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, 9 August 2011

Black Mulberry (Morus nigra)

Gnarled lumpy bole

Edible fruit
These photos are of the large Mulberry tree in the walled garden in Brockwell park. I thought it was a nice thing to write about after the riots. This tree is well worth a look at it’s been in the walled garden since Victorian times and it should be there long after this current group of criminal looters are dead. Seeing our live in the context of the natural world is a powerful leveler. One of the gardeners in the park told me that Victorians would often plant these trees in their walled gardens to use as an indicator of spring; they shoot very late so once they shoot it’s a supposed guarantee that Spring is well underway. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of this but I like the story. There are many members of the genus Morus. The White Mulberry and Black Mulberry are most common in Britain and are quite easy to tell apart as the black has heart shaped leaves and the white has long oval shaped leaves. This is a stunning tree brimming with edible fruit at the moment well worth a visit.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia)

Mountain Ash  berries, Herne Hill
Also known as Mountain Ash although they are not related to true Ash. This is a small to medium sized tree that can be seen quite commonly round London and is easy to recognize at the moment as they’re brimming with bunches of red berries. These trees are able to survive at high altitudes, hence the name but are also popular in towns. The berries are a very important winter stable for birds as they persist even after the leaves have fallen, they even attract migratory birds like Waxwing into town. The berries are edible but are said not to be very pleasant on their own. I’ve heard they can be made into a pleasant conserve to eat with game. Be very careful that you’ve made 100% correct identification there are lots of dangerous berries about!

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)

Dalberg rd, SW2

I took this photo on Dalberg rd between Brixton and Dulwich rd. The very pleasant owner was very happy for me to take a photograph. There is another house a few doors down which is also growing sunflowers but they are not quite as high. The one in this photo looked around 8ft. It reminded me of class competitions at infant school to see who could grow the highest plant. What is commonly referred to as the flower on a fully grown plant is actually known as the flower head. The plants are famed for Heliotropism (where a plant turns to track the sun) but this is not actually true of fully grown flower heads, which will usually face east and remain doing so for their lifespan. The young buds and leafs will turn to face the sun. Great plants and easy to grow with lots of well known uses. They are native to America.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Nature is going to be published twice a week on Tuesday and Friday for the foreseeable future due to work commitments but it will be returning to daily posting at some point.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Ivy-Leaved Toadflax (Cymbalaria muralis)

Spenser rd,  SE24
It’s nice to be looking round town and writing about bits of nature again after having been away for so long.  I saw the Ivy-Leaved Toadflax on a wall when I was dropping off my car at a garage. It’s in flower at the moment (as you can see) and will be until around November having started in around April. This is edible and is often used in salads in smart restaurants. I’m told the per kilo price is quite high. It predominantly grows in brick walls and is very common. A lot of the brick work in the area doesn’t seem to have it growing but interestingly this small area that was painted had quite a lot growing which makes me wonder if the paint has some positive effect. I quite like the taste, bitter and sharp, I think it is good for adding a bit of spice to a salad. Please be sure of Identification before you eat it.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Due to work commitments, Nature in London will start posting again on Monday 18th of July.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus)

Sedge Warbler

This is a common summer visitor to Britain. It is well worth stopping and spending a bit of time watching this bird if you come across one. They are extremely lively characterful little birds that sing very powerfully. The one in the photograph taken in Hertforshire let me get very close whilst he belted out powerful, virtually non-stop song for five minutes or more. They migrate from Africa, where they spend the winter and may be found in Britain from around mid April to mid October. They feed mainly on insects and their numbers are healthy, in fact The inhabit a massively extensive range of countries from Asia through Africa to all over Europe.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Creeping Thistle (Cirsium arvense)

Brockwell Park
 This thistle is in bloom at the moment, which always reminds me of Scotland who’s national emblem is the spear thistle which has larger flowers. There are over a dozen species of thistle in Britain and it’s a common group of plants well known for their spines which the plant has developed to discourage animals from feeding on it. Thistles are male and female and grow near one another to breed. They are notoriously hard to get rid off, so consider embracing their presence in your garden, when flowering they’re very popular with several species of rare butterfly and once they go to seed there’s a good chance of seeing goldfinch feeding on the seeds.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Meadow crane's-bill (Geranium pratense)

Shakespeare rd, SE24

 This a really lovely wild meadow and garden plant which is in bloom now and should remain so until the end of September. This plant is best distinguished at this time of year by it’s large violet blue flowers with crimson veins. As you can see from the Latin name it’s part of the Geranium family of which there are over 400 species. Crane’s bill is the translation of the Greek Geranium. It’s so called because of the seed dispersing area of the plant, which is a column that opens to reveal a seed, looking like a beak, Not all geraniums have this.  The only suggested herbalist use I’ve found for it is to use the leaves, placed on cuts to help bind the wound but I’m sure there are more. I don’t know the remedy I’ve mentioned to be certain and I’d always recommend seeking specialist advice before you try any herbalist remedies.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

White water-lily (Nymphaea alba)

This plant produces the widest flower of any wild British plant. They can grow up to around 10 inches. The plants grow in relatively shallow water not liking water much deeper than a couple of metres. The flowers are well known for only opening when the sun comes out. There are about 50 species of the genus Nymphaea. The white water-lily has lots of herbalist uses, through history, different parts of the plant have commonly been used for their sedative and aphrodisiac properties. This picture was taken by the same pond that I found the newt in yesterday, in Dulwich.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Common or Smooth Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris)

Common Newt - Dulwich
I took this picture today, next to a garden pond in East Dulwich. I saw at least half a dozen newts in this pond which was great as they have been in decline for sometime. It just shows how valuable gardens and garden ponds are as mini ecosystems. I’m very fond of newts, a fondness somewhat developed by Gussie Fink-Nottle a ‘Newt Fancying’ character in Jeeves & Wooster novels. So it was rather nice to photograph this specimen in Dulwich close to where Woodhouse went to school; Dulwich College. Unlike Lizards, Newts do not bask in the sun, nor do they have scales but they do both hibernate. Newts should start to appear at the end of February depending on temperature at this point they will travel to water to breed. During breeding season the male displays to the female with tale vibrations then leaves a pod containing sperm in the water for the female to collect. The female gives birth to tadpoles which are carnivorous throughout their lives. Newts have been recorded living up to 20 years but their average life span is far shorter than this. 

Monday, 20 June 2011

Hawke Binoculars

Having recently been parted from my binoculars for a week I realised how much I use them in day to day life. I’ve not written about any kit for a while so I thought a few sentences on my binoculars would be fitting. Bar the clothes on your back and the shoes on your feet I don’t think there is a more important piece of equipment to interact with nature. They make any walk so much more fruitful and interesting. Sometimes I look at what appears to be blank pieces of sky or landscape then I put my bins to my eyes and a multitude of birds are often revealed. What to buy? I favor something mid size for walking like the pair pictured. They are 10x42 magnification, which gives me good viewing range without being too cumbersome. I also really like this brand, Hawke these ‘Nature Trek’ binoculars were around £90 and I think the optics compare well with other brand models in the £200/£300 bracket a view which is shared with some professionals in the industry that I’ve asked advice from. For the price these are excellent waterproof and robust binoculars.You can feel quite odd walking round London with binoculars but I do it all the time and it's well worth it.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Common Mallow (Malva sylvestris)

Canal System N1

Dulwich Rd SE2
I’m writing briefly tonight on Common Mallow as I’ve had a seriously busy week. I always see this plant around Herne Hill on lawns and in the park but today I noticed it in abundance whilst walking between Haggerston and Angel along the Canal where the wide shot was taken. It took me some time to identify this plant, it’s been in flower for a couple of months now and will remain so for a couple more. The flowers are stunning and the plant is related to hibiscus and hollyhock. It is edible but be careful that it isn’t growing in too nitrogen rich soil and also that it’s out of ‘dog pee’ range which a lot of it is not. The round fruits it bears may contain little edible nuts. I’ve had a brief look for herbalist uses and like many things, diuretic properties were one of the first that came out. Today I saw it growing in tall wide clumps but often you may just see a few leaves and a flower in a lawn. I think the flowers are particularly attractive and I look forward to tasting the nuts. This is an easy and useful plant to identify.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Moonshine yarrow (Achillea)

The yellow flower in the photograph belongs to Moonshine Yarrow. The Latin genus above contains just under 100 flowering plants, many of which are used decoratively in Gardens like this one. The name comes from Greek mythology where it’s said Achilles soldiers used Yarrow to treat wounds. I find this fascinating as the blood clotting qualities of Yarrow are well documented by herbalists. Only a few months a go a herbalist in the Natural History Museum garden was telling me to put yarrow up my nose for a nose bleed. These properties give yarrow some of its other common names like blodwort and allheal. This is one property of many that Yarrow has been scientifically proven to have, it has antiseptic properties and is often used as a carminative and to treat colds and flu. Usual warning…be certain about identification to the untrained eye, there are some nasty plants this may be mistaken for especially as there are such a range of species flowering in a multitude of colours.

PS: Please would someone identify the moth for me?

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Blackberry (Rubus fruticosus)

Queen's Park - North Side

The above Latin name refers to the common blackberry. There are over four hundred species of blackberry. As you can see from the photo I took today amongst the railings at Queen’s Park, blackberry bushes flower in late spring/ early summer and are usually pink or white. This plants tolerance for poor quality soil is the main reason why it’s so common. We know and see them in thick tangled bushes with large thorns on the stems but certain agricultural species have been cultivated; thorn free. Dewberries look similar to blackberries and are part of the Rubus genus but they lack the woody fibers in the stem. Obviously they are very nutritious, containing lots of vitamins and fibre as well as anti-oxidants. The seeds are also high in fibre and nutrients.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum)

Teasel, - Lee Valley canal system.
This is another one of our common plants, which has lots of names. The scientific name above comes from the Greek ‘to Thirst’ because of the area which joins the leaf and the stem that collects water like a bowl. This is also why it was known as Venus’s basin by the Roman’s and Mary’s basin by the early Christians. Apart from being a really important source of food for birds and pollen for butterflies I have not found any uses herbalist uses for Teasel. It does get commonly used as an ornament (I’ve definitely seen my Mum dot the odd one around the house) and, more significantly a as a tool it was an is used by Fuller’s who would comb wool with it. Today it is still cultivated for use in the textiles industry.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Bird's-foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)

 I’ve seen quite a bit of this on grass around London, it likes sandy soil, which makes sense as I took the above photo on a football pitch in the Sir Joseph Hood Memorial park. This plant is about the size of a buttercup and the common name Trefoil comes from the Latin trifolium meaning three-leaved plant. It is said to have a few herbalist properties but I’ve not had time to research it thoroughly enough to confirm that. This is easy to find all over London in parks and Lawns.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011


I took a photo of this beautiful Eucalyptus tree yesterday evening as I’m working long days at the moment and I was looking for something quick and easily identifiable to write about. Little did I know there are more than 700 species of Eucalyptus worldwide, in fact it’s a genus that could quite easily provide a life of study on it’s own. Most Eucalyptus are native to Australia. Some species are more commonly known as Gum trees, the sap that they contain is a very important natural substance that provides natural antiseptic and cleaning oil. To counter the positives their ability to drain huge quantities of water is obviously less popular.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Bindweed (Convolvulus)

 There are five fused petals on this common plant that I photographed today on Wimbledon park. It’s so called because it will bind around other plants in a parasitic way and smother them. They are usually rooted very deep and it’s worth consulting a specialist for removal the Royal Horticultural society offer advice. There are lots of species of this plant and most are edible but don’t eat too much as it’s a purgative. I’ve read reports that it’s sweet and reports that it’s incredibly bitter but I’ve not tried it. I suppose it depends on the variety. Some bindweeds are massive and will provide a meal from their big starchy roots. Others, it’s claimed have psychedelic properties but that is specific to variety and not a property common bindweed has.  

Monday, 6 June 2011

Oxford Ragwort (Senecio squalidus)

This photo was taken on the street set of Wimbledon Studios and is one of the most common members of the ragwort family. It is poisonous to humans and livestock and I don’t know of any herbalist uses for this plant all though I’m certain their will be some. I’m really interested in these types of plants that few people take any notice of. Just over 200 hundred years ago this plant would have been considered the height of sophistication as it was imported from the volcanic soils of Sicily by the Oxford Botanic Gardens. We now know that it each plant can contain around 10,000 seeds, which have spread incredibly effectively around the midlands and the south. A fact which might have deterred the 18th Century botanist from importing it.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Common comfrey (Symphytum offcinale)

I’ve read that this has sometimes confused with Foxglove which is a dangerous mistake Comfrey has some pleasant and useful herbal uses and Foxglove is deadly poisonous. Comfrey comes from ‘con firma’, which means made firm and it’s so-called for its ability to help heal bruises, sprains, fractures and broken bones. As always don’t attempt to use or ingest the plant unless you know exactly what you’re doing as it may cause problems, liver toxicity amongst them. The flowers are white, or pale pink when open and the droop over in clumps often below the leaves. The plant likes damp conditions and is often found lining river banks. this picture was taken on the canal between Ware and London.   

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)

Foxglove, Dulwich.
Most important to know about this plant is that every part of it is deadly poisonous and the smallest morsel ingested is likely to kill you. It is equally dangerous for live stock. Elements of it are used in advanced medicine to treat various heart conditions but it is not suitable for the amateur herbalist to use. The only use I’ve heard of for it is as toilet paper as the leaves are large and smooth but knowing about its extreme poisonous qualities I’m rather worried about the leaves breaking up and conveying their poison in suppository form. I don’t know if that’s likely but I should stick to dock leaves. The plant it's sometimes confused with is Common comfrey which I shall be blogging on tomorrow.  Foxglove may have as many as 80 single flowers that grow on one side, opening from bottom up. In the first year there is only a rosette of leaves viewable and in the second the tall stem grows up through the middle. There are twenty or so different species but this is the most common.    

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus)

Lee Valley canal system

This picture was taken on the canal between Ware and Hertford on Sunday morning. There was one chick and a mating pair, which I watched for sometime. According to a passing cyclist there had been two chicks initially, it could have been taken by a number of predators including Pike. This bird is no stranger to adversity in the mid 19th century the population was hunted to around 40 pairs because the skins were so coveted by the fashion industry. They are interesting birds; their displays of spring courtship are one of the spectacles of the mating season. The pair I saw was still mating and the male was displaying after completion which was rather entertaining as the head shaking and feather ruffling is such a blatant show of pride. The young are patterned rather like a zebra and will keep that plumage until the winter by which time they will be about the same size as the adult. When the chick is fully fledged the parents will either drive the juvenile away or the family will just split. It seems like a sharp contrast from the first few weeks of life when the parents carry the chick round on their backs.   

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.  

Friday, 22 April 2011

I will be posting Nature in London again, after the bank holiday on Tuesday the 3rd of May.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Honey Bee (Apis mellifera)

Honey Bee

Bees are a tricky subject, like a lot of insects many of the species don’t have common names so your going to need to brush off your Latin. There are a lot of species of bee found in London and the UK. My Collins guide says there are 6 different species of Bumble-bee alone, all of which may be seen in our capital. Really to make a definitive decision on what bee you are looking at it needs to be caught and examined but that is not something I want to do. Bees are a crucial part in our ecosystem and their relationship to our life is an extensive subject on which many books and films have been written and made. The decrease in bee numbers is well documented and a worry. I heard on Radio 4 ‘Farming Today’ recently that most commercially grown British tomatoes, grown in wind tunnels are pollinated by bees imported from Belgium which demonstrates part of their importance. The Honey Bee in this picture came from a hive that in Essex and were collecting nectar from a lavender bush near by. They may be confused with the Andrena species but can be identified by the cells that make up the wing. This is how most bees are catergorised along with the tongue. I haven’t been able to identify the cells on the wing but the proximity to the hive makes me almost certain it was a Honey Bees. Most bees can be distinguished from wasps by the hairiness of their legs and body and they use their sting only in defense. There are around 250 species of bee in Britain of which most are solitary apart from Bumble and Honey Bees.    

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)

Mute Swan

I thought I’d continue the theme of large common birds today and write about the Mute Swan. This maybe the singularly most easily identifiable bird in Britain as at this time of year there are no other species to get it confused with unlike the Feral pigeon. They are the largest birds in Britain often reaching over a meter and a half long. They are incredibly powerful and not to be approached too closely, please see the picture in which my dog is being encouraged to stay a respectable distance away. The last month or so will have been a good time to see them with their young (cygnets). The adult plumage is pure white which makes the juvenile’s easily distinguishable as they have dirty grey brown plumage. The Whooper Swan is the only real bird it’s possible to confuse with the Mute Swan as they are similar in size but the bill shape and size are different and it is a winter visitor.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Canada Goose (Branta Canadensis)

The Canada Goose is one of the most familiar birds in London and the Uk. You’re almost certain to see them on any substantial piece of water in or around London. They were introduced from North America around 300 years ago and are now the most widespread goose in this country. They’re also commonly seen flying overhead, their flight is powerful and direct and their call will usually be heard trumpeting loudly, a little like a bark,. Most famously they are known for flying in a V shape, interestingly they rotate the head of this formation, obviously realizing it uses more energy. They usually mate for life after their second year unless a mate is killed in which case they’ll find a replacement.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Woodpigeon (Columba palumbus)

This is the consecutive post on animals that make good eating, although I took this photo in the walled garden of Brockwell park and I’m not sure I’d be keen to eat residents of the London Woodpigeon community. This one was feasting on the cherry blossom so perhaps its diet isn’t too bad. Very common bird, I think the colour of the eye is quite a good way of differentiating this bird from the feral pigeon or stock dove. It’s also usually quite a bit larger but this is not a fool proof method of identification as those other birds are often larger than they should be due to their a fast food diet. Woodpigeons can be divided into rural and city dwellers and they’ve developed quite different habits especially concerning feeding and roosting. Rural woodpigeons nesting time peaks a month or two later in July, August, this is due to food availability. Look up and listen to their call on the RSPB website, you may never have known what it was but it will be very familiar when you hear it.  

Sunday, 17 April 2011

The American Signal Crayfish (Pacifastacus leniusculus)

American Signal crayfish
Ware, Hertfordshire - Canal
There are few animals in Britain with a worse reputation than this crayfish. It got into the wild waterways in Britain in the 1970’s after either escaping from captivity or being released by and unknowing liberator. It has virtually extinct our native White Claw crayfish because of a fungus they carry and territorial attacks. There are thought to be many millions of them and their extreme omnivorous appetite is affecting all sorts of areas and biodiversity in Britain’s waterways. They are also known to be burrowing into riverbanks, which is causing collapse. There are lots of great ways to catch these animals and they make for a tasty meal although personally I would leave them to filter in a bucket of fresh water for a few day before cooking. Please see this link to the Telegraph which is detailed in describing the problems they have created and also this article in the Guardian which lays out a novel and eco-friendly way of catching them. The three lads in the picture we’re bating string with bacon then pulling them out with nets and may have been supplementing their pocket money by selling to local restaurants.