Readers’ wildlife photos

December 29, 2021 • 8:30 am

Today’s photos come from reader Athayde Tonhasca.  He notes, “As the tank is draining, please consider a cultural/historical tour of Scotland.” And so that’s what we’ll have today.

The captions are his, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them. This is part 1 of two sets.

Crossing the Strait of Corryvreckan, with the uninhabited Scarba Island in the background; this spot is not far from the island of Jura, where George Orwell finished Ninteen Eighty-four just before his death. And not far from the Corryvreckan whirlpool.

(From Wikipedia). The sphincter-tightening Corryvreckan whirlpool, the world’ third largest. Some brave – or crazy – divers plunge into this maelstrom.

JAC: I put a video of the whirlpool, and people sailing into it, below. It also explains the whirlpool:

The last working Clyde Puffer, a type of coal-fired cargo ship. These vessels were the lifeline to the western isles.

Staffa Island, about 10 km west of the Isle of Mull. Its stony columns are volcanic debris.

The Commando Memorial near Spean Bridge, dedicated to Churchill’s bad boys (commandos adhered to a “butcher and bolt” doctrine). Recruits would arrive by train at a station nearby, then march with all their equipment to the training centre, 13 km away. Not surprisingly, most volunteers could not keep up with the grueling regime, and were sent back to their units. As far as I know, the Latter-day Puritans have not tried to topple the monument yet.

Andrew Carnegie‘s birthplace in Dunfermline, today a museum. Carnegie was ruthless and cunning as any Robber Baron could be, but he was also one the greatest philanthropists of all times (“The man who dies thus rich dies disgraced.”). He created over 2,800 free libraries around the world, 660 of them in the UK. Davis Nasaw is the author of an excellent biography (finalist for the Pulitzer Prize), unimaginatively titled Andrew Carnegie. One of the museum’s curators told me she no longer put the many American visitors straight about the pronunciation of “Carnegie”: it’s a lost cause, she said.]

JAC: It’s  [kɑrˈnɛːɡi],

The short trip from Edinburgh to Dunfermline requires going over the Forth Bridge. Opened in 1890, this World Heritage Site still holds the world’s record for the longest cantilever bridge. It is 2,467 m long, and its highest point is 110 m above high water. Its construction took 53,000 tonnes of steel, 6.5 million rivets and 57 lives. To the enduring chagrin of nationalists, the bridge was designed by two English engineers, Sir John Fowler and Sir Benjamin Baker.

Men demonstrating the cantilever principle in 1887.

Loch Ness, of Nessie fame. The lake (‘loch’ is a pretentious way of saying ‘lake’) has the largest volume of fresh water in Great Britain. But it is quite dull, really. So tourism relies heavily on the allure of the Loch Ness Monster, with no discouragement from authorities. Even the Encyclopaedia Britannica Online promotes this balderdash: “many sightings of the so-called Loch Ness monster have been reported, and the possibility of its existence – perhaps in the form of a solitary survivor of the long-extinct plesiosaurs – continues to intrigue many.”

Bafflingly, Sir Peter Scott, a renowned British ornithologist and conservationist, fed this nonsense by giving the imaginary monster a scientific name: Nessiteras rhombopteryx. Even more baffling, Nature published this ‘scientific work’ (Scott, P. & R. Rines. 1975. Naming the Loch Ness monster. Nature 258: 466-468). But alas, the exercise was for nought. According to the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, N. rhombopteryxis not valid because there is no type specimen to go with it.

Rigging of RRS Discovery, moored in Dundee. Launched in 1901, she was the last wooden three-masted ship to be built in the United Kingdom. Her first mission was the British National Antarctic Expedition, which carried Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton on their first journey to the Antarctic. In 1914, Shackleton led the failed Trans-Antarctic Expedition, one of the greatest adventure stories ever. This thrilling undertaking was best narrated by Alfred Lansing (Endurance: Shackleton’s incredible voyage, 1959). Recent editions contain fantastic photos of the expedition.

A Highland cow. These are gentle and calm animals, although distance from those horns is advisable: a cow swinging her head for a leg scratch can do a lot of unintentional damage. Besides, they stink! Their shaggy hair keeps them warm in winter and protects them from the thicket and flies. The few cow’s eyes I managed to see were blue. By the way, you can’t herd one if you are intoxicated. According to the Licensing Act 1872, it is a criminal offence to be drunk whilst in possession of a loaded firearm, in charge of a carriage, a steam engine, a horse, or a cow.

25 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. JAC: It’s [kɑrˈnɛːɡi],

    WIth accent on the first syllable? My friend Matt Scott, who was the president of the Carnegie Institution for Science (another amazing gift of Andrew Carnegie), told me to pronounce it with an accent on the second syllable.

    This institution has sent a satelite to Mercury, is a key member of a consortium coordinating the construction of one of the world’s largest terrestrial telescopes, has surveyed entire countries with an airplane fitted with LIDAR and a multi-band spectrometer to measure forest carbon, makes important studies of extremophile micro-organisms, etc; Andrew Carnegie continues to contribute to science in a big way even today.

    1. The denizens of the Pittsburgh area (where Carnegie resided and performed much of his work (good and bad)) also pronounce it with the accent on the second syllable.

    2. Yes – it’s approximately kar neggie. Everyone in Pittsburgh pronounces it that way, and it is said that Pittsburgh is the only place in the US where it is pronounced correctly – the way Andy himself did.

      First Carnegie Library in the US (second worldwide after the one in Dumfermline) is just down the hill from me at the corner of the next block (with RR tracks in-between). Now a National Historic Landmark and the only such library to be so-designated.

  2. “Bafflingly, Sir Peter Scott, a renowned British ornithologist and conservationist, fed this nonsense by giving the imaginary monster a scientific name: Nessiteras rhombopteryx”.

    It was pointed out at the time that the made-up Latin name is an anagram of “MONSTER HOAX BY SIR PETER S”

    1. Thanks, Richard. But some say the hoax claim was an afterthought, a bit of backpaddling to counteract the paper’s negative reception. Certainty Sir Peter knew that most people would take the paper as it’s face value. If it was indeed a hoax, I wonder if Nature went along with it

  3. Very nice photos; but I take issue with the comment that ‘loch’ is just a pretentious way of saying ‘lake’. It means ‘lake’, but it’s an ancient word in its own right in both Scots and Irish Gaelic (although often spelled ‘lough’ in the latter).

    1. “Loch” is a perfectly good word in Gaelic or Irish, which were not the languages used in the text. Unpretentious people don’t say Lac Geneva or Lago di Como…. Anyhow Steve, that was tongue in check. “Loch Ness” is the charming, ancient and unquestionable name of Nessie’s habitat.

  4. Nessiteras rhombopteryx Scott and Rines 1975, while usually thought to be subjectively invalid (because most people think the photographs on which the name is based represent over-enhanced debris, and not an actual animal), is nonetheless an available name under the Code of Zoological Nomenclature. Names may be based on illustrations, in which case the holotype is taken to be the specimen on which the illustration is based. Many of our most familiar animals, described by Linnaeus himself or his early successors, are based on illustrations or bibliographic reference to such illustrations.

    So, if you think the ‘things’ in Rines’ photographs are of a previously undescribed animal, then Nessiteras rhombopteryx is its valid name.

    Oh, and nice photos, especially the Highland cow!


  5. Great picture of the volcanic rocks on Staff Island. The columns are basalt. They formed from lava that cooled slowly. So the term “debris” is probably not accurate.

  6. What beautiful landscapes and creations of human ingenuity (the Highland cow included). I hear they make good whisky too. 😉
    Thanks for the interesting commentary as well.

  7. “Some brave – or crazy – divers plunge into this maelstrom.” As far as I know this is only done (or possible) during slack water at the turning of the tides, when there is a brief window of opportunity. I believe it would be suicidal to plunge into the maelstrom when it is running.

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