Blog Site by Appointment to His Regal Majesty the Maalie King

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

Crown Copyright: The Royal Maalie Court

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Three remarkable men

These three men have been inspirational in the Life of Maalie

Richard Dawkins

is an evolutionary biologist and geneticist who gained scientific acclaim for his innovative work The Selfish Gene. In addition to his biological career, Richard Dawkins is well-known for his views on atheism, evolution, creationism, intelligent design, and religion.

His clarity of communication and his extensive writing have been a constant source of recommended reading for my own students.

Creationists do not like Richard Dawkins; they accuse him of arrogance. Even if that is true, that is an ad hominem argument, an argument that attacks the person, not the evidence, in an attempt to draw the discussion away from the point.

Let me put it this way: would you rather fly with an arrogant but experienced airline pilot, or with a humble novice? Or have your surgeon be competent but arrogant, or humble and ham-fisted?

This clip shows Professor Dawkins delivering a lecture: "Aren't we all atheists?"

Kris Kristofferson

I became acquainted with the music of this country-singer when I worked in Antarctica in 1972-73 and his words and music have lingered with me ever since.

Here, Kris is singing one of his greatest hits Me and Bobby McGee

"Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose"

Sir David Attenborough

Biologist and broadcaster, whose enthusiasm and professionalism is something I have aspired to through my own teaching career. Here, Sir David is telling us about fossils: " seemed to me then [as a boy], and to be truthful it still seems to me now, to be moments of magic..."

Do biologists ever "grow up"?

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Poop Deck

Taking into account Great Britain's maritime history, it is hardly surprising that our vernacular language is rife with expressions of nautical origin. These include such expressions as "letting the cat out of the bag"; "square meal"; "no room to swing a cat"; " the sun is over the yardarm"; "to be taken aback"; and many others.

I was recently confronted with the exclamation "I'm pooped!", meaning of course "exhausted".

This too has its origins in naval history, and derives from the poop deck which lies aft (i.e. astern, at the rear of the ship), usually raised and can serve as the roof of the captain's (or admiral's) cabin. It also served as a function in conflict when armed men could shoot from it as a vantage point.

This is the poop deck of Nelson's ship H.M.S. Victory

It is not unknown in a following sea for a a large wave to overtake the ship and crash over the poop deck. Such a condition is known as "being pooped". In extreme events the water may fill the ship resulting in disaster.
This ship may be described as well and truly pooped

Friday, June 13, 2008

Old Man of Coniston

The Old Man of Coniston at 803 metres (2276 feet) is the seventh highest mountain in England and I can see it from my house. With half an hour's drive to Coniston village, I can be on the summit (if pushed) two hours after that. Normally it takes quite a bit longer than that because there is so much to see on the way.

I pass along the shore of Coniston Water, the morning mist not yet burned off

I get a glimpse of my destination

The sun is still low enough to cast long shadows

A small beck trickles down the fell side through.... ancient cart track bridge

Foxgloves seem to spring up...

...almost overnight

A wild rose graces the day

A stunted juniper clings to an existence in a rock crevice

...likewise a Rowan in bloom

I soon gain altitude and look down of the misty valleys below

Close to the summit - habitat of Wheatear, Meadow Pipit and Ring Ouzel

The summit cairn - mission accomplished. Al that remains if for...

...a deserved pint of best Coniston Bluebird real ale in the village below

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Ramsau am Dachstein

No sooner had I touched down in England from Lapland than I was airborne within five hours on my way to Salzburg in Austria, finding myself in scenery like this.

The lilac, long since over at lower altitude was still in bloom in an alpine setting

Trout from lakes like this were retained in...


...until ready to be served like this

Biodiverse alpine meadow. How many plant species are in this frame? (Answers on a postcard to Maalie Court)

I am no botanist, but finding wild Alpine Gentians counts among my life's top-ten "wildlife moments"

The final day started innocently enough, with plans for a tour of the Ramsau am Dachstein area. However the morning commenced with low cloud and the alpine peaks shrouded in fog. A walk in the woods was an appropriate alternative, to investigate some alpine woodland ecology.

Alpine woodland - three Cuckoos were heard calling synchronously

Emerging from the woods a while later and the fog was lifting to reveal the peaks of the Dachstein range; admiring from afar, it would not be dreamed to get up to the snowline unless...

...a route to Bergstation Hunerkogel could be negotiated

At 2700m (8,800 feet) it was the habitat of the Alpine (Yellow-billed) Chough

No preparations had been made for hiking at such altitudes, and with only comparatively light clothing, no ice-axe or crampons, and cumulo-nimbus anvils in the offing, an hour's hike through the snow on a marked trail to an alpine lodge was considered appropriate (see the knife-and fork icon at the end of the red trail going up and left from Bergstation Hunerkogel in the map above.

Conditions to rival anything I had seen in the Arctic the previous week

Such adventure calls for a celebratory beer

Such alpine vastness is hard to comprehend

Sheer wilderness

At last the alpine lodge is reached where a fresh coffee was welcome (oh yes, there was something about pear schnapps as well...)

The descent: Maalie thinks he's a maalie

Friday, June 06, 2008

Destination: Nordkapp

From the heart of Lapland, I had a single purpose - to make it north to Nordkapp (North Cape). This is the most northerly accessible point on the European mainland.

My quest: starting point at Tampere (the lower arrow in Finland) and the goal at North Cape (top arrow)

The relentless route north, pulling at me towards Nordkapp as if a magnet

The Norwegian coast and the Arctic Ocean in view, my mission seems achievable

Sea, snow and sky combine to generate a thousand tones of grey

Dramatic winter tundra scenery

The desolate winter tundra, my GPS permitted a hike through this hostile and forbidding environment

Tundra forest: yes this is ecologically a birch forest. In the hostile tundra conditions it cannot grow more than a centimetre or two high

Finally, my quest is complete - the monument at North Cape

Nordkapp - from here there is only the icy Arctic Ocean north until the Arctic pack ice is reached. You can make out the monument at the top of the cliff

A moment of respectful silence at the memorial dedicated to those who participated in the infamous Murmansk convoys that rounded the Cape during the Second World War. My father was one of those.

My favourite fishing village, Gjesvær, (Europe's most northerly) where I stayed in an apartment operated by Roald Berg (fishing and birdwatching trips) not far from North Cape. I stayed near the third building from the right, from which I could watch White-tailed Sea Eagles through my window

A gaggle of "common" Eiders, the species from which the "eider- down" is made

A drake Steller's Eider, a rare Arctic sea duck and a "lifer" for me

Fishing trip with Roald, and the professional catches the biggest fish.....

...but Maalie catches some decent cod too

Fishing boats invariably attract a host of a seabirds. The pale gull with its wings open is the rare Arctic Glaucous Gull (you may like to compare it with an Iceland Gull I saw here). Between the wings is a Herring Gull and in the left background, with a dark back, is a Lesser Black-back Gull. In the foreground are three Fulmars of the darker northern race, often called "Blue" Fulmars.

The Fulmar, the Shetland name is Maalie, my bird. The tubular structure on the top of the bill distinguishes it from the gulls. It is an adaptation for excreting salt

Maalie with a maalie. During a feeding frenzy when fish guts were thrown overboard I was able to grab one. I still have the scars to prove it.

The crowing glory of my pre-Litha visit to the Arctic, a glimpse of the midnight sun at Veranger Fjord, near North Cape