Tuesday, 23 May 2017

More birds and their young in Jeziorki

These days bring much marvel. Whether returning home from work the long way, or just going for a walk from home, when the sun shines, I must go and see what's happening. I must say, the Nikon CoolPix P900 with its superzoom lens is magnificent for taking photos of the birds on the wetlands.

Below: there are several breeding pairs (at least three) of black-necked grebes (perkoz zausznik). This pair has three chicks, sitting on the mother's back

Below: the father has returned with food with which to feed the chicks.

Below: in the middle pond, another pair of black-necked grebes are raising a single chick.

Meanwhile, the one pair of great crested grebes (perkoz dwuczuby) that I've observed are still waiting for their clutch of eggs to hatch. Below: picture taken today...

...and below, taken yesterday. The female grebe is impatiently looking at the egg(s). Note how far back along the body the grebe's legs are. This gives excellent leverage when diving; not so good for walking though.

Meanwhile the male greater crested grebe is close by (below), frequently disappearing underwater and popping back up with a mollusc or piece of pond weed. Once hatched, the greater crested grebes' chicks, like those of their black-necked cousins, will ride around on mother's back.

Meanwhile, back to the perennial denizens of Jeziorki's ponds - the coots. The pair at the southern end of the pond have had eight chicks (one's out of frame in this shot). Other coot pairs have five or fewer chicks.

The black-headed gull (mewa śmieszka) makes a good neighbour for coots and grebes - the gulls flock in large numbers and behave raucously when a potential predator approaches, warning the other birds with whom they share the pond. The gulls' eggs hatch in the first half of May - but I've not seen any chicks around. Unlike the ducking and diving water fowl, gull chicks are not precocial - that is they are unable to fend for themselves at birth.

The first clear shot of this year's brood of cygnets. There's six of them, they are now four days old and totally mobile. Even at a day old, they managed to traverse half of the length of the northern pond.

Below: mother swan shakes the water off her wings, her flotilla of cygnets remains unflustered by the sudden commotion...

UPDATE: Wednesday 24 May - Greater crested grebes' egg (singular) has not hatched.

This time last year:
"Distinguish joy from pleasure" - wise words

This time five years ago:
A post about a book about a film about a journey to a room

This time seven years ago:
Mr Pheasant trumpets his presence

This time eight years ago:
Balancing on the Edge of Chaos

This time nine years ago:
Zamienie and the encroaching tide of Development

Saturday, 20 May 2017

To Warka in the sunshine

The mid-May sunshine spell continues - time to get out of town and hit the road. Today's destination, on the banks of the Pilica, was Warka - home of Warka Strong - Pan Ziutek's beer of choice - and Warwin's ciders and fruit wines.The sunshine makes Mazowsze look like a cross between the Midwest and the Med. The country roads south of Czachówek have a 1930s American feel, while the town of Warka under an azure sky could be on a Spanish costa.

This is Warka's Rynek (market square). Beyond the customs house to the docks and sea?

Hairdressers, banks and a fruit & veg stall... As I was passing, a lady asked the hairdresser whether she could do her husband (whose hair was like mine if I'd let it grow for many months). The hairdresser said yes, so the lady left her husband in her care and went off alone to do some shopping.

Below: take me home country roads - between Broniszew and Jozefów. Or Kentucky?

Below: looking west along the Skierniewice-Łuków line at the Czachówek junction. Or the Pennsylvania Railroad, electrified in the mid-1930s?

Below: the Marian sanctuary at Pieczyska, would look at home in a Midwestern county township.

And back home after my foray into southern Mazowsze I took an evening walk to the ponds to check the latest news. YES! The swans' eggs have hatched! Six cygnets! (I hope they all make it to maturity...)

This time four years ago:
The descriptive vs. the prescriptive

This time five yeas ago:

This time nine years ago:
Why Poland can no longer afford to keep the grosz

Friday, 19 May 2017

Heavenly Jeziorki

I meet St Peter at the Pearly Gates. "Where are you from?" he asks me. "Jeziorki," I reply. "Proceed. You'll know what to expect."

I look out of the kitchen window and see a black-headed gull, it's underside lit up by the rays of the setting sun. Yes. Good to be here - my spot on Planet Earth.

Rather than take the 209 home from Metro Wilanowska, I take the 715 to Kórnicka, to have yet another chance to walk by the ponds, making the most of this sublime time of year.

Below: looking across from the new footpath alongside ul. Dumki towards ul. Trombity. Heaven.

Below: the coot chicks, aged two days. Mum is teaching them how to look for food. They will not starve - food is plentiful.

Below: the great crested grebes (as seen in yesterday's post) are nest-building on a tiny island.

Meanwhile, the black-necked grebes' chicks have hatched, which you can see the adult's back (below). Note the black-and-white stripes on head and beak. These may be less than a day old - these grebes were chickless yesterday (see previous post).

Below: one grebe has just dived for food and has popped up to feed the young. Grebes and coots, unlike ducks, are sexually monomorphic - it is visually difficult to tell a male from a female.

Like the familiar mallard, with its green-headed male and the dowdier female, the common pochard is sexually dimorphic, with the males displaying more flamboyant plumage. Below: a male and female common pochard. New to Jeziorki this year.

The weather continues to be perfect; sixth day in a row. Long may it last thus.

This time four years ago:
Why are all the shops shut today?

This time five years ago:
Jeziorki at its most beautiful

This time seven years ago:
Useful and useless in my wallet

This time eight years ago:
In search of the dream klimat - remote viewing made real

This time nine years ago:
Zakopane to Kraków in 3hrs 45min

This time ten years ago:
The year's most beautiful day?

Thursday, 18 May 2017

The year's Most Beautiful Day

English naturalist Thomas Bewick (1753-1828) is said to have claimed that the 18th of May is the most beautiful day in the calendar, when nature is at its fullest, the greenery at its greenest, life is at its peak.

A walk home from W-wa Dawidy via the Jeziorki ponds certainly confirms this theory. The sixth consecutive day of over 20C warm sunshine (indeed today's high was 25C); this is spring in its glory, the consciousness rejoices and observes.

Yesterday, I walked home the same way, and spotted a nesting coot, incubating her eggs, below. As it happened, those eggs would hatch over night...

Below: the same coot (łyska, bald as a) makes her way proudly from the nest in the reed beds to the open waters, accompanied by four chicks, one of whom is seen with her.

Below: another coot chick, this one in the southern pond, a few days older, a bit more plumage on the head. There are dozens on coot chicks on the ponds right now; only a few will survive. Conscious life, nevertheless.

The swans are nesting too - this is the female, sheltering from the hot sun, incubating her eggs. Any day now Jeziorki's next clutch of cygnets will hatch.

Our newcomers this year - grebes. Below: a pair of great crested grebes (perkoz dwuczuby).

Below: a pair of black-necked grebes (perkoz zausznik). Grebes can adjust their buoyancy with their body feathers, swimming low in the water with just head and neck exposed. At this time of year, they are in their breeding finery. And grebes can dive.

Sadly, the grey herons seem to have been driven out of Jeziorki's ponds; two months ago I got some shots of herons being mobbed by gulls and crows; since then, I've not seen any around here. Nor have I seen any marsh harriers or lapwings around the ponds this year.

This time three years ago:
W-wa Wola became W-wa Zachodnia Platform 8 two years ago today

This time four years ago:
From yellow to white - dandelions go to seed

This time five years ago:
The good topiarist

This time seven years ago:
Wettest. May. Ever.

This time nine years ago:

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

The fossil fuel-powered car is dead.

Last Tuesday I was in Katowice discussing Industry 4.0 with representatives of manufacturers - and indeed factory builders. The premise of 4.0 is that the first industrial revolution was about coal and steam, the second saw the advent of electricity and production lines in factories, the third saw robots starting to replace workers - and the fourth is about the seamless integration of physical objects and data, vertically and horizontally across the supply chain. Industry 4.0 will see machine talking to machine, ordering parts from suppliers, signalling down-time by re-routing production to another machine and allowing for mass-customisation from the buyer's device.

Present in Katowice were car-makers, for whom another challenge looms - peak car (which I wrote about three years ago, herehere and here) is now a fact across much of the developed world. Since then, the driverless car is becoming ever closer to reality. The notion of spending a large chunk of your income buying a car which spends 95% of its time not doing what it was built for is increasingly perceived as dumb.

Imagine a future where a driverless car appears in front of your door to drive your children to school; it then gets summoned by a woman whom it drives to work, then it takes a couple of pensioners shopping. The driverless car is in use day and night, owned by a mobility firm, not by the people driven in it, who need never spend tens of thousands of euros, pounds or dollars to actually own it.

I stopped driving to work eight years ago and have not owned a car for seven years. Living in a big city, a car is not actually needed. I hire a car whenever I need one. My children are not interested in car ownership - when I was in my early 20s, I was car-crazy. We have passed peak car.

In Katowice, there was a sense that the future would be radically different to the past 100 years when it comes to the motor car.

But just how different?

Think about how the digital revolution has changed photography. 2015 was the first year in which more photos were taken than in every single year before that combined. When I bought my last film camera, a used Leica M6 in 1997, little did I think that just ten years later I'd buy a digital Nikon D80, transforming my photography. Back in 1997, I wanted the best 35mm camera there was, and it was to last me decades. It's sat unused for over a decade as digital progress has rendered film redundant, used today by a handful of enthusiasts who love the ritual of the old medium.

The same will happen with the fossil fuel-powered car, says a new report by Stanford University's Tony Seba. He claims that within eight years, not a single petrol or diesel car, bus or truck will be made or sold anywhere in the world! The end will come as quickly, as it did to film photography.

Or will it? It took seven decades for steam locomotives to be displaced by electric and diesel engines on the railways. Why does Prof Seba believe that the fossil fuel-powered car will disappear by 2025?

The tipping point will come some two-three years from now as electric vehicles' batteries hit that magic spot where range exceeds 200 miles, while price drops allowing for low-end models to sell for $20,000 or less. When that moment comes, it will be an avalanche, says Prof Seba.

At the same time, Alphabet (Google's parent company), Amazon and Uber will have completed trials of self-driving cars, which use lidar (laser rangefinding), GPS and IoT (Internet of Things) technologies coupled with self-teaching algorithms to ensure perfect safety.

These two trends taken together will lead to a mass stranding of petrol and diesel cars - second-hand values will plummet. Oil prices will plummet too - Prof Seba predicts a long-term price of oil around $25. Petrol stations and garages will close. The internal combustion engine, with its 2,000 moving parts, is way too complex to compete.

I guess that classic cars and motorbikes will continue to be sought after; enthusiasts will cherish the legends of automotive history - they will be driven on sunny weekends for the nostalgia, powered by fuel sold at extremely high prices by specialist dealers to wealthy connoisseurs. A bit like the enthusiasts who take snaps on film cameras, finding the occasional outlet that still sells and processes film.

Prof Seba's vision is one I entirely subscribe to - I hope it comes true within that eight-year timeframe. Business, consumers and regulators will need to get ready for it.

Go! And do not come back until you have redeemed yourselves!

This time two years ago:
With Blood and Scars by B.E. Andre - book review

This time three years ago:
We can all take photos like Vivian Maier - can't we?

This time four years ago:
Ethereal and transient

This time five years ago:
Wrocław railway station before the Euro football championships

This time six years ago:
By tram to Boernerowo

This time eight years ago:
Food-Industrial Shop, rural USA or Poland

This time ten years ago:
Twilight time, Jeziorki

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Long-term memory, awareness and identity

Deep memory - when memories from the distant past metamorphose into something more than synapses and neurons, taking on a supernatural quality - remains something beyond the ability of science to explain. Spiritual memory indeed.

I'm at my father's. It's May - the month we moved into our house on Cleveland Road back in 1970. My memories of the house, the garden, the nearby park are deep-rooted; not the short-term memories of the things I did, the people I met, last week - but memories that are an integral part of who I am. Looking across Cleveland Park up towards Cleveland Road in the afternoon sunshine as a 12 year old, triggered memories of summer holidays in Eastbourne and on the Isle of Wight... beyond the row of houses, the shimmering sea. Spirit of place. Below: the low evening sun illuminates houses to the east of Cleveland Park with a passing raincloud in the background.

And eating a punnet of blackberries this morning takes me back to childhood trips to Oxshott Common, where the blackberries grow in profusion in the autumn. Sunlight triggers those deep memories; emotions are more profound when rays from the Sun, 93 million miles away, agitate the visual cortex.

Short-term memory is believed to reside in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, while long-term memory could be stored by DNA methylation or even by prions. Science just doesn't know, let alone begin to explain how our consciousness functions.

But in the meanwhile, our consciousness abides.

To be aware is to be purposefully observant; to quote Jonathan Wood, "consciousness is about searching." At the heart of awareness lies a sense of purpose and understanding - your knowledge evolves, blossoms, expands, your consciousness takes on a many-layered structure. To be aware - to search, to be curious, put your ego - that most manifest representation of 'you' - in the back seat.

The promotion of the ego, the glorification of gratification promoted by the lifestyle advertising that bombards us from all sides, distracting us from the deep search for meaning of our universe. From our own personal perspective, the entire universe seems to have been put into place with ourselves at its epicentre. If it were not for us to observe it, would it even exist? Can you be sure? Because as individuals, in the grand scheme of things, we are insignificant. The existence of an incalculable number of stars that make up our universe puts into perspective our day-to-day troubles.  We need to set the sliders, to balance those two entirely contradictory positions.

We believe ourselves to be unique, and of course we are. But consequential? What is the source of our uniqueness - spiritual? Evolutionary? Extraterrestrial? All three? Extraterrestrial origins? Where do you think the heavier elements in your body have come from? The atoms of which we are made were originally created by fusion within stars light years from here, billions of years ago... "The stuff of life that knit me/Blew hither: here am I," as A.E. Housman wrote.

He we are. Some of us are aware of this fact, most of us, sadly, not. Who am I? The very essence of my identity reside within the long-term memories that remind me where I'm from.

This time last year:
Language and politics

This time two years ago:
Trafalgar Square, then and now

This time four years ago:
GM's city car for Europe fails to wow me

This time five years ago:
A biblical sky

This time seven years ago:
The parable of the Iron-Filings Factory

This time ten years ago:
Got to get ourselves back to the Garden

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

A wee small moment in Jeziorki history

...the day the keep fit kit was installed. By the northern end of ul. Dumki, close to where it joins ul. Kórnicka. The weather is awful. At daybreak the temperature barely exceeded zero degrees, and here we are approaching the middle of May. But let's not despair - summer will arrive, and here, less than 2,000 paces from home will soon be functioning an open-air gym, a good motivator to maintain fitness. So - a cycle of exercises will need to be devised to make the most of this municipal munificence. Worth remembering, though, that this is what we, the citizens of 'Green Ursynów'  voted for in the participatory budget for 2016.

Won't be long till the work's all done, the ploughed-up mess that's the upper end of ul. Dumki is restored to its natural state and local citizens can benefit from exercise.

Today was also the day that GDDKiA announced the winner of the tender to build the first section of the S7 expressway from Węzeł Lotnisko to Grójec (the stretch between where the S79 ends and Lesznowola). Any year now, then, work will start to extend the southern stump of the S79, which currently ends in a sincere field, and drag it down to join up with S7 at Grójec, in three states. The first stage - from the airport junction to Lesznowola will be of extreme interest to this blog, as it cuts through the fields between Jeziorki and Dawidy Bankowe, between Zamienie and Zgorzała, between Nowa Wola and Nowa Iwiczna.

Having followed the construction of the S2 and S79 ('Elka') and following the modernisation of the Warsaw-Radom railway line, the prospect of a new expressway coming this way excites me - new viaducts, new junctions - and eventually the prospect of Europe's trunk road network reaching conveniently close to my front door.

Below: I will remember when this was all fields. And they drove an expressway through them.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

En marche!

Meaning 'On the move', or 'I'm on my way'. Delighted that Putin's poodles have been soundly routed by the French electorate, I'm on my way from a working lunch about Industry 4.0 with members in Katowice to a meeting with business owners about how to increase the value of their companies in Tarnobrzeg.

Now getting from Katowice to Tarnobrzeg is not easy. By the shortest route, 233km. Via Kraków and the DK79, 255km.  By train (given that our Katowice event finished at 16:15) the first connection would have taken over TEN HOURS, depositing me in Tarnobrzeg at 05:43 and entailing a four-hour wait in Rzeszów between midnight at four am. NO. WAY.

So the alternative had to be bus. PKP seems to have given up on competing on the busy Katowice-Kraków corridor - there are buses leaving both cities headed for the other one every 15 minutes. And they're not expensive - I paid 14zł for a seat in a modern coach that took 1hr 25mins city centre to city centre. The train between Katowice and Kraków would have taken 2hrs 10mins. Stopping at every single station on the way.

A problem I have had with Polish buses is the poor (compared to trains) accessibility to timetables, the state-owned PKS services tend to have timetables consigned to .pdf files; Google searches for specific routes often end in dead links; it's frustrating. Fortunately, enterprising app writers have come up with some good ones. Marta from our Krakow office was on hand to check the times for me, introducing me to busradar.pl; bus connections between Kraków and Tarnobrzeg turned out to be very good, with Jotka and Trans Hans both offering services that depart hourly and linking the two places, 155km apart, with journey times of around three hours.

The connection at Kraków was excellent - I arrived just six minutes before the Jotka service set ofp for Tarnobrzeg. This was not so much a coach as a busik - a Mercedes-Benz minibus similar to the one I took between Szczecin and Berlin last November. Not only that, but the minibus was equipped with wifi that worked part of the way. So the whole journey, from Katowice to Tarnobrzeg, took 4hrs 10mins. Not at all bad. And the cost? 39zł (£8) for 255km/158 mile journey.

Poland has a dense network of privately run minibus companies; the problem is finding which towns are connected by which companies. If you don't know the name of the local, privately-owned company, it's difficult. Type in the town names and 'bus' and Google is less than helpful, But busradar.pl may well be the answer, opening up new travel opportunities.

Motorways and expressways are helping too; new bypasses are being built and by the end of this year a whole lot of new projects will have got under way. Road safety will need to be addressed; the frustration of 'anywhere in Poland is five hours from anywhere else' (as it used to be in the late 1990s) led to stupid and dangerous driving. For several years - in particular since 2012 - the number of fatal accidents in Poland had been falling. Sadly, in 2016 it ticked up over the 3,000 mark once again. Having said that, only 15 fatalities were in buses.

This time three years ago:
Jeziorki spring pictorial

This time four years ago:
Kitten time

This time five years ago:
Warsaw - Centrum to Jeziorki by train with super-wide lens

This time six years ago:
Loose Lips Sink Ships - part II

This time seven years ago:
Jeziorki in the infra red

This time eight years ago:
Some rain, at last!

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Early May, Jeziorki

Out and about on a day when at last the temperature finally got spring-like, with a high of 26C. I took the Coolpix P900, which works best on sunny days, its long lens brings me closer to aircraft and wildlife.  Below: a frog puffs up its vocal sacks. It's the height of the mating season, and the southern end of the ponds are noisy with the croaking. "Have you ever woke up with them bullfrogs on your mind?"

Below: not a common pochard, but another diving bird... anyone know what this is? The male watches as the female dives. Whoever left that plastic bottle in the pond deserves ten lashes and a night in the stocks.

Black-headed gulls are nesting at the northern end of the ponds. If the frogs at the other end are noisy, the gulls are noisier still. I spotted three ornithologists snapping local birdlife today. Good!

Up in the air, planes were taking off to the south over Jeziorki. Below: A Polish Air Force CASA C-295M shortly after takeoff.

Below: Another twin-turboprop aircraft departs from Okęcie - a Air Baltic Bombardier Q400

Below: Air China Airbus A330 sets off for Beijing. Don't worry about birdstrike - the gull appears much closer than it is due to the foreshortening effect of the telephoto lens.

Another wide-body regular at Okęcie, Emirates Boeing 777 climbs away bound for Dubai, below.

Across the tracks, I find that the Ballast Mountain has grown - I was expecting it to shrink as track works continue by Nowa Iwiczna - but no - several truckloads of ballast have been recently deposited here.

Below: I'm in Zamienie, and notice a new bus stop has appeared by the housing estate. No bus numbers posted yet - I'm puzzled as to what bus route will pass this way... Will the 737 be diverted via Zamienie, or will the L39 be extended?

Below: the 'road' from Nowy Podolszyn to Zamienie - surely no one's seriously suggesting taking buses this way? The estate in the photo above is about 500m from here on the left.

The bus loop in Dawidy has been under construction since last autumn - no sign of what will happen here. No mention of this investment anywhere on ZTM's website. Will a new bus route terminate here?

Back home, with a storm brewing. Before long, thunder, lightning, hailstones and a short, sharp downpour hit.

Next week will be busy.

This time last year:
W-wa Okęcie modernisation
[A year later - work's still unfinished]

This time two years ago:
I buy a Nikon Coolpix A

This time three years ago:
More about the Ladder of Authority

This time four years ago:
By bike, south of Warsaw

This time six years ago:
Functionalist architecture in Warsaw

This time seven years ago:
What's the Polish for 'to bully'?

This time eight years ago:
Making plans

This time nine years ago:
The setting sun stirs my soul

This time ten years ago:
Rain ends the drought

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

The Shoot - lessons learnt

Back in Warsaw to sum up the past few days. On the most basic level - a sense of pride in Poland. Poland works. We flew into Wrocław, hired a car, drove to Wałbrzych along good roads, drove back to Warsaw via Łódź along motorways, the hotels were excellent, the food exemplary. Poland has come a long way from being a drab ex-communist country that I felt obliged to make excuses for in front of foreigners. The whole Polska w ruinie narrative just doesn't play - not even in the towns and villages of Lower Silesia. Wałbrzych's special economic zone, factories strung out along ul. Uczniowska. Below: Uczniowska, July 2007. Today, it's a 4km-long strip of activity. The last ten years has seen improvements in Poland's quality of life that cannot be denied.

The Gold Train story is good for business. In three days' filming in Poland, the production company bought 11 hotel-room nights, eight three-course dinners, 11 two-course lunches, hired a large car, topped up a tank of fuel, spent cash on coffees, mineral waters and snacks. I'd guess that in total, some 20,000 złotys were left in Poland's economy - as a direct result of the Gold Train story. And then there's the multiplier effect. The programme will air on Discovery Science in December; it will be seen globally and repeated regularly just as people are making their holiday plans. Thousands of tourists will be thinking - "if we're doing Europe this summer, let's pop by Wałbrzych and catch some of that Gold Train fever." We'd be looking at tens of millions of złotys being brought into the region this way.

What should Poland do about the legend? Tadeusz Słowikowski's last words to me as we left his house were "Try to persuade the Polish government to spend more resources to find the train." Should it though? Surely, individual hunters, armed with satellite images and old maps, poring over hundreds of documents and interviews online, can come up with hundreds of plausible ideas as to where the train(s) could be. I have one - it has yet to be disproved. It can be disproved easily - and a process of elimination is what's needed. Let a hundred gold train hunters present a hundred well-researched, cogent, logical suggestions - open them up to peer review - and then, with the full blessing of the Polish state, conduct a thorough search of the most promising ones. It may take decades, but in the meanwhile, the legend will linger. "This is the West, Sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

Film-making. As I wrote earlier, the impact of technology on the process of recording images over the past thirty years or so is incredible. Film crews are smaller, nimbler, more efficient, able to get stunning shots far cheaper. Instead of canisters of unexposed film, the results of all the work is now digital. At the end of every shooting day, the producer disappears to do [data] wrangling - transferring the raw files from the data cards on the numerous cameras to a hard drive that can be sent back by courier. There is nothing more disastrous that can befall recorded footage than lost or corrupted files.

The upshot of all this technological change is the plethora of TV channels that can be set up on a shoestring. Competition that the founding fathers of CBS, ABC, NBC, ITV etc could not begin to imagine. So to attract the viewers in such numbers as to make advertising to them worthwhile, the content must be strong.

This time three years ago:
Digbeth, Birmingham 5

This time four years ago:
Still months away from the opening of the S2/S79

This time five years ago:
Looking at progress along the S79 (how little has been achieved!)

This time six years ago:
Snow on 3 May

This time seven years ago:
Two Polands

This time eight years ago:
A delightful weekend in the country

This time nine years ago:
The dismantling of the Rampa

This time ten years ago:
Flag day