Wednesday, November 11, 2009

15 Epic Water and Ice Formations and Phenomena

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Showing posts with label Facts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Facts. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Parakeets Go Cockney in London

In the foothills of the Himalayas, there is nothing quite like the green flash against the blue sky of a flock of ring-necked parakeets as they swoop over your head and away to the horizon. However, these particular parakeets have, over recent years, become a common sight in the suburban gardens of London. What’s going on?



There is, of course, some urban legend around the appearance of the ring necked parakeet in London gardens. The best by far is that the rock and roll artist Jimi Hendrix released a pair as a symbol of peace in the nineteen sixties. The hippy parakeets began to breed and slowly a population was made up, spreading love wherever they went.







This (quite possibly untrue!) myth aside, love and peace are usually the last things on one's mind when these parakeets are first encountered. This writer's first introduction to the phenomenon was being woken up at dawn by a strange sounding squawking. Thinking that there was some sort of avian commotion going on in the garden, I opened up the curtains (simultaneously yawning and stretching) and had one of the few genuinely WTF moments in my years living in the silence of suburbia.




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There, a few meters away from me, were two large birds with gorgeous, emerald feathers and ruby colored beaks. Not quite the colors one expects of ‘native' species in the United Kingdom. Now, I may have been looking at them with sleepy (if not wide-eyed) curiosity but the look they gave me back was a combination of disdain, disinterest and - it has to be said - disrespect! The cheek of it!









I had, of course, listened incredulously to accounts of parakeets in other parts of London. There was always one part of me that didn't quite believe the stories, perhaps because I was a little jealous of not having seen such a spectacle myself. There, they were though, right in front of me. Time to do a little research, I thought! A much more likely reason for their new found preponderance in London is that they were released from captivity by owners who could no longer (or did not want to) look after them. Another tale has a flock of about twenty of them escaping from their cages on arrival at Heathrow airport. There is, additionally, the "African Queen" theory. This movie, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn was filmed at Shepperton studios on the outskirts of London. Although it cannot be properly corroborated, legend (again!) has it that the birds flown in to give the set-bound film a little realism escaped in to the ‘wilds' of suburbia at some point during production. After Hendrix, that has to be my favorite!







London has thirty three boroughs and it seems that parakeets are resident in all of them. Although they have yet to spread to the north of the UK or the countryside in general, the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) estimates that there already thirty thousand of them in London. That number is expected to rise to fifty thousand within the next two years. My purely garden-based observations lead me to believe that this is being conservative. In the space of a few months between my first sighting and the present, these birds have already extended the length of my two mile commute work. These parakeets are here to stay - and in ever increasing numbers.





The UK is getting warmer, so everyone says, but even now it can get extremely cold in the autumn and winter. How can these birds, which look like they would be at home in a hot and humid rainforest, live in a climate such as ours? The ring-necked parakeet actually originates in the foothills of the Himalayas, which can get significantly colder than the UK. So, the wet and warm climate they have found here is, if not ideal, one they can cope with easily.




So far so good. As can be seen above, the birds do not mind a sudden April snowfall either. However, there are more factors involved in whether or not a new species can adapt to a new habitat. The climate is not a problem for our green friends, but what about the other factors, namely a constant food supply and the threat to them from indigenous species.




The British love animals. When they are not hunting them and eating them they have a tendency to feed them. Every second suburban garden has a bird feeder, laden with all sorts of goodies to tempt birds in. Many feeders are designed so only the brighter birds can get at the seeds and nuts inside and these are mostly smaller species, like the various species of tit that can be found in the UK. Cylindrical feeder? No problem for parakeets. So, generally speaking, food is not a problem.




What about the native species? There is no evidence yet that they are having a negative impact on our local bird life, although I have seen them have the occasional spat with the local wide boys - the magpies. They don't seem phased by another immigrant species either - the grey squirrel - and will happily feed side by side with them. The vocabulary of the other birds has increased markedly and they now demonstrate an ever increasing grasp of modern slang, tenses and clauses. Seriously, the only real fear is that the birds will become too numerous. They live a long time - up to forty years - and can breed for the greater part of their life. If they become a threat apparent to the native species then there is the possibility of a cull in the future. Let's hope that doesn't ever have to happen!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Four Gemstones Rarer and More Beautiful Than Your Average Diamond

Gemstone. But, there are stones out there that aren't as tough as diamond, they aren't as famous as diamonds. Yet their beauty rivals that of even the most famous diamonds, the Hope Diamond.

Here's a few of these precious gifts from mother Earth


Demantoid Garnet

This green variation of all you January babies birthstone is the rarest of all garnets. I had to dub this one The Prince. I couldn't stop thinking that if a beautiful princess gemstone kissed a frog gemstone, it would turn into this Prince of a gem. First, discovered in Russia, this brilliant stone got its name because of its diamond-like luster. Bank Accounts beware, at the top retail end, this Ural Mountain dweller can reach as much as US$10,000 per carat.



Alexandrite


Good luck finding this extremely rare stone at you local jewelers. This is one of my favorites because it possesses a quality that only a hand full of other natural stones can stake claim to, color change. Alexandrite is a variety of Chrysoberyl, same family of gemstones that Emerald fall in, that displays a change -of-color from green to blue-green in daylight, and purple to purplish-red in incandescent light. It gets its name from a mineralogist who coined the term in honor of the Russian Czar that was coming of age at the time of its discovery, Alexander II.


Paraiba Tourmaline



I can picture myself floating adrift on a raft in the center of this stone, just off shore a deserted island. Relaxing with this crystal clear blue ocean beneath me. Paraiba is one of the most magnificent natural gemstones in the world. First found in Paraiba, Brazil, it's color varies from intense blue to green. It gets this beautiful color from copper being added to its composition. As the rarest and most expensive of all Tourmalines, this bad boy can easily reach tens of thousands per carat.


Padparadscha Sapphire



And last but definitely not least at all, we have this pink rose of a gem. the Padparadscha Sapphire. Padparadscha is a variety of corundum, the sapphire and ruby family. It's color is a pinkish orange, and it gets its name from the Sanskrit/Sinhalese padmaraga, a color similar to that of the lotus flower. Now-a-days, some define the gem's color as a blend of lotus and sunset shown below.



This stone set as a solitaire ring is sure to melt the heart of your special little lady.
Gemstones really are the flowers of the mineral world. I've been considering using one of these stones as a replacement for the traditional diamond ring, only problem is they can get up to 10x more expensive and even harder to find. But, I guarantee that the look on your Queen's face will be very well worth it.

15 Epic Water and Ice Formations and Phenomena

We all know that the Earth’s surface is covered mostly in water and ice, but what is truly astonishing is how many forms this amazing life-giving element can take. From stunning glaciers and roaring waterfalls as high as a skyscraper to jagged mountainside beds of icy spikes as tall as a man, the myriad beautiful water formations and phenomena found on our planet rival the aesthetic power of human art. Here are 15 ice, glaciers, fjords, waterfalls, unusual lakes, and other stunning examples of nature’s finest water and ice art.


Frozen Water: Small-Scale Ice Formations

Whether on a massive scale or smaller than the tip of your finger, from icicles to ice stars, the planet’s many ice formations like its bizarre and amazing land phenomena are truly as varied as snowflakes.

From the snowflake to the icicle, few things on earth are as gorgeous as frozen formations. Ice ribbons are perhaps one of the most intriguing of ice formations, seemingly resembling frosting squeezed from a baker’s press. Here you see icicles, ribbons, a rare ice star, ice columns and encased grass. The odd picture is certainly a curiosity - how did it form?



Mountain Ice Spikes

Chile is home to the rugged mountain terrain of the Andes and the severe weather extremes at different altitudes make for some stunning ice formations. The above remarkable ice field looks like daggers, but one brave climber makes his way through the Ojos del Salado.




This peak in Valle Frances is studded with distinct ice formations that resemble large boulders. Wind and fluctuating temperatures create unusual ice shapes in this famous national park called the Torres del Paine (it’s an eco-tourism hot spot).


Ice Shelves
The photographer caught this fascinating ice formation shot in Huseby, Sweden. Ice takes on all sorts of interesting asymmetrical and geometric shapes, from the icy platelets above to the incredible parallel ice shelves of the Arctic. Ellesmere Island is famous for its ice shelves, but unfortunately they are diminishing rapidly in the face of global warming. Climate change caused alarming losses in summer of 2008, and scientists are concerned that this special ecosystem may soon be lost forever.


Ice Caves

Hard to believe, but those luscious sculptured waves are completely natural - and on the ceiling. A cave in Bavaria, Germany features this unusual ice. Ice caves are common throughout the world, but some of the largest are the massive, twisting Eisriesenwelt Caves in Austria


Frozen Water: Grand Scale Ice Formations

Rivers of ice and floating ice islands help to regulate the planet’s temperature, control currents, provide water - and they are rapidly disappearing. One can’t help but appreciate their raw beauty as well.

Icebergs

Icebergs are fast melting along with the polar ice caps and glaciers. It’s a shame; not only are they ecologically valuable, they’re amazing displays of nature’s artistry. Here are images of a variety of some stunning shapes and beautiful bergs. Note the tabular iceberg (table-shaped) and the artistic marbled iceberg.





Iceberg B-15

The world’s most famous iceberg, known as B-15, was originally part of the Ross Shelf but broke off (or “calved”) in 2000. It then broke up into three still-massive chunks, one of them - B-15A - being the largest floating object in the world at 17×76 miles in size. It continued to sail on, breaking up further and engaging in several collisions along the way. It lodged in McMurdo Sound in 2005, and its presence was significant enough to prevent proper ocean current action that normally breaks up sea ice in McMurdo. In 2006, a powerful wave traveling all the way from Alaska broke up B-15A into further smaller pieces and it was hailed as “the death” of the world’s most famous iceberg.


Glaciers

Glaciers are simply accumulated snow, packed densely into ice over thousands, even millions, of years. Glaciers serve an important function as ecosystem regulators and water suppliers (they are the largest single source of fresh water), and the heating of the planet has led to major glacier shrinkage around the world in the last decade. Some of the most famous glaciers are located in the Himalayas and Alaska, but glaciers can be found in many places around the globe. These rivers of ice are so powerful, they create a “glacial” effect, and visible signs of glacial carving can be seen throughout the world.


Moving Water: Rivers, Waterfalls, Fjords

From craggy fjords to famously high waterfalls and massive rivers, waterways are another memorable artistic statement of Mother Nature.

Rivers

Pictured at left is the Mississippi River, which travels some 2,340 miles of the continental United States. (Trivia: its tributary, the Missouri River, is actually longer.) It’s the fourth longest and tenth largest (by discharge) river in the world. Regardless of its invaluable economic and ecological service, it is simply beautiful to see. Pictured next are the Niger Delta from space - a magnificently beautiful water system - as well as the Ganges in stunning hi-res and the Okavango (one of the world’s biggest inland water systems). It floods annually, making life possible in an otherwise arid region for the rest of the year. And finally, the brilliant contrast of the iconic Amazon river and its emerald tropical rainforests.



Waterfalls

Some of the most famous waterfalls in the world are shown here. Angel Falls in Venezuela, the tallest waterfall in the world, dives some 979 meters (over 2,000 feet) into the rocks below. Tugela Falls in South Africa is nearly as high, at 947 meters and boasts 5 beautiful cascades.

And of course, the famous Niagara Falls of North America. Niagara once froze in a freak weather occurrence in 1911 - or so the myth and the single photo indicate. Even Snopes can’t determine if it’s an urban legend or if it really happened.


Fjords

Though the fjords of Norway are famous, that’s not the only place where you can see these magnificent chiseled carvings of Mother Nature as artist. Chile is home to gorgeous fjords, as are several other spots around the world. A fjord is simply a narrow water inlet with high, steep land on either side - however, they are unique because they are created through glacier activity. The images above are of fjords in Alaska (the boldness of the blue is amazing), Iceland (lobster claws?), Norway (almost other-worldly), and Chile (once again the Torres del Paine).


Lakes Seen From Above

Rounding out the tour, here are some of the quirky and artfully abstract shapes of lakes when seen from the aerial view. A playground of the rich and famous, Lake Como in Italy is famously known as the Y Shaped lake, while this lesser known Horseshoe Lake in Arkansas is endearing. But it’s this dragon lake in China that’s most striking.

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