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User / Tim Melling
Tim Melling / 5,667 items

N 30 B 1.7K C 6 E Oct 20, 2018 F Oct 20, 2018
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When I first learned about Crossbills they were supposed to breed in January or February, with just a single brood per year. But recent studies have shown that Crossbills frequently start breeding in August and continue throughout the winter. That explains why I saw a pair of Crossbills with three recently-fledged youngsters this morning (late October). This is one of these three juveniles with streaky grey plumage, and quite unlike the red males and green females. Although I see plenty of Crossbills they are usually flying or high in trees, so are rarely easy to photograph. So I was over the moon to find such a posing juvenile near Holmfirth this morning. The scientific name is Loxia curvirostra. Loxia means oblique or crosswise, and curvirostra means curved beak.

Tags:   Loxia curvirostra Common Red Crossbill juvenile Holmfirth West Yorkshire Peak District National Park Tim Melling

N 11 B 3.1K C 18 E Feb 8, 2010 F Oct 18, 2018
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My great friend and colleague Roy Taylor sadly lost his battle with Motor Neurone Disease this morning. This was Roy in 2010 a couple of years before he was diagnosed with MND. We were in the rainforests of Malaysia together and he had just caught a giant millipede.

N 76 B 2.7K C 29 E Oct 7, 2018 F Oct 18, 2018
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Fly Agaric must be the most familiar and recognisable fungus with its white-spotted scarlet cap. But what about its unusual name? It has been used for hundreds of years crumbled into milk which then attracts and kills flies. It is closely related to some deadly mushrooms like Death Cap and Destroying Angel, but Fly Agaric is far less poisonous. It contains Ibotenic acid which converts to the powerful hallucinogen Muscimol as it dries. But it is not all "beer and skittles" as other effects of eating Fly Agaric include nausea, vomiting and anxiety. Muscimol passes through the body relatively unchanged which means that the urine of someone (or some reindeer?) that has eaten these mushrooms, can also be hallucinogenic. But the drugs that induce nausea and vomiting will be filtered out by the kidneys leaving the urine as a purer hallucinogen. So if anyone were to drink urine from a person (or reindeer) that had eaten Fly Agaric they would be away with the fairies. This is probably where the phrase getting pissed originated.

The repeated mention of Reindeer is because this practice was known from Lapland where getting pissed made those long autumn evenings simply fly by. And I'm wondering if the hallucinogen works on slugs as it is near impossible to find one that hasn't been eaten by slugs.

Tags:   Amanita muscari Fly Agaric Toadstool Mushroom getting pissed Tim Melling West Yorkshire

N 49 B 2.8K C 17 E May 13, 2018 F Oct 16, 2018
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This is an avian crime in action. Two Black-headed Gulls trying to "persuade" this Common Tern to drop the fish it is taking back to its own young. The technical term for animals mugging other animals for food is kleptoparasitism. Black-headed Gulls are simply opportunistic muggers whereas it is a way of life for Skuas (or Jaegers as you call them in America). Their only source of food is to steal it from other birds.

When birds swallow food it is initially stored in the crop, which sits above the gizzard (which grinds the food) and the intestines (which digests the food). Many birds store food in the crop while they fly back to their nests, then they disgorge the food to feed the chicks. Terns leave themselves particularly vulnerable to kleptoparasitism by carrying their food on show. This was just too tempting for these opportunistic thieves. I took the photograph at St Aidans in West Yorkshire.

Tags:   kleptoparasitism Common Tern Sterna hirundo Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus West Yorkshire Tim Melling

N 52 B 3.5K C 21 E Jun 17, 2018 F Oct 14, 2018
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I was reading the first ever bird book published in the English language, as you do. Its abbreviated title is the Ornithology of Francis Willughby by John Ray (1678), the Latin version was published two years earlier. Tawny owls come in a range of colours ranging from rufous to grey, but in Ray's book he describes two species of Tawny Owl; the Common Brown or Ivy-owl (Strix aluco) and the Grey Owl (Strix cinerea). Apart from the grey colouration, Ray states "it is distinguished by manifest notes, and which argue a specifical difference". So it appears that the female's "kew-ick" and the male's "hoo-hoo-oo" were thought to be calls from the two species. As a child I remember "Brown Owl" being an alternative name for Tawny Owl but I have never heard of Ivy-owl before, yet it is a brilliant name as I find them hiding in Ivy more than any other plant.

Ray says that Linnaeus' name Strix is taken from Stringere (the Latin verb to strangle) "because it strangles people while they are asleep". There also seems to have been some confusion with the Nightjar at this time because Ray writes "Aldrovandus writes that the Country-people about Bononia told him, that the Strix or Screech Owl used to suck (I should add here that the printed s looks like an f) their goats: Which ours (as far as I have heard) was never complained of for doing." It was the Nightjar (whose scientific name Caprimulgus translates as goat-milker) that was reputed to suckle goats, though its bird enzymes cannot digest milk, which is a mammal product.

And finally, John Ray who wrote the 1678 Ornithology is one of very few people to have a British plant with an English name commemorating him. Though recently, it has been demoted to a subspecies; Ray's Knotgrass (Polygonum oxyspermum subsp raii). I've posted a photo of Ray's Knotgrass below.

If you want to look at John Ray's Ornithology you can do so on the excellent Biodiversity Heritage Library here: www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/129443#page/7/mode/1up
The descriptions of his two Tawny Owls are on pages 102 and 103, and the illustrations are on Tab XIII towards the end. They also have a Flickr page with hundreds of albums of illustrations from ancient books. It's well worth a browse: www.flickr.com/photos/biodivlibrary/albums/

Tags:   Strix aluco Tawny Owl West Yorkshire Tim Melling


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