Africa Gomez

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103 posts

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  • June 29, 2014
  • 01:43 PM

Wolf spiders walking on water

by Africa Gomez in BugBlog

The other day in the wildlife garden, I noticed a wolf spider, Pardosa sp., running on the pond water. I had to look closely as I had never seen them doing this and I wondered if it was a Pirate Wolf spider instead, which also live in the pond and are normally associated to water. But alas, no, it was definitely a common wolf spider like those living in my garden. She confortably moved by the water's edge, often with its front legs resting on the water surface, happily floated on the water ........ Read more »

  • May 16, 2014
  • 06:29 PM

Offspring recognition in Starlings

by Africa Gomez in BugBlog

The first Starling fledglings joined their parents in the lawn of the park this morning, running behind their parents begging for food, with a cacophony of calls. Starlings are highly social birds, they like to feed together so the chances are that the still dependent young will join unrelated young while still expecting to be fed by their parents. Starlings have very synchronised egg laying so that many young fledge on the same day. While they are at the nest, parents do not need to particularl........ Read more »

Frans Verheyen, R., Van Elsacker, L., & Pinxten, R. (1988) Timing of Offspring Recognition in Adult Starlings. Behaviour, 107(1), 122-130. DOI: 10.1163/156853988X00232  

  • April 12, 2014
  • 04:58 PM

Summer and winter Blackcaps and evolution

by Africa Gomez in BugBlog

During April, Blackcaps return to thickets and woodland, where the male's beautiful song joins the resident birds. These Blackcaps have just arrived from their winter quarters in Spain and North and coastal West Africa. We tend to think of migration behaviour as something fixed, but recent research shows that many birds have recently changed their migration routes. One of these is the Blackcap.In the last 50 years or so, a small contingent of Blackcaps have started to winter in the UK. About 30%........ Read more »

  • March 28, 2014
  • 06:23 PM

Problem solving Goldfinches

by Africa Gomez in BugBlog

I realised only recently that Goldfinch manipulation abilities are superb. They hold large seeds with one foot while manoeuvring them into position to feed, or fold stems back to hold berries or seeds securely, or hand upside down to reach the thinnest branches. Yesterday I watched a small flock feeding on the catkins of a silver birch. The closest bird to me held a catkin while feeding from it and even changed the foot it used to hold it. It happens that Goldfinch manipulation abilities ha........ Read more »

  • February 24, 2014
  • 03:57 PM

The bill of the blackbird

by Africa Gomez in BugBlog

This morning I spotted this male blackbird sitting in a bush. It had the brightest orange-pink bill I have ever seen in a blackbird, and it prompted me to finish writing this post that had been for a little while in my drafts folder.Carotenoids are pigments obtained from the diet in animals that give yellow to red hues to many sexually selected ornaments. Carotenoids are antioxidants and have a role in the immune system and if they are supplemented in the diet they often increase the condition, ........ Read more »

  • February 7, 2014
  • 02:54 PM

The scary bright eyes of the Jackdaw

by Africa Gomez in BugBlog

Jackdaws breed in loose colonies, and unusually for corvids, in cavities in trees, cliffs or buildings. There is often very strong competition for nest sites, and the pair will defend their nest fiercely against conspecifics. Jackdaws are also unusual for having very contrasting, almost white irides. In a recent paper, Gabrielle Davidson and her colleagues from Cambridge and Exeter Universities tested the hypothesis that the bright, contrasting eyes of the Jackdaw serve as a strong warning signa........ Read more »

  • December 4, 2013
  • 03:37 PM

Treecreepers and mixed flocks

by Africa Gomez in BugBlog

As winter sets in, small, resident insectivorous birds including Long-tailed tits, Great Tits and Blue Tits, Coal Tits, Goldcrests and Treecreepers join in loose, vocal mixed-species flocks that travel and forage together. Why do they eschew from following the saying 'birds of a feather flock together'? Well, first, their small bodies lose heat easily and the days are short, so they need to obtain as much food as possible. On the other hand, the leafless trees makes them more exposed to predatio........ Read more »

J. E. Arévalo and A. G. Gosler. (1994) The behaviour of Treecreepers Certhia familiaris in mixed-species flocks in winter. Bird Study, 41(1), 1-6. info:/10.1080/00063659409477190

  • November 17, 2013
  • 04:12 PM

Charming seed predators

by Africa Gomez in BugBlog

 I find fascinating that when you seen something for the first time, then the chances are that you would see it again, seeing helps you see more. In the last couple of weeks a charm of goldfinches have been regular visitors in the garden feeders, gorging themselves on nyjer and sunflower seeds. I was watching the goldfinches and taking photos from inside of the house, when I noticed that one of the birds that couldn't get to the feeders was feeding on rowanberry seeds (above), discarding th........ Read more »

Raspe, O., Findlay, C., . (2000) Sorbus aucuparia. Journal of Ecology, 88(5), 910-930. DOI: 0.1046/j.1365-2745.2000.00502.x  

  • October 2, 2013
  • 05:53 PM

Canada Geese taking off decisions

by Africa Gomez in BugBlog

This morning, the 60 strong flock of Canada Geese that seemed to have roosted in the park were restless. There were continuous loud grunts and honks and, after a crescendo in which more and more individuals joined in the calling, part of the flock took off in a coordinated way. The vocalising geese were making a decision, with individuals deciding to join or not a party leading the departure, maybe to quieter feeding grounds. It is unclear if the individuals felt hungry or if the several dog wal........ Read more »

  • September 26, 2013
  • 04:52 PM

Tail flicking Moorhens

by Africa Gomez in BugBlog

The contrasting white feathers at the sides of Moorhen tails are very obvious, especially when they flick their tails up and down, often fanned. As this one run away from me this morning I wondered what is this flicking for? An aggressive signal to other moorhens had been proposed as a hypothesis. However, observations carried out by Fernando Alvarez suggested a more intriguing reason. When a patrolling Marsh Harrier - a common predator - approached a moorhen, the rate of tail flicking increased........ Read more »

  • August 10, 2013
  • 05:44 PM

Legs for laying eggs

by Africa Gomez in BugBlog

Most Nymphalid butterflies, a group of large species that include the Peacock, Painted Lady, Comma and the Monarch, have modified forelegs, smaller than the rest of the legs and normally tucked in under the head. In the Peacock (above) the forelegs are relatively large, but not used for walking and they even have the same dark colour as the body, giving the impression that the butterfly has only four legs. Why is this? Despite their vestigial appearance, experiments have shown that the forelegs ........ Read more »

  • July 5, 2013
  • 07:37 AM

Tree bumblebee threesome

by Africa Gomez in BugBlog

This mass of bumblebees landed heavily in front of us. A Queen Tree bumblebee, Bombus hypnorum, and two males, the one ar the rear mating with her, the other one trying too. Quite impressive she just managed to fly with the load! In most bumblebee species, queens mate just once, but Tree Bumblebees are an exception, and queens often mate with more than one male. In experiments by Brown and colleagues, 72 queens that had mated the previous day were offered the chance of mating again. Sixteen........ Read more »

  • June 15, 2013
  • 10:11 AM

Watching bees on foxgloves

by Africa Gomez in BugBlog

June is peak Foxglove, Digitalis purpurea, season. This year, we have quite a few in the garden, and luckily one of them faces the conservatory, which allows me to observe visiting bees quite closely. Today I watched the bees feeding on it in sunny spells between showers. Foxgloves are said to be adapted to be pollinated by bumblebees: they have large, bell shaped flowers with a large landing lip and hairs that might deter smaller bees or other insects from entering. Indeed, bumblebees........ Read more »

  • April 28, 2013
  • 04:00 PM

House Sparrow communal courtship

by Africa Gomez in BugBlog

 House Sparrows are quite vocal birds. In spring, a house sparrow colony is hard to miss, with males advertising their chosen nest sites to potential males by chirping and posturing, but mainly by their peculiar communal courtship. Communal courtships start when a fertile female not guarded by her mate flies by an unmated male, the male then will pursue her while chirping and displaying persistently soliciting copulation. More males usually join in the female chase and courtship in a cacoph........ Read more »

  • April 27, 2013
  • 06:09 PM

Nectar feeding Blackcap

by Africa Gomez in BugBlog

Yesterday I heard a male Blackcap singing on my way to work. Although it was high on a tree, luckily, I had a small pair of binoculars with me and I found him on a Sycamore in bloom. While I watched it, the Blackcap alternated singing and clearly drinking from the Sycamore flowers, in one occasion clinging upside down from a branch like a tit to reach them. It is well documented that several European birds, especially warblers, regularly drink nectar (I have posted on Blue Tits feeding on Mahoni........ Read more »

  • March 12, 2013
  • 02:02 PM

There is more to the eyes of the Robin

by Africa Gomez in BugBlog

We are used to see Robins all year round, and indeed, although is a large resident population in the UK, they are migratory birds in much of their range, with northern European birds migrating every winter to Southern Europe and North Africa. Many of these migratory Robins pass through or winter in the UK. Robins migrate at night, and much research has been devoted to find out how they manage to navigate during migration. Human navigation uses a 'map and compass' system, to find out where we are........ Read more »

Wiltschko, R., & Wiltschko, W. (2006) Magnetoreception. BioEssays, 28(2), 157-168. DOI: 10.1002/bies.20363  

Stapput, K., Güntürkün, O., Hoffmann, K., Wiltschko, R., & Wiltschko, W. (2010) Magnetoreception of Directional Information in Birds Requires Nondegraded Vision. Current Biology, 20(14), 1259-1262. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2010.05.070  

  • February 24, 2013
  • 03:05 PM

Territorial Great Crested Grebes

by Africa Gomez in BugBlog

The breeding season of the Great Crested Grebes is approaching. I have never seen their spectacular courtship so I thought I would pay them a visit in a local park where they breed regularly. I had almost given up on finding them when, from the bridge, I located a winter plumage individual at the far end of the lake. When I got there, I saw that there were two winter plumage individuals, and then an individual with full breeding plumage emerged from the water quite close to me (above). Breeding ........ Read more »

Theunis Piersma. (1988) The annual molt cycle of Great Crested Grebes. Ardea, 82-95. info:/

  • January 21, 2013
  • 05:11 PM

Siskin winter flocks

by Africa Gomez in BugBlog

I have come across a flock of Siskins in my street a couple of times this week. Today, about 20 birds were quietly feeding on seeds of a large Italian Alder (Alnus cordata), a widely planted tree along avenues. They were easily disturbed by car door slamming or a passing dog and tweeted while they flew to a higher tree. Given that my photos are quite distant, I decided to draw a male feeding on alder catkins (above).Siskins - like Waxwings - are nomadic birds that follow unpredictable resources:........ Read more »

AILSA J. MCKENZIE, STEVE J. PETTY, MIKE P. TOMS, & ROBERT W. FURNESS. (2007) Importance of Sitka Spruce Picea sitchensis seed and garden bird-feeders for Siskins Carduelis spinus and Coal Tits Periparus ater. Bird Study, 236-247. info:/10.1080/00063650709461480

  • November 21, 2012
  • 03:56 PM

Bottoms up!

by Africa Gomez in BugBlog

This is probably one of the most familiar duck behaviours. Mallards often 'upend' to feed, submerging the anterior parts of their bodies and keeping their tails pointing up, while keeping their balance paddling with their feet -  a behaviour most kids find hilarious. Although it is not a universal duck feeding method, Mallards are amongst the experts. Mallards are dabbling ducks, they obtain most of their food from near the surface. Upending allows them to reach just a little bit ........ Read more »

Andy J. Green. (1998) Comparative feeding behaviour and niche organisation in a Mediterranean duck community. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 500-507. info:/10.1139/z97-221

  • November 15, 2012
  • 02:42 PM

Carrion crows dunk their toast

by Africa Gomez in BugBlog

I had the chance of watching a Carrion Crow dipping bread on a puddle this morning. The crow deliberately walked towards me holding a piece of bread in its bill as it approached the water. It was obviously so preoccupied with the task that took no notice of me taking the camera clumsily from inside my backpack. I stayed still and avoided eye contact while the crow carefully placed the bread on the edge of the puddle and nibbled a few bits. Immediately after, it decided to walk around the puddle ........ Read more »

Dufour, V., Wascher, C., Braun, A., Miller, R., & Bugnyar, T. (2011) Corvids can decide if a future exchange is worth waiting for. Biology Letters, 8(2), 201-204. DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2011.0726  

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