Saturday, 15 November 2008

Glenancross Gull

fantastic 16th C. winged being

Oriental crow feast

"les neuf aspects de la décomposition d'un corps"
époque Edo (1603-1868)


Die Raben Traduction : Les corbeaux
Kandinsky Vassily (1866-1944)

L'Arbre aux oiseaux

L'Arbre aux oiseaux

Van Kessel Jan I (1626-1679)

The Fox and the Crow, illustration from 'The Fables of Bidpai'

continuing on a fashion theme.....

Jean-Jacques Manget
Traité De La Peste. 1721.
Protective clothing for a physician treating someone with plague.

perhaps this was the inspiration for Alexander McQueens stag/bridal wear - as displayed on the catwalk by Aggy.....

death on the bagpipes......

again unavain, but you've gotta love the knight's of Malta......

Tombs of the Grand Masters of the Knights of Malta

Tuitio Fidei et Obsequium Pauperum

The honorific watercolour/ink/inkwash album featured above was produced in 1781 by Le Bailli de Froullay and Fr. Ludovicus d'Almeyda with the Greek notations by a certain Jean-Jacques Rousseau. It is entitled: 'Mausolées des Grans Maîtres de l'Ordre de S. Jean de Jerusalem qui etoitent en Rhodes, tirés des dessins originaux qui existent dans la chancelerie de l'Ordre à Malthe' and is available in html or flash format from La Bibliothèque Méjanes in Aix-en-Provence.

Caricature of Harald Ulrik Sverdrup

Never let it be said that oceanographers don't have a sense of humour. Smoking a penguin?

extra falconry

Konradin von Hohenstaufen

I bought a beautifully illustrated, German King-Penguin book on this ms.from a tiny but amazingly well-stocked second-hand bookshop (or shack) on Skye. The illuminations show the quintessential medieval theme of knights, falconry, courtly love and board games!

OK.. so not entirely bird related but just too good to omit....

'Turnierbuch. Ritterspiele gehalten von Kaiser Friedrich III. und Kaiser Maximilian I. in den Jahren 1489 - 1511 - BSB Cod.icon. 398' is online at MDZ.

(Tournament book. Knight games held by Emperor Frederick III. Emperor Maximilian I and in the years 1489 to 1511)

ms illuminated in 1550's - genius

pope books

'Papstprophetien' manuscript (~1464-1471)
Images come from the German National Museum digital collection

beautiful artist book

'The Owl-phabet of Art'
JoAnna Poehlmann, 1999.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

bird related market terms

An event that is extremely hard to predict. Generally associated with Nassim Nicholas Taleb's book, The Black Swan.

Black swan events are typically random and unexpected, and some think the current financial crisis is a black swan.

Before the discovery of Australia, it was assumed that all swans were white because nobody had seen one of a different shade.

Markets tend to work on the basis that black swans either don't exist or appear with such irregularity that they are not worth worrying about.

swanning aroud

Here come the gulls!.............

Monday, 1 September 2008

Pigeon Plot

British spy chiefs drew up secret plans to use pigeons to spread false rumours about the impending D-Day landings.

The plot in 1943 to drop the birds into German-occupied France is revealed in newly declassified MI5 files released by the National Archives.

Germany had been intercepting pigeons carrying Allied notes, the files say, so MI5 moved to drop false information.

It planned to put extra pigeons over the west coast of France to give the impression the invasion would be there.

The revelations come in newly-released files on World War II called “Channels for deception”.

spoonbills breed in Scotland

Conservationists believe a wading bird rarely spotted in the UK has bred in Scotland for the first time.

Two spoonbills arrived on the Dee Estuary in Kirkcudbright earlier this year and three younger birds have been seen in the past few days.

The RSPB said the species was of European conservation concern and a very rare breeding bird in the UK.

Countryside ranger Keith Kirk said the spoonbills appeared to be flourishing in the conditions in southern Scotland.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Gripe Aviar, No te la juegues................

knighted King

A penguin who was previously made a Colonel-in-Chief of the Norwegian Army has been knighted at Edinburgh Zoo.

Penguin Nils Olav has been an honorary member and mascot of the Norwegian King's Guard since 1972.

Over the years, he has been promoted through the ranks after being adopted by Royal Guard who visited the zoo. During the ceremony, Nils had a sword dubbed on each side of his head, where his shoulders should be, to confirm his regimental knighthood.

A crowd of several hundred people joined the 130 guardsmen at the zoo. A citation from King Harald the Fifth of Norway was read out, which described Nils as a penguin "in every way qualified to receive the honour and dignity of knighthood".

The guardsmen come to see Nils every few years while they are in Edinburgh performing at the city's Military Tattoo. The proud penguin was on his best behaviour throughout most of the ceremony, but shortly before the ritual was concluded and possibly suffering a bout of nerves he was seen to deposit a discreet white puddle on the ground.

canaries in a mine shaft

A number of UK bird species are laying eggs significantly earlier than they were 40 years ago, a report reveals.

A conservation coalition's report says some finches, robins and tits are all laying earlier and puts this down to warming caused by climate change.

Overall, numbers of farmland birds remain about half of what they were in the 1970s, while wintering populations of water birds have risen considerably.

The RSPB said birds were having to respond to climate change to survive. "As often before, birds are acting like the canaries in a mine shaft and giving us early warning of dangerous change." The report shows that on average, chaffinches are laying nine days earlier than in the 1960s, and robins six days earlier.

In some species, the shift has been shown to be damaging, as it means key foods are no longer available when the youngsters need them.

But in other situations - as documented recently with English great tits - the wildlife appears to cope.

Ancient tree helps birds survive

Oak Tree in Winter at Lacock Abbey
Salt print from a calotype negative, early 1840s.

Scientists have found an ancient species of tree is helping Britain's birds survive the effects of climate change.

Frequent early spring weather means blue tits and great tits have been laying eggs ahead of schedule, making it difficult for them to find food. However ecologists say birds have been feeding on gall wasps, which make their homes in Turkey oak trees, rather than the usual young caterpillars. The discovery was made during a study by the University of Edinburgh.

It had been feared that the Turkey oak, reintroduced to Britain three centuries ago after an absence of thousands of years, may pose a threat to native plants and animals. The species was native to northern Europe before the previous ice age, about 120,000 years ago. But now it appears to be providing the country's birds with a food source.

"As the Turkey oak re-asserts itself in its ancient home, it is helping to alleviate some of the effects of the very modern problem of climate change."

Friday, 15 August 2008

The Twa Corbies

Arthur Rackham: "Some British Ballads" (1919)
The Twa Corbies or, The Two Ravens. Two carrion birds sit discussing what they are going to eat for supper, and one mentions a young man, a knight, lying dead nearby, presumably killed by his lover’s new boyfriend.

“As I was walking all alane,
I heard twa corbies making a mane;
The tane unto the tother say,
‘Where sall we gang and dine to-day?’

‘In behint youn auld fail [turf] dyke,
I wot there lies a new slain knight;
And nae body kens that he lies there,
But his hawk, his hound, and lady fair.

‘His ound is to the hunting gane,
His hawk to fetch the wild fowl hame,
His lady’s ta’en another mate,
So we may make our dinner sweet.

‘ye’ll sit on his white hause [neck] bane,
And I’ll pake out his bonny blue een:
Wi’ ae lock o’ his gowden hair,
We’ll theek [thatch] our nest when it grows bare.

‘Many a one for him makes mane,
But nane sall ken whare he is gane;
O’er his white bones, when they are bare,
The wind shall blaw for evermair.’ ”

Thursday, 14 August 2008

The Beautiful Bird Revealing the Unknown to a Pair of Lovers

Joan Miró. The Beautiful Bird Revealing the Unknown to a Pair of Lovers (from the Constellation series). July 23, 1941

The spectacle of the sky overwhelms me. I'm overwhelmed when I see, in an immense sky, the crescent of the moon, or the sun. There, in my pictures, tiny forms in huge empty spaces. Empty spaces, empty horizons, empty plains - everything which is bare has always greatly impressed me.
- Joan Miró, 1958, quoted in Twentieth-Century Artists on Art

This is one of a celebrated group of twenty-four drawings, collectively referred to as the Constellation series, which was executed during a period of personal crisis for Miró triggered by the Spanish Civil War and World War II. Trapped in France from 1936 to 1940, the artist embarked on these obsessively meticulous works on paper in an attempt to commune with nature and escape the tragedies of current events. Despite their modest formats, they represented the most important works of his career up to that time, a fact he quickly realized.

Jan Asselijn's swan

The Threatened Swan. Oil painting by Jan Asselijn. 144 x 171 cm. From the collection of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. A larger than life swan lifts itself with threatening, out-stretched wings. Hissing fiercely it defends its nest against the approaching danger: the dog swimming in from the right. The dog seems to have designs on the eggs in the nest. The movement of the swan is extreme; its feathers fly up around it. The painter Jan Asselijn has convincingly depicted this spectacle, it looks just like a swan rising up in sudden anger. Through using a low viewpoint he has made the swan tower above its surroundings. This makes the scene even more impressive.

the art of islamic calligraphy

table manners of the medieval vulture

Museum Meermanno, MMW, 10 D 7, Folio 39r
According to the bestiary: The vulture follows armies to feed on corpses; it can predict the number that will die in battle. It flies slowly but very high, and can sense corpses across the seas and in high mountains, and can smell carrion three days journey away. When a corpse is found, the vulture first eats the eyes, then pulls the brain out through the eye holes. The females conceive without mating with males. Vultures live one hundred years.

A deadly creature, half human, half bird or fish

Kongelige Bibliotek, Gl. kgl. S. 3466 8º, Folio 37r
Siren: see an older post with an image of a mosaic at the Bardo Museum, Tunis. This one just had to be added. The artist has solved the problem of whether a siren should have the lower body of a bird or a fish by giving this siren bird's feet and a fish tail. The text says the siren "has the make of a woman down to the waist, and the feet of a falcon, and the tail of a fish."

Ever seen an owl flying backwards?

British Library, Harley MS 4751, Folio 47. A little harsh but according to the bestiary:

The owl haunts ruins and flies only at night; preferring to live in darkness it hides from the light. It is a dirty, slothful bird that pollutes its own nest with its dung. It is often found near tombs and lives in caves. Some say it flies backwards. When other birds see it hiding during the day, they noisily attack it to betray its hiding place. Owls cry out when they sense that someone is about to die.

There are several kinds of owls described in the bestiaries: noctua, the night-owl, that lives in the walls of ruined houses a shuns the light; nictocorax, the night-raven; and the bubo, the common owl, a dirty bird that pollutes its nest.

best perspective for a hawk related picture ....

British Library, Additional MS 42130, Folio 159r.Pliny says [1st century CE] (Natural History, Book 10, 9-10): There are 16 varieties of hawks. They eat other birds, though not the heart. Some catch only birds that are on the ground, others only those flying around a tree, others only birds perched in a tree, still others only those flying in the open. Doves recognize the type of hawks they see, and land of the ground or fly in the air to be counter to the particular hawk's habits, and so save their lives. Hawks are used to assist men in catching birds; the men and the hawks share what they catch.

the coot is cute - no?

Kongelige Bibliotek, Gl. kgl. S. 1633 4º, Folio 36r. The coot represents the man who lives according to God's will and remains within the Church, rather than straying down the path of heresy or following worldly pleasures.

Fearsome rooster

Kongelige Bibliotek, Gl. kgl. S. 3466 8º, Folio 10r. A white cock facing a lion, which turns away in fear. The cock (rooster) has the intelligence to tell time and so knows when to crow. Just before it crows, it spreads its wings and strikes itself. Some say that cock's limbs are destroyed if they are mixed with liquid gold.

Doves in a peridexion tree

British Library, Harley MS 3244, Folio 58v. Doves in a peridexion tree, safe from a menacing dragon. The peridexion tree grows in India. Doves gather in the tree because they like the sweet fruit, and because there they are safe from the dragon. The dragon hates the doves and would harm them if it could, but it fears the shadow of the peridexion tree and stays on the unshaded side of it. The doves that stay in the shadow are safe, but any who leave it are caught and eaten by the dragon.


British Library, Harley MS 4751, Folio 39r
Cranes fly in order, with the leader guiding the flock with a shrill voice; when the leader becomes tired or his voice gives out, another takes his place. They fly high in the air so they can see the lands they seek. At night cranes take turns keeping watch for enemies. The one who is on duty holds a stone up with one claw; if the watcher falls asleep the stone will fall and wake him. If the wind is strong cranes swallow sand or carry stones for ballast. Cranes are the enemy of pygmies, with whom they are constantly at war.


Museum Meermanno, MMW, 10 B 25, Folio 31v. The cinnamalogus is a bird that lives in Arabia. It builds its nest using the fruit of the cinnamon tree, which men value greatly. The men who want to cinnamon cannot climb the tree to reach the nest, because the nest is too high and the tree branches too delicate, so they throw lead balls to knock down the cinnamon. Cinnamon obtained from the nest of this bird is the most valuable of all. See Pliny the Elder, Herodotus, Isidore of Seville or Bartholomaeus Anglicus if you don't believe me...

Barnacle geese

British Library, Harley MS 4751, Folio 36r - Barnacle geese come from trees that grow over water. These trees produce birds that look like small geese; the young birds hang from their beaks from the trees. When the birds are mature enough, they fall from the trees; any that fall into the water float and are safe, but those that fall on land die.

The Sermon of St. Francis

Preaching to the Birds. by Giotto di Bondone, 1295-1300. Fresco. St. Francis, Upper Church, Assisi, Italy
Many of the stories that surround the life of St Francis deal with his love for animals. Perhaps the most famous incident that illustrates the Saint’s humility towards nature is recounted in the 'Fioretti' (The "Little Flowers"), a collection of legends and folk-lore that sprang up after the Saint’s death. It is said that one day while Francis was traveling with some companions they happened upon a place in the road where birds filled the trees on either side. Francis told his companions to "wait for me while I go to preach to my sisters the birds". The birds surrounded him, drawn by the power of his voice, and not one of them flew away.
"The Sermon of St. Francis" is a poem written by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882). It is part of his collection Birds of Passage. The poem relates the story of a man, Saint Francis, that tries to teach a flock of birds about the wonders of God. The birds flock to Saint Francis's parish every day to ask for food, and it is then that Saint Francis teaches them of these things. Although he does not believe that the birds understand him, Francis is able to bring himself peace by doing this.

look at the puffin!!!!

Genius tea towel! want one! A fund-raising appeal has been launched for a new bird observatory on Fair Isle, one of the UK's most remote inhabited islands and an Ornithological mecca.

Hundreds of bird watchers travel to the island off Shetland every year to observe migrating birds.

The bird observatory there is known to ornithologists around the world and is famous for its rare bird migrants and spectacular seabirds.


The Bennu bird serves as the Egyptian correspondence to the phoenix, and is said to be the soul of the Sun-God Ra. Some of the titles of the Bennu bird were “He Who Came Into Being by Himself,” “Ascending One,” and “Lord of Jubilees.” The name is related to the verb “weben,” meaning “to rise brilliantly,” or “to shine.” The Bennu bird was the mythological phoenix of Egypt. It was associated with the rising of the Nile, resurrection, and the sun. Because the Bennu represented creation and renewal, it was connected with the Egyptian calendar. Indeed, the Temple of the Bennu was well known for its time-keeping devices.

According to ancient Egyptian myth, the Bennu had created itself from a fire that was burned on a holy tree in one of the sacred precincts of the temple of Ra. Other versions say that the Bennu bird burst forth from the heart of Osiris. The Bennu was supposed to have rested on a sacred pillar that was known as the benben-stone. The Egyptian priests showed this pillar to visitors, who considered it the most holy place on earth.

A large species of heron, nowadays extinct, occurred on the Arabian Peninsula in comparatively recent times; it may have been the ultimate inspiration for the Bennu. Reflecting this, the species was described as Bennu Heron (Ardea bennuides).


Quetzalcoatl is an Aztec sky and creator god. The name is a combination of quetzalli, a brightly colored Mesoamerican bird, and coatl, meaning serpent. The name was also taken on by various ancient leaders. Due to their cyclical view of time and the tendency of leaders to revise histories to support their rule, many events and attributes attributed to Quetzalcoatl are exceedingly difficult to separate from the political leaders that took this name on themselves. Quetzalcoatl is often referred to as The Feathered Serpent and was connected to the planet Venus. He was also the patron god of the Aztec priesthood, of learning and knowledge. Today Quetzalcoatl is arguably the best known Aztec deity, and is often thought to have been the principal Aztec god. However, Quetzalcoatl was one of several important gods in the Aztec pantheon along with the gods Tlaloc, Tezcatlipoca and Huitzilopochtli.

Sea Eagles released

A batch of white tailed sea eagles are being released from a secret location in Fife in a bid to reintroduce the species to the east of Scotland.

The 15 birds of prey were collected as chicks from nests in Norway and raised in special aviaries. The birds will be radio tagged so their progress can be tracked.

It is the second year the East Scotland Sea Eagles (ESSE) project team have released the so-called "flying barn doors" into the wild.

Image : from the Aberdeen Bestiary. f61v Text: the eagle. Illustration: Two panels of eagles fishing and plunging into the renjuvenating spring. The lower section of the illustration is damaged. This is a Physiologus subject. The reference to catching fish means that the bird must be a sea eagle or osprey. The white tailed eagle is found in the Mediterranean. Although this is an original Physiologus subject, the illustrations of this bird are among the most varied, indicating the lack of an accepted common source.

One striking feature is its yellow eye from which it gains a poetic Gaelic name Iolairesuilnagreine ‘the eagle with the sunlit eye’. Its beak and talons are also bright yellow. Pliny the Elder records [1st century CE] (Natural History, Book 10, 3-6): The eagle is the strongest and most noble bird. There are six kinds of eagles. Only the sea-eagle forces its unfledged young to look at the rays of the sun; if any of them blinks or has watering eyes, those ones are thrown out of the nest

Wednesday, 13 August 2008


The upper image shows Sam finding Zal in the Simourgh's nest and is from the British Library. The image underneath shows the simourgh carrying Zal off to his nest and is a miniature from a 17th C. manuscript. The image is from the Wellcome Library.

Simurgh or Simorgh(Persian: سیمرغ), sometimes spelled Simurg or Simoorg, also known as Angha(Persian: عنقا), is the modern Persian name for a fabulous, mythical flying creature. The figure can be found in all periods of Greater Iranian art and literature, and is evident also in the iconography of medieval Armenia, Byzantium.

The Simorgh made its most famous appearance in the Ferdowsi's epic Shahname (Book of Kings), where its involvement with the Prince Zal is described. According to the Shahname, Zal, the son of Saam, was born albino. When Saam saw his albino son, he assumed that the child was the spawn of devils, and abandoned the infant on the mountain Alborz.

The child's cries were carried to the ears of the tender-hearted Simorgh, who lived on top this peak, and she retrieved the child and raised him as her own. Zal was taught much wisdom from the loving Simorgh, who has all knowledge, but the time came when he grew into a man and yearned to rejoin the world of men. Though the Simorgh was terribly saddened, she gifted him with three golden feathers which he was to burn if he ever needed her assistance. Which he did require later in life when his wife almost died in child birth.

Iranian legends consider the bird so old that it had seen the destruction of the World three times over. The Simorgh learned so much by living so long that it is thought to possess the knowledge of all the Ages. In one legend, the Simorgh was said to live 1700 years before plunging itself into flames (much like the phoenix).