About Me

My photo
London, United Kingdom
This blog will contain pictures and information from my everyday encounters with nature in London and the surrounding areas. I will log details of the origin of each photograph thus recording what there is to be seen and where it was seen. I very much welcome anyone else who can upload photos and information about nature in London and the home counties. I work freelance in the film industry so have plenty of days off. I hope to update Monday to Friday and once on the weekend posting at around 19.30, I don't post on bank holidays

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)

Male Chaffinch - Barnes
I particularly like this bird as it is one of the most colorful of the common species that you’ll see all over the countryside and in London parks. There are millions of breeding pairs in Britain whose numbers are swelled each year by winter migration. Usually the British based birds stay with in a few miles of their nest and are quite territorial but the migrating Chaffinches have been recorded traveling over 1000 miles to reach their winter destination. They eat a mixture of seed and insects but the former makes up the entirety of their diet outside the breeding season. They are one of the hardiest of our small birds and may live for 12 years or more.  Cats and traffic are their main nemesis.  Females, are as usual are a little duller in colour, less pink breasted.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Pochard (Aythya ferina)

Male Pochard - Barnes Wetland Centre
The male is unlikely to be confused with any other species of duck but the female may require a little more study, both species have a dark bill marked with a grey band. The Pochard is a very common duck especially during the winter when it’s numbers are highest. They like well vegetated ponds and gravel pits as they are diving ducks as most of their food intake is plant material. There are infact comparatively few nesting Pochards in this country, most of those are found in Suffolk and Kent. They nest on the ground and may lay between 8 and 10 eggs. The Red-crested Pochard is quite different and is unlikely to be confused. The male Red-crested has an entirely red bill and the female a partially red bill.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Yellow Iris (Iris pseudacorus)

Yellow Iris - Barnes Wetland Centre
The Yellow Iris is a wetland plant that thrives with sun and damp under foot, even in shallow water. It is a hardy plant and works well as a water treatment as it has the ability to take up heavy metal through the root. Yellow Iris is also known as Flag after the 5th century king Clovis wore the flower as a heraldic symbol. The leaves are appropriately sharp edged and will cut if not handled with care. It has very large noticeable seedpods later in the year and throughout the autumn. The seeds float and thus enabling the plants efficient dispersal. It is used as herbalists but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you are expert as one of its main uses is as an emetic, to induce vomiting.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Ox-eye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare)

Ox-eye Daisy - Barnes
I’m continuing to  blog about flowers for the next couple of days in honour of the Chelsea Flower Show all though the flowers I’m writing about are a little less cultivated than the plants that make up the CFS. Ox-eye is a common flower and looks like a giant daisy, growing up to 2 or 3 feet tall. You may recognize it as the tool in the game ‘he loves me, he loves me not.’ Not a game I’ve played yet but it’s on my To Do list. Now is the perfect time to see these in flower and they’ll be at their peak till the end of June. This plant maybe used as food and by Herbalist but has a bitter taste. Cows and pigs are said to avoid it when grazing but other livestock aren’t so fussy. It is also claimed that insects are less keen on it but I’ve not seen evidence of this. There seemed to be quite a lot flying round the abundant clumps on the banks around the Barnes Wetland Centre last Sunday. In fact years ago Ox-eye would often be mixed with the straw in livestock bedding to keep insects away. Herbalists have used this plant to aid various different respiratory disorders.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Dog Rose (Rosa Canina)

Dog or Wild Rose at in the car park hedgerow at Barnes Wetland Centre.
This flowering plant is also known as the Wild Rose and is famously the symbol of England. Dog Rose is the most common of the wild roses and is in flower now until about the end of July. In late August the plant bares its fruit the rosehip that has many uses as wild food and medicine. In Roger Phillips Wild Food it’s claimed that pound for pound rosehip contains twenty times as much vitamin c as an orange. The fruit should not be picked until after the first frost and it is not really worth picking after the end of October. You should see these in hedgerows or on scrubland in London. Most of the flowers I’ve seen about are pale pink or white but they maybe seen in deep pink. If picking the fruit to make one of the many recipe’s there are about then watch out for the hooked thorns.  

Friday, 20 May 2011

Ash (Fraxinus excelsior)

There are several species of Ash in Britain identifiable by their different leaflets. They are one of our native trees and can live for an incredibly long time, they have a firm place in our native woodlands often near oaks. Ashes have been recorded with over 800 concentric rings. The Ash photographed is in my front garden and they are all over London, often lining streets or in gardens. Sydenham hill woods is a good place to see them in ancient woodland and the light airy canopy that they provide will often allow other flowers and fauna like bluebell or wood anemone to flourish.Look out for slightly toothed edges to the leaflets and the grey bark often covered in lichen. Ash trees are also great places to find Hawkmoth caterpillars.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

False Acacia (Robinia pseudoacacia)

Annoyingly, I’ve not been able to post on two days this week as work has been totally dominant. I thought I’d post on something close to home today. This pictures are of the False Acacia tree in my front garden in SE London. I did not know what it was until today and I’ve been meaning to find out. False Acacia are medium size trees growing to around 30m. The leaves contain 3-10 pairs of yellowish green oval alternate leaflets. The tree bark is spirally ridged. It produces dense pea like flowers which are smell great. It was planted in Britain in 1636 and is native to the USA. They are common around London and the South East.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)

The grey squirrel was introduced to this country at the beginning of the 20th century and is abundant. You’re unlikely to walk through any park or wood without seeing one especially in the warmer months. They don’t hibernate but are less active in the winter. They are larger than the native red squirrel and better adapted to modern surrounding unlike the red squirrel that stick to the treetops in forests and woods solely. They are born bald and with their eyes closed. In forests where they are too abundant they can have a really negative effect on the trees, stripping the bark. They can live up to 20 years.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Elder (Sambucus nigra)


Elder is a common tree and shrub. It usually flowers in June/July but as you can see from the photos I took today in Brockwell park it is quite early this year. It is quite easy to identify, I find the scent of the flowers particularly recognisable. As well as the 5/7 leaflet pattern. The word elder derives from the Anglo-Saxon aeld, which means fire because the hollow branches were blown up to stoke fire.  There are loads of recipes about for Elderflower and Elderberry so I thought I’d write one down here that sounds particularly good, from my favorite book at the moment; ‘Wild Food’ by Roger Phillips. I intend to make this in the next couple of weeks but need to reclaim some receptacles from a batch of Nettle Beer.

Elderflower Champagne
4 x Elderflower heads
4 ½ Litres cold water
1 lemon
650g Sugar
2 Tablespoons of white wine vinegar

Dissolve the sugar in a little warm water and allow to cool. Squeeze the juice from the lemon, cut the rind in 4  and put the pieces with the elderflowers in a large basin. Add the wine vinegar, pour on the rest of the cold water and allow to steep for 4 days. Strain off and bottle in screw top bottles. Drink in 6 to 10 days but test after 6 to see it’s not too fizzy. If it’s not worked leave for another week, sometimes the natural yeast in the flowers is slow to act. Serve with ice and lemon

Tip: Don’t wash the flowers it removes too much fragrance but check they are not badly infested with insects

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Garden snail (Helix aspersa)

Garden Snail on polystyrene - Kingsland rd
This is our common garden snail. They can live for several years and this one that I found just off the Kingsland rd was obviously fairly mature. The garden snail has both male and female genitals. They mate by firing sperm into one another, then they crawl away to lay their eggs of which there may be forty or so per batch. They hatch after around a month as mini replicas of mature snails. As they grow so does their shell. Birds will eat large numbers of them especially song thrush. They are terrestrial molluscs and are edible which is a satisfactory way of keeping them from eating any edible vegetation that you may keep.  

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Iron Prominent (Notodonta dromedarius)

Iron prominent
  Iron Prominent is part of the Notodontidae family of which there are 21 resident British species. The prominent get their name from the tuft of scales on the midline, which stand erect when they are at rest. The caterpillars are usually hairless and may have fleshy growths on their backs. Iron prominent gets its name from the obvious rusty streaks on their backs, which are fainter further north. This particular species tends to prefer birch and alder and may be found in woodlands, hedgerows and gardens. I met a guy on Sunday who had caught this moth in his moth trap and had released it in Amwell nature reserve in Hertfordshire. Apparently setting up your own moth trap is fairly straightforward and can be done properly for around £120. I've been recommended ALS  
A Lepidopterist is the name for a person who studies moths, butterflies and their superfamilies.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Rapeseed (Brassica napus)

Commonly known in Britain as Oilseed Rape this plant is one of the world’s leading sources of vegetable oil. Rape oil has many uses including as industrial lubricant and in the manufacture of bio diesel. It belongs in the same family as mustard and cabbage, Brassicaceae. The leaves and young flowers are edible, the leaves when cooked are said to be similar to bok choi. Rapeseed is first recorded in Britain over six hundred years ago when it would have been grown in which the young leaves would have been used in winter and spring salads. It is know a regular seasonal sight en masse in agricultural fields and as an escapee, pretty much anywhere. There is a lot around the East end canals where this photo was taken. The English name derives from the Latin rapa – a turnip.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Black-Headed Gull (Larus ridibundus)

Black-Headed Gull
This photo was taken yesterday within minutes of the Common Tern photograph, in approximately the same location; Amwell nature reserve in Hertfordshire. The Black-Headed Gull is slightly bigger than the Common Tern, a few centimeters. They were flying together in similar patterns with similar wing beats as if the Black-Headed Gull’s were mimicking the Common Tern. I have seen the Common Tern’s feeding like this before on the canal but it was the first time I’ve seen the Black-Headed Gull feeding there as well. As you can see from the photo the Gull was surface hunting as well. Note the insect in beak. Black headed gull’s do not always have black heads the juvenile is white headed and brown winged. Mature, they are the whitest, snowiest species of gull which is a good way of identifying them. Note the several obvious differences between yesterdays picture of the Common Tern which would make it quite difficult to confuse the species. They are very common, happy to nest by sea, upland moor or island.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Common Tern (Sterna hirundo)

Common Tern
I photographed this Common Tern today at Amwell Nature reserve in Hertfordshire. Very close to the tern, I also photographed a Black-Headed gull which I will write about tomorrow. It is a possible to confuse the Common tern and Black-Headed Gull with but hopefully with the close photographs I’ve got you will see several clear differences. Only half the Common Tern’s head is black from the crown down, similar to the Arctic tern but you are incredibly unlikely to see one of these in London or the Home Counties. The Common Tern arrives in April and leaves in October. It is usually found on the coast but also in land around reservoirs. The Barnes Wetland centre in London has had sighting recently. Note the forked tale, like the Swallow, the Common Tern’s arrival is a sure sign spring has arrived. These birds will feed on surface fish in their sea colonies but the 3 or 4 I was watching today were skimming the canal surface for insects with turns and dives that made very good viewing.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Bumble Bees (Genus: Bombus)

Amwell nature reserve, Herts

I think I am correct in identifying this Bumble bee as Bombus Hortorum although a bee expert may want to correct me. This is one of our most common bees and you should have seen them in London. They live in small annual colonies. The Queens come out in spring and look for new nesting holes, which is what I found this bee doing, they often use old mouse holes. The colonies the queen creates usually don’t contain more than a few hundred workers, these bees are smaller than the queen and will be seen from late spring through to autum. There are over a dozen species of bumble bee that one might find in London and a further six species of Cuckoo bees which are very similar looking but a different genus (Psithyrus) and so called because of their parasitic egg laying quality like their avian namesake. I have not found any common names for these individual species of bee, they are may be identified by their Latin names.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum)

Ruskin Park
Leaflets make up the leaf
The Horse chestnut or conker tree as it is known is one of the most common and easily identifiable trees in Britain and they are very common in London. They are recorded as early as the 16th century in Britain but are native to the mountains of the Balkans. The leaf that you can see in the photo is made up of between 5 and 7 leaflets at the end of a long stalk this is known as palmate.  According to my Collins tree guide the name is thought to derive in two parts, one from the use of conkers in 16th Century Turkey to treat ailing horses and two because of the superficial resemblance of the fruit to sweet chestnut of which there is no relation. The conkers are used in some herbal treatments but do not eat them without specialist instruction of how to extract their goodness as they can be poisonous especially when young and fresh. Many of the trees you’ll see around London are suffering from blight or bleeding canker, you may see it as it browns the leaves which will prematurely drop or as sticky liquid protruding from blemishes on the trunk. It works at cutting off the water supply to the crown and methods are being tested to help the tree fight the disease. In some cases the trees have been known to recover of their own accord so don’t be tempted to cut the tree down at the first sign of bleeding canker.