Blog Site by Appointment to His Regal Majesty the Maalie King

He who would be a Leader, let him be a Bridge

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Three remarkable women

Maalie is just off to Lapland for pre-Litha communication with the Earth Spirit. This involves birding, fishing, and the consumption of appropriate quantities of cloud-berries and Karjala beer.

Continuing these celebrations immediately afterwards with the finest alpine schnapps, he expects to be back....Oh, I don't know, when he's back.....

In the meantime I leave you to consider three women whose professionalism and enthusiasm for their work I find inspirational.

Please note: this blog operates under a policy of non-discrimination. There will follow in due course a post paying tribute to three remarkable men.

Sylvie Guillem

Susan Powell

Cecilia Bartoli

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Vienna Frippery

This is the final episode of my Viennese Quintet. There is no theme to this post, save a few images and memories of my stay in Vienna
Gloriette - where it began...

Cumulo-nimbus storm clouds brewing over Vienna: the Schönbrunn Palace Palace as seen from the Gloriette

Belvedere Palace
Mountain avens Dryas octapetala, one of the early colonisers of glacial moraines after the ice retreats. I had never before seen it in flower (alpine garden, Belvedere Palace)

Dürnstein, Wachau Valley
Sunset at Neusiedl

Brandl - for a good schnitzel and a glass of smooth Austrian red wine

The Reisenrad, Vienna's famous Ferris Wheel

The gondolas are actually old railway carriages - an exciting way to see the night- lights of Vienna from on high

Message for Simon
: Given a cold frosty night, would you rather snuggle up

to her.....

.....or her?

A bottle (or two) of Victoria Bitter at the Australian Pub in Vienna

Endless things to photograph in the Vienna Woods

The scent of lilac (flieder) filled the air in Vienna

The Masters - Beethoven, Strauss and Mozart

Cuckoo sign

Two musicians

Sunday lunch in Café Diglas after the concert in the Golden Hall

Do it in style in Vienna - in the gentle- man's toilet

Football crazy, European countries in sweets, in anticipation of the European Cup Fimals. England is not represented....

And back to the Gloriette where it also ended.... Race you up the hill!

And here's to a rapid return to Vienna!
(Football fans: pun intended!)

Tuesday, May 06, 2008


Neusiedl lies on the border between Austria and Hungary and is the second largest steppe lake in Central Europe. It is about 20 miles long by 5 miles wide, but is nowhere more than six feet deep (indeed, it occasionally dries out). The lake is fringed with a belt of huge reed-beds of enormous ecological productivity. A great variety of wetland birds breed in the area in huge numbers, the main concentration being in the Seewinkel National Park, based near Illmitz.
Storm clouds gathering over Neusiedl
Here the surrounding fields (interspersed with vineyards) are managed as wetlands for breeding wading birds, like Ruff, Avocet, Black-winged Stilts, and waterfowl like Red-crested Pochard, Gargany and Greylag Goose. White Storks arrive from their nests in surrounding villages to look for frogs and insects in the wetland. The area is also a haven for migratory birds as a feeding-up stopover on their route to breeding grounds in the Arctic - I saw Common and Wood Sandpipers and Spotted Redshank, to name just a couple.

Vast area of reed beds stretch to the horizon

A Marsh Harrier hunts over the reed beds surrounding the shores of Neusiedl

Here are a few memories of my afternoon in the National Park

Visitor Centre

Picnic lunch

A mosaic of wetland areas provide a haven for waterfowl and wading birds

A pair of Avocets feeds on plankton

An Avocet feeds in the rain, skimming plankton through its specially adapted up-turned bill. Can you see the stream of water falling from its bill?

Patches of open water provide a habitat for waterfowl like Gargany and Greylag Geese

White Storks nesting in surrounding villages fly to the Neusiedl to feed

A Spoonbill flies in at dusk to roost in the trees
It was possible to visit only a small portion of the National Park on this occasion. I have no doubt that I shall return. I recorded 73 bird species during my visit to Austria, the highlights being Nightingale, White Stork, Marsh Harrier, Hobby, Great White Egret, Ruff (in breeding plumage), Red-crested Pochard, Wood Sandpiper, Great Reed Warbler, Gargany, Spoonbill, Savi's Warbler, and Serin.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Vienna Natural History Museum

Like the opera house and concert halls, Vienna has a world-class Natural History Museum, set in beautiful gardens in the city centre only steps from the Emperor's palace. This part of Europe is important for fossils of Neanderthal Man who lived some 50,000 years ago. This species evolved into a variety of forms (sub-species, maybe even separate species) and it is probable that the most generalised (least specialised) type was the immediate precursor to "modern man" Homo sapiens.

Having lectured on hominid evolution for most of my career, I was keen to see the exhibits in this museum in which the hominid displays are especially brilliant. I was encouraged to see groups of schoolchildren being guided around being presented with the tangible evidence of our ancestral heritage.

The Vienna Natural History Museum in beautiful settings

The magnificent marble stairway to the upper exhibition halls

Each exhibition hall is immaculately laid out with old, but very stylish display cabinets

Exhibits such as these can be seen clearly and there is no restriction of photography

Special for me -the famous fossil impression of of the first known bird, Archaeopteryx (Urvogel) that lived in the late Jurassic Period around 155–150 million years ago

A range of Neanderthal skulls - a moment of respectful curiosity for our ancestors

Some of the first simple stone tools (of the Oldowan type) used by Homo habilis and Homo erectus 2-3 million years ago

My favourite. the hand axe of the Acheulian cultures. These industries were the work of the later stages of Home erectus and early Homo sapiens. These beautiful tools could be used for digging roots, stripping bark, butchering animals and flensing skins.

Raymond Dart's Taung Child
On display is a cast of the renowned "Taung Child", discovered by Professor Raymond Dart near Taung in South Africa in 1924. Widely controversial at first, its name is Australopithecus africanus and is now regarded by anthropologists as being very close to the evolutionary branch-point where the hominids leading to modern man diverged from the other primates, some 2-3 million years ago.

I have never seen this fossil before and I found it remarkably moving to do so in Vienna. It is testimony to our very existence.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Wiener Staatsoper and Großer Musikvereinsaal

Vienna Opera and Golden Hall
The Vienna Staatsoper - one of the world's great opera houses
I was hoping against hope that there would be an opportunity to add to my 'collection' of great opera houses (which include the Royal Opera House London; the Palais Garnier, Paris; and the Mariinski Theatre, St. Petersburg). My first choice of performance was La Traviata, one of my favourites, which was being performed during my week in Vienna. But, of course, tickets had been sold out weeks before. But thanks to 'local knowledge' I discovered that it was possible to queue for standing tickets on the day of a performance, for only 3.5 Euros! As it turned out, this was one of the best investments I have ever made - the view from the standing area was central and superb! A two-hour wait for the box-office to open seemed a minor inconvenience!

Inside the magnificent Vienna Opera House

The standing area where informality and friendliness prevailed

The cast take their curtain call

The beautiful Krassimira Stoyanova gave a heart-breaking performance as Violetta
It was, for me, a wonderful experience to get to see a performance in the Staatoper. That should have been enough. But surely not the Golden Hall as well? You know, where they have the traditional New Year's Day concerts that are beamed live around the world? Where tickets are normally obtained by ballot? Surely that would be too greedy, even to imagine?

But again, thanks to 'insider information' a seat was found for me in this fantastic concert hall, for a performance of Mozart's flute concerto in D Major, followed by Dvořák's Symphony No. 6 (also in D-Major), played by the Vienna Symphoniker Orchestra, conducted by Yakov Kreizberg, soloist Karl-Heinz-Schűtz. Both works were played to perfection in my humble judgement.

The magnificence of the Golden Hall

The interval - yes, I really was there!

The orchestra and soloist accept their ovation
These were two wonderful occasions, performances I shall never forget. There are other things to do on holiday besides accumulating bird lists!