NATURAL HISTORY

I love the natural world. It truly is a wealth of colour, information and wonder. I never cease to be curious about everything from the smallest ant to the tallest tree. We humans can learn much from nature - respecting it would be a good start. Our greed and arrogance is decimating the flora and fauna of this planet but that's thought for another day on another forum. Here, I want to celebrate the Natural World. I am not a philanthropist per se.Genuine human suffering I feel deeply about but in general I also want to do something for the flora and fauna of this world - after all they cannot speak for themselves can they?


Photograph A: Take a good look at the photo immediately below. What do you see? Have a good hard look.



If you looked really carefully you will have seen a spider camouflaged against the lichen on the tree bark. Here she is in Photograph B, below

Did you spot anything else? Photograph C (below) shows that the spider was in fact a mother guarding a nursery and here are her offspring - that sit just above her in the original photograph - almost invisible against the tree. Now tell me that Natural History is not fascinating?

It just goes to show only one of the wonders of nature - the art of camouflage. Not only is the spider able to remain undetected by a predator, but it is also unseen by prey which walks by right into the jaws of death. These photographs also illustrate the notion that when walking in the rainforest it is not enough to look - you have to SEE.



Butterflies are so beautiful yet have such short lives. I have memories of watching the giant morpho species flashing by in the rainforest in Ecuador. These tremendous insects are thought to be the spirits of ancestors long since deceased and must be respected. My favourite butterfly of all is the Camberwell Beauty but I cannot recall ever seeing one in the wild in Britain, although I have of course seen live specimens.


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This is a lovely white lipped tree frog from Australia. Click on it for a closer look.





On the left we have one of my very favourite flowers. Brugmansia can be a little tricky to keep and they are a devil for attracting red spider mites but they are worth every minute of attention. Just look at that for a plant...WOW!

On the right is a photograph of a bee orchid I took in Warwickshire, at an undisclosed location. There's a lovely point to this story. The bee orchid grew in an area where the grass was regularly cut but due to cutbacks (no pun intended) the grass was left to grow -and so were the bee orchids. Therefore this beautiful plant grew as a result of human fiscal mis-management demonstrating that being efficient with money is not always a good thing. So much for the clever clogs bean counters...



CRYPTOZOOLOGY

What's that all about? Well I am not sure it belongs exclusively in Natural History but it's the best place I can put it on my site for now. One definition of Cryptozoology is derived from the Greek word 'hidden' and means 'the study of hidden animals' and is connected with the search for animals whose existence has not been proven. I am sure the experts will have a view but for me anyway this one holds. I do enjoy this area and I was honoured to be asked to speak at the Weird Weekend 2010. Find out more at this address. The CFZ




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This is a lovely tree that I photographed in Devon in August 2010. If it could speak, what tales would it tell? Click on it for a closer look.


This is one of favourite images. Two questions arise in my mind. Firstly how did it manage to get there and secondly how will it extricate itself from its precarious position? I will never know the answer to either question but it's a stunning shot that is more than just a photograph - it is a wonder of the Natural World.



This was a tremendous experience on Summer Solstice 2011. It's a Harris Hawk returning to the glove for a snack. These are extremely clever birds that can be trained to do many things inside one month of birth. I love the way they give a little twitch of their tail just to check that the feathers are okay before they engage in flight.


Take a look at this beauty which I managed to buy from an arachnological show. It's a male Galeodes arabacus and it lived only a few short days (alas) after maturing - which you can tell by the bright blue head. It's a solpugid or 'camel-spider' as people know it. Contrary to almost criminal popular belief, they don't kill you (they don't have venom glands) and they don't 'scream' either as they don't have vocal chords. Do they seem to run after you in the desert as some soldiers claim? Yes they do, but ask yourself why? It's not to eat you, but to stay in your shadow which is shade from the sun. All these stories of waking up with half an arm missing are nonsense - give it no credence. They do look frightening I admit but like anything in natural history if you stop a while and share some time with the subject matter you will develop that magical thing called understanding. Ladies and genetlemen I give you the wonderful
G. arabicus


These beautiful insects were found rignt outside my back door. They are Episyrphus balteatus commonly known by the rather lovely name 'Marmalade hover-fly'. Once I settled down by the dandelion they did not mind one bit, and I was able to study them for some time. They are abundant in most gardens in the summertime and they have been known to arrive in swarms from continental Europe. Aren't they just exquisite? The most remarkable thing about hoverflies of course is their flight. I study them for great periods of time and derive great pleasure in observing them going about their daily business. But oh, they live such criminally short lives though; their little colours all too soon fade away as old father time puts out the little marmalade stars one by one.


How about this little fellow then. It's a water dragon Physignathus cocincinus and it behaves as if it is dead (It's called catalepsy) if it thinks it is in danger. How comical. This specimen was in a pet shop and obviously fancied a rest with a bit of shut eye whilst it was being handled. He's perfectly alright. Of course, playing dead is not restricted to reptiles. Spiders do it as do many other animals - even humans are known to.


I had kept an eye on this ladybird all winter in my garden. She was in hibernation next to my oil tank and the first rays of a spring morning lit up the insect as it still lay dormant. It remains to be seen if this individual will become a victim of the now notorious harlequin ladybird this summer. What does lie in store for her? Will she be a meal for a spider, a bird or even a bat? Will she procreate and extend the gene pool? I rather hope so.


What a little smasher! This jumping spider from the family salticidae was zooming around on the wall outside my kitchen. Again it was taken in very early spring and she (I think it is female) seems to be enjoying the sunshine. There was a smaller thinner specimen a few inches below which I took to be the male but I could not get them close together which was a shame. Nevertheless this picture pleases me, not least because she is so beautiful. We have so many salticids in this country apparently and I am unable yet to positively ID this. Please let me know if YOU know. I was also happy because it is one of the first photographs I have taken with my rather expensive macro lens.


Next time you are out for a walk keep an eye out for the little things. They really are the epitome of good things coming in small packages. I was out walking the dogs and noticed this tiny mushroom, no bigger than one inch in total at the edge of a wood, all on its own. Good job I took the camera then. Fungi are fascinating and I intend to find more this year.


Whilst approaching my wheelie bins to throw rubbish out I notice this lovely web between them freshly made the previous evening. I simply had to photograph it. There was no sign of an occupant but isn't it beautiful? All that work, all that expended effort from the spider and seemingly nought to show for it in terms of a meal. I will call this - the architecture of rubbish.


I took this photograph in early March 2012 as the moss began to grow in earnest. Where is the moss here? It's on top of a grave in the churchyard in Hanwell, Oxfordshire. Even in death, beauty shows itself. It looks for all the world as if nature herself is holding tiny lights over the grave as if to keep the spirit alive...


What a cute asp! A neighbour rescued this lovely grass snake whilst demolishing/renovating a wall in his garden. Many people still think that here in England we do not have snakes in the wild. It was around mid-March 2012 when I made friends with this beauty. I brought it home (about 100 yards away) to photograph and I found a suitable place to release it. Hopefully this little baby won't be eaten or attacked by birds, squirrels or whatever else might try to eat it. It's the first time I have ever seen a baby grass snake and the very striking yellow band across the head is just one way to ascertain that it is not an adder. The sheer joy of sharing just a few minutes with this animal cannot be described in mere words. Suffice to say I was incandescent for the rest of the day. Safe journey my little friend...


I can never tire of photographing insects, particularly beautiful butterflies. Quite simply, the subject matter makes me smile. I mean look at the colour here. What is the purpose of being so colourful - of being this colour? I do not know from where this butterfly originates (help? but the markings could be camouflage, it could be a warning to others not to eat it or it could be something to do with courtship. It may be a combination of them all - and more.Either way it is an incredible work of art and it remains a constant source of bitter sadness that these creatures live but for a very short time. Doesn't it make YOU smile? I photographed this at one of my favourite places - the Butterfly Farm at Stratford-Upon-Avon and as always I am indebted to Carl Marshall for putting up with me and my barrage of questions. Please do visit not only the web site (below) but the actual Farm itself- you will not be disappointed.

Stratford Butterfly Farm


This gorgeous creature resides at a nearby falconry although of course it happens to be a barn owl. I used to see quite a few of these when I was a kid but it is no surprise to note that fields, trees and hedgerows have been ripped up for housing. Okay, we have to live somewhere but the decline of these beautiful raptors is shocking.


This Harris Hawk was photographed at the same falconry I mentioned above. It is simply marvellous to see them in flight and they are brilliant at catching rabbits which is why I would have wanted one in days of long ago to save me going out to catch my supper! Dravo Harris Hawk. Look at the colour, the symmetry and the pure gracefulness of that head, streamlined and hewn through the ages.


I think the look says it all on this birds face. 'get that camera away from me'. This was a tricky one to photograph as it was in a big run so I had to press the lens against the small bars so as not to ruin the photograph. I think owls are beautiful but pretty scary when handling them. I have seen one attack a human face and another attack the owner who was in all honesty showing off anyway so it served him right.


I photographed this little beauty on honeymoon. It was residing on a little bush in Norfolk on the grounds of Appleton Water Tower. I had to use the tripod for this spider but I love the lie in wait tactics it uses to ambush prey. There's no need to bust a gut building web when you can just hold on and wait for something to walk by!


I took many photographs of these flying gulls before I found this one so perseverence is the key with wildlife. This specimen was flying around the north Norfolk coast and I was taken with the ease at which these birds fly and the canny way they can spot a human with a bag of chips from a very long way away. How wonderful would it be to be able to fly?


It is so easy to walk by the little things. I first saw this on TV whereby a symbiotic relationship exists for the benefit of all. These ants are nursing black aphids, but why? Well, the aphids are an easy target for predators BUT they exude a honey type liquid out of their back end that the ants simply love. Therefore the ants say 'You give us some of this and we will look after you'. And look after them they do! I put my finger near the aphids and the ants quickly rallied round into attack mode. I withdrew respectfully. Marvellous - absolutely brilliant. Loacation: Appleton Water Tower, Norfolk.


Here we have an ichneumon. I think this is a male because it does not have an ovipositor which the females use to drill into wood to find the living larva of other animals and lay her eggs in it. The young would slowly feed on the larva, killing it but nourishing the insects for a new life. Parasitic or what? I think David Attenborough once said words to the effect of, If there was a God and he made all the animals, why make an animal that performs such as ghastly and vile act? Beats me? For me it's called evolution and indeed, survival of the fittest. It's a beauty for sure and my wife Susan pointed it out as it alighted onto this yellow plant. Again the location was Norfolk on a nature reserve on the north coast.


I am indebted to Carl Marshall from Stratford Butterfly Farm for always allowing me access to material to photograph. Mind you, this snake got a bit too close to the camera!


This gorgeous animal is a Greater Bamboo Lemur. It originates from Madagascar and there are reputedly only around 120 left in the wild. I photographed this mother protecting her youngster - at the Cotswold wildlife Farm in Oxfordshire. She wasn't protecting the youngster because I was around, they were in this position when I arrived and when I left.


If only these were found in my garden! This delighful bird is called Hildebrandts Starling. I don't really need to say anything other than to say enjoy the view...


Scarlet Macaws are extraordinary creatures. I photographed this pair in Costa Rica in January 2013. They were feeding on the Pacific beach at the Osa Peninsular. You would think that they would be easy to spot in the trees but actually they aren't. They made a wonderful noise and to see them in their own habitat instead of a cage was of course unforgettable.


This white faced-capuchin is like all capuchins an opportinist. It had taken time to crack the nut open and then scooped the contents out for a welcome meal. It was acutely aware of how close I was and kept a watchful eye but again, taking this shot of an animal in the wild was a great thrill. You don't have to be a good photographer, you have to be lucky and timing just cannot be bought over the counter. Oddly enough, people staying at the lodge I was in here in Costa Rica had gone out for the day into the rainforest to find - Capuchins. This fellow and a couple of others visited one of the trees right by the lodge!


I visited the Cotswold Wildlife Farm in Oxfordshire in February 2013. They have a section simply called 'Madagascar' where there are some very rare lemurs such as this Sifaka. I never even knew that such an animal existed and he was one of several different species of lemur roaming free in the enclosure. He had a mate and they clearly got on famously. Apparently there's only one female in captivity - I think in Holland. It is such a beautiful creature and I have placed some of my own footage of it on my You Tube page here:

SIFAKA ON YOU TUBE


One does not have to travel far in order to enjoy nature. Actually I find great pleasure observing the butterflies in my own garden. This summer my Buddlia plant had matured further and attracted a great many butterflies. Sadly I saw no Red Admirals at all, which used to be plentiful when I was a boy in Birmingham. There were however many large and small whites and Peacocks (photographed) which made a marvellous contrast in colour to the plant. The Peacock used to be known as the Peacock's Tail Butterfly and the caterpillars feed on nettles. Truly the saying 'make hay when the sun shines' is never more appropriate than for the butterfly. It is easy to see why butterflies are the most widely loved group of insects.


This garden orb web spider (Araneus diadematus) has caught a honey bee. I wanted to interject here but nature must take its course so I observed as one life was sustained and another was quite literally drained away. That's life, those are the cards that all animals and plants are dealt - including us.


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