Saturday, 31 December 2016

Spain 8: Bustards

Breeding plumage male Little Bustard in the open - NB:This never happens
There are three species of Bustard that breed in Europe and I am glad to be able to say I have seen all three. Admittedly the Houbara Bustard only counts if you include the Canary Islands in Europe, when in terms of their location and endemic species they are more accurately part of North Africa, but they belong to Spain so I am going with it. This year I have had good views of the mainland species, Little and Great Bustard, in Portugal this spring and again in autumn in Spain.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Spain 7: Common Crane

Adult Common Crane
The Common or Eurasian Crane Grus grus is one of only four species of crane that is not threatened. In fact, it is increasing in Europe, and currently has a total world population of around 500,000 individuals. In Spain we found them at a major wintering ground at Lake Gallocanta. This lagoon in the south west of the province of Zaragosa is the largest staging area for migrant cranes in Europe, with perhaps 80% of the entire western European population using it on passage in both winter and spring. Left over grain and

Friday, 23 December 2016

Spain 6: Purple Swamphen

Purple Swamphen
At first sight the unmistakeable Purple Swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio looks like a Common Moorhen as reimagined by Disney. Although not at all closely related to any domestic hen, they are indeed chicken sized, except for their feet which seem designed for a bird about four times as big.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Spain 5: Eagles

Golden Eagle
In the UK we only have two breeding species of eagle, Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos and White Tailed Sea Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla. The rest of Europe has many more species, and this trip we managed to get good views of three, Golden eagle, Bonelli’s Eagle Aquila (formerly Hiraeetus) fasciatus and Booted Eagle Aquila pennatus.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Spain 4: Vultures

Griffon Vulture, Pyrenees
Raptors are always a draw for birders and the biggest of all are the vultures. This trip I had good views of two species – Eurasian Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus which I have seen before, and a lifer for me, the Lammergeier or Bearded Vulture Gypaetus barbatus. Spain has two other species, Cinereous Vulture (the largest species – it has a wingspan as great as a California Condor) and the Egyptian Vulture (the smallest vulture in Europe).

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Spain 3: Glossy Ibis

Glossy Ibis, Ebro delta
Only a few years ago, news of a Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus in the UK would result in a mass of birders descending on the area. These days they are a scarce but regular presence in wetlands, especially in England, and there has even been at least one (unsuccessful) breeding attempt. Even in December several are still present in the country. Further south much larger flocks can be found in Spain and the south of France, but the bulk of the European population is in Ukraine and Romania. Further afield this species is one of the most widespread of the worlds’ ibises, being found from Africa to Australia. Crossing the Atlantic around 150 years ago, in the same way as Cattle Egrets, they established themselves in Central America and have since spread both north and south, and have bred as far north as Canada.

Friday, 9 December 2016

Spain 2: Greater Flamingo

Greater Flamingo, Ebro Delta
  One of the most instantly recognisable birds in the world is the flamingo. Although usually associated with Africa and the Americas, there is actually quite a reasonable population around the north shores and islands of the Mediterranean, especially in Spain and the south of France.  The species involved is the Greater Flamingo, Phoenicopterus roseus., one of two living species found in the Old World, along with the Lesser Flamingo, Phoeniconais minor, which is almost entirely restricted to Africa. 

Friday, 2 December 2016

Spain 1: Red-Crested Pochard

Red Crested Pochard - male
 Although we saw several species of duck on the trip, one of my favourites is one of the showiest of Eurasian ducks, the Red-Crested Pochard. I have seen them many times before, but they are always a good bird to find. Males and females are quite distinct, with only males displaying the bright orange head that gives them their name.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Spain trip November 2016

Cliffs at Alquezar
A couple of weeks ago I spent a very pleasant week in northeast Spain on a trip organised by the tour company Ornitholidays, one of the oldest ecotourism companies in the UK. It was a three centre holiday, with us staying successively in the Pyrenees, near Lake Gallocanta, and finally at the Ebro delta. Target species were Common Crane, Lammergeier, and wallcreeper, and I am glad to say that we got good views of all, along with many other good species such as Little Bustard, Bonelli’s Eagle and Bluethroat.

Friday, 11 November 2016

12) Anemonefish

 Of course, the other famous fish in the latest animated movie this year is the anemonefish or clownfish. There are at least 30 species of these in the world’s oceans, all but one of them in the genus Amphiprion. The species currently on show are a pair of Percula Clownfish, A.percula.

Friday, 4 November 2016

11) Epaulette Shark

Epaulette Shark
 The last species in the big tank is unfortunately rather secretive at present, but hopefully as they mature will become more visible. The Epaulette Shark, sometimes called a Walking Shark, Hemiscyllium ocellatum lives in shallow waters around Australia and New Guinea.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

10) Damselfish

Dascyllus melanurus
One of the most popular families of fish to be seen in hobbyist tanks are the anemonefishes and damselfishes, the Pomacentridae. Closely related to the almost entirely freshwater cichlids, they have very similar breeding behaviour, with one or both of the breeding pair guarding a nest of eggs laid on the substrate until the eggs hatch. The main difference from cichlids is that damselfish larvae are much smaller and disperse immediately into the plankton on hatching, whereas most cichlids engage in long term care of the fry.

Friday, 21 October 2016

9) Foxface rabbitfish

S.vulpinus - day
One of the great mysteries of this fish is its name. It has a strong head pattern, but it is vastly more like that of a badger than a fox or rabbit. If anyone can give a reason for this, please leave a note in the comments. The face pattern may be aposematic – it has powerful venom glands associated with the dorsal fin spines and can give a painful sting.Another feature of this species is that it changes colour at night, which helps it blend in with the background and avoid predation.

Friday, 14 October 2016

8) A variety of tangs

 Currently one of the most popular animated films is Finding Dory, and as might be expected the actual fish is invariably greeted by that name by children visiting the aquarium. As well as Dory (technically a Pacific Blue Tang Paracanthurus hepatus), there are four other tang species to be seen in the large marine tank.

Friday, 7 October 2016

7) Shotsilk Goby

Despite its name, the Shotsilk Goby Ptereleotris zebra is not a true goby at all, but rather a dartfish in the family Microdesmidae. There are around 20 species in all in the genus, with numerous other genera, mostly in the tropical Pacific and Indian oceans. They are all elongated fish with often eel-like bodies, and most live in burrows or other concealed locations. Some enter brackish water, and at least one, Pterocerdale from Queensland, Australia, appears to be a freshwater species. The English name refers to the iridescent fabric called shot silk, which refers to their shimmering colours. Several other species of dartfish are also seen in the aquarium trade, but at present all are wild caught – there is no commercial propagation of these fish.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Aquarium 6: Batfish

P.orbicularis adult
 Among the reef fish in the big tank are a small shoal of juvenile Orbiculate Batfish, Platax orbicularis. Superficially similar to the well known freshwater aquarium angelfish (which was originally described as a Platax), they belong to a group of mostly monochrome, large tropical marine fish commonly referred to as spadefishes. As juveniles they have very tall dorsal and anal fins, which combined with a circular, compressed body gives a triangular body shape. As they mature their fins become proportionally smaller, with a more rectangular body shape. They are all fairly large fish, with some species growing to over 70cm

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Aquarium 5: Yellow Faced Angelfish

One of the most vividly coloured fish in the aquarium is a Yellow Faced (also called a Blue-Faced) Angelfish, Pomacanthus xanthometopon. Originating from waters around Australia north to Malaysia, they grow to be quite large, with a maximum length of 38cm. It is currently listed as Least Concern by the IUCN as a result of its large range, but threats to coral reefs from pollution, ocean acidification and other ecological changes may change this designation in the near future.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Aquarium 4: Flame Angelfish

  There are two species of marine angelfish currently on show in the aquarium. The smallest, and the most vividly coloured fish in the tank, is a Flame Angelfish, Centropyge loricula.

Currently there are over 30 species of Centropyge, commonly referred to as Dwarf Angelfish, found in warmer waters and reefs all over the world. Most live in fairly shallow water, but some deep water species are known.  They are all fairly small species, with C. loricula at over 10 cm being one of the larger species. It has a wide range in the Pacific, from the Australian Great Barrier Reef to Hawai’i. It tends to live in the deeper parts of the outer reef, where it shelters in crevices in the rubble.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Aquarium 3: The Tomentose Filefish

Drifting around in the large marine tank at Bristol Zoo Aquarium are some small fish that get easily overlooked. This is of course part of their plan – the Tomentose Filefish Acreicthys tomentosus is a master of disguise.Belonging to the same order Tetraodontiformes as last weeks’ Porcupine Fish, it is in a separate family Monacanthidae, which is most closely related to the Trigger fishes Balistidae, and like other members of the order its strategy for survival involves appearing unlike anything a predator would want to eat. Some species of filefish get over 1m, but the Tomentose only grows to a maximum of 12cm, usually less. The larger species may be important food fish – the annual catch of Cantherines spp has been around 200,000 tonnes, but whether this is sustainable or not I am not sure. Overfishing is a worldwide problem, as I am sure readers of this blog are well aware.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Aquarium 2: The Porcupinefish

One of the most popular inhabitants of the aquarium (regular visitors got worried when she was temporarily taken off show recently) is Mini the One-Eyed Porcupinefish. Technically a Blotched Porcupine fish, Diodon holocanthus, Mini got her nick name a couple of years ago when she developed a life threatening infection after a minor injury, and had to have an eye removed. As you might imagine, this was a complicated procedure, involving a tube carrying oxygenated water and anaesthetic over her gills for several hours while the operation was carried out, and a post-op recovery in an isolation tank with antibiotics and painkillers. She is now in the last large tank in the Aquarium, now refitted to hold larger marine fish.

Monday, 22 August 2016

New series: Indian Dwarf Mudskipper

Indian Dwarf Mudskipper
After a long break, I have decided to restart this blog with an updated series on the aquarium at Bristol Zoo. There has been a major rebuild of the large tanks and other changes in the displays, but I will start with a new display of one of the oddest fish in the sea, the Indian Dwarf Mudskipper Periophthalmus novemradiatus.