Thursday, 31 July 2008

Remarkable bird, the Great Toothed Diver, beautiful plumage!

No, no, 'e's uh,...he's resting.

Though most scientists contend there is no doubt that moa are extinct, there has been occasional speculation—since at least the late 1800s, and recently as 2008 that some moa may still exist, particularly in deepest south Westland, a rugged wilderness in the South Island. Cryptozoologists and others reputedly continue to search for them, but their claims and supporting evidence (such as of purported Moa footprints or blurry photos) have earned little attention from mainstream experts, and are widely considered pseudoscientific.

Experts contend that moa survival is extremely unlikely, since this would involve the ground-dwelling birds living unnoticed in a region visited often by hunters and hikers.

While the rediscovery of the Takahē in 1948 (after none had been seen since 1898), showed that rare birds may exist undiscovered for a long time, the Takahē was rediscovered after its tracks were identified—yet no reliable evidence of moa tracks has ever been found.

Roc or rukh (from Persian رخ rokh) & Roll

The roc had its origins, according to Rudolph Wittkower, in the fight between the Indian solar bird Garuda and the chthonic serpent Naga, a word that A. de Gubernatis asserted signified 'elephant' as well as 'snake'. The mytheme of Garuda carrying off an elephant that was battling a tortoise appears in two Sanskrit epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. The roc appears in Arabic geographies and natural history, popularized in Arabian fairy tales and sailors' folklore. Ibn Battuta tells of a mountain hovering in air over the China Seas, which was the roc. In the 13th century Marco Polo states "It was for all the world like an eagle, but one indeed of enormous size; so big in fact that its quills were twelve paces long and thick in proportion. And it is so strong that it will seize an elephant in its talons and carry him high into the air and drop him so that he is smashed to pieces; having so killed him, the bird swoops down on him and eats him at leisure". Marco Polo explicitly distinguishes the bird from a griffin. The legend of the roc, popularized in the West in the travels and Marco Polo and later in the 1001 Nights tales, of Abd al-Rahman and Sinbad the Sailor, was widespread in the East. Through the sixteenth century the existence of the roc was accepted by Europeans. In 1604 Michael Drayton envisaged the rocs being taken aboard the Ark.

bird books - publishers: penguin, pelican, puffin, king penguin, phoenix, black swan, etc etc........

Why so many birds - eh? (answers on a postcard)

bird brain

Samuel Collins (1619–1670) was a British doctor and author. He is most notable for being personal physician to Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich, during which time he wrote the book The Present State of Russia.


Meret Oppenheim's 1939 Table with Bird's Legs. The surface of this table is marked with small bird tracks and supported on the legs of something of ostrichy proportions. Curators suggest that "together these evoke the protective relationship of mother and chick, but perhaps also the more disturbing idea of predator and prey."This was the last piece Oppenheim exhibited in Paris before the war. It points to the organic base of much of her work, as she often linked natural images, such as a bird, to typical, functional man-made objects, such as a table.

Crazy imaginary journies.......

Gratuitous use of a great image. Perhaps the greatest visionary of techno-anthropormorphic human flight was Cyrano de Bergaerac. Before he was the object of Edmund Rostand’s 1897 play, de Bergerac was a massively creative author, producing, among other things, the book Histoire des Etats et Empires de la Lune (History of the States and Empires of the Moon, published posthumously in 1657), followed by Histoire des Etats et Empires du Soleil (History of the States and Empires of the Sun). In a very complicated series of adventures the protagonists are brought to the moon and to the other side of the sun and such by being flown in a basket attached to the neck of a giant bird. (In one part of the escapade, Cyrano takes us to the moon, which is a paradise, where the adventurer is captured and imprisoned by the intelligent indigenous folks, and from which he escapes by clinging to a soul being removed by the devil).

Villard de Honnecourt

Villard de Honnecourt, (born c. 1225, Picardy, France — died c. 1250) was a French architect. He is remembered mainly for the sketchbook he compiled while travelling in search of work as a master mason. The book contains sketches and writings concerning architectural practices of the time. He includes sections on technical procedures and mechanical devices, as well as notes on the buildings and monuments he had seen, offering insights into the variety of interests and work of the 13th-century master mason and providing an explanation for the spread of Gothic architecture in Europe. This page from his his surviving portfolio of 33 sheets containing about 250 drawings from about the 1230s, which is in the Bibliotheque National, Paris (MS Fr 19093), shows a pelican in her piety, a curious looking owl and a magpie?

Oh yes, the, uh, the Great Auk...What's,uh...What's wrong with it? I'll tell you what's wrong with it, my lad. 'E's dead,

Related to the puffin the Great Auk inhabited the rocky coasts and islands of the North Atlantic from Virginia, Scotland, Shetland and Ireland to Greenland and Iceland, almost to the Arctic Circle.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Lets hear it for Horus & and his fight for sunshine...

It is nearly impossible to distinguish a "true" Horus from all his many forms. In fact, Horus is mostly a general term for a great number of falcon gods, some of which were worshipped all over Egypt, others simply had local cults. Yet in all of his forms he is regarded as the prince of the gods and the specific patron of the living ruler.

The worship of Horus was brought from the outside by neighboring tribes who invaded and then settled into Egypt. He was their god of war, but was quickly absorbed into the state religion, first as a son of Ra, then changing to become the son of Osiris. He was the protector and guide to the pharaoh and later pharaohs were believed to be his avatar on earth. Horus was also the patron of young men and the ideal of the dutiful son who grows up to become a just man.

The most popular story of Horus is the one in which he grows to manhood to avenge the death of his father Osiris by battling against his cruel uncle Set. In many writings, he is said to continue to battle Set daily to ensure the safety of the world. This is a pic of Horus at Edfu. God of the noontime sun. This particular variant was first worshipped in the western Delta and spread south, a cult center being established at Edfu. He is represented by a winged sun or as a lion with the head of a hawk. Horus Behudety fights constantly against Set and an army of darkness to ensure that the sun rises each day.

"winners of numerous cups and prizes......"

The Illustrated Book of Poultry by Lewis Wright, published in London, Paris and Melbourne, 1890. This series of poultry lithographs, popularly known as Cassell's Book of Poultry, has a text by Lewis Wright, illustrations by Ludlow and lithographs by Vincent Brooks Day & Son. Now aren't these a particularly fine pair? Gentlemen and women competed fiercely in raising prize winning poultry which were entered in local and regional fairs. This series, which is widely regarded as the most desirable of the English poultry books contains beautifully lithographed examples of the purebred fowl praising the owner, by listing, and where appropriate, the cup or ribbon won. The English name of these birds is a misnomer, as they do not originate in the country of Poland. Instead, the oldest accounts of crested chickens comes from the Netherlands .

Owls in a cave.........

Here is another beautiful arabic ilumination; 'Abd Allah Ibn al-Muqaffa' Syria or Egypt mid-14th century. It appears to show a murder of crows flocking around the burning entrance to a cave. Huddled within the cave appear to be a parliament of owls.......

snakes & a flame.......

The 'Kitab al-Bulhan' (Book of Wonders) [MS. Bodl. Or. 133] manuscript is a collection of Arabic divinatory treatises produced in the late 14th century hosted by the Oxford Digital Library.There are approximately 80 illustrations among the astrological, astronomical and geomantic texts in the ~180pp manuscript. Many of the pages without illustrations have patterned arrangements of the text. This is at first glance a truly bonkers manuscript, of which I have only chosen to show two bird related images; birds swooping down on some snakes in a cave, whist carrying small red pouches in their beaks. One small snake is escaping out of the front of the cave. The second image shows a rock consumed in snake-like fire, whilst a number of birds perch on the rock. A seagull like bird is caught in a flame as it flies in the top left of the picture...........

early bird book

Spätgotisches Musterbuch des Stephan Schriber - BSB Cod.icon. 420

Stephan Schreiber's late gothic pattern book was produced in Urach in the (now) state of Baden-Württemberg in South-West Germany in 1494. It was dedicated to Count Eberhard (Eberhard the bearded, later first Duke) of Württemberg.

The parchment manuscript appears to be a manual of templates and/or a practice book containing partially completed sketches, painted and calligraphy initals, stylised floral decorative motifs, plant foliage tendrils, fantastic beast border drolleries, together with some gold and silver illumination work.,00007.html?prozent=1

Probably the earliest drawings of a dodo (Raphus cucullatus) from the Journal of VOC-ship Gelderland 1601- 1603

vulture boards an airplane, carrying two dead squirrels. Stewardess looks at him and says, "I'm sorry sir, only one carrion allowed!"

"where there is a carcass, there will be vultures,"
Malayan proverb

Not so now. A catastrophic decline in the number of Asian vultures due to the continued use of drugs in livestock means the noble, if picky, birds could be extinct within a decade. Vultures have an important ecological role in the Asian environment, where they have been relied upon for millennia to clean up and remove dead livestock and even human corpses. But their once-abundant numbers have been in decline for more than a decade. In 1999, the Bombay Natural History Society noted a 97% drop in the Oriental white-backed vulture (Gyps bengalensis) population at the Keoladeo National Park in the state of Rajasthan. Today the bird is considered to be "critically endangered", as are long-billed (Gyps indicus) and slender-billed (Gyps tenuirostris) vultures which have been through a similar decline. The livestock painkiller diclofenac, consumed by vultures when they eat a carcass, has been blamed for the fall, in conjunction with other contributing factors such as the growth of city living. Studies in India, Pakistan and Nepal have found extensive evidence of diclofenac in dead vultures. The renowned ornithologist, Dr. Salim Ali in The Book of Indian Birds described vultures as God's own incinerators, which cannot be replaced by even the most sophisticated ones which man may invent. (pic above I took in Orcha, Northern India last summer. A large colony of vultures were nesting on some tombs), (the collective noun for vultures is colony although something more gruesome like a murder would sound more appropriate).

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Kraunchas - a bird bereaved....?

Phnom Phen, Cambodia
The Royal Palace

Birds in the murals depicting the Ramayana epos.

Strength in numbers

Bird flocking is a striking example of collective animal behaviour. A vivid illustration of this phenomenon is provided by the aerial display of vast flocks of starlings gathering at dusk. These great swirling masses manoeuvre themselves with extraordinary spatial coherence. Both the evolutionary justification and the basic mechanics of flocking appear to be poorly understood but are common throughout the natural world in schools of fish as well as swarms of insects.
A group of Italian physicists working on a project called STARFLAG claim to have devised a manner of 3d mapping that can allow scientists to determine how an individual starling will react and move within a flock. The mechanisms underlying flock movements may also be applicable to human economic behaviours, which also exhibit flocking phenomena like passing fads.

(Credit: STARFLAG project, INFM-CNR)

Creative corvid - who's the bird brain?

a pecking order for avian cognition....

The New Caledonian crow is the only non-human species known to invent new tools by modifying existing ones, and then passing these innovations on to other individuals in the cultural group. They have also been seen making tools that they use in the wild out of completely different material.

In 2002, researcher Kacelnik and colleagues at the University of Oxford observed of a couple of New Caledonian Crows called Betty and Abel: Betty's toolmaking abilities came to light by accident during an experiment in which she and Abel had to choose between a hooked and a straight wire for retrieving small pieces of pig heart, their favorite food. When Abel made off with the hooked wire, Betty bent the straight wire into a hook and used the tool to lift a small bucket of food from a vertical pipe. This experiment was the first time the crows had been presented with wire.

(from the Behavioural Ecology Research Group at the University of Oxford)

The cognitive capabilities of corvids seem to be closely tied to social complexity. The larger the group within which a bird species lives, the more adept are individuals of that species at using intelligence to predict their position within a dominance hierarchy. But how do birds achieve such complex cognition with relatively small brains? This is, as yet, unclear, although it has been suggested that larger numbers and greater densities of neurons are to be found in the brains of the more “intelligent” birds. This was the case in a preliminary comparison between corvids and pigeons, but it needs to be confirmed.


The battle is on against the seagull. But lets have a little pro-seagullism...

Gull, informally seagull, Laridae family, genus Larus.

ground nesting carnivores, which will take live food or scavenge opportunistically. Gulls are resourceful and highly intelligent birds, demonstrating complex methods of communication and a highly developed social structure; for example, many gull colonies display mobbing behaviour, attacking and harassing would-be predators and other intruders. In addition species such as the Herring gull exhibit tool-use behaviour. Stealing the corvid crown of the feathered ape? Many species of gull have learned to coexist successfully with humans and have thrived in human habitats. Often relying on cleptoparasitism, i.e. stealing food from another animal that has already caught and killed the prey. The current greatest threat to seagulls is the loss of coastal habitat. Most seagulls nest in coastal areas and are losing more and more nesting grounds each year to human development. Surely a little seagull rage is justified...

Some excitingly named gulls: Belcher's Gull, Larus belcheri, Olrog's Gull, Larus atlanticus, Sooty Gull, Larus hemprichii, Kelp Gull, Larus dominicanus, Heuglin's Gull, Larus heuglini, Caspian Gull, Larus cachinnans, Hartlaub's Gull, Larus hartlaubii, Silver Gull, Larus novaehollandiae, Boneparte's Gull, Larus philadelphia, Relict Gull, Larus relictus, Lava Gull, Larus fuliginosus, Laughing Gull, Larus atricilla, Franklin's Gull, Larus pipixcan.

Recent seagull related reports include:

  • An elderly welshman suffering a fatal heart attack after being swooped on by seagulls.
  • An English woman was rushed to the hospital with deep beak wounds to her head.
  • A preschool in Scotland had to harness hawk-force to safeguard its children.
  • London postmen refused to deliver mail to a usually quiet street following attacks by what one resident described as a "slightly psycho herring gull."
  • And then there was Sam the Aberdonian shoplifting seagull, (below....)

(seagull management;

The seagull manager flies in, makes a lot of noise, craps on everything then flies off again leaving a big mess behind)