Duke rose (1)With an afternoon to myself (while the ladies of the household went down to the mall and the gentlemen immersed themselves in technology), I borrowed a bicycle and went down to the Duke University campus again to check out the much-recommended Sarah P. Duke Gardens. Having forgotten to bring a lock along, I was rather encumbered and so didn’t see quite as much of the place as I would have liked – there are around five miles of trails, and I had to stick to the main ones. Even then, I was rewarded with an abundance of plants, flowers and insects and could have wandered for hours had food and socialising not been calling me.

Duke asterDuke iris

Duke rose (2)Duke rose (3)


Duke chapel (1)Kate’s graduation (actually a hooding ceremony for PhD students only) took place on the enormous, leafy and fairly grandiose Duke campus, which occupies some prime real estate in north-west Durham. Upon receiving her hood, she gave her advisor a big hug and set off a chain of copycat events lasting the entire ceremony (this gave us some light entertainment as we spotted the fake/awkward ones, in addition to trawling the programme for the longest, shortest and lamest thesis titles). We sweated our way across to another building for some post-ceremony food, which was uniformly excellent – the room even contained, opulence of opulences, an ice sculpture.

In addition to the official events, we were treated to a great barbecue at Kate’s place and had plenty of time to make friends with her and Toban’s dog Huey, a very lovable rescue with a penchant for being chased around the garden.

Huwie (1)Huwie (2)

Duke graduationDuke chapel (3)Duke chapel (2)

Atlas beetleThe week before last, Amy and I took a very long (around 2700 km) road trip down to North Carolina (in the USA) to attend Kate’s Ph. D. graduation. We opted to drive there (taking around two fourteen-hour days) rather than fly in an effort to save the environment – even taking infrastructure into account, multi-occupancy cars are far greener than aeroplanes. The stand-out event of the trip was our GPS inexplicably taking us along single-track roads through the middle of Kingdom Come State Park and then (almost) over a bridge that wasn’t there anymore. As we turned around to find an alternative route, a dog raced out from a nearby house and tried to attack the car, stalling us for several minutes while we crept forwards to avoid running him over. We later found out that the GPS was set to avoid toll roads, which would have cost around $8 for time savings of 1-2 hours.

Poison dart frogsOur first excursion in the subtropics was to the Durham Museum of Life and Science, a renowned centre for the natural sciences a short walk away from Kate’s house. We were given some indication of what to expect there when we were woken up by twittering cardinals, saw large turtles in a stream, were warned about copperhead snakes (Agkistrodon contortrix) on the path and stumbled across a concrete brontosaurus on our way there. We had also (coincidentally) arrived just in time to catch an insect feeding (of fruit flies to poison dart frogs and crickets to assassin bugs) and a butterfly release (of newly-hatched specimens from Ecuador).

Ecuadorean butterfly (1)Ecuadorean butterfly (2)

Orchid mantisAfter a quick tour of the rest of the insectarium (including an orchid mantis, Hymenopus coronatus, and various spiders, beetles and caterpillars), we braved the sweltering heat to explore the fairly large outdoor section of the museum and quickly met Ranger Greg Dodge, who was walking around showing an eyed click beetle (Alaus oculatus) he’d found to various visitors. As we wandered around the wetland habitat, spotting bears, red wolves (Canis lupus rufus), ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta), blue and green herons (Ardea herodias and Butorides virescens respectively) and lots of insects and frogs, he would show up every now and then to tell us about what we were looking at and what we’d seen on the drive down (principally roadkill, but also lots of turkey vultures, Cathartes aura).

Eyed click beetleRing-tailed lemur