Winter seems to have arrived in full force, rather earlier than normal, though only a cursory dusting of the white stuff on car roofs in the morning here in the South. At least so far. A few miscellaneous musings and observations for the season:

  • Magpies seem to be particularly in evidence in my neck of the woods (disclaimer: not actually woods) perhaps because they're foraging on lawns for invertebrates and on the roads for roadkill.
  • I saw a field full of Lapwing just outside St Albans (UKNB HQ) which I've never seen before. According to the RSPB it is normal to see them flocking in fields in winter, I've just never seen it myself around here. I only spotted it from the car because of a bird in flight, with its distinctively massive flag-like wings. The rather low-fidelity picture above shows what I mean.
  • Most trees have dropped their leaves but the oak tree at the bottom of the garden is still fairly well covered in leaves, most of them green, which surprised me. A bit of internet research suggests this is a trait of oaks, keeping their leaves attached to the tree until they are pushed off by the growing new leaves, hence never looking completely bare. I'm not sure which varieties of oak this applies to.

The Take a View Landscape Photographer of the year competition has crowned its 2010 winners, all of which are now on display at the National Theatre until 22nd January.

The BBC has a slideshow of some of the best shots, which really are magnificent and capture Britain wonderfully. Many of them highlight that golden rule of landscape photography: light is everything, and being in the right place at just the right moment is critical.

I tried to find a landscape picture of my own to adequately illustrate this post, but I just couldn't come up with anything that wouldn't look puny in comparison to these competition winners!

This bird of prey is "mantling" to hide its prey from other predators, spreading its body and wings around it so it can't be easily seen, especially by other birds.

I'm afraid I'm not quite sure what type of hawk or falcon this is, and indeed I had to look up the official difference between hawks and falcons. Apparently falcons are a subtype of hawks and are generally smaller, faster and take their prey in the air. This particular example was photographed as part of a falconry display at Thorp Perrow Arboretum, so it's not necessarily a native British species. They did say what it was but I think I missed that bit as I tried to placate a crying baby!

The BBC reports that the Rosser's sac spider, thought to be extinct in the UK, has been found alive and well at Chippenham Fen in Cambridgeshire after 10 years without being seen. For an alternative and more amusing take on the story, try io9's version!

I've struggled to find a page on Rossers' sac spiders that delivers the full low down on them, but I get the impression they're really not that big, though probably possess a nasty bite for their size.


A slightly blurry Coal tit here, and below a shot better showing the distinctive white patch on the back of the head, which distinguishes it from the very similar Willow and Marsh tits. A fairly common visitor to garden feeders but much rarer than the Great tits and Blue tits in my garden so always nice to seem, though surprisingly hard to pick out from the other tits on a dull day without binoculars.




This pair of young Mute swans very obligingly flew in circles around a lake for me, so I could prepare to photograph them each time they came round. Perhaps they were practising their flying skills. Unfortunately I only had a compact camera so it was quite a challenge to shoot the rapidly moving target, even though they were quite predictable.

A Mute swan weighs 8-10Kg and has a wing span of 2.25m, so they're the heavy bombers of the bird world.


Apparently the commonest finch and the second commonest bird in the UK, nonetheless the humble Chaffinch deserves some page time here. Wikipedia is a mine of information, and from it I learn that it's so called a "Chaff finch" because of its habit of picking through the grain left out in farmyards amongst the chaff. As with all finches it has a robust beak for picking out and cracking seeds and you can see it has one in its beak here.


Not strictly "UK Nature" but I can't help but notice that Meerkats seem to be quite happy living in outdoor enclosures in UK Zoos, suggesting they could perhaps live here if they really wanted. Apart from the lack of appropriate food and habitat of course, there not being so many lizards, snakes and scorpions for them to nosh on compared to the Kalahari desert. But I do wonder if enough escaped whether they could establish themselves, as plenty of other 'exotic' wildlife has in the past – for instance the Ring-necked parakeets now a fixture in South-East parklands.

The cheeky trio above are huddling for warmth against the North Yorkshire autumn at Thorp Perrow Arboretum, provider of so many recent posts on this blog. I strongly recommend a visit if you're in the area!


No trip to Northumberland would be complete without Red squirrels, so here's one for you, gnawing on a pine cone of some sort. Actually this squirrel is caged at Thorp Perrow Arboretum (which is in North Yorkshire, as has been pointed out to me) and photographed through the mesh as described in my previous post. I did see a few in the wild but they were too quick for me this year. I did notice that they seemed more deeply coloured, with notably blacker tails than the ones I had seen last year, which may be meaningful in some way but is probably just natural variation or dodgy memory.