Saturday, 26 September 2009
Just spent 21st-25th September at the annual Dorset Field Course on Animals and Environments. At Longleat, they have added Kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros) and Warthog (Phacochoerus aethiopicus) to the collection. A Griffon vulture (Gyps coprotheres) sunbathed whilst the Tiger (Pathera tigris) still paced the fencing. Arrived at Portland Heights hotel with its view of Chesil's shingle beach and the Fleet lagoon. Next day on the shingle, found a dead male Blackcap (Gramma melacara) and noted (pictured together) the growth of Bittersweet (Solanum dulcamara) and Thrift (Armeria maritima) on the bank. At Abbotsbury Swannery, there was an impressive late blooming of Water forgetmenot (Myosotis scorpioides) and hoped that we didn't get a wave to rival the new high water mark sign. At Radipole RSPB Reserve, the escaped Hooded merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus) seen last year still seemed to be around along with a Great-crested grebe (Podiceps cristatus). Grey heron (Ardea cinerea) posted themselves, like sentries, in front of the reeds! At Weymoth Sealife Park, Amazone catfish huddled together and, in the grounds, a wild European eel (Anguilla anguilla) weaved its way through the location. At Broadcroft Quarry, a late Silver-studded blue (Plebeius argus) lurked and, amongst the range of flowers, identified Yellow wort (Blackstonia perfoliata). On to Dorchester Museum, where we took in the natural history dioramas. At Monkey World (where you are not allowed to publish pictures of monkeys), noted the sponsored 'Walk of Thanks' to commemorate the late Jim Cronin who set the place up. The next day, sailed from Poole to Brownsea Island where we took in the resident Red squirrel (Tamiasciurus vulgaris) and, less predictably, a Small emerald moth ( Hemistola chrysoprasaria) and the bristly larva of a Vapourer moth (Orgyia antiqua). Took the group photo near the 'castle' before briefly taking in Studland Heath with Little Sea on the mainland.
Thursday, 17 September 2009
Wednesday, 16 September 2009
Approached again by a TV programme researcher about the link between alcohol and 'aggression'. Although there is currently (and periodically) much concern about 'binge culture' and its costs of society (and, especially, the NHS), I still don't think there is a simple link (with alcohol converting choir boys and girls into homicidal maniacs). 'Aggression' is a label applied to some very diverse judged to be 'inappropriate' activities, sometimes linked to defence rather than competition. I certainly think that alcohol (a very diversely-acting broadly sedative drug) impairs the 'finer' functioning of the nervous system. This can result in people sending out inappropriate signals and even misinterpreting the messages given out by others. This is all the more likely when you have many impaired folk operating in close proximity in and around crowded bars (concentrating such locations into a few streets doesn't seem an optimal arrangement). There is ample scope for escalation. In terms of assessing the costs to society, one should not limit the calculation to paying for liver transplants or injuries resulting from 'disorganised' attack (actually drunk people are more prone to being attacked rather than being attackers). One might well add to the costs, policing, courts, a percentage of prison occupancy, counselling for the children and partners of alcoholics, loss of earnings etc etc. I think I need a drink!
Monday, 14 September 2009
There has been a lot of media attention about Godstone Children's farm near Redhill Surrey being linked to an E. coli outbreak in visitor children who came to this popular attraction(http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/surrey/8253823.stm). Certainly, an E. coli (a gastrointestinal bacterium of animals, including humans) infection is very unpleasant and can be especially problematical in young children. Most of the complaints were along the lines, "Why didn't the authorities close the farm as soon as a link was suspected?" The first thing to note is that there are many potential sources of so-called 'food poisoning' including dodgy vegiburgers, the children's own pets (e.g. terrapins), horses and streams containing agricultural run off. The testing laboratories don't have an easy task in such situations (it's not a notifiable disease) and links may appear more obvious in retrospect. The argument seems to be based in a modern insistence on having maximum entertainment with zero risk. I do think that it would be a great pity if children didn't get to interact with living animals (they learn a lot about their world in this way). Having said that, adults don't seem very good about stressing the need to keep little fingers out of mouths when holding animals or operating in locations where animals have been. I have even seen adults, as well as children, kissing animals to whom they have hardly been introduced! The farm in question seemed to have all the right signs and hand washing facilities. I suppose that one could rear specific pathogen free animals for such attractions but they would soon pick up infections (and probably die) if they were handled by children. I suppose also that one could develop animatronic pigs, sheep, goats and chickens but they would not be the real thing and would have to be sterilised on a regular basis.
Saturday, 12 September 2009
Beautiful sunny days in Llangennith over the weekend with Bistort (Polygonum bistorta) in flower. Got a picture of a Green carpet moth (Colostygia pectinataria) and noted that the Six spot burnet moths (Zygaena filipendulae) were using the wire fencing around the dunes as pupation sites. Great pond snails (Limnea stagnalis) and other snails were evident in the stream along with Three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) and Whirligig beetles (Gyrinus natator). On the beach, there were many dead bivalves including the Razor shell (Ensis siliqua) and the Banded wedge shell (Donax vittatus), resulting in a feeding frenzy by Sandhoppers. Even better, got nice shots of a basking female Adder (Vipera berus) in the dunes.
Friday, 11 September 2009
In Bynea and Penclacwydd, the spell of high pressure released clouds of butterflies onto the remaining Butterfly bush, Hemp agrimony and Ragwort. The most numerous were Painted ladies (Cynthia cardui), followed by Small tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) and Red admirals (Vanessa atalanta). They were joined by Silver Y moths (Autographa gamma) too big for the waiting crab spider.
Thursday, 10 September 2009
Malcolm Clark and Roy Thompson have studied the records of the dates of flowers making first appearances in the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh (available from 1850 onwards) and have predicted that climate change will result in the UK spring starting as early as January by 2050 (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/sep/10/early-spring). There were notable changes in the blooming of Cherry blossom and buttercups. This may sound fine to gardeners but could well result in problems in terms of the flowers synchronising with pollinating insects. There are also likely to be problems for birds that migrate to feed on insects, seeds or fruit (although it appears that such birds are also arriving earlier and earlier). Of course, one reason for my 'Seeing the Changes' postings is to accumulate evidence for a gradual warming in South Wales.
Wednesday, 9 September 2009
It has been reported (http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2009/sep/09/great-tits-hunting-bats) that scientists from the Max Planck Institute have found that a group of Great tits (Parus major) have taken to hunting and consuming hibernating pipistrelle bats in a remote Hungarian cave. Admittedly, the presumably hungry birds could be distracted by offers of sunflower seeds and bacon scraps (things they normally eat in the UK) but they were recorded to kill 16 bats over 22 days of observation. The birds also flew to investigate speakers broadcasting bat calls that were placed in the cave mouth. It would be interesting to know whether this behaviour is limited to this particular population of Great tits or is a more widespread phenomenon.
There is further news of the Conservation Foundation's attempt to restore the one archetypal Elm to the UK following its 1970s decimation by 'Dutch elm disease' (http://www.conservationfoundation.co.uk/?page_id=53). Dutch elm disease is a fungal infection (mainly Ophiostoma novo-ulmi) that was transmitted by the Elm bark beetle (Scolytus scolytus). It was referred to as 'Dutch elm disease' because much of the early research on this devastating condition was carried out in Holland (not because the agent specifically kills Dutch elm). The English elm (Ulmus procera) still hangs on particularly in area around Brighton and Hove and some more resistant trees such as the 'Sapporo Autumn Gold' cultivar developed by the University of Wisconsin seem to have thrived in the UK. The Conservation Foundation is e.g. offering schools saplings of disease resistant Elm generated in a tree propagation programme in India by the Berkeley Reafforestation Trust. It is uncertain whether the saplings are actually derived from the native English elm and there might well be a potential problem in terms of the reduced genetic diversity in the Elm that is likely to result from this initiative. The Elm is, however, a nice tree.
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