Category Archives: nature

Charles N. Mavroyeni’s Hoopoe

This curious plate, depicting a Eurasian Hoopoe (Upupa epops), appeared in several early 20th century books. It’s by a photographer from Athens, Charles N. Mavroyeni, and is captioned as a photograph, but clearly includes much over-painted colour, by an uncredited hand.

Hoopoe

I’m trying to find out more about Mavroyeni — not least his date of death, to determine the copyright status of his work, and thus whether it can be used in Wikipedia.

I’ve compiled what little information I can find about Mavroyeni, into an item on Wikidata (a sister project of Wikipedia, that hosts linked, open data).

As well as ornithological subjects, he photographed insects and reptiles. One picture, published in the 23 June 1906 issue of ”Country-side: A Wildlife Magazine” (page 96), depicted a beetle in flight — quite something for 1906! Sadly, it is missing from the only scan of the work I can find. Most of his published photographs, that can be found online, are monochrome and not overpainted. In the 1920s he made short films of botanical interest.

According to the same issue of ”Country-side”, he had:

the reputation of the cleverest naturalist photographer in Eastern Europe [and] there can be no doubt that if [his pictures] are not the results of simple photography, they represent the most skilful art

The above version of the Hoopoe plate appears in The Living Animals of the World, Volume 2, by Charles J. Cornish et al., circa 1902. The photographer was credited, as he often was, as “C. N. Mavroyeni”

The image file came from a copy on The Gutenberg Project; a different scan of the same work is available on the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

Another version of the plate is in the two-volume Birds of Our County; and can be seen in the recent Amazon listing of a copy (should anyone want to treat me!).

Day 6 (Monday) in Washington DC

Sunday continued

Yesterday evening, I followed the instructions, sorry, advice of fellow Pink Floyd fan , and ate a burger at a branch of Five Guys. Wow. Forget McD*n*lds, which is a pale impersonator. This was a tower of succulent meat, pickles and relishes, served with a sackload of fries, cut from real potatoes, not processed mash. And the flavours..! Absolutely delicious.

After that, I did something I’d always wanted to do. I walked, alone into a proper, American bar, “RFD – Love the Beer“, took a stool at the counter, ordered a beer (Founders American Ale, a really good porter from Michigan), and struck up a conversation with the locals. One was a young African-American woman, recently graduated, who was enjoying a Belgian ale. She was very interested to hear about “Beer Beauty“ — perhaps a DC franchise is in order?

Monday

I gave a talk this morning, about Wikipedia and QRpedia, to a bunch of staff from the US National Art Gallery, plus guests from the Smithsonian Institute and other bodies. A daunting audience and this was in a proper auditorium, lights dimmed, and all. I’m pleased to say I acquitted myself well, and received very favourable feedback.

As I was in the gallery, I spent a couple of hours (days would be needed to do it proper justice) viewing the highlights (the only DaVinci painting in the US, works by Rembrant etc.) and the impressionists, including a pair of Monet’s paintings of the Cathedral at Rouen.

The rest of the day was spent riding bikes and waking, taking in the sights, window shopping, and acquiring a new hat; a poor substitute for the one I lost yesterday, which has yet to reappear. I finally saw and at the same time heard an (Corvus brachyrhynchos), and heard a (Corvus ossifragus).

This evening, several of my fellow Wikimedians, from the UK and elsewhere, arrived. I’ve been catching up with old friends, including some from Germany and Holland, who I met and saw for the last time in Amsterdam last December. Monmouthpedia founder and I had a stroll to nearby Chinatown, and a remarkably cheap and filling Chinese meal. Then another beer, a “Fat Tire” amber ale, at RFD.

And then I wrote this. And now I’m going to bed.

Day 5 (Sunday) in Washington DC

More from Saturday

Yesterday evening, a few folk from the hostel where I’m staying were going on a bar crawl around the Dupont Circle area, and invited me to join them. On entering the first bar, I was challenged to prove that I was old enough to drink alcohol, for the first time in about 30 years. We were turned away, because another member of the party had no such ID, even though she has a son in his twenties. Madness.

Sadly, though that bar had an interesting beer list, the next two served mass produced keg lagers and ales. I had a Samuel Adams Summer ale and a Sierra Pale ale, and I’d rather have drunk water than either. They were very poor. After my second drink I made my excuses and left, with a couple of the others, but a few hardy souls carried on, and only retuned from their nightclub visit at 3am, apparently!

Sunday

Yesterday, while we were out birding, encouraged me to try Washington’s “City Bikes” (they’re the same as London’s bike share scheme, known colloquially as “Boris Bikes”). I’m glad she did. I used them several times today, to go down to the Washington Monument, to the Jefferson Memorial (where I saw my first (Larus delawarensis)), over the Arlington Memorial Bridge (and so across the state line into Virginia, briefly), to the Martin Luther King Memorial, and back to the Washington Monument. I even managed to cope with riding on the right, and the other differences between the US traffic system and ours.

As I returned over Arlington Memorial Bridge, a large helicopter flew past at low height —  (or the same under another call-sign). En route, I passed a recreation ground where turf had been recently laid and seep hoses and sprinklers were in use to keep it alive. Taking advantage of the water were big flocks of birds. Nothing new, but I got very good close views of some I’d only seen fleetingly, including another Mocking Bird.

I also saw a fantastic, huge yellow Swallowtail-type butterfly, but it was too fast for me to get a picture. I then had close views of a crow, but it was unhelpfully silent — DC has two species, which are hard to differentiate unless they call.

On my return to the Washington Monument, I lay on the grass to rest a while, and noticed distant spec very high overhead. I grabbed my binoculars, and discovered it to be a large bird, probably a Turkey Vulture. I tried, but couldn’t, to make it a Bald Eagle, but the shape was wrong.

I had a stroll though a “Folklife” festival on the Mall, where various organisations have pitched Marquees to exhibit on various topic related to the environment, and cultural projects. From an outlet from Florida, I had an “Arnold Palmer“, a very refreshing mix of equal parts of lemonade and iced tea. I also had some chicken from the same place, with delicious ““, a type of green cabbage, but much less bitter than those we have at home.

I ended up at the Natural History Museum, where the collection of stuffed birds was very useful in helping to reinforce my recognition of what I’d seen in the flesh. I also saw the Hope Diamond (sorry, Mom, it wasn’t for sale), and a really impressive and well-displayed collection of animal skeletons.

However, either at the museum or just before entering it from the Mall, I lost my beloved Tilley Endurables hat (or it was stolen). I’ve reported it missing, to the museums security office, and it has my business card in a pocket in the inside, so I hope it will turn up. I’ll have to get a cheapo substitute, tomorrow, to keep the sun off.

Also while I was in the museum, one of my trainers split from end-to-end (luckily I brought a spare pair) and it started to rain heavily as I was leaving. I guess that place is a jinx!

Postscript

I can’t believe I forgot to mention one of the highlights of my trip so far, during Friday’s visit to the National Air and Space Museum — I got to touch the moon! Well, a small piece of it, brought back on an Apollo mission. But still…

Looks like it’s brighting up, now 😉

Day 3 and 4 in Washington DC

Continuing notes on my US visit…

Friday.

I’m enjoying walking in DC, apart from the heat. The grid system has North-South roads lettered ascendingly, moving away from the river, and east-west roads numbered. That’s not very imaginative, but it makes it very hard to get lost. The central area is also very compact, and thankfully, flat.

I spent most of the day National Air and Space Museum, the whose collection includes aircraft of mind-blowing significance: The Wright Flyer, Liberty Bell, the first aircraft to exceed the speed of sound, the first space capsule used for a US spacewalk, the Apollo 11 command capsule, the highest-flying aircraft ever, and so on. It was well worth the time I spent there, and I hope to visit their annexe, with larger aircraft, before I leave.

Then, in the evening, I went to a concert at the Austrian Embassy, who had kindly invited people in town for Wikimania, the conference I’m attending next week. A duo of classical pianist and violinist, both very proficient, performed arrangements of popular tunes, but the drum track made it a bit too James Last for my taste.

Saturday

Today has been the highlight of my trip so far. , with whom I’ve corresponded on line for a couple of years or so, and who is content director for The Encyclopedia of Life , kindly responded to my appeal for a local birder to show me the ropes, and acted above and beyond the call of duty. She picked me up in her car, drove us to Jug Bay Wetlands nature reserve in Maryland and helped me to find and identify a number of species of birds, almost all new to me (the exceptions being Osprey and Barn Swallow), plus some fantastic butterflies and other “critters”, not least a Beaver. Lindsay Hollister at the reserve’s visitor centre was a welcoming and cordial host.

The 21 new bird species I saw were:

  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Acadian Flycatcher
  • Brown-Headed Cowbird
  • Mourning Dove
  • Pied Grebe
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Brown Thrasher
  • Yellow-throated Vireo
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Orchard Oriole
  • Gray Catbird
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Eastern Kingbird
  • Cardinal
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Black Vulture
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Red-eyed Vireo
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • Northern Mockingbird

We then had lunch at a rural, roadside “Mom and Pop” diner, where I enjoyed my first ever root beer.

And now I’m off in search of a bar…

[Pictures to be added later]

My second day in Washington DC

Following on from yesterdays post, in which I forgot to mention that I saw a clear though distant view of New York from the aeroplane on the way in…

Yesterday morning, I had a bit of a wander this found a lovely butterfly garden next to the Natural History Museum, but with only two species. I photographed both, so might be able to identify them later.

Next to that was an interesting sculpture garden, where I heard and saw a (aptly, Melospiza melodia). I then made a quick pop into the National Portrait Gallery & Museum of American Art, which deserved a longer stay. At least they had air conditioning and a faucet (I’m learning the language, see) from which I could top up my water bottle. Yesterday was again ridiculously hot — I drank more water in a day then I ever have before.

I covetously examined a Scottevest jacket in the nearby Spy Museum Shop, but I’m still deciding whether the use I’d get from one justifies the cost.

After that, I was off to the Smithsonian National Zoo. On the way there, an elderly local woman on the Metro — did I mention Washington’s efficient Metro? — enquired about my accent “Oh”, she said, “I from Birmingham too. Until the mid 1960s, when I married an American, I used to live off the Coventry Road at Small Heath”. So did I, in the mid 1960s.

Like all of the Smithsonian venues here, entrance to the zoo is free, which is excellent. I had time for a quick look at my first (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) — which was luckily, quite active — and to watch the wild Night Herons being fed. A (Buteo lineatus; a cousin of the buzzard I see at home) flew through to steal one of the dead mice they’re given. Wild Chipmunks (exact species not yet determined) were running about on the footpaths.

I then had a meeting with staff from the zoo, including a director, who seemed very keen to hear about .

Another Metro ride took me back to central Washington, from where walked to The White House, to see if President Bartlet was about. He wasn’t, but a very confiding (Turdus migratorius; actually not a Robin but a relative of our Blackbird) was entertaining. It was also interesting to see (Sciurus carolinensis) in their natural habitat, rather than as the feral pests which they are at home. Another walk brought me back to the hostel, stopping only for ice-cream.

After a rest and catching up on email and Twitter, I joined a group of people from my hostel for a bus ride to historic Georgetown, with a guided walk. Georgetown is the Handsworth Wood or Notting Hill of Washington, with fantastic private houses, including the one where John F Kennedy and Jackie lived and had their children immediately prior to his election as President. We wandered around Georgetown University, which could easily double for Hogwarts. It was frustrating to see swifts and martins hawking for insects, but not to be able to identify them. Afterwards, we walked down the steps which feature in the closing scene of the Exorcist. The evening ended with an obligatory bar stop and a bus ride home.

[Pictures to be added later]

A few quick thoughts on arrival in Washington DC

I’m making my first visit to Washington DC, and to the United States of America.

  • It’s 10.15pm here as I start writing; 3.15am back home. I’ve been up for 22 hours.
  • America is big. We were flying over it for longer than I’ve flown over any other country, and still only skimmed the tiniest North-Eastern corner.
  • Americans are more welcoming than I’d been led to expect, including the immigration and customs guys. I was determined to be deadpan, but they cracked jokes with me.
  • The first conversational thing anyone here said to me, apart from the above, or when answering my request for directions or selling me something, was “I love your accent”. No word of a lie.
  • The first bird I saw was, I’m sure, a , Quiscalus quiscula, (a lifer). The second was a feral House Sparrow, whose ancestors were imported… from England.
  • The second thing a local said to me was “My step dads’s from Birmingham, he’s a Villa fan”.
  • It’s hot — mid-30s at 10pm. This is hotter than anywhere I’ve ever been, in my life. Thank goodness for air conditioning.
  • Any Brit here on 4th July can expect to be teased about losing the colony. And our tea being sent for a swim.

I’m off to the Smithsonian National Zoo tomorrow; not least to talk with their Director of Exhibits about QRpedia. And to watch the Night Herons being fed.

How can I automate repetitive find’n’replace operations?

I’m the webmaster (and a trustee) of the West Midland Bird Club, a registered charity.

Oystercatcher

Every month, I get sent a series of text files, with lists of bird sightings at each of our reserves, and some other locations. They usually comprise around thirty entries like these:

  • 6th: 1 Dunlin, 1 Oystercatcher, 2 Little Ringed Plovers, 1 Common Sandpiper, pair Shelduck, pair Greylag Geese flew over, 1 Cuckoo, pair Kingfisher, 2 Lesser Whitethroat at north end of Reserve.
  • 5th: 3 Oystercatchers, 1 Ringed Plover.

and I need to turn them into HTML markup like this:

<li class="hentry" id="D2011-05-06"><span class="entry-content"><abbr class="updated entry-title" title="2011-05-06">6th</abbr>: 1 <span class="biota bird"><b class="vernacular">Dunlin</b></span>, 1 <span class="biota bird"><b class="vernacular">Oystercatcher</b></span>, 2 <span class="biota bird"><b class="vernacular">Little Ringed Plover</b></span>, 1 <span class="biota bird"><b class="vernacular">Common Sandpiper</b></span>, pair <span class="biota bird"><b class="vernacular">Shelduck</b></span>, pair <span class="biota bird"><b class="vernacular">Greylag Geese</b></span> flew over, 1 <span class="biota bird"><b class="vernacular">Cuckoo</b></span>, pair <span class="biota bird"><b class="vernacular">Kingfisher</b></span>, 2 <span class="biota bird"><b class="vernacular">Lesser Whitethroat</b></span> at north end of Reserve.</span></li>

<li class="hentry" id="D2011-05-05"><span class="entry-content"><abbr class="updated entry-title" title="2011-05-05">5th</abbr>: 3 <span class="biota bird"><b class="vernacular">Oystercatchers</b></span>, 1 <span class="biota bird"><b class="vernacular">Ringed Plover</b></span>.</span></li>

to make pages like this one: westmidlandbirdclub.com/belvide/latest.

That involves a series of find’n’replace operations, in sequence, like:

  • Find Oystercatcher and replace with <span class="biota bird"><b class="vernacular">Oystercatcher</b></span>
  • Find Ringed Plover and replace with <span class="biota bird"><b class="vernacular">Ringed Plover</b></span>
  • Find Little <span class="biota bird"><b class="vernacular">Ringed Plover</b></span> and replace with <span class="biota bird"><b class="vernacular">Little Ringed Plover</b></span>
  • Find </b></span>s and replace with s</b></span>

…and so on. With well over 100 species in a typical series of reports, that’s a lot of faffing about. And it has to be done every month. It’s a right pain in the Wheatear.

I need to find away to automate this (under Windows XP, preferably GUI-based), working from a saved list of find’n’replace terms, and would appreciate suggestions. Is there a text editor with a facility for sequencing such operations? I could learn to write code to do it, but that’s a heavy up-front investment. Or would someone like to volunteer to help me put the code together?

Update: I’ve found a solution in ReplaceText which, though it’s sadly no longer supported and apparently doesn’t work under Windows 7, does just what I need.

Image of Oystercatcher in flight at Els Ness, Sanday, Orkney, by lukaaash.

Unusual behaviour of Blue Tit at nest site

During a walk in , Birmingham, this morning, organised by the RSPB Walsall Local Group (of which I am a committee member, webmaster and speakers’ secretary — I multitask!) we observed what may be unusual behaviour. A bird (or possibly a pair) were entering as nest site in a dead tree stump (probably Silver Birch (Betula pendula) ) by one hole, near the ground, but instead of leaving by the same hole, exiting via another, higher up.

The two holes are marked on my photograph:

Nest holes about 18 inches and 36 inches from the ground.

The adult was (or were, if both parents were involved) obviously bringing in food to feed nestlings inside the tree trunk. We observed five visits to the nest, and on four occasions the adult left by the higher hole. On the other visit, it left by the hole used as an entrance. At no time did we see more than one adult at once. Did each member of the pair perhaps favour one exit over the other?

I managed to grab a brief video of the final visit, using my , which I subsequently cropped heavily using Avidemux video editing software. The entrance is used in the first second or two, so you’ll have to pay close attention! Then there’s not much to see until it leaves 12 seconds later.

Unfortunately, pressure of time prevented further study.

Presumably, the nest was below the bottom hole — so why did the bird(s) pass that hole to leave by the higher one?

More police forces should publish web pages about wildlife crime officers

I maintain the West Midland Bird Club website. The club serves the four English counties of Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire and the Metropolitan West Midlands, and so I wanted to write a little bit about the work of the relevant police services’ Wildlife Liaison Officers (WLOs), and to link to web pages about each of them.

I was surprised to find that none of their websites have a page about their WLOs, or their approach to wildlife crime in general. So I started to look at other forces’ sites, and found very few of them did.

What I Wanted

I decided it would be a good idea to collate a list of the few good examples that exist and conversely the forces which don’t have such a page, not least to encourage them to provide one.

A quick Google search showed that no such list is already in place, so my next step was to check — on Twitter, of course — whether anyone else was working on one. The answer was no, but two projects have more generic lists of police websites and related details in hand: OpenlyLocal and Podnosh.

I decided that I would have to make the list happen for myself, but I wasn’t going to do all the work. of OpenlyLocal kindly offered use of his data on police forces and their home pages and other contact details — it’s open data, under a CC license. That was in XML, though, and I lack the skills to manipulate it, so Chris kindly and quickly provided a dump into CSV format, suitable for use in a spreadsheet. A salutary lesson, there, to anyone publishing open data. While RDF and linked data is the way to go, so that it can be parsed and processed by machines in an sophisticated way, making a format like CSV available as well opens that data up to less technically-gifted users.

How I Did It

I copied the relevant columns from Chris’ document into my own, and made the editable spreadsheet available in Google Docs, for anyone to edit. I then blogged about it, inviting people to help me to full the missing column of wildlife crime pages. I was quickly retweeted by several people and organisations (thank you for that) and, significantly, the initiative was mentioned on the Guardian website by . This resulted in spate if activity, with most of the rows completed within a day or so after the mention. Interestingly, the spreadsheet filled up from the top, so it seems that unknown volunteers were helping with the first gap they came to, rather than that for their local force, which is what I had expected.

A few people shoe-horned prose comments into the URL column, so I added a “notes” column and moved their comments there.

After a few days, only a couple of gaps remained, so I filled these myself, and locked the spreadsheet prevent vandalism (any amendments may be posted below, as comments).

Findings

So, whet did we find? Of 51 forces, only 29 have a wildlife crime page — and some of those are patchy. Other forces don’t have one, but mentioned the work of their WLOs in press releases, progress reports and policy or strategy documents — sometimes in PDF files.

In some cases, a search of the force’s website for “wildlife” returns no result at all — a disappointing state of affairs.

PC Duncan Thomas, Wildlife Liaison Officer with Lancashire Constabulary

On the other hand, there were some great examples of best practice, including Lancashire Constabulary, Merseyside Police and North Yorkshire Police, from which other forces can learn. Note that they variously make use of video, and have links to wildlife conservation bodies.

Also of interest is this article about the work of WLOs in Sussex, reproduced on Coldean Residents Association’s hyperlocal site.

What next

This is what I hope will happen now:

  • Each police force should set up a locally-relevant web page about wildlife crime and their response to it, with relevant contact details, modelled on the best practice we found.
  • These pages should have short, permanent URLs so that links to them will not decay when forces change their technology
  • A central police website could ask an enquirer their postcode or address (or simply geo-locate their browser), and type of concern, then return the relevant page (whether it’s about wildlife crime, drug dealing or lost property) using the model adopted by LocalDirectGov
  • Websites listing details of all UK police forces’ details — like OpenlyLocal and Podnosh — could include their wildlife crime URLs
  • Wildlife websites with pages for each county (for example, Fatbirder, BirdGuides etc) could include the relevant forces’ wildlife links.
  • Local wildlife organisations (Wildlife Trusts, county bird clubs, RSPB Local Groups) should link to their local forces’ wildlife page

How you can help

  • Publicise this blog post and the open data that’s been genreated
  • Make use of that data
  • Write to your local force, if they don’t already have a page, and ask them to provide one — feel free to send them the URL of this post
  • Ask your councillor to encourage the local force to do so
  • Ask your local Wildlife Trust, bird club or related organisation to do the same
  • Let everyone know about the results, in the comments below, or with a pingback from your own blog post

I’ll notify national organisations like the RSPB, RSPCA and British Trust for Ornithology.

Meanwhile, if you wish to report wildlife crime in progress, call 999, or otherwise report it to Crimestoppers (who will treat the report as anonymous if you wish) on 0800 555 111.

Thank you

Finally, thank you to everyone who’s contributed to this project, to date.

Updates

20 August 2010: Warwickshire Police’s wildlife crime page was missed, because it was on a separate site, where their site’s search didn’t find it. It’s now been moved to the main site, as a result of this post.

3 September 2010: Northumbria Police pages created in response to this campaign.

June 2011: Staffordshire Police page created in response to this campaign (per their e-mail).

Please Help Me to Compile a List of UK Police Forces’ Wildlife Crime Pages

As a birder and general nature lover, wildlife crime concerns me. Whether it’s the poaching and smuggling of ivory and tiger parts, the disturbance of nesting birds, or badger baiting, I want it stopped.

Of course, it’s the responsibility of each police force in the UK to act against such crimes, and to take seriously reported incidents. Some forces appoint specialist “Wildlife Crime Officers”, under various titles. Some have web pages about such officers and their work against wildlife crime, like this excellent example from North Yorkshire Police. Others, sadly, do not.

I’m interested in finding out which police forces do have such officers, and which publicise their existence online. But that’s a big task, and I can’t do it alone. So I’m asking for your help.

Please have a look at this spreadsheet on Google Docs (many thanks to OpenlyLocal for the list of forces and their home pages). Find your own (or any!) force, and, if it’s not already listed search its site for a wildlife crime page. If you find one, add its URL to the spreadsheet. Otherwise, enter “none”.

I’ll find a permanent home for the results; hopefully that will encourage forces which do not have a page about wildlife crime on their website to add and maintain one.

Meanwhile, if you wish to report wildlife crime in progress, call 999, or otherwise report it to Crimestoppers (who will treat the report as anonymous if you wish) on 0800 555 111.