Monday, January 28, 2008


Click to enlarge

I knew our rat(s) would succumb in the end. I say rat(s) because where there's one, there's another.

Thought I'd try to tempt the lil' blighter out from under next doors' shed (or out from our compost heap), with a tasty slice of wholemeal. (It ignored the bits of leftover fruit I lobbed on the heap after making my morning smoothie).

The Brown rat. Rattus norvegicus. (Came over from Norway, so it did).

Outside of the ice caps of the poles, the only place you'll not find this evolutionary king, is strangely enough in the province of Alberta, in Canada... (type Alberta and Rat into google - you'll see why Alberta is rat free... at the moment)!

Some ratty facts for you:

1) The Brown rat as a species, seemed to first live around Mongolia.

2) It has followed the human popuation around for hundreds of years, but only reached western Europe around 1727ad.

3) There are an estimated 150million rats in the USA.

4) There are more rats than people in the UK.

5) The rat can swim for 72 hours non-stop.

6) The rat can jump down 50 foot with no ill effect.

7) It can leap 3 foot into the air.

8) It can climb vertical surfaces.

9) A rat can survive longer than a camel without water.

10) A rat will eat anything. Edible or inedible!

11) The rat becomes sexually mature at three months.

12) Rats have sex up to twenty times a day and are extremely promiscuous. An on-heat female can easily have sex five hundred times, with a barnyard of different males, producing twelve litters of twenty-two young each year, most of which are breeding themselves well before the year is up...

13) Rats consume about one fifth of ALL the food produced in the world each year.

14) Rats urinate on one another to show affection.

15) Rats are resourceful, intelligent, quick to learn and have excellent memories.

16) Rats seem to have a sense of fun, and an ultrasound giggle.

17) If a rat jumps up at you, its not attacking you, its aiming at the sunlight over your shoulder...

18) You are STILL more than twice as likely to win the lottery, as you are to catch Weils disease (Leptospirosis) from a rat. (Providing you play the lottery).

Thats rats.

I'll try and get another, better photograph (or video) before too long, but for now, I'll leave you with an extremely short video (about 4 seconds long) of this unbeatable evolutionary success story, in our compost heap, this afternoon...

Sunday, January 27, 2008


Plenty of goings-on in and around the garden this morning. Three Goldfinches on the feeder (see photo above), a rat taking my bait (I missed recording this on video by a few seconds - but I will get it eventually!), the second bumblebee queen I've seen this year (saw my first yesterday), and a nice female Kestrel flying over the rec behind the house.

As I won't be able to record any shenanigans in the nestbox for over a week now (my work shifts will keep me in the office during the busy "nestbox times"), I thought I'd try to record a nice long clip this morning.

Brittany and her potential mate both obliged of course. The clip below should be viewable even if your office forbids the dreaded youtube, but I've uploaded the clip onto my youtube channel anyway (larger window than the blogger video). As usual this can be accessed by clicking on the "my youtube channel" link in the links section of BG.

You'll be able to tell the difference between Brittany and her partner I'm sure by now, and once again, I managed to record her hissing a dismissal at her mate when they are both in the box together.

Saturday, January 26, 2008


Female below, male above

Whilst uploading the Goldfinch video below, I noticed both Blue Tits explore the nestbox again, but unfortunately I was in no position to record inside the box, and download the video I was downloading.

The light was still poor, so you'll have to excuse the poor quality photograph I DID manage to get - this time of the very ragged looking female (Dodgy bird).

I've popped the photo of the female above (along with my old shot of the male) for comparison.

Anna thinks we should call the female "Brittany" this year, (on account of her raggedness).

I think that is a fine idea!
NB. later. I did manage to record ten seconds of footage from the nestbox this morning, just before we left the house. The male seems preoccupied with removing the wood-shavings from the box - all expected behaviour. This footage can be seen in the latest section at the top of BG, or on my youtube home page (see links)


Click to enlarge

I thought I'd sit in my new "hide" in the garden this morning, as the sun came up, and see if I could get anything on video, using my stills-camera set to video mode...
I'm pleased to say the Goldfinches (and female Blue Tit) obliged and you can see one of the short videos below, (about 15 seconds long).

The Goldfinch used to be known as King Harold's bird because of the blood-red feathers around their eyes...

(NB. The female Blue Tit is the bright blue and yellow flash at the top of the screen, with about 1 second to go. I did record some footage of the female Blue Tit on the feeder with one of the finches, but I prefer the video I've uploaded).

This video can also now be found on my youtube channel, available to visit by clicking on "My Youtube Channel" on the links section of BG (LHS of page).
I should apologise at this point for the "noise" in the photograph above (the grainy-ness) as I had to switch the camera to a higher speed film equivalent (200 ISO instead of my normal 80 ISO) as the light was so poor - it was dawn after all! This also explains the apparent darkness of the video below. I'm still chuffed to bits though!

Friday, January 25, 2008


Click to enlarge (slightly)

I didn't get a great photo of the Full moon (the moon of the terrible) on the 22nd, so now, as the moon becomes "less full" is it waxing or waning? Is it a "Gibbous moon" now?

Waxing: The moon approaching full. Crescent like a mirror image "C".

Waning: The moon leaving full, approaching new. Crescent like a "C"

Gibbous: during the phases between the First Quarter and the full moon, and between the full moon and the Last Quarter, when more than half of the disc is illuminated.

Now you know what waxing, waning and gibbous moons are.

So what was the moon last night, when I took the photograph above? (Click to enlarge).

A Waning (just) Gibbous (90% ish) moon.







Two days(nights) later, and the moon wanes a little more...

Photo taken at 5:30 am on 27/01/08

Still waning. Still Gibbous...



NB. Two MORE days later, and the moon looks like this.... (photo taken on 29/01/08 at 6am approx). Only just Gibbous. Only just...


Click to enlarge

Not that interesting this - just a chance to test out the lens on a gnat - in this case one of the "Winter Gnats" (belonging to the winter Crane Fly family - Trichoceridae).

This one is probably Trichocera relegationis but we can just get away with calling it a Winter Gnat.

This one I photographed on the kitchen wall this morning, and its wing length was about 1cm, no more.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Whilst on my wander at lunchtime today, I chanced across this.

An old tree stump?

Look closer.

I like things like this.

Its just a large piece of tree that came down in high winds, a few years ago (I've since read), on View Island in the Thames (near my office, and near that sad Grebe nest), that has been carved into a Troll.

There's a duck carving on the island also - but thats not nearly as interesting.

All woods should have a troll like this I think!


So what have we learned then class?
Well, I think the camera has difficulty with lots of movement in frame (gets very pixellated), produces a pretty poor quality film (not great focus), has trouble with light on water and contrast levels (that may be my setup on the camera itself), and is very subject to noise from the wind.

That all said, I think my camera will make a very nice (free!) substitute for a proper grown-up video camera for the time being!
I really hope to make more interesting (not test) films of for example, our Woodpecker on its post (if it ever returns), and anything else that catches our eyes...





NB. The screen may look blank (with an arrow if you're lucky).

Press play (twice) anyway. It may take a moment or two "buffering" also.

Patience my child.


I have been mighty impressed with the videos over at "Urban Exension" (see links), and have been tentatively looking at purchasing a very cheap video camcorder, to try and take some wildlife videos of my own.

That said, this year is going to be MIGHTY expensive, what with our wedding in August, (and honeymoon in Sri Lanka with a little luck), not to mention my Sister's wedding in May...

Soooo... I thought I'd try and investigate my own (still) camera's video capability.
I'd like (eventually) to get some nice clips (no more than 60 seconds in duration - or they take forever to download) of some birds and mammal behaviour mainly.
Maybe some badgers in the spring, or a Roe deer or two, and some bird activity as and when I find it - a song thrush belting out its dawn chorus for example, or a Short-Eared Owl even!

I went for a little wander up the river this lunchtime, to test the camera out, on some subjects that didn't require much stealth.
Above are four very short clips taken with my stills camera on video mode.
None are much more than ten seconds long - like I say, it was just a test today.

When I get time to bugger of down to th New Forest again, (or North Devon also, maybe this year), or wander off one day, locally, to find me some Grizzly Bear (you never know!), I'll try and get together a few longer clips, post them on BG and pop them on the "Teebeearr" Youtube channel.

Watch this space!

But for now, the four clips above are as follows -

1) Our overwintering Tufted Duck, with none of his kind present, getting a little flustered by the flocks of Swans and Geese on the Thames.

2) Our resident (lonesome too) Barnacle Goose - probably an escape from a local wildfowl collection - but I've seen it fly - its just a bit institutionalised, thats all!

3) A Great Crested Grebe skulking around the undergrowth in the Caversham Lock mill stream. Bad news here I'm afraid, Grapple fans. This (I think) is the mate of the hen that was sitting on eggs a week or so ago. I think the eggs were swept away, (the nest is mishapen and deserted), and the female is missing.
Their is a SLIGHT possibility that the eggs had time to hatch, and the mother is carrying her young to safety on her back. I doubt it though, as the male wouldn't be on his own if that was the case. I'll keep seaching, and keep you posted.

4) A very vocal Song Thrush, singing his heart out above that same millstream. If you listen carefully, you may be able to make out another Song Thrush that he's singing and competing against.

I should warn you here that Blogger videos are very quiet. If you want to hear any of the sounds on these (and future) videos, then watch them in a quiet place.
(Just in case you hadn't realised, I had taken the classical music off BG a month or so ago...)


Good ol' Eagle-eyed Anna pointed this furry lady out to me last night.
A female Drone Fly - the ultimate honeybee mimic.
Droneflies do look uncannily like Honeybees - apart from the fact that they have huge eyes, so typical of flies, and so atypical of bees.

This one on the door frame is an Eristalis sp. (The genus Eristalis is fifteen strong, with many looky-likeys, though generally you can very often call it one of two species - E.tenax (more common, with a dark part of the leg just above the foot) and E.pertinax (yellow "feet").
Looking at the photo (Click to enlarge again), you'll be able to now tell (and I know it was knawing away at you, as to which Eristalsis sp. this indeed is) that this is Eristalsis tenax (with the dark feet).

"But how do you know its a female?", I hear you cry.
"Did you sex it?!"
Hold two tennis balls together in front of you - and make sure they're touching.
Thats what MALE Hoverlies (and Droneflies) eyes appear like.
Now move those tennis balls an inch or so apart.
Yep - now that looks more like FEMALE Hoverlies (or Droneflies) eyes.
So once again, looking at the photo, you can easily tell I have a female E.tenax here.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


Click to enlarge any of these images
(The Woodpecker is starling-size and the Chiffchaff is the size of a Blue Tit)

More of the same I'm afraid, though with a promise of better to come...
We had our first glimpse of the sun in a week this morning (looks like quite a nice day actually), so I took the opportunity to try and get a couple of better photographs of our overwintering Chiffchaff, and one of the woodpeckers if possible.

Think I managed it (well, they're improving, anyway), but I'm off to buy a cheap camouflage tent that I can use as a hide in the garden today (or this weekend), so you can expect MUCH better photographs soon.

On the subject of much better photographs etc..., I ran a test last night, using my camera as a video camera. I actually found it very simple, and pretty good quality actually.
I will endeavour to post some very short (no more than 60 sconds) videos on BG and my Youtube channel very soon. (Not just of the inside of the nest box).
I'm VERY excited by this, ESPECIALLY as I briefly saw next doors' rat on our compost heap this morning...!


Tonight brings us our first full moon of the year.

Here are some of its (many) names again, (including celtic, pagan, japanese and even native american)!


Take your pick.
Lets hope the sky's clear wherever you are...

Monday, January 21, 2008


Click to enlarge

Or the "Pigeon Ramier" in french (I know you needed to know that).

I took this photo from inside the house again, so that explains the slightly out-of-focus shot. That and the fact that its pretty darn windy today - which was ruffling the fat pigeons thick plumage.

I posted about Woodpigeons first here, so no need to go over their extraordinary drinking behaviour again.

I will just add that there are possibly 3 million Woodpigeon territories in the UK presently, making it if not our most common bird, almost certainly the most commonly seen and recorded. A census, like the Collared Dove, is pretty well out of the equation with this huge population.

Anything else remotely interesting about the Woodpigeon?

Well... the fact that the adults breed from February to October, and feed their young a "milk" derived from the sloughing off fluid-filled cells from their crop - a milk that is very nutritious indeed - much more so than cows milk. (Tesco will no doubt stock it soon).

Young (fledged) Woodpigeon lack the thick white collar of the adults - it starts to appear after about 3 months, and becomes thick and adult like at about 7 months.

Woodpigeons make FIVE notes in their cooing calls, unlike the Collared Dove's more reedy three. Think "cu coo-coooo cucu", and you've got a Woodpigeon.

The popular notion that the CRACK produced when Woodpigeons are "display flying" is due to the fact that the Woodpigeons have crashed their wings together, is in fact untrue.
During the display flight the pigeon climbs, the wings are smartly cracked like a whiplash, and the bird glides down on stiff wings. The noise in climbing flight is caused by the whipcracks on the downstroke rather than the wings striking together.

Not one of my favourite birds, but very impressive and very successful, nonetheless.


Yes.... I know, if like us, you're in the south of England - you've had miserable weather for the past five days or so, eh? A relentless drizzle, heavy skies, no real daylight, huh?

Spare a thought for the folks in north Wales (especially), the midlands, and now the north of England, who have had it a lot worse - relentless torrential rain for what seems like a week, and the probability of snow now, at least for north England and the borders.

Scotland has been chilly for the last week, but here in the south, we hit FIFTEEN DEGREES yesterday! In mid january?!

It always somewhat amuses me about this time of year to read reports in the press that:
"We're all DOOMED - the Daffs are out already!"
"I saw a lamb yesterday - WHYYYY?!"
"Was that a bumblebee that just flew by - at THIS time of year?"

There are many Daffodil varieties (especially American variants, and ones that people will see, planted in and around towns), that do flower in December or January - every year. and will continue to do so, long after the horrified onlooker has proclaimed the end of the world in the press, and joined those Daffodils as fertiliser.
Agreed, Lambing in January is early, but it happens sometimes, somewhere, every year. (There's a post on the "WAB site" (see links) about that phenomenon as I wite this).
Queen Bumblebees will often temporarily leave their winter nests if it gets a little warm.

I'll add to the hysteria then, this morning.

Our office courtyard Hedgehog (Russell, remember? The one that became arboreal during the floods) was pretty active last night and this morning. Crashing around his (her?) nest plot and courtyard flowerbed.
Again - not particularly unusual - hedgehogs will do this, if they get a little warm, during a brief peak in winter temperatures - and fifteen degrees is certainly very warm for January...

I've recently learned that January nesting (or even December sometimes) although rare in Great Crested Grebes, happens somewhere, most years - twice in this neck of the woods in the past two years - so I suppose thats the same thing too. (I guess I always knew waterbirds "march to a different drummers beat" to most birds!)

Anyway... I didn't get a photo of Russell this time.
I thought the hog would have been pretty urrm... grumpy after its slumber, so I left it alone...

We'll get a cold snap before too long, and he (she?) will be back in its hibernaculum before you can say "anthropogenically-enhanced Global Warming".

Sunday, January 20, 2008


Because of yesterday's exciting news about the male Great Spotted Woodpecker's discovery of the woodpecker post in the garden, I got out there early this morning (after work) and replenished the old suet and nuts (they'd been there for weeks after all).

So.... now our woodpecker post is covered in fresh suet and nuts - waiting to be discovered again.

As we had our morning barrel of coffee in the garden, Anna and I saw THREE woodpeckers on the Lime tree.

The female Great Spotted Woodpecker arrived first. Then a male Green Woodpecker, finally followed by our intrepid discoverer, the male Great Spotted Woodpecker.
You know how to distinguish between Great Spotted Woodpecker sexes (male has red on back of his crown), so what about Green Woodpeckers.
Well, both sexes of Green Woodpeckers have black "moustaches". The female's moustache is all black (I knew a Greek woman like that once!) whereas the male's moustache is black, filled with red.
Look really carefully at the photo of our Green visitor, and you may jussst be able to make out a little red in his black moustache....

Unfortunately NONE of them investigated the post (not that I expected the Green Woodpecker to do so), and the light was so bad again this morning, that the two photographs I got, of the Green male and the Spotted female are simply apalling.
It was like shooting at silhouettes, at night, with a silly film and shutter speed, at some distance, to a small target above my head! I'm amazed I got anything!

All we want is a little sun, and I'll give you some lovely pictures of our Woodpecker visitors!
Just some sunnnn......

Click any of the two images above to enlarge. (If you really want)!
The first is of the female Great Spotted Woodpecker, the second of the male Green Woodpecker.
Just some sunnnn.... purlease.....!

Saturday, January 19, 2008


Fence-post jumpers above.

Fence-post woodpeckers below...

After 8 weeks or so, our "woodpecker-attracting fence-post" has finally come good!
No pictures (YET) I'm afraid, but about 30 minutes ago, Anna and I were treated to the brief sight of a Male Great Spotted Woopecker, on our suety-nutty 8'post. BRILLIANT!
The female was in the Lime tree at the same time also.

The only reason I didn't get a photo, was because within about 30 seconds after he hopped along the gate, checked out the band of red paint (to attract them) and got on the feeder proper, along came one of the 6 or so (thats all) daily cars along the service road, t'other side of the fence. Talk about bad timing!

Actually, I did get a shot, but it is so bad - I'll not post it unless I have to (ie they never return - and I cannot see that happening).

So - eight weeks of NOTHING - then two at once, and over so soon, because of one dozy car.

I will top up the post with suet and nuts and remain vigilant, with camera poised....
They'll be back. I promise...!

As for the Fence-post jumpers.
Well, you know what those are.
I had a little exploration of my old green t-shirt which was left on the ground by the back wall of the house over the autumn and winter.
Lovely to find (at least) 3 Fence-Post jumper "lairs", and I took the opportunity to snap a few photographs of my favourite spiders...
Click to enlarge any of the above images...

Friday, January 18, 2008


Should I rename BG the Spider Blog?!

I am enjoying taking photographs of these fascinating beasties though, and at present, there's not much else for me to photograph with the hours I'm keeping (because of work) or the time of year.

This one I photographed on the office window last night.
Another (male -note the "long-armed boxing-gloves") Funnel Web Spider (or Lace Weaver), on the nocturnal prowl.
It is certainly (like the other Funnel Web Spider I shot on the house), an Amaurobius sp. either A. fenestralis or A.similis, though your guess is as good as mine which.

It should be an A. fenestralis, (latin name derived from the fact it is often seen on windows), but I happen to think its an A.similis, like the one at home. To be honest, there's quite confusing identification guides with these two british Funnel-Web Spiders, so I'll just call it that then eh, a Funnel Web Spider or Lace Weaver, reknowned for their blue-tinged lacey webs...
This male was no more than an inch long (and wide) INCLUDING its legs.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


These frost-free nights have got our Harlequins a bit restless. This one photographed above (click to enlarge again) got caught in a huge rain shower this afternoon, and has taken shelter for the night behind the drain pipe.

Note the "real" eyes under the "false eyes" (the two white marks on the full length of the pronotum, so characteristic of this species).


Click on photo to enlarge.

The mother (quite literally) of "Daddy Long-Legs spiders" just ster-rolled in through the back door this morning.

SOooo... I took (yet another) shot of it (her) ambling down the hall. Note the small pedipalps (or one you can see anway (- at the front of the head)) and the much better view of her eyes in this shot.

This individual is about 20x the size of the first "DLLS" I took a shot of in the kitchen, and I'd say at least double the size of the male under the bathroom sink.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008


A day off - before I go back to work tomorrow night for the graveyard shift.

Only with all this flooding around - it will be ANYTHING but quiet over the next 7 nights - I just hope it doesn't get as bad as July....


Spent the day off sliding over the mud around the local lakes.

I had hoped to see some Roe Deer from the train on the way down there.

No such luck - their fields are all under water at present...

I did see lots of nice birds though, in glorious (almost spring -like sunshine).

Both Peregrines, some Egyptian Geese, one Goldeneye drake again (furiously diving unlike the Pochard and Tufted Drakes surrounding him), and lots of passerines.

The fat Robins were singing very well today.

It really did feel like spring!

Click on any of the images to enlarge.

Oh, and if you're wondering, the Peregrine in the photograph is the (smaller) Tiercel (male), and the little brown bird is a (female) Reed Bunting in winter plumage.


Click to enlarge. (You'll have to, to see it!)

I quite lidderally am over the moon!

I've noticed a strange visitor to the Lime tree (and vegetable bed once) over the last fortnight or so, but until today, couldn't positively identify it (though I had my suspicions).
It is drab, almost nondescript, silent, never still and never stays that long.

Today though, it stayed long enough for me to get a pair of binoculars on the little bugger, and then take its photograph (from inside I should add).

Its an overwintering Chiffchaff!

The Chiffchaff is a drab"leaf warbler" which normally returns to Britain (from south of the Sahara) in early March (its one of our earliest summer visitors), breeds, and returns across the seas in September or October (its also one of our latest leavers).

There are a few though (nobody knows how many as far as I can tell - certainly not a lot) that overwinter in the UK.

Climate change?
You've guessed it!

I just feel very fortunate indeed to have this relatively rare visitor right outside the window! I don't remember ever having seen an overwintering Chiffchaff before...

I should point out at this point that Blue-Grey is my "diary" if you like, whereas the "New Warren" is my online photo album - reserved purely for photographs of mine that are of a certain quality.
Whilst I am made up about the Chiffchaff, I am less enthused about the photograph I took of it! The photo above WILL NOT be entering the "New warren"!

See if you can spot it in the photo above, anyhoo.
I'll give you a clue - it has a couple of white primary wing feathers on its left hand (wing?!) side. Please also note that these white feathers are not normally there. The Chiffchaff is literally one of the drabbest little birds in Britain.

But who cares! Its on the Lime tree. IN JANUARY!!!


Managed to capture another minute or so of footage of both birds in the box this morning. Its on my YOUTUBE channel.

Every time I get lucky and capture something, if its interesting enough, (well, to me anyway), I'll stick it in the Youtube channel, and if its worth blogging it (ie popping it in a blogger video on a BG post), I'll do that n all. (I know some of you (including me) have trouble viewing Youtube videos, on (for example) computers at work. Rightly so)!

If you need a description of whats happening in the latest footage (always on the front page of the blog), you'll just have to log on to my youtube channel, where I'll write a little info for each video I upload. I'm not about to write a description on Youtube AND Blue-Grey!

For now, I'll leave you with another (pretty poor quality - taken through double glazing again) photograph of our (very healthy-looking (unlke the female)) male, taken this morning.


This 3mm long spider was sitting on our kitchen ceiling tonight.

Commonly known (at least in Britain) as a "Money Spider" (as if it runs around your hand, legend has it that it's spinning you new clothes, meaning financial wealth), it is more often known worldwide as a "Sheet weaver" or a Lyniphid spider.
The Lyniphids are over 550 genera strong, with over 4300 species identified world wide, and probably more than that still to be identified. You'll therefore forgive me, I'm sure if I just call our Lyniphid spider, a Money Spider, and leave it at that!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


You read that right.


Use your eyes and you'll see more and more examples of this er... trend?

The phenomenon of a pair of shoes (almost always trainers) tied together and thrown over a power cable or telephone line.
I photographed this "Shoefiti" near the end of the road.

Daily Mail readers will have you believe that this is the work of drug dealers marking their territory. Paper cups stuck on metal railing posts is meant to be the work of crack cocaine dealers, also.
Uh huh?

I have more than a sneaky suspicion this is just another urban myth.

It is well known that members of the armed forces (especially U.S. armed forces) throw their boots over cables at the end of terms of service.
As do some college graduates.
As do some stag night members.
As do some ker-azeee school kids, often picking on someone that stands out from the crowd, or as an act of macho bravado -

" Witness how I can launch my trainers right over those wires!"
"Oh my. That was not the outcome I was expecting".

You'll be told by many, with a earnest look etched across their features that no, "Shoefiti" really does mean a drug dealer or gang is staking claim to its territory.
Whatever you want to believe I guess.

I just quite like seeing Shoefiti.
I find it quite amusing, and that is the only reason why the photograph has made it onto BG.
Like I mentioned, I photographed these trainers this morning, at the end of our road, near one of our favourite seedy pubs.
Well. At least I know where to get my crack now.... (sigh).

Monday, January 14, 2008


Click to enlarge

Got home from work about an hour ago, and Anna pointed out a little beetle to me - one of the Carpet Beetle adults that we occasionally see around the house. (Very rarely I should add)!

The Varied Carpet Beetle is a pest sometimes, I suppose, in its larval form, anyway.

These larvae (known as "Woolly Bears") will eat as much protein as they can get their mouthparts on.

That may come in the form of dead insect material (or arachnid of course), or indeed animal products such as wool, leather, silk or fur.
The 4-5mm long larvae can be extermintated, using powder, so there's no need to be that concerned - and the smaller adults (2-3mm long) feed from pollen and nectar, outside, in the spring and summer.

The female adult will lay about 40 eggs, and the resulting Woolly Bears will often hot-foot it ( as fast as they can ) inside our houses, where food is plentiful.

Carpets and central heating make our houses an ideal habitat for the larvae of the Varied Carpet Beetle (for food) and also as a nice, warm, hibernation spot for the adults.

The adult Varied Carpet Beetle then. About 2mm long.


Please DO click to enlarge

I took a small walk along the river this afternoon, around the lock and island.
It was very nice to see this handsome bird, soaking up some brief winter sun, after all the rain we've had recently (and are due again tomorrow).
This is the Grey Heron, or Ardea cinerea, (Ardea meaning Heron, and Cinerea literally meaning "ash coloured", from the latin cinis, for ash).
Its the largest European Heron and we have approximately 14,000 Heron nests in various Heronries all over the country.

The Grey Heron, like the Great Crested Grebe (and some other waterbirds) can breed very early in the year - with eggs being laid as early as mid february.
When breeding, or "courting", the normally yellow bill turns a quite deep orange or pink colour often.
See a Heron with a deep orange bill? Its a frisky Heron. So 'tis.
This Heron is juuuusssst coming into a breeding season - its bill is turning a pinky colour you can see, as are its legs...
Young Herons are much darker and greyer than the adults. Clumsy when landing in tree tops, they can be very amusing to watch.
Anna and I used to watch a pair of young Herons from our old balcony over the Lea, after they fledged from the huge Heronry on one of the "acidic" islands on Walthamstow reservoirs.

Herons eat anything they can find, pretty well. Anything living that is. Fish, amphibians, small birds, small mammals.
But what eats the Heron?
Well.... Peregrines have been known to kill Herons believe it or not, and in the 16th and 17th centuries, it was considered the ultimate royal sport, to fly your Peregrine Falcon after a Heron...


The Great Crested Grebe. Or Podiceps cristatus. What do you think the literal translation of the latin (scientific) name for the Great Crested Grebe actually means?

You might be able to work it out, but if you can't, it literally means the Crested Anus-Foot.

podex=anus + pes=foot and crista=crest.

So WHY is this beautiful bird named after its backside?

This Grebe, in common with many other Grebe species, is aquatic through and through. You may see it catch a fish under water, if you are in exactly the right place at the right time (like I managed last summer), but you'll probably have trouble EVER seeing one fly.
They DO fly, of course. We have a resident opulation of about 10,000 birds, which doubles over the winter months as more fly in from colder climes.

They are incredibly clumsy on land also. Their feet are positioned SO FAR back along their body (to help with underwater hunting, speed and manoeurability when chasing small fish) that they can hardly walk on land.

Their feet are indeed, around their anus then. The crested anus-foot!
Don't believe me?
Check out this photo taken by a colleague of mine in the office, showing its "Anus foot", a nice photo also showing its lobed feet (unlike the webbed feet of a duck).

February would normally be the month one might see a pair of Great Crested Grebes performing their elaborate courtship dance, but I've come across TWO pairs in a 100m stretch of a millstream (off the Thames proper), that are already well into their breeding.

One of the hens is already sitting on three eggs, and the other pair are building their nest in earnest (pun intended).

I'm slightly worried about these Grebes. A friendly local (who just happens to be a colleague in my building) says they did this last year also, and successfully raised two chicks.

I'll keep an eye on these four birds, as the Thames is once again, bloody high at present, and I fear for the nests - not only because of the water levels, but because we haven't had a serious chill yet - there's plenty of time for that, this winter.

The Great Crested Grebe, like the Coot and the Moorhen has red eyes, although unlike those other two waterfowl, the young of the Grebe are very aesthetically pleasing. Like little black and white striped humbugs, they hitch a ride on their mother's back for some time, even though, in common with almost ALL waterbirds, they are born precocious, ie fully feathered and capable of good movement and feeding skills.

I'd like to get a shot of the young in due course.
That opportunity may present itself MONTHS sooner than I thought!


I'll be quick with this one, as I know how you all lurrrve spiders!

Photographed this beauty on the side of the office last night.

This is Larinioides sclopetarius, more commonly known as the "Bridge Spider" because of its preferred habitat of metal structures close to water.

Walk along a river or canal with railings - THIS is the spider that will be building its orb webs between those railings, or on the bridges, or even around the lamposts nearby- they seem to LOVE lamposts - not surprising really, as when the sun goes down, these nocturnal spiders come out, and with a web under a street light (near water remember), they are pretty well guuaranteed a feast most nights eh?

It has been recently noticed that this spider is getting rather fond of Greenhouses too, especially near ponds, be they in back gardens, or garden centres.

This seems to me to be a very sensible species of spider.

In case you weren't sure my office (at present) sits on the top floor, overlooking the river Thames - and in the summer, the floor-ceiling windows (on the outside at least) are CRAWLING with these Bridge Spiders.

Click HERE to revisit my first post on this species of spider, in May of last year.

I'm not overly impressed with the photo. It will magically change when I capture a better one...

18/01/08 - a different angle of my Female Bridge Spider, showing her eyes a little better, and one of her cheliceral fangs, through which she'll inject paralysing venom into her prey.

Sunday, January 13, 2008


Well, this was a surprise today. Saw this from some distance, walking through our clump of thyme in the vegetable bed, and rushed to get the camera as it strolled across the path.
This is one of the 3000+ species of Ichneumon wasps in the UK, almost certainly an Amblyteles sp.
These are large, conspicuous Ichneumons with no long ovipositor, (unlike most, which are inconspicuous and dark with a very noticeable ovipositor which often gets mistaken for a huge sting).
Ichneumons are meant to be dormant over winter - not this individual though eh?
That said, it was a bit sluggish over the ground - they become MUCH harder to photograph when its warmer...


Click to enlarge.

Note the enlarged pedipalps (look like boxing gloves) with which the male waves in a semaphore fashion when "courting" his prospective mate, and then with which he presents that mate his sperm.

If he is lucky...


Click to enlarge