Monday, December 26, 2016


I found this copy of H.G.Adams Humming Birds Described and Illustrated in an antiquarian bookshop many years ago. One of its hand-coloured steel engravings is missing but those that remain are exquisite. It was first published in 1856.

Henry Gardiner Adams (1811-1881) wrote several natural history books but not much seems to be known about him, other than that he was a chemist who eventually went bankrupt. 

The text describes the species illustrated but the best part of the book is a chapter written by C.W.Webber, who caught and bred hummingbirds in an effort to study their behaviour and diet. 

At that time there was a great deal of debate about whether these little birds could survive on nectar alone. Webber and his sister fed spiders to ruby-throated hummingbirds as well as nectar, demonstrating that their diet could be more varied than had been supposed.

You can download the whole book in a variety of formats by clicking here

Azure-crowned and White-eared

Double-crested and Violet-eared 

Tufted-necked and Delalande's 

Blue-throated and Amethyste 

Dupont's and Racket-tailed

Pigmy and Gigantic

Ruff-necked and Mango

Monday, December 19, 2016

A Moroccan harvestman in Durham in Winter

This extraordinary harvestman, with forked pedipalps, is Dicranopalpus ramosus. It is currently living behind the door of our garage, still alive and apparently still active in the depths of winter.

This species is native to Morocco and was first noted in Britain , in Bournemouth on the south coast, in 1957. Since then it has reached the Scottish border and is still heading north.

This is only the second time I've seen it here in Durham. The first was in summer, when I found one in my greenhouse.

It's a real surprise to find this one in mid-winter, alive but missing a couple of legs.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Baffled herring gulls

Some interesting behaviour from juveniles herring gulls.

These birds soon learn that the easiest way to break into bivalve mollusc shells, like mussels, is to carry them aloft and then drop them on a hard surface until they shatter.

This afternoon I watched these young birds on Union Quay in North Shields trying to do the same thing with large rubber washers. These must have come from fishing nets, that fishermen from the Fish Quay often dry and repair here.

First the birds grabbed the washers in their beaks and tried to whack them on the concrete then, when that didn't work .....

They flew up with them and dropped them on the quay, when they just bounced.

They gave up after about three attempts.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

A year in the life of a beech tree Fagus sylvatica

Beech Fagus sylvatica autumn foliage almost glows when it changes colour in October.

Truly one of the finest displays of autumn, beech foliage almost glows on bright afternoons.

Beech nuts ('mast') and their husks. In occasional mast years a massive crop can be produced .....

.... which is good news for bramblings, that feed on the nuts.

The smooth, grey bark of beech trees often proves tempting for lovers who carve their initials in it. Wounds like this let in fungal infections that can ultimately kill the tree.

Young beech trees and clipped beech hedges retain their dead autumn foliage until spring.

A beech in the prime of life, at the beginning of winter.

Frost is needed to release the buds from winter dormancy ...

But unusually late frosts in spring can destroy tender young foliage.The fine hairs around the edge of the leaf tenfd to fall off after the pleats unfold and the leaf expands.

Beech male flowers

Coming into full leaf - the same tree as shown above in winter

Mature beechs have a massive root plate which sometimes give the appearance of the tree having melted into the ground.

Southern bracket Ganoderma autrale - often a killer of beeches. Here it's growing on an old stump ....

.. but more usually it grows higher up, weakening the trunk which can often snap in autumn gales, 10-12 feet above ground level. The fungal brackets are perennial, producing a new layer of spore tissue every year and generating millions of spores over the course of a several years.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

More fine fungi

This continues to be an outstanding autumn for toadstools in west Durham.

I'm pretty sure this beauty is the trooping funnel Clitocybe geotropa. Those gills remind me of cathedral roof vaulting.

There were about a dozen arrayed in a semi-circle around the roots of a hazel, on the riverbank downstream of Wolsingham in Weardale.

The largest specimen had a cap diameter of about 20cm.

A little further down the riverbank and this is alder bracket Inonotus radiatus, growing on a dying alder. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

Black bulgar fungus, a licorice lookalike

I found these fine specimens of black bulgar fungus Bulgaria inquinans growing on a fallen branch of oak in Backstone bank wood near Wolsingham in Weardale.

It's a strange fungus, looking like flattened lumps of licorice, up to five centimetres in diameter, with a rubbery texture