Naturally

Copepoda and caddisflies in Coldfall

Not a cloud in the sky and up and about early, I decided to visit my local chunk of ancient woodland - Coldfall wood, near Muswell hill.

This is a dog walker’s paradise, for sure. A nice long loop around and an adjoining playing field for that extra bit of running around like the seemingly possessed creatures that they are (the dogs, not the walkers).

I actually came here to walk myself rather than a dog, and am fortunate enough that there are few around at this time; it has rather turned into more of a "watch" than a “walk”. It’s really quite amazing what you see if you wait a little and just observe.

I often hear woodpeckers in here, but have only caught a glimpse on a few occasions. This morning, a “flock” (do they have a more interesting collective noun? Maybe a “Knock” or a “Ruckus”?) of them- beautiful red flashes making lazy upturned arches as they flit between trees and land, attaching  themselves vertically completely effortlessly - hopping around a branch - and away. A nuthatch peep-peep-peeps for all its tiny lungs are worth in the distance.

Anyway, birds are great but they’re kinda showy and obvious. At the field end of the wood is an oft-flooded marshy wetland. Yesterday, the water was over the boardwalk but, blessed as we were with a break in the cloud, today it has receded just enough to hover under the planks. I tripod-hoisted myself over the flooded ramp with a conveniently placed branch, and pottered over to the handrail, facing the sun.

On first look, at 6ft up, one would be forgiven for thinking that this water, being collected from London road runoff as well as springs and streams, is pretty lifeless. A green-brown silty turbidity, speckled on top with bits of last year’s seed fall and bark and the odd scrap of water mint, somehow uprooted and seeking a hold on life. A moorhen poot-poots over the flattened, leafless bushes; half submerged.

I’m not one to stay at my natural height near a body of water, for very long. A lazy lean over the rail. Movement here and there; the breeze carries the debris this way and that. Just under the surface, the odd fleck of something travels in an altogether different direction. Is it life, or just the peculiar currents of quickly thermally-stratifying water? I dip my finger, discover debris, and marvel at the mysterious physics of H₂O. One day I’ll understand, perhaps!

So onto the knees. The Corvids around me assume I’m now either a madman or dinner, I suspect. Whatever. At this height above the now conveniently pontoon-topped surface (about a foot) one starts to notice small erratic blips of movement in changing directions. Shaped a little like torpedoes - panniered, when carrying their egg-sacs (if you can imagine such a thing) - these little guys are the Copepods, who seem to be almost ever-present in any slightly temperate splash. 

They go about their daily lives flitting around munching algae, and being munched on by larger invertebrates, fish, birds, and - in the ocean - even some whales! Look closely and you are sure to see these tiny crustaceans pretty much everywhere you care to look.

Watch a little longer, and you may notice some debris stray from its wind-blown vector and wriggle itself about. I (somewhat selfishly) plucked the star of this video from where she was wrestling a piece of bark - hoping she’d crawl from the board and back into her home medium. But too clever for me, she simply sat in her camouflaged case waiting for all signs of danger to pass. Perhaps a caddisfly (Trichoptera)

*Pops her back in* - shortly, a quick show - grappling a stick and moving to hide under the board. 

Just in time too, here comes a canine with an ambition to swim the Channel.

This, according to Google image search for “beetle iridescent green" (!) is a Rose-chafer (Cetonia aurata). (S)he was stumbling around on the budleia stump, during St. Paul’s carnival - I had assumed because of the ridiculously loud bass that permeated my garden - and sadly met its demise in a bowl of water, sometime later (I am tempted to pin it..!)
Anyway, I’m pleased to report that there is (or was?!) a healthy population of what seem to be their larvae in my compost heap, as the photo (inset) shows. This was taken in late March, and apparently they have a 2 year life cycle, so I expect (if I didn’t disturb them too much) there will be a large group of them to chew the roses next year.
I had thought that the slight grey markings on their elytra were damage at first, but noticing the symmetry thought maybe it was a growth irregularity - actually it turns out that they are normal, and highly variable between individuals. Fantastic beetle.

This, according to Google image search for “beetle iridescent green" (!) is a Rose-chafer (Cetonia aurata). (S)he was stumbling around on the budleia stump, during St. Paul’s carnival - I had assumed because of the ridiculously loud bass that permeated my garden - and sadly met its demise in a bowl of water, sometime later (I am tempted to pin it..!)

Anyway, I’m pleased to report that there is (or was?!) a healthy population of what seem to be their larvae in my compost heap, as the photo (inset) shows. This was taken in late March, and apparently they have a 2 year life cycle, so I expect (if I didn’t disturb them too much) there will be a large group of them to chew the roses next year.

I had thought that the slight grey markings on their elytra were damage at first, but noticing the symmetry thought maybe it was a growth irregularity - actually it turns out that they are normal, and highly variable between individuals. Fantastic beetle.

This sad looking Horse Chestnut leaf (Aesculus hippocastanum) is infested with the horse-chestnut leaf miner moth (Cameraria ohridella). You can just see the segmented body through the dark, semi-transparent damaged part of the central leaf, at about 50 degrees clockwise to the main axis. This moth has been spreading through Europe since the late 70s, and was first sighted in Britain in 2002. Since then it has spread rapidly, and devastates the majestic trees in late spring/early summer. From a purely observational stance, this year has seen less damage so far, but my memory may not serve well, and it may progress as the year goes through.
On a related note, sightings of species can now be easily recorded at http://www.ispot.org.uk/, which is particularly easy using a iPhone/smart-phone camera with GPS. I’m quite interested in plotting invasives, due to my involvement with a good friend’s research regarding Fallopia japonica (Japanese knotweed). Hopefully iSpot will help fuel data capture and ease research into pervasiveness. Good job OPAL and the OU! I have it on good authority that an iPhone app is in the pipeline. 

Update: There is now an iPhone/Android app specifically for monitoring Horse-chestnuts: Get it here.

This sad looking Horse Chestnut leaf (Aesculus hippocastanum) is infested with the horse-chestnut leaf miner moth (Cameraria ohridella). You can just see the segmented body through the dark, semi-transparent damaged part of the central leaf, at about 50 degrees clockwise to the main axis. This moth has been spreading through Europe since the late 70s, and was first sighted in Britain in 2002. Since then it has spread rapidly, and devastates the majestic trees in late spring/early summer. From a purely observational stance, this year has seen less damage so far, but my memory may not serve well, and it may progress as the year goes through.

On a related note, sightings of species can now be easily recorded at http://www.ispot.org.uk/, which is particularly easy using a iPhone/smart-phone camera with GPS. I’m quite interested in plotting invasives, due to my involvement with a good friend’s research regarding Fallopia japonica (Japanese knotweed). Hopefully iSpot will help fuel data capture and ease research into pervasiveness. Good job OPAL and the OU! I have it on good authority that an iPhone app is in the pipeline. 

Update: There is now an iPhone/Android app specifically for monitoring Horse-chestnuts: Get it here.

These little guys feeding on the manure mustard plants I left in to flower (for the bees!) are probably Pieridae — the whites (oranges, yellows) common (less so these days…!) to gardens in Britain. Quite happy for them to munch on the mustard as it was left for wildlife purposes, I just hope they don’t move on to the beans!

These little guys feeding on the manure mustard plants I left in to flower (for the bees!) are probably Pieridae — the whites (oranges, yellows) common (less so these days…!) to gardens in Britain. Quite happy for them to munch on the mustard as it was left for wildlife purposes, I just hope they don’t move on to the beans!

These transparent blobs seem to be all over everything in my pond at the moment, and I was glad to see them in the well established pond system up at Brandon hill nature reserve in Bristol too.
After a little hopeless Googling for “clear blobs” and variants thereof, I tried “pond snail eggs” and there we are. A little confirmation bias goes a long way, far enough for me to claim these as the offspring-to-be of Lymnaea stagnalis - the Great Pond Snail.
Mystery solved.

These transparent blobs seem to be all over everything in my pond at the moment, and I was glad to see them in the well established pond system up at Brandon hill nature reserve in Bristol too.

After a little hopeless Googling for “clear blobs” and variants thereof, I tried “pond snail eggs” and there we are. A little confirmation bias goes a long way, far enough for me to claim these as the offspring-to-be of Lymnaea stagnalis - the Great Pond Snail.

Mystery solved.

This is both amazing and disgusting in equal measure: Annelid reproduction. More specifically, Lumbricus terrestris, or, the common earthworm. I spotted these two guys (I say guys, they are in fact hermaphrodites) whilst out looking for vegetable destroying gastropods.

The process looked quite involved, and indeed, it is worth a read (Wikipedia) about.

Amazing what you can see after dark in your own back garden!

This is both amazing and disgusting in equal measure: Annelid reproduction. More specifically, Lumbricus terrestris, or, the common earthworm. I spotted these two guys (I say guys, they are in fact hermaphrodites) whilst out looking for vegetable destroying gastropods.

The process looked quite involved, and indeed, it is worth a read (Wikipedia) about.

Amazing what you can see after dark in your own back garden!

This is a strange creature - found while chopping down some Sycamore (Acer) trees in my neighbour’s garden.
I can’t tell what it is and Google fails me - its body is entirely under this flat cover which is well camouflaged against the bark, except for the white fluff that is underneath them. Their bodies are pinky-orange… That is all I have, any ideas, Internet?
Update (2011/05/08): Scales! Not mites! Thank you Google. More precisely, Pulvinaria regalis or the “Horse chestnut scale” (Ok, probably a close relative… maybe P. innumerabilis ?)

This is a strange creature - found while chopping down some Sycamore (Acer) trees in my neighbour’s garden.

I can’t tell what it is and Google fails me - its body is entirely under this flat cover which is well camouflaged against the bark, except for the white fluff that is underneath them. Their bodies are pinky-orange… That is all I have, any ideas, Internet?

Update (2011/05/08): Scales! Not mites! Thank you Google. More precisely, Pulvinaria regalis or the “Horse chestnut scale” (Ok, probably a close relative… maybe P. innumerabilis ?)

This isn’t really the photo I wanted to share today. It is, in fact, a seagull’s posterior.

What I actually wanted to share were the comings and goings of a smaller, darker, more elegant and gentle species; the starling (Sturnus vulgaris).

As we waited for our train, I watched these little guys amongst the rafters of the bird-friendly station (I.e. Free from those spikes that prevent pigeons from redoing the doo of under-standers). From what I could gather, and I would welcome a passing ornithologist to validate or correct me, they were taking material rather sneaking into some nesting site, exiting as quick as possible and then moving around as though to create a decoy to the location of their chosen stash site.

Certainly they looked as though they were checking for watchers. I may well be Anthropomorphising, but there are thieves in the avian world as much as any other, and so I expect this behaviour may be a necessary, evolved response to it. Be sneaky, …, profit!, in the language of our age.

This isn’t really the photo I wanted to share today. It is, in fact, a seagull’s posterior.

What I actually wanted to share were the comings and goings of a smaller, darker, more elegant and gentle species; the starling (Sturnus vulgaris).

As we waited for our train, I watched these little guys amongst the rafters of the bird-friendly station (I.e. Free from those spikes that prevent pigeons from redoing the doo of under-standers). From what I could gather, and I would welcome a passing ornithologist to validate or correct me, they were taking material rather sneaking into some nesting site, exiting as quick as possible and then moving around as though to create a decoy to the location of their chosen stash site.

Certainly they looked as though they were checking for watchers. I may well be Anthropomorphising, but there are thieves in the avian world as much as any other, and so I expect this behaviour may be a necessary, evolved response to it. Be sneaky, …, profit!, in the language of our age.

This is Dagu, at @DurrellWildlife. He is the gentle father of 3 Orang-utan-lets at the wildlife park, and he is awesome.

If you are ever in Jersey, seeing these guys, our wonderful cousins, is reason enough to go and spend an afternoon at the park. You could of course spend an entire day here, and probably more. The Orang-utans (Pongo abelii) and the west lowland Gorillas (Gorilla gorilla) are incredible to watch, proving in a short stay that they share so many likenesses with us in expression and interaction.

Last year I visited and was fortunate enough to catch a talk by the keeper; then, we were told, there were an estimate 7000 individuals left in the wild, disappearing at a rate of 1000 per annum. I really hope their outlook is improving, but with palm oil exploitation and expanding development in Indonesia, I fear that is only a dream.

Durrell wildlife do a great and important job of captive breeding programmes, and of captivating the interest of the public and highlighting the concerns around these endangered beauties. Please support them if you get a chance.

This is Dagu, at @DurrellWildlife. He is the gentle father of 3 Orang-utan-lets at the wildlife park, and he is awesome.

If you are ever in Jersey, seeing these guys, our wonderful cousins, is reason enough to go and spend an afternoon at the park. You could of course spend an entire day here, and probably more. The Orang-utans (Pongo abelii) and the west lowland Gorillas (Gorilla gorilla) are incredible to watch, proving in a short stay that they share so many likenesses with us in expression and interaction.

Last year I visited and was fortunate enough to catch a talk by the keeper; then, we were told, there were an estimate 7000 individuals left in the wild, disappearing at a rate of 1000 per annum. I really hope their outlook is improving, but with palm oil exploitation and expanding development in Indonesia, I fear that is only a dream.

Durrell wildlife do a great and important job of captive breeding programmes, and of captivating the interest of the public and highlighting the concerns around these endangered beauties. Please support them if you get a chance.

Across this photo lies a line. It is actually A not line, as it is the absence of sand grains formed by the feet of, or active removal by, a torrent of ants…

This caught my eye because it reminded me of similar vegetation-free lines in the jungle where leaf cutter ants (Atta or Acromyrmex spp.) chew through vast swathes of pretty much anything. Pretty incredible little guys.

It also serves as a nice metaphor for our current political climate- many small actions can make a big, visible impact. :-)

Across this photo lies a line. It is actually A not line, as it is the absence of sand grains formed by the feet of, or active removal by, a torrent of ants…

This caught my eye because it reminded me of similar vegetation-free lines in the jungle where leaf cutter ants (Atta or Acromyrmex spp.) chew through vast swathes of pretty much anything. Pretty incredible little guys.

It also serves as a nice metaphor for our current political climate- many small actions can make a big, visible impact. :-)