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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Geschichten aus dem Wiener Wald

Tales from the Vienna Woods

It was Merisi's Vienna for Beginners that inspired my visit to Austria and I am grateful to the blog author for guidance which enabled my visit to be so enjoyable. This post is the first of a series.

The Woods of Johann Strauss' eponymous waltz swathe the hills around Vienna in a mosaic of some 82 ha of vineyards overlooking the Danube.

Vineyard on the fringe of the Vienna Woods, overlooking the city of Vienna

View through the woods to Vienna with the Danube in the background

The woods may be explored on foot by wandering through the trails

Things you might see in the Vienna Woods

Red squirrel

Cowslip (Photo: Merisi)

Helical snail


Schnapps- scarf

Buttercup meadow

Danube river cruise

The Vienna Woods may also be viewed with great advantage from the river, particularly by a boat cruise upstream from Vienna through the famous wine-growing and scenic Wachau Valley from Krems to Melk.
There are many stunning views through the Wachau Valley like this monastery near Melk

Dusk over the Danube seen from the Vienna Woods

Friday, April 25, 2008

Beltane, the Festival of Fire

A Happy Festival of Beltane to you all!

The festival of Beltane is April 30th, the eve of May Day. It is a fire festival that celebrates of the coming of summer and the fertility of the coming year. Beltane marked the beginning of the pastoral summer season when the herds of livestock were driven out to the summer pastures and mountain grazing lands

Beltane rituals would often include courting: for example, young men and women collecting blossoms in the woods and lighting fires in the evening. These rituals would often lead to matches and marriages, either immediately in the coming summer or autumn.

Guests at my Beltane Festival Party

My Beltane Festival party last year

Sunday, April 20, 2008


This year I felt most privileged to have been invited to join a group for a weekend's outdoor pursuits (cycling, walking) in the mountains of Argyll, Scotland. Being in the happy position of not being restricted to weekends, I was able to arrive in Scotland a couple of days ahead of the main party and do some cycling and birdwatching around the shores of the sea lochs. A complete write-up of the event will appear on the TCA Blog but in the mean time here are some images of my own reflections of the trip.

My first night camping at the fishing village of Easdale on the Isle of Seil, Argyll

An eponymous Loch Fyne kipper, cooked on a camping stove, for breakfast

Ben Nevis, the location of some of our activities, viewed from Loch Eil

Flogging our way up through the foothills of Ben Nevis...

...eventually reaching the snow line

The "walking party" at the climbers' hut below the summit of Ben Nevis

Our final day was a more leisurely hike through the Ariundle forest walk near our base at Strontian, Argyll

I was able to record some 87 bird species during the trip, including some first arrivals of the summer (Black Redstart, Common Sandpiper, Manx Shearwater, Tree Pipit) as well as some upland species like Twite, Ring Ouzel, Raven and Hooded Crow. Altogether a most satisfying and energetic few days in Scotland.

Friday, April 11, 2008


I have already described the research I am undertaking on the survival of Marsh Tits. I am also participating in another nationwide ornithological survey organised by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) in which all the birds that occur in Britain in summer and winter are mapped out. The scheme is called The Bird Atlas 2007-11.

The basis of the mapping is the British Ordnance Survey grid system which divides the country into a system of 10 km x 10 km grid squares, each square containing a hundred 1 km x 1 km squares. These little ones are aggregated in groups of four to generate tetrads (there are thus 25 tetrads in a 10 km x 10 km grid square).

This is the 2 km x 2 km tetrad that I live in. You can see the intersection of the grid lines dividing the tetrad into four 1 km x 1 km squares. The whole tetrad is therefore 4 square km.

In order to maximise efficiency and to prevent wasteful duplication, each participant applies for (or is assigned) a number of tetrads in their area to survey. I have been assigned 22. Each tetrad must be visited a minimum of four times, twice in winter and twice in summer (the breeding season). For consistency and comparability, each visit is timed as exactly two hours. Not all species are likely to be found in a particular visit, but a tetrad can be subsequently visited as many times as desired to "mop-up" any species that were missed during the timed visit.

It is fortunate that in Britain we have a network of public footpaths and it is invariably possible to gain access to a sufficient area of the tetrad.
I have pinned the 22 tetrads that I have been assigned onto a cork board so that I can keep track of my progress. Each square (tetrad) will need to gain four "ticks", two in winter, two in summer, before the work is complete. Each tick represents a two-hour timed visit. There is therefore a minimum of 88 hours work on this board!
We have four years to complete the work but I plan to take much less time than that!

To conduct the survey, a circular walking rout is planned in the tetrad, and all birds seen are recorded, together with any breeding activity (such as a singing male, evidence of nest building and so on). The work is rewarding because it can get you to places in your area you might not have otherwise bothered to visit, and certainly reveals bird species living in an area that may not have been previously suspected.

This week, I was fortunate to have my friend Drinking Ken up from Leicester to stay with me and he was keen to help me carry out surveys in a couple of tetrads.

Drinking Ken helps to plot out a route for a timed-tetrad survey using the network of public footpaths

Sunday, April 06, 2008


Saliva is the watery and usually frothy substance produced in the mouths of humans and most other animals. Saliva is produced in and secreted from the salivary glands. Human saliva is 98% water, which carries electrolytes, mucus, antibacterial compounds and various enzymes. Enzymes begin the digestion process, breaking down some starch and fat at the molecular level. Saliva breaks down food caught in the teeth, protecting them from bacteria that cause decay. Saliva also lubricates and protects the teeth, the tongue, and the tender tissues inside the mouth.
Salivation can be an involuntary response to the anticipation of food - especially something tasty...this scene got me salivating

Give a few weeks and these two will be ready for the table. I must plant some mint in a flower pot