Month: June 2016

Shark Week- 7 British Sharks

This week is Shark Week, an annual week on the Discovery Channel that features shark programming and is used by many organisations as a way to highlight sharks and to show them in a more positive light, whilst putting a spotlight on the major issues facing them.

So this week I thought it would be apt to blog about these fascinating creatures. Sharks are of course famous for living in places like Australia and South Africa, but actually they are found all over the world, in the UK we have 21 resident species that are found around our coast. As it is shark week let’s have a look at 7 shark species that call the UK home!

1. Blue Shark

Blue sharks are one of the most widespread species on the planet, they are found in both tropical and temperate seas , including around the UK. They are recognisable by their vibrant colour and long slender body. This species can travel huge distances, and has been shown to make trans-Atlantic journeys.

2. Angular Roughshark

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The angular roughshark is a prime example of how little we know about our oceans as a whole. This secretive species can live at a depth of 600 metres. It is a smaller shark, only around 1 metre long at most, and is known to feed on molluscs and crustaceans.

3. Thresher Shark

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Growing to be around 6 metres long the thresher shark is characterised by it’s long tail. It can be found throughout the waters of the UK. The thresher shark use their long tail as a weapon, it thrashes the tail to stun, maim or kill it’s prey, it is the shark’s primary method of hunting.

4. Sharpnose Sevengill Shark

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A strange looking shark, they are a streamlined, deep diving species. It is occasionally seen off the south coast of the UK. This shark is a generalist and a successful hunter known to feed on anything from cuttlefish to shrimp.

5. Smooth Hammerhead Shark

Smooth Hammerhead, Shark Sphyrna zygaena. Sea of Cortez, La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico.

Yes that’s right, a hammerhead shark, in the UK! This shark has a broad range and in the UK is mostly found off the south coast. This shark can grow to a maximum 5 metres long. They have excellent hearing, good vision and a fantastic sense of smell, making it an ultimate predator.

6. Porbeagle Shark

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Found around the British Isles, the porbeagle shark grows to around 2 metres in size. They are able to maintain their body temperature in such a way that they can be warmer than the water around them, this is slightly unusual for sharks and means it can live in a range of temperate regions.

7. Basking Shark

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Probably the most well known shark species in the UK, the giant basking shark makes regular appearances around the UK in the summer. The best places to see this magnificent species is Cornwall and the Western Isles of Scotland. Basking sharks are the second largest fish species in the world, only beaten by the whale shark, they can reach a length of 10 metres. They certainly do not fit with the shark stereotype, they feed on mostly zooplankton, collecting it in their huge mouth and filtering it using gill rakers, they do not have large teeth like many other shark species. In the winter basking sharks have been shown to migrate offshore to deeper water, feeding on deep water plankton, during the winter months they travel large distances in search of food.

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Iceland’s orcas

Iceland, famous for it’s volcanoes, freezing winters, Bjork and now football, apparently, but did you know that the oceans around Iceland is one of the best places in Europe to see orcas. A friend of mine has started a non-profit dedicated to the protection of orcas in Iceland and their habitat. Today was the launch day for the non-profit, and I was very excited about the work she is doing, so I decided to share it. I will be blogging a little more on the orcas of Iceland using her expertise as a reference and picking her brain about the research she is doing over there, as it is really interesting! But for now I put have put the link below which has some brilliant information on these incredible animals!

http://orcaguardians.org/

Catching up with old friends

It has been a little while since my last blog, and the reason for this is I have been travelling across Europe with nothing but a backpack, my camera and of course binoculars. This has meant that blogging was pretty much impossible, or at least very difficult. During my time away I was lucky enough to pop home to the UK and catch up with some of my (real) friends and of course some of my favourite wildlife, in my home county of Leicestershire and the county that can only be described as a birders’ paradise, Norfolk.

As you can imagine the journey to the UK from Vancouver Island is long,  consisting of a bus, ferry, another bus, train and finally plane ride. Whilst I sat on the ferry contemplating the journey ahead the captain of the boat announced that a pod of orcas was about to swim right past us. I jumped out of my seat and sprinted to one side of the boat to watch a small pod of orcas pass by. What a start to the holiday!

After finally landing in England and fighting traffic on the M25 I was back home in Leicestershire. The next morning I was on the go again to Norfolk. I had been to north Norfolk only once, on a birdwatching trip back in 2007, when I was 16. On that visit I had seen an impressive number of birds, including little bittern and turtle dove.

The weekend started with a trip to the RSPB Titchwell reserve where we battled wind, cold and a spot of rain (typical bank holiday weather in England), but this did not seem to put off the birds. Cetti’s warbler, reed warblers and reed buntings flitted around in the reeds only briefly coming into view before disappearing into the thick reedbeds. Swifts darted over the reedbeds and our heads. Egrets stood out in the fields with their bright white feathers and yellow feet. One of my favourite species and an iconic RSPB species, the avocet was present in decent numbers across the scrapes and ponds. It is easy to forget that this species is still not common throughout most of the UK. The avocet, a black and white wader with a unique shaped bill, sweep their upcurved bill through the water and sediment looking for prey.

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Avocet

Other sightings included wading birds such as redshanks and sanderlings and ducks including the feisty shellducks and the pretty garganey. In the distance a fellow birder pointed out a new species for me, a beautiful wader the black-tailed godwit, this individual was a male with a bright orange front. As we walked back to the car another one of Norfolk’s iconic species the marsh harrier glided gracefully across the reeds.

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Redshank

Our next stop was to Cley and the Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s reserve. Spread across flat reedbeds leading to a stony beach, this reserve provides perfect habitat for some of the UK’s rarest species. It has an impressive visitors centre, and before we had even ventured onto the reserve itself, we spotted a marsh harrier gliding over the reeds in the distance. Again in gale force winds we battled our way to the hides, we were greeted at the door by a lovely wren braving the elements. Sitting on the fence post in front of us, it seemed undeterred by our presence, and happily sat singing whilst we watched. The hide offered relief from the wind and similar to Titchwell, avocets were present on the scrape, including one sat on a stony island looking very puffed up. This bird briefly stood up and underneath was what can only be described as a tiny ball of grey fluff, it was an avocet chick, probably a few days old. The parent had been sitting on the youngster to protect it from the howling wind. Seeing that tiny chick exposed to the elements does make you wonder how on earth any of them manage to survive to adulthood. We left the comfort of the hide and walked along the main path towards the beach, egrets were flying from all directions, this is a species that has become very common in the UK although just 10 years ago it would have been a rare visitor from mainland Europe.

I was hoping to catch a glimpse of another bird originally from mainland Europe but now seen across the UK, the spoonbill. This large white bird is easily recognisable by it’s large spoon shaped bill, I had never seen one before, but knew that they were now pretty common in Norfolk. As we walked back towards the visitor centre from the beach there it was, a spoonbill; standing upright in one of the ponds, I watched this incredible bird as it began to feed. Despite having such a large bill they are able to use it delicately to catch their prey in the mud.

One of the highlight species was the majestic marsh harrier. Another rare bird that is surprisingly common in north Norfolk. Marsh harriers glide across the reeds looking for prey, they are the largest of the harriers, with a broader wing shape than other species. They are distinguished by their size and brown colour with a lighter almost golden head and shoulders. This bird was extinct in the area but has began to recover, it is a great example of how with adequate protection and habitat restoration a species can be brought back from the brink.

The rest of the time was spent watching waders in Wells-next-the-Sea and seeing seals and terns at Blackeney Point. It was a short but very sweet visit to north Norfolk, an area I would highly recommend to any nature lovers, the countryside is beautiful, it has great beaches and most importantly for me, fantastic wildlife along the entire coast.

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After leaving Norfolk I returned to my home county of Leicestershire. Now perhaps I am a little biased, but I think the East Midlands is very underrated, with some amazing places to see wildlife. One of these places is right on my doorstep, Charnwood Forest. With a rich history, beautiful landscape and of course, wildlife, I love spending time in the area. The species I saw were the usual suspects blue tits, great tits, chaffinches, goldfinches, green woodpeckers, treecreepers, nuthatch, wren, red deer and fallow deer, and a few species that are a little more unusual such as skylark and a lot of yellowhammers (see below).

After being away for a while I felt as though I was seeing the area differently, it made me appreciate the more common species and familiar landscapes, it really did feel though as though I was catching up with some old friends. I am already looking forward to returning to the brilliant British countryside in the future!

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Yellowhammer

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