The Principality of Sealand

One cannot but be bemused by British eccentricity sometimes, with a nod to Passport to Pimlico, I mused on the existence of the claimed Principality, or micro-nation, of Sealand, which is nothing more than a wartime platform that lies off the Suffolk Coast. You can easily see it while eating your fish & chips on Felixstowe seafront…as we did.

The platform, known as Roughs Tower, is about 12 kilometres off the coast and is a Maunsell Sea Fort, originally called HM Fort Roughs, built as an anti-aircraft battery during World War II. In the 1960s it was being used as a broadcasting base for pirate radio but was apparently seized by Paddy Roy Bates, in 1967 with the intention of establishing his own pirate station and then an independent sovereign state with its own constitution, flag, stamps, coinage, and coat of arms. Sealand, however, lies within the territorial waters of the United Kingdom and given that it is an artificial “island” is not recognised officially by any sovereign state.

Bates moved to the mainland in old age and died in 2012 aged 91. He named his son Michael “regent” in his will, Michael himself lives on the mainland in Suffolk. Sealand used to have an online newspaper, but sadly that exists now only in the Wayback Machine (the Internet Archive) here.

Oh, and this is how Felixstowe looks if you turn your head right from where we were eating our fish & chips

And on the beach and rocky sea defences, several Turnstones (Arenaria interpres)

Photographing the Cambridge Peregrines – Part 1

A couple of people have asked me about the Peregrine photos I blogged a few days ago, specifically, what camera, lens, and settings I used to get the shots.

Well, first off I was standing at street level on the opposite side of the road to the church, it was a dull and overcast day. The female Peregrine was perched on a corner spire of the church tower about 34 metres above street level when I arrived, I used shutter priority to get a few shots of her and then tested aperture priority. When the male arrived and they mated I was in aperture priority mode and had to be quick to tweak settings as events unfolded.

Canon 6D, Sigma 150-600mm zoom. For what I consider the clearest and best shot I got, I had optical stabilisation switched on (to compensate for hand-held camera shake. I’d set aperture to f/11 to get some depth of field, centre-point focus and left the camera to choose the shutter speed (1/500s) and ISO 1600. I had also nudged the EV up at various stages and for this shot it was +3 to compensate for the camera reading the brightness of the sky, which would otherwise under-expose the birds.

The original photo was snapped in portrait orientation 3648 x 5472 pixels, cropped down to an approximately 1500 square for posting on social media, on Sciencebase it’s a watermarked 768 square. A few PaintShop tweaks included, bringing the blacks in, lightening shadows slightly, turning up the vibrancy a touch, and applying a relatively gentle unsharp mask.

Visiting RAF…sorry, RSPB Lakenheath

They’re setting up a new hide specially designed for bird photographers, naturalistic environment, camouflage, feeding stations. So, with that in mind and the possibility of seeing beardies, Great White Egrets, Cranes, and Marsh Harriers, that was today’s trip. We saw no Bearded Tits, although sunny, it was far too windy for them to show, but there were lots of Reed Buntings, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Lapwing and  Tits other than Bearded (Blue, Great, and Coal), and Goldfinch around. Cetti’s Warbler were heard but not seen and there were a few Kestrels and Stonechats around too.

Mrs Sciencebase sited Great White Egrets and Cranes as well as Chinese water deer (Hydropotes inermis inermis) while walking the river bank with the dog as I flitted from hide to hide on the reserve itself seeing Marsh Harrier, Kestrel, Red Kite, and a few more Reed Bunting, and the occasional Wren and very little else, unfortunately.

I headed back to the photography hide after we hit our own in-car feeding station and chatted to on of the Daves (White as opposed to Rogers, I think it was) who are wardens on the sight. He explained the plans for the hide and while we chatted the Reed Bunts, Tits, a Pheasant and a Kingfisher all passed through.

Meanwhile, over his radio someone had spotted a Rough-legged Buzzard (as opposed to the many Common Buzzards over the reserve). Turned out it was Mrs Sciencebase who had seen it and asked another warden to identify it. No photos though. Mrs Sb is bins only.

The Cambridge Peregrines

Usually, a trip into Cambridge on a weekday is an urgent shopping trip for whatever reason, with maybe a half-decent coffee on the market or a pint in the Mitre or Maypole to take the edge off, oh and a few hastily snapped shots of college finials and what have you, but today I was on a mission.

Mrs Sciencebase dropped me near the University Library so I could go scouting for Peregrines. The hints had been that the male was caching prey somewhere on the library tower and shuttling his time between that site, other tall buildings in town where his missus is hanging out. Anyway, I photographed the library from a few arty-farty angles and just caught sight of the male leaving the area and heading in the direction of King’s Chapel.

So, I hoofed it in that direction, bumping into an old contact of mine, chemist Sir Alan Fersht, who was on the bridge also pointing a camera skywards. I asked him whether he’d seen the Peregrines at all, nope, but he knew they’d nested on the library building years ago. We had a nice chat about the pros and cons of various lenses for bird photography and I then legged it towards King’s and the URC. Another stop when I spotted someone else with a big zoom lens, a photographer stringing for the local paper and hoping to catch the beautiful people under blankets in punts on the Cam (it’s about 5 Celsius out there). So, quick chat with him and then through to King’s Parade. En route, I did a quick photo call with the university lecturers picketing classes in support of education and their pensions. Power to the people, and all that. There was nothing doing hawkwise at King’s, so I met up with Mrs Sciencebase for a spot of lunch before we separated again – she to shop, me to mope.

However, the Peregrine was immediately visible on a high spire. So I got a bunch of record shots quickly. I guessed it was the female and this was confirmed as she shook her tailfeathers and the male arrived for his 20-second nuptials. He headed off immediately after mating and then I spotted him circling, but her tailfeathers were not shaking this time. He went into a stoop over Fitzbillies and disappeared. I think I caught sight of him again a few moments later.

Interestingly, nobody spoke to me while I was standing in the shadow of the church (apart from our next-door neighbour who just happened to be passing), although I heard a few hilarious muttered comments such as “ooh, that’s a big one” and “is it a hawk?” and one man walked up behind me shouting “testing 1, 2, 1, 2, testing…” In between those kinds of comments I think I heard the words “quantum, “capitalism”, “Pavlovian” and a few other choice morsels. You don’t get much of that where I grew up, but it’s par for the course on the cobbled streets of Cambridge. A couple of people smiled as they cycled past either thinking of quantum capitalism or amused at my staring at what would’ve seemed like nothing more than a brick wall from their perspective.

Anyway, I’d pretty much got the money shot of the Peregrines and was just about to take a call from Mrs Sciencebase when a gent stepped up and suggested that he thought I was watching the bird on the church and had I got any good shots. Turns out he runs the Cambridge Peregrines twitter. It’s such a small town is Cambridge, full of coincidences, knights of the realm, and bird enthusiasts.

Pussy willow catkins

Wet catkins snapped with my Samsung iClone on a drizzly dog walk…”cats” in lieu of any birds, although I did see a Jay, a Green Woodpecker, Wrens, Robins, and lots of Goldfinch. Incidentally, pussy willow is a generic term for a willow tree that produces furry catkins in early spring, as do the specimens I photographed today.

The globular look of the water droplets perched on the (presumably) oily, or otherwise hydrophobic, hairs of the catkins is down to the power of hydrogen bonds within the liquid water. Indeed hydrogen bonding between water molecules although only fleeting is at the heart of why water, although seemingly mundane is actually one of the most unusual substances in the universe. It expands when it freezes, its boiling point and melting point are within our everyday experience, it is almost a universal solvent, it has an anomalously high capacity for absorbing heat.

Barely a whisper of a murmuration

Once again, I headed to our neighbouring village of Rampton armed with various lenses, tripod, camera etc, but there was barely a whisper of a murmuration this evening. A few small flocks and one half-decent one but quite a distance from the roost site that featured in my murmuration video on Sunday. There was definitely an Owl around but the Starlings seemed to favour the Cow Lane side of Rampton this evening. So, just a few scene-setting photos from today’s dusk chorus and one of mini-murmuration.

Here’s the video montage I did of the Starling Murmuration on Sunday in which there were probably 5000 birds in total. You can view it on Facebook or Youtube.

Did James Honeyman-Scott use a Rickenbacker 12-string on Brass in Pocket?

Someone just hit my website with the search phrase

"Did James Honeyman-Scott use a Rickenbacker 12-string on Brass in Pocket?"

Presumably, they hit Number 11 in my Classic Chord series, which was the jangly Aadd2 chord that opens Brass in Pocket. series. Well…I can’t find any photos of Honeyman-Scott playing a Rickie 12-string…but there is a quote from him in an old magazine (obviously) from the time he was working in a guitar shop just before joining The Pretenders:

“All of a sudden the radio’s on and there’s this huge guitar sound coming out, like sending out a big Rickenbacker 12-string or something. And I thought, ‘Ah, my time is here.’ So that’s what happened. And then I hooked up with the Pretenders.”

However, he goes on to explain that the way he got “that” sound was “using an Ibanez Explorer…it was incredible…went through a Marshall. And to get that sound, I was using the Clone Theory pedal made by Electro Harmonix. That’s how I got the sound.”

He also played a Gibson 335 and a Les Paul and occasionally borrowed Chrissie Hynde’s Fender Telecaster for solos. Later in the interview, he talks about multi-tracking his Rickenbacker 12-string, Ovations, Guilds, Yamahas, and other guitars. It was presumably on that track in some shape or form in the overdubs; it sounds like it is!

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot – Going, going…

If you grew up on space books you will be well aware that Jupiter has a great red spot, it’s an enormous anticyclonic storm that has been raging on the planet for centuries with “wind” speeds of around 600 kilometres per hour. It was first recorded by polymath Robert Hooke (he of the (kyphotic) shoulders on which Newton was to stand) who spotted it in May 1664.

The present great red spot was first properly measured in the nineteenth century and has been monitored continuously ever since. Now, here’s the thing, nothing lasts forever and that includes Jovian hurricanes. It used to be described as four times the size of the Earth in terms of area subtended. However, by the time Voyager 2 hurtled past in 1979 it was just twice the size of the Earth.

NASA’s Juno probe recently showed it to be barely a third bigger than Earth now and astronomers reckon it will have disappeared completely within a decade. As such, they’re going to try and get new detailed measurements with Juno before the great red spot finally disappears up its own pressure differential. Indeed, NASA will deliberately crash Juno into Jupiter rather than risk contaminating the planet’s moons and in particular watery Europa, which may well support life. For the next generation of avid juvenile space fans, those space books will perhaps talk with nostalgia about Jupiter’s great red spot just as one generation laments the loss of Pluto from the list of planets we used to learn…

More about the demise of the great red spot and Jovian weather forecasting here.