Great Ramshorn Snail

Great Ramshorn Snail

Great indeed! What a big beauty of a water snail. Like me, you may well have come across smaller Ramshorns Snails in freshwater sites. But this species, the mighty Great Ramshorn Snail (Planorbaruis corneus) is really something to write home about!

The flattened coiled shell that resembles the characteristic horns of  male sheep can reach 3 cm in diameter. This individual is living up to that sizable reputation.

This species isn’t particularly uncommon, but it does struggle to colonize new water bodies, so tends to be  local to certain sites. Hence count yourself as lucky if you see one.

Ramshorn snails have special adaptations for living in small still water bodies, which often have low dissolved oxygen levels. Firstly they aren’t gill breathing snails (this strategy relies on high levels of dissolved oxygen in constantly moving water). Instead they have a lung within their shell, which means they can take in air from above the surface of the water.

Like other types of water snails with lungs, they can sometimes be seen hanging upside down on the surface tension of the water breathing air from outside of the water. However, unlike most other types of water snail, their body fluid contains the protein haemoglobin; the same substance which occurs in our blood and is responsible for absorbing oxygen and transporting it around the body. Haemoglobin is very unusual in molluscs, and means these snails make the most of utilising the oxygen they breath. It’s the red colouration of haemologlobin which gives our blood it’s pigment and gives these snails an orangey red tint to their shell and foot.

All in all, a pretty great snail!

 

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Treecreeper

Treecreeper

I spotted this Treecreeper in Hyde Park the other day. Treecreepers have always been in my top five birds; I love to watch their secretive tree trunk acrobatics. They travel from the bottom of a tree upwards, spiraling around the trunk, then along the branches looking for insects. Once they have thoroughly searched one tree, they fly to the base of the next and the process begins again. It is almost as if the Treecreeper is magnetic, and someone is moving a powerful magnet within the tree trunk; sometimes the bird follows the imaginary magnet smoothly, and other times it gets a bit stuck and needs to jerkily jump along to catch up. In fact Treecreepers do make jerky hops with both feet at once when ascending trees, they use their tails as props to help them balance. Long, very sharp claws allow these birds to hang upside down from the underside of branches. Their long slightly curved beak is the perfect tool for poking into bark crevices and retrieving weevils, beetles, moths, woodlice, spiders and others small prey items.  Their camouflage is superb, and very often it’s the jerky movement that gives away the birds presence. A true tree dweller living in the city!

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Wildlife Fun at Fulham Palace

For the two bank holiday Mondays in May, Wild Capital have run Wild Road Shows at Fulham Palace. Here are a few pictures from yesterday. The rain forced us inside but didn’t dampen our spirits; we still had lots of folks coming to say hello, meet the residents of Fulham Palace gardens and get stuck into some wildlife themed activities. We were delighted to be able to show people stag beetle grubs, and an adult lesser stage beetle. Fulham Palace gardens have a good supply of dead wood, vital habitat for these rare beetles. 

Wildlife road show

children's activitiesstag beetle larva

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May is for Mayflies

River surveying in the Thames today we found several mayfly nymphs; aquatic juvenile mayflies equipped with gills for underwater living. Mayflies spend most of their lives in this form.

Mayfly nymph

The adult life of a mayfly is very short, sometimes as brief as a single day. They take to the air for the purpose of finding a mate, the females lay eggs in water and shortly after they die. This striking picture of an adult mayfly was taken by Claudia Innes. I love the detail of the wings, beautiful!

Mayfly

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Family Wildlife Club

On Saturday we enjoyed the second session of the Oakwood Park Family Wildlife Club. Below you can read about the fun we’ve had over the first two sessions.

Family Wildlife Club Oakwood Park

Club Session 1: Spring into Spring

On the 22nd of March Wild Capital celebrated the very first of our Family Wildlife Club sessions at Oakwood Park, Enfield.  As I was setting up for the session the heavens opened with piercing horizontal hail stones! However it seemed the weather was ultimately on our side and once the session began hail blew over and the sun came out. The club is for children aged 5 to 12 and their families, with activities designed to be fun for adults as well as kids. We had a great turnout of 15 children and their families. This first session, “Spring into Spring”, focused on spring time goings on, particularly bird song.

We went for a bird spotting walk around the park and with a great team of spotters saw many species, including Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers. We enjoyed a round of Birdsong Bingo, hearing a huge array of different bird sounds, and shouting “bingo” in our loudest voices! Next it was time to stretch our wings with a couple of running around games about predators and prey. There were a few very speedy Sparrowhawks in the group! After two hours crammed full of discovery and fun it was time to call it a day, until the next session.

Club Session 2: Beneath the Surface

Community Pond Dip

On Saturday the 3rd of May, in the glorious sunshine, we enjoyed the second session of the Oakwood Park Family Wildlife Club. The club was full to capacity with 30 children coming along with their families! Our goal was to discover the watery world of Oakwood Park pond.

The session kicked off with a large scale pond dip. Adults and children were amazed at just how many daphnia were caught; uncountable numbers! They are an important part of the pond food chain. There were also water boatmen, water mites, pond snails, freshwater shrimp, worms, leeches and lots of larvae. Magnifying glasses provided close up viewing of the creatures caught. Pictorial keys allowed everyone to figure out what kinds of animal they were catching. Some wonderful observational drawings were produced. I particularly liked drawings of the “the squiggly larvae” and “the water mite who is celebrating his 6th birthday.”

After the pond dip we experienced what it is like to live as a pond creature, by acting out the different ways they breath. We used gills like a mayfly nymph and carried bubbles of air around with us like a water boatman.

Next we learnt about how mayflies begin life as an egg, live underwater as larvae then emerge as winged adults and make eggs themselves. This was a great excuse for a game! The “Magic Mayflies” took on the “Marvellous Mayflies” for a lifecycle relay race.

The day ended with the children putting out some seed for the ducks, coots and moorhens of Oakwood Park pond.

wildlife club gamesMayflies in flight!
The feedback from the first club sessions has been uniformly positive with all adults rating the club as a 9 or 10 out of 10 and all children describing it as “brilliant”. We look forward to future club sessions through the year. The club meets approximately every 6 weeks through 2014. Sessions are free, funded by Enfield Council, but booking is required.  See the Upcoming page for more information.

Contact us if you are interested in setting up a Wildlife Club in your area.

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Parakeet’s dusk performance

Ring-necked Parakeets flying in to roost at Wormwood Scrubs park. A total of over 1000 birds roost communally in trees here each night. The parakeets first gather in a pre-roost sites, where they arrive gradually in one and twos. This is a sociable time for the birds, and lots of chattering and squawking can be heard. Once a good number of birds have gathered they then fly in large groups to the main roost site and settle in for the night. Quite a spectacle; both the sight and the sound.

Parakeets flying on to roost

Parakeets flying on to roost 3

Parakeets flying on to roost 2

 

 

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New life on a miniature scale

Today I felt very privileged to witness a Small White butterfly laying an egg. The tiny yellow package of life in this picture had been in existence for less than a minute. What a powerful tribute to all the weeds which grow in the forgotten cracks and corners of London. We all need nature in our lives, look harder and you’ll find it.

Butterfly egg

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Richmond Park Nature Walk

Wood Anemones

Wood Anemones

During yesterday’s Wild Capital nature walk in Richmond Park we came across all kinds of natural wonders…

Richmond Park is the largest of all the Royal Parks; it is a National Nature Reserve, a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Conservation Area. We were lucky to be exploring the park in lovely sunshine today, with a cool wind reminding us that winter had not long passed. We began our activities at Pen Ponds car park with a coffee and a chat about our plan for the day. Soon after we were making our way down a path running through the centre of the park towards Isabella Plantation. A herd of Red Deer were not far away and we stopped to view them and discuss the 700 approx deer in the park, both red and fallow. Heading on we talked about the history of the park from the time of Charles I, and how a put-out brewer got the park reopened to the public in the 19th century.

Before us stretched the lowland acidic grassland which makes this park such an important site. The number of deer are carefully managed to keep the scrub and woodland and bay but not over graze this habitat. Everywhere we looked we could see ant hills belonging to Yellow Meadow Ants. These animals are aphid farmers and carry out most of their lives within the mounds, with queens and drones emerging on the wing to breed in July.  The ants provide a continuous food supply for the green woodpecker, and we were fortunate enough to have some great views of these birds today, including a pair enthusiastically pecking into the ant hills. We could make out the male with his red moustache.

Inside Isabella plantation is a different world of small ponds and exotic flowering plants including magnolias and camellias. Inside the pond we discovered a three-spined stickleback, mayfly nymphs, ramshorn snails, tubifex worms and some very early tadpoles! The water birds were all looking their finest for breeding, including a coot with neck feathers like velvet. Further into the gardens we came across a pair of glamorous mandarin ducks, several different bee species and a treecreeper, nicely described as a “tree mouse”.

On our return walk and drive round the park we spotted stock doves, more deer of both species and a huge number of jackdaws all paired up for breeding. We noticed how some of the red deer stags still retained last years antlers, whilst others had shed them and were already in velvet with this years antlers beginning to develop.

Red deer stag in velvet

Red deer stag in velvet

We finished the day with our packed lunches and then coffee and cake at Pembroke Lodge. A lovely end to a great day.

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Evening Wildlife Talk

Wildlife talk London

 

Last nights talk for the Chiswick Pier Trust; “From Hills to High Water; The Thames as a Wildlife Corridor”. Eels, flounder, otters, seals, shrimp and countless birds all starred during the evening, as did the charming water vole (pictured here). Some of the highest population densities of water vole in the UK occur along the Thames (such as at RSPB Rainham Marshes).

There was a great turn out for the talk and some brilliant comments and questions from the audience. I was particularly pleased to hear how many people have seen kingfisher along the Thames.

Keep an eye on the Wild Capital website and our social media sites for more upcoming talks and events, or contact us to arrange your own.

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