Seventy at Seventy

Life Begins at 70

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[14] A Bird in a Gilded Cage – A Blog About Birds

[14] A Bird in a Gilded Cage – A Blog About Birds

I have so many pictures of animals. Before I get on with Insects I will do the last blog about Birds. I have done Water Birds and some Common Birds so this will cover all the others. Pictures come from various locations.

Gulls, Crows and Pigeons

I will start with some that might have slipped into the Common Birds blog. I promised you a Black-headed Gull in summer plumage when it has a brown hood – no, not a black head!

I also saved one from the Crow family – the Magpie, Pica pica.

At its best you can see the shiny blue it its wings.

It’s almost never seen on bird feeders because of its size but it can show initiative with two feeders placed together.

I also showed you some Woodpigeon. Here is an unusual one, seen a couple of times at Slimbridge, with more white markings on its feathers.

Here are our other two common Gulls. First the Herring Gull, Larus argentatus, with a lighter grey back and pink legs.

The picture above is bird in winter plumage. Below are some stages of the juvenile plumages.

[You can see from this picture, above, that the Herring Gull is significantly larger than its Black-headed relatives. These two are starting the transition from a winter black smudge to a summer full hood.]

The Lesser Black-backed Gull, Larus fuscus, has a darker grey back (not really black) and yellow legs. It too has various markings on the juvenile stages.

At seaside towns you generally see either Herring Gulls or Lesser Black-backed. They tend not to mix. In towns such as Cheltenham they are less discriminate. We have both.

Water Birds

I have one goose to add to Waterfowl, this Egyptian Goose, Alopochen aegyptiaca. It’s really more like a shelduck than a goose.

And this Water Rail, Rallus aquaticus, is a relative of Coots and Moorhens – but much less common!

There are many shore birds and waders of various sizes that don’t often come close for good portrait pictures. The two relatively large ones are Lapwing and Oystercatcher, Haemotopus haemotopus.

The bird above (after what looks like an accident with fishing net wire) hopped about on one leg. I have seen birds from about ten species manage without two legs.

My last two waders are the Avocet, Recurvirostra avosetta, now widespread after almost disappearing from Britain, and a Snipe, Gallinago gallinago, difficult to spot because of its excellent camouflage.

Blackbirds and Robins

Not everything works to plan. The Thrush family has two fairly common birds – Song Thrush and Mistle Thrush – and two winter visitors – Fieldfare and Redwing – that might have appeared here. Without suitable pictures of them I do at least have some shots of the very common Blackbird, Turdus merula. Only the male is black, the female is a well camouflaged brown.

As we have seen above with the Woodpigeon, sometimes birds’ plumage is not quite as expected. We have already seen albino Pigeons. Occasionally you may see an all-white or half-white Blackbird. This female just had a few white feathers, more obvious when she turned round.

While the Blackbird is closely related to our thrushes, the smaller Robin, Erithacus rubecula, is also less closely related but is in the Thrush family. It is one of many birds with an interesting history to its name. It used to be a Redbreast, from the much older use of the word ‘red’ to include orange or brown tones. Then it became a Robin Redbreast in the same anthropomorphic way that Wrens became Jenny Wren. Then the ‘Redbreast’ bit disappeared.

Tits and Finches

I won’t say much about our smaller birds. They do at least come to bird feeders – a great help in taking pictures!

Just one picture of each of these – Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Goldfinch and Chaffinch.

Other Little Birds

A few more small birds, mostly from bird feeders. The best places for Starlings, Sturnus vulgaris, are Motorway services. House Sparrow, Passer domesticus, and Pied Wagtail, Motacilla alba, are common and widespread.

The Nuthatch, Sitta europaea, is a woodland bird but it will visit bird feeders in woods. The Reed Bunting, Emberiza schoeniclus, is a bird of reed-land areas but it migrates to others areas in winter and is now well-known to survive from bird feeders. As with many birds the male bunting has to be good-looking to attract the mottled brown female.

Other Birds

I start this final section with two raptors, always difficult to photograph. The Buzzard, Buteo buteo, was perched on a fence at Slimbridge and the poor quality pictures of Red Kite, Milvus milvus, are just about recognizable.

I have to admit that the better pictures of Cormorant, Phalocrocorax carbo, come from Croatia.

The Common Crane, Grus grus, is just beginning to be seen in the wild after a reintroduction scheme. They are now not an uncommon sight at Slimbridge.

I suppose I have mixed feelings about Pheasant, Phasianus colchicus. It is with us so that it can be hunted but many survive and breed.

I’m not quite sure of the status of peacocks either. (Indian Peafowl, Pavo cristatus) These ones on Brownsea Island looked wild to me.

You can see a few more birds in my blog about Croatian Wildlife – Yellow-legged Gulls, Hooded Crows, Green Woodpecker, Jay and others.

A Bird in a Gilded Cage is a sentimental ballad composed by Arthur Lamb and Harry von Tilzer that became one of the most popular songs of 1900. It describes the sad life of a beautiful woman who has married for money instead of love. Here is the chorus.

She’s only a bird in a gilded cage; a beautiful sight to see;

You may think she’s happy and free from care; she’s not, though she seems to be;

‘Tis sad when you think of her wasted life; for youth cannot mate with age;

And her beauty was sold; For an old man’s gold;

She’s a bird in a gilded cage.


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[18] Prvo je zaštićeno područje u Istarskoj županiji

[18] Prvo je zaštićeno područje u Istarskoj županiji – A Blog about Croatian Wildlife

Golden Cape Forest Park (Zlatni Rt – Punta Corrente) is the ‘First Protected Area in the Istrian Region,’ so the Croatian version is my title. (You try Googling something like ‘Quotations about animals in Croatia!’ It’s not easy.)

The Park

Here is one of many informative notices about the park. Like everything in the area it is in Croatian and Italian but the Park adds some other languages – including English.

There are cycle paths around the area.

We spent the first two weeks of May in this area and I have cropped out the main area of our walks from the map above. The hotel area lies between the town of Rovinj to the North and the Park to the South.

Here are the impressive gates between our hotel and the Park.

This takes you to a walk through the pine forest but we usually went slightly to the right for a coastal walk.

I looked at the flowers, often resting places for insects. Rock Rose (Cistus) were coming out and their flowers often attracted several insects.

There were also White Campion and Dandelion.

I should have looked more closely when I photographed this orchid. There’s a bug trying to pose for me!

I won’t list the animal life chronologically or geographically but more or less by taxonomic order. Most pictures come from the Forest Park or from Rovinj including the shoreline and hotel areas but some come from wider trips.


I normally start my lists of birds with [1] Waterfowl and then [2] Waders (including birds like herons, cranes, storks and rails.) Well I didn’t see any of those so we move swiftly on to [3] Sea Birds.

Gulls are not as common in the Mediterranean as in Britain but we were on the coast. There were always gulls overhead making their plaintiff calls.

Gulls in this area are all Yellow-legged Gulls. Here is an adult in close-up and two shots in full view showing the yellow legs.

Apart from the legs they look identical to our Herring Gulls and until about ten years ago they were a subspecies. Growing up for these gulls is a two-year process as the mottled appearance changes.

I don’t attempt to identify juvenile gulls from the leg colour. For the Yellow-legged version it seems to vary from orange to pink.

Cormorants are not easy to photograph on the water. They dive and come up twenty seconds later a long way away.

I saw these by Miramar Castle near Trieste.

These were taken at a little colony on Katarina Island where the birds knew that they were safe when we were quite close.

That’s it for sea birds. With a zero count for [4] Raptors and Owls I have to mention in passing the Scops Owl. I have never actually seen one but their call is repetitive and easy to spot – a single note again and again. Like most people we thought at first that the sound was some kind of alarm but we heard it every evening at our hotel just about all evening and through the night – but, sadly, no pictures.

In the [5] Game Birds and Doves category we only have Doves. There were a few Pigeon at some places as almost everywhere. Doves are difficult to photograph because they keep nodding up and down and pecking the ground.

We heard Collared Dove often but only saw a pair once.

Woodpigeon were even rarer. I did manage a couple of pictures but not good enough quality for display here.

Under [6] Others only two birds get a mention. Groups of Swift were seen, mostly in the first week, and we heard their familiar screeching sound. As their name suggests these birds are too quick for photography.

Green Woodpecker were often heard in the forest and around the hotel. This is another bird with a familiar easily recognizable call.

All of my remaining bird pictures will be [7] Passerine, starting with the Crow family. In this area of Europe there are no Rooks and the Carrion Crow is replaced by the Hooded Crow, seen more often flying overhead than on the ground.

I saw a few Magpie but by far the most common corvid bird was the Jay

The most common relatively tame species of our garden birds was the Blackbird. They didn’t mind me getting close but didn’t stop and pose. This young one was even less wary of human contact.

The Great Tit was another bird heard more often than seen and as always White Wagtail turned up at the sea edge.

(We have the Pied Wagtail, which is our subspecies of White Wagtail. The shades of grey are a little different.)

I heard Greenfinch a few times but only saw them at the tops of very tall trees.

Serin seemed to arrive in the second week, making their high pitched twittering calls. I did catch a pair almost camouflaged in a field.

There were others that I did not manage to photograph – Goldfinch, Starling, House Sparrow and Swallow. My last pictures of birds are a pair of Wheatear seen at the sea edge, presumably in transit on migration.


I have said above that the place to look for insects is in flowers. Whether you will find any depends on the weather, the location and time of year. I am not an expert and I get most of my identification from posting pictures in various Facebook groups. These are very good for UK sightings but more limited abroad so some of my labels may involve some guesswork.

I will start with Lepidoptera and, in particular, Butterflies, which seemed much more common on the first few days. This may be a seasonal thing or it may have been because of a few days of nice sunny weather.

The male Brimstone, Gonepteryx rhamni, is bright yellow (not as dull as its picture here) and the female is greenish white. There were many of both.

Much smaller are two brown butterflies I saw only once each – Brown Argus, Aricia agestis, and Wall Brown, Lasiommata megera.

Just before publishing this blog I saw this one, probably Meadow Brown, Maniola jurtina.

I missed some other photo-opportunities including at least three Red Admiral and some small Blues.

To complete Lepidoptera we have to look at Moths. There were some tiny Moths that eluded me. This one was so well camouflaged that I only spotted it as it flew and landed. It’s a Loxostege (one of over fifty species.)

My other one was bigger, more moth-like – and I recognized it! It’s a Silver-Y, Autographa gamma.

The next group Hymenoptera includes bees, wasps and ants. I have no pictures of wasps or ants to show you but not surprisingly lots of Bees are found on flowers. I will start with the Honey Bee, Apis mellifera, and Bumble Bees. Note that the Italian race of Honey Bee has a large orange section.

(Bumble bees are what they call Bombus sp. I won’t guess at species without local knowledge but the last one was definitely a queen.)

The next one is Lasioglossum sp. Wikipedia tells me rather unhelpfully that this is the largest bee genus with over 1700 species.

There were lots of these tiny bees with large bright orange pollen baskets (corbiculae.) In my book the obvious candidate was Dasypoda altercator but they may be Andrena sp.

The one above is unidentified but my last bee is a Long-Horned Bee. I think it could be Eucera longicornis. Only the males have these long antennae. Wikipedia just says that the 32 genera of Eucerini, with over 500 species, mostly have long horns.

I have to include one other from Hymenoptera, an Ichneumon. My Collins Pocket Guide to insects calls them Ichneumon Flies and Wikipedia calls them Ichneumon Wasps. There are about 50 000 species so I won’t venture a guess for this one.

We move on to Coleoptera, Beetles. Suprisingly, these were also apparently quite seasonal. I will start with a picture showing two beetles.

The larger one is a White Spotted Rose Beetle, Oxythyrea fenestra, common in the first week wherever the Rock Rose were in flower – but disappearing by the second week.

Also within the flowers of Rock Rose were smaller beetles, Oedemera Sp., like this one that I persuaded to pose on my finger to show its size.

I found one flower with about a dozen (possibly O. flavipes) crawling over each other, perhaps in a lekking display. Those with thick legs are male.

Here is my only good picture of a female.

To complete Coleoptera here are an even smaller flower beetle, Malachius bipustulatus (as seen peeking over the top of my first beetle picture,) and a tiny weevil possibly Bruchidius Sp.

Hemiptera are what Entomologists call true bugs.

Here are the Mirid bugs Closterotomus biclavatus and Pachyxyphus lineellus.

Under Diptera, Flies, my best find was a small crane-fly Nephrotoma appendiculata.

Apart from that there were some small insignificant flies and a few hover-flies. This one was large and identified as Eristalis Tenax, one I have seen at home!

I know they are not insects but here are three spiders. The first two knew that inside a flower was a good place to lurk. The third one has lost two legs and looks quite ant-like.

Number one is unidentified; two could be a Napoleon Spider, Synema globosum; three looks like Asagena phalerata.

Other Animals

If you have been waiting patiently for lions, herds of wildebeest or elephants you could be disappointed. I have just two more quite small animals to mention.

I might have hoped for more animal life by the sea but I saw little. After a single distant Crab scuttling away I found a couple hiding by the shore on Katarina Island. They may be Marbled Rock Crab, Pachygrapsus marmoratus, or possibly some other species.

My final offering is a small green lizard. I thought it would be easy to identify a lizard. I found the European Green Lizard, which sounded good. I soon saw that ‘There are three very similar species living in Croatia and all three are protected: Lacerta bilineata, Lacerta trilineata and Lacerta viridis.’ They were green but none of them looked right. I found the Italian Wall Lizard or Ruin Lizard and the Dalmatian Wall Lizard both found in Croatia.

From their descriptions I think these are Italian Wall Lizard, Podarcis sicula.

It hasn’t really been a comprehensive survey of Croatian wildlife, just a few notes about the animals I have photographed, mostly birds and insects.

There will be one or two other blogs from Croatia.


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[13] Kil Ndege Huruka na Mbawa Zake

[13] Kila Ndege Huruka na Mbawa Zake – A blog about Pigeons … and other birds

I supposed it had to happen eventually. I have picked a saying from Swahili for a title. The Swahili language is full of meaningful sayings. ‘Kila ndege huruka na mbawa zake’ translates as ‘Every Bird Flies with its Own Wings.’ I will leave it to you to consider its deeper philosophical meanings. I’m just here using it because I’m talking about birds. I have done one blog already about Waterfowl. This one is, more or less, about pigeons.

Rock Doves and Pigeons

Once upon a time there used to be a species of bird called the Rock Dove, Columba livia. (There still is but I wanted to make a dramatic start! Its relative, the Pasenger Pigeon, is a different story. This was hunted in millions in America and is an example of a species made extinct by man.)

The Rock Dove is found in rocky places like sea cliffs. Its feathers are predominantly grey with dark bars across its back – a bit like the picture above. In sunlight the neck feathers sometimes show areas of shiny pink and green.

The bird became domesticated in many areas, primarily for food, but also as racing pigeons and Show varieties. Many escaped and bred and spread and now the Feral Pigeon is almost ubiquitous. They are much, much more common than the remaining original Rock Doves. Many birders almost treat them as separate but they are still Columba livia.

In the words of the RSPB web-site where it considers pigeons, ‘Feral pigeons come in all shades, some bluer, others blacker – some are pale grey with darker chequered markings, others an unusual shade of dull brick-red or cinnamon-brown, and still others can be or less white while others look exactly like wild rock doves.’

I deplore the term ‘Feral Pigeon.’ Nowadays they are not escaped birds. They have survived in the wild for dozens of generations.

In the group above at Pittville Park there are several varieties including some that look like proper Rock Doves.

Here are some more Pigeon pictures, mostly from Pittville or Slimbridge.

Sometimes you can see two together and differences are obvious.

I can never resist close-ups. As for geese, the necks show feather details well.

My favourites are the pure white ones but with inter-breeding you can get varying amounts of white.

This won’t just be about pigeons. Because I see and photograph so many birds I will show you a few more of my favourite common ones here. (The rest will produce at least one more blog.)


There is a closely related bird, the Woodpigeon (or Wood Pigeon,) Columba palumbus. In Britain it’s one of our most common species. (There are many people who regard both as ‘rats with feathers.’)

Above you can see the two together. The Wood Pigeon at the back is larger and mostly grey but also has a pinkish breast and a white operculum. (That’s the white bit on its nose.) It is easy to distinguish by the large white spot on its neck, although juvenile birds do not have this spot.

Pigeons and Wood Pigeons both seem happy to make use of human environments and they breed freely.

The Crow Family

To many people pigeons are boring grey birds and the crow family are boring black birds. But they are my favourites. The common black ones are Rooks, Crows and Jackdaws. All three are generally very wary and difficult to photograph.

The Rook, Corvus frugilegus, is very gregarious, normally just seen on farmland where they feed on worms, insects and other small animals and cereal. I’m never sure if it’s a trick of my camera but they appear distinctly blue when photographed. The long pointed bill with the white skin area are easy identification markings.

If you wonder how I get such good pictures there are two places where I find these birds relatively easily. Like juvenile Starlings, lone Rooks are often seen at Motorway Services. I assume that they are either injured or have been rejected by their flocks for some reason.

I also find them at Slimbridge, where they take advantage of the food put down for the ducks. Again these are generally lone birds. You can get much closer to these than any of those in large agricultural groups, sometimes very close.

I assume that this one, without the while on its bill, is probably a first year juvenile bird.

The lone birds have probably come from the rookery high in the trees by the Zeiss Hide.

The Crow, Corvus corone, is not gregarious, normally seen as one or two at a time. This part of their nature is so significant that there are sayings like ‘A Crow in a crowd is a Rook; a Rook on its own is a Crow.’

(There are several crow species around the World and technically our black European version is a Carrion Crow but we call them just Crows.)

These are the nearest I have been able to get to a good Crow picture. You can see that the bill is very different to a Rook.

I think the second one let me get quite near because it couldn’t see me very well in the mist. I couldn’t see it either and have adjusted contrast levels a bit.

My favourite of these three is the Jackdaw, Corvus monedula, because of its attractive silvery grey neck. It can often be found amongst groups of rooks and is generally more approachable at Slimbridge.

I am fairly sure that they nest in the trees at Slimbridge. They are often seen in pairs. This one is definitely gathering materials for a nest.


We have three common species of gull in Brirain – the Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull and Black-headed Gull. (I said common. The Common Gull is not common! )

I will say more about all three in another blog about birds but I will just end this one with some pictures of the Black-headed Gull, Chroicocephalus ridibundus, in its winter plumage. Of the three it’s the smallest and prettiest.

You will have to wait for its summer plumage, when the head gets dark brown. (No, not black. The names of bird species are not that accurate!)

I have also saved one more member of the Crow family, the Magpie, and there will be many more birds …




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[12] The Best in Town

[12] The Best in Town – a Blog about Water Birds.

This will be more or less about waterfowl, by which I mean the family Anatidae, which consists of ducks, geese and swans (and a few other species.) But beware if you want to be precise. Some ducks are quite big. Some geese and swans are quite small. The differences are not about size.

I once asked a visiting speaker, a waterfowl expert, what defined a duck as opposed to a goose or a swan. It was the question he always hoped no one would ask. There is no simple answer. Within Anatidae there is a subfamily that includes both swans and geese but shelducks and sheldgeese go together in another subfamily (and, in spite of its name, an Egyptian Goose is more of a shelduck than a goose!)

I will also, to confuse you further, include grebes; (Podicepiformes) Coots and Moorhens (Rails, more closely related to Cranes) and maybe the odd wader (Charadriiformes, a group that strangely also includes gulls.)

As it’s a blog it is not a comprehensive guide. It’s more about what I normally see and have seen this year. I won’t get too technical. I will just show you some of my pictures of birds with some of my comments. Almost all the pictures will come from Slimbridge but some come from other watery locations.


You will all recognise our common swan, known as the Mute Swan [Cygnus olor] although it does make a number of noises. It has a reddish orange bill bordered in black and the male and females are almost identical (as for all of our swans and geese.) You may see a pair on most lakes but normally only one pair per lake. They are very territorial.


Sometimes they display their wings to appear larger when sorting out territorial disputes.


The birds above, kept at Slimbridge, are unable to establish their territories. So several have to share some quite small lakes.

They are the largest birds likely to be seen in flight and their most familiar sound is the beating of their wings as they take off and fly.


Young swans are known as cygnets. [Language change is a long and complex process but cygnet and swan both come from the same original word.] They start brownish grey in colour and towards their first winter they gradually become patchy white. When they are completely white the parents see them as competition and chase them away.


Bewick’s Swans [Cygnus columbianus] are winter visitors and Slimbridge is one of the places they visit. They are smaller than Mute Swans and the bill is yellow rather than orange (and more of it is black.)

bewickadult bewickadultclose

Sometimes we have a few nearly adult cygnets among the Bewick’s. They still have some grey markings particularly on their heads and their bill has a pink colouration.



Our common goose is the Greylag [Anser anser] one of several similar grey looking species. (Domesticated and farmed geese are Greylag, even the all-white ones.)


I always think their most attractive feature is their neck with its prominent feather structures.


The Canada Goose [Branta Canadensis] as its name suggests comes from the continent of North America but King James introduced some to his parks in London a few hundred years ago – and they have spread! They are now common throughout the UK. I still had a lot of difficulty finding one for a picture for this blog.


I am going to include the Hawaiian Goose [Branta sandvicensis] or Nene, even though it is not a native bird, because I see so many wandering about the site at Slimbridge. (The name, like so many bird names, comes from its call.)

Hawaiian geese became so rare on the islands of Hawaii that they are bred now at Slimbridge and some have been reintroduced to Hawaii. It’s part of the conservation work that justifies Slimbridge.



There are several different shelducks, birds that are something between geese and ducks. In the UK we have the Common Shelduck [Tadorna tadorna] a bird of seas and estuaries, seen often at Slimbridge. We just call it a Shelduck. Males and females are very similar. (Like our swans the male is a little larger with a more prominent knob on his bill.)


Common Ducks

Our very common ducks, the only ones that ‘quack,’ are Mallard [Anas platyrhynchos.] Now that we come to ducks the male and female look different. Males have to be pretty to attract the females! (To make things difficult, female ducks of different species are very similar to each other.)

The male Mallard is easily recognized from his green head. Sometimes in sunlight it may look blue or even purple.

mallardcropped mallardhead

These pictures are taken in winter. The birds are slightly duller than the summer plumage.

Here is the female version.



Tufted Ducks [Aythya fuligula] are smaller and much less common than Mallard but still fairly widespread.

The male has a distinctive appearance. He is black with white sides and has a tuft on his head, which gives him his name.


The female is brown with lighter coloured sides and a less prominent tuft.


Winter Visiting Ducks

The Pochard [Aythya farina] is closely related to the Tufted Duck. Many of them come to the UK in the winter. Almost all of these visitors are males. (They have a long way to come from their breeding grounds in Northern Europe where the males leave the females still caring for young on the nest. By the time that the chicks have left the nest the female Pochard only has time to travel to places like Italy for her winter holiday.)

The male bird is easily recognized by his red head and white back and sides.


The female is more of a dull brown and grey and at a distance she may be sometimes confused with a female Tufted Duck. I have learned that the yellow eye-ring of the tufty is a good distinguishing feature.


My favourite duck is another winter visitor, the Pintail [Anas acuta] with a chocolate brown head and a metallic looking bill.


They can be difficult to photograph because they spend so much time up-ended with their heads underwater showing off the pointed tail that gives them their name.


Like several other ducks the female is a mottled brown. I think she is the best looking of the female ducks.



The Shoveler [Anas clypeata] is closely related to the Mallard. The male is superficially similar to the Mallard with the same green coloured head that sometimes looks blue. The obvious difference is its large, wide bill, which gives it the name. They use it to skim and sieve the water, extracting tiny animals.


The female is, not surprisingly, like a female Mallard but with the same shovel-like bill as the male Shoveler.


The Teal [Anas crecca] is our smallest visiting winter duck. The male has a very recognisable head.

teal01 teal03

Yes, the female is like a smaller female Mallard, brown and mottled.

Rarer Ducks

You may see Gadwall [Anas strepera] through the year but they are not very common. They are more or less grey and brown but the male is more colourful than the female. Look for them amongst Coot where they have an interesting relationship. They let the Coot dive for food and then steal some of it from them.


The Goldeneye [Bucephala clangula] is a rare winter visitor. I managed to see this one at the Cotswold Water Park but it swam away fast when it saw me.


Here is a better picture of a captive bird at Slimbridge.


The female does not have the white sides or cheek marking but she does have the golden eye.


Collections like Slimbridge sometimes fail to keep their birds captive. Birds can escape. Then they can breed and multiply. There are examples of localized bird populations large enough to be significant and when they get large enough they spread.

The Forest of Dean is now home to hundreds of Mandarin ducks. The trees provide ideal nesting locations. The areas around Slimbridge and the neighbouring village of Frampton have their flock of Barnacle Geese all year round.

And the Cotswold Water Park has its Red Crested Pochard [Netta rufina.] They used to frequent one lake in large numbers but they are spreading and smaller numbers are seen over a wider area. This pair were among a flock of about fifty but they were not tempted to come near and pose for me.



On the water, you may think that grebes are similar to ducks. They dive and swim well under water.

These are Great Crested Grebes [Podiceps cristatus].


Their young, sometimes carried on the backs of the parents, are stripy in appearance.


The black Coot [Fulica atra] with its white bill, is widespread wherever there is water and is often seen behaving much like a duck.


The related Moorhen [Gallinula chloropus] is generally seen by water but is much less seen actually on it.

I used to think that Coots and Moorhens were similar – one had a white bill and one had a red bill. But the Moorhen is much more colourful. It is not really black. has dark blue and brown areas, a white stripe and even some yellow on its red bill.



My last bird here is often seen at Slimbridge among the waterfowl. Sometimes just one Lapwing [Vanellus vanellus] like this comes almost up to the windows of the Peng Observatory. It has an impressive crest and colourful feathers on its back.


It is usually a very gregarious bird. At any hint of danger hundreds – or even thousands – rise into the sky.


A Diversion about Feet

I am sure you know about webbed feet for ducks, geese and swans. The Mute Swan is a good example. Its dark grey feet are huge.


You will have noticed in the early picture of displaying swans that the feet are sometimes out of the water. It is quite common to see a swan glide past with one dark foot resting on its back!

Birds’ feet are often colourful and the Greylag has pink feet (sometimes more like orange.)


[There is also a Pink-footed Goose. You can’t tell it from a Greylag by the colour of its feet! You have to look at the bill colour.]

Rails are not the same as ducks. They don’t need to be powerful swimmers but they do often walk on marshy vegetation and things like water-lily pads. They need to spread their weight for stability so they have long toes without webbing. Here are the feet of Coot and Moorhen.


The Nene is related to the Canada Goose but it is no longer quite so much a wetland bird. On the Hawaiian islands it lives on volcanic lava fields. It feet are now only partly webbed.


Finally, you probably won’t see the feet of a grebe because they stay on the water. I don’t think I have ever seen one on land, except on its nest. The birds are so well designed for water, with feet set back in the body, that they find walking difficult.


… So who was ‘the Best in Town?’ It was, of course the Ugly Duckling immortalized in the fairy tale of Hans Christian Andersen, and the words come from the song, which I associate with Danny Kaye. Here are some of the words.


There once was an ugly duckling; With feathers all stubby and brown; And the other birds in so many words said; Get out of town, get out, get out, get out of town.

… …

All through the wintertime he hid himself away; Ashamed to show his face, afraid of what others might say; All through the winter in his lonely clump of wheat; Till a flock of swans spied him there and very soon agreed:-

“You’re a very fine swan indeed.” “Swan? Me, a swan?” “ Go on, you’re a swan.” “Take a look at yourself in the lake and you’ll see.” And he looked and he saw and he said, “It’s me, I am a swan, whee.”

“I’m not such an ugly duckling; No feathers all stubby and brown.” For in fact these birds in so many words said; ‘The best in town, the best, the best, the best in town.’


(OK, I’ve missed out Barnacle Goose, Egyptian Goose, Muscovy Duck, Wigeon and Mandarin.)



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[11] You Can Come Too

You Can Come Too – A Blog about Zoos and Zoo Animals

Maybe it’s about zoo animals or maybe it’s about a particular place, Bristol Zoo Gardens or maybe it’s about a day out at the zoo.


I used to love zoos – long, long ago. Back in the sixties no one worried about how animals were kept in zoos and they generally had all the expected large animals.

I have memories of early visits to what was then called Regent’s Park Zoo in London. As in zoos all over the World, you could then see at very close quarters elephant, giraffe, rhinoceros, hippo, lions, tigers, zebra, various antelopes, chimpanzees and polar bears. They were standard and you expected every zoo to have them.

Even as late as the nineties you could see most of these still. But since then have gradually disappeared from zoos. Some of the larger animals can now be seen in Safari Parks – free roaming rather than caged. We now know much more how much animals suffer from being confined and for many people the idea of keeping animals in zoos is very outdated.

Because I like watching and photographing animals I am ambivalent about zoos. I tend to assume that those who keep zoos understand what they are doing and treat the animals well. They concentrate now on what we would call ‘lower’ forms of animal life. Bristol Zoo has its aquarium, reptile house, insects and butterflies.

Bristol Zoo

I have a few memories of this zoo. In 1999 I made a detour and stopped there briefly while walking from Land’s End to John O’Groats. I think there were still two elephants there then.

It has changed like all zoos. I think I have been there two or three times more recently so this time I knew what to expect. Gone are the elephants, the polar bears and most of the large animals. But they still have lions and a gorilla.


A Trip to the Zoo

As a sort of birthday treat and to help this blog along I decided to have a day at the zoo. I checked on the Internet, even checked weather forecasts a few days ahead and booked my transport and entry online.

By the time the day came the weather forecast had changed a bit. It was not at all good. At least, I thought, the zoo won’t be full of lots of other visitors.

I set the alarm and was early. The train ride from Cheltenham to Bristol was unexciting and I waited outside for my bus to the zoo.


It was not the best time to arrive in Bristol. I was too early to use my bus pass and rush hour traffic made the bus trip very slow. But as predicted the zoo was empty when I finally arrived there. There were no queues to get in!


In view of the forecast I went round some of the bits I remembered without even looking at the map while the weather was still good. I left the flamingo enclosure straight away when I heard lions roaring but the King of the Jungle was never in good view. Their enclosure provides enough undergrowth for the lions to stay out of sight. When they did emerge the plastic glass, which now protects us, was too dirty for any useful photographs. I’m not sure that these animals were happy at the zoo.

The order of the day was of dark areas, where pictures were difficult, and animals hiding away from the autumnal weather – and even some sections closed for the winter. I didn’t see any bats in the bat enclosure and my first real sightings came in the Reptile House. The good thing about reptiles is that they are cold blooded and so they keep very still but it was n ot good lighting.

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Dwarf Crocodile, Gila Monster and Spiny-tailed Lizard posed for my pictures.

I visited Bug World to see some of the larger and more colourful of insects.

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Here are a Goliath Beetle, a Sun Beetle and a Jewel Beetle.

For comparison, this little Poison Dart Frog is about the same size as the Goliath Beetle.


I was disappointed with the monkey areas. I suppose the weather was not very African so the monkeys stayed inside and did nothing. The poor Gorilla had a large area to roam in including Gorilla Island. But he sat inside munching his breakfast salad forlornly. I think he was lonely.

I will come back later to some places I visited twice but I made the right decision a bit before eleven o’clock to stop for coffee in the large tent erected while the main restaurant is being refurbished.


I had had the best of the weather for the day.


I missed these out on my first circuit as the exhibit opened at 11:00 but it was the obvious place to go when I started off again as it was now raining.

The good thing was that it had some very nice pretty butterflies settling very close. One settled on my arm for a minute but I couldn’t manipulate my camera with one hand to photograph it!

The disappointing factors were: there were only two species, only one very large species; they folded their wings on landing; and it was so hot and humid that the camera tended to mist over.

Here are the two species.

butterfly  butterfly_2

It didn’t rain all the time and after the butterflies I revisited a few places.


The fish were a bit too fast inside their plastic containers.


This little mudskipper kept very still for me.

Zona Brazil

The animals were still waking up for my first visit but they were had come out into the open and were a bit more lively later.

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Tapir and Capybara.


And a Little Agouti.

Penguins and Seals

I knew this was going to be my favourite enclosure. You could get near to the animals in the open – and they kept very still.

African Penguin and Fur Seal.


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But that wasn’t all in this enclosure. There were Eider Ducks making their very recognisable call sounds.



And there were Inca Terns!

I don’t know what stopped them flying away but they perched on the rocks and preened themselves almost at touching distance. I think these were my favourites of the visit.

incatern1   incatern3   incatern4

Without getting philosophical about the definition of zoo animals I will end with pictures of two visitors, free to come and go as they choose.


You will see Pigeons everywhere, almost throughout the World. They are one of my favourite birds because they come in such a variety of plumage patterns. (I may even do a blog just about Pigeons.)


This squirrel was so engrossed in what he was eating that he wasn’t bothered by me taking pictures.

Just in case you were wondering, there was a later spell of heavy rain (round about lunch time,) but it cleared up and was dry for my return journey by bus and train,


For my title I could have used for used another biblical extract from Genesis where God said to Noah: ‘Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female.’

But instead I have to look to one of my memories from the sixties, Julie Felix.

Going to the Zoo, written in 1970, is probably for children. It starts:

Daddy’s takin’ us to the zoo tomorrow; zoo tomorrow, zoo tomorrow

Daddy’s takin’ us to the zoo tomorrow; and we can stay all day!

It has the equally memorable chorus:

We’re goin’ to the zoo, zoo, zoo; How about you, you, you?

You can come too, too, too; We’re goin’ to the zoo, zoo, zoo.