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Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Dragon flag flies on the top of the World

Congratulations to Tori James who has just climbed to the summit of Mount Everest 8,848 meters above sea level. She is a fellow member of the British Schools Exploring Society and is climbing with a team from the London School of Business. At 23 she is the youngest female Briton and first Welsh woman to have successfully made it to the top.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Father of Taxonomy

He's more influential than ABBA, more famous than Bjorn Borg and Sweden is celebrating today the 300th birthday of its most illustrious son: Carl Linnaeus, also known as Carl von Linné or Carolus Linnaeus. He is often called the Father of Taxonomy. His system for naming, ranking, and classifying organisms is still in wide use today and his ideas on classification have influenced generations of biologists during and after his own lifetime. His signature plant the Twin Flower, Linnea Borealis is to be seen in paintings of him as shown above.
This year's Chelsea Flower Show in London has a Linnaeus feature garden and Sweden's University of Uppsala, his alma mater, is holding various celebrations.

How times have changed!

Sorry about the quality of this but it is a genuine extract from a British sex education textbook for girls printed in the 1960's. Click on it to enlarge so as to read it easier! In the last paragraph I am wondering what the girls who read this originally thought their future husbands might have suggested in the line of "unusual practices"! I reckon there would have been a few giggles in the classroom!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Brislington Brook

Bristol like many British cities has grown over the centuries and many villages formerly outside the city walls have been subsumed into the whole and are now the kind of suburbs to be seen anywhere in the country. However on close inspection of the map there is parkland and wasteground between many of the built up areas. Often these "between" areas follow streams and are havens for both plants and animals.
Today's walk was through an area of Bristol that I do not know well and about 30 of us met near the southern edge of the city at Whitchurch to walk down the route of the Brislington Brook as far as St Anne's a Victorian parish church on the site of a much older monastic building and place of pilgrimage in times gone by.
As usual with these walks we were given full explanations of the history of the area and any buildings of note were pointed out and their names explained. For example a side street pub we passed called The Pilgrim Inn was named so, because it was on the regular route taken by pilgrims walking to St Anne's Well, including King Henry VII who visited twice.
Sometimes we were traipsing though quite long grass and plant cover, at other times on well used woodland paths but mostly we were oblivious to the busy roads beyond and to either side of the Brook. The second photograph shows a magnificent but weary old Plane tree, standing by the brook in Nightingale Valley.

Busy on the rocks

Saturday Night

I've been busy! This weekend I have three field trips planned. Two are complete and the third will start at 10am on Sunday morning.
The first which was organised by the West of England Geologists' Association, was to a huge, now disused limestone quarry on the English side of the River Wye in Gloucestershire. Our leader Nick Chidlaw chose a bright and breezy clear day to take us to see some spectacular scenery and interesting rock types and stratigraphy.
The trip finished for me at about 5:30pm though some soldiered on to one more terrace above that on the second photo. I drove back to Bristol to have a short break before field trip number 2.

This evening, I met fellow members of the Avon Bat Group and some public visitors for a "Bat Walk" in Leigh Woods to the west of the River Avon at Bristol. There was a good mix of people, adults and enthusiastic children, enjoying a sometimes led by torchlight walk through the woods. Several bats, mostly Common and Soprano Pipistrelles were seen and heard on Bat Detectors and there was a possible sighting of a Serotine Bat flying low in one of the clearings. It is still a bit early in the season for bats and this was the first organised walk, but the Bat Detectors where chirruping away with bat sound. By the time of the July walk there will be many more flying, though of course dusk will be much later. On our way back there were great views over Bristol by night and of the cresent moon, accompanied closely by the cresent planet Venus. Sadly no camer and tripod at the time!

Tomorrow - another trip - this time another Bristol Living Rivers Project walk this time down the Brislington Brook. - I will write on that after the event I hope!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Wine, women and song!

Yesterday I really enjoyed the concert at St George's Bristol where Gretchen Peters (above), Suzy Boggus and Matraca Berg were peforming their first booking of the latest UK tour. The wonderful accoustics of the former church, together with three wonderful singer-songwriters and an appreciative audience resulted in a great evening. These Nashville ladies were clearly enjoying themselves and recieved a well deserved standing ovation at the end.

Monday, May 14, 2007

My Antarctic Photo of the Day

The weather has been awful this weekend. Lots of rain, so the farmers will be happier but not so good for getting out into the countryside. So back to South Georgia! - King Penquins en garde!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Plea to Japan

I have said it before and no doubt I will need to say it again, but I would like to voice my concern about the future of whale conservation. In a few day's time Japan will once again try and get enough support from other members of the International Whaling Commission in order to rescind the 25 year old moratorium on commercial whaling. The IWC are meeting in Anchorage, Alaska this month and concern is mounting. The moratorium has been openly flouted as this photo shows only too graphically.
The whale meat trade in the far east is in my opinion totally indefensible, Japanese Kobe beef is wonderful, as is beef from many other countries including my own and like it or not, cattle are farmed sustainably for this purpose. But whales are still an unsustainable resource and though there has been some recovery, many species are still endangered and will be more so if commercial whaling resumes. I have been to watch whales, and have been privileged to see them enjoying the freedom of the oceans on several occasions. There is income to be derived from all the tourists who want to see the whales and I urge Japan and all the other whaling Nations to think about converting their whale catching and harpooning ships to scrap and concentrating on the world benefit of seeing and photographing whales for generations to come.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Benighted Benin

Here in Bristol this year we are celebrating the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery. There are fascinating exhibitions and linked events here, but in far away West Africa slavery still exists. Evil people are still carrying on exploiting children as young as five years old. Plan UK have just sent me their latest e-magazine and it makes chilling reading as nothing seems to be able to be done to stop the traffickers, such is the criminal power that they wield as soon as the authorities try to move in. Well done Plan for bringing it to my attention - I am powerless to do anything, but at least I can tell my friends. This little Benin slave girl Afi is just 9 years old.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Shelduck Ordeal

I was amazed this morning on an excellent walk organised for members of the Bristol Ornithological Club [BOC] to the Gordano Valley. What caused my amazement was the sight of nine Shelduck in a field on Weston Moor, 2 or 3 kilometres from the sea coast which is their usual habitat. Well not so much the sight, as they can fly anywhere, but the tale we were told: They like nesting in the willow thickets near to one of the many rhynes (drainage ditches) in this area of relative safety for them. However once the ducklings are old enough and long before they can fly, they have to be led by their mothers from their nest sites, over several fields, over two roads and over a hill to reach the coast and they walk the whole way. Have a look at the map! There is a public footpath [the red dashed line] marked on the map from Weston Moor, it goes Northwestward across the B3124 road towards Walton Bay in the Severn Estuary, but most ducks of my acquaintance anyway, can't read maps or road signs!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Best Stories of Childhood -

I was discussing earlier with a friend our best remembered and loved childhood stories. In England I think I am right in saying that Antoine de St Exupery's "The Little Prince" is not as well known as it should be and I introduced to her "The Colour Kittens," a little tale by Margaret Wise Brown and ilustrated by Alice & Martin Provensen that in my family, entranced several generations of children.
I expect my brother and his family has the copy that was in our parents' house from the 1940's on. It is still in print but I am going to stick my neck out and "privately" publish it here because I like it and so does every child of three years old going on seventy that I know. The Colour (Mostly on Google as Color) Kittens is a timeless and educational story of Hush and Brush so listen!
“Once there were two colour kittens with green eyes, Brush and Hush. They liked to mix and make colours by splashing one colour into another. They had buckets and buckets and buckets and buckets of colour to splash around with. Out of these colours they would make all the colours in the world.
The buckets had the colours written on them, but of course the kittens couldn’t read.
They had to tell by the colours. ‘It is very easy,’ said Brush. ‘Red is red. Blue is blue.’ said Hush. But they had no green. ‘No green paint!’ said Brush and Hush. And they wanted green paint of course, because nearly every place they liked to go was green. Green as cats’ eyes. Green as grass. By streams of water. Green as glass. So they tried to make some green paint.
Brush mixed red paint and white paint together - and what did that make? It didn’t make green. But it made pink. Pink as pigs. Pink as toes. Pink as a rose. Or a baby’s nose.
Then Hush mixed yellow and red together, and it made orange. Orange as an orange tree. Orange as a bumblebee. Orange as the setting sun. Sinking slowly in the sea. The kittens were delighted, but it didn’t make green.
Then they mixed red and blue together - and what did that make? It didn’t make green. It made a deep dark purple. Purple as violets. Purple as prunes. Purple as shadows on late afternoons. Still no green!
And then…
O wonderful kittens! O Brush! O Hush! At last, almost by accident, the kittens poured a bucket of blue and a bucket of yellow together, and it came to pass that they made a green as green as grass. Green as green leaves on a tree. Green as islands in the sea.
The little kittens were so happy with all the colours they had made that they began to paint everything around them. They painted… Green leaves and red berries, and purple flowers and pink cherries. Red tables and yellow chairs, black trees with golden pears.
Then the kittens got so excited they knocked their buckets upside down and all the colours ran together.
Yellow, red, a little blue and a little black…and that made brown. Brown as a tugboat, brown as an old goat, brown as a beaver. BROWN. And in all that brown, the sun went down. It was evening and colours began to disappear in the warm dark night.
The kittens fell asleep in the warm dark night with all their colours out of sight and as they slept they dreamed their dream - A wonderful dream of a red rose tree that turned all white when you counted three…One…Two..Three. Of a purple land in a pale pink sea, where apples fell from a golden tree. And then a world of Easter eggs that danced about on little short legs. And they dreamed of a mouse, a little gray mouse that danced on a cheese that was big as a house. And a green cat danced with a little pink dog, till they all disappeared in a soft grey fog.
And suddenly Brush woke up and Hush woke up. It was morning. they crawled out of bed into a big bright world. The sky was wild with sunshine. The kittens were wild with purring and pouncing - Pounce Pounce Pounce. They got so pouncey they knocked over the buckets and all the colours ran out together. There were all the colours in the world and the colour kittens had made them.
Sing Ho for the colour of Brush. Sing Ho for the colour of Hush. Sing Ho for the colour of Brush and Hush. Sing Ho for the colour of colour.
Now hush!”

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Language acquisition

The Yerkes National Primate Center in Atlanta GA has come up with some interesting but not very startling ideas about the acquisition of language in early humans from study of the behaviour of Bonobos and Chimps. This week’s New Scientist carries the full article.
Human spoken language they postulate, may have evolved from a complex and varied set of hand and arm gestures, not simply through improvements in the basic vocalisations made by primates.
Bonobos and chimps both split from the line that led to Homo sapiens about six million years ago, and they themselves parted about 2.5 million years ago. However, several lines of evidence suggest we are slightly closer to bonobos than we are to chimps. De Waal says that their work suggests bonobos are a more useful species for understanding the evolution of language. For one thing, they seem to have moved further from the common ancestor, at least in terms of the complexity of their communication, than have chimps.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

May Day Walk to Work

Sadly there are no Bank Holidays for us here in Britain this week. Next Monday we do have though! Quite apart from the fact that my car is sick and is in the garage being fixed, it was a lovely day to walk to and from work today. I took my camera and have uploaded my shots to Flickr - please take a look! I am very lucky to have such a green and leafy route to take with only the busy Bristol Ring Road to cross on foot at a badly marked crossing point! The University campus grounds with ponds and streams are well worth a short detour. The walk takes me about half an hour and I really should do it more often!