Becoming A Twitcher: Part III

…in which I go on holiday to one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and come back with lots of pictures of birds.

And butterflies, and lizards. All of them boring and common, too! And yet they somehow seemed more interesting in Rome.

Gull (Larus sp.) nesting in Baths of Caracalla, Rome
Common lizard (Lacerta vivipara). Ostia
Another common lizard (Lacerta vivipara). Ostia
Common blue butterfly (Polyommatus icarus). Ostia
Wall brown butterfly (Lasiommata megera). Ostia
Italian sparrow (Passer italiae). Ostia
Hooded crow (Corvus cornix). Ostia
Hooded crow (Corvus cornix). Forum of Augustus, Rome

There were lots of starlings and other common ‘garden’ birds hanging around too, which I didn’t manage to photograph. I also saw some bats flitting around by the Colosseum, but didn’t spot the kestrels that the sign in the park suggested I should see in Rome. To be honest, I was dubious anyway – the kestrel isn’t something I’d usually think of as an urban bird.

And even though the birds I did photograph are all common as muck, they still provided a learning opportunity…for example, I had only ever seen one hooded crow (while in Scotland), and didn’t know they were so common in Europe; they were everywhere both in the city and out at Ostia. Also, I hadn’t realised that the sparrows in Italy were their own species. I had naively assumed that they were the same as the sparrows we find in Britain – they certainly look very much like tree sparrows at a casual glance (and my photo isn’t exactly much help in identifying it, because it’s taken from too far away!).

Obviously I didn’t only take pictures of common wildlife. I do also have lots of photos of stunning Roman architecture and statuary, but since they’re not biological in nature I’m not putting them up here…Oh, go on then, you’ve twisted my arm. You can have one.

Statue of Hercules. Temple of Hercules, Ostia.

What did I tell you? Stunning statuary.

Biodiversity Rocks!

…as the sticker I was given at Bristol Zoo on Saturday says!

It is currently Biodiversity Week at Bristol Zoo, and I was there with the Bristol Museum posse to show people some native insects from our collections, while the biology curator led bug-hunting trips around the herbaceous border. The rain held off, which was good for insect-finding, and we saw lots of bees, flies, and a male common blue damselfly. I felt a little inadequate at times, as people asked me to try and ID insects they’d seen in their gardens from vague descriptions, and I was forced to admit I didn’t have a clue (I’m a vertebrate zoologist! I’m pretty hopeless with all things spineless), but thankfully I had two knowledgeable insect people on hand to help out! I, of course, kept getting distracted by birds (that being my latest obsession and all). And not just the ones in cages…Bristol Zoo is swarming with wild native species, and they are all very bold around people – the picnicers on the lawn were constantly being eyed up by jackdaws and robins, who came very close and waited around for morsels to be dropped in their direction. I talked to some people about moths, the kids that the curator took around the border actually caught some insects (which is a minor miracle given how some of them were randomly running round waving their nets!), and a good day was had by all.

I even had some free time to wander round the zoo, which has changed considerably since I was a kid. They’ve reduced the number of big cat species they keep to expand the lion enclosure to a good size, the monkey and bird houses have been completely renovated, and conditions all round seem to have improved. I was quite impressed. And I got to feed some lorikeets, which was pretty amazing.

Sadly, Saturday’s little adventure probably marks the end of my voluntary work with Bristol Museum, as I have been offered a documentation job in London and will be moving soon. Which probably means that the foreign bird mount project will never get finished – they won’t curate themselves, you know! But the London job is only temporary until April next year, so I may yet be back! They can’t get rid of me that easily.