Om Mani Padme Hum – the sacred lotus

Lotus flower (Nelumbo nucifera)
Lotus flower (Nelumbo nucifera)

ओं मणिपद्मे हूं Om Mani Padme Hum (‘the gem of truth lies in the lotus’).

The lotus is an extraordinary plant; beautiful and mysterious. Seeds of this plant were still viable and successfully germinated, after lying dormant for over a thousand years (1,288 ± 271-yr-old) in an ancient lake bed at Pulantien, in Liaoning Province, China (1). Perhaps there are even seeds lying in some pond which were flowering when the Buddha walked the earth? I would like to think so. Or when Avalokitesvara (Lokesvara) of the Lotus Sutra existed. Avalokitesvara was the Buddha (Bodhisattva) of compassion, desperately striving to reach out – with his thousand arms – to all those unhappy beings in need of aid. I think we need him more than ever in our modern world.

Four-armed Tibetan form of Avalokiteśvara holding lotus flowers. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avalokite%C5%9Bvara
Four-armed Tibetan form of Avalokiteśvara holding lotus flowers.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avalokite%C5%9Bvara

The flowers, seeds, young leaves and rhizomes of the lotus plant are all edible, although I am ashamed to say that I have never tried them. Lotus flower buds are sold in large quantities in Thailand, as for example in Bangkok’s flower market: Pak Khlong Talad.

Lotus flower buds for sale in Bangkok (Pak Khlong talad)
Lotus flower buds for sale in Bangkok (Pak Khlong talad)

Another amazing property of this plant is its self-cleaning leaf surface. The water-repellent, microscopic structure of the leaf surface is such that any contaminating particles on the leaves are removed completely by water droplets that roll off the surfaces (2). This “Lotus-Effect” – a very high water repellent effect or superhydrophobicity – ensures that the plant remains clean and pure (2).

Computer graphic of a lotus leaf surface. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lotus_effect
Computer graphic of a lotus leaf surface. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lotus_effect

What other unknown properties does the plant possess?

Lotus flower (Nelumbo nucifera)
Lotus flower (Nelumbo nucifera)
  1. Shen-Miller, J., et al. “Exceptional seed longevity and robust growth: ancient sacred lotus from China.” American Journal of Botany (1995): 1367-1380.
  2. “Purity of the sacred lotus, or escape from contamination in biological surfaces.” Planta 202.1 (1997): 1-8.

 

 

Mollusc musings

White-lipped snail feeding on gorse
White-lipped snail feeding on gorse

“It’s a lovely day” said the snail.

“Yes” said the slug. “It’s been raining all day and everything is damp and wet”!

European black slug (Arion ater) on moss_edited-1

“I think I’ll slide off for a bite to eat” said the snail.

White-lipped snail feeding on gorse
White-lipped snail feeding on gorse

“Watch you don’t slip up” giggled the slug. “With that shell and all”!

European black slug (Arion ater)
European black slug (Arion ater)

“What’s the forecast?” said the snail.

“Brilliant; rain all week” said the slug. “Enjoy it while it lasts!”

All images were taken in Galicia, Spain, where it often rains!

 

 

A young turnstone

Ruddy turnstone (Arenaria interpres) juvenile
Ruddy turnstone (Arenaria interpres) juvenile

I came across this turnstone on the edge of the Ria Ortigueira. It was busily feeding – yes they really do turn over stones! – looking for invertebrates (insects, crustaceans, molluscs) along the shoreline. It looked young, and was extremely ‘confiding’ as bird watchers say. Almost fool hardy in fact; not flying or moving away as I hovered above it taking photos. Maybe it was tired, or just innocent?  Some Ruddy turnstone (Arenaria interpres) populations overwinter in West Africa, and fly to these warmer climes over northern Spain. Perhaps this little chap was en passage? It was mid September, so if it was headed for Africa it needed to get a move on!

Ruddy turnstone (Arenaria interpres) juvenile
Ruddy turnstone (Arenaria interpres) juvenile

A small number of turnstones do overwinter in Spain, however, particularly in inlets and Rias such as where I came across this bird in Ortigueira, Galicia (1). I am used to seeing turnstones in Scarborough; there are always some near the lighthouse at the entrance to the port. Our birds probably breed in Greenland and have never been to Spain!

Turnstones are common – with a global population between c.460,000-800,000 individuals according to BirdLIfe International (2) – and widespread, and – breathe a sigh of relief – are evaluated as being of Least Concern.

  1. Eduardo de Juana & Ernest Garcia (2015).  The Birds of the Iberian Peninsula. Christopher Helm, London. ISBN Number: 978-1-40812-480-2
  2. http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=3034

Heron food

Source: Heron food The heron spent some time manoeuvring the fish into a position where it could be swallowed. The gunnel was presumably desperately trying to free itself from the grip of the heron, and at one point it succeeded and it fell into the water. The heron was very quick to pick it up again; it was not going to lose this hard-one prize (!) and the fish was quickly swallowed. The heron carried on feeding, but I could not help thinking about the elongated fish slowly dissolving in its stomach! If a God designed this world, He/She/It should have made it such that one creature did not have to die in order for another creature to have a full belly!

Heron food

 

Grey heron (Ardea cinerea)
Grey heron (Ardea cinerea)

I watched this Grey heron (Ardea cinerea) feeding in the Ria Ortigueira, Galicia, Spain,one evening this week.  It suddenly picked up what looked like a ‘beakful’ of seaweed and algae from the shallow water.

Heron with gunnel
Heron with gunnel

After a series of deft manoeuvres, it managed to dislodge the vegetation, whilst still retaining its prey, which was probably a rock gunnel (Pholis gunnellus). Rock gunnels are an eel-like fish found in the intertidal zones such as this in the north Atlantic.

Heron with gunnel
Heron with gunnel

Herons have a very eclectic diet, feeding on a wide range of creatures (fish, frogs, reptiles, insects, small mammals such as voles and shrews, and juvenile birds). Gunnels however, can make up a large proportion of their diet, depending on availability. Rock gunnels can survive for a while out of water, above the waterline, underneath rocks and algae; but this one was covered by water; that did not prevent the heron from discovering it, alas.

Heron with rock gunnel
Heron with rock gunnel

The heron spent some time manoeuvring the fish into a position where it could be swallowed. The gunnel was presumably desperately trying to free itself from the grip of the heron, and at one point it succeeded and it fell into the water. The heron was very quick to pick it up again; it was not going to lose this hard-one prize (!) and the fish was quickly swallowed. The heron carried on feeding, but I could not help thinking about the elongated fish slowly dissolving in its stomach! If a God designed this world, He/She/It should have made it such that one creature did not have to die in order for another creature to have a full belly!

These images were taken with a compact camera, a Sony HX400V, which has a 50x optical zoom. The 1200mm zoom on this little camera is certainly great for capturing shots of distant birds, but the quality of the images is rather limited at the upper end. It is nevertheless, very light and easy to carry around, unlike an SLR with a quality long lens.

 

New gulls on the block!

Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) Juvenile Sept
Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) Juvenile Sept

I have watched the new Herring Gulls growing up this summer in Scarborough. Starting off as ugly ducklings (gullings!) on the roofs where they hatched out, waiting for their parents to come back and feed them something tasty.

Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) chicks on a roof in July
Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) chicks on a roof in July

They are still begging in September, when their parents fly past, but they are learning to fend for themselves and have grown into something a lot more elegant looking. At least I think so.

Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) Juvenile Sept
Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) Juvenile Sept

In Scarborough, learning to fend for yourself means knowing how to harass tourists into giving you a chip. Or squabbling with other gulls over a discarded bag of fish and chips. There are also fishing boats with the occasional discarded fish.

Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) Juvenile by the port
Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) Juvenile by the port

The feathers on the back of Herring Gulls – the mantle and scapulars – are quite dark on the juvenile birds, but they become more barred as the bird ages. Similarly, the head becomes paler as the birds moult from August onwards.

Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) Juvenile in Sept; back with mantle, scapulars and coverts
Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) Juvenile in Sept; back with mantle, scapulars and coverts

The base of the bill, very dark in the juvenile, also becomes paler as the bird progresses through its first winter.

Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) Juvenile Sept; with dark bill
Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) Juvenile Sept; with dark bill
Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) Juvenile Sept; with dark bill
Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) Juvenile Sept; with dark bill

After four years, they become adults, looking like this.  Some people refer to the adults as having an evil eye! But I think that is a bit cruel.

Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) adult Sept
Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) adult Sept