Category Archives: Wildlife and Nature

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 Starfish Thrower (3)

(If you haven’t already read “The Starfish Thrower (2)”, just let me say that you will understand this post a lot more easily if you do.)

OK. Back to St Ives:

And back to the moral of that story.

I was once told by a wise man, “You can always find a reason for not doing something”. And that is so true.

Why bother helping starfish?

It’s too hot

There are too many of them

What’s the point?

and so on.

But don’t just look for a reason to do nothing. It’s easy. Just throw the starfish back. You don’t need to train for 20 years and spend £300 on special equipment:

You don’t need to gather a crowd and you don’t need to wear special clothes:

And you never know. You might attract a helper:

Or get the grateful thanks of a mermaid.

With me, it’s always contributions to charity that I baulk at, whether that be my valuable time or my hard earned cash.

I give a little money to the Salvation Army because my Dad said that if you were freezing cold on a foggy station platform during the winter of 1943, the Salvation Army would always be there to help you. The Church of England never was. Nor was anybody else. So my Dad ordered me to donate a little money to them from time to time. But equally I could say to myself, “Well, I never saw my Dad give them any money himself, so why should I bother?”

In other words, “You can always find a reason for not doing something”.


Four days later, I was back in St Ives, wandering round a gallery stuffed with art that I like. Pictures of dogs, pictures of dogs playing cards, pictures of very large sharks, undersea divers, undersea divers being attacked by very large sharks, and most of all, aeroplanes.

I used to read war comics when I was little. Ones like this…

And this…

And this…

Just look at that fantastic line “Spitfeuer! Achtung!!” I’m fluent in that kind of German. I often think I could have been a Kommandant of a Prisoner of War Camp, using just the German from war comics and films.

This art gallery had dogs and sharks and undersea divers. And it also had this wonderful print:

Nowadays, lots of Germans visit Cornwall and they visit St Ives. They all like to look around the art galleries.

Suddenly a little boy came in, closely followed by his Dad. He looked up at the aircraft print on the wall.

He pointed up at it and loudly and clearly, he said to his Dad, the line I had waited to hear somebody say for 50 years. He shouted:

“Achtung Spitfeuer!  Achtung Spitfeuer!  Achtung Spitfeuer!”

 

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Filed under Cornwall, Cryptozoology, History, Personal, Wildlife and Nature

The Starfish Thrower (1)

Until 2012, we always spent our family holidays in the very far west of Cornwall, near Penzance in a district called Penwith. One of the most famous places to visit is St Ives, a small town on the north coast. The map shows roughly where we are in England:

And here is St Ives. Welcome back, O Orange Arrow, which today marks the site of an Art Gallery, of which more later:

I love St Ives, even though it has changed enormously since we first went there in 1987.  Tiny interesting shops, faced with weekly rents of £2000 for a glorified phone box have all departed, unsurprisingly, leaving just fast food shops selling either traditional Cornish pizza and burgers, or surfwear shops, all tight and rubbery, and presumably not meant for the people who visit the fast food shops. St Ives is now really too expensive for locals to live there, thanks in the main to the London bankers and financiers, who can buy a house or two with their annual bonuses. Some streets are completely full of second homes so that from October to April, some areas of St Ives can become a ghost town.
In summer though, it’s different. Here’s the beach on the map above, and in the background, all the houses have saffron yellow lichen on their roofs, a sure sign of clean air:

When the tide is completely in, the beach disappears and the real locals come in to see what they can steal. A male Grey Seal knows he can come swimming into the waters near the Pier and a fisherman will throw him some unwanted fish:

On the promenade, the cleverest individuals in St Ives move to the attack. They are Herring Gulls larus argentatus argenteus. The gulls just walk around on the pavement and people might give them a chip or some other scrap of food:

On other occasions they operate in twos and threes and behave just like velociraptors:

One gull will get your attention and the second one will fly in from the side and snatch your lunch. Don’t ever taunt them. I saw a slack jawed teenager do this once. She waved her ice cream to the female gull in front of her, taunting her with how much food she had and the bird had none. The teenager didn’t even see the male gull who crashed into her head from the side. She dropped her ice cream on the floor. The female picked it up and they both flew off. How I wish I’d been filming it!

I found this among many other photographs of naughty gulls on Google. The good proportion of them were taken at St Ives:

This lady is not the silly teenager that I spoke about earlier. She is a completely innocent and trusting bystander.

Incidentally, I had a second hand operation on February 8th, so I won’t be able to reply to any of your comments for, probably, a couple of weeks. As soon as I am able to, though, I will answer what you have been kind enough to contribute.

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Filed under Cornwall, History, Personal, Wildlife and Nature

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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1937: The Clouds of War (3)

Imagine that it is the height of a glorious summer, in southern Derbyshire in 1937. My Dad, Fred Knifton is only 14. One day, with his friends, Jonty Brearley, Bernard Swift and John Varty, he sets off to cycle through the Anglo-Saxon village of Hartshorne, to explore the old Stone Age trackway of Green Lane. By the time they get there, it is the late afternoon of a glorious summer’s day.

Last time, we saw the arrival of PC Bstard on his bike who forbids the four Boy Scouts to camp on common land at the side of a public footpath several miles from the nearest house. Sadly the boys did not rise up and drive off this sad servant of the bourgeoisie but instead promised that they would leave before nightfall.

Their brightly burning campfire gleamed in the dusk:fire

The boys, still filled with their spirit of youthful adventure, sat happily around the dancing flames. They roasted the sausages they had brought wrapped in grease proof paper in their saddle bags:

imagesR7PN9JPS

They toasted bread which was nothing like the bread we are told to enjoy nowadays. They made cups of scalding hot tea. And then, as night grew so dark that they could hardly see either each other or the bats which flickered through the invisible branches of the barely visible trees, they packed up all their things into the panniers on their bicycles.  Slowly but purposefully they cycled back under the stars through the warm summer darkness to the continuing years of their lives.

Fred was to say many times afterwards, that all four of those happy boys went off to the Second World War, but only two were destined to survive that awful conflict. Bernard Swift and himself.

John Varty was killed in 1943 in Tunisia, fighting ferociously against Germans who claimed every single sand dune as their own.  Corporal Varty is buried somewhere out there. Somewhere on the road to Teboursouk. Somewhere where his mother and father never had the money to go. Somewhere where nobody with any sense would dare nowadays to go. A country where only the dead are beyond killing:

Jonty Brealey was killed on June 27th 1944, in some long forgotten episode in the aftermath of D-Day. He was buried, along with more than 4,000 others, in Bayeux Cemetery in Normandy. He died to liberate France but for the first 25 years of his life, I can’t imagine that he had ever seen a Frenchman. Or a German come to that.

When I was a little boy in the 1950s, my Granny and Grandad lived two houses up the road from the Brealeys.  Jonty’s father, whose first name was Alf, was by now an old man. He spent all of the day leaning over his front gate, saying hello to passers by and keeping his eyes open for people coming down the hill from the main bus stop on High Street. I thought as a child that he was looking for anybody who might come past, but I now realise as a man, that he was waiting patiently for just one special person who, alas, would never come.

 

 

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1937: The Clouds of War (2)

Last time, it was the height of summer, in southern Derbyshire in 1937. My Dad, Fred Knifton was only 14. One day, with his friends, Jonty Brearley, Bernard Swift and John Varty, he set off to cycle through the Anglo-Saxon village of Hartshorne, to explore the old Stone Age trackway of Green Lane. By the time they got there, it was the late afternoon on a glorious summer’s day.

Even in the 1970s, this was an isolated country area, far, far away from the hustle and bustle of so-called civilisation. In the late 1930s, it must have been even quieter. Nothing except for the gentle humming of the bees, the whirr of the swallows’ wings, the buzzing of the grasshoppers and colourful butterflies fluttering by. A very peaceful, idyllic and rural place indeed. The boys duly set up their canvas tent, taking care to position all of the many guy ropes carefully. They followed their Boy Scout training and carefully cut a piece of turf from the grass at the side of the track, before they started their camp fire.

The_Hadrian's_Wall_Path_follows_a_'green_lane

It was a warm, calm, summer’s evening. Bats scythed through the still warm air. Large white and grey moths fluttered where butterflies had fluttered during the day. There was one bright star. Or was it a planet? Then a second star. And then a third. The night grew darker. The stars formed into patterns. The Plough. The Milky Way. Sparks flew up from the fire and disappeared into the darkness:

fire

I once saw a poster which said:

“Everything is going so well. Everything is perfect. But don’t worry. Some bstard will come along and spoil it.”

On this occasion the idyll was interrupted by the arrival of the local police constable on his bicycle. In later years, Fred was to wonder just why he was up there a thousand miles from the nearest police station and three light years from the nearest house. Had they stumbled upon his still? Did he have a secret girlfriend? Or a secret boyfriend? Did he like following teenage boys out to isolated areas?

Anyway, he sportingly told the four boys that despite their status as Boy Scouts and Ovaltineys they would not, under any circumstances whatsoever, be allowed to camp there overnight, as there were many, many important laws and many, many important byelaws which completely forbade such evildoing.

He sportingly told the four boys too, that they could finish their meal, just this once, before they left and went home and did not ever come back there ever again, even as old men. If they did, they would finish up in the galleys.

Will they refuse to obey him? Will they rise up and slay this bourgeois lickspittle?

We’ll see next time.

 

 

 

 

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