Saturday, 27 May 2017

The Year of the Grebe

The combination of two hitherto-unseen around these parts species of waterfowl plus the long reach of my Nikon CoolPix P900 and its 2000mm (equivalent) lens has made bird-watching a more serious hobby for me. Jeziorki's wetlands beckon to me every day; I must pop down to see how our grebes are getting on.

Below: there are four or five pairs of black-necked grebes who have between one and three chicks. Grebes carry their young on their back until they are fledged. This family of black-necked grebes are doing well, one chick already seems happy enough on its own in the water, the other growing rapidly.

The chick riding on its mother's back has grown a long neck; it's looking like some two-headed beast.

Father looks down into the water for food for the independent chick.

Meanwhile, no young yet over at the southern pond, where the great crested grebes are nesting. The birds take turns to incubate the egg (which to my surprise takes between 27 and 29 days to hatch, so it'll still be some time). The parents bring vegetation with which to cover the egg(s) - I've only seen one from the shore, but maybe there's another one or two in the nest.

Both great crested grebes seem to have noticed something moving in the rushes...

All's well, time to return to incubation, and bringing more vegetation to the nest.

Here's another great crested grebe at the northern-most pond. I haven't seen its mate, nor nest; I hope there is another nest at this end of the pond too.

UPDATE 28 MAY 2017:

Below: two black-necked grebe chicks. one on its mother's back, the independent one giving its wings a stretch. Grebes are not very good flyers, and tend only to fly for migratory purposes. They swim well under water.

Below: the male black-necked grebe has some food in its bill... destined not for its mate, but for the chick on its mother's back (you can just about see it tiny bill behind the mother's neck)

Meanwhile, over at the greater-crested grebes' nest - still no hatching. We wait.

This time last year:
Jeziorki birds in the late May sunshine

This time two years ago:
Making sense of Andrzej Duda's win

This time three years ago:
Call it what it is: Okęcie

This time four years ago:
Three stations in need of repair

This time five years ago
Late evening, Śródmieście

This time six years ago:
Ranking a better life

This time eight years ago:
Paysages de Varsovie

This time nine years ago:
Spring walk, twilight time

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

That tune... going round your head now...

What's that tune going round your head right now? That song that keeps on pestering you? It's called an earworm. This mental phenomenon is a part of the human condition. Most of us get affected by this from time to time, to different degrees of annoyance.

Today, we're assailed by music from every corner - mobile phone ringtones, adverts on the radio with simple, whistled tunes designed to be catchy; snatches of pop songs in shops. But can you imagine the silence of the Middle Ages, where your communion with God each Sunday in the village church would bring hymns into your life that you'd hum and repeat over the week, or earlier still, in the African Savannah, literally inventing rhythm and song with the birth of humanity.

I remember discussing this phenomenon while at primary school with Raymond Guyon, who told me that the best remedy was to blast it out of your head was with a mental rendition of the Dambusters' March. Did the trick for me when that odious TV advert for Rowntree's Jelly Tots pestered my brain in the early 1970s.

My brother wrote to me the other day about an earworm that had been going around his head over the past few days - a section of the Roxy Music song Editions of You from their eponymous first album. It occurred to me as I read his email that I usually find myself with earworms at any time. If the song or tune is good, it will last with me for several days.

James Brown's A Blind Man Can See and David Bowie's TVC15 are two current earworms that have been with me since the weekend. You can guarantee that when I write about music on my blog, the song or classical composition in question has been going round my head enough times for me to want to write about it. Ralph Vaughan Williams, Genesis' Trick of the Tail, Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska... And if a tune has with it lyrics of profundity that touch on the essence of what it is to be human - then so much the better.

Returning to an earworm from years gone by brings back that precise atmosphere. If that song had been going around your mind over and over again for several days or longer, the memories of that time and place will return. There's a strong sense of seasonality to this - there are autumn songs and summer songs, and have been since I was a teenager. Roxy Music in the autumns, Pink Floyd for the summers. [Winters? Never really had them in my London years.]

As my brother points out, it's been 50 years since the Jimi Hendrix Experience released Are You Experienced - a milestone of rock music history. As with many other great musicians, the consciousness of Mr Hendrix transcended mere time and place, he is gone but that consciousness will be back again and again, on the endless cycle of birth, death and rebirth that connects an evolving universe.

Below: my brother's take on a legendary album cover... Are You Employed, Sir?

Last month I woke up with a wonderful tune in my head - something composed in my subconscious mind. Determined to keep it, I tried to turn it into an earworm; this worked for a couple of hours, until... another song crept into my head, and I promptly forgot it, lost to the ages.

This time last year:
The eyes... the eyes... 

This time two years ago:
New old terminal open at Okęcie airport

This time four years ago:
Arrogance vs. humility

This time five years ago:
Warsaw looking good ahead of the football-fan influx

This time eight years ago:
Heron over Jeziorki

This time ten years ago:
Present rising, future loading

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

More birds and their young in Jeziorki

These days bring much marvel. Whether returning home from work the long way, or just going for a walk from home, when the sun shines, I must go and see what's happening. I must say, the Nikon CoolPix P900 with its superzoom lens is magnificent for taking photos of the birds on the wetlands.

Below: there are several breeding pairs (at least three) of black-necked grebes (perkoz zausznik). This pair has three chicks, sitting on the mother's back

Below: the father has returned with food with which to feed the chicks.

Below: in the middle pond, another pair of black-necked grebes are raising a single chick.

Meanwhile, the one pair of great crested grebes (perkoz dwuczuby) that I've observed are still waiting for their clutch of eggs to hatch. Below: picture taken today...

...and below, taken yesterday. The female grebe is impatiently looking at the egg(s). Note how far back along the body the grebe's legs are. This gives excellent leverage when diving; not so good for walking though.

Meanwhile the male greater crested grebe is close by (below), frequently disappearing underwater and popping back up with a mollusc or piece of pond weed. Once hatched, the greater crested grebes' chicks, like those of their black-necked cousins, will ride around on mother's back.

Meanwhile, back to the perennial denizens of Jeziorki's ponds - the coots. The pair at the southern end of the pond have had eight chicks (one's out of frame in this shot). Other coot pairs have five or fewer chicks.

The black-headed gull (mewa śmieszka) makes a good neighbour for coots and grebes - the gulls flock in large numbers and behave raucously when a potential predator approaches, warning the other birds with whom they share the pond. The gulls' eggs hatch in the first half of May - but I've not seen any chicks around. Unlike the ducking and diving water fowl, gull chicks are not precocial - that is they are unable to fend for themselves at birth.

The first clear shot of this year's brood of cygnets. There's six of them, they are now four days old and totally mobile. Even at a day old, they managed to traverse half of the length of the northern pond.

Below: mother swan shakes the water off her wings, her flotilla of cygnets remains unflustered by the sudden commotion...

UPDATE: Wednesday 24 May - Greater crested grebes' egg (singular) has not hatched.

This time last year:
"Distinguish joy from pleasure" - wise words

This time five years ago:
A post about a book about a film about a journey to a room

This time seven years ago:
Mr Pheasant trumpets his presence

This time eight years ago:
Balancing on the Edge of Chaos

This time nine years ago:
Zamienie and the encroaching tide of Development

Saturday, 20 May 2017

To Warka in the sunshine

The mid-May sunshine spell continues - time to get out of town and hit the road. Today's destination, on the banks of the Pilica, was Warka - home of Warka Strong - Pan Ziutek's beer of choice - and Warwin's ciders and fruit wines.The sunshine makes Mazowsze look like a cross between the Midwest and the Med. The country roads south of Czachówek have a 1930s American feel, while the town of Warka under an azure sky could be on a Spanish costa.

This is Warka's Rynek (market square). Beyond the customs house to the docks and sea?

Hairdressers, banks and a fruit & veg stall... As I was passing, a lady asked the hairdresser whether she could do her husband (whose hair was like mine if I'd let it grow for many months). The hairdresser said yes, so the lady left her husband in her care and went off alone to do some shopping.

Below: take me home country roads - between Broniszew and Jozefów. Or Kentucky?

Below: looking west along the Skierniewice-Łuków line at the Czachówek junction. Or the Pennsylvania Railroad, electrified in the mid-1930s?

Below: the Marian sanctuary at Pieczyska, would look at home in a Midwestern county township.

And back home after my foray into southern Mazowsze I took an evening walk to the ponds to check the latest news. YES! The swans' eggs have hatched! Six cygnets! (I hope they all make it to maturity...)

This time four years ago:
The descriptive vs. the prescriptive

This time five yeas ago:

This time nine years ago:
Why Poland can no longer afford to keep the grosz

Friday, 19 May 2017

Heavenly Jeziorki

I meet St Peter at the Pearly Gates. "Where are you from?" he asks me. "Jeziorki," I reply. "Proceed. You'll know what to expect."

I look out of the kitchen window and see a black-headed gull, it's underside lit up by the rays of the setting sun. Yes. Good to be here - my spot on Planet Earth.

Rather than take the 209 home from Metro Wilanowska, I take the 715 to Kórnicka, to have yet another chance to walk by the ponds, making the most of this sublime time of year.

Below: looking across from the new footpath alongside ul. Dumki towards ul. Trombity. Heaven.

Below: the coot chicks, aged two days. Mum is teaching them how to look for food. They will not starve - food is plentiful.

Below: the great crested grebes (as seen in yesterday's post) are nest-building on a tiny island.

Meanwhile, the black-necked grebes' chicks have hatched, which you can see the adult's back (below). Note the black-and-white stripes on head and beak. These may be less than a day old - these grebes were chickless yesterday (see previous post).

Below: one grebe has just dived for food and has popped up to feed the young. Grebes and coots, unlike ducks, are sexually monomorphic - it is visually difficult to tell a male from a female.

Like the familiar mallard, with its green-headed male and the dowdier female, the common pochard is sexually dimorphic, with the males displaying more flamboyant plumage. Below: a male and female common pochard. New to Jeziorki this year.

The weather continues to be perfect; sixth day in a row. Long may it last thus.

This time four years ago:
Why are all the shops shut today?

This time five years ago:
Jeziorki at its most beautiful

This time seven years ago:
Useful and useless in my wallet

This time eight years ago:
In search of the dream klimat - remote viewing made real

This time nine years ago:
Zakopane to Kraków in 3hrs 45min

This time ten years ago:
The year's most beautiful day?

Thursday, 18 May 2017

The year's Most Beautiful Day

English naturalist Thomas Bewick (1753-1828) is said to have claimed that the 18th of May is the most beautiful day in the calendar, when nature is at its fullest, the greenery at its greenest, life is at its peak.

A walk home from W-wa Dawidy via the Jeziorki ponds certainly confirms this theory. The sixth consecutive day of over 20C warm sunshine (indeed today's high was 25C); this is spring in its glory, the consciousness rejoices and observes.

Yesterday, I walked home the same way, and spotted a nesting coot, incubating her eggs, below. As it happened, those eggs would hatch over night...

Below: the same coot (łyska, bald as a) makes her way proudly from the nest in the reed beds to the open waters, accompanied by four chicks, one of whom is seen with her.

Below: another coot chick, this one in the southern pond, a few days older, a bit more plumage on the head. There are dozens on coot chicks on the ponds right now; only a few will survive. Conscious life, nevertheless.

The swans are nesting too - this is the female, sheltering from the hot sun, incubating her eggs. Any day now Jeziorki's next clutch of cygnets will hatch.

Our newcomers this year - grebes. Below: a pair of great crested grebes (perkoz dwuczuby).

Below: a pair of black-necked grebes (perkoz zausznik). Grebes can adjust their buoyancy with their body feathers, swimming low in the water with just head and neck exposed. At this time of year, they are in their breeding finery. And grebes can dive.

Sadly, the grey herons seem to have been driven out of Jeziorki's ponds; two months ago I got some shots of herons being mobbed by gulls and crows; since then, I've not seen any around here. Nor have I seen any marsh harriers or lapwings around the ponds this year.

This time three years ago:
W-wa Wola became W-wa Zachodnia Platform 8 two years ago today

This time four years ago:
From yellow to white - dandelions go to seed

This time five years ago:
The good topiarist

This time seven years ago:
Wettest. May. Ever.

This time nine years ago:

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

The fossil fuel-powered car is dead.

Last Tuesday I was in Katowice discussing Industry 4.0 with representatives of manufacturers - and indeed factory builders. The premise of 4.0 is that the first industrial revolution was about coal and steam, the second saw the advent of electricity and production lines in factories, the third saw robots starting to replace workers - and the fourth is about the seamless integration of physical objects and data, vertically and horizontally across the supply chain. Industry 4.0 will see machine talking to machine, ordering parts from suppliers, signalling down-time by re-routing production to another machine and allowing for mass-customisation from the buyer's device.

Present in Katowice were car-makers, for whom another challenge looms - peak car (which I wrote about three years ago, herehere and here) is now a fact across much of the developed world. Since then, the driverless car is becoming ever closer to reality. The notion of spending a large chunk of your income buying a car which spends 95% of its time not doing what it was built for is increasingly perceived as dumb.

Imagine a future where a driverless car appears in front of your door to drive your children to school; it then gets summoned by a woman whom it drives to work, then it takes a couple of pensioners shopping. The driverless car is in use day and night, owned by a mobility firm, not by the people driven in it, who need never spend tens of thousands of euros, pounds or dollars to actually own it.

I stopped driving to work eight years ago and have not owned a car for seven years. Living in a big city, a car is not actually needed. I hire a car whenever I need one. My children are not interested in car ownership - when I was in my early 20s, I was car-crazy. We have passed peak car.

In Katowice, there was a sense that the future would be radically different to the past 100 years when it comes to the motor car.

But just how different?

Think about how the digital revolution has changed photography. 2015 was the first year in which more photos were taken than in every single year before that combined. When I bought my last film camera, a used Leica M6 in 1997, little did I think that just ten years later I'd buy a digital Nikon D80, transforming my photography. Back in 1997, I wanted the best 35mm camera there was, and it was to last me decades. It's sat unused for over a decade as digital progress has rendered film redundant, used today by a handful of enthusiasts who love the ritual of the old medium.

The same will happen with the fossil fuel-powered car, says a new report by Stanford University's Tony Seba. He claims that within eight years, not a single petrol or diesel car, bus or truck will be made or sold anywhere in the world! The end will come as quickly, as it did to film photography.

Or will it? It took seven decades for steam locomotives to be displaced by electric and diesel engines on the railways. Why does Prof Seba believe that the fossil fuel-powered car will disappear by 2025?

The tipping point will come some two-three years from now as electric vehicles' batteries hit that magic spot where range exceeds 200 miles, while price drops allowing for low-end models to sell for $20,000 or less. When that moment comes, it will be an avalanche, says Prof Seba.

At the same time, Alphabet (Google's parent company), Amazon and Uber will have completed trials of self-driving cars, which use lidar (laser rangefinding), GPS and IoT (Internet of Things) technologies coupled with self-teaching algorithms to ensure perfect safety.

These two trends taken together will lead to a mass stranding of petrol and diesel cars - second-hand values will plummet. Oil prices will plummet too - Prof Seba predicts a long-term price of oil around $25. Petrol stations and garages will close. The internal combustion engine, with its 2,000 moving parts, is way too complex to compete.

I guess that classic cars and motorbikes will continue to be sought after; enthusiasts will cherish the legends of automotive history - they will be driven on sunny weekends for the nostalgia, powered by fuel sold at extremely high prices by specialist dealers to wealthy connoisseurs. A bit like the enthusiasts who take snaps on film cameras, finding the occasional outlet that still sells and processes film.

Prof Seba's vision is one I entirely subscribe to - I hope it comes true within that eight-year timeframe. Business, consumers and regulators will need to get ready for it.

Go! And do not come back until you have redeemed yourselves!

This time two years ago:
With Blood and Scars by B.E. Andre - book review

This time three years ago:
We can all take photos like Vivian Maier - can't we?

This time four years ago:
Ethereal and transient

This time five years ago:
Wrocław railway station before the Euro football championships

This time six years ago:
By tram to Boernerowo

This time eight years ago:
Food-Industrial Shop, rural USA or Poland

This time ten years ago:
Twilight time, Jeziorki

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Long-term memory, awareness and identity

Deep memory - when memories from the distant past metamorphose into something more than synapses and neurons, taking on a supernatural quality - remains something beyond the ability of science to explain. Spiritual memory indeed.

I'm at my father's. It's May - the month we moved into our house on Cleveland Road back in 1970. My memories of the house, the garden, the nearby park are deep-rooted; not the short-term memories of the things I did, the people I met, last week - but memories that are an integral part of who I am. Looking across Cleveland Park up towards Cleveland Road in the afternoon sunshine as a 12 year old, triggered memories of summer holidays in Eastbourne and on the Isle of Wight... beyond the row of houses, the shimmering sea. Spirit of place. Below: the low evening sun illuminates houses to the east of Cleveland Park with a passing raincloud in the background.

And eating a punnet of blackberries this morning takes me back to childhood trips to Oxshott Common, where the blackberries grow in profusion in the autumn. Sunlight triggers those deep memories; emotions are more profound when rays from the Sun, 93 million miles away, agitate the visual cortex.

Short-term memory is believed to reside in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, while long-term memory could be stored by DNA methylation or even by prions. Science just doesn't know, let alone begin to explain how our consciousness functions.

But in the meanwhile, our consciousness abides.

To be aware is to be purposefully observant; to quote Jonathan Wood, "consciousness is about searching." At the heart of awareness lies a sense of purpose and understanding - your knowledge evolves, blossoms, expands, your consciousness takes on a many-layered structure. To be aware - to search, to be curious, put your ego - that most manifest representation of 'you' - in the back seat.

The promotion of the ego, the glorification of gratification promoted by the lifestyle advertising that bombards us from all sides, distracting us from the deep search for meaning of our universe. From our own personal perspective, the entire universe seems to have been put into place with ourselves at its epicentre. If it were not for us to observe it, would it even exist? Can you be sure? Because as individuals, in the grand scheme of things, we are insignificant. The existence of an incalculable number of stars that make up our universe puts into perspective our day-to-day troubles.  We need to set the sliders, to balance those two entirely contradictory positions.

We believe ourselves to be unique, and of course we are. But consequential? What is the source of our uniqueness - spiritual? Evolutionary? Extraterrestrial? All three? Extraterrestrial origins? Where do you think the heavier elements in your body have come from? The atoms of which we are made were originally created by fusion within stars light years from here, billions of years ago... "The stuff of life that knit me/Blew hither: here am I," as A.E. Housman wrote.

He we are. Some of us are aware of this fact, most of us, sadly, not. Who am I? The very essence of my identity reside within the long-term memories that remind me where I'm from.

This time last year:
Language and politics

This time two years ago:
Trafalgar Square, then and now

This time four years ago:
GM's city car for Europe fails to wow me

This time five years ago:
A biblical sky

This time seven years ago:
The parable of the Iron-Filings Factory

This time ten years ago:
Got to get ourselves back to the Garden