Norfolk Wildlife Trust have a great website with resources to help in surveying many different kinds of wildlife, from ponds to fungi. The forms are designed to be sent back to report on wildlife in Norfolk, but there's so much great information and guidance that they should be of interest to anybody.

WesternConiferSeedBug

Thanks to reader Kerri for sending in this picture of a bug, asking for help in identification. After some intense scouring of the web, I'm certain this is a Western conifer seed bug (Leptoglossus occidentalis) and as such it is actually fairly rare in the UK, though rapidly becoming less so. It's native to the Western USA but has been invading Europe over the last decade and the UK in the last few years, spreading from the South coast. Kerri's was found on the East coast in Lincolnshire. It is a minor pest that mostly lives in conifers, sucking at the developing seeds and causing them to fail to develop properly. Actually its name describes it quite well!

Chaffinch

The RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch returns this weekend! Put simply, they implore anyone and everyone to sit for an hour watching their own garden and recording the birds they see against an ID sheet. The collated results help form a better picture of the changing fortunes of birdlife across the UK, especially as the picture builds up year on year from each of these events. It's also a relaxing, fun way to enjoy your own garden and the wildlife in it that you might not have properly noticed if you haven't previously taken the time to just watch.

Head to the RSPB website to register. You can do your hour at any time this weekend (29th or 30th Jan 2011).

Perhaps the UK's plantlife thinks winter is over? After the surprisingly long period of early snow and ice we had a week or so of relatively mild and wet weather, and now many plants are covered in green buds, snowdrops are out and fat green shoots from bulbs are poking out of the soil. I've lost track of whether this is early or not (perhaps the snowdrops are largely on time, if a bit keen) since recent years have all been a bit freakish!

15. January 2011 · 2 comments · Categories: Birds

CheekyBlackcap

A regular visitor to my garden feeders this winter has been a Blackcap (or maybe more than one) which I hadn't seen at all in previous months and years. Here he is looking a bit puffed up and hiding amidst the snows from a few weeks ago. I assume it's a he as the cap is black rather than brown.

10. January 2011 · 2 comments · Categories: Birds

MysteryThrush

This is clearly a Thrush of some sort, and probably a juvenile, but what sort exactly? Song thrush, Mistle thrush, blackbird even (they are a type of thrush, as is the Robin, but you knew that already)?

Note the yellow in the beak, the light mottling around the neck and the pinky legs (too colourful for a blackbird I reckon). But it wouldn't surprise me if it's just a blackbird.

AlucitaMoth
An unusual small moth, this Alucita hexadactyla's wings appear to be comprised of lots of individual 'feathers' all sprouting from the thorax. Actually the latin name means "six fingered" because there are technically six "plumes" on each side, though the common name "Twenty-plume moth" seems to make more sense to me, though not as much sense as "Twenty-four-plume moth" would, if my counting abilities are worth anything (though admittedly some plumes aren't very clear)!

It feeds on Honeysuckle, well the caterpillar does, and is fairly common in the UK all year round.

Redwing2 Fieldfare3

As often happens in a snowy UK winter Redwings and Fieldfares from Scandinavia are filling the trees in our gardens. They are both a type of Thrush and fairly similar, but how to tell the difference at a glance? The photos above may be poor, but I'm hoping that accentuates the "at a glance" nature of the comparison, and they're fresh photos from recent days – who wants to see last year's well-focussed birds anyway! On the left is a Redwing, and on the right a Fieldfare.

Personally I find that Fieldfares are noticeably greyer and darker all over whereas Redwings have more of a general warm coloured hue, and of course the eponymous red patch peeping out from under the wing, but you might not be able to see that at a glance. Also the bright streak at the top of the Fieldfare's wing particularly tends to catch my eye and give positive ID.

Moon
An interesting new series Stargazing Live starts tonight at 8pm on BBC 2, running for three nights in a row. Professor Brian Cox (favourite of ladies of a certain age) and Dara O Briain (a new direction for Dara?) host live stargazing, featuring various observatories around the world, and no doubt running the full scale from 'you can do this in your own back garden' to 'epic images courtesy of the world's biggest telescopes'.

The BBC also has a tie-in news item on stargazing, this apparently being a great time for it with celestial conditions setup well. However a clear sky and minimal light pollution are harder to find in the UK, and it discusses that topic at length too.

The BBC reports on a simple device that can mimic the songs of a variety bird species. The device is simply a rubber recreation of a bird's vocal tract which you blow through, modulated by a motor which acts as a single muscle controlling the sound. The simplicity of the device calls into question prevailing theories about the neurological complexity required in birds to produce sophisticated songs – suggesting that it could be simpler than previously thought. Obviously the experiment is not conclusive, but it throws interesting new light on the topic.

Oh and happy new year!