Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Nature of Corsica 10: Birds

Red Kites and crows
With a trip list for the week of only 66 species, Corsica was not the most species-rich place I have been birding, and birds were often hard to find, but we got good views of the endemic Corsican Nuthatch on several occasions, and the also endemic Corsican Finch twice. The Crossbills we found are not classed as an endemic species at present, but are classed as an endemic subspecies Loxia curvirostra corsicana. Taxonomy of the various forms of L. curvirostra is perhaps best described as “challenging” – there are numerous localised forms with different beak sizes depending on the dominant conifer cones they feed on, and many of these are prone to irruptive dispersal when the cone crop fails.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Nature of Corsica 9: Mammals

Free range domestic pig
Unfortunately, the only mammals we actually saw on Corsica were domesticated pigs and goats. One wild mammal however features very prominently in Corsican ecology, culture, and cuisine – the wild boar Sus scrofa. Hunting is a major pastime on Corsica, and when we were there it was a peak of the hunting season. More or less every day we would see trucks go by with hunting parties, and often heard shots from the hunters. I have to say that wild boar stews are extremely tasty. For those who have not eaten it, wild boar is a very dark, lean meat more like venison than pork.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Nature of Corsica 8: Reptiles

P.tiliguerta male
There are of course many species of reptiles on Corsica, but as this was a mainly bird and botany focussed holiday we did not go seeking them out especially. Despite this, we found at least three species of lizard, including the endemic Tyrrhenian Wall Lizard Podarcis tiliguerta. This was the most widely seen of all the lizards we found, occurring from sea level up to altitude, and they were obvious whenever the sun was out and they could bask.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Nature of Corsica 7: Corsican Fire Salamander
Widespread across Europe, North Africa and Parts of Turkey and the Middle East can be found a variety of species of large, warningly coloured salamanders. They vary from all-black in the Alpine Salamander S.atra to almost all-yellow in some forms of S.terrestris. In warmer climates they are mostly found at altitude, but in northern Europe they are found close to sea level. Their typical habitat is woodland, either deciduous or pine, but most forms require permanent or near-permanent water for their larvae, usually in the form of shallow streams.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Nature of Corsica 6: Butterflies

Common Blue, P.icarus
Butterflies were common across the island, and in the course of the week we saw at least 19 species, of which two are endemic to the island. Of the rest, many have a range centred on the Mediterranean, while a few are resident year round in the UK or are summer migrants to Britain.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Nature of Corsica 5: Assorted Insects

Dragonfly - possibly Sympetrum striolatum
Insect life we found in Corsica after the hot dry summer was at a lower ebb than I might have expected, but there was still much to be found when we went looking. I will do a separate post on the various butterflies, but in this post I will cover some of the more interesting insects we found.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Nature of Corsica 4: Trees and Shrubs

Umbrella Pine, Pinus pinea
With very little level ground for fields, most of northern Corsica that we saw is covered with forest and scrub.  Starting at the coast, on sunny hillsides can be found Euphorbia dendroides, Tree Spurge, the only non-herbaceous Euphorbia native to the mainland of Europe. It has a range around the Mediterranean, but because of its ornamental appearance it has been used in gardens in other parts of the world. As with many such plants, in some places it has “jumped the fence” and become an invasive weed in some places (California for example). This is especially a problem as like all Euphorbias it has a toxic latex and may cause dermatitis in people who come in contact with it

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Nature of Corsica 3: Herbaceous plants

In areas with more constant water supply, such as by the sides of streams or under trees, there are a wide variety of herbaceous plants and shrubs, many of which are known as ornamental garden plants or as culinary or medicinal herbs. One of the most ornamental of those in flower at the time of our visit is the Willow Gentian, Gentiana asclepiadea. This is a much taller growing plant than the alpine gentians more familiar to most gardeners, and reached around 70cm in some of the clumps we found – these were mostly by the edge of streams. In cultivation they need humus-rich, moist soil in shade, similar to their native habitat, which is primarily montane woodland across Europe from the Alps eastwards. Although the usual form has deep blue flowers, pale forms are also found – see the example below:

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Nature of Corsica 2: Bulbs

Cyclamen hederifolium
Before the arrival of people, Corsica and Sardinia were home to a range of endemic large mammals. Although these are now sadly gone, there are still a huge range of native plants, many endemic to the island, although they are usually closely related to those in Italy or other parts of southern Europe, especially those around the coast. At higher elevations are found plants more widespread across Europe and into Asia across the temperate and alpine zones. Many are spring flowering, but other flower all year or only in the autumn, so I got some reasonable photos. I will cover them over the next few posts, but I will start with the bulbs and others.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Nature of Corsica 1: Backgound to the island

In September I went on a trip with Naturetrek to spend a week in search of the birds and other wildlife of Corsica. For those of my readers who are unfamiliar with Europe, Corsica is a mountainous island west of Italy and in sight of the coast of France, with Sardinia to the south and the Balearic islands to the west. Geologically, the two islands started as a microplate which split from the coast of Spain around 20 million years ago and then rotated counterclockwise, eventually losing contact with the mainland around 5 million years ago, aside from brief connections during glacial periods when sea level dropped.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Wildplace 8: Okapi

Male Okapi "Rubani", Wildplace
The most important of the species currently at Wildplace is the Okapi. When Wildplace opened last year there were two, but the section is being expanded so that more animals will be held, including one of the two currently at Bristol and another coming from another zoo.
Reticulated Giraffe
Nigerian Giraffe
Masai Giraffe

When people first see an Okapi, they often think it is some kind of zebra because of its stripes, but actually it is one of the few living species of giraffe. The giraffe family is most closely related to deer of all things, and in the past was much more widespread, with fossils known from both Europe and Asia – in fact it seems that the giraffe family first appeared in Europe around 20 million years ago and only later entered Africa, with the ancestors of the Okapi and the long-necked giraffes entering the continent separately.. The Okapi is probably the closest in appearance to the ancestral form, with the long-necked giraffes appearing later. Incidentally, although everyone talks about “the” giraffe, if you consider them in detail, long-necked giraffes come in a variety of colour patterns, number of “horns” (technically called ossicones). Today, it seems more likely that there several, perhaps as many as six, species of long-necked giraffe, some of which are now reduced to only a few hundred individuals.

Okapi are not in quite as bad a state as that, but the population in areas where study is possible (this being the Congo basin, study of such a rare and secretive animal is anyway very difficult) have shown serious declines and the total wild population is probably under 10,000, a 75% decline from a decade ago. Currently it is classed by the IUCN as Endangered.

In the wild Okapi are solitary, with large home ranges. They keep in touch with their neighbors with scent marking, including marking their trails with scent glands between their toes. The diet comprises mainly leaves, with some fruits on occasion, grasses, or even fungi. To compensate for toxins in their diet, wild Okapis eat charcoal from lightning-struck trees and eat mineral-rich mud. Females are larger than males, and most of the time are dominant to them which means they get the best food. Even so, spare resources for growing a baby to term are in short supply, and Okapi pregnancies are consequently long – just under 15 months.

Newborn okapis spend a lot of time resting up in thickets. To avoid the smell of their faeces attracting predators such as leopards, okapi babies have an odd habit of waiting many days after giving birth before beginning to produce dung – as long as 41 days has been recorded is usually less.

The calves grow fairly fast, and after are full grown at three years. The lifespan of an Okapi can be as long as 30 years in captivity, although 15 – 20 is more typical.

Live Okapi  were first imported to Europe in 1918, but at first the stress of capture and transport by ship resulted in high mortality. Bristol Zoo received the first Okapis in 1961, and was the first zoo in the UK to breed them. Since then many have been produced, with two from the current Bristol Zoo female Lodja in the last four years. Lodja will be moving up to Wildplace once the new enclosures are completed.
One of the problems with captive breeding programmes is maintaining the genetic integrity of the various source populations. Before the complexity of the taxonomy of the various (sub)species of long-necked giraffe was fully realised it was common to mix them, with the result that many zoos now hold animals which are hybrids and useless for conservation purposes. Now these hybrids are being progressively removed from the captive population and separate studbooks are maintained so that pure-breeding groups of the original forms are maintained. The situation with Okapi is not so bad, but it does appear that there is considerable genetic structure in the wild population, as a result of the species being repeatedly confined to refugia of suitable habitat as the rainforest expanded and shrank during the Pleistocene. The most important barrier between okapi populations today is the Congo River, although there seems to be some gene flow across the river. For more on this, a recent study on PLoS One might be of interest:

·         Distinct and Diverse: Range-Wide Phylogeography Reveals Ancient Lineages and High Genetic Variation in the Endangered Okapi (Okapia johnstoni) David W.G Stanton et al Published: July 09, 2014 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0101081
This brings an end to this series on the animals of Wildplace. Next time, I will start a new series – subjects to be determined, so watch this space.

(Okapi photos are mine, Giraffe from Wikipedia)

Friday, 10 October 2014

Wildplace 7: Red River Hog

Red River Hog
Although not especially rich in species, pigs are found naturally all over the Old World except Australasia, and have been introduced to both Australasia and the Americas, with feral domestic pigs being one of the most destructive of invasive species. Domestic pigs are of course derived from the very widespread Eurasian Wild Boar, but in Africa as well as the domestic pig one of the commonest sources of bushmeat are related species of wild pig, the bushpig Potamochoerus larvatus and the subject of this article, the Red River Hog Potamochoerus porcus 

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Book Review: Extinct Madagascar: Picturing the Island's Past

Details: Extinct Madagascar: Picturing the Islands Past by Steven M.Goodman and William L.Jungers, plates by Velizar Simeonovski. Available from Amazon.

Red Bellied Lemur
I thought I would add an occasional post for book reviews that might be of interest to readers, so I am starting with this one. It is an overview of the recently extinct fauna of Madagascar, of which there is sadly far too much, as anyone who is interested in the current ecological disaster on the island will be well aware. Part 1 covers the geological history, colonisation history (both animals and humans), and the vegetational types on the island. Part 2 is structured around a series of colour plates of sites where subfossil remains of the fauna have been located, accompanied by descriptions of the animals illustrated and what the various sites mean for the complex history of the island over the 2000 or so years since human beings colonised the island.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Wildplace 6: Boreray Sheep

Boreray Sheep
One of the minor but more curious stories in the complicated history of Britain is the story of St Kilda. Located in the Outer Hebrides, it is the most isolated of the archipelago, and today at least is uninhabited except for sea birds, which have the largest colonies in Britain. Up until the 1920’s it had been continually inhabited since at least the Bronze Age, if not earlier, but contact with the outside world for the few hundred (at most) inhabitants was only every few months at best, and in the winter storms they were cut off for much of the year. By historical times they were Gaelic-speaking, living a subsistence=level existence based around small farms, a few sheep, and harvesting young from the vast seabird colonies that are still a feature of the island and its associated offshore sea stacks.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Wildplace 5: Grey Wolf

Part of the aim of Wildplace is to show animals which were once part of the natural fauna of Britain, and one of the most iconic of all extinct British animals is the wolf. Once so numerous in Britain that tributes were levied in wolf skins, and guards were employed to protect sheep flocks, they became extinct in England by the 15th century, and in Scotland by the late 17th century. In Ireland they persisted until the 18th century.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Wildplace 4: Pigmy Goats

Pigmy Goat
One of the longest domesticated animals (after the dog) in the world is the domestic goat. From its original home in Asian mountains, it has travelled with humans all over the world, and unfortunately it is also one of the ecologically destructive. Despite this, it is also one of the most useful of all domestic animals, as its appetite for vegetation of all kinds makes it a prime converter of inedible plants into meat that humans can eat, and milk that they can drink. With such a long history, numerous breeds have been developed for more specialised purposes, from dairy to wool to meat. At Wildplace the goats are part of the Malagasy Village, and are one of the most commonly seen breeds in a display situation, the Pigmy Goat.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Wildplace 3: Guineafowl

The next exhibit along the path is the Malagasy village and lemur walk through. The first section is linked to a project that Wildplace and Bristol Zoo support on the Sahamalaza peninsula in the remote north west of Madagascar, where the researchers are investigating the endemic Blue-Eyed Black Lemur and Sahamalaza Sportive Lemur among other species of this little-known region. As with all the habitats on Madagascar there is grave human pressure from subsistence farming and bushmeat hunting, and so the consortium of organisations also support local education, improvements in farming practises, and healthcare in order to simultaneously increase local support and hopefully reduce pressure on the environment. For this reason the visitor first passes through a village exhibit, with a open-fronted primary classroom like the ones that the zoo supports, and typical farm animals that one might encounter. The first of these is a small flock of chicken-sized domestic poultry, guineafowl.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Wildplace 2: Common Eland

Sharing the zebra paddock are two young male Common Eland, Taurotragus oryx. There are three subspecies – I am not sure which the Wildplace animals are, but probably the southern subspecies T.oryx oryx. The only other species in the genus is the Northern or Giant Eland, T. derbianus. Also closely related are the eight species of Tragelaphus, including Kudu and Sitatunga. These are placed in the subfamily Bovinae of the family Bovidae, which means that although commonly called “Antelopes” they are actually more closely related to cattle than to the smaller members of the family which are often generically referred to with the same English name.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Wildplace Project Animals: Plains Zebra

Plains Zebra
A year ago Bristol Zoo finally opened its long planned development at Wildplace, located at Hollywood Towers Estate near Bristol by the M5. A lot of the site is old woodland, which makes it a good site for birders to visit, especially in the spring. Butterflies are also plentiful.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Hornbills 4: Von der Decken's Hornbill

Von der Decken's Hornbill (male)
The only African hornbills in the collection are rather smaller than the species I have covered up to now, and occupy a very different environment. The Von der Decken’s Hornbill, Tockus deckeni, is an aridland species associated with thorn scrub and similar habitats in East Africa, along the rift valley from Ethiopia south into Tanzania. In this habitat food is harder to come by than in Asian rainforest, and they feed mainly on the ground, taking fruit, seedpods, insects, and small vertebrates. With such a large range, and a lifestyle that makes it a bird that is opportunistic when it comes to taking advantage of resources that must be variable in location and availability, they seem to be surviving well at present, and are evaluated as Least Concern by the IUCN. The most likely threats are destruction of potential nesting trees and habitat fragmentation.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Hornbills 3: Tarictic Hornbill

With an estimated world population of only 1800 birds, the Visayan Tarictic Hornbill Penolopides panini is probably one of the rarest hornbills in the world. Already one subspecies, P.panini ticaensis from the island of Ticao is extinct as a result of deforestation, despite being describes as “abundant” in 1905, which makes it the first known extinction in historic times of any hornbill taxon. Complicating the picture is that the species formerly included at least five other closely related species which have since been split. Unfortunately, before this was realised some had been crossed in the captive population, resulting in hybrids which were useless from a conservation point of view.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Hornbills 2: Malayan Black Honbill

Currently living next door to our Wrinkled Hornbill is  female Malayan Black Hornbill, Anthracoceros malayanus. A male is off show at the moment, but will hopefully join her shortly. They originate from South East Asia, which is a centre of diversity for the Bucerotiformes. Among the close relatives of hornbills are the hoopoes, kingfishers, rollers, and woodpeckers. Most of these were originally grouped together in the Coraciiformes, but these have now been split into separate orders.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Hornbills 1: Wrinkled Hornbill

Scattered around the zoo we have several pairs of various species of hornbills, the distinctive, medium-sized to large birds that are among the most recognisable of forest birds in the Old World tropics. With around 55 species currently recognised (although some of the island species in Asia may be split), the hornbills fall into two natural groups. One contains the gigantic, terrestrial-feeding ground hornbills Bucorvus and their close relatives the Trumpeter hornbills in Bycanistes, which are grouped in the Bucorvinae. The other subfamily is the Bucerotinae, which includes all the other species. Bucorvines are restricted to Africa, while the Bucerotines are found in both Africa and Asia. Sadly, we do not have any ground hornbills at Bristol, but they are reasonably common in zoos around the world.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Quest for the Wild Canary 15: Conclusion - The Fortunate Islands?

Guanche Sanctuary, La Gomera
The human history of the islands is as complex, and in many ways as tragic, as the fate of its wildlife. The exact time when people first reached the islands is not clear, but seems to have been around 800 BC. From DNA analysis of ancient remains the population seems to have been related to the Berber people of North Africa. The date of colonisation is suspiciously close to the time when Phoenicians, originally from Tyre, were establishing colonies along the North African coast, of which the most famous was the arch-rival of Rome, Carthage. The Phoenicians were great navigors, whereas the locals seem to have been inland pastoralists, and although there were numerous conflicts with the incomers eventually a mixed Berber-Punic culture emerged. Presumably at some point around this time people reached and settled the islands, which are around 100km from the mainland at the closest point.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Quest for the Wild Canary 14: Canaries and other finches

Atlantic Canary
The canary is actually named for the Canary Islands, rather than the other way around as you might think. The name originates from the Latin name for the islands – Canariae Insulae “Island of Dogs” – a name allegedly given to one of the islands by the Mauretanian king Juba II as a result of the many large dogs found there, although it is possible that the ‘dogs’ were Monk Seals.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Quest for the Wild Canary 13: Warblers and others

Canary Island Chiffchaff
By now it will not surprise readers that there are numerous endemic taxa of warblers on the islands, but at least today there is only one classed as a full species, the Canary Chiffchaff Phylloscopus canariensis. We saw many of these on Tenerife, including in the middle of town, so any birders taking their families on a beach holiday should keep an eye out for it. They breed on the central and western islands, but a separate subspecies, P.canariensis exsul, was formerly found on Lanzarote (and possibly Fuerteventura) but is now extinct. Other Phylloscopus warblers on the islands are only passage migrants for the most part, but we were also lucky enough to see at least two wintering Yellow-Browed Warblers, P. inornatus. Yellow-Browed Warblers have increasingly wintered in western Europe (including even the UK) in recent years, but they do not breed closer than the Urals.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Mauritius video - highy recommended

Several year ago I began this blog with a series of posts on the island of Mauritius and its wildlife. The latest edition of the Mauritius Wildlife Foundation includes a link to a great Youtube video about the restoration of the habitat on Isle Aux Aigrettes - please check it out.

The video can be found here: 

Friday, 9 May 2014

Quest for the Wild Canary 12: Pipits, Wagtails, Thrushes and Chats

There is a wide range of endemic or near-endemic species and subspecies of insectivorous passerines on the Canaries, which reflects the complicated ecological history of the islands. As the only breeding pipit in the region, Berthelot’s Pipit Anthus berthelotti is found on the Canaries, Madeira, and some nearby smaller islands. I found it very confiding – the photo at the top of this post was taken from only a few feet away as it hopped around our feet in a car park on Fuerteventura. As with almost all pipits’ it is a ground nesting bird, which must make it vulnerable to feral cats, but despite this the species is doing well in its range, and is listed as Least Concern by the IUCN.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Quest for the Wild Canary 11: Larger Passerines

Common Raven
There is a wide variety of endemic or near-endemic passerines on the Canaries, but the most prominent large bird to be seen is the very widespread Common Raven. This is of a different race to the form found in Britain, and is classified as Corvus corax tingitanus, which is the same subspecies as is found across North Africa, and has a higher pitched call than the nominate subspecies. As a generalist and adaptable feeder, it must be a major nest predator of all species both native and introduced, and no doubt also feeds at rubbish tips or anywhere else food can be found. The one I photographed here was hanging around a coach stop on Fuerteventura and was obviously used to being fed by tourists.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Quest for the wild canary 10: Other non-passerines

Laurel Pigeon
Of the remaining non-passerines to be covered, the most important are the pigeons. Six species breed on the islands, of which two are endemic. We managed to see the two endemic pigeons, Laurel Pigeon Columba junoniae and Bolle’s Pigeon C.bolii, on La Gomera, after some searching in the laurasilva forest.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Quest for the wild Canary 9: Raptors and owls

F.tinnunculus canariensis
There is a reasonable diverse set of raptors in the islands, both residents and visitors, but there are no endemic species (at least today). There are however many endemic subspecies which are slightly different to the mainland forms found nearby in Europe and North Africa, some restricted to only a few islands and others also found on other islands in Macaronesia.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Quest for the Wild Canary 8: Houbara Bustard and Waders

Female Houbara Bustard, Fuerteventura
One of the key target species of any birding trip to the eastern Canary islands is the local race of Houbara Bustard Chlamydotis undulata fuerteventurae. With a total estimated population of around 500 individuals, possibly less, it is also one of the most endangered bird taxa on the islands, and indeed the world. In truth, the division between the island birds and those on the mainland, nominate undulata, is slight – mainland birds are slightly larger and paler. More significant is the split between the birds in North Africa and those in western Asia – these have now been split as McQueens Bustard on the basis of different courtship  displays. As February is the start of the breeding season, seeing the amazing courtship display of the male was a key goal, and we were fortunate enough to see several displaying males on our trip.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Quest for the Wild Canary 7: Seabirds

Cory's Shearwater
Oceanic islands are often famous for their seabird colonies, at least until introduced predators wipe them out, and before the arrival of humans the Canaries were surely no exception. Today almost all of the remaining breeding birds nest on offshore islands or inaccessible cliffs, but in the past they would certainly bred extensively on the mainland, especially as the islands had basically nothing that would prey on seabird chicks, not even the land crabs that are widespread in the tropics.  The only real limit would have been availability of food within reach of the nesting colonies.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Quest for the Wild Canary 6: Waterbirds and Gamebirds

Ruddy Shelduck - Fuerteventura
With the lack of natural bodies of water on the islands, almost all the waterfowl we saw on the islands were associated with man-made reservoirs. The most numerous duck was Ruddy Shelduck, Tadorna ferruginea. Unlike the Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna, which is widespread around the coasts of the UK, Ruddy Shelducks are mainly continental birds, with the bulk of the population ranging from the eastern Mediterranean across to south east Asia, which makes the Canary population the westernmost in the range.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Quest for the Wild Canary Part 5: Mammals

Barbary Ground Squirrel (Fuerteventura)
Volcanic islands far from the mainland often have no native terrestrial mammals aside from bats, but the Canaries prior to the arrival of humans had several native terrestrial mammals, and were also almost certainly a breeding site for the Mediterranean Monk Seal, a few of which still breed on the North African coast.  

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Quest for the Wild Canary Part 4: Reptiles and Amphibians

Tenerife Lizard
Reptiles of various species are usually good at colonising islands, and the Canaries are home to a diverse range of endemic lizards. There are no native snakes, and at present no native land tortoises, although fossil; ones are known. It is probable that in the past various species of sea turtles also nested, but today they are only seen at sea. The most common of these is the Loggerhead Turtle, Caretta caretta, which also breeds in the Mediterranean. There are even a few reports of Leatherback Turtles beaching on some of the eastern islands, but no proof of nesting or nesting attempts.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Quest for the Wild Canary Part 3: Insects

Canary Speckled Wood - Tenerife
With the huge variety of endemic plants and habitats on the various islands, it is not surprising that there is an even greater variety of endemic insects. On my trip the weather was not usually sunny enough to bring out a large variety of butterflies and dragonflies, but we still managed to see five species of dragonfly and eight species of butterfly.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Quest for the Wild Canary Part 2: Plants and habitats

Tricholaena sp, Teneriffe
The Canaries are famous for their flowers, and although as our visit was in February there was not a great number in bloom, the endemic plants are of great interest to botanists. One might expect the plants to be the same as you would find in Spain or North Africa, but when the islands first appeared above the sea the Mediterranean did not yet exist. Instead, the western end of the ancient Tethys Ocean still separated Africa and Eurasia, and the Atlantic was much narrower. The native flora of the islands, or at least the oldest elements of it, trace their origin to the vegetation that once grew on the northern and southern shores of the Tethys, which has since been obliterated by the northward movement of Africa and India.
Map of Miocene Europe as the Tethys was closing

Monday, 3 March 2014

Quest for the wild canary - part 1: Landscape and geography

Mt Teide, Teneriffe - inside the caldera
The canary is such a common cage bird that I expect hardly anyone ever thinks about where they come from, and I very much doubt that the word “canary” conjures up images of large explosions or the possible devastation of much of the seaboard of the east coast of the United States. However, I hope that by the time these posts are finished, you might have a better picture of the back story of one of the commonest cage birds in the world.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

New year, new births

This week Bristol released the news of the first successful birth of a pigmy hippo here at Bristol for many years. Names Winnie, she has just turned 1 month old and is the daughter of Sirana and Nato.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Bristol snakes 9: Northern Pine Snake

Northern Pine Snake
The last of Bristol Zoo’s snakes I will post about in this series is the impressive Northern Pine Snake Pituophis melanoleucus. These are some of the largest snakes in North America, and can grow as thick as my wrist and nearly 2m long.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Bristol snakes 8: Corn Snake

Corn Snake

Almost certainly the most commonly kept pet snake in the world, and tying with the Leopard Gecko and Inland Bearded Dragon as the default reptile pet, at least here in the UK, the Corn Snake Pantherophis guttatusis native to the south eastern United States, where it prefers fairly dry areas with plentiful rodent burrows.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Bristol snakes 7: Royal Python

Royal Python
As well as the various snakes on show in the Reptile House, the volunteers have several snakes that are used in the Animal Encounters talks. One of the most popular of these is the Royal Python, Python regius, of which we have three so that we can spread the workload between them. As I am sure most people are aware, Royals are one of the most popular pet snakes, owing to their small size (even large females seldom reach 1.5m) and usually placid demeanour, which makes them very good for handling.