Wednesday, 31 December 2008

The Blackbourne Pavilion at London Zoo

The Blackbourne pavilion has recently been refurbished. As one of the older buildings of London Zoo, it has been remodelled in an homage to the Victorian collector. Outside the entrance is an enchanting ‘steam powered’ clock that does a display on the hour. Inside is a large oil style painting of a Victorian ornithologists study surrounded by silhouettes of various species of bird.

In the main area there are aviaries with toucans and bali starlings, coupled with a scatter of cabinets with museum style specimens of such things as birds eggs. This is particularly unusual as most Zoo exhibits focus on the conservation angle rather than the scientific angle.

The aviary room itself is very light, and the iron beams and pillars are all freshly painted and looking as good as when the house first opened in the 1800s.

Through the aviary to the first flight area. This is less Victorian apart from the binoculars, which resemble stereoscope machines.
When I visited one of these viewers had been appropriated by a bird as a nesting site and was roped off.

Past this room again is the main attraction of the Blackbourne Pavilion, the only free flying Humming Birds in Europe. They are almost impossible to photograph, but very nice to see.
Personally I found the Pavilion a very good reconciliation of modern Zookeeping with Victorian Architecture.

Monday, 22 December 2008

My Links

Firstly a bit of self promotion;
Natural History Notebook is my daily journal of Natural History sightings.
The entries are mainly bullet points and pictures, just to keep a log of what I see and where, but might be interesting and I'd love help IDing things.

Tetrapod Zoology is the blog of Darren Naish, a british Palaeontologist and all round Zoology type, who not only writes about his academic work, but also toy dinosaurs and anything else that takes his fancy. He is also Cryptozoology friendly and has appeared on the British Big Cat episode of Monsterwatch a TV show about cryptids.

The World We Don't Live In is a blog by Emile a student of palaentology at the American University of Beirut. His blog mainly covers dinosaurs, and reptiles, but this allows for such things as speculation on fictional biology and dissecting creationist tracts.

Strange Science is a website that looks at how the fields of Palaeontology and Biology have changed through the use of illustrations from out dated books as well as biography of important biologists. Very interesting and often amusing. Good for day dreams about strange beasties.

Cryptomundo is a cryptozoology blog run by Loren Coleman. it keeps the world right up to date with any kind of cryptozoological news.

WTF nature is a Live journal community dedicated to highlighting natural phenomena that makes you just want to to say ' what the fuck?' or maybe just 'wow' Highlights have been the crustaceans that eat fishes tongues and then lodge themselves in their mouths as an ersatz tongue.

Zooillogix is an animal news blog with mainly light hearted stories. is an archive of pictures relating to domestic animals (mainly cats) both historical and current. There are articles on rare and extinct animal and a grea collection of albino and other mutations including hybrids.

Monday, 15 December 2008


Just browsing for calendars and found an artist who paints surreal animal paintings in the style of natural history water colours. The style of Walton Ford is familiar, but the subjects are are odd, often dark serving as a critique on Colonialism and comment on Natural History.

From an article about his 2006 Exhibition at Brooklyn Museum
"Using the animal kingdom as a mirror of the human world, Ford employs his skill as an artist and observer to communicate his views on society."

This article in the New York Magazine contains an Interview with the artist which explains the background of some of his pictures and where he gets his inspiration from.

More pics to be found on Google Images.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Out of the Armchair...

...And into the Deckchair

Last Thursday I went light trapping in Wadi Tarabat just at the base of Jebel Haffeet. It turned out to be a cosy affair with just me, Mike Gillett and Brigitte Howarth attending. I nearly gave up and went home when I couldn’t spot a flock of cars at the carpark where we were meeting, but a few texts and phone calls and things were sorted out. You’d have though the committee members of the Natural History group would have the group’s bumper stickers on their cars!

Any way we got to Wadi Tarabat and set up the light trap (and the deckchairs). It was fairly simple; consisting of two white sheets on the ground with a double bulb, which gave out UV and visible light, in the middle. Due to the breeze we did not get any large beetles (which Mike, the beetle expert, was hoping for) but there were other moments of interest.

Once we settled down to watch we were joined by a few large wasps. Luckily they were males so they couldn’t sting. The most interesting thing about these were their fuzzy abdomens, which made them look larger than they were. As nothing much was appearing I took the torch to look for geckos. I found two Stenodectylus doriae (whip tailed gecko) under some trees. These geckos are quite slow, and I could almost touch them, before they scuttled away. They are probably about average size for a gecko, very pale, almost translucent, and have brownish bars across the top of the body. Their eyes typically large nocturnal eyes and their snouts are quite snubbed.

I then wandered back to the light trap and managed to walk into a thorn tree whose branches extended out further than I thought. Luckily the spines broke off the tree instead of gouging into my flesh. I then had to sit down and pick out the spines that were lodged in my finger. They were curved like cat claws so if they had been less dry they could have made for a nasty scratch. A quick scrub with the antibacterial hand gel and I was off again, this time to show the geckos to Mike and Brigitte, who identified them and took a couple of photographs.

We then took a walk around the wadi looking out for anything else interesting. The best thing was a resurrection plant which Brigitte dug up for me. It came home with me and when I put it in a glass of water, the branches did indeed unfurl. However after a bit it curled itself back up again. It is now planted in a pot on the balcony. We then settled down at the light trap to watch for more arrivals. There were a couple of moths, some very small beetles and some adult ant lions, who although not as intriguing as their larvae were quite pretty. The best things we found in the trap were the picture wing flies which Brigitte has made a special study of. Unlike most picture wing flies the species here have a distinct picture of a small generic insect on their wings, absolutely fascinating.

Picture and text by Brigitte Howarth here

Just as we were about to pack up a very large green cricket appeared and when it declared to be nothing out of the ordinary Brigitte claimed it for her Wonder Gecko (Teratoscincus scincus) which she had rescued and now keeps in a vivarium. We finished up with a look at the unnatural rolling green hills of the Green Mubaasara. They are kept permanently watered and a shrubby succulent plays the role of grass on the slopes. The only natural thing about the area are the hot springs which are open for bathing.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Armchair on Tour

I got out of the armchair briefly and spotted this Chamaeleon (Chamaeleo arabicus) at Al Mughsail, in Oman

View Larger Map

He was in the middle of the road, near a roundabout. He walked across the road, and then into a drain where he impressed us with his cricket catching abilities.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

National Moth Night (UK)

Time to get out of the armchairs and look for Moths!

Saturday 7th June is National Moth Night in the UK and is a chance to help out by observing and counting moths.
The website has some tips on how to attrach Moths and also events in your area.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Insect Digitally Extracted from amber

Not only have palaeontologists extracted images of insects from cloudy amber but they have used the digital information to construct a scale model

More here

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

the Tower Menagerie- Thomas Hahn

The Menagerie at the Tower of London lasted nearly 600 years and served as both a source of income and a place to deposit royal presents.
In this book Thomas Hahn explores both the events around the tower and the changing attitudes towards animals from the 13th Century right up until 1835 after the advent of the Zoo in Regent's Park.
Hahn shows how the ravens of the Tower have replaced the role of the royal lions in predicting the fortunes of the royal family and leads us on a interesting aside on how Art has depicted animals.
This a good read for anyone who is interested in the history of Zoos and the attitude of Man towards animals. It also makes for an interesting way of looking at the history of the tower its self.

Amazon Link

Elephants Filmed using Water stored in their throats

'Cool' elephants caught on film
By Rebecca Morelle
Science reporter, BBC News

Elephant (Natural World)

The tactics used by elephants to keep their cool in extreme desert heat have been caught on camera.

A BBC crew filmed the tusked beasts spraying themselves with water that they had stored in a reservoir in their throats several hours earlier.

Although this skill for storing water was first documented 100 years ago, the team believes this is the first time it has been filmed.

BBC News

comeplete aricle here

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Fountain of Youth

Secrets of the 'immortal worms'
By Brady Haran
BBC News

sewage outlet

Is this sewage outlet the "fountain of youth"?

The small waterway behind Nottingham's Queens Medical Centre looks unspectacular, but may help unlock the secret to increasing human lifespans.

Scientist Aziz Aboobaker and fellow researchers use the outlet as a source of planaria (flatworms).

They say the worms are helping us understand stem cells and leading to advances in human medicine.

The planaria are special because they have a high proportion of adult stem cells, with Dr Aboobaker nicknaming them "immortal worms".

He says: "The coolest thing is that we can take a worm in the lab, chop its head off, and within seven days the worm has grown a whole new brain.

rest of the article and a video here


More from the BCC Website

Tail 'key' for gecko acrobatics
By Rebecca Morelle
Science reporter, BBC News

A gecko's tail is as crucial to the animal's acrobatic ability as its "sticky" feet, scientists report.

High-speed video reveals that the creature uses its tail as a "fifth leg" to prevent it from slipping as it climbs wet surfaces.

And the footage shows that if it does fall, a flick of the tail is all it takes for the gecko to land feet-down.

The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, said the discovery could aid the development of improved climbing robots and unmanned gliding vehicles.

Gecko (Science Photo Library)

The gecko is one of nature's best climbers - its feet are covered with millions of microscopic hairs that allow it to effortlessly cling to smooth surfaces.

But while the reptile's hairy toes have been extensively studied, little has been known until now about the role of the gecko's tail.

Bob Full, director of UC Berkeley's new Center for Interdisciplinary Bio-inspiration in Education and Research, and an author on the PNAS paper, said: "Initially, we thought the gecko's climbing ability was all in the feet, but now we know that this is clearly not true and the tail is critical."

The rest of the article and more videos here


From BBC News

Tower's royal lions 'from Africa'

Two lion skulls found during excavations at the Tower of London originated in north-west Africa, genetic research suggests.

The big cats, which were kept by royals during medieval times, have the same genetic make-up as the north African Barbary lion, a DNA study shows.

Experts believe the animals were gifts to English monarchs in the 13th and 14th centuries.

At the time, the Barbary lion roamed across much of Africa.

The two well-preserved lion skulls were recovered during excavations of the moat at the Tower of London in 1937. They have been radiocarbon dated to AD 1280-1385 and AD 1420-1480.

Researchers at the University of Oxford extracted DNA from the skulls, and found that it matched that of the north African Barbary lion.

Rest of the article and a video here

Hello, Welcome.

Hello Bloggers.
This is just a first post to say Hi and to let you know what I am planning to post about.

*Al Ain Zoo, UAE
*Crystal Palace Dinosaurs
*Amazing Things Rare Things book and Exhibition
* The blogs and websites i have linked in my links
*The Blackburn Pavilion at London Zoo
* Aquazoo/Loebbecke Museum in Düsseldorf
* Zarafa: A Giraffe's True Story book review
* The Tower Menagerie Book review
*The Aye- Aye and I book review
*news stories that interest me

Watch this space...