Monday, 30 April 2018

Water Voles 2018

Recent studies have shown that water voles in the UK are in even more trouble than previously thought, with a decline of 30% in recent years (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/feb/26/water-vole-areas-england-wales-fall-30-percent-decade).
This is on top of the 90% decline in the proceeding decades: http://www.bbowt.org.uk/what-we-do/protecting-wildlife/water-vole-recovery-project-0

As a result, the water vole hotspots in and around Abingdon are more important than ever.

And fortunately after the very wet spring, there are signs of water vole activity, including what burrows in the river banks:




And cut stems, the distinctive sign of water vole feeding.


And the best sign of all, water vole swimming across the river:



Friday, 2 March 2018

Resident Fieldfare

It has been very cold and also heavy snow here in Oxfordshire (although not as heavy as some parts of the country http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-43251824)
So this is a difficult time for wildlife and some birds and animals are driven into our gardens looking for warmth, shelter and food. 
And we now have a single resident fieldfare in ours, probably attracted by the supply of apples we have put out for the birds and is now chasing off the resident blackbirds. 
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Like most thrushes they are in decline and is globally threatened https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/fieldfare .

Friday, 16 February 2018

2017 - A whale of a time?

Living in Oxfordshire, it is somewhat difficult to have a regular encounter whale or a dolphin. 

Yet at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History (http://www.oum.ox.ac.uk there is a very impressive display of five cetacean skeletons (Minke whale, Orca, Northern Bottlenose dolphin, Beluga whale, Bottlenose dolphin) hung from equally impressive the neo-gothic roof.
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These  were restored in 2013 and more details of the restoration of the skeletons can in this fascinating blog https://onceinawhale.com/

The roof is not only the place to experience these animals, at the entrance to the museum are the jaws of the sperm and humpback whales and illustrate how large and diverse these animals can are.



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Oxford is not the only museum to hang a whale skeleton from the ceiling. The Natural History Museum in London (http://www.nhm.ac.uk/) has taken the art of hanging articulated cetacean skeletons to another level by replacing the famous Dippy the Diplodocus with the skeleton of a Blue Whale:


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Given the name Hope, the poor animal was stranded on a beach in Ireland in 1891 and when it died its skeleton was sold to the Museum and was hung at the back of the mammal hall. 
It has now been restored and moved to make it a breathtaking display as it appears to dive through the Hintze Hall.

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As impressive as these museum displays are, there are few things that compare to seeing animals in the wild and a visit to Iceland in May 2017 gave the opportunity for some whale spotting with Elding adventures (https://www.elding.is).
Outside of Reykjavik harbour, there was a pod of White-Beaked dolphins.
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And further out to sea was an even more impressive sight -  a young male humpback whale, which was fin slapping, tail slapping an even breaching.
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Even if 2018 doesn't provide similar experiences,  our local and national museums will always provide fascinating and thought-provoking days out.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

2017 - The year of the deer?

There are six species of deer resident in the UK and throughout last year there several opportunities to encounter five of them.

Muntjac:
Probably now the most common deer found in the UK and certainly the most likely to be encountered during a walk in the English countryside, the Muntjac (also known as the Reeves-Muntjac) is a non-native species from China which escaped from captivity early in the 20th century. 
The size of a large dog it is often found skulking in the undergrowth or in the open when it is darker, as in this photograph taken at dusk during an evening walk along the river Ock earlier this year.


Roe Deer:
One of the only two of the native deer in the UK and like the muntjac is usually a solitary, yet in autumn and winter, they can form small herds.  Such as this pair, glimpsed through a hedgerow near Marcham.



Fallow Deer
Originally introduced by the Romans, Fallow Deer were re-introduced during the medieval era and kept in deer parks and this is still the place to see them.
In central Oxford, they can be seen at Magdalen College (local residents, including those from Abingdon, can get in for free with proof of address).
Smaller than a Roe deer they are one of the most recognisable of theBritishh deer due to the large herds of does and the stag's impressive and distinctive antlers 
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The deer parks in London also have fallow deer, Richmond is the most famous, but the nearby Bushy Park (https://www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/bushy-park) is somewhat smaller and great place for deer spotting as they are accustomed to being close to people:
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Including this magnificent white hart:
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A lot of the medieval deer parks eventually fell into the disrepair and the deer escaped and now several hundred years later it is possible to have an unexpected encounter with a herd of fallow deer, so as Bernwood Forest in Oxfordshire:
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Japanese Sika Deer:
Looking somewhat similar to Fallow deer, although the males have antlers that more resembles a red deer.  
They are mostly found in private deer parks, but these 2017 sightings were at the RSPB nature reserve at Arne (https://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves-and-events/reserves-a-z/arne?gclid=EAIaIQobChMItPPI_Mns2AIVjrftCh387whJEAAYASAAEgJyIfD_BwE) in Dorset.
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Like most deer, the Sika deer rut takes place in Autumn and so in February (when these pictures were taken)  the stags have calmed down, are sociable with each other and starting to lose their antlers.


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Red Deer
The Red Deer is the other native UK deer, it is also the largest British land mammal and like the Fallow Deer there are wild populations.
But the best place to see them is in managed deer parks which are open to the public, such as Wollaton Hall in Nottingham http://www.wollatonhall.org.uk (also home to Nottingham Natural History Museum and will feature in a future blog post): 

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As well as Fallow Deer, Bushy Park has a population of red deer, in late Autumn the rut has finished and the stags have calmed down and the stags are mostly resting and recovering their strength.

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The younger stags and the herd of doe are also amiable.
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But often cause problems for any drivers taking a shortcut through the park. 
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Maybe 2018 will provide more deer spotting opportunities and maybe a chance to see the other species of deer resident in the UK - the very elusive Chinese Water Deer.

Sunday, 24 December 2017

A Christmas Eve stroll along the River Ock

It has been a long time since I have walked along the river Ock with a camera to record wildlife, events, and thoughts and even longer since they have been posted on this blog.  
It is very unlikely that anyone is still reading it and if they are they are probably spammers.

Still, Christmas Eve presented an opportunity for a stroll to see what has and hasn't changed.

The river itself has taken on its usual winter drabness.


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Although the willow trees make impressive sculptures as they hang over the river, perhaps waiting for the exotic looking kingfishers to return to liven things up.
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Meanwhile, in the flood meadows, a pair of roe deer can be glimpsed in the winter gloom.
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And whilst I may not have been present on the river for some time, it is good to see the occasional well-positioned spraint showing the otters have not forsaken the river:
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Although one thing seems to be more common and that is the depressing amount of litter, it is just about everywhere:
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As is the bizarre tradition of putting dog feces in a plastic bag and adorning a tree with it, like some depressing Christmas decoration
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Hopefully, more posts will follow and even if they aren't as frequent as they used to be, some of the festive period will be spent trying to reduce the amount of litter that resides along what is now looking a rather sad and pathetic little river.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Views of the Kennall Vale

Whilst it is great to live somewhere where there are endangered and charismatic animals like water voles (http://viewsoftheock.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/water%20voles) and otters (http://viewsoftheock.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/otters); near where stunning displays of starlings  can be seen (http://viewsoftheock.blogspot.co.uk/2010/11/murmurations.html) and where the nearby city has a world class Natural History Museum (http://viewsoftheock.blogspot.co.uk/2016/07/microsculpture.html), it is great to explore new areas.
For the past few years, we have ventured down to Cornwall, especially Porthleven (http://viewsoftheock.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/views-of-atlantic.html) - nothing can compare to watch seals fishing for crabs and dolphins swim past as you sit outside drinking a morning coffee or an evening glass of wine.
But a chance encounter led us to explore the Kennall Vale at Ponsonooth, near Falmouth.



Powered by the river Kennel, it was once the site of twenty water mills used to produce the gunpowder that was used in the local tin mines. But once the much safer TNT became established the mills were abandoned, leaving nature to take over and the vale has become an  eerie and atmospheric reminder of a bygone era.


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The site was not just used for gunpowder production, a flooded  quarry shows the site was also used for granite extraction and processing.
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The shallow and fast flowing river was not just an excellent source of power for the mills, it is an ideal habitat for an animal which does not occur in Oxfordshire - the dipper
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These small birds dip under the waterfalls as they search for insect larvae which make up their diet. Their size and colour can make them hard to spot and even harder to photograph, but when seen they are as endearing as anything found on a river in Oxfordshire.
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The Kennall Vale is now a nature reserve and managed by the Cornish Wildlife Trust and is really worth a visit if anyone is visiting south Cornwall: http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/reserves/kennall-vale

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Horniman Museum

It's probably not surprising that London is spoilt for museums - the British Museum, the Natural History Museum, and the science museum are all world class and famous institutions. And even places that a less popular with tourists, like the Grant Museum of Zoology are worth a visit (http://viewsoftheock.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/grant-museum-of-zoology.html)
But for those who are willing to travel a bit further out of their way, there is another which is well worth visiting - the Horniman Museum in south London
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Founded by Frederick Horniman who used the money from the family business to house his collection of Natural History, Musical Instruments, and Anthropology, it opened to the public in 1901, eventually donating the building and its contents to the people of London, with the London County Council as  it's trustees.
Unlike most Natural History museums, the collection is not structured taxonomically, but in accordance with Horniman's wishes in the form of evolution and adaption in order to educate young people.
Hence, weaver bird nests can be found next to a trap door spider

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And a fossilised tetrabelodon skull is next to one its modern relatives in a fascinating display demonstrating the evolution of elephants.
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And human evolution and migration is explained via a collection of casts of modern and early human skulls:
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As well as the permanent displays, there are also temporary exhibitions.  The current one on how dinosaurs may have raised their young runs until the end of October 2016.
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The museum not only consists of dead stuffed animals, in the basement, there is a recently renovated aquarium, featuring small fish from around the world:
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It not only features exotic species but also a chance to see what is probably Britain's rarest animal - the pool frog.
Once found in a few locations in East Anglia it was thought to be an introduced species and by the time it was discovered to be native it was too late to save it from extinction in the wild.  
But the Horniman museum, along with institutions, are attempting to reintroduce it into the wild.
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And even when the museum closes, the gardens are still open where it is possible to enjoy some fantastic views of the City of London.
Before making the two and half hour journey back to Oxfordshire.



More information on this fascinating place can be found at http://www.horniman.ac.uk/ and on twitter @HornimanMuseum