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Archive for February, 2011

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Montagu’s harrier: Birds of Britain

Posted in Animals, Birds, Nature, Wildlife on Monday, 28 February 2011

 

Birds of Prey. Main pic: Golden Eagle. Anti-clockwise from top right: Hen Harrier, Merlin, Montagu's Harrier, Marsh Harrier, Buzzard, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Rough-legged Buzzard. Illustration by Kenneth Lilly

Birds of Prey. Main pic: Golden Eagle. Anti-clockwise from top right: Hen Harrier, Merlin, Montagu’s Harrier, Marsh Harrier, Buzzard, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Rough-legged Buzzard. Illustration by Kenneth Lilly

Male montagu’s harriers can sometimes be seen gliding low over marshes and rough heathland in southern England, but the sight is rare, for less than ten pairs breed here regularly. These are the smallest of British harriers. In April the birds arrive from their winter quarters in Africa, to begin their climbing and diving display flight of courtship.

This edited article originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 909 published on 23 June 1979. Click on a picture to find out more about licensing images for commercial or personal/educational use. We are also able to license textual material. Please contact us for details.

Red-necked phalarope: Birds of Britain

Posted in Animals, Birds, Nature, Wildlife on Monday, 28 February 2011

Semi-webbed feet make this little wader a buoyant swimmer, often spinning in circles on the water to stir up insects. Unlike most birds, the female is the dominant partner during the breeding season. She establishes the territory and displays to attract a mate, while the male incubates the eggs and tends the chicks in the nest until they are able to fly. They have suffered from egg-collectors, but nearly 50 pairs now breed in the Shetlands.

This edited article originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 909 published on 23 June 1979. We are able to license textual material. Please contact us for details.

Gannet: Birds of Britain

Posted in Animals, Birds, Nature, Wildlife on Monday, 28 February 2011

 

Gannet. Familiar Wild Birds by W Swaysland

Gannet. Familiar Wild Birds by W Swaysland

Two thirds of the world’s gannets are bred in Britain – in gannetries on precarious cliff ledges. Gannets pack so closely together on these breeding sites that there is no room for a brood patch: a single egg is incubated by the huge webbed feet of the parent, one foot placed over the other and both over the egg. Gannets dive vertically for fish from up to 35 metres, spearing the prey with the dagger-like beak.

This edited article originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 909 published on 23 June 1979. Click on a picture to find out more about licensing images for commercial or personal/educational use. We are also able to license textual material. Please contact us for details.

Osprey: Birds of Britain

Posted in Animals, Birds, Nature, Wildlife on Monday, 28 February 2011

 

Osprey

Osprey

As a fisherman, the osprey is unequalled in the bird world. After sighting its prey from the air, the bird angles its wings in a powerful dive and plunges after its victim with its fierce claws extended. These are specially adapted for gripping the fish. Emerging from the water, the wriggling victim is held fast in its captor’s talons and carried off to be devoured. These magnificent birds of prey disappeared from Britain at the end of the last century, but a pair returned to Scotland over 50 years later to breed. They are now safeguarded as a protected species.
 

This edited article originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 909 published on 23 June 1979. Click on a picture to find out more about licensing images for commercial or personal/educational use. We are also able to license textual material. Please contact us for details.

Herring gull: Birds of Britain

Posted in Animals, Birds, Nature, Wildlife on Monday, 28 February 2011

 

Herring Gull. Familiar Wild Birds by W Swaysland

Herring Gull. Familiar Wild Birds by W Swaysland

A common sound in any seaside town is the yelping mew of herring gulls, which not only perch on roofs but also nest there. These are probably the commonest of British gulls, their numbers still increasing. This success is largely due to their adaptability: they eat almost anything and can live and breed in a wide range of environments. Larger numbers of herring gulls frequent fishing ports, scavenging for fish offal.

This edited article originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 909 published on 23 June 1979. Click on a picture to find out more about licensing images for commercial or personal/educational use. We are also able to license textual material. Please contact us for details.

 

Crossbill: Birds of Britain

Posted in Animals, Birds, Nature, Wildlife on Monday, 28 February 2011

 

Crossbill. Familiar Wild Birds by W Swaysland

Crossbill. Familiar Wild Birds by W Swaysland

The bills of the finch family are highly adapted to seed-eating; and the crossbill is a specialist among finches. Its bill has crossed tips which can extract the seeds from closed fir cones, a food source which other birds are unable to exploit. Such a unique skill enables this brightly-coloured bird to live almost entirely on conifer seeds. A brood of crossbills consumes about 85,000 of these.
 

This edited article originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 909 published on 23 June 1979. Click on a picture to find out more about licensing images for commercial or personal/educational use. We are also able to license textual material. Please contact us for details.

Gregor Mendel’s Laws of Heredity

Posted in Discoveries, Nature, Science on Monday, 28 February 2011

This edited article about Gregor Mendel’s laws of heridity originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 909 published on 23 June 1979.

In the middle of the last century there lived in Austria an abbot called Gregor Mendel. He is usually described in history books as an amiable amateur scientist, who called the plants he experimented with his “beloved children”.

Gregor Mendel's theories on inheritance. Illustration by L R Brightwell

Gregor Mendel’s theories on heredity. Illustration by L R Brightwell

To the world, this monk was to give knowledge of the laws of heredity.

In Mendel’s day, little was known about why children should resemble their parents. It was known that both the male cell and the female cell contributed to the child’s characteristics, but in what way it was not understood.

Mendel decided to investigate the problem, and he chose for his experiments two kinds of pea plants, one very tall and the other very short, or dwarf.

He fertilized the dwarf plants’ female cells by transferring to them with a brush some of the pollen (male cells) from the tall plants.

He realized that somehow the seeds that were formed must contain the characteristics of the new plant that would grow from them. But when he grew these seeds the following year, the plants were all tall. None of them was short.

Mendel was very surprised with this result; but it made him even more determined to continue with his experiments. He decided to allow these tall plants (first or F1 generation) to fertilize themselves – pollen from each plant fertilizing the female cells on the same plant.

When the seeds grew, some of the plants were again dwarfs. It was as though the factors that made a plant a dwarf had been hidden for one generation, and had come to light again in the next generation (F2).

Of course, at that time no one knew anything about the genes and chromosomes which really carry the information about your characteristics. So how was Mendel to explain his results?

Read the rest of this article »

Lancaster: The peaceful town with a tumultuous past

Posted in Architecture, History on Monday, 28 February 2011

This edited article about Lancaster originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 909 published on 23 June 1979.

The Romans founded Lancaster when they set up a military station at the head of the estuary of the Lune river, a few kilometres from the sea.

Lancaster Castle survived numerous upheavals. Illustration by T Allom

Lancaster Castle survived numerous upheavals. Illustration by T Allom

The Anglo-Saxons, the Danes and the conquering Normans all left their mark, as did the Scots who burned the town in 1322, and destroyed the rebuilt town in 1389. It was captured during the Civil War. Lancaster’s castle survived all these upheavals and two sieges.

Lancaster also figured in the Industrial Revolution, when Lancashire became the centre of the cotton industry of the world. Today, it is a quiet, pleasant town – a contrast to its tumultuous past.

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Henry Shrapnel’s Lethal Shell

Posted in History, Interesting Words, Weapons on Monday, 28 February 2011

This edited article about shrapnel originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 909 published on 23 June 1979.

“As the soldiers advanced, shells were exploding at their feet and the air was thick with shrapnel.” How many times have you read a passage like that in an exciting war story? But have you ever wondered what this mysterious substance called “shrapnel” might be?

The battle of Waterloo. Illustration by Severino Baraldi

The shrapnel proves its lethal efficiency at the battle of Waterloo. Illustration by Severino Baraldi

Nowadays, shrapnel has come to mean any sort of flying metal that results from an exploding bomb or artillery shell.

Originally, however, a shrapnel shell was a particular type of missile – one which was filled with hundreds of little bullets. When these shells burst, the bullets fanned out in all directions – often with murderous effect.

The man who invented this shell and gave his name to it was a British soldier called Colonel Henry Shrapnel. In 1784, Shrapnel designed his shell and in 1803 it was adopted by the British Army. It was later to prove its lethal efficiency at the Battle of Waterloo.

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The Great Eastern: Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s unfortunate ship

Posted in Boats, Engineering, Sea, Ships on Monday, 28 February 2011

This edited article about the Great Eastern originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 909 published on 23 June 1979.

In 1859, Brunel launched the Great Eastern on the Thames. It was the biggest ship the world had yet seen, having two systems of propulsion in its paddle wheels and screw propellers, not to mention the acres of sail that graced its six masts. It also had a double bottom and a tubular steel deck. It was probably one of the strongest ships ever built.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel and the Great Eastern

Isambard Kingdom Brunel and the Great Eastern

Right from the start, however, the Great Eastern seemed doomed to failure. She stuck halfway down her launching ramp, and it took three months to free her. Meanwhile the company that built her had gone into liquidation.

On 17th June, 1860, the Great Eastern set out on her maiden voyage across the Atlantic, a route for which she proved unsuited. But some money had to be made out of such a disastrous venture and she began to be used for cable laying operations. It was here that she achieved her only real success, when she laid the first transatlantic cable, linking two continents by telegraph.

She was later broken up and the pieces fetched £60,000.

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