16th January, 2018. Darwin’s finches.

‘Darwin’s Finches’ are a well-known example of wildlife discoveries that Charles Darwin made during (and after) his five-year voyage in the 1830s on board HMS Beagle, the main purpose of which was to map the coast of South America. Initially Darwin did not realise the significance of his studies in terms of evolution. He was no expert ornithologist, but he was a skilled taxidermist having learned the trade from a freed Afro-American ex-slave back in England (Darwin was always an ardent abolitionist). He would shoot creatures he found and then stuff them so they would be available for study when back in England. It was left to an English ornithologist when Darwin was back in England to identify these birds as all finches but with particular differences in the size and shape of their beaks, this corresponding to different islands in the Galapagos archipelago. Thus when Darwin was writing-up in book form his Journals from his voyage (an immediate best-seller) he was able to speculate on the importance of these mutations within a species which better enabled the birds to access the differing herbaceous resources on separate islands, these islands being too far apart for the  birds to ‘commute’.

So, in the 20th century, Darwin’s finches (or Galapagos finches) came to example the mechanism whereby evolution works to create the great diversity of life on Earth.

The photo above shows a female Eurasian bullfinch.

12th January, 2018. ‘Mutations’.

Returning to a point from blog 4th Jan. the varying ability of creatures to see in the dark (to varying degrees), whatever physical forms it takes, is a result of evolutionary change. Charles Darwin (above), 1809-1882, said to be the ‘Father of Evolution’ didn’t actually use the term ‘evolution’ until the 6th edition of his book On theOrigin of Species, first published 1859. Up to that point he had used the phrase ‘mutations of the species’, that is that tiny mutations from the then norm of a species physiology might actually give it a small advantage in the struggle for survival, an advantage that would then be passed-on to future generations so that across the generations this original ‘mutation’ would become the norm. Such was the process by which species evolved (changed) to a degree which eventually led to the development of new species.

Taken to its logical conclusion such a philosophy/science concludes that life/species had a common origin, but also that evolution is on-going. Unfortunately the single life-span of any species is such a comparatively small period of time that only time will tell.

On the Origin of Species was, surprisingly, a commercial success given that it was published at the height of the ‘Gothic Revival’ movement and ‘Oxford Movement’ in the Church of England when a literal interpretation of the first chapter in the Bible’s Book of Genesis was still accepted by most people. The fact that Darwin’s theories could stand ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with fundamentalist theology signalled one of the most important points in modern history, but also a broadmindedness in the British personality.

10th January, 2018. Miscellaneous.

For years now, and again this year, I wonder at the fact that despite passing the year’s shortest day (21st December) the mornings seem to get darker for longer before dawn. Of course, as in the evenings, change is imperceptibly slow, but to get later until mid January??

Post Brexit agricultural policy, as promised by the Department of the Environment, continues to give hope – this so with the recent announcement by the Minister that future independent farming subsidies will have the aim of encouraging farmers to use their land sustainably and in ways that encourage wildlife diversity. This following-on the commitment re farm animal sentience (s.p.b.).

The World Wildlife Fund is currently encouraging members to contribute photos for Valentine’s Day in February showing changes resulting from climate change (birds nesting earlier and that sort of thing). In fact this year up to today I had not seen a single snowdrop in bud whereas recent years it has been possible to see some before Christmas. I did come across two clumps in bud on Far Ings Road, Barton this afternoon but have seen no sign of buds or even leaves in South Ferriby churchyard as yet although the first crinkled primrose leaves are coming through here. The picture above is of one of many primroses in flower in the churchyard in early March in a past winter. It has been quite a harsh winter so far, the wildlife needing all the help it can get.

4th January, 2018. Wildlife.

Like some of us doubtless the local barn owls are struggling to cope with winter conditions, particularly so last month (December) when the weather was very cold and raw. However I don’t have problem of shortage of food – the Xmas-time pressure to excess, with the consequent excessive waste generated, being a stain on western society.

As noted in blogs in late 2016 a massive number of starlings have been roosting in a nearby reed-bed, their collective ‘swerlings’ ahead of settling down to roost being a sight to behold. Once settled to the reed-bed their ‘supper-time chattering’ is audible at some distance, while at dawn the following morning when they decide to set-off for the day the sound of so many pairs of wings together is almost like that of a drum group playing.

There seems to have been a big increase of late in the numbers of geese over-wintering on the Humber Estuary. When they set-off inland, at about the same time as the starlings, the sight and noise of so many wildfowl ‘striding out’ for the day is remarkable.

Clearly the geese are able to fly at night because they can often be heard flying in formation in the black of night. Maybe this evolved trait is necessary for them to move roosts at night with the ebb and flow of the tides. Of course some birds have evolved to have night vision and are thus mostly nocturnal such as the barn owl (see above). It the begs the question to what extent other bird species may, or may not, have some degree of night vision, or to what extent they are forced to stay rooted to their roost until day-break. Blackbirds locally, for example seem to stay quite active at dusk but will only see a perceived threat (such as me or my dog) when it is much closer than would have been the case in daylight. Smaller birds such as sparrows, tits or finches may also be able to see in the dark to an extent but their movements would be less obvious.

There is also the issue of to what extent birds may remain active at night aided by artificial light in towns and cities.

Very best wishes for 2018 to anyone reading this.

28TH December, 2017. Humberside large period houses – final one of my list.

Normanby Hall, four miles north of Scunthorpe, was built in the 1820s, again on the site of an earlier mansion. It was built by, as was its predecessor, the family of the Earls of Sheffield. One hundred years previously an ancestor had built Buckingham Palace in London. Post-war Normanby Hall was gifted to the local authority and was developed by Humberside County Council as a public park, across the 300+ acres of parkland, and visitor attraction. Since 1996 it has been managed by North Lincolnshire Council and is a very popular venue for visitors as it includes a professionally restored walled-garden, play facilities, herbaceous borders and lawns, parkland walks, a farming museum and, like at Burton Constable, courtyard facilities in what was the stable-block. The house, with mostly original fixtures and fittings, is usually open to the public.

14th December, 2017. Humberside large period houses – south bank (cont.).

Elsham Hall (see above) is in the village of Elsham, the most southerly of the six ‘Low Villages’ (South Ferriby, Horkstow, Saxby All Saints, Bonby, Worlaby and Elsham) all of which stand along the near the base of the scarp slope of the Lincolnshire Wolds along the spring-line. Saxby All Saints has a large Hall in private grounds with some evidence of emparking across the Vale of Ancholme remaining. South of Elsham is the ‘Barnetby Gap’ in the Wolds, beyond this are a further series of spring-line villages south to Caistor.

Elsham Hall was expanded in the 18th century on the site of an earlier property. Various changes to the structure in the 19th century and again in the 20th century, when the Hall and grounds were bought by the Elwes family in the 1930s, have quite radically changed the Georgian building. The five-bat two-storey property was built of brick, freestone and Westmorland slate (roof). The Hall is private to the family but the grounds are much promoted and usually open to the public.

Like the Halls at Sledmere and Burton Constable, and some others considered, Elsham Hall includes a private Roman Catholic chapel.