A beach walkers guide to identification of whales, dolphins & porpoises | Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme

When a call comes in to the Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP) hotline, the details of a stranding can often be minimal and somewhat vague. An animal may be highly decomposed, inaccessible or lack features for it to be identified. As a research assistant for CSIP, my job is to investigate a stranding and try to gather as much information as possible so an accurate identification can be made. This blog post provides a simple guide for everyone to try and identify dolphins, whales and porpoises commonly washed up on British coastlines.

WARNING: This blog contains photographs of dead and injured stranded cetaceans which you may find upsetting

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Watching Winter in the Natural History Museum Wildlife Garden

As we work through the Wildlife Garden on seasonal tasks – completing the clearance and shredding the huge numbers of London plane tree leaves, coppicing and hedge-laying – there are always plenty of wildlife distractions to remind us of the value of this urban oasis. Wildlife gardener/Ecologist Joe Beale describes recent avian activity in the garden:

Great Spotted Woodpecker
Great Spotted Woodpecker

‘As the autumn progressed, flying insects and flowers naturally become harder to find and birds  replaced them as the most noticeable feature of the Wildlife Garden.

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Newts in the Wildlife Garden

Pond in mid summer

The main Wildlife Garden pond in mid-summer © R Adams

At this time of year we start to prepare for our annual pond-clearing tasks which include pulling out some of the reeds along the pond margins and thinning water-lilies –  all to maintain our open water pond habitats.

In the meantime, volunteers Miles Äijälä, Rohit Bangay and Frances Dismore give an account of a very different pond activity in April this year:

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Scuba diving, singing and seaweeds: Meet museum scientist Juliet Brodie | Big Seaweed Search

The film below gives you a glimpse into the working life of seaweed researcher Prof. Juliet Brodie. Juliet is the lead researcher on the Big Seaweed Search project and part of the team that created the beautiful new seaweed display in the Museum’s Hintze Hall.

You can meet Juliet and the team this Friday evening at the Museum’s free Science  Uncovered event, part of European Researchers’ Night, but in the meantime, I interviewed Juliet to find out more about what really makes her tick and what got her into studying seaweeds in the first place… Continue reading “Scuba diving, singing and seaweeds: Meet museum scientist Juliet Brodie | Big Seaweed Search”

Tring BioBlitz | Identification Trainers for the Future

Our latest blog by Alex Mills from the current cohort of trainees takes a look back a few weeks to the BioBlitz in Tring, Hertfordshire:

‘What is it? What’s on me?’

‘Wow. It’s huge, Mum!’

‘What’s huge?’

‘Ah, cool. Hold still…’

Tring PlantWalk
Taking the Tring BioBlitz out into the field

Unconventional collection methods can work wonders during a BioBlitz. In this instance a mother accompanying her children on a minibeast hunt found herself functioning as a perfect interception trap for Stenocorus meridianus, a rather imposing longhorn beetle. The beetle was duly potted and admired. Everyone (including the mother/beetle trap…eventually) was transfixed by this magnificent beetle. And that was the order of the day at the highly successful Tring BioBlitz a few weeks ago: enjoyment and biological records, with kids and adults of all ages being transported by the natural world around them.

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Winged wonders in the Wildlife Garden | UK Wildlife

The warm, sunny days that alternate with the frequent, damp weather days this month release a burst of colourful insect activity for visitors to observe amongst the variety of habitats and flowering plants in the Museum’s garden. Joe Beale, who has recently joined the team, tells us more.

Late summer is a lively time in the Museum’s Wildlife Garden. On sunny days you may catch sight of some of our most impressive and colourful insects. Dragonflies that use the garden include the stunning green-striped southern hawker (Aeshna cyanaea), the impressive migrant hawker (Aeshna mixta) and the imperious Emperor dragonfly (Anax imperator).

Photo showing a dragonfly at rest on a spear of purple flowers, with a green, out of focus backdrop to the left and bottom and the out-of-focus wall and windows of the Museum in the background.
A migrant hawker dragonfly (Aeshna mixta) at rest in the wildlife garden. Photo © Joe Beale

They may buzz you to investigate, but tend to power up and down without stopping like little fighter planes, as they hunt flying insects around the meadow, hedgerows and ponds.

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Phase 2 update | Identification Trainers for the Future

Our trainees on the Identification Trainers for the Future project are now well into Phase 2 of their traineeship. Phase 2 is the section where our trainees spend much of their time developing their species identification skills, working with our curators through a series of specialist workshops, as well as helping out in the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity with everything from the Identification and Advisory Service, to getting out and about at events. In this first blog from Phase 2, Steph Skipp gives us an overview of how the first half of the traineeship has gone.

To begin our workshop phase, the ID Trainers had a crash course in lichens. April was in her element, having previously discovered the wonders of peatland lichens whilst working in Exmoor National Park. In contrast, I think the rest of us were taken aback by how interesting lichens actually are!

Flies - Laura
Getting to grips with Phase 2 of training

The wealth of colours and forms were very visually exciting, especially under a microscope. After a trip to Bookham Commons, we came back to the lab with some specimens.

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