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nature reserve Archives - Kidding Herself

Where are the Moose at the Elk Island Biological Station?

To the very immediate north of Moscow is a nature reserve called Losiny Ostrov, or Elk Island, which is not an island but a forest. With elk in it.

Or possibly moose. It turns out everyone is quite unclear on the difference, including Mama.

The nature reserve has a Biological Station which you can go and visit. It’s been on our list for a while. But given that Mama considered the location (the middle of a forest) unfriendly and had somehow decided we needed to go in the dead of winter, things kept intervening, and it was only recently we made it to the nature reserve’s visitor centre.

The final obstacle turned out to be the booking system. Allegedly, according to the website, one can only set foot in the Elk Island Biological Station if one is on an excursion, and the excursion needs to be booked in advance.

The website booking system is broken, however.

It doesn’t look broken, you understand. And you will get email confirmation of something. But since you can’t actually specify a day let alone a time or indeed pay, Mama was confused, and decided to ring up to find out what she was doing wrong.

At which point she discovered that she needed to run the gauntlet of press one to report an escaped moose, press two to book an excursion, press three to report a problem with the website type experience first.

On the upside, having carefully selected the right button and only spent ten minutes listening to Venessa Paradis singing Joe Le Taxi on a loop (I promise I am not making this up), it turned out that Mama was not being inept. There really was a problem with the website.

So she booked by phone.

Not sure why, really, though, as you still don’t pay when booking by phone either.

And when we arrived, bang on the time for the excursion we had signed up for, no mention was made whatsoever of the existence of any prior booking.

However, I’m sure the question you are all really interested in is, did we see elk? Or even moose?

And the answer is, yes!

A moose in the snow, with his face turned to show us a very mooselike nose

We also listened to a number of interesting facts to do with elkmoose. Including (but not limited to) the fact that mooselk like to get deliberately high from car fumes. Also, mushrooms.

An elf nibbling on a silver birch branch at Elk Island Biological Station

What the talk did not address is why there is so much confusion over the difference between elk and moose, a debate not helped by the English version of the explanatory placard about the animals, which had them labeled at elk (moose).

Mama has finally gotten fed up with the debate, and fired up Google. It seems that while in Europe the words elk and moose are interchangeable, in North America, what we were looking at were definitely moose, as elk is the name of a different animal.

Hope that clears it up, although we were expecting something bigger. Where the information that the type of elk we have near Moscow are far smaller than the type of elk they have in Siberia leaves us I do not know, except to say that the elk at the Biological Station did have the sort of nose you would associate with moose, and Mama may have not been paying attention when the guide mentioned how old the one we were looking at was.

Anyway.

Given that Losiny Ostrov is a nature reserve, and the animals are generally supposed to be roaming freely, the existence of some in enclosures at the Biological Station needs explaining, and so when we were not furthering our zoological knowledge, we were finding out about why the individual animals were there.

This elk (moose), which as you can see is sitting down so it’s hard to say how big it is compared to the other one, is awaiting re release back into the wild after it ambled out of the forest and into a park deep into Moscow proper, meaning it needed fetching back. Sokolniki, in case you are wondering.

A moose sitting down in the snow surrounded by silver birch trees

Apparently this sort of thing is not an entirely isolated incident (Elk Island really is hard up against the borders of Moscow) and so while Mama has a long standing line of ridicule about the impression that there are bears on the streets of Russia’s capital, she is now going to have to concede that there are sometimes quite large wild animals at loose after all.

Not all the animals in the Elk Island Biological Station are moose or elk. Some of them are wild boar, which again is typical for the surrounding forest.

Overhead shot of two wild boar eating food a guide in a green coat has fed them from a bucket, while visitors look on

This pair are here, though, because some woman got hold of a pair of wild boar piglets, and was raising them in her garden (as you do), when suddenly they turned out very large and dug up her entire vegetable patch.

Two wild board and the guide (green coat, right) at the Elk Island Biological Station

And in this next picture you may be able to see at the very back of the enclosure some lovely small spotted deer. Mama was a bit more intent on trying to capture the lively crisp winter weather than the wildlife, while also leading us in a reminiscence about London’s Richmond Park, aka the Poo Park, mainly because it is both full of these and other deer, and their poo.

Feeding trough in the foreground of a snowy enclosure with some very small deer very far away at the back

Although Losiny Ostrov also started off a a royal hunting preserve, as it happens.

Mama thinks they may be fallow deer, mainly because there are only a few names of deer she knows and that’s one of them, but this is relevant because these deer are not native to Russia, but brought over for a private collection by somebody rich (as you do). Which is illegal, so they ended up here and will NOT be released in case they, I dunno, start outbreeding the elk or moose or something.

Some of these next deer are sika deer.

Close up of a deer's muzzle at the Elk Island Biological Station

Mama does not know quite why this is exciting (she was changing the battery in her camera because the cold had done for the first one) but she knows that it is, and that the large male one with the antlers is called Vasya.

A deer with large antlers feeding from a trough
A deer with large antlers sitting in the snow
A deer with large antlers walking through the snow

And that was the end of the tour. I pronounced it well worth the effort, Big Bro got to touch a moose/ elk and is never washing his hand again, and Mama’s only regret was that there did not seem to be anywhere to celebrate her triumph over flakey booking systems with coffee and hot chocolate.

It’s possible that there’s a bit more to it in the warmer months, and certainly the website advertises all sorts of other related activities such as a longer tour round more of the reserve, and some Winter Holiday related children’s activities.

Mama is a bit skeptical about what the website says, but is definitely up for going back again in summer to find out.

More information

The Elk Island Losiny Ostrov website.

Location: Moscow region, Kropotkinsky proezd, coordinates – 55.879232, 37.784380.

Opening: Tuesday – Sunday from 10am to 6pm.

Admission: 600 roubles for adults and 400 roubles for kids.

Getting there: There is parking (costing 250 roubles) next to the Elk Island Biological Station, and by car is by far the easiest way to get there, as it’s a good 30 minute hike from the nearest bus stop at 4th Parkovaya Street. Possibly that’s what the Joe le Taxi song is all about. You can get the minibus 333 (from VDNKh metro, or 3 from Perlovskaya station, or the 547 bus from Los station. These run infrequently, 30 minutes apart or to a timetable.

Street Art at Belokamennaya Station, Moscow

When Mama and Papa tried to take us round the newly opened Central Circle overland railway line round Moscow, it did not go well. So this weekend they snuck off and did it without us. This post is not about that, though, but the impromptu side trip they made when the train stopped seemingly in the desolated middle of a forest at Belokamennaya (Whitestone). A brand new station in the middle of nowhere? Clearly they had to get off to check what, in fact, was the point.

Belokamennaya

Well, at first glance, this newly renovated train halt seems to be servicing someone’s well protected dacha (country retreat) and sauna complex. Although Papa did note that if you follow the reasonably well trodden footpath through the woods in that direction, you get to somewhere a bit more populated fairly quickly.

Woodpile

You can also admire one of the old turn of the century stations built for the original iteration of this passenger service.

Old Station Belokamennaya

But it seems the real attraction lies on the other side of the tracks.

First, this is a sort of back entrance into the large forested nature reserve, ‘Elk Island’ (yes, with actual elks. Also, wild boar, beavers and some kind of egret). As you may or may not have noticed if you follow Mama on social media, the snow has made a seemingly permanent arrival in Moscow already. Clearly one of the things you can do in Elk Island woods at this time of year is go cross country ski-ing, and the parents did indeed encounter a number of people setting out to do just that. Although they also saw a very determined young couple who had taken their stroller out for a breath of fresh air and were manhandling it back across the completely non-existent pathway towards the station entrance too. So general hiking in the area is also a thing, winter, summer, whatever.

Skiing at Belokamennaya

What caught Mama’s eye, however, were the abandoned buildings.

Now Mama is not sure that she entirely approves of the schadenfreude photography fetish for ruined Soviet structures, but on the other hand there is something a bit more interestingly voyeuristic about poking around someone else’s stuff from the recent past rather than two thousand years ago.

Mama has never been one for standing in the middle of a field and feeling the vibrations.

Plus, it turns out that at Belokamennaya, there is also graffiti.

street art steam punk belokamennaya

Street art Belokamennaya

Street art cat Belokamennaya

Street art Belokamennaya

Street art tag Belokamennaya

Street art face Belokamennaya

Street art Belokamennaya

Street art flowers Belokamennaya

Street art skull Belokamennaya

So given the authentically dystopian atmosphere of the distressed concrete, the large amounts of rubbish, the godforsaken location and the epic street art, it’s not surprising that Mama and Papa tripped over Russian citizens secretly preparing for what she understands is the imminent invasion of Latvia.

Laserquest

Or indulging in a bit of free range laser questing. Your choice.

Laser quest Belokamennaya

Mama is afraid that she and Papa spoiled it a bit, by wandering around, clearly unafraid of being shot and taking photographs. Especially as she had on her heeled city boots, a natty flower strewn hat and a Cath Kitson-esque shoulder bag. Not very suitable for the urban warfare look, Mama.

But also not very suitable for yomping around offroad either, so once they had got their fill of the clean crisp cold air, they got back on the train and continued their journey. Which is a story for another day.

Pin for later?

Reasons why you should get off the train at Belokamennaya station on the Central Circle Line, Moscow, Russia

More Information

The Moscow Metro’s Central Circle Line website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about Kyselak, a graffiti tagger who left his mark.

Address: 55.8298°N 37.7018°E

Opening: Trains on the Central Circle run from 6am to 1am, and the interval between trains on this line is between 5 – 15 minutes, depending on the time of day.

Admission: One shot Metro tickets are 60 roubles (more expensive per pound than a year ago, less expensive than five years ago. I dunno. Google it). You can travel anywhere on the network making as many connections as you like within 90 minutes for that. It’s cheaper if you have a Troika card (like London’s Oyster).

By public transport: Well, it’s Belokamennaya, innit. On the Central Circle line.

By car: Mama couldn’t possibly comment.

Wicken Fen, Cambridgeshire, UK

Driving through the eastern side of England is a very odd experience. This is because many of the roads stick up out of the surrounding fields. It’s like driving along the top of a wall. Wheeeee! Mama says the land has shrunk. The water has been drained out of it. Sounds about right. My nappy certainly gets much bigger and heavier as the night goes on.

Wicken Fen is an exception to this. Preserved in its more original waterlogged state by the National Trust, it is a haven for wildlife, fascinatingly reddy brown water, reedbeds full of tall waving fluffy ended grass called sedge and people wanting to get out for a nice walk in the open air. Like us and Granny and Grandad.

The Fen at Wicken Fen
Sedge!

Wicken Fen has a number of different trails suitable for all walking styles, inclinations and abilities, but after a period of relentless damp they were keen for us not to do the squishiest one because of the time it would take for the path to recover from the hordes of our fellow half termers enjoying the first glimpse of sun for ages. Despite Mama actually remembering our wellies for once!

Since fens practically define the word squishy when it comes to the texture of the ground underfoot, this could have proved tricky for our stated aims for the day. Luckily, the team there have planned for what could possibly be a fairly regular occurrence, and built a 1.2 km boardwalk path, which lifts you right out of the water but allows you to roam quite extensively around the wetland. It also has the advantage of being wheelchair, pushchair and small legs accessible.

Boardwalk at Wicken Fen
No mud at all!

This route takes in what are presumably some of the highlights of the place. There are two windmills, both a traditional one for pumping water out of the surrounding area, and a more modern one for putting it back should the British summer surpass itself when what you want is to foster a particularly damp wildlife habitat.

Windmill at Wicken Fen
Windmill!

There are also two hides, both of which proved to be good value for bird spotting. The first looks out over a number of feeding stations which were teeming with small birds. Goldfinches? Greenfinches? Chaffinches? Collared doves? A good variety of tits? This hide had them all and probably a few more I have already forgotten. Much excitement. Helpfully, there are pictures on the back wall so that you can look up any species that elude you.

We also saw a rat. Or possibly a vole. Opinion was divided. Either way, that was thrilling too.

The second hide looked out over the reed beds, and was a bit dull at first. Until, that is, a huge form heaved itself up into the sky and flapped this way and that for a few minutes. Mama thought it was a heron, a bird we see often on the Thames, although she was a bit puzzled about where the legs and stabby beak were. My Brilliant Big Brother scoffed his rejection outright, and a spirited discussion ensued until Granny sided with him. Granny knows about birds.

That, Granny said, is a marsh harrier.

Having spotted a few other hawklike hovering birds of prey on the journey to the Fen we were duly impressed by the massive step up in size of this one. Mama wonders what it eats. Small children, perhaps?

Or a montjac deer? Which we also saw. As frequent frequenters of Richmond ‘the poo’ Park, you would think we were a bit over deer, but this one was soooooo small and cute! I hope the marsh harrier didn’t spot it.

Actually, even if you can’t see the birds, you can hear them and it was very noticable how different the calls coming from the fen are from the urban song birds, cooing pigeons, croaking rooks, and squabbling magpies we usually listen to. And no sqwarking green parrots either, which has got to be a bonus.

Sadly, the animal interest was mostly confined to the first half of the walk. If the damper trails are more accessible, you can make it out to the loomingly large birdwatching towers at the back of the Wicken Fen reserve and try your luck further there. I am also assured by local Claire of Mud and Nettles that wild pony sightings are a regular occurrence on the much longer walk on the other side of the river, which must be BEYOND COOL!

As it was we had a look at the open water channel the National Trust runs boat trips round in the sunnier months and then headed fairly briskly down the back straight to the tea room. Which also had a small play area of woven living willow dens and numerous children to hang out with. Result!

Play area at Wicken Fen
Den!

Next door to this, there is an indoor Visitors Centre where you can pick up scavanger trails, do some crafting or look at a variety of items from the fen under microscopes.

After we had all fortified ourselves in different ways, with coffee, cake or recreational fun, we went off to have a look at the traditional Wicken Fen worker’s workshop and cottage. The workshop was pretty cool, with its boat, it’s wickerworked items, photographs of the fen dwellers of old doing baffling fen dwelling things, and satisfyingly gruesome decorations in the skulls of different small fen animals the fen dwelling humans had killed.

Workshop at Wicken Fen
Wicker!

The cottage itself was not officially open, but the very kind volunteers invited us in anyway and told us all about it.

Cottage at Wicken Fen
Cottage!

The fact that it was pre season probably made it a more authentically dank experience than normal, and Mama found it a bit depressing, especially when added to the story of how diphtheria ravaged the children of the cottage in one horrible week. Central heating, electricity, large windows and inside toilets, Mama says, have a lot to recommend them. Although she also says it was a shame that Papa was not there to find out that the British can make efficient ovens with chimneys designed to retain heat rather than funnel it straight out of the house as quickly as possible when they really want to make bread.

Last stop on the way back to the car park was the chicken run, and so, topped up with animal sightings once again, and let loose on the muddly puddles in the carpark to boot, we ended the day triumphant.

Chickens at Wicken Fen
Chickens!

All in all, Wicken Fen is good for a run around in a variety of different weather conditions, and suitable for all members of the family. It’s great. And we’ll be back when the sun has dried up the soggy paths a bit more.

And, of course, so we can see the horses!!!

More Information

Wicken Fen on the National Trust’s website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about the National Trust.

Address: Lode Lane, Wicken, Ely, Cambridgeshire, CB7 5XP

Opening: The fen is open from dawn to dusk year round. The rest of the facilities are available 10 – 5, except the cottage, which is open a bit later between mid March and mid October.

Admission: Adult: £7.15, child: £3.50, family: £17.75. National Trust members are FREE.

By car: There is a large parking area close by. Free to National Trust members, £2.50 to everybody else. The fen is south of Wicken (A1123), 3 miles west of Soham (A142), 9 miles south of Ely, and 17 miles north-east of Cambridge via A10.

By train or bus: Ely is 9 miles away. That appears to be your lot a far as public transport is concerned.

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