Wednesday 28 October 2009

BDS Members' Day 2009, Edinburgh

The opportunity to travel north of the border (a very Englo-centric term, sorry) for the 2009 BDS Members' Day was too good to miss. However, we decided against the "mad dash" plan and opted instead for a leisurely trip, taking in some wildlife sights along the way and visiting relatives near Edinburgh.

The day prior to the meeting, we visited the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust reserve at Caerlaverock to see the 1, 2, 3, 4... 9868, 9869, 9870 Barnacle Geese who had recently arrived from the high Arctic to overwinter on the Solway Firth. It was a cool, showery day but we managed to briefly spot a Common Darter between hides and rain squalls. As dusk approached, we parked near the mouth of the River Nith and were treated to a pair of Peregrines spooking waterfowl and waders alike. This resulted in a wonderful spectacle as a flock of waders swooped and swirled in the low sunlight, their burnished plumage literally producing some golden moments.

Arriving at Napier University's Craiglockhart campus on Saturday morning, we could not help but notice the juxtaposition of traditional buildings and contemporary designs, with what at first appeared to be a spacecraft docked in the middle of the university. This turned out to be the Lindsay Stewart Lecture Theatre which, as the brochure says, "is oval in shape and titanium clad, elevated by stilts and with amazing views over the city". And also our home for the day.

During the morning, the Scottish flavour of the talks was to the fore (without once mentioning whisky or haggis) as we were introduced to the concept of guddling, colanders and plastic spoons. Combined, these utensils are the means by which Caledonian dragons are revealed in some of the more remote, rain-lashed wildernesses (personally, we enjoyed 12 gloriously sunny days in Orkney in June, on a colander-free, carefree holiday, so perhaps Pat, Craig and Jonathan were only joking about the weather).

In the afternoon, it was Odonata International, starting with a relocation scheme for White-faced Darters in Cumbria, then taking in some Norwegian Beavers (released in Scotland), after which we ventured to Belize and Texas for 110 species in four weeks, before settling in Sweden for Professor Ulf Norling's talk on cold climate adaptation of larvae.

The day was a heady mixture of facts and fun, information thoughtfully delivered with humour and a love for the subject. Our personal thanks to the hosts, organisers and speakers for a fantastic Members' Day. If there was any disappointment, it was that the keynote speaker was not allowed sufficient time for his talk, but we marvelled at his skill to tailor the content to the time available.

The following day, we visited the RSPB reserve at Vane Farm on Loch Leven, though the strong wind and heavy rain would have vexed even the most colander-hardened odonatologist. Fortunately, we did see a skein of Pink-footed Geese fly over during a brief sunny spell, and there was a tea room, dear reader, so all was well.

Whilst new to this lark, I find the Members' Day to be a fitting finale to the flight season, providing food for thought during the long winter evenings and a healthy dose of feelgood factor too. Time to plan for next year!

Tuesday 13 October 2009

Autumnal ramblings

We had a trip to The Lodge at Sandy over the weekend to check out their new footpaths. The RSPB have put in two loops of about a mile each, one from the existing heathland and the other through what was recently woodland.

Disappointingly, there were only a few darters about, but this was of only slight concern as there were loads of ladybirds. Mainly Harlequins, it has to be said, but the traditional 7 spotteds were holding their own and we also saw several Pine Ladybirds.

In the cleared woodland, young birch seedlings were taking full advantage of suddenly being exposed to acres of blue by making their bid for forest glory and reaching for the skies.

The following day, we finally got around to planting out the new flower bed at the front, before having a wander locally around Linford Lakes. Again, only a few Common Darters were seen, but at least the sunset provided some spectacle. Having taken to photographing evening skies whilst on holiday, it was good to discover that it's also possible from home, though the bird silhouettes were a stroke of luck.

Turneresque, someone said. I didn't even know Anthea could paint.

Sunday 4 October 2009

The Time Machine

My wife wandered into the lounge, calendar in hand.

“It says here you’re meeting Isaac Newton at 7.30!” she exclaimed.

I tried to remember if I’d invented a time machine recently and decided that, on available evidence, probably not. Though had I done so, the word “recently” would’ve ceased to have any real meaning. This left a combination of my handwriting and someone not wearing her specs as the main reasons for the imaginative interpretation of “ISIHAC, N’ton 7.30”.

That thought started me wondering, if we had the facility to travel in time, when and where would we go? I appreciate that we ARE travelling in time, but it’s a bit of a one way street with No Stopping and Stay In Lane signs. So what if the Temporal Highway Code was ripped up and thrown in the Celestial Bin?

By all accounts, Newton could be a crusty old git and had his fair share of fruit loop ideas. So, a man after my own heart, then, but perhaps not him.

Somewhat predictably, and if the oxygen didn’t get me first, I’d rather like to visit the Carboniferous period of 350 million years ago to see the early dragonflies with their 70cm wingspans. However, a modern human footprint in the fossil record would probably throw current scientific thinking into utter confusion. That and the neat row of rocks I’d arrange to spell the word “D-A-W-K-I-N-S”.

For a more subtle way of changing historic events, I would nip back to 1066 and impress upon Harold Godwinson the importance of maintaining a shield wall at all costs, despite evidence to the contrary. Who could resist the chance to be immortalised in the no-longer-called-Bayeux Tapestry wearing a red shirt with an iconic white chest band?

No, perhaps it would be a bad idea to sit me, or anyone, at the controls of a time machine. As a species we’re pretty good at messing up the now, so let’s try to limit the damage to our own life span and in that way inform the future.

Actually, whilst it didn’t affect the fabric of Space/Time in any meaningful way, the event in Northampton at 7.30 was a Best of… show with the I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue cast. The audience were certainly transported to another dimension for two hours and the world definitely seemed a jollier place come the final curtain. My sincere thanks go to Captain Sundial for a wonderful evening.