Explorer and Independent Biologist

Saturday, 25 December 2010

A Merry kayaking Christmas!

Christmas Eve in Cumbria was so fine and sunny I launched my kayak near Bootle on the west coast of Cumbria. With a light northerly and  gentle swell, launching from the stony beach was not difficult.

I paddled out to the pole mark you can see near the horizon 
and moored there for a while fishing. No luck though.

With the midday sunshine shining brightly it was almost warm! 
Black Combe has a snowy mantle.
Sorry about the wonky horizon, the boat was actually tossing around in the swell

On Christmas morning, some clouds had rolled in and the temperature was -10.5 C. I was on Coniston Water by 8.00am, with Venus still shining brightly!

Boats moored on Coniston Water emerge eerily from the dawn mist 
on Christmas morning

The sun rises behind the mountains and drives off the mist

 Like an explorer sailing towards the Pole, I eventually encounter the pack ice. 
Without a strengthened hull I was reluctant to penetrate the ice - 
I did not want to risk becoming a "Coniston Shackleton" 
and become ice-bound for the rest of the winter!
 The rising sun illuminates the slopes of the Old Man of Coniston

 With my fishing rod already iced up, and my toesies freezled, 
I pull ashore for my Christmas breakfast.

And I assure you there is something a little more appropriate 
than tea in the glog mug ;-)

Monday, 20 December 2010

Solstice eclipse and Arctic birds

A very Happy Winter Solstice to all my readers!
In Britain we are experiencing a particularly cold period with day-time temperatures staying well below zero. The cold weather is pushing a number of Arctic migrant birds south and west into Europe and for the first time in 400 years there is a Solstice total eclipse of the moon in Britain.

 I am up and out in time to greet the Solstice dawn over my village

For the first time in 400 years, the Winter Solstice sees a total eclipse of the moon 
in Britain. The Earth's shadow is crossing the moon prior to totality, just before sunrise

 At total eclipse the moon takes on a coppery hue, 
but is already setting in the haze of the horizon

Ice floes on the River Leven estuary - the first time I have seen 
the sea freeze over since I have been living in Cumbria

A Redwing seeks out the few remaining haw-berries
(The bold eye-stripe distinguishes it from other thrush species)

A Fieldfare, possibly south from Lapland

A pair of Fieldfares seek warmth in the weak Solstice sunshine
A Waxwing from Bohemia (or further north and east)

The Waxwing secures a nutritious haw-berry in its bill

From today, the sun commences its sojourn back to the Northern Hemisphere. 
I wish you joy in anticipation of warmer, brighter days to come.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Seewinkel in Winter's icy grip

I think it is very likely that I was the only person counting birds in the frozen Seewinkel National Park on the Austria-Hungary border on a weekday, just four days before the Winter Solstice!  The bird species diversity there in winter is a tiny fraction of that in summer; however, every biological record is valuable, and there are always exciting things to see. I could certainly  not have watched three See Eagles feasting on a dead swan if I had stayed at home!

Balls of mistletoe are starkly visible on the denuded deciduous trees

 Even the Einserkanal starts to freeze over and the Andau Bridge 
looks very different now to how it did during my last visit

Lake Neusiedl is frozen over...

...while the cycle track at Sandeck is more like a skating rink!
The watchtower is a relic of the Cold war

A pair of Hooded crows find something to eat during a snow flurry...

...but the sun is trying hard to show itself through the snow clouds

On a winter afternoon the setting sun illuminates the inflorescences 
of reeds in the Seewinkel National Park

Saturday, 11 December 2010

HMS Victory

During a recent visit to my elder son's family near the naval town of Portsmouth, we took an opportunity to visit with friends the Christmas Market in the historical dockyards, open to the public that weekend. For me it was an opportunity to see again my favourite ship HMS Victory, Admiral Lord Nelson’s flagship. HMS Victory is best known for her role in the Battle of Trafalgar, and The Victory currently serves both as the flagship of the Commander-in-Chief of Naval Home Command and as a living museum.

The children arrive at Portsmouth Docks railway station

Even the carousel has a nautical theme with the figure-head of an old sailing ship
HMS Victory - flagship of the Commander-in-Chief of 
Naval Home Command and a living museum

The stern view, with the windows of Admiral Lord Nelson's cabin

The bow view, and the maintenance of all that rigging, 
especially in heavy seas, defies the imagination! 

Here is an account of my previous visit to HMS Victory

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Cecilia Bartoli

Thanks to a very generous birthday present from my dear sister I saw my favourite mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli singing in concert in the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, on 3rd December. She was accompanied by the Basel Chamber Orchestra.

The circle foyer of the modern Bridgewater Hall in Manchester

In addition to performing in "conventional" opera,  Cecila Bartoli has devoted her career to exploring and performing the works of lesser-known and forgotten composers. For example, in the last concert that I attended she sang some compositions of Antonio Salieri that may not have been publicly heard for 200 years.

Currently, Cecilia Bartoli is performing the music of a number of compositions  for the voices of the castrati in a programme called Sacrificium, a word that reflects the sacrifice of some 4000 boys that used to be mutilated in Italy every year during the 1770s onwards.

"Due to their superhuman physical nature, their unusually thorough training and their immense talent, you might say that what these singers sang was probably some of the best music written at the time. Since it stretches the limits of your own abilities it bis also a great personal challenge for a modern interpreter - especially a woman". Cecilia Bartoli

Cecilia Bartoli sings to the accompaniment of the 
Basel Chamber Orchestra (leader Jülia Schröder)

Trio Concerto for mezzo-soprano and two flutes

Cecilia Bartoli sings a flamboyant encore

Cecilia Bartoli had her devoted audience in tears with her 
sensitive rendering of Handel's Lascia la spina

Leave the thorn, Pluck the rose;
You are seeking your own sorrow.
An unseen hand will bring you
Hoary old age
Ere your heart imagines.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

The Triple Harp Mission

The Triple Harp is the classical Welsh harp. It is characterised by having three rows of strings (rather than one), the third row (set between the two outside rows) is tuned to the semi-tones, eliminating the need for keys or pedals. It is notoriously difficult to play. My younger son Carwyn has played the small Celtic harp (or "knee-harp") for years and has long set his sights on extending his repertoire with a triple harp. The mission was to meet him in Wales to collect such a harp which had just been restored.

 I wake to a fine dawn at high tide on the Welsh coast

The rendez-vous is  John Thomas' harp restoration workshop

Carwyn meets his new Triple Harp, 
a fine pedigree instrument, some 150 years old
Three rows of strings with accordingly three rows of tuning pins

Tuning so many strings takes some time...

 ...before I witness the first melody to issue from this harp in a great many years

World Premiere: Carwyn performs at his first 'gig' on his new harp 
the very same evening!

My visit occurred about the time of granddaughter Heledd's third birthday. 
What is in a the parcel?

 Heledd is very impressed with her new Jack-in- the-box!

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Rydal Water in November

Rydal Water is one of the smaller of Cumbria's Lakes, surrounded by hills and woods. I decided to launch my kayak for a day's fishing soon after dawn on a beautiful calm November morning. Launching is from the car park at the north end of the lake into the river Rydal Beck and then a quarter of a mile drift downstream into the lake itself.

I approach Rydal Water with the morning mists still shrouding the hills

Mirror-calm conditions are ideal for exploring the lake and its little islands

By mid-morning the mists have evaporated and thin winter sunshine reveals itself

I manage to boat a decent pike weighing 7lb 3oz (3.2kg)

I reckon six servings from this fish!

By mid-afternoon the sun slips behind the hills

A moulted swan feather is trapped in some weed

Fishing in Rydal Water in by permit only. Day permits can be purchased on-line this the Lake District Fishing website.