And the Cow Jumped Over the Road

Thursday, May 19, 2011 Road Junkies 0 Comments

York, England to Plymouth, England. 
This morning we left York in our rental car and headed southwest 200 miles to Gloucester, an overnight pause on our way to Plymouth the next day.  Driving down the M5 motorway this afternoon as we neared Gloucester, we were treated to a most unusual sight.  A herd of Holsteins was crossing above the highway on an overpass.

We assumed that like many of the commuters on the road below them, these cows had been off to a neighboring pasture for the day and were returning home for the evening.  This reminded us of a variety of unusual animal-related sights we have seen on this trip.
Cat Colonies in Florence
While walking in Florence, Italy, one day we came across a collection of small doghouse type structures and a sign indicating this was a protected cat colony.  We learned later that in Florence and various other parts of Italy, voluntary caregivers look after colonies of feral cats, providing the animals with food and shelter and often spaying and neutering as well.  Usually the volunteers are affiliated with nonprofit organizations.
Flats for Feral Florentine Felines
Caterpillar Convoy in Tuscany
 When we arrived in Fonterutoli to check out the inn there, we encountered the innkeeper outside on the grounds.  "Come," he said.  "Look at this."  What he showed us was a 10-foot line of pine processionary caterpillars moving across the ground in a head-to-tail procession.  Active in the woods of central and southern Europe, this destructive creature is capable of defoliating vast tracts of pines during occasional population surges.  It's also destructive to anyone or anything that dares to rain on its parade, issuing a nasty sting to convince doubters.
Pine Processionary Caterpillars
Park Parakeets in Amsterdam
Amsterdam was struggling to come out of winter when we visited there in early March.  Bundled for the cold as we searched for a letterbox in Vondelpark one day, we saw a flash of green zip to the top of a leafless tree.  Then another landed and another.  A colony of green rose-ringed parakeets has been living in this urban park since 1976, descendents of a pair of released pets.  These tropical birds have adapted to survive the cold Dutch winters by nesting in the holes of trees and now number more than 2,000 living in the wild in Amsterdam.
Ring-necked parakeets  (Photograph: Greenpeace/Baker)
Critter Crossings in Luxembourg
On a stretch of one of Luxembourg's major motorways, we saw a sign near an unusual looking overpass.  The sign was in German and French, but even monolingual speakers like us could figure out the idea with the illustration provided.  This was our first experience with a wildlife crossing, a concept growing in popularity in various parts of the world to help reconnect animal habitats when they are split by human interventions such as roads.  They also help prevent collisions between animals and automobiles.  In Luxembourg, the "wild bridges" are equipped with cameras, allowing scientists to collect data about animal behavior and movement.
Wildlife Overpass
Did we find the cows commuting overhead surprising?  Yes, but after some of the other things we've seen in the last few months, we just shrugged and drove on.

After an overnight stay in Gloucester, we drove on to Plymouth on Thursday and spent the afternoon there planning our letterboxing foray into Dartmoor National Park the following day.