Tuesday, 19 July 2016

No water voles on Radley Brook?

Several water vole colonies feature in this blog, obviously the River Ock in Abingdon - where this blog gets its name (http://viewsoftheock.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/along-lower-ock.html), Abbey Fishponds in North East Abingdon (http://viewsoftheock.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/abbey-fishponds.html) and Radley Brook (http://viewsoftheock.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/water-voles-of-radley-brook.html), a stagnant ditch between the river Thames and Barton Fields Nature Reserve.


Most years - on Radley Brook - water voles can be heard munching on the reeds, or glimpsed amongst the foliage or even enticed out with an apple core.

But this year, there is nothing to be glimpsed along the brook


The reeds remain silent:


And the apple cores remain uneaten.


It seems to be a bad year for water voles in Abingdon...

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Microsculpture

The University of Oxford Natural History Museum (http://www.oum.ox.ac.uk/) is often featured in this blog and it has recently opened a temporary exhibition called Microsculpture, consisting of a series of exquisite photographs of 22 of the museums 5 million specimens from its Hope Entomological collection.

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Photographer Levon Biss has used a microscope lens to painstakingly take 8000 photographs of different parts of each subject, each with its own lighting arrangements and then combined them to produce these remarkable images, such as this orchid cuckoo bee:
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The exhibition also includes the actual insects, which demonstrates Bliss's remarkable talent in showing the exquisite beauty of these insects.
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Such as the Jewel longhorn beetle:


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And he has shown the Mantis Fly can look like something from a science fiction nightmare:
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Even the most mundane of British insects, like the blow fly, is shown to be just as magnificent as any of the exotic ones featured in the exhibition.
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The exhibition runs until the 30th October and is highly recommended to anyone in the locality or anyone visiting Oxford.

For those not fortunate enough to be able to visit, the exhibition has it's own website: http://microsculpture.net


Saturday, 18 June 2016

The orchids of Radley Lakes

It is somewhat surprising that Radley Lakes does not feature more often in this blog.
A collection of lakes formed by quarrying has produced a wildlife oasis in North East Abingdon: where otters can occasionally be seen swimming in the lakes; hobbies feeding on the abundant dragonflies; barn owls quartering over the nearby meadows and even the occasional migratory osprey stopping off as it heads to Africa for the winter.

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Not only are the lakes are a magnet for wildlife, but the poor quality soil means it is ideal habitat for some of our most impressive flowers - orchids.
The most obvious are the clumps of common spotted orchids.
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Elsewhere, the pyramidal orchids are starting to flower.
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Probably the most impressive of the local orchids is also the most difficult to find. The flowers of a bee orchid are less than 1 cm wide and occur in small groups.
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The distinctive flower has evolved for pseudocopulation - achieving pollination through emulating a female insect which attracts a male,  which tries to copulate with the flower, resulting in a frustrated male and a pollinated flower.
Unfortunately for the bee orchids at Radley Lakes, the bee it attempts to mimic is extinct in the UK and hence it relies on self-pollination to reproduce.
The resultant seeds are microscopic and can be blown for hundreds of miles to try and find suitable habitat, where not only will it try to find an insect to help spread it genes, but also a symbiotic fungus; its seeds are so small they do not have any food for the early stages of growth, and so extract it from the fungus.
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Whilst the orchids are impressive, they can be as elusive as the otters, owls and osprey, it is a more common plant which is probably the most attractive. The low nutrient soil restricts the growth of dominant grasses, with the result of thousands of ox-eye daisies turning a disused quarry into a fantastic vista.
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Friday, 27 May 2016

Otters 2016

There have been many highlights in the 7 years of writing this blog, but no doubt one of them has been seeing and recording the activities of otters on the Ock.
First seen in May 2011 were at a female otter and her two cubs:
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There then followed nine other sightings, including this one in June 2011 - in broad daylight. 


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Whilst the Eurasian otter can live up to 20 years in captivity, in the wild, they are lucky to make it to 4 years old, with sexual maturity occurring at 18 months for females.

Hence, the otter in the photographs above have almost certainly died, maybe this otter, seen in 2013 is one of the cubs having reached maturity or maybe even it's a grand-cub.
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This was the last sighting for three years, yet it's apparent that otters were still resident in the Ock as their droppings (known as spraints) could occasionally be found, the most recent in March 2016:

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And then, whilst looking for water voles in April this year, there was a very unexpected encounter with another otter - on the same stretch where the first otters were recorded. So unexpected it had dived out of sight before a decent photograph could be taken.
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So perhaps this otter could then be the great grand-cub of the otter first seen back in 2011....

But perhaps not, one of the reasons Eurasian otters have short life spans in that they are fiercely territorial and inflict horrendous injuries - often fatal - on each other.  

So maybe this otter is not even related to those seen 5 years ago, perhaps it is a descendant of a different otter which moved into the Ock and displaced or killed the resident female? 

But it may not even be a female, it could be a male with territories in the Abingdon area seeking a female?

As with otters, they often raise more questions than answers, but whatever its lineage or gender, it's just great to know these wonderful and seldom seen animals are still present on our small and somewhat insignificant river

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Peregrines of Aylesbury

Like many market towns, there is no specific reason the largest town in Buckinghamshire, unless like me you are visiting your mother in law.
It is the hometown of 80's neo-prog rock group Marillion,  a splendid new theatre and an attractive market square:



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But Aylesbury's most easily identifiable land mark is the 12 story edifice known locally as Pooley's Folly (after it's architect, Fred Pooley).
This building is home to the county reference library, the register office and a pair of the most impressive animals in world - peregrine falcons.
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This magnificent animal can can be seen from various view points in the town, but probably the best view is from the top floor of the Friars Square car park
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This year the pair have had four eggs, three of which hatched - one of which died prematurely.
The two remaining chicks are doing well and can be watched on a fantastic web cam:  http://aylesburyperegrine.org.uk/overhead%20cam.htm

Saturday, 23 April 2016

The fritillaries of Magdalen College

There are many reasons to be grateful for living near the university city of Oxford:

The Ashmolean and University of Oxford Natural History Museum (http://viewsoftheock.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/return-to-oxford-natural-history-museum.html) are world class museums.
The Botanic Gardens are always fascinating with its glass houses and flower borders.
To the east, hours can be spent wondering around Wytham Woods (http://viewsoftheock.blogspot.co.uk/2010/10/way-through-woods.html).

And then there are the 38 colleges which make up the University, whilst Christchurch is possibly the most famous, Madgalen College is probably the best one to visit in spring

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As famous for its alumini (Oscar Wilde, T.E. Lawrence, Thomas Wolsey and C.S. Lewis was a Fellow) as for its impressive buildings, it is the grounds which make the college worth visiting at this time of year.
Situated on an island in the river Cherwell, the water meadow, with its the snake's head fritillaries in their thousands that catch the eye. 



This stunning plant has previously been mentioned in this blog (http://viewsoftheock.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/fritillary) as the water meadows of Oxfordshire are one of its last strong holds and the display at Magdalen College must be one of the most impressive.


And from Addison's walk (the name of the patch around the water meadow) the fallow deer can be seen in the deer park.
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But it is Fellow's garden, across a bridge over the Cherwell, which is the most impressive sight.  Where the fritillaries mix with a variety of daisies and daffodils to produce a most splendid vista.
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And the nearby woods provide opportunities for some of most arresting wildlife, such as this Jay:
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And as a bonus, those who live near Oxford (with an OX1.. postcode) can get in for free with suitable ID.

Friday, 25 March 2016

Standing in the footsteps of Dinosaurs

Most wildlife enthusiasts visit the Isle of Wight to see Red Squirrels (as this blog did back in 2011: http://viewsoftheock.blogspot.co.uk/2011/03/tale-of-two-squirrels.html) an animal that is almost extinct in most parts of the UK.
But in autumn last year we visited with the intention of finding signs of an animal that became extinct 120 million years ago - dinosaurs.
Back then the Isle of Wight was part of a large river complex  of rivers, swamps and ponds that stretched from the south of England through northern Europe, where over 20 species of dinosaur lived, mated and died and over time the swamps turned to rocks and the rocks became cliffs and the dinosaur bones turned to stone. Like this iguanodon  foot sited in the Dinosaur Isle museum:
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But it's not only bones that become fossilised, buy on occasion the dinosaur's footprints do as well, like these at Hanover Point on the island's south coast.

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The three toed footprint matching the remains of the iguanodon which was found nearby.
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The footprints fossils were formed by the imprint of the dinosaur foot being filled with mud and sediment, this gradually tuned to white rock sandstone and formed the distinctive cast while the rest of the stone was eroded.
Although some aren't as obvious as others:



It's not just dinosaurs that have left their mark on the beeches of the Isle of Wight, there are countless fossilised shells:
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And even fossilised wood, from the time when the area was covered in forests - perhaps even browsed upon by the same animals which left these footprints.
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