About Me

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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

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. 

Friday, 15 April 2011

Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae)

Small Tortoiseshell
This photo was taken last summer in Essex, the small tortoiseshell was perched on a lavender bush. It’s a very common butterfly, which is very easy to identify by the blue marginal spots and bright orange wings. It is possible to confuse with the Large tortoiseshell but the LT is obviously larger, it also is unlikely to have the blue marginal spots and should be a duller orange. This butterfly might be seen at any time of year, it depends on the temperature being high enough. Usually they will come out at the end of March, beginning of April until late summer. The underside of their wing is much duller which acts as camouflage whilst they hibernate in hollow trees or buildings. They have very interesting mating habits and behaviors. Sadly their numbers are in decline at the moment, which may be caused by a number of reasons for more information on this visit the brilliant UK butterflies website.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Magnolia (Magnoliaceae)

There are about 35 species of Magnolia in Britain. The one photographed, again in Dulwich park, is a Saucer Magnolia. As with all Magnolias there are lots of different cultivars so you will see Saucer Magnolias with different flower colours. When I think of a flowering Magnolia tree I see something similar to the above photo but there are lots of very different looking flower types including the Star Magnolia and Campbell’s Magnolia, which look quite different. These trees seem to be present in driveways, especially, all over London. There are few trees that rival the flowering properties of Saucer Magnolia with the possible exception of certain cherry blossoms. Magnolias are thought to be amongst the most primitive of flowering plants with fossils dating back many millions of years. Their use is not only ornamental but also medicinal and as timber. Parts of the bark may be used by herbalists to treat coughs and problems with the digestive tract.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Mandarin Duck (Aix galericulata)

Dulwich Park pond 11/4/11
As the name suggests this duck derives from the east, Russia, China and Japan to be specific. The population in Britain derives from escaped captives and is currently estimated, by the RSPB to stand at about 7,000 pairs. These ducks are quite common in Britain and don’t attract much attention from birders but actually Britain’s Mandarin population may actually prove quite important as numbers in the east are low. As you can see, this pair were mating or as the imaginative mother standing next to me replied when her child asked what they were doing; ‘He’s keeping his wings dry’. I think the male owns some of the most spectacular plumage you’ll see on a bird in Britain. They are quite common in ponds in South England and London

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Green alkanet (Pentaglottis sempervirens)

Dulwich Rd

This is a really common plant, flowering at this time of year through until early summer. I took this picture in the area outside the front of my flat. It usually wont grow larger than 90cm and it likes damp shady areas near buildings. Anyone who lives in London will have seen this plant, whether they recognize it or not. Until today, I didn’t know what it was but it is really interesting. It was bought here in the middle ages , predominantly to be used as a dye which is a strong red and is extracted from the roots.  Both flower and leaf are edible but always be 100 percent sure of identification before you consume anything. The leaves stay green throughout the year, hence the first part of the plants common name and the second part is related to henna denoting the dying properties.  

Monday, 11 April 2011

Turkey Oak (Quercus cerris)

Turkey Oak - Dulwich Park
This is one of the ‘great trees of London’ so called by the charity Trees for Cities. The Turkey Oak in the photograph is in Dulwich Park and listed on the Trees for Cities website as one to visit. There are about 500 species of Oak in the Northern Hemisphere although there are far less than that in Britain. The Turkey oak was reintroduced to Britain in 1735, it’s deciduous and broadly conical. It harbors gall wasp larvae, which is bad for British Oak but provides a good early source of food for birds. It’s fast growing and will grow to about 40m. I will be visiting all of the trees on the ‘great trees of London’ list and reporting back on them. Dulwich Park is well worth a visit so make sure you look this tree up when you’re there it’s very impressive.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Cormorant (Phalacrocorax Carbo)

Large web feet propel the cormorant through the water.

The cormorant is pretty common in London although I’ve not often seen them in Brockwell park where this photo was taken last Wednesday. They are large water birds often perched by the side of lakes or on rocks by the coast, sometimes with their wings outstretched drying. Unlike most water birds, their feathers allow water to penetrate them so they can dive and swim more effectively this is why they often perch wings outstretched. Don’t confuse with the Shag which is a little smaller and will usually only be seen on the coast. Cormorants look especially large to me when they fly because unlike Herons they fly with their head and neck extended which makes them look like flapping missiles. When you see these birds up close, hopefully you can see this from my photo, their feathers look scaly which,  I find a great reminder of birds evolution from reptiles.

Friday, 8 April 2011

7 Spot Ladybird (Coccinella 7-punctata)

Brockwell Pk- Walled Garden.

There are 24 species of true British Ladybird and the 7 spot is one of the most common. Ladybirds are part of the beetle family and have a good reputation because of their aphid eating qualities although not all of them are predatory. Their red colour is a warning to potential predators of their bitter taste. Ladybirds will also secrete and unpleasant, pungent substance when handled, which also contributes to their defenses. They spend the winter as dormant adults and usually come out in early spring and stay out until late autumn. There are other leaf beetles that may be confused with Ladybirds but the latter have much shorter antennae which is a good means of identification. 

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)

Everyone should know this bird as it’s massively common in cities and in rural areas, my Collins guide says their numbers in mid winter swell into tens of millions when the European Starlings come to Britain. They are intelligent characterful birds well known for their ability mimic other birdcalls as well as other sounds like car alarms. They are easily identifiable. At this time of year as they’re very glossy and in flight they dart around raising up and down and to me they look as if their wings are triangular. The eat mainly insects, a lot of garden pests like leatherjackets, the larvae of  crane flies/ daddy-long-legs which is one of their plus points but to counter that positivity, large flocks have been known to decimate fields of corn. There are plenty of them about, you should have no trouble spotting them, this picture was taken yesterday in Brockwell Park.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Wood Anemone (Anemone nemorosa)

It’s currently the perfect time of year to see Wood Anemone flower as it’s around their mid flowering season. They grow carpet like in deciduous woodland and I took these pictures in Sydenham hill woods two days ago on the same day I saw the Lesser Stag Beetle (4th April ‘11).  The flowers are incredibly responsive to sunlight opening and raising up as soon as it hits them then drooping and closing again when cloud or evening come round. To identify, they are usually between 5-30cm high, the leaves are divided into 3 segments and only one flower to one stem. They are usually white but you may see them in other colours also. Stunning plants and another good reason to visit Sydenham Hill woods.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Lesser Stag Beetle (Dorcus parallelopipedus)

Sydenham Hill Woods - 4/4/11
I was quite excited to find this Lesser Stag beetle in Sydenham Hill woods yesterday. It is a fairly common species across much of England and can often be found in old piles of rotten wood where the larvae feed on the rotting wood. The lesser stag beetle will not usually grow larger than 30mm where as the Stage beetle will not be smaller than 30mm. The Females are similar looking but can be distinguished as the Lesser SB has blacker elytra (the horn like antler part). Male Lesser Stag Beetles unlike the Stag Beetle do not have enlarged elytra. The nocturnal adults breed in rotting wood and may be seen flying around sunset, normally only in the summer. London and Sydenham hill woods in particular are hot spots for both species of Stag beetle and well worth a visit. 

Have a look at the Sydenham Hill Woods on London Wildlife Trust website.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii)

Pied Wagtail

The pied wagtail is a common bird. They are usually found on smooth ground and short grass, as they like to scuttle about chasing insects. The picture above was taken on the bowling green in Brockwell Park, which is perfect for them. I often see them in supermarket and service station car parks where they will usually be paired up. My RSPB book says they are very territorial at this time of year, even fighting their own reflection but they do usually roost communally. The females are slightly greyer on their back and have a smaller bib. As their name is well given as they constantly wag their tail up and down. They often engage short burst of frenetic flight hunting for insects. The pied wagtail is a subspecies of the white wagtail and usually only breed in Britain and Ireland, where as the white wagtail is more common in the rest of Europe.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

My old boots

Brasher Supalite
I’ve decided to post once or twice a month on a weekend about the pieces of kit I use and I find useful. My old Brasher boots have just about come to the end of their life after approaching 4 years good service. They’ve been excellent boots and getting rid of them is a bit like giving up an old car you’re fond of.  Good boots, as anyone who spends any time outdoors will tell you, are probably the best bit of kit you can have. The Supalite’s in the photo are still water tight which is the most important thing as walking round with wet feet is miserable. I’m starting a new pair of Brasher Lithium GTX this weekend so I’ll report back on those in the next few months. Brasher are my favorite boots so I’ve put a link up to their website on my suppliers page.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiacus)

Egyptian goose with 3 gosling
 Egyptian geese are native to Africa but were bought over to Britain in the 18th Century for ornamental purposes. Since then they have established a wild population, most of their number are found in north Norfolk but today in London I have seen two pairs both with 3 young on Clapham common south side as I went by on a bus and also on the south bank of the Thames on the west side of Hammersmith bridge, where the photo was taken. They usually mate for life and nest in tree hollows. The sexes are difficult to tell apart and they take turns in incubating eggs. The male is slightly larger and makes different sounds to the female. They are extremely territorial when they come into contact with other Egyptian geese, encounters that may end in aerial battle. Plumage may vary in colour and pattern amongst the species but they all have pale eyes surrounded by a dark patch and a black patch in the centre of their breast in common.