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Autumn in the Wildlife Garden is busy for everyone

It's your last chance to enjoy the beautiful autumn colours in the Museum’s Wildlife Garden, before it closes at the end of the day on Saturday 31 October. It re-opens in spring on 1 April 2010.

 

But although the garden gate may be closing, you are always welcome to ring our information desk if you want to visit during the winter months. The number is at the top of our Wildlife Garden page on the website.

 

For those who might not get the chance to come now, here’s a bit about what’s been going on in our garden this autumn.

 

Most recent sightings in the garden have included several common moths such as the large underwing moth and the brick moth, a determined fox who has often been seen stalking birds, shield bugs and a magnificent kestrel spotted swooping down for a quick snack mouse. Just today, a gorgeous goldfinch has appeared, so maybe we will see more of these lovely birds in the future.

 

By November the different shades of autumn are completely transforming the Wildlife Garden to a rich palette of yellow, orange, red, pink and brown.

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'Please leave us some leaves to hide in'

Leaf raking has been taking place since early October to keep the paths clear for visitors, and to protect the grassland. Fallen leaves are left in hedges and woodland to break down naturally – helped by invertebrates living in leaf litter – and to provide refuges for animals such as toads. Leaf-raking chores have been made easier thanks to a big infux of volunteers from the nearby Imperial College. At this time of year, about 12 people (most are part-time) help look after the garden during the week and another 12-15 assist on weekends once a month. At the moment there is much to do.

 

 

The butter-yellow lime leaves were the first to fall and these trees will be the first to stand unclad. The London plane trees towering high above the garden are now turning orange brown. Plane tree leaves are very leathery and unlike our native trees, take ages to break down, so our garden carers have to gently remove them from certain areas and shred them up for re-scattering. (Otherwise they’d smother other plants beneath.) It’s the beech leaves which turn that gorgeous rich toffee colour, while the field maple and hornbeam go golden yellow and rowan pink and red. The wonder and diversity of trees!

 

It has been a busy time for many of the garden’s animal residents too.

 

From early autumn, fruits and berries have been ripening and birds and small mammals start harvesting before the winter and seasonal food shortages begin. The earliest berries to mature were rowan – they don’t remain on the trees for long as birds swoop in on them to devour the orange-red juicy fruits. In the hedgerows, blackbirds have been feasting on dark blackberries and bluish-purple sloes.

 

Cracked shells are everywhere in evidence of hazel nuts and acorns collected by squirrels, wood mice and jays – some are stored and some are eaten.

As well as the general upkeep that autumn changes make necessary in the garden, the wildlife gardeners’ work during the early winter months includes feeding birds, checking nest boxes and making any necessary repairs to the moorhens’ island.


Thanks to the Wildlife Garden team for their updates. Follow the What's new blog for more updates on our winter activities in the garden.

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Cry wolf, no... Fly wolf
It’s amazing. You have to go and see The Storybook wolf image at the Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, open today at the Museum.

 

The Spanish photographer José Luis Rodríguez took several months to set up the shot of the Iberian wolf leaping through the air over a wooden gate in pursuit of its prey. ‘It was a dream shot,’ says Jose, ‘it took ages to find the ideal location, let alone a wolf that would jump a gate. When I got the shot of my dreams I couldn’t believe it. I think the Spanish can be proud to have such a beautiful animal.’

 

The fairytale, night-time atmosphere of the photograph was captured with a traditional analogue Hasselblad camera (Jose ditched his usual digital camera for the shot). He spent several months beforehand in preparation and hope, and set up an infrared camera trap as a trigger. Judging by the light, he thinks the image was probably taken at very early dawn. The image is one of a handful of the 95 winning photographs in the exhibition that were not taken with a digital camera.

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At the packed press opening of the exhibition yesterday in the Museum’s Waterhouse Gallery, 100s of media photographers and journalists witnessed Jose’s joy at receiving the award. He spoke of his wish to dissolve the superstitions that many Spanish people have for their emblematic wolves with his photograph that shows the agile grace of the creature.

 

The much coveted Veolia Environnement Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year award went to teenage Fergus Gill for his dramatic Clash of the Yellowhammers picture taken in his own garden in Scotland.

 

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Other striking winners, that will no doubt be pleasing visitors to the exhibition, include the pretty-in-pink ant of Raindrop refresher by András Mészáros, and the proud silhouetted Richmond Park deer in young Sam Rowley’s Royal headgear image. Browse all the winners in our online gallery and choose the one you wish to vote your favourite.

 

Lots of the images are availalabe as prints in our Museum shop and you can customise them to your preference.

 

Have a look at some of the early enthusiastic press coverage for the winners:

 

BBC News

Guardian

Mail online

Nature


The exhibition is also open late on the last Friday of the month (except December).

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Spiders galore

Posted by Rose Oct 16, 2009


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Is my garden the set for Arachnophobia 3?

Yes I’m lucky enough to have a little patch of green in London, but not so sure at the moment it really is mine. Spiders and their webs have taken it over.

 

There’s been a lot in the press about the recent record numbers of spiders invading our homes this autumn but for me it’s the garden invasion that’s far more troubling.

 

Last time I counted there were at least 20 big webs on either side of my garden (it’s small) and that’s without probing deeper into the foliage. As dusk gathers every evening when I’m home from work, I’m out there, torch in hand on spider patrol.

 

The big golden brown one I first discovered in my garden (shown above) is still my favourite. It just grows and grows (lengthways) and has the most elegant of webs. It has a leg span of at least 2 inches. There are now many more big brown ones which I’ve learned are known as Cross spiders (not because of their temperament I’m assured, but because of a distinctive white cross on their backs). Their real name is Araneus didematus. It’s the females which are the biggest.

 

I’m not particularly scared of spiders, but last night I started to panic when I came across a huge new swarm of spindly-legged ones crawling over a border bed. These ones are Harvestman spiders, closely related to daddy-long-legs. The Harvestman gang seem to be getting closer to the house then ever before. Should I be worried?

 

I asked Stuart Hine, our Museum arachnid expert, who’s been busy giving comments to the media on the outbreak. His advice is the same as other experts: ‘Leave them alone and they’ll leave you alone.’ Ok will do. Stuart also explained that “Spiders are most prevalent at this time of year. The trouble is that like spiders, we humans also enjoy warm dry autumns. So we spend more time outdoors and notice more of them.’ Well, I suppose he has a point.


But in the meantime, I’ll be getting the conkers ready, whether spiders are conkerphobes or not! Serious arachnophobes should also have a look at the recent Independent’s article on how to beat the terror.

 

You can visit the arachnid room in the Museum's Creepy Crawlies gallery and find out just how amazing spiders really are.

 

Join the Museum's bug forum to identify your spiders.

 

For that extra scary bit of bedtime reading try a new Arachnids book just out written by another Museum spider expert, Jan Beccaloni.

 

And did you know there are over 650 species of spider in Britain? But, only a very few of these are spiders that bite. One of the Museum website's most popular news stories uncovers the truth about the UK’s false widow spiders.
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Puffin in the snow by Jan Vemeer

 

If you haven’t already, take a peek at the highly commended images from this year’s Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition in our preview slideshow. From bristling baby orangutans and languid lions to perfect pike and white water waves, there are magic moments captured in these fantastic wildlife photographs from around the world. Come to the exhibition to see all the winners from 23 October when it opens.

 

This puffin shot has a magical ‘hurtling through the snow’ kind of innocence to it, I think. It was taken by the photographer Jan Vemeer who timed a visit to Norway’s remote Varanger Fjord at the arrival of 1000s of seabirds flying back to the cliffs to breed. 

 

On the second day of Jan’s visit, the first puffins arrived. He recalls: 'I glanced out over the sea and saw them coming. At that very same instant, it began to snow. There are golden moments in your life you never forget - this is one of them.' Five minutes later, the snowstorm ended.

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Meet the sheep

Posted by Rose Oct 8, 2009
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Young Bee takes a break from her munch marathon in the Wildlife Garden

 

Since the sheep arrived in the Museum Wildlife Garden in August (see my first blog post 'It's sheep time'), I have wanted to meet them. Last week I did. Good thing too, because it looks like they may be leaving soon. Honey, Bella and Bee were busy grazing in the meadow by the pond and seemed a bit shy and preoccupied. But I got a good glimpse of their gorgeously shaggy, woolly coats up-close and witnessed just what voracious munchers they are. Apparently they graze most of the grassland areas including the chalk, meadow, large pond and and the orchard - which is roughly a quarter of the entire Wildlife Garden area - in about 5 weeks. With a little help recently from 2 moorhens so I'm told.

 

I learned from the garden's keeper that Bee, Bella's lamb, is nearly 5 months old and has been rather adventurous finding holes in the fencing and grazing in other areas she's not supposed to.

 

On my visit, I also spotted a sign that listed recent sightings in the garden. Some exciting ones, including a Great Spotted Woodpecker and a slow worm. And of course the foxes, spiders and dragonflies which are familiar in the Wildlife Garden at this time of year.

 

 

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Bee, Bella and Honey in the meadow by the Wildlife Garden pond

It was really good to enjoy a brief respite in the tranquil garden, admiring the reflections of the majestic Museum building in the pond's water, near the sheep. (Thanks Matt for accompanying me to take some photos.) You can catch the sheep in the garden if you hurry. And I recommend a last stroll around before the garden closes to the public on 31 October. See some of the highlights you might encounter in our Wildlife Garden slideshow.


I will keep you posted on what’s happening behind the scenes over the winter months. It’s a very busy time for the garden and its carers.

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Who's walking on the wild side? Footprints by Robert Friel

At this very moment, the most outstanding wildlife images from photographers around the world are being mounted for display in their new bigger gallery for this year’s Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2009 exhibition. The popular exhibition of the competition winners, now in its 24th year, opens to the public on 23 October.

 

The Museum's iconic Waterhouse Gallery (home to previous sell-out Darwin exhibition) will enable us to show off the winning wildlife photographs in larger format than was possible in the exhibition's former Jerwood Gallery. This year's event also features an atmospheric new design themed on a pavilion of shadows. Very intriguing. Hopefully I can take a peak soon.

 

Another new highlight of the exhibition experience this year is an audio guide with judges, photographers and scientists comments, and an audio guide for the visually impaired (the latter is a first for the UK).

 

We are also very proud that this exhibition is the most eco-friendly one staged yet, boasting the latest power-saving LED light panel technology.

 

To whet your wildlife appetite, get a preview of the highly commended winners on our website from Monday, 5 October. You can find out who the overall winners are on 21 October.

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Algae, leaf, forest? Think again

Personally, I love the brilliant green image on the website banner. But do you know what the 'filter-feeding forest' - the image's name - really is? Most people reckon it's algae, I think it looks like a weirdly lit under-water jungle, but it is in fact the inside of a sea squirt's mouth. This species of sea squirt, photographed in the Philippines by Lawrence Alex Wu, is fairly common in tropical waters. Alex spent years looking inside the little creatures' mouths to get this ghostly image. It's the chlorophyll of the microbes inside the food-trapping, tree-like water filters that cause the vivid green colour that Alex captured. I just wonder how he managed to get the 3-cm long squirters to be still enough to get his open-mouth shot?