Scientists and storks.jpg

Scientists and storks


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DRINKING COFFEE outside, enjoying an occasional burst of sunshine on a windy morning last week, there was quite a chill in the air, which reminded me of England and how odd that we should be rugged up against the cold while over there it was like mid-summer.

In the gloom and doom of promised global warming, I was expecting a steady rise of temperatures across the world, not this patchy exchange of climate between near neighbours. Perhaps it goes some way to explain an absence of visitors on the beaches and pavements in our part of Algarve. Why holiday abroad when Great Britain can offer the trappings and warmth of a continental resort given imagination and hard work: not forgetting the advantage that the national dish of fish and chips would always be on tap and most of the natives would have some English.

While industrialised countries must accept some responsibility for climate change throughout the world, it is thought that an alteration in the Gulf Stream may be a major influence. One branch carries warm water from the Caribbean up along the western Atlantic coast, travelling north just below the surface and radiating heat into the atmosphere. By the time it reaches Greenland and Iceland, it has cooled sufficiently to sink to the bottom of the sea and turn south, heading back from whence it came in a continuous process.


Scientists have found that with the faster melting of arctic icecaps and a greater outflow from rivers, the sea water has become less saline, thus hindering the northern end of the Gulf Stream from sinking toward the sea bed and returning south, weakening the whole cycle. As a result, after a relatively short period of global warming, it is possible there will be a rapid cooling across Northern Europe and North America, followed by bitter winters and lower average temperatures. For the present generation it is rather academic but our children and grandchildren will have to deal with this as best they can.

Time was when the problem of providing food and shelter was sufficient challenge to occupy most of a human being’s life and, with that, must have come a sort of peace. What lay ahead was dealt with when it came about but today we spend our lives anticipating and attempting to change the future, something which may prove to be out of our control.

An attack from four of their own kind could not have been anticipated by two pairs of White Storks on the outskirts of Lagos the other morning. For many years there have been families reared on top of a couple of neighbouring chimneys near the Avenida roundabout, and with endless additions of large twigs and much intricate weaving, the nests have become a distinctive part of the skyline.

While some storks mate for life, it is thought that their attachment is greater to the nest than to a partner. Either the birds fly south in autumn and return each spring, or remain throughout the winter if the weather is suitable. Having refurbished the nursery to receive two or three large eggs, the sitting tenants begin several weeks of single minded attention to their work of adding to the Stork population.

Stork spirit

At the time of the attack there were growing youngsters in both nests, their white heads just visible above the parapets. The parents defended them as best they could, however, as soon as one took to the air, the four pirates set about the remaining adult and fledglings. I drove on unable to watch how it finished. Due to the fact that old buildings in the town were knocked down to make way for new constructions and several chimneys have been capped or demolished, well established sites are missing.

Ready to breed at three-years-old, unpaired birds revisit their birthplace with an eye to setting up home where they were hatched, and Lagos seems to have a population explosion. An added attraction must be a rubbish dump on the hill above the EN125 near the town, above which seagulls and storks can be seen circling in their search for food.

Should the forecast of rising temperatures be correct, fewer storks will migrate south and the junior members of each family will have to sort out their own housing problems. Unlike humans who either come home when they lack a roof over their heads or never leave in the first place, these must make other arrangements.

Mythological tales about White Storks were recorded several millennia before the birth of Christ by the Egyptians: it was thought that each human soul had its unique stork spirit and the two were reunited in the Afterlife. They also figured in Aesop’s Fables and the Hebrews considered them an ideal example of parental devotion, while Natural Historians of ancient times noted that paired Storks would remain with their nest rather than abandon it should it catch fire. Tales in similar vein from long ago can be found right across the world and, within my lifetime, inquisitive children were told that new babies were delivered by Storks.

One German version claims that while naughty boy babies were carried in a bird’s beak, good children rode among the soft feathers on its back. If superstitious people avoid walking under ladders perhaps also they should exercise care when strolling down a street in the older parts of Spain.

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