Redwing

This morning brought 5 inches of snow on the ground, and a couple of new visitors to the garden. First up, a redwing up in a mostly leafless tree. This is very similar to a song thrush (and indeed it is a type of thrush migrating to the UK from Scandinavia) with a notable reddy orange patch on the body beneath the wing. The other telltale features are the pale stripes above the eye and through the moustache, and red under-wings if seen in flight from the right angle.

Blizzard

Yesterday I complained about the snow flakes being small and pathetic and difficult to photograph. Nature has a great sense of irony and has supplied me with drifts of the stuff today. Well several inches anyway, and all whipped up by vicious winds. It's a blizzard out there!

Snowflake

You know those beautiful pictures of perfect snowflakes that you see in newspapers and magazines? Turns out they're rather hard to emulate, judging by my crumby efforts!

Above is my best attempt with this morning's first snowfall in St Albans. I used a sturdy tripod, zoomed live view to focus as perfectly as possible, and a self-timed mirror-up exposure to minimise camera shake. And the results above are about the best I can manage with my 1:1 macro lens – though I didn't hang about long as it's cold out there. I think now I know what they mean by "the wrong kind of snow". You can see the basic snowflake six-way structure, but it's just a blobby, knobbly mess really – and tiny at only a couple of millimetres across. I suspect that larger snowflakes and colder temperatures are required for great pictures, so the crystal structure remains crisp and sharp edged. It looks like my snowflake has got lots of detritus stuck to it. Greater magnification would also help but I'm close to the limits of my kit here.

RedSquirrelNutBoxIt's a commonly held misconception that squirrels hibernate. They do spend longer sleeping in their dreys (nests) up in the trees, keeping warm and saving energy, especially during bad weather when they might sit it out for days at a time.They come down regularly to forage for food throughout the winter and even breed through December and January, as well as in the summer.

The cheeky red chap in the picture prefers to stick his head in a box of nuts and pretend that the weather's fine really.

An interesting new take on twitching from Sky: competitive celebrity bird watching hosted by comedian Bill Bailey. That's Bill Bailey's Big Bird Watch, apparently arriving 8th January 2010 on Sky1 and Sky1 HD. It's a shame it's not on proper tele, as I won't be able to see it. Perhaps they'll show it in pubs…

PiedWagtail

Having just driven into the drive, my wife greeted me by pointing out a Pied wagtail happily wagging right where I had driven mere moments before. I've not seen one around our house before, so this was a pleasant surprise. It even posed for the camera.

This example is showing the winter plumage, with more white around the throat.

HeronFlying

These things seems almost jurassic as they slowly flap by. The screeching shrieks sound how you imagine a velociraptor or pterodactyl might – or how Steven Spielberg already imaged they did, at least.

No, not a threat to Scotland's hopes for independence, but instead the worrying news that the first Harlequin ladybird larva has been discovered in Glasgow by RSPB staff. Although there have been sightings of the ladybirds themselves there, this is the first proof that they are actually breeding in Scotland.

Harlequin ladybirds are native to central Asia, but were introduced to Europe as a form of aphid pest control. They spread very quickly, and their efficiency in feeding off insects, other ladybirds' larvae and butterfly eggs means that they are putting many native British species at risk. There have been frequent sightings in the south of England, but this movement to Scotland shows just how fast they are spreading and also suggests that here in the UK they can be found in the majority of the country. Exactly what the impact will be on native species is still to be seen, but first indications are not good. Hopefully lessons will be learnt about the dangers of introducing non-native species and the effect that doing so can have on our native wildlife. 

I found an impressive blog by the name Zooillogix, which presents the bizarre, new, shocking and funny faces of zoology – mostly by way of pictures and videos from around the world. I sat captivated by footage of an elephant giving birth, a leopard seal trying to teach a diving photographer how to hunt penguins and an assault course tackling 'agility gerbil'. It's probably not everyone's cup of tea, but actually I don't much like tea so I found it to be really gripping and filled with diverse content.

SquirrelEatingApple

In other news, dog bites man etc.