Archive for May, 2016

Portland Landscape (3)

Posted: May 30, 2016 in Dorset, Landscape, UK
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I love the rugged terrain and coastline of Portland but also the fact that wherever you go you cannot get away from evidence of the extraction of Portland Stone.

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Coins minted at Tower mint

Coins minted at Tower mint

In 1279, William de Turemine was appointed Master Moneyer and the mint was moved from the city to more secure premises within the Tower of London. The minting of coins continued at the Tower until 1804 when a decision was taken to build a new purpose built mint on Tower Hill, just outside the walls of the Tower. This was completed and opened in 1810 and production was moved from the mint buildings inside the Tower to the new site.

A Coin press

A Coin press

The history of the mint in the Tower is fairly unremarkable. But there was one attempt at robbery which nearly succeeded. On 20th December 1798, James Turnball, an ex-soldier working in the mint, locked a supervisor in a cupboard and made off with 2,000 newly minted guinea coins (a guinea was 1/4 oz of gold). He was able to make his escape from the Tower and went into hiding. No news of his whereabouts was known until on 5th January 1799 he was recognised, from a wanted poster,  trying to purchase a berth on a boat from Dover to France. He was arrested, tried and was executed on 15th May 1799.

Sparrowhawk

Posted: May 25, 2016 in Birds, Dorset, Natural History, UK
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The Sparrowhawk is probably now the commonest bird of prey in the UK replacing the Kestrel which seems to have declined significantly over the past decade. Even so it is most often seen in flight, often soaring to a great height. so, it was really pleasing on the recent trip to Dorset to get a chance to photograph a bird perched on  a deserted building on Portland.

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Threadneedle St facade (Soane)

Threadneedle St facade

The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street has become known as a nickname for the Bank of England, but what is the origin of it.

In 1811 Phillip Whitehead, who worked at the bank, was found guilty of forgery and executed. His sister, Sarah, suffered a breakdown as a result and every day for the next 25 years she would make her way to the entrance of the bank and ask to see her brother. She became known as the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street. When she died she was buried in a nearby churchyard and it is said that you can still see her ghost making its way along the street towards the bank.

Soane's new banking hall

Soane’s banking hall

Sarah Whitehead’s tragic story has been forgotten but her nickname  transferred to the institution she used to visit daily.

Some more photos of the wonderful landscape of Portland in Dorset

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Looking south towards the Bill with the Old and New lighthouses

Looking south towards the Bill with the Old and New lighthouses

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From 1692 one of the public attractions at the Tower was the Line of Kings, a display in chronological order of the armour of the Kings of England.

Artists impression of Line of Kings

Artists impression of Line of Kings

A modern version is currently on display in the White Tower featuring some of the armour used in the original display.

Armour of Henry VIII

Armour of Henry VIII

 

Originally displayed from 1690 as armour of Edward VI, son of Henry VIII. Now believed to be Prince Henry, son of James I

Originally displayed from 1690 as armour of Edward VI, son of Henry VIII. Now believed to be Prince Henry, son of James I

Armour of young Charles I

Armour of young Charles I

Portland in Dorset is not an island but an isthmus, as it remains connected to the mainland by a narrow spit of land. It is 4.5 miles long and 1.7 miles wide and rises to 400 ft above sea level at the northern end.

Chesil beach which connects Portland to the mainland

Chesil Beach which connects Portland to the mainland

It is a large piece of limestone  of exceptional quality and is much in demand as building stone. Portland stone was used By Sir Christopher Wren for the rebuilding of London, including St Paul’s Cathedral and around 50 other churches, following the Great Fire in 1666. It was also used for the Cenotaph in Whitehall; War grave headstones in France and Belgium and the UN building in New York.

Portland coast

Portland coast

 

Loading Station - Portland stone loaded directly into barges below for transportation

Loading Station – Portland stone loaded directly into barges below for transportation

It has a strong military connection dating from 1539 when Henry VIII built a castle on Portland (together with Sandersfoot castle at Wyke Regis on the opposite side of Portland bay) to defend the bay from the French and Spanish. In 1872 the newly enclosed Portland harbour became a naval base, which it remained until recent years when facilities were transferred to other ports.

Portland castle (from Sandersfoot Castle)

Portland castle (from Sandersfoot Castle)

 

Prrtland Harbour

Portland Harbour

 

More recently the bay has been developed as watersports venue and was the location of the 2012 Olympics sailing competitions.

Olympic Rings on Portland heights commemorating the 2012 Olympics venue

Olympic Rings on Portland heights commemorating the 2012 Olympics venue

Dorset Skies

Posted: May 18, 2016 in Dorset, Landscape, UK
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During our recent trip to Dorset Keith and I witnessed some wonderful skies. Here are some of my photos.

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The first notes were receipts for deposits made in the bank and were made out to the amount deposited.

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In 1725 the bank began issuing pre-printed notes in set denominations ranging from £5 to £1000. In 1725 the value of issued notes was £3  million, but by 1795 this had risen to £13 million.

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The fabled million pound bank note did actually exist, but was never issued to the public and was only used for internal accounting purposes.

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The Bank of England was not the only bank in England issuing notes at this time. As they were promissory notes issued in return for deposits, many banks had their own bank notes.

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Moorhen displaying

Moorhen displaying

Off to Minsmere in Suffolk with the local RSPB group. Minsmere is a wonderful collection of different habitats collected together on the Suffolk coast and has long been one of the RSPB’s premier reserves. It has grown over the years and it is almost impossible to cover all of it in a single day’s visit so rather than trying to do so, I decide to target certain species and visit specific locations in the hope of getting some photos.

 

Pheasant

Pheasant

Arriving at the reserve, I set off to the south scrape as this is where the best bird activity has been reported.

South scrape

South scrape

A patient wait is rewarded with views of Little Tern, Red Knot and Grey Plover – although all too distant for photography.

Common Tern

Common Tern

Pied Avocet

Pied Avocet

From here I make my way to Island Mere hide. On the way a Western Marsh-harrier quarters the reads not far away and the wood is full of bird song. A brief diversion is made as a warden has located a basking Minotaur Beetle, which sits happily as photographers take their turn to record it.

Minotaur Beetle

Minotaur Beetle

The distinctive call of a Common Cuckoo is heard as I approach the hide.

Island Mere surrounded by reed-bed

Island Mere surrounded by reed-bed

This is to be a stop of brief views as both Eurasian Bittern and Bearded Reedling are seen in flight but do not linger in view before disappearing into the reed-bed. Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler and Cetti’s Warblers provide a constant musical background – all unseen from within the reed-bed. A hunting Eurasian Hobby is seen over the reeds and there is constant activity from the Marsh-harriers.

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My route takes me on across the heathland – hopeful of some early butterflies but the morning sun has receded and the wind has added a chill note to the afternoon. Any self-respecting butterfly is tucked away. Arriving at Scott’s Hall (one of the best sites on the reserve for Marsh Tit) it is disappointing to find the feeders empty and devoid of birds. But at the next feeder station, I am luckier and both Marsh Tit and Coal Tit are seen as they make lightning quick raids on the feeders, stopping only long enough to grab some food before departing.

Common Chaffinch

Common Chaffinch

Goldfinch

Goldfinch

My  final stop of the afternoon is West scrape.

West scrape

West scrape

Here I find a Meditteranean Gull in amongst its far more numerous relative, the Black-headed Gull together with Common Sandpiper and Barnacle Goose. These later are normally winter visitors, but there seemed to be a few each year which fail to migrate back to their arctic breeding grounds and hang around throughout the summer.

The afternoon was fast waning by this point and it was time to begin the journey back to London – an excellent days birdwatching, even if not yielding the photographic opportunities I had hoped for

 

Common Pheasant [sp] (Phasianus colchicus)
Greylag Goose [sp] (Anser anser)
Canada Goose [sp] (Branta canadensis)
Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis)
Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna)
Gadwall (Anas strepera)
Mallard [sp] (Anas platyrhynchos)
Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata)
Eurasian Bittern [sp] (Botaurus stellaris)
Great Cormorant [sp] (Phalacrocorax carbo)
Western Marsh Harrier [sp] (Circus aeruginosus)
Eurasian Hobby [sp] (Falco subbuteo)
Common Moorhen [sp] (Gallinula chloropus)
Eurasian Coot [sp] (Fulica atra)
Eurasian Oystercatcher [sp] (Haematopus ostralegus)
Pied Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta)
Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus)
Grey Plover [sp] (Pluvialis squatarola)
Black-tailed Godwit [sp] (Limosa limosa)
Common Redshank [sp] (Tringa totanus)
Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)
Red Knot [sp] (Calidris canutus)
Dunlin [sp] (Calidris alpina)
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)
Mediterranean Gull (Ichthyaetus melanocephalus)
European Herring Gull [sp] (Larus argentatus)
Lesser Black-backed Gull [sp] (Larus fuscus)
Sandwich Tern (Thalasseus sandvicensis)
Little Tern [sp] (Sternula albifrons)
Common Tern [sp] (Sterna hirundo)
Common Wood Pigeon [sp] (Columba palumbus)
Common Cuckoo [sp] (Cuculus canorus)
European Green Woodpecker [sp] (Picus viridis)
Eurasian Jay [sp] (Garrulus glandarius)
Eurasian Magpie [sp] (Pica pica)
Western Jackdaw [sp] (Coloeus monedula)
Carrion Crow [sp] (Corvus corone)
Marsh Tit [sp] (Poecile palustris)
Coal Tit [sp] (Periparus ater)
Great Tit [sp] (Parus major)
Eurasian Blue Tit [sp] (Cyanistes caeruleus)
Bearded Reedling [sp] (Panurus biarmicus)
Sand Martin [sp] (Riparia riparia)
Barn Swallow [sp] (Hirundo rustica)
Cetti’s Warbler [sp] (Cettia cetti)
Long-tailed Tit [sp] (Aegithalos caudatus)
Common Chiffchaff [sp] (Phylloscopus collybita)
Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus)
Eurasian Reed Warbler [sp] (Acrocephalus scirpaceus)
Eurasian Blackcap [sp] (Sylvia atricapilla)
Common Whitethroat [sp] (Sylvia communis)
Eurasian Wren [sp] (Troglodytes troglodytes)
Common Starling [sp] (Sturnus vulgaris)
Common Blackbird [sp] (Turdus merula)
European Robin [sp] (Erithacus rubecula)
Dunnock [sp] (Prunella modularis)
Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii)
Common Chaffinch [sp] (Fringilla coelebs)
European Greenfinch [sp] (Carduelis chloris)
European Goldfinch [sp] (Carduelis carduelis)