The Dragonfly-like Meganeuropsis was a giant insect that plied the skies from the Late Carboniferous to the Late Permian, some 317 to 247 million years ago. It had a wingspan of some 28″ with a body length of around 17.”
Birds bring a wonderful soundtrack to spring, and even in towns and cities the array of voices can be quite dazzling. If you are trying to develop your skills in identifying bird songs, you are best off initially trying to familiarise yourself with a few of the more frequent songsters. In early spring, four of the key species to listen out for are Robin, Song Thrush, Great Tit and Dunnock.
A growing number of studies are providing evidence that a suite of anthropogenic stressors — habitat loss and fragmentation, pollution, invasive species, climate change and overharvesting — are seriously reducing insect and other invertebrate abundance, diversity and biomass across the biosphere. These declines affect all functional groups: herbivores, detritivores, parasitoids, predators and pollinators. Insects are vitally important in a wide range of ecosystem services of which some are vitally important for food production and security (for example, pollination and pest control). There is now a strong scientific consensus that the decline of insects, other arthropods and biodiversity as a whole, is a very real and serious threat that society must urgently address. In response to the increasing public awareness of the problem, the German government is committing funds to combat and reverse declining insect numbers. This funding should act as a clarion call to other nations across the world — especially wealthier ones — to follow suit and to respond proactively to the crisis by addressing the known and suspected threats and implementing solutions.
The American coot is a somewhat drab water bird with gray and black feathers and a white beak, common in wetlands throughout North America. Coot chicks, however, sport outrageously bright orange and red feathers, skin, and beaks. A new study explains how the bright coloring of coot chicks fits in with the reproductive strategy of their less colorful parents.
Unfortunately, yet another mass poisoning incident occurred in Africa, ending 2019 on a sad note for vulture conservation. Two days before Christmas in Northern Zululand, 16 vultures met a tragic fate. The continuation of such poisoning incidents are causing alarm for the region’s diminishing vulture populations fearing that they could face extinction. This has been an overall unfortunate year for vultures affected by poisoning in Africa, with more than 1,200 vultures estimated to have been deliberately poisoned across Southern and Eastern Africa, according to the Endangered WildLife Trust (EWT).
Almost a third of the world’s oceans and land should be protected by the end of the decade to stop and reverse biodiversity decline that risks the survival of humanity, according to a draft Paris-style UN agreement on nature.
The main topic is what pond creatures, such as the pond oilve mayfly, do to survive the cold in winter, and give some tips on how to look after your pond when it freezes over.
Neil and Victoria’s News
Victoria talks about a trip to German museum with a amber collection and Neil mentions his productive Christmas period photography trips, with sparrowhawk, cattle egret and kestrel photos.
We answer questions on kestrels decline, and what our first memory of wildlife in the garden was, along with what surprises us about nature.
Extremely acute vision and the ability to rapidly process different visual impressions — these two factors are crucial when a peregrine falcon bears down on its prey at a speed that easily matches that of a Formula 1 racing car: over 350 kilometres per hour.
Orb spider (Tetragnatha montana) on Agrimony by Peter Hassett, Bucknell Wood 26 July 2019
While the ubiquitous garden cross spider (Araneus diadematus) perishes in late autumn, another species of orb-weaver remains active throughout the winter. Common and widespread, Zygiella x-notata is typically found close to human habitation, its webs strung under guttering, and spanning door and window frames. Though similar in appearance to the two-dimensional, concentric-circle webs constructed by its more familiar relative, its orbs usually have a distinctive wedge-shaped segment missing from an upper quadrant, hence the spider’s common name, missing-sector orb-weaver.
As we head into January we look forward to our upcoming talks. Please do get in touch to book your place(s) or use the “Book Now” tabs to book online to benefit from our member discount. I look forward to seeing you at an event soon!
Gall formation by plants is a commonly-seen phenomenon that occurs in response to foreign entities (here called “gall-inducers”) such as viruses, bacteria, fungi, nematodes, etc. In this review Harris and Pitzschke set out criteria for what is and is not a gall;
A year ago, as I set out to explore the life of Alice Balfour and her moths, I didn’t give much thought to what I might find or where it might lead. I wanted to discover more about the moths she encountered and was interested to learn more about the pursuit of natural history in the Edwardian era, but mostly I was starting ‘a project’ to add purpose to my own everyday moth recording in East Lothian. Making lists of moths from different sites is all very well, but it is much more rewarding to put these lists into some sort of context. Scientific or otherwise.
Making a beetle stack is a way of providing beetles and many other insects with shelter through the winter. This stack is simple to make and costs next to nothing, but will make a world of difference to garden wildlife.
Close to the Western River on Kangaroo Island, Pat Hodgens had set up cameras to snap the island’s rare dunnart – a tiny mouse-like marsupial that exists nowhere else on the planet.
Now, after two fires ripped through the site a few days ago, those cameras – and likely many of the Kangaroo Island dunnarts – are just charred hulks.
“It’s gone right through the under storey and that’s where these species live,” said Hodgens, an ecologist at Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife, a not-for-profit conservation group. “The habitat is decimated.”
Movement, memory and problem solving are abilities we normally associate with animal behaviour and a nervous system but is that always the case? Could a brainless organism exhibit intelligent behaviour, could it be capable of learning and if so, can we learn anything from it?
This post is by Tony Juniper CBE, chair of Natural England and Emma Howard Boyd, chair of the Environment Agency.
As we start the New Year, it’s clear that 2020 is our last chance to bring the world together to take decisive action on climate change, to protect our communities and reverse the alarming loss of wildlife we have witnessed in recent years.
The team from the award-winning podcast No Such Thing As A Fish have collated some of this year’s craziest animal stories, including tardigrades on the moon, dead alligators being dropped into seas and rhinos being provided with emotional-support humans.
The end of the summer marked the beginning of an exciting new chapter for over a hundred young pool frogs released into the wild in Norfolk this year. The pool frog (Pelophylax lessonae) became extinct in the 1990s in the UK but thanks to collaborative efforts by Natural England, the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust (ARC), Norfolk Wildlife Trust, ZSL and partners, the species persists in protected areas where ancient ponds have been restored to provide optimal habitat.
A planned new airport that will serve Lisbon threatens the future of internationally important flocks of waders and other waterbirds. These same birds pose safety concerns for the passenger aircraft that will fly through the airspace that is currently reserved for them.
Natural England has now uploaded baseline survey data on great crested newts (GCN) to create a map of where they are across the whole of England. The project – which took three years to complete – is the largest ever survey of its type for GCN across England, and was funded by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).
How many people know our common wildflowers? The charity Plantlifecommissioned a poll by YouGov two years ago to find out if people could identify wildflowers and discovered a shocking lack of knowledge. Most could not identify, or mis-identified, the common dog-violet, one of the most widespread wildflowers found in 97% of the UK, and only 6% of 16- to 24-year-olds correctly named it. There were similar results for red clover, another common wildflower. But most people said they would like to identify more wildflowers, although only about half of young people were so enthusiastic.
In 2019, the various campaigns and operations coordinated by Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) once again saved countless migratory birds from doomed fate being killed, caught or prematurely destined for a cooking pot. As ever, our main field campaigns focused on the bird poaching hotspots in the Mediterranean region, with CABS teams active in Italy, Malta, France, Spain, Cyprus and Lebanon during the migration period. The primary aim of our fieldwork is the same everywhere: Take direct action to stop poachers, document illegalities and to persuade authorities to intervene, with public support and international political pressure.
In 2019 we completed a project to help the Small Blue Butterfly on the Surrey Downs. The project has helped to create an extensive network of sites between Guildford and Box Hill, with individual butterflies now more able to move between different areas and sites, enabling the creation of a strong and sustainable metapopulation.
Building work needed on the old neglected and abused Victorian house took priority, then in March 2018, I built a small wildlife pond into the middle of the garden. From the start, it was aimed at dragonflies plus other insects, plant life and nature in general.
Butterflies fluttering, a kittiwake diving into ice-blue waves and the sweet song of skylarks first thing in the morning. These sights and sounds are becoming even rarer with 41 per cent of species in decline since 1970. We need to act now to stop this loss, creating more homes for wildlife and calling on governments to introduce stronger environmental protections.
As our climate increasingly warms, the UK’s peatlands are put under ever greater pressure.
Long dry spells are predicted to become more commonplace, raising the question of whether future predicted climate scenarios will maintain the wet conditions needed in some areas for continued peat formation.
Short-eared owls appear to be nomadic, breeding almost prolifically in suitable habitat in some years, yet in others appearing to be absent. Adults owls can be seen flying during daylight hours when they have dependent young, but at other times they can be largely nocturnal, making the population hard to monitor. The best evidence that we have suggests that the population has declined, perhaps by as much as 50%. The reasons underlying these changes are poorly understood, but recent advances in technology have presented new opportunities for research.
Our work seeks to help the development of new land management support schemes by combining the latest scientific evidence and Butterfly Conservation’s practical experience of working with farmers and land owners on the ground.
Six new species of dragonflies that lived about 50 million years ago (early Eocene epoch) have been identified from fossils found in the Okanagan Highlands, an elevated hilly plateau area in British Columbia, Canada, and the U.S. state of Washington.
At the end of the summer, vast numbers of waders leave Norway, Sweden and Finland, heading southwest, south and south-east for the winter. In a 2019 paper by Lindström et al, we learn what is happening to these populations of Fennoscandian breeding species, as diverse as Temminck’s Stint and Curlew. The news for the period 2006 through to 2018 is basically pretty good – most populations have been stable and there are even some that have increased – but there are worrying signs for Broad-billed Sandpiper, Red-necked Phalarope and Whimbrel.
The State of European Cetaceans is ORCA’s report series, documenting the results of its survey findings, and more importantly, drawing conclusions about what this means for whales, dolphins and porpoises in the wild.
The start of December, and a dip in temperatures, has seen the first ‘swanfall’ at WWT Slimbridge, with more than 50 majestic Bewick’s swans arriving at the end of the final leg of their migration. This year’s ‘swanfall’ was bang on time, as it traditionally heralds the beginning of winter, which officially started on 1st December.
The BTO’s BirdTrends report is a one-stop shop for information about the population status of the common breeding birds of the wider UK countryside. The report is based on data gathered by the many thousands of volunteers who contribute to BTO-led surveys.
For each of 121 species, users can quickly access the latest information on trends in population size, breeding performance and survival rates, as measured by our long-term monitoring schemes.
The finch family boasts many popular garden birds, including Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Greenfinch and Bullfinch. More recently, a growing number of people have been able to add Lesser Redpoll to this list. Results collected through the year-round BTO Garden BirdWatch survey show a 15-fold increase in the use of gardens by Lesser Redpolls during early spring over the past five years.
If you walk around a woodland in the winter you may be forgiven for wondering where all the birds have gone. In fact, there are likely to be plenty of birds about, but instead of being evenly spread throughout the area, several species group together in a loose, mixed feeding flock. Flocking together in winter improves the chances of locating food and huddling together during the critical night-time period helps conserve body heat.
Autumn and winter is when most female grey seals haul themselves ashore to give birth.
It seems like a strange time to do it, when icy winds are blowing and the nights are long. One explanation is that after a summer of catching fish, the females are simply in great shape to feed their young.
Bird songs are common sounds to us all, but why do birds sing? Imagine you’re a male willow warbler, and you’ve just flown 2,400 miles (4000 km) from Africa. It’s spring, and you need to find a mate quickly. However, your home is a woodland and you’re the colour of leaves. What better way of advertising to a passing female that you are here and would make a fine father for her chicks than by having a clear, loud and recognisable song?
These birds are residents, and most never leave us. However, this number almost doubles every winter with the arrival of thousands more birds from Eastern Europe. Hard weather there forces them to migrate west in search of food.
Ring-necked Parakeet by Howe Park Wood, April 2012, by Harry Appleyard
Their bright green feathers and unmistakable squawk make ring-necked parakeets a striking addition to British park wildlife, but the question of how the tropical birds were first introduced has been a subject of contention.
An acoustic camera has captured never-before-seen footage of the endangered fish setting off on its journey from the Gloucestershire wetlands to the Sargasso sea. This success story comes at a time of turning fortunes for the mysterious and fascinating animal.
Unlike mammals and birds, butterflies and moths rely mainly on external sources of heat to warm their bodies so that they can be active. Although many are adept at increasing their body temperature way above ambient air temperature by basking in sunshine or shivering (vibrating their flight muscles), when their surroundings are really cold, most butterflies and moths are forced to remain inactive.
Butterflies are rather like Goldilocks, preferring conditions to be neither too hot nor too cold, but “just right”. Under climate change, the temperature at any given time of summer is, on average, getting warmer, leaving butterflies (and their nocturnal cousins, the moths) with the challenge of how to remain in their optimal temperature window.
Nitrogen in the air is one of the greatest threats to our wild plants, lichens and fungi, yet few people have even heard about it. Plantlife’s new report We need to talk about Nitrogen raises the alarm about its devastating impacts.
Anyway, after some fun time with my Dictionary of Entomology, (which is much more of an encyclopaedia than a dictionary), and of course Google, I have great pleasure in presenting my one stop shop for those of you who wonder how insect orders got their names. Here they are, all in one easy to access place with a few fun-filled facts to leaven the mixture.
“I have loved nature for as long as I can remember, certainly before I was old enough to go to school. I used to spend hours peering into our garden pond in the 1960’s and marvelling at the different creatures to be found living there. There were many frogs, toads and newts that used the pond for spawning and I would watch the progress of their tadpoles each year. There was much invertebrate life there too which was also a fascination to me. We lived about a mile from Gatwick airport and one negative aspect of this was that I often had to use newspaper on the surface of the pond to take off the thin coating of oil that accumulated, presumably from fuel dumping.
There are around 650 species of spider in the UK alone. That’s a lot! Some spiders can be identified by eye, others require hand lenses and many even require microscopes to correctly identify them to species level. Most people find spiders creepy though, so never get close enough to identify them in the field, let alone choose to look at them down a microscope. Earlier this year, however, I attended the Tomorrow’s Invertebrate Recorders course run by the FSC Biolinks team during which I chose to spend a whole day learning microscopic identification of spiders.
Stephen Moss has written a round-up of nature books for many years and this is the second year when it has appeared here on this blog. Stephen is course leader of the MA Travel & Nature Writing at Bath Spa University.
Since 2019 is the Year of the Fly I thought it was time to dust off my boyhood interest in flies and see how many families of flies I could see through the year. Each time I see one from a new family I will write a post, and by the end of the year I hope to know my way around them.
The days are shortening and the temperature is falling. This is a signal to deciduous (broadleaf) trees that it is time to close down for the winter, conserve energy and prevent it from losing precious nutrients.