Our Innate Ability to Wonder

I was laughing with somebody the other day about the strange looks and worried remarks that, as a wildlife enthusiast, you some times get when a passerby catches you in a public place either posed with your face to the grass and bum in the air or halted in the middle of the road, binoculars fixed upon a nearby tree growing in somebody’s front garden. What got me thinking was his observation that the reason people seem to think this is odd is because it’s the sort of behaviour we would expect from a child – not an adult. A small child running through long grass with a net and a collecting pot generally warrants an ‘aaaah isn’t that cute!’ where as a fully grown woman doing exactly the same thing (just as enthusiastically, may I add) is generally regarded as ‘odd’ behaviour.

It is true that even my closest friends affectionately laugh and call me a ‘wildlife pervert’ (I think this all stemmed from a photo of red deer mating I captured a few years ago…). Personally this doesn’t put me off one bit, in fact I quite like this nickname! But it got me thinking why….. Why is this display of ‘child like wonder’ from adults regarded as something out of the ordinary, a little weird, perhaps even something to be wary of?

Curious people worry people. People who act ‘odd’ worry people. And I can understand this, especially living in London. As we grow up and seem to lose some of our child like wonder we also gain the ability to judge others (some times harshly) and of course the ability to harm others; and people do, that is a fact of life. But this means that are innate ability to wonder and to explore our surroundings in many cases is inhibited and we take the ‘safe option’ and prefer to look down, turn to the comfort of our mobile phones, avoid eye contact with others. We don’t want to be thought of as ‘weird’ or as a threat, and indeed we don’t want anyone else to become a threat to us.

I’m not saying it’s wrong of us to be wary of others, or that we shouldn’t care what others think, but it just seems a bit excessive some times (I admit I am guilty of this). For all the pressure, stress and responsibilities that come with the ‘adult world’ I feel we need to hold on to our innate ability to wonder, to be able to feel that curiosity we did as a child and to explore our surroundings without feeling the need to contain our enthusiasm, to disconnect ourselves in fear of appearing like a ‘weirdo’.

Sure I agree sometimes it is necessary disconnect, perhaps to curl up on the sofa, switch off and lose yourself in a book or a film; but what about loosing yourself in the real world? Even if wildlife is not your thing (blasphemy!) there is still so much to explore; man-made things can be just a fascinating, as can people themselves. An open mind is a mind that looks and asks ‘why?’ and ‘how?’ and ‘what if? – a child that has never seen a grasshopper hop before squeals with delight at such a sight, but as adults we have the capacity to not only enjoy this phenomenon but to take it one step further by asking ‘how does a grasshopper hop?’. And suddenly, just like that, a whole new world of wonder and fascination is revealed. Of course you don’t need to find the answers to everything (indeed there are many many things we cannot fully explain); the beauty is in the process of wondering and where that wonder might lead you. The beauty is that every one of us posses the ability to wonder, and every one of us does so in a different way. There is never just one way to ask a question and there is never just one answer to that question.

But first, you have to look!

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Source: In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat: Quantum Physics and Reality, John Gribbin

The same can be said for interacting with ‘strangers’ (even the word has negative connotations, as we are so often taught about ‘stranger danger’ as a child – rightly so). Living in London it is a rare occurrence when my friendly good morning greeting whilst out running is acknowledge, let alone responded to. Of course it is an absolute no no to even make eye contact with some one whilst travelling on the tube, let alone strike up a conversation (of course this isn’t always true, but it is generally the case). I can completely understand that some times you want to keep yourself to yourself (I certainly have those days) but again I feel this is taken to the extreme when someone would much rather rely on their mobile phone than ask a real human being for help, directions, or even an explanation of something that has caught their interest. Again, I am definitely guilty of this!

Look Up, Gary Turk

Recently I have been taking a detour on my walk home from work past an unassuming small area of acid grassland/heathland, an area that hundreds walk past everyday. Often I see them with their face down looking at their phone, completely unaware of the beauty that surrounds them. As I said I know wildlife isn’t every ones thing….. But I cannot be convinced that what they are looking at on their phone is more beautiful or more fascinating than what they could find by just looking up (and down…. And around!). Just a few minutes spent observing and you could find everything shown in the photos below, and more.

Even to just stop for a moment to lie in the grass and look at cloud formations, to look closely in the long grass and see what insects you can find, to listen to the gorse crackling in the heat or the song thrush singing its heart out. Or if you feel like skipping through the grass ‘tunefully’ singing your favourite Disney classic…. Then go for it! You never know where that moment of wonder, of curiosity; of pure, carefree, child-like behaviour may take you. And if some one gives you a quizzical look? Smile at them!

You never know where that smile may lead you….. 🙂

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Spring Ringing at Bedfont Lakes

It’s all go at Bedfont Lakes as we start this years CES (Constant Effort Sight Scheme). At the main site (the nature reserve on the north side) the reed warblers have returned and are still settling in whilst breeding is in already in full swing for some of the other species. We had our first fledglings of the year over the last two weeks, a species which also happen to be one of the cutest; long-tailed tits in their juvenile plumage, complete with their dark chocolate brown (super hero style) face masks. Fighting against injustice towards all thing small and fluffy 😉

Juvenile long-tailed tit with dark face mask

Juvenile long-tailed tit with dark face mask

IMG_1715Surprisingly we have yet to catch any robin or blue tit fledglings which are usually one of the earliest species to breed. I suspect the blue tits are out there somewhere considering the stage of the brood patches on some of the adult females we have caught. There are a few sedge warblers around (my personal favourite) as well as the resident Cetti’s from last year (let’s hope for another year of breeding success!), blackcaps, chiffchaffs and a couple of garden warblers ringed a few weeks ago. A nice surprise was this lovely male whitethroat, a species usually only caught at the South Side of the park.

Whitethroat

Whitethroat

IMG_4781Another rare catch was this treecreeper from 3 weeks ago, only the third we have caught since I started in January 2014. They are just exquisite up close! Such beautiful markings.

Treecreeper

Treecreeper

We’ve also managed a couple of visits to the South Side of the park this month and last which produced one exciting and one very very exciting (a first for this site) species. Both I’ll admit are prone to being described at ‘dull’ looking birds, however I tend to disagree especially in relation to the former; this very smart looking lesser whitethroat.

Lesser whitethroat

Lesser whitethroat

The latter species? Last, but certainly not least, after my trainer suddenly stopped in the middle of putting the nets up and swore he heard a nightingale singing (despite being the ripe old age of 75 he still puts my bird song ID skills to shame)…. Guess what our very first bird of the day was??? A species I’ve only ever heard in the lovely surroundings of Blean Woods and would never dream of seeing just a few miles away from my house! I’ll confess I really did know what it was at first, somehow I expected them to be bigger, amazing the perspective you get from having the opportunity to get up close to these birds. The rufous tale is a good indication, although it was a lot subtler than I was expecting. Yes a ‘little brown job’ but still a beautiful one and certainly a rare treat!

Nightingale!

Nightingale!

IMG_4749Other none bird related sightings include a lovely little micro moth Ptycholoma lecheana whose beautiful metallic markings caught my eye last week, at least 2 grass snakes seen sunning themselves on the board walk and a brief glimpse of a green hairstreak that I got rather excited about at South Side two weeks ago – just one individual as far as I could tell so I’m not sure if this was an anomaly or if their is a colony of them, either way the sighting was certainly an nice unexpected surprise (the best kind!). We’re back there next week so I will have a good search around.

Ptycholoma lecheana

Ptycholoma lecheana

So really it’s been a very exciting couple of months! I have only one more to go before I leave to spend the rest of my summer on Skokholm Island. As excited as I am I will miss this lovely little unassuming place and the way it never ceases to excite and amaze me; a haven for birds (and for me) in the middle of all this concrete and noise.

Deceivers

After getting really interested in fungi for the first time last year my eyes were opened to the amazing variety of shapes, colours, sizes, and even scents of different species. Aside from providing vital ecosystems functions, many are also aesthetically beautiful to look at. But I am learning, unsurprisingly, that identification is not always straight forward! One genus, Laccaria, known fittingly as ‘Deceivers’, can be very variable in appearance as I discovered during a trip to Kingston Cemetery last month, inspired by this blog post by Alison Fure, who I have also to thank for confirming IDs!

Laccaria laccata, cap with central depression

Laccaria laccata, cap with central depression

Laccaria laccata, with orange-brown cap

Laccaria laccata, with orange-brown cap

Laccaria laccata

Laccaria laccata

Laccaria laccata, gills widely spaced, irregular and interspersed with shorter gills

Laccaria laccata – gills attached to the stem, widely spaced, irregular and interspersed with shorter gills

These deceivers Laccaria laccata were found together in the same area, showing variation between specimens particularly in cap colour which lightens with age.

Even more baffling was this specimen from Putney Heath, found at the entrance to one of several tunnels that appeared to be part of a badger set (hairs were also found on a fallen tree nearby). I settled on Amethyst Deceiver Laccaria amethystina but the cap has obviously become extremely twisted and furrowed.

Laccaria amethystina

Laccaria amethystina

It looks like a petticoat! 😉 although difficult to see, the gills are fairly widely spaced and irregular, similar to Laccaria laccata.  I’m pretty sure on the ID but as always open to any suggestions!

Other fungi found during my trip to Kingston cemetery….

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Snowy Waxcap, Hygrocybe virginea

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More Snowy Waxcaps

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Fly Agaric, Amanita muscaria

Yellow Stainer, Agaricus xanthodermus

Yellow Stainer, Agaricus xanthodermus

 

 

 

 

 

 

Festive Birds

The last ringing session of 2014 was at the South side of Bedfont Lakes and proved to be full of treats, for me the opportunity to ring 3 new species 🙂

We had been crossing our fingers for some redwing during the last session at this site however we were without luck. This session, however, we only had to wait a few minutes after putting the nets up before we caught not one but two! I apologise as I somehow did not manage to get a frontal shot of the redwings as I was too preoccupied with learning how to age these birds; we were lucky to get an adult and a juvenile (born 2014) which gave the opportunity for a nice comparison. Most notable are the white/cream markings on the tips of the tertial feathers and greater coverts which are much more distinct in the younger bird, seen on the left in these photos.

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Juvenile (left) and adult (right) redwing

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White/cream feather tips more distinct in the juvenile (left)

IMG_3754Here is a nice shot of a redwing on Hampton Common I took a few years a go to make up for the lack of frontal photo! Not a ‘close up’ but still shows how lovely these bird are.

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Redwing on Hampton Common 2011

Shortly afterwards we had another treat, a male and a female bullfinch – Mr and Mrs 😉

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Female bullfinch

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Male bullfinch

IMG_3760 IMG_3764After a couple of Robins by now we were joking that somehow the festive season must only be attracting birds with red markings – either that or it was my trainers bright red Santas hat reeling them in 😉 our suspisions were confirmed after this beast of a green woodpecker! One of my favourite birds and the study subject for my dissertation.

Green woodpecker

Green woodpecker

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And that was the end of my first year of bird ringing! It has been fantastic. I honestly feel privileged to have this experience and to work with such lovely and knowledgeable people. Looking forward to seeing what 2015 brings!

If you are interested in getting involved with bird ringing yourself then you can go to the BTO website to search for trainers in your area.

Golden Crested Birds and Mysterious Red Capped Mushrooms

As the warbler activity has died down at Bedfont Lakes – aside from our resident Cetti’s warbler, a few chiffchaffs (one a retrap that was ringed back in April so thought to be a resident rather than a wintering visitor) and a male blackcap, tit activity seems to have increased. This is a great opportunity for me to get familiar with ageing great tits and blue tits and of course the chance for an adorable long-tailed tit group photo that is sure to brighten up anyone’s day!

Long-tailed tit Aegithalos caudatus

Long-tailed tit, Aegithalos caudatus

Two Sundays ago I was also delighted to have the opportunity to ring my first ever goldcrest!

Goldcrest, Regulus regulus

Goldcrest, Regulus regulus

This individual was shortly followed by two more….

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Gorgeous! Considering the autumnal colours all around I thought the beautiful golden yellow crest of this tiny bird went nicely with the red, orange and brown hues of several species of fungi I discovered growing close by; my favourite of which being this lovely Velvet Shank Flammulina velutipes

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Velvet Shank, Flammulina velutipes

IMG_3560 IMG_3564More of a mystery, however is this red capped mushroom growing in large numbers on woodchip, thought to be a Russula sp possibly beechwood sickener; the trouble is there are no beech trees around, however I think the spores are likely to have come in on the woodchip which may contain beech. I’m informed that the woodchip is made up of willow from the park itself but also from wood that is brought in from all over the borough, so who knows what could be in it! IMG_3538 IMG_3534IMG_3745IMG_3742IMG_3738Any suggestions would be welcome!

Another nice find was what I believe to be Turkeytail fungus Trametes versicolor

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Turkeytail fungus, Trametes versicolor

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Urban Fungal Adventures

I usually carry around various wildlife identification guides pretty much every where with me (as well as my binoculars!) as I’ve found that even in the most urban environment, you never know what you may come across! At the moment the two books that I don’t go anywhere without are my micro moth field guide (this is the perfect time of year for looking for leaf mines!) and a little collins mushroom guide I was gifted years ago. This year is the the first autumn I’ve actually got around to using the latter and finally delved in to the amazing world of fungi. I would just like to share a few recent  discoveries….

Originally I thought this to be the Purple Jelly Fungus, but on second examination I’m going with Jew’s Ear or Jelly Ear as some people know it, Auricularia auricula-judaeIt’s typically found on Elder – this was discovered (thanks to Maaike from Camley Street!) on a log, part of a habitat pile at Camley Street Natural Park. Honestly I’m not sure on the tree ID but I will take a closer look when I am there this week.

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Jew’s ear, Auricularia auricula-judae

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This next specimen was found in Epping Forest, Glistening Inkcap Coprinellus micaceusIt really does glisten!

Glistening Inkcap, Coprinellus micaceus

Glistening Inkcap, Coprinellus micaceus

This next one was also found it Epping Forest, Hump-backed Polypore Pseudotrametes gibbosaThis is one of the many bracket fungi, the brackets on this species are humped at the point of attachment (hence the common name!) and the upperside has an interesting velvety lumpy surface.

Hump-backed Polypore, Pseudotrametes gibbosa

Hump-backed Polypore, Pseudotrametes gibbosa

The next few specimens were found on Wanstead Flats – a new urban discovery for me, really looking forward to exploring this area further!

This Fly Agaric Amanita muscari  is the typical ‘toadstool’ depicted in fairytales. The white spots are actually remnants of the white veil enclosing the young fruitbody. No problem identifying this one!

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Fly Agaric, Amanita muscari

IMG_3394This is probably my favourite so far, Parasol mushroom Macrolepiota procera. I love the markings on the stem and cap, really nice! It’s the ‘snake-like’ pattern on the stem that pointed away from the similar Shaggy Parasol which has a white stem that bruises red-brown.

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Parasol mushroom Macrolepiota procera

IMG_3400 IMG_3404And last but not least, also found on Wanstead Flats, is this impressively large puffball – I think the Membranous Puffball Vascellum pratense.

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Membranous puffball, Vascellum pratense

Complete with one hungry slug 😉 IMG_3413

Warblers of Bedfont Lakes

After a fantastic spring and summer of bird ringing at Bedfont Lakes most of the warblers (aside from the resident cetti’s warbler) have left for their long journey to their wintering grounds. Before they leave they have a fair bit of fattening up to do so this is the time when ringers start  noting the weight of these migratory birds and giving each individual a fat and a pectoral muscle score. This is a new learning experience for me and a few weeks back was a great opportunity for me as we caught over 102 birds at Bedfont Lakes South Side between 4 of us (and sadly I had to leave early that day!), including 36 blackcap and 25 whitethroat! This allowed me to compare individuals varying fat and pectoral muscle build up and get to grips with how they feel and look.

I thought this would be a nice time to look at some of the different species of warblers at Bedfont and some of the differences between the juvenile and adult birds. Starting with my favourite – the sedge warbler.

Juvenile sedge warbler

Juvenile sedge warbler

As far as I figure, generally juvenile sedges have more yellowish buff colouring especially on the underparts but from the photo above it is hard to tell if this is indeed a juvenile or an adult (I found it tricky!),  you would need to look closer at the feathers; new, fresh wing and tail feathers and ‘fluffy’ under tail coverts can sometimes be a giveaway, although not always obvious to me. With this species a good clue is the spotty ‘necklace’ most juveniles have – not so much in the one pictured above but you can see here in the one below a line of small dark spots going across the breast.

Juvenile sedge warbler with 'necklace'

Juvenile sedge warbler with ‘necklace’

Really these are beautiful birds, their creamy colouring and dark markings are just fantastic. Definitely have a soft spot for them!

Reed warblers seem to be the most common warbler ringed at the main sight (the Nature Reserve on the North side of the Park). Again new, fresh wing and tail feathers and ‘fluffy’ under tail coverts can indicate a juvenile bird but also in this species the juveniles are usually a more rufous or rusty colour, especially on the upper parts and rump as you can see in this next photo (juvenile on the left).

Juvenile vs adult reed warbler

Juvenile (left) and adult (right) reed warbler comparison

Another indication of age with this species is eye colour – the iris is a grey charcoal colour in their first year then changes to a more olive brown as you can see in this adult bird.

Adult reed warbler

Adult reed warbler

I haven’t managed to get a good photo showing the iris of a juvinile reed warbler but i did get this adorable one of a very newly fledged bird, how cute?! He hasn’t even grown his tail feathers yet!

Juvenile reed warbler

Reed warbler fledgling

Only a little bit more developed is this rather fluffy juvenile cetti’s warbler…. This year was the first record of cetti’s breeding at this site!

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Juvenile cetti’s warbler

Again the juveniles in this species have a darker grey iris as opposed to the brown iris of the adults.

Another common warbler species at bedfont are blackcaps. I mentioned in previous posts (this one and this one) that the juveniles have a duller brown cap, as opposed to the chestnut in the adult females and black in the adult males. The juveniles are are generally more brown and fluffy compared to the adults and have fluffy undertail coverts that are a light brown (or ‘mocha’ as I call it!) colour as opposed to grey in the adults.

Juvenile blackcap undertail coverts

Juvenile blackcap undertail coverts

Blackcap fledgling

Juvenile blackcap

Adult female blackcap

Adult female blackcap

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Upperparts of adult female blackcap

In the last 10 months I have been ringing at Bedfont I haven’t seen many willow warblers but I know the juveniles generally have more yellow underparts and generally brighter yellow colouring all round. This juvenile is a good example, and stunning in in the sunlight!

Juvenile willow warbler

Juvenile willow warbler

Juvenile willow warbler

Juvenile willow warbler

In my experience ringing at Bedfont other warblers that seem to be fairly common are chiffchaffs and whitethroats, the latter only at South Side. Along with willow warblers, other warblers not as common are garden warblers and lesser whitethroats. In fact I think I’ve only seen a handful of adults. In any case, it was a treat as they are both beautiful, smart looking birds – not at all ‘grey and dull’!

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Lesser whitethroat

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Garden warbler

It’s been an amazing spring and summer and now I am looking forward to see what new learning experiences autumn and winter bring!