney was therefore locked in. After googling bird sites and looking at a map of the city I chose Centennial Park for my day's birding. Not only is it right in the centre of the city but there is a direct train from the airport to the park. Also there is a resident breeding pair of Powerful Owls in the park which would be my first "new" bird of the trip. [For future reference, for people not up on their birding lingo, "new" and "lifer" mean a species which one has never seen in the wild before].

    It seemed like a simple plan but it had a small wrinkle in that to catch an early-morning flight out of Wellington I would have to take a taxi to the airport. In New Zealand taxis are not exactly cheap, especially before dawn. I played around with the flight times and eventually realised that it would be cheaper to fly to Sydney the day before. I could take a bus to the airport for a few dollars, and the cost of a hostel in Sydney would be significantly cheaper than a taxi to Wellington airport. Even better is that I would be able to fit in an evening's spotlighting for marsupials, and would also have an earlier start for birding in the morning. Problem solved.


    [​IMG]

    This lifesize eagle from Lord of the Rings is in the Wellington Airport.


    The flight to Sydney was with Virgin and took three and a half hours, arriving at 3.15pm on Sunday afternoon. Local temperature was 21 degrees, about 10 degrees higher than Wellington had been. The kid in the seat next to me spent approximately 99% of the flight yelling and screaming. Surprisingly, nobody threw a cup of hot coffee in her face.

    New Zealanders have free access to Australia - although unfortunately the same is also true in reverse - and there is no need for trivial matters like visas. Upon arrival there's a simple scan of your passport at one of the automatic readers, tick the "nothing to declare" option, and you can literally walk straight out without even a bag x-ray. The customs official drawls "you're right, mate, out this way" while swatting away flies and dingoes, and you're on your way. It's super easy; barely an inconvenience.

    Before leaving the airport I needed to buy an Opal Card. If you come from a city which has public transport which uses cards rather than cash, then you'll know all about how these work. If not, then they are a card which you load with funds and swipe on and off when using buses or trains. The fee for the ride is deducted and usually there are quite some savings over using cash (up to 50% in some places). Additionally some places have daily caps on how much using public transport will cost if using one of these cards. For Sydney's Opal Card, the daily cap is AU$16.10 except on Sunday when it is only AU$2.80 (!). In Christchurch, in New Zealand, the daily cap is two buses (any buses after that are free) and if you use the card five days in a row (i.e. every weekday) then the weekend is entirely free. As a tourist you do tend to lose money at the end, though, because generally any leftover funds can't be withdrawn. For the Opal Card I was left with about AU$8 unused, and for the EZY-Link Card in Singapore with about SG$8 unused. Brisbane's Go-Card is better - you have to pay for the card initially (AU$10) but that purchase-price plus any unused funds can be refunded when you're done with it.

    I had booked a night at Elephant Backpackers, which is quite near the St. James train station. Normally I prefer to turn up in a town or city and look for accommodation once there, but for Western cities it is more sensible to book in advance due to reasons of being-too-expensive. So before leaving I had gone onto Agoda and found dorms in Sydney, Singapore, Brisbane, and Gold Coast. This one in Sydney was NZ$20 - a suspiciously cheap rate for a four-bed dorm. I was right to be suspicious but what's done was done. The dorms I'd booked in Singapore and Brisbane were also suspiciously cheap, and again just reinforced why I prefer to see places before commiting to staying there. On the other hand, the hostel on the Gold Coast was also cheap and yet was somewhere I'd stay again.

    The word "dump" is probably a nice way of describing Elephant Backpackers. Words like "disgusting", "filthy", or "cesspool" would also be acceptable descriptions. Still, I would only be there for about six hours to sleep and then would be out again. My four-bed dorm already had four people in it. I went back down to reception and after a period of calling out eventually drew someone's attention and I got moved to another four-bed dorm which only had one person in it, except that one person was actually two people. With no checks in place it seemed like people were just bringing any friends they met to stay for free in the rooms.

    After depositing my bag in the room I headed straight back to the train station.

    With the decision to spend the night in Sydney and knowing I would be able to go spotlighting, the first marsupial to come to mind was the Southern Long-nosed Bandicoot which I knew was found in the suburbs. Some googling introduced me to the Warriewood Wetlands, about an hour's bus-ride north of the city centre and apparently full of bandicoots. A mammal list for the reserve also showed Sugar Gliders were found there, which would be another lifer for me. Now, some people might express surprise that a common Australian animal like a Sugar Glider would be a lifer for me. However while they might be common they are also nocturnal, and nocturnal animals and I have an understanding - I look for them and they hide. We both play the game, but they are generally much better at it.

    From St James station I took a train to Wynyard station two stops over, and then caught the B1 Mona Vale bus to the Warriewood Shopping Centre. These B-Line buses are great - they have a digital display showing the name of each stop along the route so you can't get lost. I was hoping that all the Sydney buses would be like this but sadly they were not.

    I arrived at the wetlands just on dusk. Grey-headed Flying Foxes were flapping across the sky as silhouettes. (I returned here the next morning and saw them at their camp, so I know which species they were). I had a map I'd drawn off the internet so I knew where the trails were, but even in the dark it was impossible to get lost because it was a simple loop, partly dirt tracks and partly wooden boardwalks. The entire wetlands are encircled in housing. I was a little unnerved by the constant sound of dogs barking, but reasoned that they were in peoples' yards and not likely to be roaming the trails. At least I hoped that would be the case.

    Things went kind of slow, animal-wise. There were a few wetland birds active in the dark - coots, moorhens, swamphens, and ducks - which didn't appreciate my torchlight, but the only mammal I saw for the whole first hour was a small rat. There are Swamp Rats here apparently, but this one was not one of those. I think it was a young Black or Brown Rat but I didn't count it because I wasn't sure.

    Right on the one-hour mark, when just coming off one of the boardwalks, I was startled by the twiggy branches of a small tree beside the track springing up and down. I got no eye-shine, but a small grey shape dashing through the branches proved to be a Sugar Glider. I've seen them in nocturnal houses in zoos (and in little cages in pet stores) but I was surprised by how fast it moved. I'd have assumed the gliding membranes would have been a bit of an encumberment when climbing, but apparently not.

    A few minutes later I came across a Swamp Wallaby sitting quietly in the undergrowth, and heard numerous others thudding away at various times during the evening, followed straight after by a Brush-tailed Possum in a tree. I was hopeful for finding a bandicoot after this quick run of mammals, and was fooled at one point by the eye-shine of another Brush-tailed Possum which was walking along the path towards me, but it was not to be. I'm sure there were bandicoots around because I could definitely hear small mammals in the thick undergrowth along the paths where they were too hidden to actually be seen.

    The last bus back to the city was around 11.45pm but I caught an earlier one so as not to risk missing that last one. On the bus what I thought was a small spider was crawling across my trouser leg. It was probably highly-venomous, this being Sydney, so I flicked it away and then forgot about it until I had reached the Wynyard train station. While waiting for the train to St James I noticed something on my arm, and was not at all impressed to see that there was a large tick imbedded in it.

    I've never had much trouble with ticks before. I recall one the size of my thumbnail crawling along the brim of my cap in Flores, and cattle ticks picked up in Sumba. Otherwise the only tick I can think of was one I got in northern Queensland, in the Daintree: I knew there were paralysis ticks up there, so the next morning I had rung a medical centre to find out about symptoms. "Are you paralysed now?" asked the woman at the centre. "No". "Then it wasn't a paralysis tick," she said.

    You can't just pull a tick out willy-nilly because the mouthparts will tear off and potentially the wound will get infected. You need to instead get a pair of tweezers and try to fix them right down around the base and drag the entire animal free. I had no tweezers of course. While on the train I tried prising it out with my fingernails and my keys, but neither was successful. The tick just got angry and dug in even deeper. When I got back to the hostel I asked the girl at reception if she had any tweezers.

    "Any what?" she asked, confused I guess by both the accent and the asking for tweezers.
    "Tweezers."
    "What?"
    "Tweezers" [miming tweezer action] "I've got a tick" [pointing at the tick in my arm]
    "Huh?"
    She looked at another girl in confusion. The other girl also had no clue what I was asking for. Kind of would have thought the massive tick would have been a giveaway. Useless Australians.

    I went up to my room where I had a pair of nail scissors. I carefully used the blades as tweezers, gripping the tick just tightly enough to hold it but not so tightly that they sliced the head off. Like a surgeon I am. Dragging it out of my flesh hurt more than expected.

    I was naturally concerned about what sort of diseases the ticks around Sydney might carry, but as I had no internet access and it was after midnight I had to just go to sleep and worry about that in the morning. I was going back to Warriewood Wetlands early (and then Centennial Park in the afternoon) and I knew there would be a chemist in the mall there.

    There were two girls at the counter in the chemist in the Warriewood Shopping Centre, but first I had to get through the inevitable confusion with "tuck" and "teek".

    "What sort of diseases do the ticks around Sydney carry?"
    "What sort of what from what?"
    "Diseases, from ticks..."
    "Diseases from what?"
    "Ticks."
    "What?"
    "Ticks - little parasites that suck your blood and spread diseases..."
    "?"
    "Ticks... like spiders, but they suck your blood..."
    "He means ticks," said the second girl.
    "Oh! Ticks!"
    "Yes, ticks..."

    And that's when I found about the Red Meat Allergy. Apparently there is a toxin carried by the ticks around here which cause the affected person to develop a potentially-lethal allergy to red meat. I'd never even heard of such a thing before, and why would I? It's the stupidest toxin ever. It's like PETA has weaponised ticks. One of the girls who worked at the chemist had got it and, two years later, still couldn't eat red meat. When I was leaving the chemist a random lady who'd been in there stopped me to say that her friend had also developed it after a tick bite and nearly died from anaphylaxis. How was one to know if one had been infected? If you eat red meat and nearly die, then you've got it. Brilliant.

    I haven't developed any such allergy and I have not died yet.



    Animals seen today:
    (There aren't many birds on here because it was just the few seen from the train and bus after arrival in Sydney, and then it was already night when I got to the wetlands)

    BIRDS:
    Feral Pigeon Columba livia
    Silver Gull Larus novaehollandiae
    Australian White Ibis Threskiornis molucca
    Noisy Miner Manorina melanocephala
    Rainbow Lorikeet Trichoglossus haematodus
    Australian Magpie Gymorhina tibicen
    Common Kookaburra Dacelo novaeguineae
    Common Coot Fulica atra
    Dusky Moorhen Gallinula tenebrosa
    Pacific Black Duck Anas superciliosa
    Purple Swamphen Porphrio porphyrio
    Common Mynah Acridotheres tristis

    MAMMALS:
    Grey-headed Flying Fox Pteropus poliocephalus
    Rat sp.
    Sugar Glider Petaurus breviceps
    Swamp Wallaby Wallabia bicolor
    Common Brush-tailed Possum Trichosurus vulpecula
     
  6. TeaLovingDave

    TeaLovingDave Moderator Staff Member

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    I think you were due a lucky near-miss after the Dengue Fever :p
     
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  7. lintworm

    lintworm Well-Known Member

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    Great reading!


    Just as a note: you can get your extra money back from your public transport card in Singapore. The only inconvenience is that their office at the airport closes at 9 pm...
     
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  8. Chlidonias

    Chlidonias Moderator Staff Member

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    Oh, I was not aware. That's a bit of a pain. It was an old card I had and it expires next year I think, and I don't think I'll be back before then to use up the rest of the funds. The Sydney one I'll probably have the chance to use though (the funds remain valid for nine years).
     
  9. Brum

    Brum Well-Known Member

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    Woo hoo, about bloody time. I've been waiting for this for months, Hell, I've been waiting for this since before you left New Zealand...! :p

    Looks like I may have to reconsider my thread of the year choices now. ;)
     
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  10. Pertinax

    Pertinax Well-Known Member

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    ??? Is it only open seasonally, or is it a permanent closure?
     
  11. CGSwans

    CGSwans Well-Known Member

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    If you’re only just catching up with this news, wait until the US election result comes over the telegraph wire.
     
  12. CGSwans

    CGSwans Well-Known Member

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    I hope you’ll permit the minor segue but I didn’t appreciate until quite recently just how fortunate we are to have the urban wildlife that exists in Australia. We get abundant brushtail and (less frequent) ringtail possums and grey-headed flying foxes, but it’s the birds that I am coming to treasure.

    I live in East Melbourne, about as close to the centre of our second biggest (and first best) city as it’s possible to be. On my 15 minute morning walk to work I can be almost 100% confident of seeing silver gulls, Australian magpies, rainbow lorikeets and wood ducks, and more often than not I will see magpie larks, long-billed corellas, laughing kookaburras, noisy miners and wattlebirds.

    If I go for a stroll along the Yarra River, 20 minutes from home, I am a good-to-certain chance of seeing Pacific black ducks, black swans, Eurasian coots, both great and little pied cormorants, masked lapwings, white-faced herons and, just today, I saw chestnut teals for the first time in a couple of months.

    Other frequent sightings are pied currawongs, galahs, sulphur-crested cockatoos and crested pigeons. Not long ago I spotted my first local eastern rosellas and superb fairy-wrens, and while I haven’t seen red-rumped parrots for a few months I’m sure they’re still around.

    Nothing compares though, to the occasional visits we get from a large flock of yellow-tailed black cockatoos.

    I’m not much of a twitcher and i’ll leave the privations of the wild to @Chlidonias , but I think I’m doing ok with my daily commute.

    (PS - of all the native bird species you listed I don’t mind that the only one I don’t see locally is the bin chickens.)
     
    Last edited: 7 Dec 2019
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  13. Pertinax

    Pertinax Well-Known Member

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    I have it now- its moving to a new site. Probably knew that but forgot.
     
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  14. Batto

    Batto Well-Known Member

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    The underlying mechanism is pretty interesting, though.
    Alpha-gal allergy - Wikipedia
    And the symptoms of some other toxins can be just as weird...
    'Reverse Puberty' to Ruptured Spleens: Odd Snakebite Reactions
    Ciguatera Poisoning • LITFL • CCC Toxicology
    Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning | California Poison Control System | UCSF

    Tick-borne diseases are becoming a growing health issue worldwide, also due to climate change and globalization. Glad to read that you did not catch any. BTW: you can get special tick removal tweezers at pet shops, veterinary clinics or in some pharmacies. I'm using them both on humans and animals.
     
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  15. FunkyGibbon

    FunkyGibbon Well-Known Member

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    Don't people also recommend getting them to drop off with heat?
     
  16. Pertinax

    Pertinax Well-Known Member

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    In UK hardly anyone had heard of Lyme's disease thirty years ago, but nowadays its much feared and there are leaflets about it everywhere and warnings in forests etc about contracting it via ticks.
     
  17. Batto

    Batto Well-Known Member

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    @Pertinax It's not just Lyme's disease; next to mosquitos, ticks are more and more recognized as some of the most important disease vectors. The recent discovery of Hyalomma ticks hibernating in Germany makes one wonder when the first human cases of Crimean Congo hemorrhagic fever virus (CCHFV) [a biohazard group 4 agent] are going to be reported in Central Europe.
     
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  18. TeaLovingDave

    TeaLovingDave Moderator Staff Member

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    It now seems rather likely that many of the mystery diseases mentioned in the European historical record which cannot be pinned down to any known to modern medicine represent tick-borne pathogens which burnt themselves out due to being too lethal to those susceptible - most notably the English Sweat of the 15th and 16th centuries, and the Picardy Sweat of the 18th and 19th centuries (with a single possible record from 1918)
     
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  19. Mr. Zootycoon

    Mr. Zootycoon Well-Known Member

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    Great to see this thread! I was wondering when you would start after the lists in the Big Year thread.

    I image that would be a great line for a YouTube video series! ;)

    Ticks are my main concern when "wildlife-ing" in the Netherlands. Dressing accordingly goes a long way for prevention, eventhough some people think you'll look stupid. As if walking around with birding gear doesn't have that effect already!
     
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  20. TeaLovingDave

    TeaLovingDave Moderator Staff Member

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    Inadvisably so - this causes them to vomit into the bite wound, which obviously increases the risk of infection a lot.
     
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