Category Archives: Science

A strange photograph (3)

In 2009, we were on our annual holiday in Cornwall, staying in a cottage near Penzance.  Here is Penzance, the last town in England and still plagued by pirates. Look for the sun tanned arrow:

On ‎August ‎17th , ‏‎around half past eleven in the morning, we arrived at Men an Tol, one of the most famous landmarks in this part of the world. Here’s  its location, right out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by other megalithic sites and lots of place names in Cornish. Look for the orange arrow again:

Men an Tol is a megalithic monument, supposedly, and we set off along the rough path out to the moors:

It was a nice day, lots of heather in bloom:

Standing stones are so plentiful in Cornwall that farmers even used them to build dry stone walls:

Here is a decidedly average photograph of the monument we were going to see. It  is a uniquely arranged Stone Age structure, although I have always felt that if it is uniquely arranged, that may be a negative feature rather than a positive one:

Here’s a better one:

Just for scale, the stones are perhaps three or four feet tall. I didn’t dare try to crawl through the hole, for obvious reasons.
There were a number of buzzards circling in the blue sky. This is a Common Buzzard:

The birds were all little dots high in the sky but I took some photographs, thinking that I could perhaps blow them up later on.
It must have been a couple of months later, as I worked my way through far too many mediocre photographs of our holiday that I noticed something a little out of the ordinary. Here is a full size photograph and the buzzards are still just tiny dots. Note the bracken though, because that will prove where I took all the photographs:

Here it is blown up. There are three buzzards in shot and the bracken is still there. Notice the tiny white cloud because that will reappear.

I started to try and look at the buzzards by blowing the picture up a little more. The little white puff of cloud is still there:

I immediately noticed something strange off to the right so I blew it up yet again. The white puff of cloud provides continuity of evidence:

What on earth is that? I blew it up again :

And again:

And this is the best I could do. I used “unsharp mask” on it this time:

I do not know what this object was. At the time I did not even know it was there.  It may have been an inflatable balloon or something from a pop concert or a festival of some kind, but that really is clutching at straws. No events like that happened in the area during our stay there. And it must have been quite big. A buzzard’s wingspan is around five feet and it is certainly bigger than that. I have never seen a children’s balloon that big. You could argue that it was a lot closer than the buzzards. But surely then I would have noticed it. Sooooo….by definition, it must have been a UFO. I just wish I’d seen it!

Incidentally. I have done very little with Photoshop to these pictures. They have been cropped, resized and may have had their brilliance and contrast levels changed to make the images clearer. These photographs are completely honest, in other words.

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Filed under Aviation, Cornwall, History, Personal, Science, Wildlife and Nature

A strange photograph (2)

For years I have wondered if ordinary people in the United States ever take photographs while out hiking in the woods and then discover afterwards that there was a Bigfoot watching them, unnoticed in the trees. For a good few years therefore, I have been looking carefully at any photographs of the landscape in North America that I encounter, to see if there was any indication of a Bigfoot hiding away among the foliage.

I couldn’t actually find a picture to illustrate that on the Internet, not if I immediately excluded all hoaxes. The hoaxes are the sort of photograph where the person taking it suddenly announces “Look, I took this photo ten years ago and I’ve suddenly noticed a Bigfoot behind the trees. And your most likely response is

“OK, but where is he in relation to Uncle Frank in that ridiculous monkey suit?”

One or two are certainly on the borderline. Supposedly, Bigfoot will either crouch or even stand motionless, in an effort to be passed off as a tree stump. This photograph could be a Bigfoot, a strangely shaped dead tree, or it could be Uncle Frank, sober for the day. I just don’t know:

I don’t think that I have ever failed to look for that elusive 8 feet tall 500 pound individual every time I am presented with a picture of woodland or even of a distant mountainside. Talking of which, I believe that this photograph off the Internet shows Mount Denali. There is something anomalous in this picture:

Let’s move in a little closer. It’s on the horizon:

Third time lucky. It is either a very large man, a very large Bigfoot or a lump of rock that seems to be different to all of the other rocks. And, of course, given that this is Alaska and a well visited mountain, it could be that everybody except me knows all about “Uncle Frank the Rock Sentinel of Denali.” The problem is the scale. I just don’t know how large that apparent person would have to be to show up on a photograph taken at this distance:

My second picture comes from the Internet as well, and I don’t know where from, because I lost the address of the site:

Anyway, it shows just a relatively ordinary mountain scene. What drew my attention is a lot more obvious in this second version of the photograph, because it’s not as distant as in the previous pictures.

Here it is blown up a little:  
And a bit more:

I even changed it to grayscale because that kind of thing is frequently done by my Bigfooting hero, MK Davies:

 Whatever this is, it seems uniformly coloured and to have arms, legs and a head. Quite important, there is nothing like it close by. In size, it is not far short of being as tall as perhaps, half the width of the road, which seems to be a single vehicle dirt track. Eight feet? Nine feet?
One final point. Uncle Frank, if you’re still out there, just be careful what you’re doing. Not everybody will respond to seeing you hiding in the woods in a monkey suit with a big laugh and a bottle of beer, especially the ones exercising their rights under the Second Amendment.

 

As I said, I found these pictures on the Internet a long time ago but, as is often the case, I did not make a note of where they were from. If anybody is upset by my use of them, please make a comment to that effect and I will take them down if they so wish.

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Filed under Cryptozoology, Humour, Personal, Science, Wildlife and Nature

the Messerschmitt Me 262 at Hendon

My visit to the RAF Museum at Hendon was a long while ago now, almost eight years, but a lot of the aircraft are still fresh in my memory.
One of my favourites was the Messerschmitt Me 262A-2a, the first jet fighter to experience actual combat:

The aircraft was impossible to photograph all in one go:

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Work on the aircraft started in 1938 and proceeded at a leisurely pace.  It made its first flight under jet power in 1942:

Before that it was tested with a propeller:

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When the two jet engines were fitted, the scientists continued with the tail wheel but found that there was a high chance of fuel sloshing backwards by reason of gravity and then catching fire. After that they changed to a nose wheel:

Perhaps the most famous thing ever said about the aircraft was by the charismatic fighter pilot Adolf Galland, who took the new jet fighter  for a spin one morning. When he returned he gave his verdict:

“What an aircraft! It was as though the Angels were pushing!”

In December 1943, though, Hitler, in his infinite wisdom, decided that the Me 262 should be manufactured as a fighter bomber so that it could oppose the Allied forces when they carried out their inevitable invasion in, as he thought, the Pas-de-Calais area of northern France. Nobody on the design team seems to have agreed with him. but it still pushed back the operational début of the new fighter until July 1944.
The “Schwalbe” (Swallow) or Sturmvogel (“Storm Bird”) had a top speed of 559 mph and it was far faster and far more advanced than any Allied fighter:

In actual fact though, the Me 262 had very little real impact on the war. The factories built 1,400 aircraft but for various reasons only 200 were operational at any given time. They destroyed as many as 450 Allied aircraft but around 100 Me 262s were shot down, mainly by Mosquitoes and Mustangs.

The problems were many. Because of the activities of Bomber Command, engines were in short supply and this meant only 28 aircraft were delivered in June 1944, 59 in July, and just 20 in August. Those were not the only difficulties caused by the 24 hour bombing of the Reich and the Allies’ near total air superiority. The Me 262 frequently had to be built in what have been called “low-profile production facilities”, some of them in surprising places such as clearings in the forest.
Even the transportation of the raw materials and the parts for the aircraft was extremely hazardous with Allied aircraft always looking for trains to beat up.  Furthermore, the continual presence of Allied fighters  made it virtually impossible to train pilots in safety. There was just nowhere quiet for them to learn to fly such a radically different aircraft. And above all, the jet engines themselves were of dubious quality. They lasted only 50 hours and suffered from a continual lack of the rare metals needed to make the basic steel extremely heat resistant:

The engines used in the Gloster Meteor would last around 125 hours with an overhaul required after 60 hours. Sir Frank Whittle said that :

“it was in the quality of high temperature materials that the difference between German and British engines was most marked”.

The Americans, of course, were keen to take on board the wonderful shape of the Me 262. Even the lines of the Boeing 737 recall the Me 262 from twenty years before:

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Earthquakes and Lights in the Sky

At least one physical phenomenon is very rare in Nottingham. Would that it were not so:

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“Northern Lights,” or “Aurora Borealis” was first recorded as having been seen in the neighbourhood of Nottingham during the winter of 1755-1756. The Northern Lights appear at their best according to an eleven year cycle, and 2015-2016 was quite a good year, so keep yourself entertained by doing a very long backwards calculation!
Here is a website which will tell you when is a good time to look for the Northern Lights.
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Another physical phenomenon is almost equally infrequent in Nottingham…Thank Goodness!
And luckily, when it does happen, it tends to do little damage, and it soon gets forgotten. Who remembers this one now?…

August 23 1752  The severe shock of an earthquake was felt in Nottingham and the surrounding district, about 7 a.m. Great alarm, but not much damage, was the result. The day was remarkably fine, both before and after the shock.”

And forty years later, another earthquake came to nothing…thank goodness:

February 25, 1792  Between the hours of eight and nine this evening, an alarming shock of an earthquake was felt in the Midland counties, but particularly at Nottingham, many of the inhabitants running out of their houses, expecting them to fall upon their heads. The shock was preceded by a rumbling noise, like the rolling of a cannonball upon a boarded floor.”

Another Victorian source mentions an earthquake on October 6th 1863:

“The earthquake appears to have been felt over a great part of England” and it was decidedly more severe in the western parts of the country, especially the West Midlands:

“At Birmingham walls were seen to move, and people rose from their beds to see what damage had been done, for though the rumbling, grating sound is like a passing train, it was known at once to be something more. At Edgbaston successive shocks were plainly felt, and houses were shaken to their foundations. At Wolverhampton everything in the houses vibrated. The houses cracked and groaned as it the timbers had been strained. The policemen on duty saw the walls vibrate, heard everything rattle about them, and were witnesses to the universal terror of the roused sleepers.
At Cheltenham, a deep rumbling noise was heard, the heaviest furniture was shaken, the fire-irons rattled, heavy stone walls were heard to strain and crack, and the boys at Cheltenham College were all under the impression that the rest were engaged in making the greatest possible disturbance.”

I was unable to find a picture of the boys of Cheltenham College, but, much better, here are the splendid young ladies of Cheltenham Training College around the same period:

chel traoining

And what of Nottingham? Well…

“October 6th 1863  A slight shock of earthquake was felt early in the morning in Nottingham, and in most parts of the country.”

and then, just over a year later:

October 30th 1864  Slight shocks of an earthquake were felt in Nottingham, and in various parts of the country.”

Those two earthquakes were so insignificant that they have, literally, not passed “the test of time” and I have not been able to find really very much at all about them.

In fairly recent times, my Dad experienced an earthquake in South Derbyshire:

“On one occasion when he was walking home from his job as a teacher at Woodville Church of England Junior School in Moira Road, Woodville, Fred was the hapless victim of an earth tremor. It must have been quite frightening because, as he was to relate many times in subsequent years, he was able to watch the pavement rippling up and down with the force of the shock.

Seismological records for the local area show that this event occurred most probably on February 11, 1957. Here is my Dad’s quiet little mining village around that time, in the late 1950s:

 

If you want to check the history of known earthquakes in England, then this is the link to the relevant Wikipedia page.

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The Hen Harrier in Victorian Nottinghamshire

The Hen Harrier is a bird of prey which is called in North America the ‘Northern Harrier’ or the ‘Marsh Hawk’. These days it is becoming an increasingly rare and endangered bird in England because of the activities of the large shooting estates. Hen Harriers are harmful to Red Grouse, the quarry species for the man with a £3000 shotgun, so, completely illegally, many gamekeepers kill Hen Harriers on sight. Prosecutions are extremely few and far between because effective evidence needs to be gathered in very remote places where trespassers are far from welcome:

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In Great Britain we have the wild spaces for more than a thousand pairs of breeding Hen Harriers, but this illegal killing for commercial reasons has limited the number to fewer than ten pairs. There are those, myself included, who think that the law should be changed. Instead of trying to prosecute individuals (who are quite often disowned by the estate owners), the estates themselves should be brought to account. Any estate found guilty should have their enormous subsidies of taxpayers’ money withdrawn.

Interestingly enough, just after I wrote this article, a fine example of what happens to Hen Harriers in northern England came to light. It is totally typical of the contempt which the moneyed classes have for the ordinary person who lives his or her life not to accrue wealth by any means whatsoever, but instead to delight in the wonders of the natural world. And look too at what the police managed to do after other people had done more or less 99% of their job for them.

In Nottinghamshire, therefore, the Hen Harrier is not a particularly common bird. The male is very distinctive, but the female or the young bird, the so-called “ringtail” stands out a lot less:

hen harrier

In 1857 William Sterland recounted how, on an unrecorded date this year:

“I was walking past Lord Manver’s poultry yard at Perlethorpe, which adjoins Thoresby Park, when a ringtail came sailing over, evidently intent on plunder. Three times she soared around the large enclosure , which contains several hundred head of poultry, and although it is bounded by a high wall, and is surrounded by the dwellings of the gamekeepers and others, she was only deterred from carrying off a chicken by the presence of some of the men.”

ringtil

In 1866 William Felkin spoke of birds of prey in general:

“On the whole, this noble tribe of birds is fast decreasing, and some species, if not yet extinct, soon will be, under the deadly warfare waged against them by trap and gun; and thus the finest ornament of English forest scenery will be for ever lost, for the paltry gain of the few head of game they might possibly destroy.”

How true that has turned out to be. The Hen Harrier is well on its way to extinction as a breeding bird in this country, and before their recovery in modern times, both Common Buzzard, Marsh Harrier and Osprey had been exterminated by gamekeepers from most of the country.

male

William Sterland wrote in his “Birds of Sherwood Forest”:

“…the blue hawk as the male is called, is not by any means uncommon ; and both male and female being considered, and I fear not unjustly, as very destructive to game, are visited, whenever opportunity offers, with condign punishment, and their once buoyant forms are seen nailed up in terrorem amongst others of their order, in grim companionship with stoats, weasels, polecats, and other vermin.”

Flying-Male-hen

Indeed, by the end of the nineteenth century, polecats themselves were extinct in England. And only the departure of all the gamekeepers to the trenches of the First World War prevented the extinction of the ordinary fox from many areas, especially in East Anglia.

Before 1907 Joseph Whitaker had seen only five or six Hen Harriers in thirty years of birdwatching.
He relates how:

“…one of the Hen Harriers I saw close to my home in Rainworth, was a male in full plumage, coloured pale lavender slate.”

hen peak

Whitaker took great pleasure in this, and other birds of the same species. Rather like William Felkin, he thought that:

“An odd harrier or two do very little harm, and the graceful flight, which I may describe as a cross between that of a Hawk and an Owl is always pleasant to see and adds immensely to the delight of the country walk.”

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In his own copy of “The Birds of Nottinghamshire”, he has written of his own sighting:

“About  Xmas 1914 a Hen Harrier female flew over the road at the head of my pond within 20 yards. It had been seen earlier by Blackburn (keeper) today, March 19 it again passed over the same road, but at the top of mill by our gate it looked grand in a clear sun light. I am so glad it has escaped the keepers snare + hope it may like to lay a clutch of Cambridge blue eggs amongst the heather of the windswept Orkney Islands.”

henharrier_sr_tcm9-91147

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Eagle Comic foretells the Aeronautical Future

In 1962, Eagle Annual carried an article about the aircraft of the future.

I thought I would take just a quick look with you at what the aviation buffs of that distant time though we were going to see in 2017.  This was one of their suggestions:

Strangely reminiscent of a Convair Sea Dart for me. Did the writers know something that the readers didn’t know?

 

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Alternatively, was it the doppelgänger of the Saunders Roe SR53? The rocket powered interceptor of the 1950s that was so unlucky to have been scrapped. It would have been a brilliant aircraft. And why didn’t the Germans buy it?

Here’s one I photographed myself at RAF Cosford, I think:

Here’s another suggestion from Eagle:

Rather like the B-70 Valkyrie, n’est-ce pas?

This is more like a completely fresh thought, not based even subconsciously on anything the writers had ever seen:

Well, perhaps not. This is Fireball XL5 from the Gerry Anderson puppet series of the same name:

The likeliest aircraft to make the cut is this VTOL workhorse. It’s rather like the cultivated well mannered cousin of the Flying Bedstead:

The Flying Bedstead, of course, had no covering of any kind over the structure of the machine:

Although the Short SC1 did, and that took it a huge leap towards the Eagle VTOL aircraft of the future:

To me, it almost looks as if the writers of the Eagle article, perhaps subconsciously, included real aircraft, usually experimental types or prototypes, in their portfolio of supposedly imaginary aeroplanes of the future.

This was the real aircraft of the future when it made its appearance:

 

 

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A Twitch to Kent : Day Three

I am on a weekend minibus trip to Kent in an effort to see rare birds which have been blown off course on their migration. So far we have managed to see a Glossy Ibis and an Isabelline Shrike.

Sunday, October 16th, 1988.

There is still no Richard’s Pipit, so as a total last resort, we start looking around for our own birds. As a strategy, it is totally ludicrous. We find a male Brambling on some recently ploughed fields:

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Then we meet one of the wardens who is wandering around looking for all the world like a refugee from Woodstock. He asks says if we’d like to see something really impressive. I personally don’t want to go into the bushes with him, but everybody else does. It turns out to be a second male Brambling that he has just caught in the nets, and to be fair, it is a very beautiful bird indeed, in far better plumage than any other Brambling that I have ever seen:

Male-brambling-on-a-tree-trunk xxxxxx
We spend half an hour in some other bushes looking in vain for a Firecrest, the smallest bird normally encountered in the wild in England. It is a very rare bird in our own county of Nottinghamshire:

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We are just beginning to lose interest when suddenly someone runs up and shouts that there is an Olive-backed Pipit at the Observatory. It has been caught in their nets within the last half hour and has been taken inside the building to be weighed, measured, and then ticked off. The wardens  have promised to keep the bird in a nice comfortable bag until everyone has got there to see it released.
Nevertheless, I just have to run. I might be fat, but when I have to move I can. It’s a little bit
like a hippopotamus on its way to the water hole, not elegant but very effective, at least up to a range of 100 yards or so. I just manage to avoid a heart attack, by jogging the last bit fairly sedately:

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There is a good crowd of people there already. I go into the office to watch the bird being weighed and measured. All I manage to see through the crowd of people, though, is the back of the bird’s head, emerging incongruously between two of the fingers of the warden holding it. Does that qualify for a tick?
It’s a bit like saying you’ve seen Bruce Willis just by seeing the top of his bald head in the middle of a crowd of security men.

I do know somebody who actually ticked Golden Oriole based only on the top of the bird’s head visible over the edge of the domed nest, emerging only as the wind rocked the whole precarious structure:

nest Golden_Oriole_(Oriolvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvv

Surely this, though, is unique in its desperation.  Let’s hope so. A real Golden Oriole is a bird well worth seeing in its entirety:

male oriolre

After a token ten minutes’ delay, the warden brings the Olive-backed Pipit onto the area of grass in front of his office, removes it from the bag, and holds it up to the fully assembled multitude to look at and photograph.
Not a particularly spectacular bird, even if it is a very rare one. It’s a lot drabber than I imagined and doesn’t as far as I am concerned, have a lot of olive on the back. It’s a rich rather brown colour, with heavy streaking and spotting underneath:

OBP
Unfortunately, I forget that there is an important black spot behind the eye which is a diagnostic feature and which I should be looking for. Never mind. It can’t be that obvious anyway, or else I would have noticed it.
Certainly, in the subsequent photographs of the bird that I buy, this feature is not outstanding by any stretch of the imagination:

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After ten minutes or so of being paraded around like a sporting trophy, the pipit is taken to a nearby field and released. It disappears into the adjacent wood like a bullet from a gun. It seems pleased to exchange its fifteen minutes of fame for the chance to get back to the serious business of looking for insects on the floor of the forest.

Nowadays, Olive-backed Pipit is not really a very rare bird in England. A couple of years or so after this, I managed to see a much more obliging bird, in the woods near the beach at Holkham in north Norfolk. This individual had never seen human beings before, and, if you stood absolutely still, was happy to approach you very closely. Indeed, as I leaned against a handy tree, it actually came so near to my feet that my binoculars would not focus on it.

 

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