Monday, 18 August 2008
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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|
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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
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).
In Norse mythology, the power to understand the language of the birds was a sign of great wisdom. The god Odin had two ravens, called Hugin and Munin, who flew around the world and told Odin what happened among mortal men.
The legendary king of Sweden Dag the wise was so wise that he could understand what birds said. He had a tame house sparrow which flew around and brought back news to him. Once, a farmer in Reidgotaland killed Dag's sparrow, which brought on a terrible retribution from the Swedes.
The ability could also be acquired by tasting dragon blood. According to the Poetic Edda and the Volsunga saga, Sigurd accidentally tasted dragon blood while roasting the heart of Fafnir. This gave him the ability to understand the language of birds, and his life was saved as the birds were discussing Regin's plans to kill Sigurd. Through the same ability Aslaug, Sigurd's daughter, found out the betrothment of her husband Ragnar Lodbrok, to another woman.
Odin is a god of war, appearing throughout Norse myth as the bringer of victory. In the Norse sagas, Odin sometimes acts as the instigator of wars, and is said to have been able to start wars by simply throwing down his spear Gungnir, and/or sending his valkaries, to influence the battle toward the end that he desires. The Valkyries are Odin's beautiful battle maidens that went out to the fields of war to select and collect the worthy men who died in battle to come and sit at Odin's table in Valhalla, feasting and battling until they had to fight in the final battle, Ragnarok. Odin would also appear on the battle-field, sitting upon his eight-legged horse Sleipnir, with his two ravens, one on each shoulder, Hugin (thought) and Munin (memory), and two wolves (Geri and Freki) on each side of him.
Odin is also associated with trickery, cunning, and deception. Most sagas have tales of Odin using his cunning to overcome adversaries and achieve his goals, such as swindling the blood of Kvasir from the dwarves.
Besides being one of the most beautiful examples of Persian poetry, this book relies on a clever word play between the words Simorgh — a mysterious bird in Iranian mythology which is a symbol often found in sufi literature, and similar to the phoenix bird — and "si morgh" — meaning "thirty birds" in Persian.
This temple was originally built in 998 in the Heian pewriod as a rural villa of Fujiwara no Michinaga, one of the most powerful members of the Fujiwara clan. This villa was changed to a Buddhist temple by Fujiwara no Yorimichi in 1052. The most famous building in the temple is the Phoenix Hall (鳳凰堂 hōō-dō) or the Amida Hall, constructed in 1053. The only remaining original building is the Phoenix Hall, surrounded by a scenic pond; additional buildings making up the compound were burnt down during a civil war in 1336.
The main building in Byōdō-in, the Phoenix Hall consists of a central hall, flanked by twin wing corridors on both sides of the central hall, and a tail corridor. The central hall houses an image of Amida Buddha. The roof of the hall displays statues of The Chinese phoenix, called hōō in Japanese.
The Phoenix Hall, completed in 1053, is the exemplar of Fujiwara Amida halls. It consists of a main rectangular structure flanked by two L-shaped wing corridors and a tail corridor, set at the edge of a large artificial pond. Though its official name is Amida-dō, it began to be called Hōō-dō, or Phoenix Hall, in the beginning of the Edo period. This name is considered to derive both from the building's likeness to a phoenix with outstretched wings and a tail, and the pair of phoenixes adorning the roof.
Thursday, 7 August 2008
"Ciconia" and "Hemantopus,"
L'histoire de la nature des oyseaux, avec leurs descriptions; & nafs portraicts retirez du naturel: escrit en sept livres.
Paris: G. Cavellat, 1555. From the library of J. van den Heuven, 1820.
--the French naturalist Pierre Belon studied medicine at Paris and botany at Wittenberg, before extensive travels in Greece and the Middle East. His interest in comparative anatomy also led to a parallel volume on fishes. Belon drew moral lessons from the behavior he observed, and the white stork (Ciconia) is depicted here holding food for its young. The woodcut illustrations to Belon's book were made by C.L. Gourdet from drawings by P. Gourdet. See further down for comparative anatomy.
This is a fascinating and unlikely woodcut illustration in a book by Pierre Belon, a pioneer of comparative anatomy and one of the first naturalist-explorers!
|Comparison of a human and bird skeleton, woodcut, 1555|
L’histoire de la nature des oyseaux, avec leurs descriptions, & naifs portraicts. (The history and nature of birds) par Pierre Belon du Mans published in 1555.
The book itself is a remarkable achievement, it was published in French at a time when most books were in Latin and it contains 14 woodcuts depicting a variety of birds, these were based on specimens collected by Belon from markets throughout Europe. He also travelled in the Near East collecting specimens and information.
Wednesday, 6 August 2008
In medieval times Falcons were so highly valued that they were worth more than their weight in gold when used as coinage in ransom negotiations. During one particularly bloody crusade in the late fourteenth century, the Ottoman Sultan Beyazid captured the son of Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, and turned down Philip's offer of 200,000 gold ducats for ransom. Instead, Beyazid wanted and was given something even more precious: twelve white gyrfalcons.
The birds were also used as offerings of peace. In 1276, the king of Norway sent eight gray and three white gyrfalcons to Edward I as a sign of peace. Three hundred years later, in 1552, Czar Ivan IV and Queen Mary I exchanged a gyrfalcon and a pair of lions after Russia and England established diplomatic relations.
An unexpected decline in puffin numbers on one of their most successful breeding colonies has raised fears that the birds are the victims of a North Sea fish famine.
To the puzzlement of ornithologists, thousands of puffins have vanished from the Isle of May, in the Firth of Forth, in Scotland.
The population on May had been rising steadily for the past 50 years and ornithologists had expected that the island would host 100,000 pairs this year. But when they carried out five-yearly count in April they discovered that the population had dropped from 69,300 pairs in 2003 to 41,000 this year.
Mike Harris, of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), said that the most likely explanation for the drop was that the adult birds were starving to death during the winter.
The capercaillie is one of three bird species that is restricted to pinewood habitat in northern Scotland (the other two are the crested tit, Parus cristatus, and the Scottish crossbill, Loxia scotia). It prefers old, open pine forests with lush ericaceous ground cover, though in summer it is occasionally found in mature oakwoods.
Today all the capercaillie in Scotland originate from Swedish stock, as they became extinct in Scotland in 1785. Prior to its extinction, it was once common and widespread, but as the forests were felled it became rare until the last pair were shot, reputedly for a royal wedding banquet at Balmoral. Unsuccessful attempts were made to reintroduce the capercaillie for sport by the Earl of Fife at Mar Lodge early in the nineteenth century. In 1837, however, capercaillie were successfully reintroduced by Lord Breadalbane at Taymouth Castle and they rapidly recolonised the local pinewoods. Soon other reintroductions were made in various pinewood localities in Scotland, using descendants of the original Taymouth introductees, combined with additional capercaillie brought from Scandinavia.