Readers’ wildlife photos

December 31, 2021 • 8:30 am

Please send in your photos. Tomorrow’s a holiday and you’ll probably be hung over, so it might be good to quietly put together a good batch of pictures. Thanks, and Happy New Year!

Let’s finish off 2021 by finishing off Athayde Tonhasca’s two-part series on a tour of Scotland. (Part 1 is here.) The captions are his, and you can click on the photos to enlarge them.

Hi Jerry. As the tank is draining, please consider a cultural/historical tour of Scotland.

Edinburgh Castle, which was besieged 23 times, captured by English invaders more than once and retaken by the Scots. It’s hard to comprehend how such a place could be conquered without treachery or starving the defenders. This photo was taken during the firing of the One o’clock Gun, which has happened daily since 1861. The shot fired by the original 18-pound gun would be heard for miles, allowing sailors to adjust and reset their chronometers. The One o’clock Gun was an alternative to the Calton Hill Royal Observatory’s time ball, which was dropped at 13:00 h daily but often could not be seen by the sailors because of the fog. But why 13:00 h? Astronomers were usually busy with observations at noon, so the following hour was a convenient option.

A view of Edinburgh with the port area of Leith in the background. Leith was Darwin’s playground. He came to Edinburgh at the age of 16 with his elder brother Erasmus to study medicine, but young Charles hated it. Instead of dedicating himself to his studies, he spent most of his time collecting specimens along the shores of the river Forth. In her monumental 2-volume biography (Charles Darwin: Voyaging,, and Charles Darwin: The Power of Place), Janet Browne discussed how important Leith was for Darwin’s scientific maturity. 

Statue of philosopher, historian, economist and Edinburgh’s native David Hume on the Royal Mile. In a development that would amuse, frustrate or perhaps enrage Hume, rubbing the big toe of his right foot is considered good juju: the act supposedly transfers wisdom and insights to the faithful (indeed, toe-rubbers could use a dose of wisdom). But neither Hume’s magic powers nor his position as one of the greatest figures of the Enlightenment cut the mustard with the Latter-day Puritans (aka Church of Woke) who came to dominate Scotland’s political and cultural scenes. They demand the statue’s removal because Hume’s views on race are not quite up to scratch with today’s standards. The craven administrators of the University of Edinburgh already caved in: they renamed Hume Tower “40 George Square”.

A barometer mounted on a 1790 tower in Stonehaven (near Aberdeen). The barometer, dated 1852, was of immense benefit to local fishermen. Barometers were enthusiastically promoted by Captain Robert FitzRoy, skipper of HMS Beagle during Charles Darwin’s famous voyage, and a pioneer of meteorology. Fitzroy is one the least celebrated great British scientists, and a lot of drivel has been written about him. He was a troubled soul (he killed himself, just like the previous captain of the Beagle), but Darwin may not have completed his voyage under a less skillful commander. John and Mary Gribbin co-wrote an authoritative biography of this great man. This Thing of Darkness, by the late Harry Thompson, is a captivating and historically accurate fictional narrative of Fitzroy’s life.

The River Tay and Birnam Wood of Macbeth fame: “Macbeth shall never vanquished be, until Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill Shall come against him.” General Macbeth understood this prophecy to mean that he would not be overthrown unless the Birnam trees moved on their own to his castle in Dunsinane. So understandably, he felt smug about it. But Macbeth was caught with his pants down when his castle was attacked by an army camouflaged with tree branches cut from Birnam Wood. Shakespeare may have never been to Scotland, so today Macbeth would bring the Bard the charge of cultural appropriation.

Caber tossing during the Highland Games held at Dunkeld, near the village of Birnam. ‘Caber’ is a tapered pole about 6-m long and weighing up to 68 kg. The athlete’s objective is to toss the caber head over heels, so that it falls on a straight line from him.Highland games are held all over Scotland during spring and summer, and they involve stone-throwing, straw-tossing, bagpipe playing, dancing, and other Braveheart activities. Canadians have a huge presence.’

JAC: I put in a video of a caber-tossing contest so you can see how it looks:


Opening ceremonies of the Dunkeld Highland Games.

Scurdie Ness Lighthouse, located at the treacherous mouth of the River South Esk, near Montrose.The lighthouse was built by brothers David and Thomas Stevenson, who designed over 30 lighthouses around Scotland, including the spectacular Bell Rock lighthouse (worth checking it out). Their nephew, Robert Louis Stevenson, supposedly was inspired by his uncles’ lighthouses to write Treasure Island and Kidnapped.

A vitral in Perth depicting Scots (kitted in red-on-yellow Rampant Lion vest and banner) and Englishmen (rallying around the yellow-on-red Three Lions banner) engaged in the long-standing tradition of mutual slaughtering. These sporting events came to an end with The Acts of Union of 1706, which created one of the world’s most enduring and successful political associations (Ireland came into the fold in 1801). The Union Jack echoes the unification by combining the English St George’s Cross, the Scottish Saint Andrew’s Cross, and the Irish Saint Patrick’s Cross. Wales is not represented because it was legally part of England since its annexation in 1282.

15 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. Nice surprise to see pictures from my neck of the woods. It’s a fair trek from Birnam to Dunsinane (pronounced dun-SIN-in) which has a pictish hillfort at the top.

  2. For those interested in the Northern Lighthouses and the Stevenson family I would recommend the book “ The Lighthouse Stevensons” by Bella Bathurst published by Flamingo Harper Collins.
    My favourite story is of the building of the light at Skerryvore located in the Western Isles. This light I have seen first hand and it is without doubt a most spectacular example of the Stevenson family skill in the building of lighthouses.
    Quote “ The Most Beautiful Lighthouse In The World”

      1. Thank you. I have fond memories of time spent in Scotland at school there whilst my father was stationed at various locations in the Royal Navy.
        I love going back to visit but difficult at the moment because of covid but I am located in “Nova Scotia”so all is not lost😻

  3. I’ve seen caber-tossing stuff a little before.

    But that video taught me something new about it–I think. That is the huge need for perfect timing to transform the forward momentum to the pole, but especially not let the the top of the pole use too much before release. Seems like getting it to first land so the new top, which had been the bottom being held, doesn’t fall backwards, but continues to rotate forward, is a sine qua non for winning. So perfect timing and less muscle can win.

    But I’m prepared to stand corrected.

    I notice that it was followed on utube by a Finnish boot tossing competition. I’m not sure whether this unsexed event has females tossing female boots versus males tossing male boots, or perhaps people with tiny feet tossing lighter boots. The fundamental serious questions of the universe just never end.

    1. The Highland Games are famous for their ‘heavy events’ like caber-tossing and throwing 56-pound weights around the landscape. But they also have the ‘light events’ which allow skinny people like me to participate. I came in second (to a German, no less) one time in the Marathon Hill Race (really about 3 miles) at the games on Skye. As I recall, I had a lot of locals buying me drinks that evening in Portree.

      1. I remember the Highlands in general, but Skye in particular, as a fantastic little interlude in my life, for a few weeks around Easter of 1971. I’d taken a year’s leave, to teach at Manchester Uni., w/o pay from my Waterloo job (too soon for 1st sabbatical). That was only the 2nd trip with a ‘Carawagon’ camper conversion of a ’63 LandRover LWB we’d bought, and which had a lot of use back in Canada later. Definitely unexpected wall-to-wall sunshine for most of it made camping with a 2- and 4- year old great. The experienced rock climbers around Skye’s Cuillin Hills at first mistook me for some kind of expert, but were soon enough disabused.

        A bunch of little rabbits even came out to hop around our camping area the evening before Easter up near Durness, though 2 and 4 is too young for either of them to remember that as the material visitation of (too many!) Easter bunnies. They are 53 and 55 now IIRC.

  4. Some Edinburgh Castle takings:

    in March 1314 the occupation came to an end. In a surprise attack, just three months prior to the Battle of Bannockburn, a small force of 20 men under the leadership of Thomas Randolph, First Earl of Moray, scaled the castle walls and recaptured it from the English.

    1341 until a Scottish force, under the command of Sir William Douglas, was able to take it back. Douglas has his men disguise themselves as merchants. They managed to infiltrate their way inside the castle and kill all 100 of the English defenders.

    Beginning in May 1571, the Lang Siege was a series of attacks on Edinburgh Castle which would span two years and render the ancient fortress to rubble.

    In 1639 General Leslie’s Covenanting army stormed Edinburgh Castle and managed to capture it in what is described as ‘the most efficient capture of Edinburgh Castle ever carried out’. Leslie is said to have distracted the castle governor while his men blew up the main gate with a ‘petard’. The royalist garrison was captured in just half an hour without General Leslie losing a single man.

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