15. February 2010 · 1 comment · Categories: Birds

During the working week it can often be a bit difficult to find time to feel close to nature, especially if you're spending large amounts of time commuting daily to your place of work. It is possible though to use this time to your advantage by listening to and learning some of the common birdsong. To help you out BBC Radio 4 have handily created some birdsong sound files which you can listen to on their website, with the ability to download some of them as MP3 files that you can easily take with you on your MP3 player.

If you want to go a step further then it may be that you want to invest in something like Garden Bird Songs and Calls
by Geoff Sample which includes a CD containing 60 minutes worth of recordings of common birdsong. The accompanying book contains details of the recordings, and useful hints on how to interpret what you are hearing and to recognise it when out and about. 

The best time of day to put what you are learning into practice is early in the morning, especially as we head towards spring, as this is when many birds are at their most vocal. Listen out as you're walking to the train station and after a bit of practice you may well be able to recognise some of our feather friends by sound alone.


A Valentine's Day jaunt to the RSPB's reserve at Rye Meads in Hertfordshire. It was a dull, grey day but nice weather for ducks, as they say. Shown above is a male Teal – quite an exotic looking specimen, halfway between Gadwall and Mandarin if you ask me! They're actually noticeably small, compact ducks compared to Mallards (choosing that as my default duck reference point).

Below is the female, showing the green wing patch (also on the male, just not visible above) that does a fair job of distinguishing it from female Gadwalls and Mallards, its small size and tendency to hang around with male Teal being others. Actually I'm particularly pleased with this photograph – click for larger version.


The exotic look of the male Teal turns out not to be such bad camouflage as you might imagine. Certainly paddling around the fringes of reed beds it was reasonably well matched in terms of overall palette, as demonstrated below.


According to the BBC, Birmingham's National Sea Life Centre is set to be the home for 'Crabzilla', a Japanese spider crab with limbs more than five feet long – at least until the end of March. You really have to click through to the article to see the picture of a chap holding it. More frightening pictures are available on the Wikipedia page on Japanese spider crabs.


Not a nature sighting exactly, but our parks wouldn't be much good for the nature if they were swamped with litter. This truck with robot suction arm was seen emptying the bins on Hampstead Heath. Very clever, but ultimately amusing.


I'm fairly certain this is a Cormorant, not a Shag or any sort of diver, seen swimming on Hampstead Heath ponds. It's looking quite distinctive in its winter plumage and with a bright green eye catching the sunlight – almost exotic compared to the sleeker, blacker summer look. The vicious bill which seems to be almost an extension of the shape of the head marks it out as a Cormorant rather than Shag, amongst other things.

This one has a very white and fluffy neck which I haven't seen in most of the archetype photos, but I assume it's not unnatural. Perhaps it's a juvenile, or partway through changing from one look to another.


Apparently the River Thames' eel population has fallen by a massive 98% over the past five years, and to combat this new legislation will require eel passes and screens to be installed to allow free passage to eels up down English and Welsh rivers.

The Guardian and The Telegraph have similar articles about the new laws, but the Telegraph wins for having an actual picture of an eel pass, which turns out to be a fibreglass chute filled with plastic bristles and only a little water that the eels can slither through. Be sure to click the next link for their close up picture including a baby eel.

I'm still not sure what an eel screen is. After an admittedly quick search the best definition I could find was from the Office of Public Sector Information's page on the new laws: "eel screen" means any device, moving or stationary, that is designed to impede the passage of eels through a diversion structure. I'm not that much the wiser to be honest, as it's rather lacking in context or examples of why impeding their passage is a good thing.

07. February 2010 · 1 comment · Categories: Birds


Here is a Tufted duck, on the ponds of Hampstead Heath. You can see why it's called a Tufted duck! The female (it's a male above) is much more drab, being brown all over rather than black and white. It is a diving duck, so makes regular trips below the surface. You can see its legs and feet under the water in the picture above.

They are fairly common but as with most such things it seems that you either have them on your local watery spots or you don't, so you'll be familiar with them or not. Personally I don't tend to see that many of them.


07. February 2010 · 1 comment · Categories: Birds


Pictured above in the weak winter sun is a Black headed gull on a fence post by one of the ponds on Hampstead Heath. In winter these gulls rather unhelpfully have white heads with just a fuzzy black spot on the side. Technically even in the summer it's dark brown, not black, but I can't say I'd notice the difference. This is the commonest inland gull in the UK, so if you see a smallish gull away from the coast then it's probably one of these.

Exhibitions at London Zoo and Plymouth's Living Coast are showing off an enthralling series of ultra close up images of plankton taken by Dr Richard Kirby of the University of Plymouth.

Plankton are of course the tiny living organisms, some invisible to the human eye, that fill the seas and often form the bottom of the food chain. The Wikipedia article on plankton notes that 'plankton' is something of a catch-all term for tiny drifting sea organisms, which includes animals, plants and bacteria.

The BBC has an article and a narrated slideshow about the exhibition.