Archive for February, 2020

Salisbury

Posted: February 27, 2020 in History, UK, Wiltshire
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The city of Salisbury in Wiltshire is one of the latest in the UK to be founded. The original settlement of Old Sarum was 3 miles to the north and had been occupied since c 600 BC. The Normans built a new castle and a cathedral on this site, completed in 1092.

Salisbury seen from the site of Old Sarum.
Photo by Edward Nicholl (https://www.flickr.com/photos/grey-panther/)

There are a number of stories as to why the settlement moved. One says that the castle and its settlement fell into disrepair following the civil war in the late 12th century. Another says that the Bishop and monks wanted to get away from living in the settlement, which was really just an expanded castle and where the military forces held command. There is also a legend that an archer fired an arrow from Old Sarum and the cathedral was built where it landed, but as this is 3 miles this seems unlikely. A variant of this legend suggests that the arrow hit a deer and that this then ran 3 miles before falling down dead.

Bishop Richard Poore set about building a new cathedral on land he owned in the valley of the River Avon, south of Old Sarum. At first, it was called New Sarum, but eventually became known as Salisburies, after the land on which it was built. Work began in 1221 and was completed in 1259. King Henry III had given the new city a charter in 1227 and by the 14th century, it was the largest settlement in Wiltshire.

In 1450, riots over the decline of the cloth trade resulted in the murder of Bishop Ayscough. In 1483 Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham revolted against King Richard III and was eventually executed at Salisbury. In 1665, Charles II, having left London because of the Great Plague, held his court at Salisbury Cathedral. In 1688, James II mustered his army at Salisbury to counter the Glorious Revolution led by William of Orange, later William III. But after 7 days and a number of defections he retreated to London, before eventually fleeing the country.

Salisbury remains a delightful medieval city and a lovely place to visit with many medieval buildings still in use.

Originally today had been a trip with RSPB group to a new location in the Midlands to see what it had to offer, but the recent bad weather and flooding caused a last minute change of plans and instead we travelled north east towards the Suffolk coast and the RSPB reserve at Minsmere.

We made good time from London and arrived at about 9.45. I would normally walk the whole reserve which consists of two circular walks centred on the visitors centre but today I chose a different approach and concentrated on the sea and the wader scrape. In particular I was looking for a Green-Winged Teal, an American Duck. It is a species which has evaded me over the years and so I was determined to see it today.

So I did the circuit of the scrape and there were lots of other of other ducks to see including a female /immature Smew, but sadly the Green-Winged Teal eluded me again. However, there was plenty else to see as I watched in vain and counting up at the end of the day I had seen 54 species on the reserve (plus 5 other species seen in the local area) which is a good species count for any trip. Other highlights were an excellent view of a basking Adder and a close encounter with a Muntjac.

Storm Dennis had passed (well almost) and a chance to get out and visit the London wetland centre in the hope of seeing a wintering Bittern.

I followed my normal route ending up at the Tower hide. The first hides had their normal selection of waterfowl. There were a number of Great Cormorants of the European race (as opposed to our normal Atlantic race) noticeable because of their white head markings.

From the Tower hide some fellow birders put me onto a Sparrowhawk perched on a fence. There was a deal of discussion about this bird due to the highly visible white patches on the wings and it was decided it was probably one of last years young.

Sparrowhawk

No Bittern emerged on the main lake so I set off to reservoir lagoon where two had been seen the previous day. It was to be an afternoon of quick views as a Kingfisher flashed over the end of the lagoon. As time drew on, I suddenly noticed a movement off to my left and focused quickly enough to see a flying Bittern disappearing from view below the vegetation on my side of the lagoon. Not the best view so will have to try again another day.

Walter Raleigh was born in Devon in 1552 (or 1554). Little is known of his life. He took part in the French religious wars on the side of the Huguenots, studied for a year at Oxford and joined the Middle Temple (later in his life it was stated he had never actually studied law). At the age of 20, he was in the army that suppressed the Desmond rebellion in Ireland and came into the ownership of some property confiscated from the rebels. He was granted a royal charter to explore the Americas and led two expeditions to South America and also organised the expedition that founded the colony at Roanoke in North America, although he did not personally accompany it. In 1585 he was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall and Vice -Admiral. He was a member of Parliament for Devon in 1585 and 1586. In 1591 he was made Captain of the Yeoman of the Guard and received a number of gifts of property from Queen Elizabeth I. However in June 1592, he was imprisoned on her orders as it was discovered he had secretly married one of the Queen’s ladies in waiting without royal permission. In August he was released to lead a raid on Spain and although he captured an incredibly rich prize, he was put back in the Tower on his return to England. He was finally released early in 1593 and resumed his place in parliament, this time representing Cornwall. He spent much of his time on his estate in Sherborne with his family. In 1594, he travelled to Guiana in search of a fabled golden city, but by 1596 he was back in royal service at the capture of Cadiz, where he was wounded. In 1597 he led a raid on the Azores and was involved in the defeat of the Armada. The same year he was elected as MP for Devon and 4 years later for Cornwall. From 1600-1603 he was Governor of Jersey.

Queen Elizabeth died in 1603 and Raleigh was arrested in July, accused on being involved in a plot against James I, who had succeeded Elizabeth to the English throne. He was tried and convicted, but King James spared him execution. He remained in the Tower until 1616, when King James granted him a charter to return to Guiana in search of the golden city. Unfortunately, a group of soldiers disobeyed Raleigh’s command not to attack any Spanish forces they encountered. On his return to England, the Spanish ambassador demanded the death sentence originally passed on Raleigh in 1603 be reinstated (It had been part of the terms of his release that he undertook no offensive action against Spanish interests). King James had little option but to agree to the ambassador’s demands. Walter Raleigh was executed at the Palace of Westminster on 29th October 1618.

This statue of Raleigh can be found in the grounds of the Royal Naval College at Greenwich.

I can see clearly now

Posted: February 13, 2020 in History, London, UK
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I recently had the opportunity to visit the British Optical Museum at the College of Optometrists near Charing Cross in London. The College is the regulatory authority for all professions to do with eyes except for surgery.

The museum was founded in 1901 by the British Optical Association and moved around London as they moved headquarters. It opened to the public in 1914. In 1980 the collection passed to the College of Optometrists and the current museum, which occupies the college basement, opened in 2003.

A depiction of Early Chinese glasses

According to legend spectacles were used in China as early as the time of Confucius (c500BC) and Marco Polo reported their use there in the 13th century AD. They began to appear in Europe around the 14th century.

The collection covers the history of spectacles and eye tests and also the more wacky and outrageous things that have been developed or proposed.

The museum is open to the public most week-days by pre-arrangement with the college and is well worth a visit.

A trip to the RSPB reserve at Dungeness in East Kent with Bexley RSPB group. The reserve is on a large shingle ridge which has been built up over the years and has then been used for gravel excavation leaving a series of pits which have now filled with water.

Main pit with Dungeness Power Station in background

Our first stop was the ARC pits – the highlights here were a couple of male Goldeneye amongst the commoner ducks and a patrolling Marsh Harrier over the reed-bed. This is often a good spot for Great White Egret but not today.

We then move onto the main part of the reserve. It seems very quiet, a common complaint this winter as there does not seem to have been the usual influx of winter migrants into the UK. One exception is a male Smew and I set off to find it on one of the pools. I have not seen one for a few years now as they have become less and less common in the south-east of the country so this is a real treat. Eventually, with the help of a few other birders, we locate it on a channel on the far side of a field and we have good views through the telescopes.

Distant Male Smew
Male Smew (taken at Slimbridge Wildfowl Collection)

The main pools were very busy, but only with Great Cormorants. I was told there are over 3000 on the reserve, which is I was told a all time high. The seemed to take up every tree and every island.

I did find a small party of Black-tailed Godwit on one small island and saw a very close male Goldeneye.

Not the highest total of species but the male Smew was the highlight of the day

A wonderful post with some great photos showing the beauty in nature from Roads End Naturalist

All nature is but art unknown to thee. ~Alexander Pope

Earlier this week, I accompanied some friends on a stroll through one of my favorite local natural areas – Johnston Mill Nature Preserve in Orange County. This area is managed by the Triangle Land Conservancy and is one of their more popular sites. I love […]

Natural Art — Roads End Naturalist
Migrant Hawker

Where did January go? Suddenly we are one month down in 2020. Before we know it the Butterflies and Dragonflies will be back with us.