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Friday, November 27, 2009

Migration Watch: The Po Delta

There are in Europe a number of locations, often wetlands, that seem to act as conduits for bird migration, as well offering superb breeding and wintering habitats. I have already described some of the most famous that I have visited, including the Camargue (Rhone Delta in France); the Danube Delta in Romania; The Coto DoƱana (Gualdaquivir Delta) in Andalusia, Spain; and Neusiedlersee on the Austrian-Hungarian border.

In Northern Italy the River Po flows into the western Adriatic Sea, just south of Venice. The river's huge and fertile delta, like many of the other great European river delta, has been largely developed for agriculture. Nevertheless, a great deal of this special habitat has is conserved in the Po Delta National Park and attracts large numbers of birdwatchers.

Th Po delta lies lies between Chioggia to the north and Commachio to the south.
Image by Google Earth, please click on it to enlarge

The Po Delta National Park is a haven for wetland birds,
and for birds migrating from Europe to Africa

Besides representing a migratory route for birds leaving Europe for Africa, its generally mild winter climate offers a suitable location for overwintering by huge numbers of species that descend from Lapland and the Arctic tundra. The map below shows ringing recoveries of one example, the Fieldfare, with a distinct cluster of dots in the Po Delta area.

The ellipse indicates the large number of recoveries of ringed Fieldfares in the region of the Po Delta, a major wintering habitat for this species.
Fieldfares breed in Lapland and the Arctic tundra but migrate south in winter. Large numbers of these birds winter over in the Po Delta of northern Italy.
(Please click on the picture for the internet source of this image)

Access to the Po Delta National Park is sometimes by way of floating pontoon bridges
across the numerous channels

The Po Delta National Park is a mosaic of wetlands, reed-beds and agricultural land

In some places sand or shingle fringes to the lagoons provide
a nesting habitat for terns and gulls

The Great White Egret is one of many species of water birds that inhabit the Po Delta

A skein of Cormorants passes over the Po Delta

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Rosy Starling - a jewel for Cumbria

With Cumbria suffering in the last few days from the heaviest English rainfall in recorded history, and with thousands made homeless by flooding, it came as a spark of brightness when my Natural England colleague Rob phoned me to say that a Rosy (Rose-coloured) Starling had turned up in his garden near Kendal.

Rob emailed this picture he captured of a juvenile Rosy Starling in his garden to tempt me,
and kindly
invited me to his home to see it

The normal range of this species is far eastern Europe and across southern Asia. The species is a strong migrant and normally heads towards India to spend the winter. So what was one doing in England in November?

After a very good breeding season by certain species, when food is abundant, there may be a population explosion when birds may "erupt" and colonise new places. Biologists also have evidence that a small proportion of individuals in a migratory population are genetically predisposed to migrate in the "wrong direction". These become pioneers that may extend the range of the species into new areas.

The individual in Rob's garden did not show striking pink and black plumage of the adult, but was a much more drab juvenile that may have lost its way in a storm.

An adult male in full breeding plumage.

This is not my picture, please click on the
image for the internet source.

On a very dull morning I was not able to match the quality of the pictures that Rob had taken, but here are a couple of my images taken as the bird pecked its way around the chicken run

Juvenile Rosy Starling, Kendal, 22 November 2009

Friday, November 20, 2009

Five-minute chocolate cake

I have never made a cake of any sort in my life (though I am said to be adept at making apple pies, mince pies, Welshcakes and snickerdoodles). When a friend forwarded to me recipe for a chocolate cake to be made in a coffee mug, in just five minutes, I was intrigued enough to try it out!

The ingredients: 4 tablespoons of flour; 4 tablespoons of sugar; 2 tablespoons of cocoa; 1 egg; 3 tablespoons of milk; 3 tablespoons of oil; 3 tablespoons of chocolate chips (optional); a splash of vanilla essence; a coffee mug and a microwave oven.

Add the dry ingredients to your largest coffee mug and mix well. Add the egg and mix thoroughly; pour in the milk and oil and mix well. Add the chocolate chips, vanilla essence and mix again.

Don't you think that looks a bit full? But I don't have a tablespoon in my kitchen,
so I used an ice-cream scoop which was probably a bit big.

Microwave at the highest setting for three minutes.

Ooops! It's gone over the top! I thought it looked a bit full!

Trim off the rough bits (you don't need to throw them away!),
turn out onto a plate and serve with squirty cream.

Who would ever know?

I was very happy with my chocolate cake and it will be added to my list of "regulars".

Request: If any reader can think of variations based on this theme, so I could make other cakes (as a change from chocolate) in this way, please let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Weekend Reflections

This weekend it was my pleasure to welcome my younger son Carwyn (a.k.a. Tortoiseshell) to Maalie Court. Here are a few random images from the weekend.

The beach at Askam-in-Furness at the bottom of my street

A train ride along the coastal route took us to Ravenglass
and the remains of a Roman bath site

Carwyn captures the estuary at Ravenglass...

...before a stroll through the autumn leaves.

Participation in Maalie's research project, colour-ringing a Marsh Tit

A visit to the market town of Ulverston, the home of Laurel and Hardey
to see the memorial statue...

...before I was dragged into a tea room for tea and cake.

A weekend of unsettled weather, but some fine memories

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Brekky Fruit

The three jars on the left are the originals from Australia;
the two on the right are from Tesco in England

I first encountered Brekky Fruit in Australia when I went to visit my mate Simon. It is simply fruit preserved in juice or syrup stored in plastic wide-necked screw-capped jars. You can eat it for breakfast either on its own or (my preference) with your breakfast cereal. It is ideal for camping, as we discovered.

What attracted me to the product was not only the contents, but the jars themselves, which make ideal storage units. And, being wide-necked, they offer other useful functions when camping. I brought one back with me, and Simon brought another one on each of his subsequent visits to England, making three (they are the three on the left in the picture).

While shopping today in Tesco, I discovered Brekky Fruit in England! Well, Brekky Fruit in all but name, the containers seem identical. I bought two, peaches and pears (they are the two at the right in the picture).

So now I can supply my own Brekky Fruit jars.

Message for Simon: Mate, no need to use up your weight allowance on Brekky Fruit jars when you come next April; please use it on Cherry Ripes instead!

Monday, November 09, 2009

Mauerfall Berlin - The fall of the wall

Twenty years ago today, the function of Berlin Wall ended. I post this modest commemoration using pictures that I took in Berlin when I visited the city in February 2005. You can see more about this event on the blog of Entartete Musik.

A remnant of the Berlin Wall as it stands today, now a national monument

Graffiti artists risked their lives painting the wall.
The graffiti are now preserved as a cultural heritage.

Check-point Charlie. The border post hut is a replica, the original was destroyed

The Tiergarten in the snow, February 2005
Reichstag (German Government building)

Brandenburger Tor from the Reichstag

Brandenburger Tor looking resplendent, floodlit after restoration in 2005

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Endstation to the Vienna Woods

In a previous post I described the system of City Hiking Trails (Stadtwanderweg) that begin at some of the tram Endstations (terminus) located around the edge of Vienna. So, on a dank, rather dismal misty November morning I hauled myself aboard Tram D*, bound for the northern edge of the city to the village of Nussdorf, on the western shore of the Danube, where starts Stadtwanderweg 1.

The Tram "D" winds it way down from Beethovengang into Nussdorf
The district is steeped in Beethoven history, and just nearby is the house in which he worked on his mighty ninth (choral) symphony. Indeed, the endstation itself is called Beethovengang, and to begin the trail you have to cross Eroicagasse.

Stadtwanderweg 1 begins at Beethovengang and follows the
course of the Schreiberbach brook...

...alongside which is the monument to Ludwig van Beethoven

The trail passes through the zone of vinyards, some of which seem scarcely larger
than pocket handkerchiefs clinging to the side of the hill

Beyond the vinyards, up into the Vienna Woods in their misty autumnal garb

There appears a clearing in the woods at Kahlenberg where mackerel are grilled. Who could resist one on a cold November day? I certainly couldn't!

Decending through the Vienna Woods in their autumnal glory...

...until a view of the Danube is captured

The end of the trail on the bank of the Danube. How do you take a picture of a broad, grey, featureless river (that is eponymously blue) on a grey day? Well, I tried my best!

*Before leaving the city centre, the Tram "D" route follows part of the Vienna "Ring" and you have good views of many of the famous buildings like the Parliament, City Hall (Rathaus), Natural History Museum and University.