A collection of wildlife photographs

Monday, 12 October 2015

Minsmere and Suffolk Coast

On 10 October we went on a boat trip on the River Ore, and saw many waders including Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta, Curlew Numenius arquata, Redshank Tringa totanus and Snipe Gallinago gallinago. We also saw a Common Seal Phoca vitulina bobbing in the river.

On 11 October we went to RSPB Minsmere and recorded 44 bird species. Below are photographs of Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa and Little Egret Egretta garzetta.

Little Egret
Black-tailed Godwit

The bird species we recorded on 11 October at Minsmere reserve comprised:
Mute Swan Cygnus olor
Brent Goose Branta bernicla
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna
Wigeon Anas penelope
Teal Anas crecca
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
Shoveler Anas clypeata
Pheasant Phasianus colchicus
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo
Bittern Botaurus stellaris
Little Egret
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis
Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus
Moorhen Gallinula chloropus
Coot Fulica atra
Lapwing Vanellus vanellus
Black-tailed Godwit
Dunlin Calidris alpina
Snipe Gallinago gallinago
Common Gull Larus canus
Greater Black-backed Gull Larus marinus
Herring Gull Larus argentatus
Stock Dove Columba oenas
Woodpigeon Columba palumbus
Kingfisher Alcedo atthis
Kestrel Falco tinnunculus
Magpie Pica pica
Jackdaw Corvus monedula
Carrion Crow Corvus corone
Goldcrest Regulus regulus
Blue Tit Cyanistes caeruleus
Great Tit Parus major
Coal Tit Periparus ater
Starling Sturnus vulgaris
Robin Erithacus rubecula
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
Pied Wagtail Motacilla alba
Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs
Greenfinch Chloris chloris
Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis
Siskin Spinus spinus
Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Corpse Plant flowering Cambridge University Botanic Gardens

From 18 July 2015, one of the Titan Arum Amorphophallus titanum plants in the Cambridge University Botanic Gardens opened fully into flower. This is a rare event, last happening at these Botanic Gardens in 2004. The Titan Arum is native to Sumatra in Indonesia however is now classed as vulnerable to extinction. This vulnerability of its population in the wild is due to habitat loss in the form of deforestation, and this is primarily due to creation of palm oil plantations.

The plant grows vegetatively, with above ground leaves and shoots, and then dies back into its tuber to emerge again as the flower. The tuber from which this individual flowered from this year was well below the average flowering weight of 15kg. This species is a relative of Lords and Ladies Arum maculatum which is native to Britain, however our native species is noticeably smaller than this Sumatran giant.

This species is also known as the Corpse Plant, due to emitting the smell of rotting flesh when in full flower. The inside of the flower heats up during the few nights that the flower remains open and releases sulphurous compounds to the surrounding air. This helps to attract Carrion Beetles and Blow Flies as pollinators from the area. These invertebrates would hopefully deposit pollen from another Titan Arum onto the sticky, female Stigma structures inside the flower.

Below are three photos. The first is of the Titan Arum preparing to flower on 15 July 2015 and the final two are of the Titan Arum on the second night of full flowering (19 July 2015 at 10pm). The smell was apparently much more unpleasant on the first night of flowering, and by the time I saw it it smelt like cheese.

Titan Arum preparing to flower (15 July 2015)
Titan Arum on the second night of full flowering 1/2 (19 July 2015)

Titan Arum on the second night of full flowering 2/2 (19 July 2015)

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Cornish Birds and Plants

On the Easter weekend 2015 I went with my family to Newquay, Cornwall. Aside from eating pasties and surfing, there were several occasions where we got to see the local wildlife. One of them was just on a walk along the headland of Fistral beach.

By the cliff edge sat a Carrion Crow Corvus corone looking around shiftily. It dissapeared behind a tussock of grass for a moment, and reappeared with a Slow Worm Anguis fragilis in its beak. The 5 photos below show a sequence of the Carrion Crow eating its Slow Worm lunch.
Carrion Crow eating Slow Worm 1/2
Carrion Crow eating Slow Worm 2/2
On fields either side of the path stood Herring Gull Larus argentatus, Jackdaw Corvus monedula. Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe. These birds are all shown in the photographs below.
Herring Gull

Along the path, a Male European Stonechat Saxicola rubicola was observed bathing in a puddle as a female European Stonechat stood beside. The male then proceeded to fly off to perch on an area of Bramble Rubus fruticosus agg. scrub.
Male and female Stonechats
Male Stonechat
Five Acres
The next day we went to a Cornwall Wildlife Trust reserve called Five Acres. This site was relatively small as the name indicates, Many Rooks Corvus frugilegus were nesting in the conifer trees next to the car park. Their whitish beaks help tell them apart from other birds in the Corvidae family.
After wandering around the reserve for a while, we heard the distinctive high-pitched  mewing of the Common Buzzard Buteo buteo. After a few minutes three Common Buzzards were visible in a gap through the canopy.
Common Buzzard
 There were some ponds at the site, and next to one of these grew Red Campion Silene dioica.
Red Campion
 Further down the path at the edge of the site, grew several Bear's Breach Acanthus mollis plants. Their large, toothed leaves appearing glossy in the light.
Bear's Breach

Ventongimps Moor nature reserve
After this we went to Ventongimps; another Cornwall Wildlife Trust reserve which was nearby. The site comprised heathland with some areas of bog, as well as ponds and woodland.
Ventongimps Moor
As shown in the photo there were many Gorse Ulex europaeus shrubs throughout the site. In early April the bright yellow flowers of these plants were in full bloom, near covering their sharp spines.

Also found on the moorland was Lousewort Pedicularis sylvatica. The purple flowers of this plant and small, pinnate toothed leaves make it quite distinctive.


Saturday, 28 March 2015

Calcareous grassland on Therfield Heath

On 28th March, me and Miles Payling went searching for Pasqueflower Pulsatilla vulgaris. This species has a vulnerable population status and has been lost from many of its previous locations. We emerged from woodland out onto a grassland area. It was obviously calcareous, as in many places chalk was visible at the surface. Additionally it was well drained due to being on a steep bank.

Although at first they were not visible, we found Pasqueflower on a south facing slope. This perennial species has large purple flowers with six sepals (the leaves beneath the petals). The hairy stems grow to 10-30cm. The Pasqueflower leaves are deeply dissected as in many geraniums, divided into long segments, and are also hairy. Pasque means 'Paschal like' referring to the paschal full moon used to determine the date of Easter. This is relevant because the plant flowers around Easter time. 
The Pasqueflower requires short, open grassland to germinate and grown. Therefore the Rose species growing on this site in addition to others, should be managed to keep lots of light to ground level. This species is confined to just this site in Hertfordshire and is a Hertfordshire BAP species.

The calcareous grassland also supported Carline Thistle Carlina vulgaris. This species is simply a daisy with spines - quite unmistakable. It often has clusters of flowers, although the relatively young individual in the photograph below has only one flower.

Carline Thistle
Two other noteable species growing on this grassland were Salad Burnet Sanguisorba minor and Hairy Violet Viola hirsta. The leaves of Salad Burnet comprise opposite pairs of leaflets which are toothed (as shown in the centre of the photograph below). As the name suggests, the leaves of this plant are often used in salads and also smell of cucumber when bruised. Hairy Violet has suitably hairy yet also cordate (heart shaped) leaves. This violet has violet-esque five-petalled flowers, and the whole plant is covered in hairs.
Salad Burnet and Hairy Violet

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Amphibians in Epping Forest

On the 14th and 15th March 2015, I went on an Amphibian course with the Field Studies Council in Epping Forest. It was a lot of fun and we saw all three newts native to the UK, along with Common Frog Rana temporaria and Common Toad Bufo bufo. Below are some photos of these species.

Great Crested Newt Triturus cristatus

This is the largest newt native to the UK, growing to 15cm in length. 

The skin of a Great Crested Newt is rough and warty, unlike the smooth skin of a Smooth Newt and Palmate Newt. The Great Crested Newt is also black, darker in colour than Smooth and Palmate Newts. The flanks are speckled white, with some orange 'finger nails'.

The underside of this species is orange with black blotches. The pattern of these blotches is unique to different individuals (see lower photo)

During the breeding season, the male has conspicuous silver stripes along both sides of its tail and a crest which is even more pronounced than usual. The females lack a crest and have an orange stripe on the underside of the tail. Females are slightly bigger than males. The disturbance on these newts caused by handling them was done under a Great Crested Newt class licence.

Great Crested Newt
Great Crested Newt
The distinctive, white eggs of Great Crested Newt are larger than Smooth Newt and Palmate Newt. The slightly smaller eggs of Smooth Newt and Palmate Newt are similar in size to each other and dirty grey-brown colour; they cannot easily be told apart from each other. Newts use their back legs to individually wrap eggs in aquatic vegetation. On a good night females can wrap ~20 eggs.

Great Crested Newt prefer larger, deeper ponds to the other two native newts and they are more discerning with the ponds they inhabit. Smooth Newts can breed in a wider variety of ponds. Habitat fragmentation across the UK has caused recent population declines.

Smooth Newt Lissotriton vulgaris

Noticeably smaller than Great Crested Newt, but a similar size to the Palmate Newt (both growing to ~10cm). Smooth Newt is the most common Newt in the UK and relatively widely distributed. The male Smooth Newt also has a crest during the breeding season, however the crest of the Smooth Newt does not dip between the body and tail like that of Great Crested Newt. This species is speckled with black spots on its belly and its throat, unlike Palmate Newts which lacks a speckled throat.

Smooth Newt
Smooth Newt

Palmate Newt Lissotriton helveticus

Palmate Newts are also much smaller than Great Crested Newts. The neck of Palmate Newts are pale pink (or yellow) as shown below, but the neck is rarely speckled as that of the Smooth Newt is. The belly of this species is orange with a few black spots. The male Palmate Newt does not have a crest during the breeding season, instead just develops a tail filament.

This species can tolerate more acidic waters than Smooth Newt and is thus present on heathlands and coniferous woodland. The acidic soils of Epping Forest make this the most common newt in the local area.
Palmate Newt
Palmate Newt
Common Toad 

The Common Toad has rough skin, opposed to the smoother skin of Common Frog. Swollen parotid glands in this species (see lower photo below) behind the eyes release toxins to repel predators, which allow them to crawl relatively slowly, rather than have to jump away from predators quickly like the Common Frog has evolved to do.
Common Toad
Common Toad

Common Frog

This species can inhabit smaller ponds than Common Toad because juveniles develop lungs at an earlier stage of metamorphosis. Common Toad do not develop their lungs until near the end of their metamorphosis and therefore require to remain submerged for longer in ponds which do not dry up.

These are not the only amphibian species native to the UK. In addition to these there are the rare Natterjack Toad Epidalea calamita which is limited to ephemeral ponds, and the Pool Frog Pelophylax lessonae which was originally considered to be introduced, but two relic populations are known about (one of which went extinct in mid 1800s).

Thursday, 29 January 2015


Caper Spurge Euphorbia lathyris
Salad Burnet Sanguisorba minor
Mahonia Mahonia sp.

Photographs of birds

Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo drying its wings in the sun
Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca
Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula, Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus and Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
ChaffincFringilla coelebs
Robin Erithacus rubecula
Moorhen Gallinula chloropus

Great Tit Parus major
Blue Tit Cyanistes caeruleus
Carrion Crow Corvus corone
Magpie Pica pica
Woodpigeon Columba palumbus
Silhouette of Red Kite Milvus Milvus

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