British spring flowers, cuckoos coming


This video says about itself:

Solitary bee foraging on Crocus tomasinianus ‘Ruby Giant’

1 March 2015

See how the small bee is moving around the anthers to collect pollen as well as diving its head down the base for nectar. Honeybees differ in that they will only collect either pollen or nectar. The bee was on the flower for a much longer time than a honeybee would have been.

From daily The Independent in Britain:

From carpets of crocuses to cuckoos on the move, spring is truly springing

Michael McCarthy

Monday 2 March 2015

Well it’s been a long wait, but spring is here now, at least by the Met Office definition, which classifies the new season as consisting of March, April and May (the older, astronomical definition has it beginning from the vernal equinox, which this year is 20 March, but we tend to go with the Met Office these days). And with Sunday being the first day of it, I went out to look for signs, and was not disappointed.

In Kew Gardens at the moment you can see what must be one of the most vivid springtime displays in the whole country: millions of blooms of early crocuses which are forming vast mauve sheets over the ground. The flower is Crocus tomasinianus, originally from eastern Europe, and in English sometimes called Whitewell purple. From a distance, the massed ranks of the blooms seem to glow, to shine like pale-purple light in the grass. It’s an astonishing spectacle.

The rest of Kew is still a bit bare, but the snowdrops are proudly out in the bluebell wood and there are subtler signs of the new season: the black-headed gulls on the lake are resplendent in their shiny new chocolate-brown headgear (which in winter shrinks to just a dark dot behind the eye), and the dunnocks, those nondescript but subtly attractive birds which we used to call hedge sparrows, are everywhere reeling out their song, which some people say is like the sound of a squeaking shopping trolley: streedly-streedly-streedly-stree.

Yet the most interesting sign of spring greeted me when I got back and switched on the computer: it was an email from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) giving the latest details of the BTO cuckoos in Africa. Since 2011, Britain’s leading bird research organisation has been satellite-tracking cuckoos on their mammoth migratory journeys from Britain to their African wintering grounds, and the project has revealed a wonderful wealth of hitherto unknown information: where wintering British cuckoos end up (the Congo rainforest), how they get there (some via Italy, some via Spain) and how they return (all of them via West Africa).

The journeys are arduous and full of risk, and sometimes the birds don’t make it: Indy, the cuckoo sponsored by The Independent, died in Cameroon in 2012. Currently 13 cuckoos are being tracked in Africa, including Chris (named after the naturalist Chris Packham) who has been going strong since 2011, and is thus being tracked on his fourth successive Africa trip; and what the BTO email told me was the heartening news that all of the birds are now on their way back, and heading northwards. There’s our spring down in Africa, flying steadily towards us.

They’ll be here in about six weeks, and when they arrive, their two-note musical call is the most instantly recognisable of all our springtime sounds. But the cuckoo, of course, has a double identity: it is not just the supreme spring-announcer, it is a notorious cheat, laying its eggs in the nests of other birds, (the technical term is a brood parasite).

Have you ever wondered how it does it? I mean, how it manages to get its single egg into the nests of its host species, such as reed warblers, meadow pipits and pied wagtails, where the cuckoo chick throws out the other eggs or nestlings and ends up as a monstrous intruder many times the size of the hapless foster-parents who are straining to feed it?

A new book tells in mesmerising detail how the host birds are first outwitted by the female cuckoo, and then by the cuckoo chick. Cuckoo – Cheating By Nature (Bloomsbury, £16.99) is by Nick Davies, the world expert on Cuculus canorus, the Eurasian cuckoo, our bird. He gives a riveting account not only of how the cuckoo evolves deceptive stratagems, such as eggs which mimic the eggs of the host, but also of how the host birds evolve defences, such as learning to reject any eggs which seems slightly different from their own.

This is in effect an “evolutionary arms race” and its complexities are elucidated with exemplary clarity and humour by Professor Davies, who is Professor of Behavioural Ecology at Cambridge and has spent the past 30 years studying cuckoos and discovering their tricks, at Wicken Fen to the north of the city. (He also, for good measure, discovered, through studies in the Cambridge Botanical Garden, that the humble and unglamorous dunnock, mentioned above, has the raciest sex life of any small songbird, everywhere looking for lurve).

His new cuckoo study, which is published next week, is an even more fascinating take on curious behaviour. I’ve just read it, and it’s a terrific read.

Most popular animals in Britain


This vido is called Children’s Favorite Animals – Learning English Animal Names | Kids Learning Video.

From daily The Independent in Britain:

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies, says YouGov

Dogs remain the nation’s favourite animal

Zachary Davies Boren

Monday 02 March 2015

Men and women like quite different animals, according to new research.

According to a silly YouGov analysis that has confirmed long-held suspicions of gender-based animal bias, men like lobsters, alligators and sticklebacks (it’s a type of fish) whereas women prefer cats, ponies and miniature pigs.

The country’s overall favourites are still predictably pets like dogs and cats, as well as the more exotic tigers and elephants.

But, by declaring their animal preferences via the YouGov website, some of the pollster‘s 190,000 members have helped reveal that some stereotypes really are true.

Men, whom one classic nursery rhyme claims derive from slugs, snails and puppy-dog tails, have an expressed affection for powerful, strange, and not-traditionally cute creatures.

Slow worms, crayfish, and ants feature on the list of animals loved by one gender but not by the other.

Male animal preferences

Women, on the other hand, choose cuddly critters like guinea pigs, hedgehogs and panda bears.

Besides the butterfly and the penguin, every one of the female-preferred is a mammal.

There’s not a single mammal amongst the more male-loved animals.

Female animal preferences

What’s in a number?

This poll is actually more complex than many of the higher-brow studies which YouGov regularly releases; that’s because of something called the Z-score.

YouGov explained: “For each preference by members of a given group, we find what is known in statistics as the Z-score.

“This is a measure of what is particularly true of the people in that group. Basically, it is how the attitudes and opinions of a particular group differ from the national average and how great the strength of that difference is.”

The Z-score for the animals preferred by women are much stronger than those by men, which means the difference in opinion over donkeys is much greater than the one over rattlesnakes.

This probably means that women like their creatures much more than men like theirs.

Read the full list here.

Papua damselfly named after wildlife Internet site administrator


Metagrion hueberae, photo: © Kelompok Entomologi Papua

Translated from the newsletter of Waarneming.nl in the Netherlands:

March 2, 2015

Metagrion hueberae was caught in 2009 in the Bird’s Head (Papua, Indonesia) by J. Kaize of Kelompok Entomologi Papua. He is a student at the University of Jayapura trained by volunteers of the Papua Insect Foundation. The genus Metagrion is endemic to New Guinea and adjacent islands and limited to streams and rivers in tropical rainforests. The official description of this species will be published in a scientific journal later this year.

The new species was named after Ms Anne Hueber, administrator for damselflies and dragonflies at Waarmeming.nl.

South American sea squirt in Dutch Oosterschelde estuary


This video is about the pleated sea squirt, Styela plicata.

In the spring of 2008, the sea squirt species Corella eumyota (orange-tipped sea squirt) was found for the first time in the Netherlands. That was in the harbour of Burghsluis, at the Oosterschelde estuary.

In 2014 and 2015, it was also found at another Oosterschelde spot, Westbout.

So, this originally South American species seems to be spreading, but slowly.

Millions of Dutch butterflies counted


This is a Dutch video about butterflies.

25 years ago, in the Netherlands, the Nederlandse Vlindermeetnet was founded, an organisation for butterfly research.

Millions of butterflies have been counted in those years. Including meadow brown, the most often seen species: 954,959 individuals.

Since 25 years ago, 18 species have increased, 9 species are stable, 24 species have declined.

Speckled wood have increased, especially since 2000, both at places where they already lived and at new places.

Arctic skippers have increased too, but only at places were the species already occurred.

Among the butterfly species which have declined most are large chequered skipper and tree grayling; both with a decline of over 90%.

Wildlife news, not war news, from Iraq


This video is about a chuckar partridge (the national bird of Kurdistan; and of Pakistan).

From daily The Independent in Britain:

Sunday 22 February 2015

How butterflies are harbingers of hope in war-torn Iraq

A conservation group dedicated to preserving biodiversity offers a hope of fledgling renewal for this war-shattered land

Nature Iraq: not an oxymoron, but the name of the country’s leading conservation group.

Since it was founded in 2004, it has set up a series of projects to understand and protect the wildlife of Iraq. Now it is able to reflect on three years of effective work which has brought great benefits, both to humans and to wildlife.

You might think that compared with other problems being faced by people in Iraq, those that concern the distribution of butterflies are pretty insignificant. But you’d be wrong. Butterflies matter to the world: and perhaps they matter more to Iraq than to any other nation on earth.

That’s because conservation is one of the arts of peace. Preserving wildlife is important at all times and in all places; but when it comes to the healing of a shattered and broken country, a butterfly has a significance that towers above the trivialities. So here are a few examples of what Nature Iraq has been getting up to.

For a start, it has been running a study and education programme in Iraqi Kurdistan, in the north-east of the country. The group is supported by the Darwin Initiative, funded by the UK government; by the Centre for Middle Eastern Plants, based in Edinburgh; and by Birdlife International, with headquarters in Cambridge. So it’s a business that rises above local troubles. It has a global input and a global significance: wildlife conservation in one place is possible only through the efforts of people in many other places.

Nature Iraq has established an on-line course on biodiversity and conservation, in partnership with the University of Sulaimani in the Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah. It’s been running for three years and 60 students have now completed the course. Another 60 have just signed up.

Then there’s a nationwide citizen science project on the distribution of butterflies and dragonflies. Thanks to the widespread use of smartphones, photographs of these insects are now flooding in to Nature Iraq, which has already identified four species new to the country. The organisation has set up a team of experts across the world, so that every species can be properly identified and mapped. …

The mountain of Peramagroon, which covers an area of 100 sq km, is a spectacular spot that’s home to Egyptian vultures and a flycatcher called the Kurdistan wheatear. It has a species of wild goat and a good population of spur-thighed tortoises. A survey of the area’s plants revealed 650 species, more than twice the number previously known from the area; among them were several species new to science.

A study of land use on Peramagroon will enable Nature Iraq to establish a proper conservation action plan. A series of school visits have been made to the area, and children have been setting up nest boxes as a result. Nature Iraq is also field-testing a phone app that will help to identify birds in Peramagroon; it contains details of 130 species. The long-term aim is to develop this and similar apps for use across the Middle East.

When it is more important to identify a saker falcon than a Black Hawk helicopter, you know that an important step towards peace has been taken. Bwar Khalid of Nature Iraq said: “I hope we can do more projects and activities in the future, especially in our country where there has been nothing except war and destruction.”

Butterflies and dragonflies matter. People looking for butterflies and dragonflies matter. Unknown species of mountain plants matter. Children setting up nest boxes matter. The fact that a Kurdistan wheatear is different from an eastern black-eared wheatear matters. All these things matter if you wish to turn a country deeply harmed by war into a place where life is worth living. …

Such projects have the vividness of a New Year’s resolution: a new start, one in which better things will surely be possible. Hope comes in a butterfly; in an eastern rock nuthatch; in the flora of a mountain; in people dedicated to looking after them all.