Red Admiral

Our buddleia continues to attract more butterflies than we have seen for many years – more like they used to be in earlier decades. We have even seen several red admirals at the same time.

What a difference bright sunlight makes to the vibrancy of the colours, really picking out the zebra-style antennae.

The underwing shown in the featured image is quite unexpected.

Hottest Day

It has been England’s hottest ever July day. The air is hot and humid, more like summer in Houston. Becalmed all day, without the air conditioning that is regarded as necessary in Houston, I have to take a walk in the evening, now it is slightly cooler, despite impending rain.

We are lucky that Knutsford has a number of smallish green areas. As I walk I become aware of just how hot and oppressive are the streets around the town, heat emanating from the terraced houses and roads. Entering the parks there is an immediate change of atmosphere, cooler, more breezy. The grassy areas, surrounded by trees, have a different feel again, still refreshing. The small ‘walled wood’ is another perceptibly different environment, completely enveloped and protected by trees. By the lake that is the Moor pool a different quality comes from the relatively cool water.

In short, contact with nature – trees, grass, water – makes the extreme heat tolerable. More trees and lakes will not only slow global warming but make its effects more tolerable. More bricks and concrete make things worse. This is common sense, yet we don’t act like it is. The only alternative will be islands of air conditioning for those that can afford it, as in Houston.

As I return home, spots of the anticipated rain begin to fall. The roadside trees help my brisk walk home, removing the need for that umbrella. I pause gratefully in the relative cool under our beautiful weeping birch, before going back into the oven-like house.

Featured image taken in the shade of our weeping birch tree.

Painted Lady

Painted lady butterflies are sometime migrants to the UK. We’ve seen a lot this year, so this must be a bumper year when they come here in large numbers.

painted lady.jpg

These painted ladies were around thistles on local farmland. They have a certain faded grandeur, compared to the vibrant colors of the young, but this is maybe not too surprising considering the long migration.

Here today…

The other day I was entranced by the pink and yellows of the grasses and flowers on Knutsford’s Small Heath. The fuzzy pink of the grass seeds offsets the yellow of the profusion of dandelions and buttercups. With only smartphone to hand, these were the pictures I took.

Sadly, this beauty is no more. The next day the grass cutters came and all was mown down, a rather dramatic illustration of the transience of nature’s beauty, and of the insensitivity of bureaucratic timetables.

Morcambe Bay Chimneys

I love the patterns of sand and water on river estuaries. But sometimes it’s nice to have something of interest in the foreground of a photograph. These chimneys of terraced houses in Silverdale, Lancashire serve just such a purpose.

morcambe bay chimneys.jpg

I prefer the simplicity of the two chimneys in the main image to the six in the featured image, but each has its charm. And what a place to live!

Morcambe Bay is interesting in that five rivers drain into the estuary: rivers Leven, Kent, Keer, Lune and Wyre.

 

Pied Wagtail

This pied wagtail settled just long enough, at RSPB Leighton Moss, to capture a couple of photographs.

pied wagtail.jpg

These birds present a neat pattern of shades of black-white-grey; I guess ‘pied’ could be an appropriate description. From the colour, you might think that it could be a so-called grey wagtail, but that actually has a partially yellow underside, making it easily confused with the yellow wagtail, which is even more yellow. Confusing!

Canada Goslings

Our walk around Shakerley Mere was interrupted by a family of Canada Geese and goslings slowly making their way across the path. As we have a small dog, and Canada’s are very aggressive when protecting their young, we waited while they crossed.

The 5 goslings were being shepherded by about 7 adult stewards, all assiduously watching over them. Interestingly, the group included two white, so-called Domestic Geese, clearly now wild. So the wider family was cross-species.

There was time to photograph the two heads, very distinctively different.

Both these geese are very common in the UK, particularly Canadas, which have become a pest in some places.

Blue Tits

We were delighted that blue tits used the nesting box we put up last year, even more so when a number of chicks appeared about a week ago. Since then there have been lots of tits on our feeders, some of which would be ‘our’ brood. They are obviously very young when you look at the pictures (double click to enlarge).

Blue tits seem to be present in our garden throughout the year. They like insects and are valuable to gardeners in keeping down populations of aphids.

Cygnets 7

These seven mute swan cygnets presented a pretty sight on the canal at Anderton Country Park yesterday. Here’s the uncropped image showing the parents.

 

cygnets 7

Still fiercely protective, the adults kept a wary eye out out until we were clearly going away.

Why are these swans called ‘mute’? Because they are not very vocal, compared to other swans.

Why are the young called ‘cygnets’? Well ‘cygnus’ is the old Latin name for swan, with ancient Greek origins. So we use the old Germanic-Saxon name ‘swan’ for the adult and the Roman-Greek name ‘cygnet’ for the child. Don’t ask why! It just shows how mixed in we’ve always been with Europe.

Teresa May faced an Impossible Task.

In this excellent post, Bruce Nixon explains why Theresa May faced and impossible task, and why Brexit is not the answer to anything, other than a power grab by vested interests. UK democracy needs refreshing.

Bruce Nixon

Peoples Vote

Protesters carry a banner at the People’s Vote anti-Brexit march in London on March 23, 2019. Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images.                                     

She faced a deeply divided House of Commons and divided Tory and Labour parties, unwilling to agree to the Brexit proposals she negotiated with EU leaders. Almost certainly any other leader would have faced the same situation. Leaving the EU is the wrong diagnosis for a real crisis – see The dismantling of the state since the 1980s .  

 

Vote Leave was launched in October 2015 with the support of both right and left wing Eurosceptic politicians, leaders from the business world and trade unions and the European Research Group . It was arguably a campaign organised by politicians wanting more power. It was not about giving more power to the people.

The constantly repeated “Brexit is the will of the people” is propaganda.

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What causes War?

I was intrigued by Ferdinand Mount‘s article in the recent issue of London Review of Books. His basic premise is that countries go to war because of economic and related resource issues. WW1 was really about Germany’s lack of natural resources which were available in neighbouring countries. This festered on into WW2 which continued the argument. The same is true of most wars, often a reaction against ‘imperial’ exploitation by a stronger power. The EU and the supranational European Court of Justice were established to provide an arrangement whereby such conflict would not happen again in Europe.

Of course I’ve oversimplified, but the essence is there. Brexit will inevitably increase the probability of a future European war. If there were a no-deal Brexit, the resulting arguments about unwinding the hugely complex relationships between UK and EU will probably go on for decades, probably with ill will.

The UK will also go into negotiations with US, China, India etc, with the relatively weak negotiating position of desperation, resulting in more conflict and ill will.

Of course, in general democracies do not go to war, but with the threatening rise of populism who knows? War and conflict are historically favoured tactics of populists to get the people behind them.

Those of us who believe Brexit to be a total disaster should not cease saying so. We know that the Brexit vote was ‘won’ one lucky day three years ago. It can be changed.

Featured image of German troops entering Sudetenland 1938 from Bundesarchiv, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Digger Wasp

There were quite a few of these insects in an area of Tatton Park by the lake, and they seemed to relate to small holes in the ground prevalent in that area. At first we thought it was some sort of solitary bee, but web research didn’t come up with any matching images. It seems it must be some sort of digger wasp, of which there are 110 different species in the British Isles.

According to Buglife, digger wasps are solitary nesters, and the tunnels may be 30cm deep. They may also nest near to each other in colonies, which is what we saw in Tatton.

Common Blackbird

blackbird headBlackbirds are common in English gardens. They are not much photographed because they are basically just black, with yellow beak and eye ring.

juv blackbirdNow my bird in the photograph is not black, in fact it’s a rather attractive brown colour, if anything looking a bit like a thrush. And the beak is dark, not yellow. But yes, it is still a common blackbird – the adult female and juvenile are more brown than black. This is probably a juvenile, where the adult colours have not yet come out. You can see the eye ring and incipient beak colouring. And the blackbird is indeed a species of thrush.

Wikipedia tells the following interesting story about the name ‘blackbird’:

It may not immediately be clear why the name “blackbird”, first recorded in 1486, was applied to this species, but not to one of the various other common black English birds, such as the carrion crow, raven, rook, or jackdaw. However, in Old English, and in modern English up to about the 18th century, “bird” was used only for smaller or young birds, and larger ones such as crows were called “fowl”. At that time, the blackbird was therefore the only widespread and conspicuous “black bird” in the British Isles.

Photograph taken in Devon, May 2019.

Wheatear

We saw these little birds, wheatears, by the sea several times on a recent visit to North Devon, usually at a distance, as on the featured image. Some of the photographs turned out not too badly.

Strangely, the name is nothing to do with wheat or ears. According to Wikipedia, the name is a folk etymology of “white” and “arse”, referring to the prominent white rump found in most species.

There are said to be 28 subspecies. I’d guess that this one is a northern wheatear, that being the most widespread in Europe. They migrate to Africa in the winter.

 

 

Mainstream Environment?

I’d guess it was the 1980s when I really became aware of environmental issues, including fossil fuels and the greenhouse effect, including pollution of the air in cities, including degrading of farmland by intensive farming, including the effects of pesticides on the natural world. For so long, those 40 years since, the mainstream media have largely ignored these issues, or reported them as the concern of ‘environmentalists’, neatly compartmentalized away from the mainstream.

So I’ve had a strange sense of cognitive dissonance this past week or so as these issues are being discussed on the mainstream bulletins of the BBC, that bastion of UK establishment thinking. Of course, this is a reaction to the success of Extinction Rebellion in highlighting just how urgent now is the situation on global warming/ climate change and species loss (as well as to the success of Netflix in pinching David Attenborough and allowing him his full environmental voice). It really is a planetary emergency with little time left to effectively act.

The worry is that this is just to fill in the air time left by a government and parliament doing nothing but obsess about Brexit. There is no other legislation, no ‘queen’s speech’. The broadcasters must be sick of reiterating the minutiae of customs union, the withdrawal agreement, the splits in the two main parties and on and on.

But we have to be optimistic and suppose that
(a) something will eventually be sorted on Brexit and then
(b) this time legislators are accepting of the urgency and will eventually set out a programme that will at least partially address the climate/fossil fuel issue, encouraging people and business in the right direction. That is their job.
Difficult for a Conservative government that has spent 4 years rolling back the little environmental progress they allowed the Liberal Democrats to make in the coalition government of 2010.

The big question at the moment: Is Environment Secretary Michael Gove up to the job? He appears to understand the issues, but can he persuade the government to act and explain to the public what they are doing and why, and anyway will he still be there when prime minister Theresa May goes (ie soon)?

My optimism is somewhat subdued!