Saturday, 11 October 2014

World of dinosaurs.

What is your first thought when someone mentions the word dinosaur ? Perhaps it is the image of the infamous Diplodocus skeleton which cannot fail to attract your attention on entering the Natural History Museum, London. Maybe thanks to Spielberg’ s Jurassic Park it’s the prospect of the dinosaur of your nightmares the Velociraptor terrorising anything unfortunate enough to cross its path. For me I suppose it’s a mixture of Spielberg’s master class, many trips to natural history museums, hours of being glued to text books and in my younger years playing with many, many toy dinosaurs, rarely a trip out went by without another being added to the collection. And it was recently reading text on some fascinating new discoveries in the world of palaeontology which have provided the inspiration for the core of this latest blog. Such is my passion for the subject that after this I have decided to include a section dedicated to this field in every publication following this. As always I hope you enjoy it.

       Reign of the dinosaurs.

Dinosaurs first appeared in the form of Protodinosaurs some 252.3 million years ago after the Permian- Triassic extinction earlier than previously thought recent research has revealed. Tracks found in Poland and spreading across three ecosystems and four million years were discovered close to the village of Stryczowice. The evidence suggests however that these dinosaurs would of likely been smaller than a domestic cat with the largest tracks measuring 40 millimeters. Dinosaurs domination of the planet lasted until the late Cretaceous period 65 million years ago where a mass extinction event paved the way for mammals to assert themselves and begin a new reign of domination.

           Characteristics of a dinosaur.

·     Dinosaurs are divided into two predominant groups, Saurischian meaning lizard hipped or  Ornithischian meaning bird hipped species.
·     Erect leg posture as a result of cylindrical femoral head which fitted into a perforated hip socket and a hinge- jointed ankle.
·         All species were hind limb dominant.
·         Tail in most cases held off the ground.
·         Scales present on body which formed a non overlapping mosaic pattern.
·         Dinosaurs would often reach sexual maturity before growth had been completed.

New dinosaur species discovered: Torvosaurus gurneyi
http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2014/3/5/1394062955047/New-dinosaur-species-disc-009.jpg


Were dinosaurs warm blooded?

In recent years the preconception of dinosaurs being cold blooded like their modern day cousins has been thrown into doubt as a growing list of evidence to the contrary continues to build up.
Dinosaurs it was argued had to have been cold blooded as a result of belonging to the archosaur group the same group in which their close relative the crocodile also belongs . Professor Roger Seymour however in his study Dinosaurs, endothermy and blood pressure, stated that as a result of their long necks, high blood pressure would have been essential to get blood into their long necks. He also added that to successfully control the flow of blood a four chambered heart very much like those found in mammals and birds today would have been required. Seymour also believes that all archosaurs began as warm blooded creatures and crocodiles switched to a cold blooded life style as a result of their sit and wait behaviour.  
Counter arguments to the suggestion have included the positioning of sauropod necks. It has been suggested that if their necks remained horizontal there would have been little need for high blood pressure to ensure blood reached the brain.
Inertial homeothermy a system where animals are able to slowly warm up and cool down it has been suggested could have been employed by dinosaurs. It has however been counter argued that not all dinosaurs were large and even large dinosaurs began life small.
Further research from Seymour adds more weight to the warm blooded argument. In 2011 he compared the nutrient foreman – holes in thigh bones where blood is supplied to the bone of mammals and modern day reptiles. His hypothesis was the more active the animal the more blood needed to be supplied. He was proven correct the holes were indeed larger in mammals. He then compared these to dinosaur bones and found surprising results. The nutrient foreman found in dinosaur bones was greater than those found in mammals. This meant dinosaurs must have had to of had a high metabolic rate. Velociraptor and T.rex add further weight to this argument with findings revealing they were capable of top speeds of 38km and 29 km per hour respectively.

A team from the Catalan Institute of Palaeontology have also revealed significant evidence pointing in the direction of dinosaurs being cold blooded when they discovered lag lines on the bones of mammals. Lag lines are caused when environmental conditions are not favourable for growth and energy is instead used for the pure survival of the animal. A similar principle also occurs in trees. As these marks had been found on both dinosaurs and modern day reptiles it had been assumed dinosaurs were cold blooded. The finding of these marks on mammal bones proves this piece of evidence at least cannot be used to support the cold blooded theory.

And so with the list of evidence in favour of proving these creatures to be warm blooded, it would seem unless a finding of equal significance is found to contradict these new revelations, it would seem what we thought we knew about dinosaurs continues to be thrown into doubt.  

Dinosaur vocalisation.

A long trachea would have enabled long necked dinosaurs it is theorised to transmit low frequency noises over a large distance. It is also thought the nasal passages  found in the crests of duck billed dinosaurs known as hadrosaurs would have resonated at low frequencies and as a result may have been able to create low frequency noises.

The preconception of forests reverberating to the sounds of dinosaur vocalisation however could well be proven to be inaccurate. Hadrosaurs for example may have been able to produce low frequency sounds, but scientists are looking to modern day reptiles for answers to how these sounds could have been produced without the need for vocal chords. King cobras are shown as an example for how this could work, they possess soft tissue resonating chambers, capable of amplifying frequencies and consequently making hisses sound like growls. It has been suggested hadrosaurs could have also been capable of this.
And further evidence increases the likelihood of the range of dinosaur vocalisation being limited. Dinosaurs originate from the bird linage of divergence and so it could have been presumed they would possess the same vocal characteristics as birds today. This has been proven to be incorrect however with no evidence of vocal chords in either the earliest birds in the Mesozoic era or in their dinosaur relatives. Dinosaurs may have developed vocal chords independently of birds however there is no clear cut evidence of this. Dr Senter concludes as a result of this evidence that dinosaurs like their modern day relatives would most likely of hissed when disturbed and would have been unable to properly vocalise.

Evidence of dinosaur battles.

Therapod dinosaurs due to the predatory lifestyle they led are likely to be found with evidence of battle wounds. Two Allosaurus skeletons reveal evidence of the hardships of living a predatory lifestyle. One was found with injuries too its ribs, tail, shoulder, feet, toes and serious infections to its foot, finger and a rib. The severity of some of the injuries observed mean it is possible they were a factor in the predators death. In another skeleton an Allosaur tail suffered an injury suspected to be caused by the spike of a stegosaur. A famous Tyrannosaur skeleton named “Sue” revealed serious injuries caused by conflict with another Tyrannosaur and were found to reveal evidence of successful healing.
The fossil record also shows evidence of battles where herbivores successful repelled their attacker. A Triceratops horn was found to have been bitten off by a tyrannosaur however there was evidence of healing which would imply a successful outcome for the herbivore. Sauropod and Hadrosaur remains have also show evidence of healing after encounters with predators. The spikes of Stegosaurs have been found broken and damaged again with evidence of healing confirming these would have been used to fight.

Dinosaur facts bullet points.

·         700 species of dinosaur have been found 100 of those in Britain.
·        The largest dinosaur was Argentinosaurus, measuring in at 37 metres from head to tail, it was the length of a Boeing 737. It would have needed up to 100,000 calories per day.
·      The infamously small arms of Tyrannosaurus Rex could have either been used for holding prey, or if they had feathers as a courtship display.
·         The second toe of the Velociraptor was not used for slicing prey as first thought, instead it was used for gripping and pinning .
·         It has been theorised the tail of the Diplodocus may have been used as a weapon.
·         The head crest of Cryolophosaurus had the ability to flush blood as a result the colour of the crest would change and would have been used to either warn of danger or sexual availability.
·         The longest carnivorous dinosaur is thought to be Spinosaurus it is estimated it could have reached lengths of up to 18 metres.

New species of dinosaurs are discovered with incredible frequency, which makes the thought of what is still out there unknown to us waiting to be found so exciting. Here a new species has within the last few days been discovered in Venezuela.

I really hope you found this blog of interest, thank you for reading thank you for reading George :)

 Twitter ReallyWildWykes

References

Science Uncovered - Dinosaurs rediscovered
Dinosaurs a Field Guide
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101006085311.htm
       



Monday, 29 September 2014

New fossil discovery.



Hello all sorry for the massive break in between posts I have been really busy with work and volunteering and time has rather evaded me ! I hope you have all had a good summer especially with the weather  continuing to surpass expectations. I recently read about a fascinating new fossil discovery which makes up the content of this post. I hope you enjoy the blog.

First insect fossils recorded in Late Kimmeridgian marine limestones.

Field studies taking place between 2012 and 2013 led by French researchers and aided by two teams of amateur scientists the Société des Naturalistes et Archéologues de l'Ain and the Group 'Sympetrum Recherche et Protection des Libellules' in Orbagnoux, France on the Late Kimmeridgian marine limestone’s have recorded a historical first recent publications have revealed. The marine limestones are well known for their abundance of fish and terrestrial fauna. There had however only been one previous terrestrial based discovery before the findings of this latest research came to light, when plant remains had been found to of been transported in lagoons. As a result, this is the first occasion where insects and evidence of insect activity have been recorded in the area.
The discovery of a 6mm specimen of the species now known as Gallomesovelia grioti of the basal mesoveliidae family comprising of water treaders make it the oldest record to date of gerromorpha bugs . Modern water treaders have a predatory nature, living in humid locations with either a terrestrial or freshwater lifestyle. It has been theorised that Gallomesovelia grioti potentially could have lived in the near proximity of sea margins or as some modern species of mesoveliidae can in brackish parts of lagoons. Characteristics of gerromorpha species include large compound eyes and a rounded head not conversed transversely.
Also discovered was evidence of damage to zamite leaves as a result of insect feeding behaviour. Evidence of this activity in the fossil record in the late Jurassic is rare in comparison to records from the Triassic and Lower Cretaceous period and as such every recording is particularly welcomed. Signs of insect activity on zamite leaves illustrate there would have been a significant level of insect diversity and insect fauna it would appear was not restricted to aquatic or subaquatic bugs. Fossil evidence found in the limestone provides evidence of terrestrial insects utilising emerged lands with Jurassic lagoons in close proximity. The majority of the fieldworks findings however consisted of ammonites, bivalvia, shrimps, isopods and fish. These recent studies it would suggest show evidence of close terrestrial biota.
As a result of the excellent preservation of the recovered fossils, it appears likely the Kimmeridgian limestones are going to prove invaluable in increasing knowledge of the insect diversity of the Upper Jurassic, due to the superior quality of fossil preservation in comparison to those from the Bavarian lithographic limestone. This period proved to be an important time for the transition of evolution in terrestrial environments as the diversifying of flowering plants in the Lower Cretaceous period approached.
Source

Nel A, Nel P, Krieg-Jacquier R, Pouillon J, Garrouste R. (2014) Exceptionally preserved insect fossils in the Late Jurassic lagoon of Orbagnoux (Rhône Valley, France) PeerJ 2:e510 http://dx.doi.org/10.7717/peerj.510

That is all for this time I plan to get back into the habit of posting on a weekly basis so keep an eye out for it !
Thanks for reading George.

Friday, 13 June 2014

An update on all things wild !

Hello and welcome to my latest blog, I hope you are all well and have some nice plans for the summer holidays which are nearly upon us, lets hope we get that elusive Indian summer we keep being  promised !
Personally, my time as a university student recently came to an end after four years of highs and lows, and it was with a great deal of satisfaction tinged with a bit of sadness when I handed in my final year project and said my farewells. 
The blog this time around is a bit of a mixed bag, some of you may remember my piece on the potential to reintroduce large carnivores with the majority of the focus on the lynx back to Britain. Since then, Jamie Wyver has informed of his own project on reintroducing lynx to these shores. Not only is his work an excellent read  he has also  created a film on the subject and the links to both of these can be found below. I've been sent both humorous and factual links on the natural world and these will hopefully add a touch of variety to the blog and of course I'll be providing a brief update on my own wildlife encounters since you last heard from me, once again I hope you enjoy the blog. 

After an absence of thousands of years could the Eurasian Lynx prowl our woodlands once more? Jamie Wyver investigates.
Film Link.

http://wildvision.tv/film/rewilding

Blog link. 

One man and his lynx.
http://onemanandhislynx.com/


Latest wildlife sightings.

The last few days have offered some great wildlife sightings. I'm lucky that the cafe I work at during the seasonal holiday periods, is situated right next to the beach means it is not uncommon for marine wildlife to be observed from the workplace. This time a seal in the shallows caught the attention of staff and customers alike as the pinniped went about its daily business,  I tried to identify whether it was of the grey or common variety. This is a difficult task at the best of times and without binoculars I was unable to  clarify the matter. Due to the large number of grey seals around these shores and common seals despite their name are decidedly uncommon, I am fairly confident it assuming a grey seal was culprit. An i.d card courtesy of the Cornwall Seal Group can be found below.





I've also had the pleasure of seeing a wild  barn owl for the first time in many a year during the past week. These stunning birds a personal favorite of mine with their ghostly appearance, however the species has sadly been on a steady decline with agriculture being one of the leading causes of this.  Sights like these should be cherished and never taken for granted, it certainly put a broad smile on my face.

It's also easy to overlook the smaller aspects of the natural world but during my time on the local nature reserve, the sheer diversity of invertebrate life present is something impossible not to be amazed by. Their miniature world is one crucial for the balance of life as we know it, this quote by Sir David Attenborough emphasizes their importance far better than I can "If we and the rest of the back-boned animals were to disappear overnight, the rest of the world would get on pretty well. But if the invertebrates were to disappear, the world's ecosystems would collapse". 

Contrasting links.

My friend Mathew Button has very kindly sent me two contrasting links in terms of their nature one serious, one decidedly not. 

Firstly, check out this light hearted animation -http://www.thisiscolossal.com/2014/06/animator-helene-marchal-adds-animated-flourishes-to-video-of-a-sea-bird/

This though is a vitally important, when people think of lions they think of magnificent, powerful animals which demand respect wherever they roam. All of that is true, however not many may immediately think of them being endangered which sadly is also true and their decline is to say the least alarming. Without projects like this the fate of the lion is at best uncertain. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/06/140611-shivani-bhalla-lions-samburu-kenya-conservation/

That's all for now I hope as always you enjoyed the blog and thanks for reading, 
George.
Email grwykes@gmail.com
Twitter @ReallyWildWykes

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Reintroducing large carnivores to Britain, could it happen ?

Hello and welcome to my latest blog. There was once a time where elk and ox roamed Britain's woodlands alongside deer and wild boar, while wolves, lynx and bears made up a formidable trio of predators ready to predate upon those caught off guard. Nowadays however, the woodlands are very different, long gone are the large predators along with the elk and ox on which they would have predated upon. Beavers and wild boar have repopulated the latter with a great deal of controversy attached. In the absence of large carnivores, deer populations have flourished to the point in which Britain's forests have suffered badly,with some areas destroyed never to recover. And so this poses the question, could Britain support large carnivores once more? or since their disappearance have to many changes occurred for this ever to be a possibility ? This blog focuses on the cases of wolves and lynx's as bears literature suggests  are the least likely to make a recovery, time has changed the environment to much say some experts, for a reintroduction to be considered for the foreseeable future.

Reintroduction -  The pros and cons.

Reintroduction is defined as attempting to re-establish a species to an area it once historically ranged but has become either extirpated or extinct.  Britain it has been suggested has a moral responsibility to attempt to right the wrongs previously contributing to the demise of large carnivores, while the Bern Convention (1979) and Rio Convention (1992) oblige the UK to help the recovery of populations of species native to Britain. There are problems with potential re introductions however, along with environmental change and an ever increasing human population, it is extremely difficult for scientists to predict how successful a reintroduction will be when the target reintroduction species has been absent from the landscape for a long period of time.There are options available which scientists and ecologists can use. Successful reintroduction's into analogous ecosystems elsewhere can illustrate possible implications of reintroductions into the target area. Secondly, controlled introductions into the proposed  area can help to assess feasibility of a future full reintroduction. IUCN guidelines however state that the cause of a species extinction must no longer be present before any such action can be put into place.



•Link to photo credit: http://cdn2.arkive.org/media/C6/C6792C39-EA47-4A4E-87AC-8167A6A8DF12/Presentation.Large/Eurasian-lynx-in-summer-coat.jpg



















Lynx  and wolves in Britain.

Lynx populations in Britain have been estimated to have reached the 7000 mark and their woodland range stretched from Scotland to as far down as Cornwall, England. The demise of the lynx came as a result of human deforestation, with the habitat  needed for both predator and prey depleted, both populations declined. When grazing by domestic animals from  farmers reduced remaining forest still further conflict between human  and predator as a result of livestock predation was inevitable. 
Wolves were common in southern England in the Saxon period which lasted from 410 to 1066 and would have out of preference targeted red deer as a prey species. In the 17th century though like the lynx and bears before them the wolf disappeared from  Britain. Hunting as a result of livestock predation and fear for human life is thought to be the main cause of the wolf's elimination from Britain.

Potential ecological impacts.

There are two ecological impacts caused as the result of the presence of predators. A density mediated affect as a result of predation and reduction of grazing pasture, and a no consumptive effect, where the foraging behavior and habitat use of prey species are affected. This is also referred to as creating a landscape of fear.

Deer populations in Britain are said to be ecologically unsustainable at present with areas of woodland so heavily grazed they will never recover. And this is where the landscape of fear principle could it has been suggested occur with the reintroduction of wolves as it has in Yellowstone National Park. A study found in areas classed as high risk predation areas plant growth increased on a yearly basis. The reintroduction of wolves it was concluded was an  act of management required for the recovery of riparian species and the protection of biodiversity.  Other ecological impacts potentially could include the provisioning of carrion for medium sized carnivores, however these could subsequently become prey items themselves. Passerine breeding success rates could also increase.  

Lynx however, are unlikely to create the same landscape of fear that it has been suggested wolves potentially could. This is illustrated by the findings of a Scandinavian study which found that despite 65% of roe deer fatalities being as  a result of lynx predation, no changes in habitat selection were found. This it has been theorised, is as a result of the territorial nature of roe deer.

There are also concerns over the impact lynx could have on the endangered capercaillie. Studies have found contrasting results in relation to  this point.  While Swedish lynx are found to include capercaillie in their diet, 29 radio collared lynx in Switzerland over a 10 year period provided just one instance of capercaillie in their diet out of recorded 617 prey items.  Intriguingly, 37 red foxes were also recorded potentially providing a help for gamekeepers and capercaillie alike. Despite this opposition argue that efforts should be concentrated on helping the aforementioned capercaillie and black grouse. There is a risk of competitive exclusion with wildcats however, due to differences in prey preferences, this is considered unlikely. 

Conflict and solutions  

Threat to human life is always going to be the greatest concern when the topic of reintroducing large carnivores arises however there are no recorded attacks by lynx on humans and wolf attacks are very rare.

Another issue of concern is predation of livestock, both wolves and lynx do take domestic animals. It has been shown however in some cases, wolves even when faced with  depleted natural prey availability and high densities of livestock nearby, will still show a clear preference for natural prey. Livestock were found too  take up a minority percentage of their dietary intake. 

Subsidies also offer a solution to loss of livestock to predation. In the Pidemont area of Northern Italy, a compensation plan to pay lump sums of money in the event of goat or sheep damage, is related to the flock size and starts after the event of the first attack. After this the compensation paid increases by 15 % for every attack that follows. The total amount of compensation is then shared between the owners of the flock animals with the amount of money received correlating with the amount of animals owned. It is thought that this system could be the reason there is not a greater level of opposition from Scottish farmers towards wolf reintroduction, as sheep barely make a profit and farmers could benefit more from them via a subsidies system. Veterinary checks on carcasses would have to occur however to prevent fraudulent claims. And in the case of lynx with better preventative measures and a greater tolerance towards problem animals, domestic predation and conflict with people has been found too significantly decrease.

So is there room for large carnivores in modern day Britain ? 

The idea of reintroducing the lynx would seem to be the most feasible particularly on island nature reserves or on enclosed eco-parks. In the two potential habitats for lynx in Scotland, after basing the densities of four species of deer; roe, red, sika and fallow deer, it has been predicted that suitable habitat in the highlands, potentially could be able to support 2.63 lynx 100 km2 and the southern uplands could support 0.83 lynx 100 km2 extending across the border and into the English section of the Kielder Forest. After this information had been applied to the amount of suitable habitat it has been estimated the highlands could support 400 lynx and the southern uplands 50. If this were to happen, Scotland would be supporting the fourth largest population of lynx in Europe.

A suggested location for a trial reintroduction of wolves is the Isle of Rhum Scotland, where wolves have never existed on the island. The reasoning the suggestion is an overly large population of deer and aside from Nature Conservancy staff no human inhabitants. This echoes of a similar trial in Coronation Island, Alaska during the year 1960, which ultimately failed as the deer with limited places to hide on a small island declined quickly in population leaving the wolves lacking food sources and ultimately led to their demise. It is thought that due to the large home range sizes and small population densities of large carnivores, the Scottish highlands is the only location a feasible population could be supported.

Link to image credit: http://images.nationalgeographic.com/wpf/media-live/photos/000/005/cache/grey-wolf_565_600x450.jpg

So is Britain ready for a return of the  large carnivores ?

The lynx the evidence suggests is perhaps the most likely species to e reintroduced, wolves less likely and bears a very distant possibility. Prey sources are abundant, the required habitat available and space plentiful certainly for the lynx and quite possibly for the wolf as well. Changing peoples views on reintroducing large carnivores is potentially one of the biggest obstacles, and a trial reintroduction in a fenced areas  is almost certainly needed before a full reintroduction could take place. 

The thought of large carnivores once again stalking the woodlands of Britain is surely one that cannot fail to capture the imagination. How long before this idealization becomes reality if at all remains to be seen. Personally I long for the day when  the howls of the wolf echo around the woodlands of Britain once more and lynx are back living their secretive lives barely leaving a trace of their mysterious existence.

That's all for now thank you for reading, 
all the best, George.

Twitter @ReallyWildWykes
Email grwykes@gmail.com



Wednesday, 23 April 2014

A fine balance.


Hello and welcome again to my blog, I hope you are all well and had a great Easter weekend. I've been pushed for time recently with my dissertation due in three weeks and so I've decided to publish this on my trip to South Africa last summer on Zimanga Private Game Reserve. I wrote this some time ago and saved it for when time is at a premium. As always I hope you like it and feel free to give feedback positive or negative, so long as it's constructive !

Life and death – A game of chance.
We knew the warthogs potential assailants were coming long before the blissfully unaware foraging pigs did, then again we had the advantage of a radio collared animal and  a telemetry tracking kit. Somewhere in the scrub planning their latest attack a pack of one of the most endangered large carnivores on the planet awaited their moment, still the warthogs seemed unaware of their presence for there could be no other explanation for their  seemingly blase attitude in the face of imminent danger.
Suddenly this serene scene of African wilderness erupted into chaos as the warthogs were at last alerted to the threat. They needed to be as well, for the African wild dogs were already gaining on them. One individual seemed to have been singled out and looked in trouble. Now the real life drama of the natural world was unfolding before myself and my fellow conservation volunteers eyes.  Should the wild dogs fail with the attack they would be disappointed but there would be another chance. Should the warthog make one false move, a slight stumble, a moments indecision and it would be game over. No second chances.
The strikingly coloured, highly intelligent dogs were clearly an efficient hunting unit, a seemingly telepathic understanding of their prey’s next move. The high speed chase seemed to be nearing its conclusion and the prey seemingly handed a dud card. In life’s ever present game of chance they looked to be even more desperate and even more doomed as dozens of razor sharp teeth converged ready to apply the coup de grace. And yet when hope seemed lost the warthog was handed a trump card, a burrow unseen to us and presumably the dogs offered it a lifeline.  It was evident then as it disappeared into its safe haven that against all the odds the most basic primal instinct of all, the will to live can sometimes trump  all.  
A little while later and it became clear again that when the dice roll s in your favour you must be prepared to accept the opportunity. The dogs unaware of the gift about to be presented to them ambled leisurely a short distance in front of the research vehicle. The playful antics of the younger pack members a wonderful sight indeed. In a second the whole dynamic of the pack changed, the pace of their travel upped and excited vocalisations  made it evident drama was about to once again unfold before us.
By the time we caught up with the pack the kill had been made. They had quite literally very nearly stumbled across their next meal. A female Impala had miscalculated the safety of It’s chosen sleeping place and upon it’s discovery had had nowhere to flee. Instantly surrounded and swiftly dispatched, a dud hand had certainly been handed to her, on the other hand the wild dogs would consider it an ace.

Spending time in the company of such incredible animals was an absolute  privilege.

A more ambitious and ultimately unsuccessful hunt.....
That is pretty much all for this time I hope you enjoyed  the  blog and thank you for  reading all the best, George. 

Twitter @ReallyWildWykes

Email grwykes@gmail.com







Thursday, 10 April 2014

How not to enhance a reputation

Hello and welcome once more to my latest blog it has been a very busy period recently with coursework deadlines all being grouped into one tight bundle, stress levels have significantly risen. Despite this I' have managed to participate in a range of voluntary work over the last month which has proven to be a nice distraction more on this later on. The main focus of this edition however is my frustration in regards to the fact films continually portray certain animals in a negative light. I hope you enjoy the blog and as always feel free to give feedback. 

The Grey - a travesty for the Grey Wolf

Recently the film The Grey has been screened on British terrestrial television to start with I was intrigued as a result of regular advertising and a cast which consisted of big name actors including Liam Neeson. My curiosity quickly turned to frustration and then dismay however, as it became apparent from a very early stage that the plot of this film consisted of the survivors of plane crash being relentlessly hunted down by a pack of seemingly malignant wolves. It’s common knowledge that wolves have historically suffered as a result of miss trust and animosity as a result of human - animal conflict. So to watch part of a film where wolves are portrayed as something evil, taking revenge on anything which dares to cross their path is something really quite exasperating when so much miss trust still surrounds a species a victim largely of myth and misconception. I was relieved to find the film has suffered criticism as a result of this from environmentalists as a result of the portrayal of wolves, drives were put in place to boycott the film altogether. Perhaps the most disturbing fact in relation to the release date occurred only a short while after the species had in many American states have been taken off the Endangered Species Act.
Unfortunately however this is far from the first film to show a species already at risk from negative public perception in a damming light. Perhaps most notorious of all is Jaws and subsequent following films in the series. So damaging the impact on sharks as a result of these films that the author of the novel Peter Benchley would later be quoted as saying “knowing what I know now, I could never write that book today”. For more on this see The use of animals in films and wildlife news 07/12/2013. I get the distinct impression, that for as long as films of this genre continue to be a success, films like these will continue to be made which can only be seen as a travesty and a major set back for dedicated people who are passionately trying to change the reputation of much maligned species.

Voluntary work – Willow, writing and looking for cetaceans.

As a mentioned earlier, it has been a very busy month or so not just academically but also on the voluntary side of things as well. I recently attended a workshop on cliff top surveying for cetaceans run by the Cornwall Wildlife Trust and Seaquest Southwest which was a hugely enjoyable morning learning about the surveying methodology, as well as detailed information about the local areas marine "hot spots" and the wildlife we stand a chance of observing. So far I've managed to participate in a couple of these surveys and although no cetaceans  been observed personally, its been a pleasure to watch majestic gannets moving so gracefully low over the sea, fulmars jostling for position on rock faces with comedic effect and perhaps the fattest grey seal in Cornwall doing what some would call swimming I would be more inclined to call it floating lazily in the nearby harbor.
Meanwhile I've enjoying my role as Reserve Guardian for the RSPB at the local marsh, it’s a great feeling to be able to contribute towards ensuring the wildlife on the reserve is as well protected as possible whether that be through collecting litter or keeping an eye out for people behaving in a way unacceptable on a nature reserve. I also recently took part in a day of cutting back willow on the reserve being waist deep in marsh unsure of whether or not your next step may leave you completely submerged beneath its cold waters courtesy of a treacherous submerged stump may not be everyone’s idea of fun,  but getting stuck into some real hard graft while on a regular basis battling to keep your equilibrium personally was a fun, rewarding and worthwhile challenge. I've been told the adders have been sighted regularly recently, so I will be making an effort to try and see them for myself in the near future.
I have also recently joined the Cornwall Reptile and Amphibian Group (CRAG). I am very much looking forward to getting involved with a variety of exciting projects the group are going to be accomplishing. After discussion with the group, I volunteered to take on the project of writing a blog series on the groups behalf. You can read the first one and find details on who to contact should you wish to become a member by following the link below. 

http://cornwallreptileandamphibian.blogspot.co.uk/

British birds- The Grey Heron

http://www.wildaboutdevon.co.uk/fact-file-grey-heron/


A visit to the marsh would not be complete without a sighting of one of these enormous birds surely one of Britain’s most iconic species. With a wingspan of just over one and a half meters, this enormous bird is an un believable  spectacle when it takes to the skies yet on land its hunting style means unless a careful eye is scanned across the reedbeds, this colossal bird can easily go unnoticed, waiting for an unwary victim to come within range.

Please take the time to read this

My good friend Mathew Button has recently had his book The Escape Committee published. I've attached links to his Facebook account and Amazon where you can purchase the book 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Escape-Committee-Matthew-Button/dp/191016223X

https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Escape-Committee-by-Matthew-Button/199801623396420?fref=ts

Contact me 

You can follow me on Twitter @ReallyWildWykes

Or contact me via email @grwykes@gmail.com

That’s all for this time once again thank you very much for reading, all the best,
George  


Thursday, 6 March 2014

That missed sighting


Hello and welcome to my latest blog. As I mentioned in my previous piece, I have recently started volunteering at my local nature reserve and with the weather significantly improving, the flooding which had thwarted much of my efforts on an earlier visit had largely disappeared. It was such a joy to be serenaded by an assortment of bird songs while I worked, however despite my best efforts to locate the culprits, the long reed beds concealed them perfectly. Rabbits scampered over the grassland a mixture of playful and exuberance and nervous energy constantly alert to the slight rustle in a nearby bush or an unfamiliar scent which may betray the presence of a predator. And while watching all of this I still kept a faint hope that I may just catch a glimpse of one of the resident otters perhaps lurking on the river bank. It was not to be. However there's always next time for that ambition to be realised.
 
That missed sighting
"Can't you see it"!? "No. Where ?!" "It's just disappeared can't believe you didn't see it". We've all had conversations similar to that haven't we ? When you chose to look away at precisely the moment something you would desperately not want to miss suddenly presents itself and then just as quickly disappears. This happened again only the other night having been picked up from the train station after a long day at university. I was distracted, thoughts of whether the data analysis for my dissertation required a chi square test or not were still bouncing around my increasingly scrambled mind, the pressures of the final year are taking its toll. So when I glanced out the passenger window my attention was not fully on the potential  for wildlife sightings. Then my brother spoke "Did you see that? Defiantly an owl, the size, the way it flew I'm sure that was a tawny owl". No was the answer to his question I hadn't. Distracted, the owl had flown right across the road  into the woodland and out of sight. That was pretty galling. I've seen barn owls before and heard plenty of tawny owls in the woodlands near our home but have never seen one, concentration levels must be improved !
British birds part 2- Brilliant Buzzards.
What a makes a walk in the countryside so special for you? The crisp crunch of fallen autumn leaves underfoot while wrapped up against the bracing elements? or maybe it's the arrival of spring where the foxgloves and bluebells are starting to make an appearance flourishing after winter has lost its vice like grip. Personally no outing is complete without hearing the trademark mewing call of most abundant raptor in the United Kingdom, the Buzzard. Effortlessly soaring the skies above Britain, this stunning bird now listed as green status on the conservation list with between 57,000-79,000 pairs breeding in the United Kingdom, has made a remarkable recovery from the dark days of persecution. Like so many other birds of prey, the buzzard was also severely affected by the use of pesticides in the 1950's and 60's with populations only recovering once their use had been banned, and now the species has breeding populations in every county in the United Kingdom. This beautiful bird has been the victim of its own success however leading to the licensing of nests to be destroyed in 2013. Personally this was a decision that made my blood boil. The sight of a buzzard on perched on a lamppost, captured in all its glory by the sun’s rays, surveying its territory, or perhaps looking for it’s next meal will always be one worthy of many an admiring gaze for a bird that can populate so widely and show such adaptability and resolve in the face of such adversity over the decades deserves nothing less than the utmost admiration and respect.
 
Extinct species:   Five facts on the Woolly Mammoth
1) The tusks of the woolly mammoth were absolutely enormous, measuring up to fifteen feet in length on the largest males. It is thought the predominate reason for their size was to act as a sexual characteristic the larger and curvier the tusk the more appealing they were to females.
2) Their ears in contrast were small, meaning that the surface area of skin exposed to the elements was as minimal as possible.
3) The woolly mammoth was one of thirteen species of mammoth to belong to the genus Mammuthus primigenius.
4 ) A sparse population of woolly mammoths clung onto existence on Wrangel Island off the Siberian cost before finally disappearing around 1700 BC and with their demise meant the complete extinction of woolly mammoth.
5) Debate has sprung up surrounding the woolly mammoth since it has appeared it could be possible to clone them via the harvesting of DNA and then incubating the fetus in a living pachyderm.
Information sourced from the work off Bob Strauss.
Did anyone see this ? pretty amazing that is for sure.
That's all from me for now thanks for reading
George :)
Twitter @ReallyWildWykes

Friday, 21 February 2014

The floodplain has flooded.

Hello and welcome to my latest blog. As regular readers will be aware I am currently studying a BSc in Applied Zoology, and as the pressure of coursework has built up so my routine for writing these blogs has become more sporadic but still keeping to publishing on a monthly basis. With time once more limited I thought I'd give you an outline of my main dissertation which hopefully will of be of interest to you hope you enjoy the blog.

Reserve Guardian 

I love getting stuck into hard work for the benefit of nature and people and so while recently looking for voluntary opportunities in my local area, I came across the vacant position of reserve guardian on the nearby nature reserve which had been posted  by the RSPB. This was an opportunity I jumped at, and I was soon on the phone to their office arranging a meeting to discuss the role. I felt very welcome immediately and after signing the forms I was officially on board as a volunteer. Aside from helping with general upkeep of the marsh for example collecting rubbish, cutting back branches to close to the public footpath etc I'm also responsible for reporting any more serious issues which need to be resolved for example the damaging of information signs, or hazards to public safety which have recently appeared.  Earlier in the week I made my way onto the marsh only to have progress thwarted early on by the unsurprising flooding which has taken place due to the appalling weather Britain has experienced over the last month or so. I still however managed to collect some rubbish blown over by the storm so some good was still achieved,  and I look forward to being able to carry out my role properly in the future. I will keep you posted on this and my wildlife sightings during the course of my blogs. 

So how important is cover to birds?

My final year dissertation investigates the importance of cover for urban/suburban birds. It has been stated cover is beneficial to birds with reduced energy costs, and protection from the elements and predation. It has also been stated however that cover provides disadvantages for birds, with reduced viability aiding predation  attempts rather than deterring them. 
I have been attempting to observe the point where the fear of being predated upon is outweighed by the need to feed. To do this I have been manipulating the food available for birds in the study areas. Two feeders have been positioned away from cover and remained constantly full while two feeders have been positioned in cover however these have had the level of food present in them depleted. This has taken place over the course of four day cycles with  a quarter of the food in the feeder removed each day until just 25% remains at which point the feeders are then fully replenished. Initially this cycle was conducted eight times with surveys taking place in the morning for a period of one hour broken down into two half an hour spells, focusing on feeders in and out of cover respectively.  To account for factors influencing the study outside of the manipulated ones, I have repeated the experiment on a smaller scale in a separate study garden. Despite the variety of species not being as high as I had hoped and expected as a result of many hours of observation, interesting behavior is still being witnessed and I  will be writing my findings on this blog at a later date. 


I took this photo I while ago before this feeding station was moved to join the others in the back garden however Great Tits have still been a regular sight on the feeders. 


Latest news and curiosities 

Poor I.D skills
Surely this can't be good, British children finding it difficult to identify marine life such as penguins and turtles is worrying as these are the future generations trusted with protecting  wildlife and the  resources they depend on.  As the article says animal focused attractions such as the The National Sea Life Centre  are crucially important. 
 http://www.wildlifeextra.com/do/ecco.py/view_item?listid=1&listcatid=1&listitemid=18503

Blubber -Mouth Shark 
Who had heard of a Blubber - Mouth Shark ? I hadn't until reading a recent issue of BBC Wildlife Magazine. Discovered of Hawai in 1976, the blubber-mouth shark is one of three plankton feeding sharks following its preys daily migration between surface layers and deep water.

British Butterflies 
Good news for our British Butterflies as species such as the brimstone, common blue, small copper, small skipper, large skipper and small tortoiseshell all made a recovery in 2013 having suffered one of the worst declines on record in 2012. 
http://www.wildlifeextra.com/go/news/butterfly-survey.html

That's all for this time hope you enjoyed the blog I will be back to the British birds and extinct species section next time, now I have a dissertation to do !
Thanks for reading George.



Thursday, 23 January 2014

Sharks in crisis -Polititcians don't care.

Hello and welcome to my latest wildlife blog.  As regular readers will know this is usually a  monthly publication,  however recent news coming to light has compelled me to publish an earlier edition focusing on two huge issues. Firstly the legalisation of the shark cull in Western Australia has left myself and countless others gobsmacked and lost for words. Secondly the horrific images which have been surfing the internet recently of the dolphin slaughter in Denmark are obviously appalling to see but need to be shared to show  this disgusting behaviour which has now it seems  become a  Danish tradition.  I hope these news stories stir up emotions of anger and sadness in  you as it did myself I have no doubt that they will.

Legalisation of the shark cull in Western Australia.

Before I express my views on this it is important for me to state that it is not my intention to underplay the devastating consequences of a shark attack. Although rare these are tragic events and the suffering by the victim and people close to them are hard for any of us to even comprehend.

      A Summary of the clearing of the shark cull.
  • Environmental minister Greg Hunt has cleared the cull, exempting them from federal legislation the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act which is designed to protect threatened species.
  • National interest was the reason given for the cull to be cleared after an appeal from the Western Australian government.
  • The cull will be taken place through the use of 72 baited hooks 1 kilometre from the shoreline of eight beaches situated in the Perth and south-west area.
  • Boats will patrol these areas any sharks measuring over three meters long will be shot.
  • Hunt wrote a letter to Western Australia Premier Colin Barnett, and stated that Australians understood the risk of open sea activities and government cannot take away the risk at a general level, however he went onto state that seven shark attacks had taken place in the last three years which was  " well above the historic norm". He then stated that the exemption of the conservation act was appropriate.
  • The exemption states that WA’s $8.5bn tourism industry could be hit by continual shark attacks and that the cull should be allowed subject to conditions aimed at reducing harm to seabirds and whales.
  • It has been stated in the exemption the tourism industry in the WA area as a result of continued shark attacks could be damaged as a result the cull would also reduce damage to seabirds and whales.
  • The exemption would last until the 30th of April.
Full story can be found here http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jan/21/shark-cull-greg-hunt-exempts-wa

          My view

     In my opinion people who enter the sea where potentially dangerous animals are present do so at their own risk. I say the same about people who work in the African bush and other truly wild situations. On my two conservation trips to South Africa I willingly took the risk of potential harm and my family know if anything had happened to me retribution on the animal would be the last thing I would want. So I feel huge amounts of anger and sorrow when I read sharks are to be culled to protect people entering their domain. How are they to know what they can and cannot prey upon, in fact many sharks attacks are believed to be the case of mistaken identity. The point I am passionate about is that we are purely intruders into the marine world every time we venture into the sea, alien to its inhabitants we manipulate their lives as we see fit. Animals suffer because we want to control everything, we want the natural world to cower to our "power" when really desperate acts such as this cull only represent our ignorance. Sharks have been around for millions of years, they survived what the dinosaurs could not. Their power and grace have the ability to leave people awestruck and yet as a species we continue to deplete their resources, destroy their world and kill mindlessly  whenever we see fit. Sharks may well have outlived the dinosaurs. Whether they will outlive humans is a very different matter.

You are more likely to suffer theses fates than fall victim to shark attack.

Your chances of being a shark attack victim are 1 in 3,700,000 ( National Geographic).

For every human fatality, two million sharks are killed . (National Geographic).

In the USA and Canada roughly 40 people are killed by pigs each year. This equates to six times more than worldwide shark attack fatalities.

Globally more people are victims of falling coconuts than sharks.

In the United States of America the likelihood of being struck by lightening is twenty times higher than being attacked by a shark.

(Shark Foundation)

Calderon dolphin slaughter.

The second issue I am highlighting is something so barbaric it is beyond description. I have to warn you the images are distressing and highlight one of the most appalling "traditions" I and countless others have ever seen evidence of.  Hard as it may be, this sequence of pictures must be shared to shame the people of power into action, so you please help spread the word.

http://mp.weixin.qq.com/s?__biz=MjM5NDM0NTA2Mg%3D%3D&mid=10100142&idx=7&sn=2338d5d305296bc264ba02c8620c3c69&scene=4#rd

I hope you enjoyed the blog, sorry it was one of the more bleak ones published but I felt these issues needed to be highlighted.
Thank you for reading,
George.


Friday, 10 January 2014

A new year, new experiences and new features.

Hello everyone and welcome to my first wildlife blog of 2014. I hope you all had a fantastic Christmas and have not been affected by the extreme weather conditions that we have all been experiencing in varying degrees of severity. The first new feature in this blog British Birds came about as a result of a sighting of a Green Woodpecker while out enjoying a walk in the countryside which was particularly special as it was only my second encounter with the species. This has inspired a regular section celebrating our incredible diversity of bird life in the British Isles. The second new addition to the blog has come about as a result of the rather brilliant Natural History Museum Alive program by Sir David Attenborough if you have not had the opportunity to watch it yet I highly recommend you do. Watching it I was reminded of how these incredible now extinct animals had gripped me as a young child in sheer awe of the size of their skeletons while on regular trips to museums. Due to this this blog will run a feature on these incredible animals long gone but forever admired. As always I hope you enjoy the blog.

A rare diamond 

Recently our household acted as a temporary rescue centre to an escaped  Diamond Dove native to Australia this bird had escaped from its aviary  and very nearly paid the ultimate price as it suffered a glancing blow from the Sparrowhawk which frequently considers our garden its hunting ground. Fortunately however apart from shock the little bird suffered no obvious physical injury and after spending the afternoon recovering in the living room, through the power of the internet was later reunited with a very relieved owned the same night.
Photo: The latest rescue edition to the household a Diamond Dove, it just survived a Sparrowhawk attack and is now being helped its recovery
A very lucky bird !

British Birds : Green Woodpecker

Five facts on the Green Woodpecker 

1) Green Woodpeckers predominantly on the ground where short grass offers ideal feeding opportunities. While they can be found in Wales, Scotland and England they can't be found in Ireland.

2) The diet of this species of woodpecker is almost exclusively made up of ants, using its powerful beak to destroy ant colonies but will take a variety of other invertebrates.

3) Eggs are usually 31 by 23 mm in size and  clutches will typically be made up of 4-6 eggs. The incubation period lasts 19-20 days with fledgling taking place between 21 and 24 days.

4) The Green woodpecker is the largest of the three woodpecker species in Britain Lesser and Greater Spotted Woodpeckers being the other two.

5) The Green Woodpecker's conservation status is listed as amber with 52, 000 breeding pairs in the UK.
Facts courtesy of the RSPB and British Trust for Ornithology.

.http://www.rspb.org.uk/community/wildlife/homesforwildlife/f/905/p/28527/205689.aspxgvvv


Extinct Section part 1: Tyrannosaurus Rex

In my view this section could only start one way, featuring a dinosaur which has captured the imagination and starred in films for many decades most famously of all the Jurassic Park trilogy of course it is one of most infamous meat eaters to ever walk the planet - Tyrannosaurus Rex, Tyrant Lizard . Debate is strong about how much of this enormous dinosaurs diet was through predation  and how much was made up through scavenging behaviour, however what has been agreed on both sides of the debate is that T-Rex was incredibly opportunistic taking both live prey and scavenging.
T- Rex lived in North America during  the late Cretaceous period, standing at roughly 15-20 feet tall, 40 feet in length, weighing up to 6.8 metric tonnes and an enormous five foot long skull it would surely of made a terrifying sight. Conical teeth were  using for gripping and tearing food  and it has been estimated that 500 pounds of meat could be eaten in a single bite and fossil evidence of Triceratops and Edmontosaurus suggests bones were crushed while feeding and bone has also been found in its dung. Investigation into the olfactory lobes suggest that an incredible sense of smell was also part of the Rex's armoury, this would of helped detection towards both live and dead food this fact has been used by sides claiming Tyrannosaurus was primarily a scavenger although a final answer to this debate is likely to be a long time coming.  It is strongly suspected that females were larger than males by a scale of several thousand pounds theories as to why this may be include the fact females had to lay clutches of eggs or simply that females were more successful predators.
Whichever way this fearsome animal came across its food, what is for certain is that it is one of the most infamous creatures to ever walk the planet. Capturing the imagination of generations of people, there is no reason to think this most fearsome will not continue to inspire books, films and debate for many years to come.
 
 

 https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=t+rex&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=HF3QUsKkLYWg0wX-iYCADw&ved=0CAcQ_AUoAQ&biw=1093&bih=521#q=t+rex+skeleton&tbm=isch&facrc=_&imgdii=SIdU5RsIu9q9sM%3A%3B6RxTj6fRp8i7iM%3BSIdU5RsIu9q9sM%3A&imgrc=SIdU5RsIu9q9sM%253A%3Bl4rSMfwg8xlLgM%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fdadhoc.com%252Fwp-content%252Fuploads%252F2010%252F04%252Ftyrannosaurus-rex-skeleton-model_635.jpg%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fdadhoc.com%252F2010%252F04%252Fawesome-tyrannosaurus-rex-skeleton-model%252F%3B677%3B411

 
Facts were sourced from 

http://animals.nationalgeographic.co.uk/animals/prehistoric/tyrannosaurus-rex/
http://dinosaurs.about.com/od/dinosaurbasics/a/trexfacts.htm
Bbc nature

News in brief: Large carnivores  in dire trouble

Lions beautiful, majestic, powerful, awesome predators and possibly soon to become extinct as new reports suggest the west African Lion could soon become extinct. From 21 protected areas surveyed in 2005 recent studies  have found that they are only found in four of these areas. In these areas the population is less than 400 with fewer than 250 mature adults.
http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/extinction-countdown/2014/01/08/lions-extinct-west-africa/

Of the 31 largest carnivore species on the planet, three quarters of them are in decline with 17 species have had former ranges more than halved. Southeast Asia, southern and East Africa, and the Amazon are some of the areas hardest hit with numerous carnivores declining.
http://www.theecologist.org/blogs_and_comments/commentators/2231590/restore_large_carnivores_to_save_struggling_ecosystems.html

Trails and Tails Travel


Looking for a truly wild and wonderful adventure? want to see some natures most amazing natural creations ? Trails and Tails Travel offers a wide range of once in a lifetime opportunity to visit some of the most amazing locations on the planet run by Nicole and Matthew, you can look at their website by following this link http://www.trailsandtailstravel.com/ you can also connect with them on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/george.wykes?ref=tn_tnmn#!/TrailsAndTailsTravel?fref=ts.

Twitter

You can follow me on Twitter @ReallyWildWykes where I will be posting regular sources of wildlife news, images and of course my blog updates direct to my Twitter account.

That is all for me this time I hope you enjoyed the new features and thanks for reading,
George.