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.

Finnish punk rockers with disabilities to Eurovision Song Contest


This video from England says about itself:

21 December 2014

Finnish punks Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät (PKN) at the Lexington, London.

After Finnish hard rock band Lordi, who participated in the Eurovision Song Contest in 2006, and won (dressed like dinosaurs) …

From the BBC:

1 March 2015

Finland punk band PKN set for Eurovision

A punk band made up of men with learning disabilities is to represent Finland at the Eurovision Song Contest.

The quartet, named PKN, was chosen by Finnish viewers on Saturday and has now been ranked by bookmakers as among the favourites for the contest.

The group, whose members have Down’s syndrome and autism, will perform their 85-second song Aina Mun Pitaa (I Always Have To) at the event in Vienna in May.

“Every person with a disability ought to be braver,” singer Kari Aalto said.

“He or she should themselves say what they want and do not want,” he told Finnish broadcaster YLE.

The group – full name Pertti Kurikan Nimipaivat (Pertti Kurikka’s Nameday) – will also become the first punk band to compete at Eurovision.

They first got together during a charity workshop and appeared in an award-winning 2012 documentary called The Punk Syndrome.

This Finnish video says about itself:

The Punk Syndrome – Kovasikajuttu

12 February 2015

A Finnish punk-rock band formed by four mentally disabled guys.

The BBC article continues:

The song deals with the frustration of the rules of daily life, like having to eat healthily and doing chores like cleaning and washing up.

‘Changing attitudes’

“We are rebelling against society in different ways, but we are not political,” bassist Sami Helle told The Guardian.

“We are changing attitudes somewhat, a lot of people are coming to our gigs and we have a lot of fans.

“We don’t want people to vote for us to feel sorry for us, we are not that different from everybody else – just normal guys with a mental handicap.”

They are 5/1 to win the contest, according to Betfred, making them third favourites behind Italy and Estonia.

Heavy metal band Lordi gave Finland its only Eurovision win to date with Hard Rock Hallelujah in 2006.

The UK’s Eurovision entrant will be named on Saturday.

Harbour porpoises studied in England


This video from England says about itself:

Thames Timelapse

2 April 2014

R/V Song of the Whale travels up the River Thames, in search of harbour porpoises.

From Wildlife Extra:

Whale research vessel begins porpoise survey in the Thames Estuary

A research team on board the unique, non-invasive whale research vessel Song of the Whale will carry out the first ever comprehensive scientific study to assess the population of Harbour Porpoises (the UK’s smallest cetacean) in the Thames Estuary between March 5 and 14.

In all, the survey will cover the area from Ipswich, travelling up the Thames through central London to Tower Bridge, the Thames Barrier, Teddington Lock and the Outer Estuary.

Marine Conservation Research International (MCR), which owns and operates the boat, will carry out acoustic and visual surveys using underwater microphones (hydrophones) and visual techniques, funded by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and with help from conservationists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

The aim is to find out more about where this shy species is located in the tidal Thames and the threats porpoises face from human activities such as man-made underwater noise and litter.

This essential information can help in efforts to conserve the species.

An open day for members of the public to visit the boat will be held on Sunday March 8 at the Hermitage Community Moorings, Hermitage Wharf, Wapping.

The survey events will be as follow: March 5, when there is a training day in Ipswich; March 6, departure from Ipswich to Southend; March 7, Southend to Tower Bridge (day) and Tower Bridge to the Thames Barrier (night); March 8, 1-4pm, open afternoon for public, media and politicians; March 9, surveying Outer Estuary and Tower Bridge to Teddington Lock; March 10-14, further surveying of Outer Estuary and return to Ipswich.

Shore-based surveys involving members of the public will also take place at Rainham Marshes and Thameside Nature Park in Essex from 10am-4pm on Saturday March 7. These will be coordinated with assistance from the RSPB, Essex Wildlife Trust, Kent Mammal Group and ORCA.

For more information visit www.marineconservationresearch.org.

London peregrine falcons in love, video


This video is about courtship and mating of the peregrine falcon couple on top of Charing Cross hospital in London, England.

Recorded 26 February 2015 at 4.15pm.