Saturday, 17 January 2015

Amwell Nature Reserve

I always wanted to live near a wetland nature reserve, and when my family and I moved to Ware from north London, I ended up surrounded by wetlands. Amwell Nature Reserve, owned by Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust, is only around 3 miles away from my house. It is also a short walking distance from St. Margaret's rail station, or around a mile's walk from Ware rail station, taking you along the scenic River Lee navigation.

I visit at all times of year, since it is my local patch so to speak. There are photos here from two summers and winters ago, as I haven't gotten round to uploading photos taken in the last six months or so.


Panoramic view of Amwell Nature Reserve, with my mum, Hattie.
Hertfordshire, May 2014


Wild red fox
Vulpes vulpes crucigera (Bechstein, 1789)
Canidae; Carnivora; Mammalia; Chordata
Wild at Amwell Nature Reserve, Hertfordshire, March 2013

Some mammals to start with. I saw this fox in broad daylight in the fields adjoining the nature reserve, probably taking advantage of the many rabbits that abound in this area.


Wild Reeves' muntjac
Muntiacus reevesi (Ogilby, 1839)
Cervidae; Artiodactyla; Mammalia; Chordata
Wild at Amwell Nature Reserve, Hertfordshire, May 2014

It's not too unusual to see Reeves' muntjac around in these parts but during the day is unusual (for me at least), and also oddly enough, I think this deer was on an island! The waters around it must be shallow, as the grey heron in the background shows. Reeves' muntjac are not native to the UK, being introduced from China, having escaped into the wild from Woburn and Whipsnade deer parks in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.


Wild eastern grey squirrel
Sciurus carolinensis Gmelin, 1788
Sciuridae; Rodentia; Mammalia; Chordata
Wild at Amwell Nature Reserve, Hertfordshire, June 2013

A grey squirrel at the feeders by the James hide, a great place to see small birds, and some mammals, without disturbing them.



The author with Konik ponies
Equus caballus Linnaeus, 1758
Equidae; Cetartiodactyla; Mammalia; Chordata
Amwell Nature Reserve, June 2013

Here I am with two of the reserves Konik ponies, before and after being bitten on the arm by one. When they're not biting bloggers, they are seen grazing the reserve. They are semi-wild, being a breed of domestic horse selected for its similarities to the ancestral tarpan (the now extinct wild horse that gave rise to all domestic horses and ponies). The Koniks are very hardy and not very tame, as evidenced by the bite.


Female (left) and male northern shoveler
Anas clypeata Linnaeus, 1758
Anatidae; Anseriformes; Aves; Chordata
Wild at Amwell Nature Reserve, Hertfordshire, March 2014


Male gadwall
Anas strepera Linnaeus, 1758
Anatidae; Anseriformes; Aves; Chordata
Wild at Amwell Nature Reserve, Hertfordshire, March 2014



Greylag goose
Anser anser anser (Linnaeus, 1758)
Anatidae; Anseriformes; Aves; Chordata
Wild at Amwell Nature Reserve, Hertfordshire, March 2014

There are many wildfowl species to be seen at Amwell. Residents include the feral greylag geese that probably descended from farmyard geese (which themselves originally descended from truly wild greylag geese!) and mallards. Gadwalls and shovelers are more common in winter, as are teal, pochard and wigeon.


Common gull
Larus canus Linnaeus, 1758
Laridae; Charadriiformes; Aves; Chordata
Wild at Amwell Nature Reserve, Hertfordshire, March 2014

Many species of gull congregate on the reserve and its surrounding waters, including black-headed, herring, and lesser black-backed gulls. I rarely see other types, but this common gull was an exception. Despite its name, common gulls are not all that common in southern Britain, preferring northern parts of the country.


Common tern
Sterna hirundo Linnaeus, 1758
Sternidae; Charadriiformes; Aves; Chordata
Wild at Amwell Nature Reserve, Hertfordshire, June 2013

Common terns are summer visitors to Britain, breeding on shingle islands and artificial tern rafts in fresh water bodies, unlike most other British terns, which are pretty much exclusively coastal. The reserve is absolutely buzzing with common terns in June, being seen over the gravel pits themselves (as this one can be seen bathing in the shallows of), or over the River Lea navigation among the barges.


Little ringed plover
Charadrius dubius Scopoli, 1786
Charadriidae; Charadriiformes; Aves; Chordata
Wild at Amwell Nature Reserve, Hertfordshire, May 2014

Many wader species can be found at Amwell, common ones including snipe (Gallinago gallinago), redshank (Tringa totanus), and lapwing (Vanellus vanellus). The little ringed plover is a summer visitor to Britain from Africa, being found in gravelly areas like former gravel pits, but are often hard to spot because of their size and awesome camouflage. If it weren't for the yellow eye ring it would have gone unnoticed by me!


Common moorhen
Gallinula chloropus chloropus Linnaeus, 1758
Rallidae; Gruiformes; Aves; Chordata
Wild at Amwell Nature Reserve, Hertfordshire, March 2014


Juvenile Eurasian coot swimming among mare's tail (Hippuris vulgaris)
Fulica atra atra Linnaeus, 1758
Rallidae; Gruiformes; Aves; Chordata
Wild at Amwell Nature Reserve, Hertfordshire, May 2014

Britain's most common rail species are the common moorhen and Eurasian coot. These birds are often mistaken for ducks because of their shape when seen on the water surface, but their long-toed feet reveal their allies with other rails. Both are found in all sorts of fresh water bodies, from urban park ponds to expansive wetlands. Both start out life as little fluff balls with ginormous feet and colourful faces, with the colour becoming limited to the beak in the moorhen, and turning to white in the coot.


Grey heron
Ardea cinerea cinerea Linnaeus, 1758
Ardeidae; Pelecaniformes; Aves; Chordata
Wild at Amwell Nature Reserve, Hertfordshire, March 2014


Semi-submerged grey heron
Wild at Amwell Nature Reserve, Hertfordshire, June 2013

Grey herons are normally very elegant birds, taking fish and other aquatic prey from the water's edge. The heron in the lower photo apparently felt the urge to go right into the pond. I felt concerned for the bird's ability to fly out again, as its feathers would be waterlogged.


Dunnock
Prunella modularis (Linnaeus, 1758)
Prunellidae; Passeriformes; Aves; Chordata
Wild at Amwell Nature Reserve, Hertfordshire, March 2014

The dunnock, or hedge sparrow, is a common European accentor, a group of birds endemic to Eurasia that look somewhat like sparrows. It is mainly a ground feeder, preferring not to visit bird tables but to eat crumbs that have fallen from above, which this bird seems to have been doing. I always found them difficult to photograph, as they are fast-moving and prefer darker environments. This was my first opportunity to photograph an otherwise-occupied dunnock.


Cetti's warbler
Cettia cetti (Temminck, 1820)
Cettiidae; Passeriformes; Aves; Chordata
Wild at Amwell Nature Reserve, Hertfordshire, March 2014

Cetti's warblers are more often heard than seen. Their explosive song can be heard in wetlands mainly in spring and summer but as they are resident, they can be heard, and potentially seen, year-long. I caught this Cetti's warbler completely by chance. I was trying to focus on a wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) that was perched in exactly the same spot, when the wren flew off and was instantly replaced by the Cetti's warbler. My slow reflexes, instead of catching the wren, caught the Cetti's warbler the instant it perched. This was also the day I saw a kingfisher in the same reed bed, but got no decent photographs. Still, the Cetti's warbler was a perfect compromise.


Sedge warbler
Acrocephalus schoenobaenus (Linnaeus, 1758)
Acrocephalidae; Passeriformes; Aves; Chordata
Wild at Amwell Nature Reserve, Hertfordshire, May 2014

Sedge warblers are another bird that is more often heard than seen, frequenting British reed beds during the summer. They can be distinguished from the similar reed warbler (A. scirpaceus) by the white supercilium (eye brow).


Male reed bunting
Emberiza schoeniclus (Linnaeus, 1758)
Emberizidae; Passeriformes; Aves; Chordata
Wild at Amwell Nature Reserve, Hertfordshire, March 2014

Reed buntings are seen the year round in Britain in reed beds. Males have the black head and chest patch, while females look rather sparrow-like.


Mayfly
Ephemera danica Müller, 1764
Ephemeridae; Ephemeroptera; Insecta; Arthropoda
Wild at Amwell Nature Reserve, Hertfordshire, May 2014

Mayflies are known for one thing, unless you're a fisherman or a biologist. Their incredibly short lifespan. This is partly true - as an adult, mayflies last for about a day, maximum two days. They do, however, spend the vast majority of their lives in the water as a nymph. The nymphs have the three cerci (tails) that the adult has, but lack wings, otherwise looking vaguely similar to damselfly nymphs. Before becoming a fully-fledged adult, mayflies go through a winged sexually immature phase known as the subimago. This was the first mayfly I've seen in its adult stage.


Common scorpionfly
Panorpa communis Linnaeus, 1758
Panorpidae; Mecoptera; Insecta; Arthropoda
Wild at Amwell Nature Reserve, Hertfordshire, June 2013

One last insect for you, a scorpionfly. The rear portion of its abdomen vaguely resembles a scorpion's tail, but is completely non-venomous. It is a holometabolous insect (one which goes through the life cycle of egg > larva > pupa > adult), never really straying far from the place it pupated.

Next, the London Wetland Centre.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

RSPB The Lodge

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is the UK's largest nature conservation charity. Their headquarters is near a town called Sandy in Bedfordshire, which happens to be under an hour's drive from where I live in neighbouring Hertfordshire. The headquarters and its surrounding grounds are known as The Lodge, which is what this photo essay is about.

I first visited The Lodge last February on a cold but sunny day with my mum. I was particularly impressed with one of the hides along the Woodpecker Trail, which I spent hours in, watching countless birds.




Great spotted woodpeckers (from top: female, male, male in foreground female in background)
Dendrocopos major (Linnaeus, 1758)
Picidae; Piciformes; Aves; Chordata
Wild at RSPB The Lodge, Bedfordshire, February 2014

Of course I expected to hear woodpeckers prominently at this time of year along the Woodpecker Trail but I didn't expect to see them at such close range. Males are told from females by the small patch of red on the nape of the neck, but are otherwise identical. The great spotted woodpecker is one of only three British woodpeckers (a fourth, the wryneck Jynx torquilla is a rare vagrant) and is easily heard in late winter and throughout spring drumming at trees.


Stock dove
Columba oenas Linnaeus, 1758
Columbidae; Columbiformes; Aves; Chordata
Wild at RSPB The Lodge, Bedfordshire, February 2014

Although quite similar, the stock dove is less of a suburban animal than the wood pigeon. Stock doves are distinguished by the dark iris (making it look 'kinder' than the wood pigeon), lack of white patch on the neck, and no white on the wings. The 'stock' in its name derives from an Old English word meaning a hollow piece of wood, which would be used as 'wood stock' for fires. Although called a dove (as are white feral pigeons), it is most certainly a pigeon.


Long-tailed tit
Aegithalos caudatus rosaceus Mathews, 1937
Aegithalidae; Passeriformes; Aves; Chordata
Wild at RSPB The Lodge, Bedfordshire, February 2014

A long-tailed tit, one of my favourite British birds, looking rather bull-necked.


Lesser redpoll
Acanthis cabaret Statius Müller, 1776
Fringillidae; Passeriformes; Aves; Chordata
Wild at RSPB The Lodge, Bedfordshire, February 2014

Most redpolls are winter finches, spending the summer months at higher latitudes in northern Europe and Greenland. The lesser redpoll, however, is mostly sedentary, with higher numbers being present in winter during particularly cold spells further north. The red 'poll' in its name is referring to the top of the head, which is rosy red.


Male mallard
Anas platyrhynchos Linnaeus, 1758
Anatidae; Anseriformes; Aves; Chordata
Wild at RSPB The Lodge, Bedfordshire, April 2014


Eastern grey squirrel
Sciurus carolinensis Gmelin, 1788
Sciuridae; Rodentia; Mammalia; Chordata
Wild at RSPB The Lodge, Bedfordshire, April 2014


European rabbit
Oryctolagus cuniculus (Linnaeus, 1758)
Leporidae; Lagomorpha; Mammalia; Chordata
Wild at RSPB The Lodge, Bedfordshire, April 2014


Female common blackbird
Turdus merula merula Linnaeus, 1758
Turdidae; Passeriformes; Aves; Chordata
Wild at RSPB The Lodge, Bedfordshire, April 2014

I visited again two months later in warmer weather, and the bunnies were abounding. The small pool in front of the hide helped attract thirsty birds and mammals and those in need of a bath.


Male chaffinch
Fringilla coelebs gengleri Kleinschmidt, 1909
Fringillidae; Passeriformes; Aves; Chordata
Wild at RSPB The Lodge, Bedfordshire, April 2014


Eurasian nuthatch
Sitta europaea caesia Wolf, 1810
Sittidae; Passeriformes; Aves; Chordata
Wild at RSPB The Lodge, Bedfordshire, April 2014


European goldfinch
Carduelis carduelis britannica (Hartert, 1903)
Fringillidae; Passeriformes; Aves; Chordata
Wild at RSPB The Lodge, Bedfordshire, April 2014


Eurasian magpie
Pica pica pica (Linnaeus, 1758)
Picidae; Passeriformes; Aves; Chordata
Wild at RSPB The Lodge, Bedfordshire, April 2014

Eurasian robin
Erithacus rubecula melophilus Hartert, 1901
Muscicapidae; Passeriformes; Aves; Chordata
Wild at RSPB The Lodge, Bedfordshire, April 2014

Passerines were in abundance, including this odd-looking robin with a few facial feathers missing.


Male common pheasant
Phasianus colchicus Linnaeus, 1758
Phasianidae; Galliformes; Aves; Chordata
Wild at RSPB The Lodge, Bedfordshire, April 2014



Male mallard with male pheasant
Wild at RSPB The Lodge, Bedfordshire, April 2014

I caught these two Galloanserae in an odd set of poses in front of the hide.

Next up is Amwell Nature Reserve, my local patch.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Kingfishers in Hertfordshire

I thought I'd resuscitate this blog with some photo essays of memorable places I've been in 2014. The first of these is RSPB Rye Meads in Hoddesdon, east Hertfordshire. I have been visiting this nature reserve since 2006, and since it is my closest RSPB reserve now that I live in east Herts, I visit fairly regularly.

Rye Meads is a wetland reserve part owned by RSPB and Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust, and is close to London, with trains from Liverpool Street stopping at Rye House station, a ten minute (slow) walk away from the reserve.


Male Eurasian kingfisher
Alcedo atthis (Linnaeus, 1758)
Alcedinidae; Coraciiformes; Aves; Chordata
Wild at RSPB Rye Meads, March 2014

Rye Meads is most famous for hosting breeding populations of kingfishers. They are easily visible from many hides, most notably the Kingfisher Hide. They can be seen darting back and forth between feeding areas and the nesting site, as the male pictured above was photographed.


Green sandpipers
Tringa ochropus Linnaeus, 1758
Scolopacidae; Charadriiformes; Aves; Chordata
Wild at RSPB Rye Meads, August 2013

Other birds the reserve attracts include black-necked grebes (Podiceps nigricollis), a nationally scarce breeding bird, and green sandpipers.


Northern water vole
Arvicola amphibius (Linnaeus, 1758)
Cricetidae; Rodentia; Mammalia; Chordata
Wild at RSPB Rye Meads, August 2013

The most commonly seen mammal in the reserve is the water vole. Water voles, sometimes known affectionately by the name of Ratty, thanks to the character in Wind of the Willows, suffered a severe decline in the UK in recent decades due to introduced American mink (Neovison vison). Thankfully, water voles respond well to reintroduction projects and are now on the increase again. At Rye Meads, voles can easily be seen munching on apples and other food given to them by reserve staff on feeding platforms beneath some of the bridges.


Peacock butterfly
Aglais io (Linnaeus, 1758)
Nymphalidae; Lepidoptera: Insecta; Arthropoda
Wild at RSPB Rye Meads, April 2014

The summer is a great time to visit, with butterflies and dragonflies in abundance, while winter is great for wintering wildfowl.

The next article will feature another local RSPB reserve and some pecking piciforms.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

I think I hear a heartbeat... IT'S ALIVE!!

Hello followers (do I hear an echo?echo?echo?), I have decided to resuscitate this blog, blow off the thick layers of dust, and start semi-regular blogging again as the Disillusioned Taxonomist-turned-vertebrate-palaeontologist-in-training.

What follows is sort of a "best-of", a few of my proudest blogging moments from the first three years of this blog, then links to all of the quizzes I've held, plus the answers, on various areas of natural history over the years.

One of my first posts, back in 2008 (when I was 24, holy flipflop!), was a short story about a radioactive theropod. It was good, I still think so! Meeting with a Spinosaurus

I blogged about the Natural History Museum later that year, where you can see a young me posing with some stuffed felids. My Favourite Museum

After my first visit to Cyprus in 8 years, when I visited the Güzelyurt Museum of Archaeology and Natural History, and reported on some of its more bizarre exhibits. Rogue Taxidermy

In the latter half of 2009, I blogged a series of posts about British wildlife, featuring an A-Z of native extant and extinct animals and one plant. For the letter B, I featured Baryonyx, and included a poem I wrote about my then-favourite dinosaur when I was about 8 years old. British Wildlife: B

And one of my favourites, my prehistoric animal alphabet, with 26 fictional creatures shaped like the letters of the alphabet, complete with binomials. Prehistoric Animal Alphabet

And here are the quizzes:



I hope I still have a few readers, in which case, thanks for reading, and a Happy New Year to all!

Monday, 15 July 2013

Flickr lists

I have recently updated my Flickr photograph portfolio, featuring >2,000 photographs of animals and plants. 

I was originally going to post a number of long lists here, but they are very long and dry, but if anybody wants them, let me know and I can send them by email. I have listed the links to individual photographs by common name in alphabetical order, scientific name in alphabetical order, and in a phylogenetic order. If there is a request for a list of photos from a particular place, e.g. London Wetland Centre, or Cyprus, I can easily make one of those. I realise these lists of photos would be useful to anyone looking for a photo to use in a publication, on a web page, or any other educational use.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Flickr photography portfolio

Hey all,

I have created a portfolio of my wildlife photography shots over the years, now on Flickr.

Flickr photostream

There are currently around 1800 photographs in there of animals and plants, wild and captive, taken in the UK, Europe, Cyprus, and the US. I have created sets for broad taxonomic groups, orders of tetrapod, continent of origin, and conservation status. Any suggestions for more tags or sets welcome.

I cannot guarantee everything is correctly identified, so any well-informed suggestions for taxonomy and identification are also welcome.

I will also add selected art pieces in due course.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Blue-and-gold Macaw

Blue-and-gold macaw
Ara ararauna (Linnaeus, 1758)
Psittacidae; Psittaciformes; Aves; Chordata
Digital painting created using ArtRage 3.5.4 Studio Pro
January 2013

A tropical start to 2013! A happy new year to all.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Penguins of the World

Penguins of the World
Digital art created using Artrage 3.5.4 Studio Pro, using original pencil illustrations first published on this blog in 2008
November to December 2012


I have been inactive on this blog of late. I am still creating artwork, as can be seen here. Here are the eighteen species of penguin in existence, ranging in size from the emperor to the little blue, and extending in distribution from the Equator to within a few degrees of the South Pole, and on four southern continents. I have blogged about the Spheniscidae in more detail some years back, with posts on all species as linked to below:

Emperor Penguin and King Penguin
Adélie Penguin and Chinstrap Penguin
Gentoo Penguin and Yellow-eyed Penguin
Northern Rockhopper Penguin and Southern Rockhopper Penguin
Erect-crested Penguin and Fiordland Crested Penguin
 Macaroni Penguin and Royal Penguin
Snares Crested Penguin and Little Blue Penguin
Jackass Penguin and Galapagos Penguin
Magellanic Penguin and Humboldt Penguin

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

What's that gosling?... revealed

It's a Hawaiian goose, or nene, gosling.



Hawaiian goose with gosling
Branta sandvicensis (Vigors, 1833)
Anatidae; Anseriformes; Aves; Chordata
London Wetland Centre
April 2012

The hint in the photo was the half-webbed, or semipalmate, feet. The goslings are growing fast and are as of yesterday almost the same size as their parents.

Why I'm NOT boycotting Eurovision 2012

I don’t normally make a habit of using this blog as a platform for my political opinion (in fact this might be the first time, I can’t remember), but since I feel quite strongly about human rights, LGBT rights, and camp pan-European song contests, I will make an exception to explain why I won’t be boycotting the 57th Eurovision Song Contest which takes place this Saturday in Baku.

Until I watched Panorama: Eurovision’s Dirty Secret, an excellent piece of investigative journalism by the BBC, last night, I was quite ignorant of the plight of the Azeri people, especially those who speak out against the corrupt government. Journalist Paul Kenyon interviewed several protesters who were horrifically treated and have had to seek exile in order to avoid even worse torture. Despite legalising homosexuality in 2001, same sex unions are still not recognised, and many Azeri people feel uncomfortable being openly gay due to the threat of persecution. Several European countries have officially boycotted the event: Armenia, a long time foe of the neighbouring Azerbaijan, has pulled out altogether, as has Poland. So why am I still watching?

Until I came out as gay two years ago, I never admitted to enjoying watching the song contest, as doing so would have most likely automatically outed me. I watch for several reasons:
  • guessing to whom each country will give twelve points/douze points and no points/nul points;
  • to laugh at the ridiculous costumes;
  • to make derisive tweets about the representatives each country chooses to give the vote results;
  • to laugh at Graham Norton’s comments on said representatives;
  • to root Turkey and the UK on;
  • and to have something to talk about for the next few weeks because even if you’re European and don’t watch it, you know someone who does and most likely have an opinion on it anyway. 
So why deprive myself of this multi-level enjoyment only to be heard by no-one? There are more productive ways to get heard: blogging about it is a start, as is signing a petition (such as here and here) to the Azeri government or to your own government, pleading to them to stop the unjust treatment of dissidents or the economic/ political support of a nation that allows this to happen.

Comments welcome as usual. Tell me, will you be watching this year?