Lesser redpolls feeding on birch catkins

Lesser redpoll, 29 December 2014

This afternoon, a small flock of lesser redpolls landed on the small birch tree in the backyard behind our balcony.

Lesser redpoll and birch catkins, 29 December 2014

They fed on birch catkins, one of their favourite dishes.

Lesser redpoll on birch tree, 29 December 2014

Briefly, a blue tit kept the lesser redpolls company in the tree.

Lesser redpoll still on birch  tree, 29 December 2014

Yesterday morning, a blue tit visited the feeder on the balcony.

A bit later, a female blackbird looked for food beneath the feeder.

Treecreeper, nuthatch, chaffinches and snow

Corversbos fields snow, 28 December 2014

On 28 December, to Corversbos and Gooilust nature reserves. Lots of snow had fallen, as this Corversbos photo shows.

In Corversbos, great spotted woodpecker sound. A nuthatch in a tree. A short-toed treecreeper in another tree.

Scores of chaffinches in trees closer to Gooilust.

Near the Gooilust entrance was a Christmas tree. Not with baubles like in usual Christmas trees; but with bulb-shaped bird food. It attracted three blue tits.

Gooilust, 28 December 2014

At some spots in Gooilust, the snow had melted.

Gooilust footpath, 28 December 2014

At other spots, water had frozen, making footpaths slippery.

Gooilust frozen ditch, 28 December 2014

Most ditches were still frozen.

Corversbos snow, 28 December 2014

As we walked back from Gooilust to Corversbos, the chaffinches were still there. We had no telephoto lens to photograph the finches, so here you can see just this photo of their trees.

Bryan Adams’ photos of disabled military veterans

This video says about itself:

Bryan Adams on ‘The Legacy of War’


Bryan Adams releases injured soldiers book

Singer Bryan Adams has released a photobook of soldiers injured whilst serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Canadian musician told BBC News that he hoped his book Wounded: The Legacy of War would help the general public to understand the lives of wounded military personnel.

Marine Mark Ormrod was photographed by Mr Adams after being contacted by journalist Caroline Froggatt. He explained how his injuries had affected his life.

From daily The Independent in Britain:

Max Benwell

Saturday 20 December 2014

‘When the wounded started to appear on the street, it was too all much to take': Bryan Adams on photographing wounded veterans

The rock musician and photographer describes his experience taking photos of soldiers disabled by war, and what he learnt from the project

When did you start getting into photography, and what do you enjoy most about it?

Pretty early, but not seriously until the 1990s when I started doing my own LP covers.

Why did you decide to photograph wounded veterans?

What bothered me, was all the lies when we went to war in the Middle East: “45 minutes to drop a bomb on us” and “the world will be safer without Saddam”, all nonsense. Not to mention the financial and human cost on both sides. When the wounded started to appear on the street, it was too all much to take, I wanted to do something.

Was there a connection there already?

The connection was made with a journalist from ITN called Caroline Froggatt, she introduced me to most of them.

What were you trying to achieve with the photos?

I wanted to do something. Creating photos and documenting as many people as I could who had incurred severe injuries, seemed like a good plan. Thankfully, my publisher Steidl was able to see the beauty in them and agreed to make a book.

Were there any photos in particular that you found difficult to take?

They were all easy-going [subjects], we’d have a chat and I’d show them what had been done so far, and we’d just get to work. Usually there were lots of people there, friends and family, so it was comfortable for them.

What did you learn about the veterans and their lives now?

I discovered that no matter what training you had in the military, nothing prepares someone for discharge with disability. Learning how to cope with a new life, while both physically and mentally injured, and how to rediscover how to do the simple things, such as walking. It was seriously humbling and makes you appreciate how much you have.

Did the project have any effect on your understanding of the conflicts the veterans had been involved in, and the work of the armed forces in general?

Yes of course. A lot of the stories are so harrowing you wonder how most of them survived. Then I discovered that the medical advancements have changed so much on the battlefield, that the reason many of these people are alive is due to the quick responses of their comrades, and their training.

What do you think of The Independent’s Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal?

I think the more support for wounded veterans the better, but the idea that on top of that, there are homeless veterans is something the Government needs to address. Especially at Christmas.

‘Wounded: The Legacy of War’ by Bryan Adams is published by Steidl.

European robin, very rare in China

This video is about a robin singing in England.

Not that long ago, in 2008, a European robin was seen for the first time ever in the Gambia, Africa.

Now about China.

From Birding Frontiers blog:

An Exotic Robin in China

By Terry

When most birders think of exotic robins in China, it’s images of Blackthroat, Rufous-headed Robin or Siberian Rubythroat that come to mind. However, at a 15th century World Heritage Site in the heart of Beijing, it’s a different species that has captured the imagination of local birders and photographers on an unprecedented scale.

On 10 November 2014 a local bird photographer posted onto a Chinese photography forum some photos he had taken in the Temple of Heaven Park.  It was a bird he had not seen before.  Sharp-eyed local birders Huang Hanchen and Li Xiaomai quickly spotted the images, posting them onto the Birding Beijing WeChat group, where they caused quite a stir.  It was a EUROPEAN ROBIN!  WOW!! (“BOOM” hasn’t yet caught on in Chinese birding circles).

The following day I was on site at dawn, together with 3 young Chinese birders.  The only directions we had were vague at best – “the northwest section“. Temple of Heaven Park is a huge site and, after a 3-hour search, there was no sign of the exotic visitor.  My 3 companions decided to leave to look for a Brown-eared Bulbul (another Beijing rarity) that had been reported in Jingshan Park.  I decided to walk one more circuit around an area of shrubs that looked the most likely spot for a Robin.  Along the last line of shrubs I suddenly heard a call – one that I immediately recognised from home.  It was hard to believe, and I almost felt embarrassed, but my heart leapt!  Immediately afterwards, a blurred shape made a dart from a bush, across the path in front of me, deep into the base of another thick shrub.  It was a full 5 minutes before I was able to secure a clear view.  It was still here – a European Robin!!  I hurriedly sent out a message to the group and, just a few minutes later, the original 3 birders were back and we all enjoyed intermittent views of what was, at that time, a very elusive bird.

Little did we know what a fuss this bird would cause.  Over the next few days the local bird photographers flocked to the site and, on a single day that week, there were over 150 photographers present (see below).  It was a scene reminiscent of a “first for Britain” and, despite a similar but much smaller scale twitch two years ago for another robin – Japanese Robin – this was something I had not seen in China before….

Bird photographers at the Temple of Heaven Park a few days after the initial sighting.  Photo by China Youth Daily

Bird photographers at the Temple of Heaven Park a few days after the initial sighting. Photo by China Youth Daily

As is often the case in China (as well as large parts of Asia), some of the photographers immediately began putting out mealworms and created artificial perches for the bird to try to create the conditions for the most aesthetically pleasing photos possible.  It wasn’t long before the robin became habituated and performed spectacularly for the assembled masses.

And the interest in this bird has not dwindled.  As I write this, on 6 December, there are still many photographers on site, almost four weeks after the initial sighting.  Incredible.  It must be the most photographed EUROPEAN ROBIN ever.

During its stay, as well as bird photographers, this bird has attracted unprecedented attention from the Chinese media, with articles published in The China Daily (in English) and China Youth Daily (in Chinese), the latter reporting that this individual has come all the way from England!  There is no doubt that this vagrant – an ambassador for wild birds – has raised awareness among many people in Beijing about the importance of Beijing’s parks for wild birds and generated an appreciation for the birds that can be found in the capital.

A species that we take for granted in Europe, this bird’s presence is a reminder both that the European Robin is a stunningly beautiful bird and that watching rare birds is all relative.  In Europe birders dream of finding a SIBERIAN RUBYTHROAT or visiting China to see the enigmatic BLACKTHROAT.  In Beijing, it’s a EUROPEAN ROBIN that gets the juices flowing….  and rightly so….!

Status of EUROPEAN ROBIN in China:

The European Robin (Erithacus rubecula) has recently been discovered as a regular winter visitor, in small numbers, to western Xinjiang, in the far northwest of China.  It is very rare further east, with just one previous record in Beijing, a bird that spent the winter in the grounds of Peking University in 2007-2008.

First detailed photos of a planetary system in formation

This video says about itself:

ESOcast 69: Revolutionary ALMA Image Reveals Planetary Genesis

6 November 2014

ESOcast 69 presents the result of the latest ALMA observations, which reveal extraordinarily fine detail that has never been seen before in the planet-forming disc around the young star HL Tauri.

This revolutionary image is the result of the first observations that have used ALMA with its antennas at close to the widest configuration possible. As a result, it is the sharpest picture ever made at submillimetre wavelengths.

More information and download options here.

By Bryan Dyne and Don Barrett in the USA:

New telescope reveals first detailed image of a planetary system in formation

1 December 2014

The first detailed images of a planetary system in the process of formation have been revealed by the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA), a new international telescope beginning scientific operations. Studies of the gas and dust that surround the young star HL Tauri have revealed a series of gaps in the material that are strong evidence of planets slowly coalescing.

The origins of the Earth and of planetary systems in general have attracted the attention of natural philosophers since antiquity. The accepted model was introduced in conceptual form by the philosopher Immanuel Kant in his 1755 work General History of Nature and Theory of the Heavens.

The mathematician Pierre-Simon Laplace independently arrived at this model in his Exposition of the System of the World of 1796, which also developed mathematical physics for the model. In this schematic, gaseous clouds slowly collapse, their initial spin preventing full collapse in two dimensions, producing a pancake-shaped disk that further organizes itself into planets. Modern observational and theoretical work has confirmed and developed this model in considerable detail, but until now the best telescopes have produced only crude images of the process.

This has been a large part of the motivation in the development of millimeter-wave astronomy, a worldwide effort spanning decades. It has been known for a long time that dense clouds of gas and dust are opaque to visible light, and only in the past several years have we been able to pierce that veil, for the first time looking at both the formation of galaxies and planetary systems, such as HL Tauri, in detail.

HL Tauri is a Sun-like star 450 light years from Earth. Evidence of its protoplanetary disk was first found in 1975 through infrared observations. Further data was collected in 1985-86 at the Owens Valley Radio Telescope, when the disk itself was imaged, revealing part of its composition to be ice particles, iron, carbon monoxide and diatomic hydrogen.

The ALMA image shows a series of bright concentric rings separated by gaps. These features are the product of the gravitational effects of planets, slowly forming, accumulating matter in their paths and also sweeping remaining matter into preferred orbits. A similar instance in which a ring is organized into structure by local mass concentrations can be seen around the planet Saturn, where inner moons organize the Saturn ring system into a rich system of ringlets.

HL Tauri is known by other observations to be a very young star, approximately one million years old. Approximate models of the evolution of these young systems have long suggested a timescale of roughly 10 million years for the initial formation of protoplanets and the development of structure within the disk. A study led by astronomer Paola D’Alessio with the Spitzer Space Telescope in 2004 also suggested evidence for organization and clearing from the inner parts of a disk around a similarly young star, but from indirect evidence—not a direct image.

ALMA Deputy Program Scientist Catherine Vlahakis commented, “When we first saw this image we were astounded at the spectacular level of detail. HL Tauri is no more than a million years old, yet already its disc appears to be full of forming planets. This one image alone will revolutionize theories of planet formation.” Already, there have been suggestions that the disk’s magnetic field was somehow able to accelerate the planet-forming process, something that until now has not had a great deal of evidence.

Even more exciting is the scale of the disk. The total radius of the disk is about 12 billion kilometers, twice the distance of the Sun to Pluto. However, if one places an image of the Solar System side by side to HL Tauri and its protoplanetary disk, the gaps closely align to the orbits of our own planets. Given the mass of the star and the composition of the disk, it is speculated that by viewing HL Tauri, we are looking at what the Solar System looked like just after the Sun began to shine.

ALMA itself is a remarkable instrument. It consists of a constellation of 66 movable radio dishes linked to one another across 16 kilometers in the Atacama desert of northern Chile at an elevation high enough to negate a great deal of atmospheric interference that occurs in astronomical observations at sea level. The dishes detect electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths of millimeters, a part of the spectrum which is dominated by radiation arising from gas and dust in the universe. The array is run by an international team from Canada, Chile, Europe, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the United States. Since it began collecting data in 2011, ALMA has provided new insight into planetary formation, the composition of molecular clouds and the physics of the early universe.

An individual millimeter-wave telescope, due to the longer wavelength of radiation compared to optical light, reveals only a blurry image. To compensate, networks of telescopes must collect the incoming radiation and combine them through banks of supercomputers. This enables astronomers to mimic the performance of a vast telescope the size of the entire array of dishes without the otherwise colossal expense that would be needed.

The sharp image of HL Tauri’s protoplanetary disk is due this technique. ALMA’s effective size is 16 kilometers across, a factor of eight greater than the previous generation of millimeter telescopes.

At $1.4 billion in cost, the ALMA telescope is the most expensive ground-based telescope in operation. Many such innovative telescopes are proposed—the increasing impoverishment of fundamental research ensures that few are built. Many more discoveries are expected from ALMA, which is only beginning to reveal its capabilities. These discoveries are just a foretaste of what the organized labor of the working class is capable of producing, in a social system that gives only limited scope to the quest for scientific understanding of our origins and future.

The author also recommends:

Planet formation viewed by astronomers
[11 March 2011]