Kingfisher

There has been much speculation in the press over recent months about the impact that the harsh winter has had on our wildlife, and many have singled out kingfishers as a breed that may well have been severely affected.

Surveys are one of the best ways of finding out if there is anything to back up all of this speculation and another one that has kicked off recently is the British Waterways’ Wildlife Survey 2010. British Waterways are responsible for over 2,200 miles of rivers and canals in the UK and their ecologists use the results of the survey to help monitor, protect and conserve the wildlife that is found around the rivers and canals in their care.

So, if you spot a kingfisher or any other wildlife near your local waterway then please submit your sightings as part of the survey. They’ve produced a handy guide to the survey which includes a picture based spotting sheet to make the job even easier!    

If you’re lucky enough to capture your sightings on your camera then they’ve also set up a Flickr group in which to share your photos.

21. March 2010 · 2 comments · Categories: Birds

SlavonianGrebe 

Here is a Slavonian grebe (sometimes known as a Horned grebe) wintering at the RPSB's Dungeness nature reserve. It's worth clicking through on that first link to see what its summer plumage looks like if you don't already know. Frankly I find it hard to believe it's the same bird.

They are very similar in appearance to Black-necked grebes in winter colours, but I'm pretty sure this one is Slavonian. Several other people saying "there's a Slavonian grebe just round the corner" before I saw it helped with the identification.

20. March 2010 · 1 comment · Categories: Birds

Great-crestedGrebe

As per yesterday's post, I have a list as long as my arm of things spotted at the RSPB's Dungeness nature reserve, and having now gone through the pictures it's time to start presenting them.

First up a Great crested grebe, including a rather distant shot of a pair of them going about their courtship dance below.

Great-crestedGrebeDisplay

18. March 2010 · 1 comment · Categories: Birds

A visit today to the RSPB's reserve at Dungeness on the South coast. This is a massive peninsula that's mostly shingle (medium sized pebbles) with watery pits and ditches. Photos (lots of photos) will be forthcoming but for now a list of the large quantity of different birds that we identified in just a few hours. Highlighted in red are those that were new to us.

  • Mute swan
  • Greylag goose
  • Canada goose
  • Shelduck
  • Wigeon
  • Teal
  • Mallard
  • Shoveler
  • Pochard
  • Tufted duck
  • Goldeneye
  • Great crested grebe
  • Little grebe
  • Cormorant
  • Grey heron
  • Little egret
  • Red-legged partridge
  • Pheasant
  • Marsh harrier
  • Moorhen
  • Coot
  • Lapwing
  • Black-headed gull
  • Great black-backed gull
  • Herring gull
  • Wood pigeon
  • Pied wagtail
  • Blackbird
  • Blue tit
  • Great tit
  • Carrion crow
  • House sparrow
  • Chaffinch
  • Linnet
  • Reed bunting
  • Ruddy duck

BulbsEmerging 1 BulbsEmerging 2

A quick selection of green leaves emerging from bulbs in the garden, but which have not yet flowered, frustratingly. I reckon the ones above are some sort of crocus and a tulip. Below I'm going for daffodil on the right, but I have literally no idea about the one on the left. We've not had this garden for a whole year yet which is why we're not sure!

BulbsEmerging 3 BulbsEmerging 4

A very rare white Atlantic Puffin has been spotted along with its common black cousins off the Isles of Scilly. The white puffin was once considered to be a mythical bird, but the latests photograph confirms that this is not the case. 

This puffin's strange colouring is caused by something called leucism, where the colour pigments are formed, but are diluted. This differs from the more commonly known albinism where the strong black pigment is not formed at all. Other leucistic birds have been spotted in the UK before and it seems that seeing a white, or partially white, blackbird can be most confusing for a bird spotter.  

So, just when you thought you'd got the hang of what your common garden birds look like bear in mind that nature can still fool us.

14. March 2010 · 10 comments · Categories: Birds

RedKite

I've been somewhat surprised to see a Red kite circling over residential St Albans recently. Just the other day I saw it near the hospital, and I have previously seen one over the Waitrose car park. I don't quite understand why they're circling high over residential areas, though perhaps they're after carrion or small birds in our gardens. If nothing else it's good evidence of their continued spread across the country.

Sadly I don't have a particularly good picture of a kite as I always seem to be travelling in a car when I spot them aloft. They also tend to be fairly high, and though large birds they are still just a speck in the view of my lens. The picture above was taken in the fields outside St Albans last May. The silhouette is unmistakable, along with the white patches under the wings and the grey head.

The website linked above is well worth a look by the way, with a particularly good introduction to Red kites. I didn't realise that they are so large (2m wingspan), yet so light (2-3 lbs).

BumbleBee

The Telegraph reports on new realisations about the workings of a bee hive. Special 'heater bees' raise their body temperatures by 10c more than usual and actively transmit this heat to developing pupae. The temperature of each pupa determines what role it develops into so the heater bees control the makeup of the hive, as well as providing central heating.

This news apparently comes out of TV programme Richard Hammond's Invisible World, to be aired on the BBC from March 16th.

The eagle-eyed amongst you will no doubt have noticed that the bee pictured above is not the sort that lives in a large hive community, being a bumble bee. I'm afraid I just could find a picture of a honey bee in stock. That said, who's to say that bumble bees don't also have heating tricks that just haven't been figured out yet.

Magpie

Magpies eat other birds' eggs, and it had been speculated that this had led to a recent major decline in songbird numbers. However the Telegraph reports that a recent study lets them off the hook. It seems that there is a correlation between Magpie and songbird numbers, but not a significant causality – at least not in the direction that people feared. So if numbers of songbirds decline then Magpies may decline also because there are less eggs to eat, but Magpies are not increasing in numbers to the detriment of songbirds – their numbers rise and fall in parallel.

It's rare that plants make headline news, but that's exactly what Japanese knotweed has managed today here in the UK.

There are very few gardeners that have not had their own personal battle with Japanese knotweed and bearing in mind that it can grow up to a meter a month that's no surprise. Its strength means that it can break through concrete and tarmac though and as a result it is estimated that £150 million a year that goes into repairing the damage that it does to roads, pavements and buildings. A large cost like this has meant that people are keen to find a solution to the problem, especially since it manages to grow in its native Japan without this kind of problem.

Japanese knotweed was originally brought to the UK by the Victorians as an ornamental plant, but the problem seems to be that it has no natural predators here. Researchers at CABI have been looking into knotweed's predators back in Japan (both insect and fungi) and have been testing them on over 90 UK plant types to try to find one that would have no harmful effects on other plants. 

It has today been announced by Defra that the go-ahead has been given for an insect called a psyllid (aphalara itadori) to be released in England to fight knotweed. No bigger than a grain of sand, the psyllid lay eggs on the weed and the hatched larvae suck out the sap to kill it. 

The release of the psyllid is the first time that biocontrol has been used in Europe to fight a weed. Initially the insects will be released at a couple of isolated sites where there is a known knotweed problem. Careful monitoring will take place to ensure that the insects only impact on the knotweed and countermeasures are in place in case it is found that this is not the case.