Archive | Nature Locations

13 March 2013 ~ 0 Comments

Who Bothers Hawaii?

waipio valley

Hawaii archipelago is one of those lands suffering not only from human activity, but from alien species as well. For many centuries there were no predators or invasive species that could threat to conventional livelihood of Hawaiian ecosystem.

Long before European settlers, there were only two mammal species distributed over the islands – hoary bats, apparently brought by winds from America, and monk seals. The population of seals declined significantly in the 19th century, as colonists started to hunt them for skin and eat, and to date conservation of monk seals is one of the primary environmental issues on Hawaii.

All in all, the diversity of Hawaiian fauna was enlarged a lot, as numerous species of domestic animals (sheep, feral pigs, wild boars, deer), ants (big-headed and Argentine ants), plants (the Velvet tree) found a perfect place on Hawaii to be dispersed, therefore, signifying about the end of Eden.

Negative Alien Species

One of the recent zoological researches, enclosed by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, featured bees, imported from North-American continent, as invasive and distrustful species on the archipelago.

It is one of the examples of how alien species might modify lifestyle and habits and thereupon cause severe damages for a new habitat. In particular, this research is referred to revived bees’ abilities to consume any variety of food and to form larger colonies.

In normal conditions, Pennsylvania bees gather in small colonies for one season, while on Hawaii they gather in large colonies (about 600 thousand bees) for long-term periods. In this way, bees obstruct essential development of forest areas and sub-alpine vegetation.

Positive Alien Species

However, there some examples of invasive species that promote natural advancement of Hawaiian ecosystem. To be more précise, the biggest achievements are attained by alien terrestrial birds, which include 58 species.

They play an important role in reproduction of many indigenous plants. For instance, birds distribute seeds of Lehua trees (Eugenia plants), known for its reddish wood and bright red flowers.

Unlike native birds, consuming exclusively nectar or invertebrates, alien birds eat fruit of trees and, therefore, disperse plant seeds over the area. This is a nice example of how invasive species cannot just push out the native, but also take on their functions, often coping with them no worse than their predecessors.

Potential Alien Species

For many centuries Hawaiian archipelago was free from reptiles, especially snake species. Notwithstanding in recent years there were some notices about potential threat of snakes’ distribution to the islands, preconditioned by illegal snakes trade and keeping some as pets.

Having no natural enemies, snakes might embed themselves deeply into the Hawaiian ecosystem, if they happen to be out of human control. In this case, the fate of Guam Island is imminent, where imported brown tree snakes ate all the birds and, therefore, caused severe ecological damage.

On Hawaii snakes can eat bird eggs and small chicks, including representatives of 34 species of Hawaiian forest birds at risk of extinction. If birds disappear, there will be more spiders that create webs over the trees and so darken the wood; insect populations may get bigger.

In this case, the list of consequences might be prolonged, eventually ending up in completely new vision of Hawaiian environment.

Creative Commons License paul (dex) bica via Compfight

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06 July 2011 ~ 0 Comments

Where To See Adders

Adders
Creative Commons License photo credit: Danny Chapman

Adders (or vipers) are the UK’s only venomous snake and whilst quite a degree of fear still surrounds them from people who picture deadly cobras hiding in their garden these snakes are generally shy and retiring. Indeed if adders were easy to find then we wouldn’t need an article like this – we’d all be tripping over them and instead visitors to this site would be more likely to ask how to avoid adders :-)

Like all reptiles, adders are fans of warm, dry weather where they can bask in the heat of the sun before hunting for prey. Cool, damp, grey weather tends not to suit them as well and they may well hide away out of view or – in the winter months – even aestivate to conserve vital energy.

Equally so, the warmer a snake gets the more active it becomes – and as it becomes more active so it also becomes faster moving and so harder to spot. The ideal situation to see adders is therefore early on in the morning of a warm, sunny day in summer. The early hours before the snakes get too active and before they get annoyed by dogs and their owners can be the best time so if you’re serious about seeing adders your best bet is to set your alarm and get up bright and early.

As for habitat, adders tend to prefer dry environments such as heathland and gorse-filled grassland. My latest siting of an adder was one hiding just under a gorse bush up ontop of Cissbury Ring in Sussex a short while ago.

Like most snakes, Adders are very sensitive to vibrations through the ground and so it is best to walk as lightly as possible if you’d like to see them – stomping around in heavy walking boots won’t do you any favours – and I prefer to walk slowly and deliberately in flexible trainers so I step as lightly as possible on the ground.

When seen in photographs adders appear to be quite obvious snakes with a background colour varying from olive green through brown to the common silver or grey over-laced with a dark black zigzag pattern down it’s back. However in the wild these markings can make it surprisingly difficult to see and in the right habitat on the right day you may well pass numerous specimens without even realizing it.

While adders can and do climb, they are most often seen on the ground and in the spring time males can sometimes be seen “fighting” for mates as they stand up high and attempt to “wrestle” other males to the ground.

The other British snakes are the smooth snake and the grass snake. Smooth snakes are now very rare indeed so it is highly unlikely you will encounter one while grass snakes tend to prefer damper habitats such as those with ponds and streams.

Consequently a useful tip for getting an idea of whether there are adders in your local area is to keep an eye out for shed skins in the types of habitats mentioned as these will almost certainly belong to an adder and show some recent activity. To slough a skin an adder will normally rub against a rough object such as an old tree stump or sharp bush so keeping your eyes peeled for these signs can be a good indicator that you are searching in the right area.

Have you seen an adder recently? If so please leave a comment below to let us know when, where and how – we’d love to hear from you!

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07 July 2010 ~ 0 Comments

A Visit To The Sussex Wildlife Trust

The Sussex Wildlife Trust is based at Woods Mill Nature Trail which hosts not just the SWT offices but also a considerable amount of carefully-managed reserve. Whilst small in size, the reserve offers ample parking and a huge diversity of habitats including deciduous woodland, open pasture and aquatic and semi-aquatic environments thanks to the river running through the site and the man-made pools and ponds.

Apparently originally privately-owned, the site hosts a fascinating range of old masonry lying around close to the office buildings which give the site a strange, almost monastic feel, and at least for nerds like me provide a lot of added interest as you try to figure out what you’re looking at and what it was going to be used for.

I visited the Woods Mill Nature Trail in late April/early May but thanks for work commitments I have only now had the time to write up this little piece about the site. When I visited earlier on in the year there were signs of plants and animals everywhere.

A (private) deciduous wood on the site was simply dripping with wild flowers like Stitchwort and Bluebells and you could well imagine deer and foxes bounding around in the woods. Incidentally I was also lucky enough a few weeks ago to get a decent photo of some Bluebell seed pods now that the flowering season has come to an end and the seeds are ready to disperse.

The open pasture, with a stream running through it, was alive with a variety of grasses and wild flowers including Lady’s Smock which was attracting Orange Tip butterflies in droves. This area is also apparently excellent for swallows and swifts hunting insects and also for birds of prey flowing low looking for small mammals to catch.

Indeed, the Trust hosts several nest boxes specifically for birds of prey – kestrels and owls for example – which are used on a regular basis and so visitors have an excellent potential of getting great views of these animals going about their normal everyday lives.

Lastly in the evening a number of species of bat may be seen flying low over the pasture hunting for insects after the swallows have gone to roost for the evening.

Education is an integral element of the site and so school parties and professional training courses are invited in on a regular basis. One interesting element of this are the dipping pools and lake which allow children to find and identify a host of aquatic animals. On the day I visited the pools were literally alive with newts and every few seconds another would swim elegantly to the top for a breath of air before disappearing beneath the surface to continue with their mating.

All these various habitats also encourage a wide range of plants and personally I was particularly taken by the sweetly-scented Yellow Archangel with it’s crown of buttery-yellow flowers which the bees couldn’t stay away from. The simple yet elegant Garlic Mustard was also growing strongly in the shade of the trees near the dipping pond attracting numerous hover flies.

Yellow Archangel

Yellow Archangel

Garlic Mustard

Garlic Mustard

Lastly, as a self-confessed bug fanatic, I happily spent quite some time watching a number of wolf spiders hunting amongst the nettles near the entrance to the site and these nettle-beds themselves provide food and homes for a range of our British butterfly species such as Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshell.

In many ways Woods Mill is a perfect day out. Certainly the site is reasonably small but with excellent parking and toilets available, together with a huge variety of species there really is something here for every nature lover. Take the time to just sit yourself down on one of the many benches scattered around the site and just sit back and watch as the wildlife goes about it’s normal business.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Sussex Wildlife Trust for their hospitality during our visit and I would also strongly recommend that if you are based in or near Sussex that you seriously consider joining the SWT. They do some amazing work – about which I hope to bring you more information over the next few weeks – and are a passionate group working tirelessly to protect our native wildlife. More information on the Sussex Wildlife Trust is available from their website which can be found at http://www.sussexwt.org.uk

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03 May 2010 ~ 3 Comments

A Visit To Faulking Hill

Ah, one of those classic British place-names to put a smile on the face! I recently took a stroll to Faulking Hill in East Sussex to take a look at the scenes and wildlife on the chalk downloads found there.

Whilst the sun was out, the wild was howling across the open hillsides and so while there were some amazing views, wildlife was few and far between. Up on the exposed hillside there is little plant cover at all so while crows and magpies were seen on every hillside, there wasn’t a huge amount to see.

Fortunately later in my walk I wondered through a farm which *did* have far more plant cover and it was at that point that I started to see quite a bit of wildlife.

Firstly a fox cub appeared no more than 15-20 feet away from me, and much to my surprise as I scrambled for my camera, didn’t seem overly worried by me. Whether he was used to seeing farm workers or was desperate for food I’m not sure but he stayed around long enough for me to get a few photos of him. What a beautiful creature.

However the guinea fowl in the next field along didn’t seem to pleased to see him as they squawked non-stop at the top of their lungs!

Secondly I was lucky enough to see a young house mouse dashing along the side of a farm building and he stopped long enough for me to creep up and get a few snaps of him in the grass by the wall.

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02 May 2010 ~ 0 Comments

Oxford Natural History Museum

Taking a visit to the Natural History Museum in London recently I must admit to being rather underwhelmed. The museum seems to be doing it’s best to attract children and encourage interaction with all sorts of “displays” but unfortunately for a naturalist like me I felt it was too far removed from what I really want from a natural history museum.

Fortunately a visit to Oxford Natural History Museum was far more what I was looking for. The beautiful Gothic architecture, and one of the most fascinating arrays of preserved specimens I have seen in a long time made for a fantastic day out.

I was particularly taken with the insect collections up on the mezzanine floor where hundreds of preserved butterflies, beetles and (one of my personal favourites) mantids were neatly and clearly displayed providing me with hours of pleasure (and hundreds of photos!).

If you’ve never visited the museum in Oxford then I would strongly recommend a visit whenever you get a chance – just avoid the school holidays for your own sake ;-)

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02 April 2010 ~ 0 Comments

Edinburgh Botanical Gardens

Orchid
Creative Commons License photo credit: sarniebill1

Edinburgh Botanical Gardens claims to be the oldest botanical garden in the UK and is well worth a visit at any time of year. Strangely the main gardens themselves, whilst small in comparison to Kew, are free to visit though a small entrance fee is payable to access the glasshouses.

As a side note the temperate glasshouse, pictured above, is a stunning building well worth a look and containing a range of the hardier exotic plants of display together with a good number of orchids. Note, incidentally, the angle of the sign on the right-hand side to give you an indication of the wind when I was there! The following photo is of the inside of this house with some of the flowering orchids showing down the right-hand side of the picture.

I visited recently and in addition to the standard bulbs in flower at this time of year I was pleasantly surprised that a visit in late March should be such a pleasant one.

The rock gardens in Edinburgh Botanical Gardens seemed very attractive and well worth a visit irrespective of season with all their conifers and evergreen shrubs. Furthermore the alpine house, with it’s collection of troughs, had numerous plants in flower even at this time of year.

Not only are the botanical gardens worth a visit in terms of the plants on show but it also seemed a haven for wildlife in the city. As well as a pond bulging from frogs and their resultant frogspawn I saw a wide variety of birdlife. Most interesting of all was the heron I saw very close up (but couldn’t get a good picture of) which was feasting on frogs.

The heron was catching them without any problems and after a bit of bashing them around they were swallowed whole. Not “nice” perhaps but certainly interesting and it made me think how much the herons must benefit from this glut of food after such a hard winter.

The only real disappointment for me were the aquariums on display at the gardens. Whilst the numbers were limited I was somewhat disappointed with the general condition of the tanks which looked like they needed a good clean.

Apart from this I would recommend a day out at the Edinburgh Botanical Gardens should you visit the city. Bring your binoculars with you and I’m sure you’ll have an enjoyable day.

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29 March 2010 ~ 1 Comment

Frogs Breeding In Edinburgh

Commn Garden Frog
Creative Commons License photo credit: salimfadhley

The botanical gardens in Edinburgh recently gave me a really good view of frogs mating. In the gardens is a reasonably-sized pond which was literally full of frogs in the mood for love. I must have seen several hundred there all clamouring for attention and the croaking sound really has to be heard to be believed!

Here are a few photos I took at the time:

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18 March 2010 ~ 0 Comments

Where To See Wildlife In Britain

Looking Foxy....
Creative Commons License photo credit: law_keven

While some British wildlife species can be seen in urban environments such as our parks and gardens there is definitely something to be said for actually getting out in the countryside with a pair of binoculars and simply enjoying being surrounded by beautiful scenery and wild animals.

But the question is where do you find places you can visit in order to see the abundance of wildlife found in the UK?

Fortunately there are a wide range of charities and non-profit organizations who take care of many of Britain’s most beautiful areas and a little bit of research can dig up an astonishing number of places worth visiting.

For example a visit to your local library or tourist information office will often turn up maps and guides to all sorts of nature walks one can take in your local area.

But this simply scratches the surface. Try the following links which will allow you to search for nature reserves, bridle paths, woodlands and more all around the British Isles. I think you’ll be surprised at just how many wild spaces there are on your doorstep once you know where to look.

Bridleways – This site does require you to register, though this is free. Intended mainly for horse enthusiasts, this should also provide you with some interesting countryside walks.

Forestry Commission – Find woodlands you can visit. You can even search these listings by species if there is a certain animal you would like to see.

National Trust- A hige variety of wild areas. To speed up your search you can click here for listings of countryside locations and here for listings of coastal locations.

Natural England- Information on National Nature Reserves (NNRs), SSSIs and a variety of other protected areas.

RSPB Reserves – Not just for bird lovers, these reserves boast a wide variety of wildlife though many reserves do charge an entry fee.

Wildlife Trusts – Over 2,000 reserves are maintained by the Wildlife Trusts so make the most of this fantastic opportunity.

Woodland Trust – Another fine selection of woodland to visit. Includes information on the facilities you may find at these sites.

WWT – Wetland habitats around Britain.

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16 March 2010 ~ 1 Comment

Wildfowl And Wetlands Trust (WWT) Arundel

I spent Saturday 13th of March at the Wildfowl And Wetlands Trust in Arundel, West Sussex. Whilst I have visited the reserve a few times before this was probably the most enjoyable day I have spent there.

There were plenty of birds to see – both wild and captive – of which probably seeing a great spotted woodpecker so close up was the highlight, though with so many species seen it is a very tough choice indeed.

One thing that I found very interesting indeed was the way that the WWT weren’t focusing their conservation efforts solely on the birds, though this is what they are best known for. They were also putting effort into a wide variety of other wetland species such as the water vole and dormice.

The WWT had erected dozens of nestboxes to encourage dormice as shown in the image below and once the plants have grown up again this year these nest boxes will provide a wonderfully secret place for them.

Of course mention of the WWT wouldn’t be complete without some photos of what I saw. So I hope you enjoy the following snaps which I took at the reserve.

Pochard

Pochard

Wigeon

Wigeon

Male Eider

Male Eider

American Wood Duck

American Wood Duck

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

Pintail Duck

Pintail Duck

You can find out more about the Arundel WWT site by visiting their website here.

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