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5 Posts tagged with the robin tag
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The rich warbling song of the blackcap has welcomed us into work over the past 2 weeks! (you can hear an Eurasian blackcap, Sylvia atricapilla, as recorded by Patrick Aberg here). Not only that but we've had robins nesting just above the threshold of our shed with the accompanying chatter of baby birds anticipating food, holly blue butterflies visiting clusters of fresh holly flowers, sightings of orange tip, brimstone, peacock and speckled wood butterflies, tadpoles in the main pond, the occasional glimpse of a fox cub, and many more signs that Spring has well and truly sprung.

 

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A speckled wood (Pararge aegeria) resting on false brome - one of its larval food plants.

 

The mosaic of ground flora throughout the different habitats in the Garden is changing by the day with a particular blue haze and glorious scent of bluebells in the woodland areas.

 

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Bluebells in our Wildlife Garden.

 

Note the spread compared to 12 years ago,  below,  when the woodland glade was less open than it is today.

 

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Woodland glade in 2003.

 

But how many of them are the native British species (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) rather than hybrids or the invasive Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica)? The scented plants for sure, but what about their relatives?

 

Museum Botanist, Fred Rumsey explains some interbreeding:

 

"It's that time of the year again when our woods turn azure with one of our favourite wild-flowers. The cool dry winter has held things back; results from the Museum's online survey on flowering times has shown that over the last few years flowering has in some years commenced almost a month later than in some others, the variation making predictions as to the effects of global warming more difficult.

 

For some weeks the show has been building in the Wildlife Garden, where, in spite of our best efforts, the majority of our plants show the influence of Spanish bluebells. In this respect our Garden is typical of urban gardens throughout Britain.

 

The two bluebells are genetically very similar with their distinctions maintained only by their geographic isolation, because they interbreed freely where they meet and the vigorous hybrids are confusingly intermediate in all respects.

 

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Spanish bluebell Hyacinthoides hispanica in an urban garden in south London.

© Naomi Lake

 

Three hundred years of British gardening has undone several thousand years of glorious isolation - Pandora's potting shed door can't now be closed but we can all act responsibly to prevent further spread into the truly wild places as yet unsullied by the paler-flowered, scentless, blue-pollened invader. In the meantime I will still appreciate the spectacle in our Garden, they may not all be 'pure' but they are still beautiful!"

 

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More bluebells in our Wildlife Garden.

 

Thank you Fred! You can hear more from him on the main differences between bluebell species in the video on our website.

 

And in the past week I have been out and about in the woods admiring pure blooming bluebells and contributing to the Museum's bluebell survey. Here are some May Day highlights from woodland near Ashford in Kent:

 

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A magnificent display of bluebells in Hunt's Wood, near Woodchurch

© Peter Buckley

 

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Another brilliant display - something for us to aim for in our own Wildlife Garden.

© Peter Buckley

 

You too can help us with our research by contributing to the Museum's bluebell survey.

 

And finally, a small diversion: although our fox cubs are shy, the adult male is more relaxed, spending time around the pond banks to the delight of our visitors, but not so to our nesting moorhens.

 

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Our male fox relaxing in the Wildlife Garden.

© Daniel Osborne

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While winter tasks kept most of us busy outside for the first quarter of the year, these cold months are also a good excuse to hunker down inside and look back at the previous season's species records, enter new records on our database and consolidate reports on our findings.

 

As mentioned in one of our early blogs biological recording is carried out - like most activities here - with the help of many volunteers (specialists as well as beginners), and naturally our own scientists, during the course of their working day. Sometimes we enlist the help of aspiring young scientists...

 

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Volunteer Alex Domenge has spent days entering records on the Wildlife Garden database.

 

Recording is carried out by observation and surveys. From mosses on walls, rocks and bare ground and the animals that inhabit these miniature forests, to the tree tops where great and blue tits may be spotted feeding on aphids and other small insects in the upper branches, as well as high flying butterflies such as the purple hairstreak that feed off honeydew.

 

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Purple hairstreak butterfly (Favonius quercus). It's hard to see because it spends most of its time in the upper leaf canopy feeding on honeydew.

© Jim Asher, Butterfly Conservation

 

Invertebrate surveys are carried out using a variety of methods including pitfall traps for ground invertebrates, malaise traps for flying insects, and light traps for nocturnal fliers.

 

Former Museum Lepidopterist, Martin Honey, has been trapping and recording moths since before the Wildlife Garden was created 20 years ago using a Robinson light trap. Martin has recorded an amazing number of moths since the garden was created - over 500 species! - and in the process he has taught many of us not only how to identify moths caught in the trap but also day-flying moths and leaf miners.

 

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6-spot burnet moth (Zygaena filipendulae) - one of our most colourful day-flying moths - breed on our chalk downland in the Wildlife Garden

© Derek Adams

 

As Martin explains:

 

'A Robinson light trap is fitted with a 125w mercury vapour lamp. The bulb emits both ultraviolet and visible light, so not only moths but also people passing on a 'moth trapping night' would see an eerie glow coming from the centre of the garden. The light attracts moths and other night-flying insects - which enter the trap via a funnel. The insects are 'caught' within the trap and settle on egg boxes that are provided within the trap.

 

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A light trap with net in the morning to prevent any escapees

© Sue Snell

 

On arrival in the morning, each egg box is gently removed and checked for insects which we either identify straight away or carefully place in a glass tube for closer examination. Once identified, the specimens are released back into the garden into dense vegetation away from predators, such as robins, which regard the whole operation with hungry interest.'

 

You can see a little bit about this technique in our short film from 2011 that features Martin:

 

 

 

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The ever opportunistic robin

© Jonathan Jackson

 

Other nocturnally active insects are also attracted to the light and it is another way of recording insects apart from moths

 

 

And this is just how we found an interesting species of ladybird in July last year. This was memorable for more than one reason since I had a young friend and future volunteer assisting me for that day - possibly even a future scientist...

 

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Anders with light trap

 

Anders takes up the story about  the light trap set on 25 July 2014:

 

'To our delight we found lots of different species of insects; moths, beetles, shield bugs and a very interesting little ladybird. It was about 5mm long, quite round, black with no dots.We put all the insects into collecting tubes, identified and recorded each one on to a sheet of special paper...

 

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Recording sheet

 

However, we could not identify all of them, so we took them into the 'cocoon' to the entomologists' offices. The man we wanted to see was sadly not there, but another nice man from Italy stepped in to help us. He knew all of the insects except for the little black beetle. Determined to discover the identity of the ladybird we showed it to everyone in the department but no one knew what it was. Finally, it was suggested that we take the specimen to a man called Roger Booth in the beetle section of the Department of Life Sciences. He looked at it and said:

 

"Hmm, Rhyzobius forestieri", he said thoughtfully, "very interesting". He led us across the room to another man called Max Barclay who confirmed not only that it was Rhyzobius forestieri, but that it may have been the first ladybird of its kind to have been found in the UK'.

 

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Anders with Rhyzobius forestieri

 

It was, in fact, the second Rhyzobius forestieri to be recorded in Britain. This was a very exciting find for the Wildlife Garden and also for Anders:

 

'I was surprised and pleased to hear this and felt a bit like a scientist myself. I'm very proud of my little ladybird and look forward to my next visit to the Museum to see her and all her little bug friends!'

Max went on to publish an article on the beetle in issue 23 of The Coleopterist journal:

 

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Max's paper in the journal, The Coleopterist, issue 23(2), pages 81-83.

 

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A picture of the Rhyzobius forestieri beetle found by Anders, only the second of its kind to have been recorded in Britain (photograph by Harry Taylor)

 

We'll bring you news of further findings - interspersed over the next few months - with other news about biodiversity in the Museum's living gallery of Wildlife and that celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.

 

And now, our Wildlife Garden has re-opened this year for visitors and, on Saturday 11 April, we will be celebrating Spring Wildlife at a free, day long event in the Wildlife Garden, Darwin Centre and Investigate.

 

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Investigating pond life at last year's Spring Wildlife event

 

Come and join in betwen 12.00 to 17.00 and even get to hear the 'nice man from Italy' talk about butterflies in Nature Live: A date with a Butterfly at 12.30 and 14.30 in the Attenborough Studio.

 

We look forward to seeing you here!

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Trills and twitters of finches greet us each morning - at extra volume on the chilly bright mornings - and continue throughout the day as goldfinches, greenfinches and chaffinches compete for space on our bird feeders. Flocks of blue, great and long-tailed tits forage in the tree tops and hedgerows, and occasionally join the finches for seeds or fat balls while our resident blackbirds, robins, wrens and dunnocks can be heard amongst the shrubs and leaf litter.

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A robin singing through a tangle of hawthorn

© Jonathan Jackson

 

Over-wintering redwings were spotted swooping down to feed on the remaining holly berries last month. But what about some of our less common winter visitors? Daniel Osborne, has been looking at recent work by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO)'s outstanding citizen science experiment Garden BirdWatch which unravels a mystery surrounding the blackcap:

 

"The Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla), like other UK warblers, is primarily a summer visitor, arriving in April and May to establish a breeding territory, build a nest and raise young, then departing in September and October to overwinter in Southern Europe and North Africa. Its beautiful varied song can be heard occasionally in the Wildlife Garden in spring and summer and the bird itself - a fairly drab yet distinctive grey and light brown bird, the male with a black cap, the female a brown cap - is regularly observed among the trees and woodland and even bred in the garden in 2012.

 

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Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla)

© David Tipling

 

Since the 1950s, with the increase in use of garden bird feeders, the number of Blackcaps overwintering in the UK has increased dramatically. And in the last 30 years ornithologists have noticed the number of blackcaps in the UK during winter has seemed disproportionately large.

 

A number of bird ringing programmes in the UK and Europe provided the explanation. Bird ringing is the process of catching a bird, often in a net or while it is still in the nest, and attaching a small ring of metal to one of its legs before releasing it.

 

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Bird-ringing in progress

© BTO

 

The hope is that the ring will be seen again, either by a keen-eyed birdwatcher or by anyone who should happen to chance upon the bird at close enough range. The ring's unique code means that scientists can be certain of an individual bird's movements. This technique has provided a number of extraordinary insights into bird migration including the large number of overwintering blackcaps.

 

It was found that while some German blackcaps were migrating south to Southern Europe and North Africa some were migrating to spend winter in the UK. The UK's maritime climate warmed by the Gulf Stream means that winters are milder here than in the continental climate of Germany, and global temperatures are increasing as a result of man-made climate change.

 

This increase in warmth is likely to mean more food, in the form of insects and berries, available during the winter and fewer sub-zero nights to endure, and has no doubt made the UK in recent years a more attractive winter destination, but surely not as attractive as Southern Europe and North Africa. That is, until the added benefit of the artificial food left out in UK gardens is taken into account.

 

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Blackcap migration routes from Germany

 

The abundance and reliability of artificial food in our gardens is of course invaluable to our native species, particularly in winter. In the last 30 years or so it has also brought about this change in blackcap migration strategy. Ongoing work by Kate Plummer of the BTO has demonstrated that bird feeding activities have been important in the establishment of the overwintering blackcaps.

 

The food we put out for birds in winter is tempting indeed and the blackcap population that comes here, instead of heading south, enjoys some distinct advantages. The distance is about a third shorter, which means not only do the UK-wintering birds reduce the costs and perils of migration, but they actually arrive back in Germany first.

 

This means they can take the prime breeding territories and potentially raise a greater number of healthier young. A fascinating by-product of this is that Germany's UK-wintering population and the southerly-wintering population breed at different times and are now genetically distinct. This winter I have so far seen one female blackcap in the Wildlife Garden, but look forward to seeing more of these beautiful birds, and speculating about how they came to be spending winter in the UK."

 

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A female blackcap

© Edwyn Anderton, Flickr

 

Thank you Daniel. Last weekend we cleaned and repaired our nest boxes ready for this year's residents.

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Greetings from a garden full of Spring promise! After an absence of several weeks, I recently left winter dormancy behind and have been welcomed by the optimism of spring from the Garden.

 

The productive work carried out by Larissa, Naomi and our wonderful volunteers these past few weeks is evident from the signs of coppicing, pollarding, pruning and propagating, as well as thinning out some of our most determined umbellifers - cow parsley, hogweed and ground elder.

 

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Coppiced alder (Alnus glutinosa)

© Derek Adams

 

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Seed propagation in preparation for our Spring Wildlife Event on Saturday 5 April

© Sue Snell


And the garden itself has a surprise around every corner. On the ground in the coppiced woodland habitat and beneath the mature lime, the daffodils (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) are in bloom.

 

2. .WLG_06032014-108 daffodils (Custom).JPGThe first of our native daffodils was recorded on 25 February nine days earlier than last year

© Jonathan Jackson

 

There's a fair sprinkling of primroses (Primula vulgaris) in flower, with many more buds yet to open.

 

3. WLG_06032014-058  primroses 6_3_14 (Custom).JPGPrimroses at the edge of woodland - first flower recorded on 18 February; just a couple of days earlier than last year

© Jonathan Jackson

 

A deeper shade of yellow is offered by the fluffy heads of coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) which brighten up the hedge banks.

 

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Coltsfoot, a plant typical of waste areas but welcome in our garden

© Derek Adams

 

Red dead-nettle (Lamium purpureum) along the path provides nectar for early flying insects, and other shades of pink include the occasional red campion (Silene dioica) and herb robert (Geranium robertianum).

 

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Red campion thrives in our Wildlife garden -  at least one plant can be seen in flower throughout the year

© Derek Adams

 

Sweet violet (Viola odorata) is in flower between hedge and pond and dog's mercury (Mercurialis perennis) is increasing its territory beneath silver birch and ash. We'll be contributing our first flower and animal sightings to the Woodland Trust's Nature's Calendar.

 

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Dog's mercury (Mercurialis perennis) - first flower this year was recorded on 13th January

© Jonathan Jackson

 

But what is most striking is the volume of bird song this week! After crossing the threshold of the Garden the traffic noise of Cromwell Road melts away and a symphony takes over inlcuding the medodic song of blackbirds and robins, rich trills and 'Tshews' from a flock of greenfinches, a medley of calls from blue, great and long-tailed tits, the occasional sound from our moorhen couple, and more.

 

There are flashes of red and yellow from goldfinches, and blue and yellow as blue tits whirr across our pathways. Territories are being established, courtship is in progress - and in some cases nesting material is already being transported to niches within ivy-clad trees:

 

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A female blackbird was observed building a nest in ivy this week but here the male is feeding up on ivy berries

The supply of rowan berries referred to in recent blogs is finally exhausted!

© Jonathan Jackson


And to nest boxes, and the eaves of our garden shed:

 

DSC_0674 (Custom).JPGA wren started building here this week, the site was then taken over by a robin and now is currently vacant...

© Larissa Cooper

 

 

But not to hedges where there is too little camouflage just yet:

 

DSC_0399 catkins (Custom).JPGCatkins amongst the bare branches of one of our laid hedges

© Jonathan Jackson

 

Hazel catkins broke hedge dormancy in early January and now white flowers appear on the bare branches of blackthorn (Prunus spinosa).

 

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Our first blackthorn flowers opened on 18 February

© Jonathan Jackson

 

This is our earliest flowering native shrub in the Wildlife Garden (and elsewhere). Clouds of white blossom are already visible in hedges in the countryside. One of the many country sayings relating to Blackthorn is that its flowering is said to coincide with a cold spell - but not this week. More blackthorn country sayings and uses can be found on Roy Vickery's website of Plantlore.

 

Blackthorn is a spikier relative of hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) - and an excellent hedge companion, quick growing and providing good nest sites amongst a network of spiny branches and thorns. And, in autumn, sloes are food for berry-eating birds.

 

But this shrub and hedgerow plant is beneficial to many other species: providing nectar for early flying insects such as the tree bumble bee (Bombus hypnorum), first sighted in the garden this year on 15 February; and buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) observed on 6 March.

 

It's one of the larval food plants for many beautiful moth species including sloe midget (Phyllonorycter spinicolella), tufted button (Acleris cristana), clouded silver (Lomographa temerata) and the brimstone moth (Opisthograptis luteolata), all of which have been recorded here. You can read more about moth recording in the Wildlife Garden, by Lepidopterist Martin Honey in the Spring issue of evolve - the Museum's quarterly magazine.

 

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Brimstone Moth - this particular specimen was caught in our light trap on 6 August and released the following morning

© Florin Feneru

 

This week also we were shown the concept plans for the redesign of the Museum grounds, some of which included some surprising suggestions for the Wildlife Garden - you can read about this competition at Malcolm Reading Consultants.

 

Its been a fine Spring week but March is a capricious month and country sayings about the blackthorn weather may yet ring true.

 

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Coltsfoot (again)

© Derek Adams

 

In the meantime we intend to hold on to our Spring optimism in the Museum's Wildlife Garden and continue to promote and conserve biodiversity here in the heart of London.

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The first flowers of the season are now bravely emerging - primrose, coltsfoot, wild daffodil and sweet violet - a welcome sign of spring and a reward for the hours spent raking plane tree leaves! These plants would have been submerged below thick piles of plane tree leaf litter, had we not removed the plane leaves last autumn - one of the tasks described by Nicky in the second part of her year in the life of a Wildlife Garden volunteer:

 

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Wild daffodil, Narcissus pseudonarcissus, on 22nd February

Image © Jonathan Jackson

 

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Sweet violet, Viola odorata, on 22nd February

Image © Jonathan Jackson

 

“As autumn arrives, the Wildlife Garden closes in October to the public to enable vital maintenance work to take place. The sheep are here grazing the meadow, and people are often surprised to see them in central London. With waders on I help to clear the pond of overgrown plants, hoping I won’t fall in.


The Garden is surrounded by plane trees which are non-native and protected but, as the leaves start to fall, the huge job of raking and recycling the leaves begins. The light levels are low now, the air crisp and us happy band of volunteers set to work.

 

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A thick layer of plane tree litter in December!

Image © Derek Adams

 

 

As I rake carefully around the plants and gather up the leaves, the soil is exposed and I notice a little robin is watching me, pleased that an unlucky worm or two is to be had. I see something else move and go in to investigate, and find a frog that probably isn’t too pleased about being disturbed.

 

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A robin, Erithacus rubecula

Image © Phil Hurst

 

“Excuse me but could you tell me if the huge department store is this way?" Startled, I look up at the railings on the street, “Yes just keep walking and it’s on your right, you can’t miss it”. For a moment I had forgotten that I was in the centre of a major city. There is a constant hum of cars and sirens and chatter of people outside the fence around the Garden, yet I hardly notice it as there are too many other things to grab my attention.


The autumnal colours are wonderful, the bright yellow cherry tree leaves and the red and green spindle leaves with cerise coloured berries are magnificent. Is that a fox in the trees who’s been watching me?  In a second he’s gone.

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Autumn colours

Image © Derek Adams

 

As the light starts to fade I look up at the Museum and it takes on a whole new look. I must confess the glass front of the Darwin Centre next to us gives some fantastic views and if I find the time I like to ride up and down in the lift just to take in that of the Wildlife Garden. I’m sure that wasn’t on any list of attractions!

 

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The Wildlife Garden as viewed through the windows of the Darwin Centre in December last year

Image © Sue Snell

 

When it's almost dark in the Garden, it’s time to go; the arrival of the Museum's Ice Rink and its accompanying carousel that light up the other side of the lawn is a sure sign Christmas is approaching. One last look before I head for home, I smile to myself and think what an amazing place.”

 

We look forward to another year working with Nicky.