Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Wintering male Siberian Blue Robin by John Gale.

These buttressed roots are incredible.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Tough times

"Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters- pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do...." (Jeremy Bentham).

Perhaps we can infer from that..... no pain, no change. Problem with that is.... no brain, no pain. It is going to have to get really bad before some people feel it:-).

Getting more debt to solve the problem of debt- mmmmm

Darling announces today that he is going to borrow £118 billion (instead of the projected £38 billion) to keep Britain Ltd. from collapsing next year. Indeed it is quite possible that somebody can borrow money to get themselves through a bad time. However it is also possible for someone to dig themselves deeper and deeper and deeper into a dark hole. Of course, I do not possess a crystal ball so I obviously don't know for certain which scenario we are in- however both these options are possible. In such a dangerous situation it is only sensible and rational to expect the worse case scenario, prepare for it while maintaining hope for the best.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

"The roots of social order are in our heads, where we possess the instinctive capacities for creating not a perfectly harmonious and virtuous society, but a better one than we have at present.......Pre-eminently this means the encouragement of exchange between equals. Just as trade between countries is the best recipe for friendship between them, so exchange between enfranchised and empowered individuals is the best recipe for co-operation. We must encourage social and material exchange between equals for that is the raw material of trust, and trust the foundation of virtue". (Matt Ridley, The Origins of Virtue).

And the reason for the current economic collapse.......... lack of trust.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Bring it on

I do love a bit of drama in natural history. Dawkins is hard to beat with material like this:

"We have the power to defy the selfish genes of our birth and, if necessary, the selfish memes of our indoctrination. We can even discuss ways of deliberately cultivating and nurturing pure, disinterested altruism- something that has no place in nature, something that has never existed before in the whole of the history of the world. We are built as gene machines and cultured as meme machines, but we have the power to turn against our creators. We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators" (The Selfish Gene).

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

November colour

Here is a bit of colour. Some photos I have taken which were sitting in my computer.

Bird Art

I lifted these images from

Some of my favourite artists:

Top to bottom:
Marsh Warbler (Szabolcs Kokay)
Pallid Harrier (Richard Johnson)
Red Kite (Richard Allen)
Kittiwake (Chris Lodge)
Blue Tit (Adrian Smart)

I don't know what the law is in displaying these images on here- anyone know?

Social evolution

The tragic subject matter of baby killing is top of the news agenda at the moment. One baby every week in the UK is killed due to neglect or cruelty. So basically that means there are a lot of babies being abused which are not killed- fates worse than death.

From the point of view of someone fascinated in natural systems, like myself, this is a both a disturbing and interesting phenomenon. 'Domestic' Abuse is common in the rest of the natural world. When resources are in short supply- either the siblings or the parents will sometimes pick on, torture and sometimes kill the weakest specimen. When resources are plentiful and the parents can cope with the demands comfortably- this behaviour is less common.

In my opinion, this and all 'social problems' are a product of the environment which the animals find themselves within. When humans, like all animals are deprived of necessary nourishment- respect, love, care, status, value, food, territory, sense of fairness (whatever that means) etc. they start showing behaviour which is sometimes referred to as 'behaving like animals or monsters'.

In the words of one of Darwin's greatest apostles..... "As an academic scientist I am a passionate Darwinian, believing that natural selection is, if not the only driving force in evolution, certainly the only known force capable of producing the illusion of purpose which so strikes all those who contemplate nature. But at the same time as I support Darwinism as a scientist, I am a passionate anti-Darwinian when it comes to politics and how we should conduct our human affairs" (Professor Richard Dawkins in A Devil's Chaplain 10-11)

Monday, 17 November 2008

Birding and the Recession

Hooray- it is official. We are now in a recession. Anyone who has been sympathetic enough to follow this blog will remember that I have been predicting this since May 2007 when I sold my house and moved into a recession bunker- which is where I am now. A lucky guess perhaps but now for the next prediction- how severe and how long. My prediction is........ really bad and bloody long.

So what does this recession mean for birds and birding. Well for starters with unemployment at 1.8 million and set to rise fast- that is more man hours in the field. So therefore we should see some more finds.

I was over Beddington last week on Wednesday- I am now down to a self imposed 4 day week and joined in the 'credit crunch watch' with four others present. Hopefully we should see some more faces over there soon as economic conditions deteriorate.

On the negative side we should see corporations, saving money by trying to cut corners with environmental obligations- so keep an eye on your local patches which are industrial by-products- like Beddington for instance. Also health and safety- maybe a little bit of trimming, so beware of those dumper trucks- the quality of the employee may have been compromised for price. I think I will wash my hi-visibility vest.

More seriously with holiday budgets being cut- it could be much needed revenue being deprived to eco-tourism projects, so therefore best to prioritise the birding holiday over the family holiday. I think solo birding trips are a moral obligation- the wife and kids will understand.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Ship Assistance and other human/ natural system considerations

Found this nice little flickr site about birds on a geophysicists boat out in the Gulf of Mexico.

I presume ship assistance is a fundamental aspect of transatlantic vagrancy. The Yellow-billed Cuckoo (above) which I photographed on Corvo in 2007 showed some dark smudging down its breast. I noticed this sort of staining on one or two other cuckoos on the island in the past. I presume this is some kind of deck wash residue or grease from ships and off shore installations.

Some birders are uncomfortable with the idea of ship assistance but for me it is just another aspect of human activity that affects planetary systems. In this case offshore shipping traffic and installations appear to be regularly utilised by migrant birds. Presumably this factor must have some effect on the ecology of these birds. I suppose it is no different to birds using farmland to feed on or nesting in roofs of houses.

I like the idea that humans are part of nature and I think that not realising that can have significant costs. By saying one thing is natural and one thing is un-natural is a philosophical mistake. The consequences of that mistake is that planners and visionaries consider systems which are missing fundamental parts. The result is a devoid, uninspiring and bleak human environment. In my opinion anything that humans do, can be performed in a way which is complimentary to the natural world. We can build roads with nice verges and planted carriageways, we can farm in a way that generates beautiful countryside teeming with wildlife, we can build houses with stunning gardens with all sorts of garden wildlife, we can build business parks full of trees, shrubs, ponds and feeding areas for birds, Even industrial estates can be planned better and I have spent a lot of time looking at sewage farms, outfalls, settling lagoons, rubbish dumps etc which are all significant areas for birds and wildlife so know very well their importance in natural systems.

In short what I am saying is that this technocrat/environmentalist divide is an imagined divide generated by a philosophical flaw. Eco-warriors do not need to be at war with developers- the two groups should be sitting round the same table planning the human environment. They need to share a few values- no good being polarised. For me anyway, the problem is not development but the nature of that development. Better to go with something and make the most of it rather than fight the inevitable.

Friday, 14 November 2008

collective stupidity

My latest rant will be on...... democracy again. I do like blogging-the voices of the voiceless. Got to get it out somehow- what better place to vent than into the great expanse of cyber-space. All those little opinions and ideas all buzzing aimlessly around in server machines and wires. All that collective wisdom (and stupidity), all dressed up but nowhere to go.

I read somewhere recently that if it was left to the British public to decide how to spend public funds, they would blow it all on a mile high golden statue of the Princess of Wales. Well that could be true but I suspect that it would be pretty difficult to make a worse job of things than some political parties manage.

Well it will be interesting to see what Obama gets up to next. This change he is talking about- what is he talking about? Like a fellow blogger from the United States of America itself commented just the other day-'can Obama overcome the corruptive nature of power'. Well, it is indeed power that corrupts so the best way to stop corruption is to prevent any one person from having too much power and to distribute it more evenly across a wider population. It is easy peasy. All he has to do is the equivalent of a Turkey walking itself to the Christmas dinner table. After all that is what all good messianics do.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Grainy photos

I think I really do need to work on my rarity photos. I was trying to select some of my best bird photos from Corvo (my personal Isle of Grain) and this is all I could come up with. White-rumped Sand at the top, one of the Yellowthroats and the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker at the bottom.
Vincent has some cracking photos which I hope to lift once they have been published.

The Birds

Monday, 3 November 2008

Modern Art

Photo: Lifted from Marcus Coates website

For some reason I spent the weekend contemplating modern art. I found myself in the Photographers Gallery and the Tate Modern and also had an Internet conversation with an American abstract artist.

Like a lot of people I am torn about modern art. I am very interested in alternative perceptions and fascinated by diversity. However I am also suspicious of some modern artists intentions. All too easily the modern artist can use profoundity and obscurity to mask a vacuum. However my inability to connect with an artist can be a reflection of my own lack of imagination.

This battle, I suppose is fundamental to abstract art. I think, like the society it reflects, modern art is all about confusion, suspicion, abandonment of excellence, a redefinition, irreverence, degeneration, surrender, well meaning, directionlessness, fun, light heartedness, comedy and paradox. One of my favourite artists is Marcus Coates. ( He is a naturalist and an artist and for me he reflects this absurdity and mockery well.

For me, Modern Art is a test on my perception. Is the artist trying to communicate something which has depth and meaning. Do I need to squint to see it. Should I make the effort to understand. Should I be ashamed that I doubt the intention. However, is my intelligence under attack- is the artist faking abstraction to mask an emptiness. Has the artist, brown nosed himself/herself into an elite group of self-confirming vacuuists and then by manipulation are trying to impose a delusion of value by creating self doubt in me. Am I being conned.

For me, this is the great test of modern art. Some abstract art reflects a great depth of understanding and meaning. Some reflects a persons ability to be able to manipulate ignorance. What is the intention of the artist.

Like many things it appears there is as spectrum of destructive and constructive intentions. Some artists are intent on sharing and giving positive affirmation to others. Some artists are trying to up-hold self delusion by passing that delusion onto others.

It works the other way to. The observer of art- is a rejection of abstraction a well-founded interpretation of questionable intent. Or is the rejection a blindness and an inability to listen to a genuine well intended voice.