Superb example of a wave-cut platform at Southerndown, South Wales.
Photo by Yummifruitbat on Wikipedia.
Superb example of a wave-cut platform at Southerndown, South Wales.
Photo by Yummifruitbat on Wikipedia.
British butterfly guide
May 24, 2011
Stephen Cheshire’s butterfly guide is a nicely designed site with good pictures for identifying all the butterflies you’re likely to see in the UK. There is also a very good online ID tool.
April 1, 2011
A couple of nice stories to celebrate April 1st from Wildlife Extra.
Trafalgar Square to be transformed into wildlife haven (the RSPB plans to create a giant nature park in Trafalgar Square, to mark the UN target of reversing declines in wildlife across the world by 2020.)
Flamingos sighted in Scotland According to the RSPB, this could be the first time Greater Flamingos have ventured this far north.
Results of the Big Garden Birdwatch 2011
March 31, 2011
Fears about the impact of last December’s severe weather, the coldest in 100 years, were unfounded. The drop in small bird populations witnessed in the RSPB Birdwatch of 2010 during the Big Freeze was rectified by excellent breeding conditions in the following spring. Small birds in recovery notably include goldcrests, long-tailed tits and coal tits. Another interesting result of the survey were the numerous sightings of waxwings, reflecting both the large numbers migrating from Scandinavia this winter and the “bird-friendly” berry-producing vegetation people are increasingly planting in their gardens. A record 600,000 people took part. The results compared with last year:
Oldest osprey returns to Scotland
March 30, 2011
The oldest osprey of the UK – and probably the world – has returned to her eyrie in the Scottish highlands. When she left for West Africa at the end of last summer, no one expected her to return. At 26 she’s lived 3 times longer than most female ospreys. In her life she’s laid 58 eggs and hatched 48 chicks, a massive individual contribution to the survival of ospreys in Scotland, where there are still only about 200 breeding pairs. The questions now are if her mate will return and if she is still fertile. Events can be followed on the webcam of the Loch of the Lowes reserve.
Urban fox on the 72nd floor
February 27, 2011
The construction company currently finishing off the Shard building in London, which will be the UK’s tallest skyscraper, recently had to call the council to remove a squatter from the 72nd floor: a young fox. He was surviving on scraps left by builders. After a check-up at the Riverside Animal Centre, the fox has been released on the streets of Bermondsey, having shown the type of curiosity we associate with cats.
Coot attacked by mussel
January 7, 2011
This is a bizzare story:
On closer inspection the object turned into a large swan mussel which was firmly clamped to the lower mandible of the bird, the coot lay down in the grass and appeared quite weak so this situation must have in place for some time, preventing the bird from feeding. More here
Cleaner rivers in the UK
December 31, 2010
Otters, water voles and fish are all benefitting from the improved quality of the UK’s waterways, now described as the cleanest since the industrial revolution. Since almost disappearing from the wild in the 1970s, otters are thriving, particularly in the south west of England, Cumbria and Northumberland. The population of water voles, highly precarious in the 1990s, is also beginning to recover. The good results of stricter pollution controls and extensive conservation work are set to continue in the new year with the introduction of new European water quality directives. Guardian
Polar bears reach Britain?
December 29, 2010
I thought this article by Michael McCarthy in The Indepedent was amusing: “Reports of polar bears travelling to Britain made the news earlier this year. The RSPB suggested that one had been washed up still alive on the Hebridean island of Mull – the story was an April Fool. The second report came in September when Naomi Lloyd, a presenter of ITV’s West Country breakfast bulletin, excitedly informed viewers that a polar bear had been washed up dead at the Cornish seaside town of Bude. The animal turned out to be a cow, which had been bleached white by the seawater.” See also: Polar bear washes up on Scotland’s Isle of Mull
I'd like to thoroughly recommend the superb wildflowers app for iphone/itouch with its wonderful ID key. The app includes more than 1000 wildflowers of France and Western Europe, which means the vast majority of British wildflowers are featured. You can choose between English, French and German.
I've been using it for some time and updates with new species are regularly provided. For the future, could do with some distribution maps but this is a fab start.
Guaranteed to get you out there identifying stuff. More here
Forgot to mention: you can also add notes about each species (where you saw it etc) which I'm finding very useful.
A few good wildlife apps for iphone / itouch are starting to trickle onto the market. An interesting one is the Collins British Wildlife Photoguide, priced at £5.99 which is an app version of a large book. The Guardian notes "Arranged by taxonomy – mammals, invertebrates, butterflies and moths, birds and so on – it features photos and brief descriptions of over 1,500 species. The navigation is a bit fiddly and there's no identification feature, so you need to know what you're looking at or be willing to scroll through several pages to get a match."
There is also a very nice little app which is a guide to all of Britain's native trees. Very easy and slick design make identification loads easier and lighter than carrying around a hefty guide book!
My favourite though is the superb wildflowers guide with its wonderful ID key. Guaranteed to get you out there IDing stuff.
I also want to recommend the complete Wikipedia Encyclopedia app, myfavourite mobile application of all time. Although it doesn’t have photos and is a bit clunky, it includes stacks and stacks of information on the natural history of the Britsih Isles.. Warning takes some time to download, but it's worth it. Also includes millions of articles from around the world without worrying about data roaming fees. I find it incredibly useful when travelling, or for resolving discussions in bars, and above all for learning about something in situ. This year for instance I enjoyed reading about puffins, 30 minutes after watching them on the Isle of Lunga off Mull.
Since the Atlantic Puffin gets the majority of its food from diving it is important that there is an ample supply of resources and food. Different environmental conditions such as tidal cycle, upwellings and downwellings contribute to this abundance. In a study published in 2005 it was observed that Atlantic Puffins were associated with areas of well-mixed water below the surface. This study implies consequences for the species if impacts of global warming lead to an alteration of tidal cycles. If these cycles are modified too much, it is probable that the Atlantic Puffin will have a difficult time locating food resources. Another consequence of an increase in temperature could be a reduction in the range of the Atlantic Puffin, as it is only able to live in cool conditions and does not fare overly well if it has to nest in barren, rocky places, and an increase in temperature could thus squeeze the zone of puffin-suitable habitat as warmer biotopes expand from the equator but the polar regions remain barren due to lack of historical accumulation of topsoil. From the Encyclopedia app
For those who don’t succumb to the charms of grey squirrels, keeping them off the bird feeder is a challenge. There are plenty of ideas on the forums, such as placing a table on top of a greased pole, or capitulating by scattering food on the ground to distract the squirrels and give the birds a chance. If unwanted rodents are consuming kilos of bird food, it might be worth investing in a specially designed squirrel-proof bird feeder. Those sold by the RSPB include conventional seed and nut dispensers caged within bars too narrow for a squirrel to pass through. Then there’s the robust–looking Squirrel Buster, which automatically closes down when something heavier than a small bird tries to access the food. It’s the most expensive option, but comes with a life-time guarantee. Not bad considering the fearless acrobatics and determined wire-chewing tendencies of squirrels.
View at the RSPB
Useful list of the best or at least most unusual bird feeders on the market put together by The Guardian here. I liked particularly the above mobile bird feeder. Meanwhile the RSPB's national Feed the birds weekend starts tomorrow.
The Guardian has put together a special Travel issue dedicated to camping: find out about Britain's best tiny campsites which are never crowded, island camping and some remotely located campsites. Read and be inspired to start planning your next camping trip in wild Britain.
A great choice for wildlife trips in the Llyn Peninsula is offered by Shearwater Coastal Cruises. who run coastal wildlife cruises along the Lyyn Peninsula, visiting seal and seabird colonies. Check out their site for full details and prices.
They have written to me with the following interesting information on the sealife of the area:
"On most of our cruises, we can expect to be joined by the resident bottlenose dolphins. The catamaran hull format of "Shearwater" seems to be particularly attractive to the dolphins that obviously enjoy riding the considerable double bow-wave that is produced. Our cruises take us to both of the two main Grey Seal colonies off the Llyn Peninsula. A group of approximately 150 seals inhabit the islands of St. Tudwals, off Abersoch and a much larger colony is to be found around the shores of Bardsey Island. Small satellite groups occasionally detach themselves from these main populations and may be found in places such as the Gwylan Islands and Cilan Headland with a more notable, semi-permanent group residing on the northern coast of the Llyn Peninsula, near Porth Dinllaen/Nefyn golf course.
The rocky coast and offshore islands of the Llyn Peninsula offer important nesting sites for seabirds. Notables such as Manx Shearwaters, Puffins, Razorbills, Guillemots, Black Guillemots, Shags, Cormorants, Kittiwakes, along with other Gull species are commonly seen. Terrestrial predators such as Ravens, Buzzards and Peregrine Falcons, inhabit the sea cliffs and rocky islands as do the Chough which is a common resident along these shores and, happily, is firmly established and doing well.
This northern part of Cardigan Bay is also blessed with some very unusual and spectacular marine wildlife. Few people realise that these waters provide a home for the Leatherback Turtle, the only warm blooded reptile in existence. These huge creatures, often weighing 1 metric ton and approaching 3 meters in length spend most of their adult life here, feeding on the vast shoals of Barrel Jellyfish (Rhysostoma).
The Harbour Porpoise, that seems to be under threat elsewhere can be seen readily, feeding off the headlands of the Peninsula, particularly within the area of Bardsey Sound. Here also one can sometimes see the enigmatic Rissos Dolphin, that otherwise plies up and down the Irish Sea in pursuit of squid and other prey. These creatures have a blunt nose, are light grey in colour and bear numerous large scratch marks, inflicted during play/mating activity.
Easily the most spectacular creatures we encounter on our wildlife cruises are the Bottlenose Dolphins. The groups we see are part of the Cardigan Bay population that exceeds 360 individuals (although we are finding more each season). Whilst running our wildlife cruises, we have for the last few years undertaken dolphin Photo-ID and monitoring tasks on behalf of the "Seawatch Foundation", a charitable body responsible for monitoring cetaceans around the coast of the UK.
Our work with "Seawatch" has given us a considerable insight into the behavioural characteristics of the dolphins. We can also, now, readily recognise individuals (from marks, scratches and pieces missing from dorsal fins). "Seawatch" also kindly send us feedback from our inputs and it is interesting to examine the travel itineraries of some of the individual dolphins we see. We have for instance, taken a photograph of a dolphin on a particular afternoon and the same animal has been recorded off New Quay, almost 50 miles away the very next day. We often see the same groups day after day, but occasionally we will encounter a huge pod, numbering up to 50 individuals that have simply come up to our area from the south of Cardigan Bay on what seems a fleeting 'round-the-bay' tour, describing a large arc and heading back south again.
Having been running the "Shearwater Coastal Cruises" for the last 9 years we do get a feeling for the absence, decline or abundance of wildlife species from season to season.Anecdotally, of course, we notice that the auks, Herring Gull and Kittiwake numbers vary the most from one year to the next. We seem to have a gradual increase in the Chough population and Herons, with their heronry in Pwllheli town, seem to have increased markedly. Over recent years we have noticed the presence of the odd Red Kite, presumably due to the expansion of the mid-Wales population and Peregrine Falcons seem to have increased.
The Grey Seal population seems to have steadily increased over this period and we see more dolphins now that we did before, but this may be due to our becoming more familiar with the location of their favourite feeding areas and developing a more practiced eye. We have not noticed any decline in the number of porpoises we see, but we have realized for some time that they will always keep well away from any areas where there are dolphins. The area does attract a lot of recreational boat traffic at peak holiday times and we notice that dolphins can be reluctant to visit or remain in their favourite feeding areas at these times. The opportunity is not lost on porpoises that soon take their place once the dolphins are absent.
In summary, the wildlife we see daily seems to be thriving and numbers seem to be at least similar to those we saw when we began 9 years ago, with a number of species increasing markedly. Furthermore, the Llyn Coastal area is apparently being blessed with the increasing presence of the otter - as if we needed any further encouragement to put to sea every day!
The 87 mile-long Ridgeway National Trail is remarkable in being the oldest road in Britain and because you can still walk it, following the same route used since prehistoric times by travellers and, herdsmen. The route connects the Dorset and Norfolk coasts, passing over rolling, open downland to the west of the River Thames, and through secluded valleys and woods in The Chilterns to the east. It is littered with historical sites dating back to the iron age. Lots of details from the National Trail website here.
A trip to a children's farm is a great idea in the lambing season. The Guardian has a list of recommended places in their half-term holiday special, including Cannon Hall Farm in Barnsley, where they are expecting no less than 300 lambs and 50 piglets to be born in February, with more expected for Easter. They have other attractions such a baby Alpaca called Snowy.
For the first time in many years, the freezing conditions have been perfect for ice skating, allowing the inhabitants of the Cambridgeshire Fens to revel in a centuries-old tradition. The Guardian
The Fens of East Anglia, with their meres and washes, networks of drainage ditches, slow-flowing rivers and easily flooded meadows, form an ideal skating terrain. Skates were introduced into Britain from Holland or France in the seventeenth century. It is not known when the first skating matches were held, but by the early nineteenth century they had become a feature of cold winters in the Fens. The golden age of fen skating was the second half of the nineteenth century, when thousands of people turned out to watch the top skaters. Wikipedia
David Munt from Potter’s Bar, Hertfordshire braved the Arctic weather and sub-zero temperatures to spend a night in an igloo in his garden. He decided to sleep in his creation after spending the previous day making the igloo from snow and ice, with help from the children on his street.
Yowie snowshoes were designed, fittingly, in Australia. They look like beach sandals attached to rubber flippers with a deep hexagonal tread and metal cleats. Extremely versatile and user-friendly, once you're strapped in, with body weight nicely spread out to avoid sinking, you can enjoy snow walks on the flat or more challenging treks up and down mountains. The material reportedly offers better insulation from the cold than more conventional heavy-duty snowshoes. They are also lighter, cheaper and easier to stow in your ruck sack.
Another idea is to use ice grips - unobtrusive devices you can attach to your usual footwear to radically increase traction on slippery surfaces.
Meirion Owen is an expert sheep dog handler, who’s been working with Border Collies since he was nine. He now travels around Britain, showing the skills of this intelligent breed at fairs, private parties and, increasingly, corporate days out. The other stars of the Quack Pack are a troop of Indian Runner ducks, who love to charge around at a fast pace in a tight group (with the occasional lone rebel). First of all, Owen gives a demonstration of how it’s done, instructing his dogs with only four commands to herd the ducks through an obstacle course. Then the spectators have a go.
"We never try to embarrass anyone," he says. "I'll always try to help. With duck herding, there is a sense of the unexpected and seeing a manager lose control of his ducks is great entertainment for the staff."
A recent tendency among lowland livestock farmers is to replace Border Collies with quads, and Owen would like to turn this around by promoting the many qualities of this breed. More information
The Woodcraft School runs various courses for acquiring skills that pre-historical man needed for survival. Bark, Bone and Antler is a particularly interesting 2-day course that explores the materials available to our primitive ancestors. Those attending will be taught about the sustainable harvest of bark, weaving crafts to make knife sheaths, folding crafts to make baskets and containers, and the preparation of bone and antler.
This particular course will be held in May 2010 in West Sussex, with groups limited to 12, but there are many others to choose from.