Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Tree queen

A queen tree bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) stocking up before hibernation.

Note the passenger.

Monday, 26 September 2016


Setting the trail camera to catch the badger has been a hit and miss affair.  Often there are no photos but sometimes I get a fox instead.  In recent weeks I have never caught the two animals on the same night.

The fox's eyes react differently to the flash from the badger's, with a much brighter eyeshine.  It is caused by the tapetum lucidum, a layer of reflectors immediately behind the photoreceptors in the retina. The reflection increases the sensitivity of the animal's night vision.  It is very consistently brighter in fox photos as shown below, perhaps because its eyes are larger or its tapetum lucidum is more reflective.  The fox has a slit-like pupil similar to a cat's as an adaptation to hunting in low light rather than complete darkness.

Here are a couple of recent unadjusted photos of the badger looking at the camera for comparison.

It is interesting also that the fox is very often looking at the camera in the photos whereas the badger usually seems to ignore it.  I suspect the fox can hear a faint noise from the camera as the flash charges.  The fox relies more on its eyes and ears and the badger on its nose.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Bird of the week - Little grebe

Little grebes are endearing birds that seem to be completely waterproof.  I see them on most of the ponds and lakes I visit.

Little grebes dive to catch fish and molluscs such as this snail.

This year's youngsters are now full size but still have juvenile plumage.

The little grebe has about the same UK population size as the kingfisher (5000 pairs) but seems to me to be much more easily seen.  Numbers have been fairly stable in recent years.

It is found in most parts of the British Isles.

The little grebe is also known as the dabchick although Thomas Bewick gave it four other names.  William Shakespeare called it a dive-dapper.  Bewick drew its feet (from a shot specimen) but I don't think I have ever seen one out of the water.

Bewick also wrote that it was found in America, although I can't find any evidence that it is now and it wasn't painted by John James Audubon.

This is its distribution according to Wikipedia.

The little grebe is Tachybaptus ruficollis, meaning red-necked fast-sinker.  It has a variety of calls which you can hear here.  Listen to Kate Humble's BBC Radio 4 Tweet of the Day on little grebes here.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Pheasant news

The two photos above were taken about an hour ago on a cloudy afternoon.  Looking back though my old photos I see it is four years since this pheasant first appeared in the garden so he must be at least five years old.  It is probably a pretty good age for a wild pheasant but as far as I can see the BTO have no data for pheasant longevity - probably because most of them get shot or run over.  This one was shy when he first came to the garden but he has been coming to the door most mornings and feeding from my hand since 2013.  Or sometimes, like today, he creeps up behind me in the garden and makes me jump.

He disappears each July, presumably to moult.  This summer he was gone for seven weeks - the longest period yet - and I thought he might not return.  However, he did eventually turn up and even still had his tail feathers, although they fell out the next day.  For a while he looked a bit like a rather scruffy exotic chicken although I wouldn't say that to his face.

While he was moulting he was keen on taking dust baths in the kitchen garden, presumably to get rid of the itching.

As he has got older he likes to have a rest in the afternoon (don't we all?), often standing in the shade of the blackcurrant or raspberries in the kitchen garden if it is sunny.

When you see him in this stance you can see how he might be descended from a Tyrannosaurus or Velociraptor.

Monday, 19 September 2016


Since the last post of badger photos two weeks ago I have tried a couple of nights with the trail camera in the woods but both were blank.  But now another success.  Again the badger was facing the right way in nearly all of the photos. He must be getting the hang of it.