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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Friday, June 25, 2010

Tetrads - all the boxes ticked!!

My regular readers will know that for the last three years I have been involved with the Bird Atlas scheme organised by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). The project involves surveys of the thousands of 2km x 2km squares ("tetrads") of the UK Ordnance Survey National Grid.

Each tetrad requires four two-hour timed surveys (two in winter and two in summer) plus additional observations where possible.

I have been assigned 23 tetrads, so the minimum amount of survey time is 23 x 4 x 2 = 184 hours of fieldwork. I blogged interim reports of my progress here and here.

I am now happy to report that at last I have completed all 92 of the obligatory two-hour timed surveys. I have not counted how many individual bird observations I have up-loaded to the national data-base, but it is thousands!

All the boxes ticked! Each tick represents a two-hour timed survey
(winter on the left, summer on the right).
The 23rd tetrad is not shown on this map.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Hail Litha 2010 !

The Festival of Litha celebrates the Summer Solstice - the point at which the sun reaches its furthest south before returning north, thereby shortening the days and lengthening the nights. At the latitude of Cumbria, it scarcely gets dark on the night of the Solstice. This year I decided to observe the night's vigil at the ancient stone circle at Birkrigg Common, overlooking Morecambe Bay.

As I arrived at the stone circle at about 10.00pm on the eve of Litha, some pilgrims had already arrived. Placing our offerings in the centre of the circle (mine, wholemeal bread rolls and my Flask of Ferment) we beat our drums until midnight, when it became scarcely dark

Within a couple of hours, the sky became pink a few points to the east of north,
heralding the dawn of Litha

As the sun climbs above the range of hills to the east,
the ghostly stones of the circle become apparent in the foreground

The rising sun illuminates the circle. Who knows what ceremonies might have taken place here when it was built some 4000 years ago?

Daybreak on Litha - some stones of the Druids' Circle at Birkrigg Common

You can see more pictures of Birkrigg Common and the stone circle here

A Happy Litha to all my readers!

See how I celebrated Litha in 2006 and 2007

Friday, June 18, 2010

Cei weled rhyfeddode byd...

... is a line from a Welsh folk song that translates as: "I saw the wonders of the world", when sailor Huw Puw sailed around the coastline of Wales in his boat ANN, calling in at the seaside towns listed in the song below:

Cei weled rhyfeddode byd, cei hwylio hyd Bwllheli,
Porthmadog, Nefyn, Abersoch, Traeth Coch a'r Felin Heli ;

Biwmaris, Amlwch a Llanon, Caernarfon a Chaergybi,

Ceinewydd, Solfach, Abergwaun, a Phordinllaen ac Enlli

During my recent visit to Wales, I passed through, or close by, almost all of the towns listed by Huw Puw, except my trip was of course by car, not by boat!

Map of Wales, to help you locate some of the places I stayed

The sleepy village of Aberdaron, at the extreme western tip of the
Llŷn peninsula in North Wales

The island of Bardsey (Ynys Enlli) viewed from the tip of the Llŷn Peninsula

The secluded cove of Whistling Sands (Porth Oer) near Aberdaron, where I camped my first night. The sand has a special composition that makes it squeak when you walk on it!

Moving down to the coast to central Wales (see map above) to the
seaside town of Borth,
where I lived for 18 years

Following the coast road down into Pembroke- shire I arrive at Wales' most south- westerly point near St David's. At the Coastal National Park at Poppit, I rendez- vous with.... younger son Carwyn and grand- daughter Heledd.
Heledd displays some peri- winkles she has found, heralding a future as a marine biologist?

Heledd enjoys her holiday in the sunshine on the beach

You can listen to
Huw Puw's song!

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Do animals "farm"?

Farming may be defined as the maintenance of crops and/or animals for the supply of food. It is a classical human function that began with the Neolithic Revolution some twelve thousand years ago.

But can non-human animals farm? There is one well-known example in the Animal Kingdom in which it might indeed be claimed that an animal "maintains animals for the supply of food". And that is the maintenance of colonies of aphids by ants to harvest honeydew secretions.

A colony of aphids ("blackfly or greenfly") sucking the sap from a plant stem. These insects are of course hated by gardeners!
Look carefully and you can see some ants crawling over the colony

A closer view of these fascinating little insects that form the bottom
of the food chain as prey for for other insects and birds.
Aphids exude a sweet, sugary secretion called honeydew, much favoured by ants

Zooming in, you can clearly see the ants attending the colony
(two are arrowed, a third is in silhouette on the left)

The ants are not predators of aphids; indeed they maintain them by protecting them from predators such as ladybirds, so as to maintain a continuous supply of the energy rich honeydew; a product of evolution by natural selection.

This appears to be a clear example of one animal (the ant) maintaining another (the aphid) as a supply of food, analogous to the maintenance by humans of cows for milk.

Could you call this "farming"? What do you think?

I took these pictures recently on my travels

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Carnival comes to Askam!

My dosy little town of Askam-in-Furness is situated at the estuary of the River Duddon in Cumbria. Who would have thunk that it could have staged its own carnival?

I woke on Saturday morning, and something was in the air... At least there were flags and bunting aloft in my street. What was going on?

Not to be outdone I dug out my flags from the loft and decorated Maalie Court (left).
But what is all that pink stuff around the house next door?

Well, I never realised my next-door neighbour was a Princess!
(Photo with permission of parent)

Here comes the long-awaited carnival procession!

The Duddon inshore rescue lifeboat rightly has a leading position in the Carnival procession

Followed by the inevitable brass band...

The kiddies dance groups give a splash of colour to an otherwise rather drab street

In a World Cup year, a football theme was much in evidence!

By ancient custom and practice, the Fire Service brings up the rear of the carnival procession

The procession took over an hour to pass my house and was, for a village of this size, a splendid display. I spoke to more of my neighbours during that afternoon than I have in the rest of the year!

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Long legs, long beaks...

Wading birds, almost by definition, are endowed with long legs for walking into deep water in search of food.

However, the different species have evolved by natural selection to avoid competing with each other for food by becoming specialised in their own "ecological niches". A result of this is a process of adaptive radiation in which a diverse and peculiar array of beak shapes and sizes have evolved to do different jobs for different species.

I took the pictures below on a recent visit to the Seewinkel National Park in Burgenland, Austria.

The White Stork has a powerful beak for stabbing and grabbing. Its diet may include almost anything that moves, including insects, fish, reptiles and amphibia

The Spoonbill's beak is (as the names suggests) spoon-shaped for sieving through shallow water for aquatic insects and molluscs

The Great White Egret has very long legs and neck for fishing in deeper water

The Little Egret is more delicate than its Great White cousin and feeds in shallower water for small fish, tadpoles and aquatic insects

The Black-tailed Godwit has a long probing bill for digging up worms and molluscs
that live in the mud

The elegant Black-winged Stilt has proportionately the longest legs of all for wading into deeper water and picking up very small prey items

The Avocet is one of the very few wading birds with an up-turned bill. It is used for extracting insects and molluscs from the very surface of the mud or water

I was lucky to capture this pair of Avocets mating