FrogFountain 

There has been growing worldwide concern over the so far unstoppable spread of Chytridiomycosis – a fungal disease which kills amphibians. Some have even predicted that amphibians are on the way out altogether, and indeed a number of species have become extinct within just a few years.

The BBC reports news that the disease has now been properly understood in terms of how it brings about death, confirming the suspicion that the fungus interferes with electrolyte transfer through the skin resulting in eventual cardiac arrest. However this doesn't much advance the fight against the disease. Fungicides are already known to work, but it's completely impractical to apply them to the world's frog populace.

In the UK the disease has been recorded in a few locations, as noted by ZSL. Their page also contains a good introduction to the disease itself, though it only speculates on how it causes death since it predates the recent discovery.

OddBulbs 2 

Digging a hole in the garden the other day, amongst the many interesting things I found (more here and here) was a collection of unidentified plant bulbs. These small to medium sized, waxy white bulbs were covered in lots of white sprouting roots and a shoot poking out of the top, suggesting they were just about to do something interesting.

OddBulbs 1 

I've no idea what they are or even if they are indeed bulbs. They might be corms or tubers – see this page for an explanation of the difference – but I think by sight they're probably technically bulbs. To try and find out exactly what sort of bulbs, I planted them in a pot and hope that they will reveal themselves. The photo above shows them before I covered them over with soil. Of course I will post an update if they choose to show themselves, so make your guesses now in the comments and see if you're proved right!

Update (21st Nov 2009): the first evidence of life has stirred from the mystery pot!

Earwig 

Whilst digging in the soil at the weekend, I found many things (see this previous post for a few more of them) including a couple of earwigs. The specimen in the picture appears to be the literally Common Earwig - a male in this case, as evidenced by the very curved cerci (the pincers at the rear end) with fattened bases. Females have straighter cerci.

According to the BBC, Rushmere Park comprising 210 acres of verdant Bedfordshire has been bought for the public by the council and the Greensand Trust. You can see the approximate location on MultiMap, just North of Leighton Buzzard. It's already park land containing a variety of habitats.

This joins another large nature-oriented land purchase in the South East, with the Woodland Trust having bought 850 acres of farm land to create Heartwood over the coming decades, aiming to transform it into a huge woodland and meadows.

RedAnts 

Lifting some old paving slabs revealed a small nest of red ants (probably Myrmica Rubra) which immediately set to work ferrying away their small white larvae to safety. It's particularly interesting in this photo to note that as well as the bean shaped white ant larvae there are also small white woodlice, which commonly inhabit ants nests.

There are some even smaller white insects at the top left which I initially assumed were simply baby woodlice, but they were moving much more quickly than woodlice and don't quite look the part. In fact I think they are springtails, which are also known to inhabit ants nests.

Note that when I took the picture all I noticed with the naked eye was the ants, the larvae and the tiniest white scurrying insects (which really were minute – not much more than 1mm long) but not the white woodlice. It was only when researching what I could see in the photo that it became apparent how many different beasties I'd captured in the same nest!

The BBC details new research on just how barnacles stick to ships hulls, rocks, whales etc. Apparently the glue they secrete works a little bit like clotting blood, but this wasn't understood before now.

Wikipedia has an excellent introduction to barnacles, which are surprisingly diverse and intriguing arthropods.

Jay 

Jays are shy birds and relatively seldom seen, though personally I always tend to notice them in Autumn when they become more obvious. In fact I often go all year without seeing any until Autumn. At this time of year they're often to be seen breaking cover and making short swooping darts between low branches and the ground in their quest for acorns and other seasonal goodies.

I watched the one in the picture above doing exactly that in the denser woodland of Hampstead Heath in London. It wouldn't let me get much closer than 8 yards though, being fundamentally a very wary bird. As one of the most exotic looking native species it's always nice to see them.

Millipede 1 

I was digging the borders in the garden recently, and amidst the stones, weeds and other bugs, I found a millipede, though I couldn't tell you what sort. My brief research suggests there are at least 50 UK species of millipede and they can be quite hard to tell apart. It was about 30mm long I'd say.

The photo above (click for larger version) shows the little legs working away underneath in a wave like motion up the body. Millipedes have two pairs of legs per body section, easily seen here, whereas centipedes only have one pair per section. As always, click for bigger version. That's a gardening book in the background – always a lot to learn!

Millipede 2

The RSPB reports that the number of multiple occupancy nest boxes is on the rise. I never knew it but apparently kestrels have been seen to shack up alongside barn owls amongst other strange flatmates, and the problem is getting worse over the years. This may be because of a general decrease in suitable nesting spots, so why not put up a nest box in your garden? Birds often roost in them overnight during cold periods, so it's worth doing so now rather than waiting till next year. Put some sawdust shavings in the bottom to make it homely.

TitsOnFatFeeder 

At this time of the year birds benefit from the food that many of us leave out for them in our gardens. If you're new to feeding the birds it's likely that a few hints as tips as to the type of food to leave out how and when to do so would be useful. 

Although it is obviously in winter when birds benefit most from the food it is actually important to leave food out all year as at different times different birds have varying needs. You can also try to attract particular types of birds by leaving out different food. For instance, robins like mealworms, whilst tits prefer peanuts. It is also the case that robins prefer to take their food off the ground where other birds (like tits) are mainly found on the feeders.

If you want to find out more about the different types of food and the particular birds that they attract then the following sites may be of use.

  • CJ Wildbird Foods provides a very useful chart showing the different foods that common garden birds prefer and the amount of food that each bird type wants broken down by month
  • The RSPB website provides a vast amount of advice on feeding the birds including the use of bird tables as well as feeders. Their site also contains some relevant hygiene advice too.

Remember that in the winter time you should also leave fresh water out in your garden for birds. When it is very cold many water sources may freeze overnight which can mean that birds go without unless someone has helpfully refreshed the water in their garden. You don't need a fancy bird bath – a bowl or dish will be more than sufficient for a thirsty bird on a cold morning.