Saturday, 17 January 2015

Everyone Loves Penguins!

I'm not sure what it is about penguins, but I haven't met a single person that doesn't love them! 

It has been a few years since I visited Cape Town and the penguins at Boulder's Bay so was very excited to be going back there and going with Chris for the very first time. However, we didn't go to Boulder's Bay this time as some very good friends suggested a different location somewhere much less touristy and very much quieter, in fact it is the same place that I photographed the Rock Hyrax.

African penguins (Sphensicus demersusare adorable birds also know as black-footed penguins and jackass penguin due to its call, they are only penguin species that breeds on the African continent with the majority of breeding sites located on offshore islands. There are only a handful of mainland breeding sites two of which are located in the Western Cape. Interestingly there is no fixed breeding season for the penguins with breeding peaking in Namibia between November and December and in South Africa between March and May, they build their nests in sheltered locations in depressions under boulders or vegetation. These wonderful penguins pair for life and return to the same nest site year after year with records showing some penguins being together for ten years! 

We visited in April so there was quite a bit of activity and a few baby penguins around being looked after by one of their parents while the other was out at sea feeding. 

Seeing the chicks was a first for me as all the other times I've been it has been just at the beginning of the breeding season or just at the end so it was a real joy to see these little bundles. 

But I also wanted to captured some different images of their lives on this rocky coastline from getting to the sea and getting in it to dealing with the slippery rocks. 

Unfortunately these beautiful penguins are struggling and are currently listed as endangered on the IUCN Redlist with only 18,000 breeding pairs left in South Africa with the population plummeting by 70% between 2001 and 2013. These penguins face numerous threats including oil spills and increased predation, but by far the biggest threat is over fishing. The parents must travel out to sea to forage but are having to travel further and further to find enough fish to feed their chicks due to depleted fish stocks, but many are not able to travel these distances before their annual moult begins. This means chicks are abandoned and often starve to death, but there are people out there rescuing these chicks and hand raising them ready to be released back into the wide. If you would like to learn more about their plight and what is being done please visit SANCCOB.

They are such wonderfully charismatic birds and I could spends hours, days, months watching them come and go and all their antics but we only had a short time in Cape Town and there was much more we wanted to see, but I will definitely be going back for a much longer period soon!

For now it's bye from me and the penguins. Have a lovely weekend, next up will be a little chameleon we found on a visit to the bush. xx

Friday, 16 January 2015

Coming To The Aid Of Some Butterflies

It's not just birds and mammals that need our help when it comes to rescuing, from time to time something all together much smaller and different requires some help.

On Thursday I received a call from the lovely people at Secret World Wildlife Rescue about some hibernating butterflies in a building that needs to be plastered but the wonderful builder didn't want to disturb the butterflies so called Secret World, who then called me! After much research and discussions it was decided that someone would take the butterflies and put them in the loft of their house to join those already hibernating there. The tricky bit was to remove them from the building and transport them safely without them warming up and thinking it's spring.

So, this morning we went to the building armed with cardboard boxes, a torch and camera to collect the butterflies and moths as it would turn out to be. We went from room to room, taking some photos and carefully removing the butterflies and moths one by one and putting them into the boxes. Once they had all been collected we made a quick count of species and off they went to their new hibernating home.

Peacock butterflies on the wall

Small tortoiseshell butterflies on the ceiling

In total we rescued:
30 peacock butterflies (Aglais io)

21 Small tortoiseshell butterflies (Aglais urticae)

7 Herald moths (Scoliopteryx libatrix)

Herald moths in the box ready to go to their new hibernating site

One thing we observed when moving the butterflies was the rasping noise that the peacock butterflies produced. this rasping sound is produced when the forewings are rubbed together as they open and close, flashing the bright patterns and eyespots. Outside, flashing the eye spots and patterns of the wings acts as a very good deterrent to predators but in the dark the eye spots would not be seen so they produce the rasping noise as well and this has been seen to be an effective deterrent against mice.

These butterflies and moths will be put in the loft and left to sleep out the cold months emerging again in Spring. This was an unusual rescue and a first I think for Secret World, but we cannot thank the kind builder enough for contacting the staff at Secret World and allowing us to go in and remove the insects. The majority of rescues involve birds and mammals but occasionally the smaller creatures need help to, so below is some advice on what to do if you find any hibernating butterflies or moths.

Advice on hibernating butterflies and moths

Here in the UK we have four species of butterflies that hibernate regularly as adults (Brimstone, Comma, Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock) and in recent years there have been reports of Red Admiral butterflies hibernating in the UK and this is probably due to warming temperatures. The two species you are most likely to come across in the house, garage or shed are the small tortoiseshell and peacock butterflies.

As it gets colder, butterflies look for a dark, dry and sheltered location to hibernate and there they will stay until spring. However, sometimes the places they choose can be our homes and this can cause a problem when we put the heating on and the house becomes warmer than it was when the butterfly started to hibernate. Unfortunately this can trick the butterfly into thinking that it is spring and time to go outside but this would be fatal for it as there would be no food and the cold temperatures would certainly kill it. If you find a butterfly in your home and it's not moving, please leave it where it is, however if the warmth of the house is causing it to become active you may need to relocate it to somewhere more suitable such as an unheated outbuilding, like a garage or shed or even a loft if you know you have butterflies hibernating there already (normally older houses with gaps where the butterflies can get in and out).

It is always good to check to see if you have any hibernating butterflies in the garage, shed or loft as if there are already some butterflies there they are able to find their own way in out and again come spring. Moving them should only be done as a last resort and if you do need to move them please be very very careful as they are very delicate and also the warmth from your hands can be enough to bring them out of hibernation if handled for too long.

Peacock and small tortoiseshell butterflies hibernating in a small group on the ceiling
As our butterflies needed to be moved between buildings, we placed them into cardboard boxes to transport them, these boxes will be placed into the loft and left open rather than handle them for a second time. If you have moved your butterflies into a garage or shed with windows then come springtime, those butterflies that have survived as they wake up they will probably head straight for the window and can get caught up in spiders webs so just check on them regularly to make sure they can get back outside safely. 

Herald moth and peacock butterflies hibernating together on the the ceiling
Our butterflies and moths are now safe and the builders can get on with the work. Please don't worry of your hibernating butterflies don't make it through the winter this is not uncommon and can happen for numerous reasons. 

A huge thank you goes out again to the builder for noticing them and allowing us to go and move them to a safer place and to the staff of Secret World for organising the rescue! 

Monday, 12 January 2015

Dock Bugs

Have you ever seen or heard of a dock bug? Well if you've been walking in the countryside and passed by dock plants (Rumex) then chances are you have also walked right passed families of dock bugs as these are their favourite plants! But you have to really look for them as they blend in very well with the seed heads.

What are dock bugs?

Dock bugs (Coreus marginatus) are strange little critters belonging to the family Coreidae. In the USA they are known as squash bugs as many of the species are pests of squash crops. They are commonly found in small groups that consist of both adults and larvae with adults hibernating through winter.

These weird looking creatures are wonderful to photograph as they have so much character and their colours blend in beautifully with their favourite dock plant. 2014 saw me spend time with these wonderful little critters for the first time and I will certainly be spending more time with them this year as part of my Forgotten Little Creatures Project.

This first photo is of a mid instar life stage making its way over a dried leaf

All the following photos are of adult dock bugs in various locations around the dock plant. But there are not standard identification images, I wanted to capture some of the character of these bugs especially as seemed to play hide and seek around the plant!

This last image I think is my favourite, not only do you have the main adult bug framed by the leaf but if you look closely you can see the antennae of two other bugs round the other side of the leaf!

I am really looking forward to spring and being able to get back out and about working on this project, bringing more fascinating bugs (plants and reptiles) to you in all their charm and beauty.

Next up is African penguins. 

Just before I go, last year I was delighted to be asked to do an interview for Bokeh Online, a magazine dedicated to the art and lifestyle of photography. Well, that interview (A Fusion Of Science & Art) was published in early January in Issue 26 and is now available to purchase through iTunes just follow this link: issue 26

Buy for now. Victoria xx

Friday, 2 January 2015

Rock Hyrax


I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and New Year and are ready for everything that 2015 has to offer. We had a lovely quiet Christmas which was much needed followed by my best friends wedding (link to the photos to follow soon) and a quiet New Year with a few drinks and Chinese takeaway with some friends. After a much needed break it is time to hit the ground running with so many exciting things planned for this year including sharing some more of my favourite images animal by animal and next up is the adorable Rock or Cape Hyrax (Procavia capensis).

The Cape hyrax also known as a dassie, is one of only four extant species in the order Hyracoidea and the only living species in the Genus Procavia. Despite looking like a small rodent, the closest living relatives of the hyrax are actually elephants and manatees and they have the most adorable little faces and characters.

On an early morning trip to a location to look for penguins, this small group of hyrax where on the rocks just before the main penguin colony and getting there nice and early they were quite curious about that strange thing pointing something at them.

This first image is of two hyrax sitting on the rocks, they have moist rubber soles to their feet which help them with their lives on the rocks and they love basking in the sun!

These next few images are of one rather inquisitive individual who I just adore, so much personality in something so small.

This last image was one I took on the way back from the penguins just sprawled out on the rocks watching the world go by, you can see their rubbery feet which are so vital when climbing around steep rock faces.

I really enjoyed the short time I had with this family but would love the opportunity to return and spend longer photographing the lives of these wonderful creatures around South Africa.

I hope you have enjoyed my images of the hyrax, still to come are penguins and a chameleon, but for now it's time to get back to processing the wedding photos.

Have a lovely day.

Victoria x