Sea eagles back on Orkney islands after 142 years


This February 2013 video from Sweden is called White-tailed Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla).

From Raptor Politics in Britain:

White-tailed eagles nest in Orkney after 142-year absence

A pair of sea eagles are currently nesting on RSPB Scotland’s Hoy nature reserve. It is the first time these birds have attempted to breed in Orkney since 1873. The news suggests Orkney may become the next stop on the sea eagles’ celebrated recolonisation of Scotland. Alan Leitch, RSPB Scotland’s Sites Manager in Orkney, said, “This is a great moment for Hoy and Orkney. Sea eagles are utterly magnificent birds, with a wing span of up to 2.4 m or 8 feet. To see them over the hills of Hoy is a forceful reminder of the sheer beauty of nature.” “Too often with wildlife, once it’s gone it’s gone. It is a privilege to welcome these birds back to a landscape they inhabited for thousands of years.”

Sea eagles have a long history in Orkney. The Bronze Age burial tomb at Isbister, South Ronaldsay (the ‘Tomb of the Eagles’) famously contains their bones, while a Pictish symbol stone found at the Knowe of Burrian, Harray, features a beautifully carved bird.

Sea eagles became extinct across the UK in the early 19th century due to combination of widespread habitat loss and human persecution, with the last bird shot in Shetland in 1918.

Following successful reintroductions since the 1970s on Rum, Wester Ross and more recently in Fife, sea eagles are now reclaiming their former ranges. Success for the pair in Hoy, which have returned to Orkney of their own accord, would represent a significant expansion in breeding range for the birds in Scotland.

The nearest sea eagle territories to Orkney are in the north-west of Scotland, although the origins of the pair currently nesting in Hoy are not yet known. Either or both birds could have hatched in the wild in Scotland, or even in Scandinavia.

Alan Leitch continued, “As Hoy’s first breeding sea eagles in nearly 150 years, we expect this young pair will attract a lot of attention over the next few weeks or months.

“The birds are nesting on the Dwarfie Hamars. To give them the best chance of success, anyone keen to see the birds should keep their distance and ideally keep dogs under close control in the vicinity. The roadside car park for the Dwarfie Stone is a good place to watch from but lingering too long at the Dwarfie Stone itself could alarm the birds.”

“Nesting sea eagles are specially protected by law, so if you see any signs of disturbance please pass your concerns onto the police straightaway.”

The sea eagle is a globally threatened species: there are only around 10,000 pairs in the world, a third of which live in Norway. The re-introduction of sea eagles to their former haunts aims to expand their range and help ensure their survival.

Also known as white-tailed eagles, they are the UK’s largest bird of prey. The birds take around five years to mature enough to breed, but can live into their 30s, generally forming long-term and monogamous bonds with their mates.

The pair currently nesting in Hoy have frequented the area for the last three springs and summers. Both are young birds, thought to be four to five years old, and this is their first known nesting attempt. Although they are inexperienced parents and may not be successful in raising chicks this summer, RSPB Scotland staff are optimistic that the birds will persevere over the coming years to make Hoy their home.

The local RSPB Scotland team are happy to answer questions about the sea eagles, and can be contacted on 01856 850176 or at orkney@rspb.org.uk (office closed Monday 6 April).

April 17th, 2015

Scottish highland cow with calf


This is a video of a Scottish highland cow and her calf.

Wim Borst in the Netherlands made the video.

Scottish common dolphin news


This video from the USA is called Short-Beaked Common-Dolphin (Delphinus delphis) off Southern California Coast.

From Wildlife Extra:

Double the sightings of common dolphins in the Hebrides

There has been a substantial increase in common dolphin numbers off western Scotland in recent years, and this is to be studied by Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust in a new season of marine research expeditions beginning in May.

The Trust’s encounter rate with common dolphins has more than doubled over the past 12 years. The causes – and broader effects on the marine environment and other species – are still unclear.

Common dolphins come to the Hebrides each spring to take advantage of seasonal food stocks. They are gregarious, often approaching boats to bow-ride and play in the wake, and are smaller than the region’s resident bottlenose dolphins.

The species also travels in large groups – sometimes forming super-pods of thousands of individuals.

The finding of increased numbers – recently presented to the European Cetacean Society – has emerged from the charity’s unique long-term monitoring of whales, dolphins and porpoises in the Hebrides.

Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust is now recruiting volunteers to work alongside marine scientists in its annual summer surveys, which it hopes will shed further light on the dramatic changes.

“An increase in common dolphins means that those wishing to encounter dolphins in the wild are in luck – but further research is needed to explain why this is happening, the extent to which this has been caused by human activity, and the implications for other cetacean species,” says Dr Conor Ryan, Sightings and Strandings Officer at Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust.

Despite their name, common dolphins – known in Gaelic as leumadair or ‘jumper’ – were once only occasionally seen in the Hebrides, preferring more southern waters generally warmer than 10°C.

With climate change causing sea surface temperatures in the Hebrides to rise at a rate of 0.5°C per decade, it appears that such warmer water species are starting to colonise new areas in the north or closer to shore.

Yet even as this shift potentially creates new opportunities for common dolphins, it may be generating competition for food with other dolphin species or seabirds.

One predicted consequence of warming seas is colder-water species such as the white beaked dolphin being forced to retreat further north.

So far, the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust has found no evidence of displacement of the white beaked dolphin – but continued monitoring is needed to establish whether or not the influx of common dolphins is having a negative effect on such species.

“Dedicated volunteers onboard our specialised research yacht, Silurian, have enabled us to build up a unique and valuable database, enabling researchers to examine changes in cetacean populations – and providing vital data for protecting these species and their habitats, including in the recent designation of Scottish Marine Protected Areas,” says Kerry Froud, the Trust’s Biodiversity Officer.

“Our research expeditions depend on volunteers. In return, they offer the opportunity of a lifetime to contribute to a better understanding of cetaceans and basking sharks, whilst enjoying the beautiful scenery of Scotland’s west coast and experiencing exhilarating sailing.”

For more information, email volunteercoordinator@hwdt.org, call 01688 302620 or see www.hwdt.org.

Scottish composer Ronald Stevenson, RIP


This music video says about itself:

Ronald StevensonPassacaglia on DSCH“, Mark Gasser: Piano (Live in Australia – 2012)

21 September 2012

The Passacaglia on DSCH is a large-scale composition for solo piano by the British composer Ronald Stevenson. It was composed between 24 December 1960 and 18 May 1962, except for two sections added on the day of the first performance on 10 December 1963. The composer presented a copy of the score to Dmitri Shostakovich, its dedicatee, at the 1962 Edinburgh Festival.

The work takes the principle of the passacaglia or chaconne – namely, strict variations on an unchanging subject, usually a ground bass, and applies it across a very large single-movement structure that divides into a cumulative design of many different musical styles and forms. It is based on a 13-note ‘ground’ derived from the musical motif D, E-flat, C, B: the German transliteration of Dmitri Shostakovich‘s initials (“D. Sch.”). (Shostakovich used these four notes as a musical ‘signature’, for example in his Eighth String Quartet).

Stevenson’s work takes more than an hour and a quarter to perform and may be the longest unbroken single movement composed for piano. It is extraordinary in its scope, the range of its reference to historic events, and the musical influences absorbed. The work includes a Sonata form first section, a suite of dances (incorporating a Sarabande, Jig, Minuet, Gavotte and Polonaise), a transcription of a Scottish bagpipe Pibroch, a section entitled To Emergent Africa involving percussive effects directly on the piano strings, a section resonating to Lenin’s slogan ‘Peace, Bread and the Land‘.

The penultimate section is a huge triple fugue over the ground bass, the first fugue on a 12-note subject derived from the bass, the second combines the DSCH motif with Bach’s monogram BACH (B-flat, A, C, B), and the third, on the Dies Irae chant, is inscribed In memoriam the six million (a reference to the victims of the Holocaust of World War II). The work ends with a series of variations on a theme derived from the ground marked Adagissimo barocco and organized on the principle of Baroque ‘doubles’, with the basic unit of metre halving with each variation.

Plan of Work

Pars Prima Sonata Allegro
Pars Prima Waltz In Rondo-Form
Pars Prima Episode 1. Presto
Pars Prima Suite. Prelude.
Pars Prima Suite. Sarabande.
Pars Prima Suite. Jig.
Pars Prima Suite. Sarabande.
Pars Prima Suite. Minuet.
Pars Prima Suite. Jig.
Pars Prima Suite. Gavotte.
Pars Prima Suite. Polonaise.
Pars Prima Pibroch (Lament For Children).
Pars Prima Episode 2. Abaresque Variations.
Pars Prima Nocturne.
Pars Altera Reverie-Fantasy.
Pars Altera Fanfare.
Pars Altera Forebodings. Alarm.
Pars Altera Glimpse Of A War Vision.
Pars Altera Variations On ‘Peace, Bread And The Land’ (1917).
Pars Altera Symphonic March.
Pars Altera Episode 3. Volante Scherzoso.
Pars Altera Fandango.
Pars Altera Pedal Point. ‘To Emergant Africa‘.
Pars Altera Central Episode. Etudes.
Pars Altera Variations In C Minor
Pars Tertia Adagio. Tribute To Bach
Pars Tertia Triple Fugue Over Ground Bass: Subject 1. Andamento
Pars Tertia Triple Fugue Over Ground Bass. Subject 2. Bach.
Pars Tertia Triple Fugue Over Ground Bass. Subject 3. Dies Irae
Pars Tertia Final Variations On A Theme Derived From Ground (Adagissimo Barocco).

By David Betteridge in Britain:

RONALD STEVENSON, composer, pianist and writer March 6 1928-March 28 2015

Wednesday 8th April 2015

FOR many reasons, the name of Ronald Stevenson, who died on March 28 at the age of 87, should be more widely known.

He composed the epic Passacaglia on DSCH, one of the longest works in the piano repertoire, which is a comprehensive survey of a whole world of music and includes homages to Dmitri Shostakovich, Johann Sebastian Bach and an anonymous drummer whom Ronald once heard practising on a home-made percussion set in a South African township.

That 80-minute single movement work, once heard, is never forgotten — as is the case with many other works forged in Stevenson’s creative furnace.

These range from a violin concerto commissioned by Yehudi Menuhin through choral works — including a group of peace motets and his more recent Praise of Ben Dorain, performed at a Celtic Connections concert in Glasgow — to a rich body of piano works, where the long tradition associated with such giants as Franz Liszt and Ferruccio Busoni is furthered in a novel way.

There was too a cornucopia of songs, settings of Scottish folk songs and works by Hugh MacDiarmid, William Soutar, William Blake and other favourite poets, among them the pure gold of A’e Gowden Lyric to words by MacDiarmid, a friend and collaborator.

This miniature, in the words of one critic, constitutes a sort of gift from Scotland to itself.

Ronald leaves a huge gap in the lives of an international network of “comrades in arts,” as he called them, with whom he corresponded over many decades, as well as in the lives of his family and close friends.

Any comrades-in-arts who made their way to the door of his house in West Linton, on the flanks of the Pentland Hills south of Edinburgh, were certain of a kind welcome both from Ronald and from his lifelong partner, his wife and archivist Marjorie Spedding.

As in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, this was a latter-day “house of the interpreter,” where the visitor is shown “excellent things, such as would be an help to me in my journey.”

One such fellow traveller was Percy Grainger, the Australian-American folklorist, composer, and pianist. The letters that they exchanged, recently published by Toccata Press, take the reader on an intricacy of fascinating journeys, notably the life and work of Walt Whitman, whose embrace of the world in all its contradictions was a big influence on both men. Like Whitman, Ronald could have said: “I am large, I contain multitudes.”

Born into a working-class home in Lancashire in England, settled in Peeblesshire in Scotland and a wandering scholar and sometimes professor on several continents — he worked in Cape Town, Shanghai, New York and Melbourne — Ronald was an advocate and precursor of world music, along the lines of Goethe’s world literature.

Here, east and west meet, folk traditions and classical traditions inform one another and all barriers of genre and style and class and ethnicity are removed in an open conversation.

In a book that he wrote half way through his career, Western Music: an Introduction, Ronald nailed his colours to this democratic and peace-loving mast.

In his closing chapter, he envisaged a kind of music “which is created by a musician aware of the unity and conflict of the different musics of different nations,” and which, while conscious that “conflict is the law of divided society,” is aware also that “unity is equally a law of that great harmony which is music and which one day will reflect the reality of society united.”

Unsurprisingly, this mountain of a musician was for a while vice-president of the Workers’ Music Association where, along with his friend Alan Bush, he pursued through music the causes of peace, social justice and internationalism.

He is survived by his wife Marjorie and by his daughters Gerda, a playwright, poet, singer, actor and theatre director, Savourna, a clarsach player and composer and by his son Gordon, an instrument maker and repairer.

His funeral will be held at the Warriston Crematorium in Edinburgh on Tuesday April 14 at 1pm.

Stop Trident nuclear weapons, demonstration in Scotland


This video from Scotland says about itself:

84 Years Young SNP Woman to Blockade Nuclear Weapon Base

20 March 2015

Isabelle has been campaigning for years for Scottish Independence and against nuclear weapons but never like this before. On her 84th birthday 13 April she will join the Bairns Not Bombs Scrap Trident blockade of the Trident base near Helensburgh in Scotland.

By Malcolm Burns in Scotland:

Glasgow city centre gathering calls for Bairns Not Bombs

Saturday 4th April 2015

THE campaign to scrap Britain’s Trident nuclear weapon system will be pushed to the centre of the general election campaign today as thousands rally in Glasgow.

SNP First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Ayrshire Labour MP Katy Clark MP and Scottish Green leader Patrick Harvie MSP head a platform of speakers at the Bairns Not Bombs demonstration organised by the Scrap Trident Coalition.

The SNP has made it a “red line” condition for post-election support for a Labour government, and about three-quarters of Labour candidates have said they would vote against Trident renewal.

Scottish CND secretary Alan Mackinnon told the Morning Star that the election on May 7 is an opportunity to elect MPs who will commit to voting against a new generation of nuclear weapons.

“This demonstration will be a clear call from the people of Scotland that they no longer want to play host to Britain’s weapons of mass destruction,” he said.

“2016 will be the crunch year when the ‘main gate’ decision is taken on whether to go ahead with the new system.

“That’s why this election is so important.

“Over the next decade Trident will consume over a third of the UK defence procurement budget at a time when working people are facing savage austerity.

“The Trident system should be scrapped, not just removed from Scotland. It is dangerous, unaffordable and militarily useless in today’s multi-polar world.”

In a message of solidarity to the Scottish demonstrators, CND Cymru national secretary Jill Gough said: “Nuclear weapons should not be a party-political issue, they are a moral, an environmental and an economic issue.

“We in Wales call on everyone everywhere to vote Trident out, and to make sure that our representatives in London after May 7 are standing on the nuclear disarmament side of any ‘red lines’.”

Demonstrators will assemble from 10.30am in George Square, march into the city centre at 11am, returning for the rally at noon.

A vigil at Faslane nuclear base will follow on Wednesday April 8, and a there will be a day-long Bairns Not Bombs blockade of Faslane on Monday April 13.

PEACE campaigners urged police yesterday not to make arrests when thousands of protesters blockade Britain’s Trident nuclear submarine base on April 13. Organiser the Scrap Trident Coalition sent its request to Police Scotland, quoting a precedent set at Burghfield nuclear weapons factory in Berkshire on March 2. Protesters blockaded the factory for seven hours, but no arrests were made. “As an indiscriminate weapon of mass destruction the UK’s Trident breaches international humanitarian law,” a Scrap Trident spokesperson explained: here.

OVER 30 anti-nuclear activists were slapped in irons yesterday during a blockade of Britain’s “obscene” Trident nuclear base at Faslane. At least 34 people were arrested at the Scottish naval base for breaching the peace after lying in gateways and covering themselves in red paint. Workers arriving for their morning shifts were unable to get through the 150-strong protest that blocked the main site entrances from 7am to 1.30pm, being told to go home instead. Later in the day, 1,000 people demonstrated outside the Ministry of Defence in London, calling on would-be MPs to promise an end to Trident when it comes up for review in 2016. The Scrap Trident Coalition said the blockade was not only effective but also had a “relaxed, colourful and upbeat vibe”: here.

THE Tories were accused yesterday of seeking to drag the vital issue of Trident replacement down to the level of gutter politics. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon faced a backlash after he accused Labour leader Ed Miliband of planning to “stab the United Kingdom in the back” over the renewal of Britain’s nuclear weapons. Mr Fallon claimed that Labour would have to abandon any plans to renew the Trident fleet in order to secure the support of the Scottish National Party (SNP) in a hung parliament: here.

British women party leaders win election debate, Twitter says


Winners and losers of British election TV debate, according to Twitter

Jamie Bartlett, for British daily The Guardian writes today about this chart, about the first election debate on British TV last night:

On the blog last night I posted an analysis of who won the debate based on Twitter sentiment, compiled by a team involving the Demos thinktank and Ipsos MORI, among others. It shows the three women all had net positive ratings, with Nicola Sturgeon the clear winner, and all four men had net negative ratings.

This might have something to do with the women in the debate opposing Trident nuclear weapons; and the four men supporting them.

Leaders’ debates: three women against some public schoolboys. It was the nearest thing to gender balance in the history of British democracy. Did it make a difference? You bet it made a difference: here.

Jubilant supporters have mobbed Nicola Sturgeon during a triumphant walkabout through west Edinburgh the morning after her performance in a TV debate made her the most popular party leader in the UK: here.

Before the leaders’ debate, a panel of voters could not identify Nicola Sturgeon from her picture. The morning, her name was the most Googled term in the whole of the UK. That astronomical rise was brought about by her much-praised appearance alongside six other party leaders last night: here.

Nick Griffin‘s ‘racist’ black men in kilts anti-SNP advert has the opposite of the desired effect on Scottish followers: here.