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 πŸ˜‰

30 April 2010 ~ 2 Comments

Brooke Bond Tea Butterfly Cards

Knowing my passion for all things wildlife related, particularly historical, my girlfriend was kind enough to pick me up a copy of this smashing little Brooke Bond tea booklet that she found at a car boot sale recently.

It contains all the cards which show a wide variety of British butterflies. Picked up for less than a pound, I have seen an advert recently with someone selling the same thing for Β£9 – so not a bad little investment as well as a fascinating and beautiful bit of natural history memorabilia.

30 April 2010 ~ 0 Comments

This Week’s Nature Tweets From 2010-04-30

  • Speckled Wood butterflies *everywhere* today. Amazing in today's sunshine! #
  • Wild strawberries coming into flower now. #
  • Light rain this morning. First time in weeks and the air smells lovely. Just what the country needs right now. #
  • Just seen a lovely small copper. Too quick to photograph but what a stunner! #
  • After yesterday's cool grey weather, we're back to sunshine! #
  • Visit to RSPB Pulborough Brooks. Lots to see including some lovely heathland. Well worth a visit. #
  • Can anyone help with bug identification? Picture at http://www.flickr.com/photos/thenatureblog/4562812024/ #
  • RT @SussexWildlife: What wildlife treats can we expect in May http://www.bit.ly/c1TT6i #
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28 April 2010 ~ 0 Comments

Identifying British Deer

Britain has a rich number of different deer species which still astonishes me in such an “overcrowded” country with so few real wild places left but it seems many deer species are surviving alongside man without too many problems.

There are generally believed to be 6 species of deer in Britain at present. They are:

– Red Deer (Cervus elaphus)
– Fallow Deer (Dama dama)
– Roe Deer (Capreolus capreolus)
– Sika Deer (Cervus nippon)
– Muntjac Deer (Muntiacus reevesi)
– Chinese Water Deer (Hydropotes inermis)

Fortunately identifying these species and telling them apart is, in general, reasonably simple and so with only a tiny glimpse one can have a reasonable chance of a correct identification, particularly if you take into account the habitat in which you see a deer.

Red Deer (Cervus elaphus)

Red Deer stag, Cervus elaphus on the south side of Beinn Eighe
Creative Commons License photo credit: Shandchem

Red deer are the largest deer in Britain and most frequently are found in “wilderness” areas most commonly the hills and glens of Scotland. Other populations do exist in the UK, such as in Norfolk and of course the semi-wild population in Richmond park.

The red deer has a characteristically shaped head and a thick, powerful neck while the males of course develop powerful antlers.

Fallow Deer (Dama dama)

Fallow Deer 1
Creative Commons License photo credit: ahisgett

Fallow deer are quite a bit smaller than red deer and more typically frequent broadleafed woodland than open hillsides. In colouration they may range between almost white right through to a melanistic version though a ginger colour with white spots on (classic Bambi) is the most common colour form seen.

The males develop characteristic antlers in the breeding season and fallow deer may often be seen grazing near woodlands in small groups. Two to five individuals is common though they may congregate in far larger groups of several dozen individuals in some situations.

Roe Deer (Capreolus capreolus)

(Competition Entry) ;)
Creative Commons License photo credit: Alasdair Middleton

The roe deer is probably Britains most common deer species and can be found in a wide range of habitats from woodland to grassland. The roe deer is characterized by a pale yellow or white rump which is typically seen disappearing into the distance as the roe deer gracefully hops away, and by the large black nose. Again, this is the deer you are most likely to see and may even be seen feeding near roads or on farmers fields where woodland cover isn’t too far away. The roe deer is normally solitary.

Sika Deer (Cervus nippon)

Sika stag on Brownsea Island
Creative Commons License photo credit: Ian D Nolan

The introduced sika deer is still reasonably rare so you are far less likely to encounter this species than other “British” deer. Also the habitat of this deer is characteristic as it prefers conifer forests and heathland. Whilst it does resemble a red deer to a degree, this species is typically smaller in size and the colour will normally help to separate the sika deer from other species as the coat is typically far darker appearing almost black in many cases.

Muntjac Deer (Muntiacus reevesi)

P1250958
Creative Commons License photo credit: shimgray

The muntjac and chinese water deer are both small introduced species, typically around the size of a domestic cat or medium-sized dog though being far more delicate and elegant in appearance.

Whilst rumour has it that they escaped into the East Anglian fens originally both these deer species have spread rapidly and can be found in a wide range of habitats from wetlands through to many British woodlands.

Chinese Water Deer (Hydropotes inermis)

Chinese Water Deer (Hydropotes inermis)
Creative Commons License photo credit: cliff1066β„’

The chinese water deer can be identified by the elongated fangs present in the males of this species which are absent in the muntjac. Equally, the male muntjac has horns while the water deer does not and the appearance of the face is very different between the two species. Lastly, according to the British Deer Society, the chinese water deer is currently restricted to just Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk.

Why not leave me a comment and tell me what your favourite deer species is, and why?

26 April 2010 ~ 1 Comment

The Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta)

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The avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta) is one of Britains most charismatic, and easy to identify birds which is now the elblem of the RSPB for good reason.

Appearance

The avocet is a small wader found in shallow water around Britain’s coastline. Like so many waders, the avocet possesses long, thin legs that helps it hunt for food in shallow water and it’s plumage is a striking combination of white and black. However the most obvious mark of an avocet is it’s long, black upturned bill which is uses to catch food from beneath the waters surface.

Habitat

Found around Britain’s coasts, most commonly seen in or near shallow eater such as around mudflats at low tide.

Food

The avocet likes to feed on aquatic invertebrates which it locates with it’s sensitive bill, feeling around in the water and mud for it’s prey.

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24 April 2010 ~ 3 Comments

In Praise Of Slow

On the lookout...
Creative Commons License photo credit: law_keven

For many people, getting out and seeing nature involves a lot of activity. Packing bags, planning routes, choosing perhaps a nature reserve to visit, and then once you arrive spending the day walking around to see what is around.

And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this.

However I would like to take a minute “in praise of slow”. You see, many wild creatures can be quite shy and I personally have just as much success seeing nature by just finding somewhere quiet and sitting still. Find somewhere that cyclists, walkers and, worst of all, dog walkers are unlikely to be encountered, take your binoculars and camera and just sit quietly.

If you’re lucky, and stay reasonably still, many creatures will go about their daily lives barely paying any attention whatsoever to you and you can often see far more wildlife in this way.

As an example, when I lived in Hampshire there was a bench in a local wood that I knew of. If I sat down there quietly and just waited I was almost guaranteed to see a roe deer wandering nonchalently past.

Another time last year simply sittig in the countryside enjoying the view, a weasel came out to play not far from me and I got one of my best views ever of the creature.

Just yesterday, two common lizards came out and sunbathed no more than 6 feet away from where I was sitting and I got a perfect view of them, in contrast to flash of a tail one normally sees when walking past (and disturbing) a lizard in the wild.

In other words, when it comes to seeing wildlife, don’t always try to be “active”. Instead, try being still for once – I think you’ll be quite impressed what you see if only you’re patient.

23 April 2010 ~ 1 Comment

Fox On The Prowl

Grand renard tout proche/Large very close fox
Creative Commons License photo credit: peupleloup

Walking along on a meadow over the weekend I was pretty amazed to spot a fox in broad daylight peering over the top of a hill at an unsuspecting rabbit.

I sat and watched for some time but he never made a move and both the fox and rabbit seemed pretty relaxed so maybe they were just enjoying the sunshine, but something tells me the fox may have had other things on his mind…

23 April 2010 ~ 0 Comments

This Week’s Nature Tweets From 2010-04-23

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22 April 2010 ~ 0 Comments

International Dawn Chorus Day 2nd May 2010

Robin Redbreast - Lincoln Inn Fields Park - Holborn, London, England - Thursday December Thirteenth 2007.
Creative Commons License photo credit: law_keven

I love waking up at this time of year to the sounds of the birds singing. Don’t ask me why but I woke up at 5.30am recently and sat outside for half an hour just listening to all the birds. Whilst they’re incredibly common birds, I have to admit that I rate the robin and blackbird songs as two of my favourites – both fruity and melodic.

And so it is with great pleasure that I wanted to draw your attention to International Dawn Chorus Day which is on May 2nd this year.

There are a whole host of events planned so why not find out what’s happening in your local area and get involved in a dawn chorus event?

21 April 2010 ~ 0 Comments

Cuckoo Flowers And Sallow Catkins

Light Walk in October
Creative Commons License photo credit: h.koppdelaney

Another sunny day, another nature walk and this time I was very taken by the cuckoo flowers (Cardamine pratensis) I found near a stream. Simple yet effective flowers and there was a veritable carpet of these soft violet blooms along the bank which really helped to add colour to the countryside.

On another note, I found a profusion of Sallow catkins (Salix ), which is exciting for a number of reasons. First off, these catkins are just gorgeous! Look at just how dainty and sculptural they look. I was particularly taken by the way the sun shone on them making them look almost like they were glowing.

Lastly, Sallow is a great food plant for a number of British caterpillars so when you see these catkins it’s well worth remembering to come back and look a month or two later because you can have some nice surprises – like the enormous hawk moth caterpillar I found last Autumn on a sallow.