Tuesday, January 31, 2012

World Bird Wednesday: White-Eared Catbird


A White-Eared Catbird (Ailuroedus buccoides), a species native to Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. They live in tropical forests, both in dry and humid habitats.

They belong to the Bowerbirds and like al birds of that species, courtship involves the display of colourful fruit, berries and flowers by the male to attract the female. Catbirds don't build structures like other bowerbirds do, but will display their offerings in their beak.

They feed on fruits and flowers. I had a hard time finding out much about this species, so I cannot tell you about such things as lifespan or breeding, I'm sorry. You can listen to their calls on Xeno Canto and here are a few videos.

More birds at World Bird Wednesday

Photos were taken at London Zoo.

Sources and further reading:
Internet Bird Collection
Animal Diversity Web - Green catbird, a related species

ABC Wednesday: Chameleon

A Panther chameleon (Furcifer pardalis), a species endemic to Madagascar (they live nowhere else). Males can reach a length of up to 50cm, females are only half that size.


Chameleons do not change colour according to their surroundings. You don't get a tartan-pattern chameleon if you place it on a kilt or something (octopuses are absolutely capable of that, though). Chameleons use their colours to show their mood and to signal to others, the colours are also influeced by temperature and light. Here are gorgeous photos of panther chameleons in various colourings, some of it depends on where the individual chameleon lives (particularly, the populations on islands off the coast look different).

Here's a video of two fighting males, showing off with incredibly bright colours and here's another one, look at how dark and dull the inferior chameleon looks.


Panther chameleons live in tropical forest, often spending their life in just one particular tree, although males usually range further to find mates. They are well adapted to climbing with their tongs-like feet and their long tail that can be used for balance and as a fifth hand if need be. For the night, they climb high up into the trees and settle down at the tips of branches to make it harder for predators to reach them.


They feed on insects, waiting motionless until prey comes into view and then shooting it with their long tongue. Here's a video of this - note the broad tip of the tongue: the tip is formed like a tube and works like a suction cup. Together with their sticky saliva, it's very effective and insects have very little chance of freeing themselves once they stick to it.

Panther chameleons are sometimes kept as pets, but they are very sensitive and the vast majority of them die a slow death in captivity, even when they are not wildcaught. For information on how to keep a pet chameleon, take a look here and here, but know that they are among the most complicated lizards to keep.
In the wild, they are threatened by habitat destruction and by being caught for the pet trade - the majority die even before they reach a pet shop and the ones that do usually die in their first year in captivity, usually because the owner did not do any research on how to keep them.

More Cs at ABC Wednesday

Photos were taken at Hagenbecks Tierpark Hamburg.

Sources and further reading:
Animal Diversity Web
Reptile Database

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Nature Notes: Walk in the Park


While there's still no snow, it has gotten quite cold. The frost made last year's fern into a beautiful sculpture.

A Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius) was watching me, but seemed to feel that I wasn't worth screeching a warning.

Witch Hazel (Hamalelis virginiana) is sometimes called Winterbloom for obvious reasons. The witch part come from the Middle English word wice, that means bendable (wicker has the same source).

a Black Swan (Cygnus atratus) - an unusual bird for the Hamburg Stadtpark, usually there are only Mute Swans (Cygnus olor) and they are now all in their winter home - all swans living on the Alster (the Stadtpark lake is part of that) are captured and cared for during the winter. That's the job of the Swan Father (really, the job is called just that). I wonder where the Black Swan came from.

a Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra)

Nature Notes is hosted by Michelle at Rambling Woods

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

World Bird Wednesday: Superb Starling


Superb Starlings (Lamprotornis superbus) are native to Eastern Africa. They are slightly smaller than Common Starlings, but just as bold and inquisitive. With their beautiful metallic plumage they are instantly recognisable.


Listen to a group of superb starlings chattering and calling here. The birds are not very fastidious when it comes to habitat, they are found in forests, grassland, savannahs and will also comfortably live near humans. They are equally broadminded when it comes to food. Insects make up the main part of their diet, but they will also take berries and fruit, nectar, seeds and table scraps. Superb starlings will beg for food and forage for crumbs near humans.

An almost adult juvenile, he still has white traces in the corner of his beak. Here's a photo of a younger chick with its parents.

Superb starlings are a very social species and are often found in huge flocks. During breeding season, a pair raises their chicks, but it's also possible that the female mates with several males and all work together to raise the chicks. This is called cooperative breeding.

More birds at World Bird Wednesday
Photos were taken at London Zoo, Wilhelma Stuttgart and Tierpark Berlin.

Sources and further reading:
Internet Bird Collcetion
Oiseaux Birds

ABC Wednesday: B is for Bongo


Bongos (Tragelaphus eurycerus) are a fairly large (about 1m shoulder height) antelope native to much of Africa. They live in light forests that have enough ground vegetation for them to forage on, but are dense enough to hide in. The stripes help making the bongo invisible, they are also mainly nocturnal. Here's a video of a bongo, note the comparatively short legs - useful for getting around in a forest where long legs build for speed like other antelopes have would just be in the way.


Both sexes carry those long horns, the horns of the males are a bit more twisted than those of the females. Males are also much heavier than females. Adult males are usually solitary, although not territorial, while the females live in groups with their calves, led by an experienced female. A female gives birth to one calf that is nursed for about six months.


The Bongo is considered Near Threatened by the IUCN. The reason for this is mainly the destruction of its habitat, vast forests are turned into small islands and the bongos can no longer easily migrate from one area to the other for food or to find a mate.

More Bs at ABC Wednesday

Photos were taken at Wilhelma Stuttgart and Wuppertal Zoo.

Sources and further reading:
Bongo Foundation
Animal Diversity Web

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Nature Notes: Bullensee


This weekend, we drove out of the city a bit to the Bullensee, an area with lakes and peat bogs. There were a huge number of greylag geese (Anser anser) circling over the lake, coming in for the landing.

(click to see bigger version)

lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea)

some fungus on a tree stump


there were a ton of birds around - tits, nuthatches and an amazing number of woodpeckers like this Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)

Nature Notes is hosted by Michelle at Rambling Woods

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

ABC Wednesday: A is for Anteater


A Giant Anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla), one of four anteater species. The others are the incredibly cute Silky Anteater (note the size in comparison to the hand holding the branch!) and two species of Tamandua.

The scientific name of the Giant Anteater means three-fingered anteater. The have five digits, but three of them carry very long and powerful claws - so big that the anteater walks on his knuckles. They can easily break open termite hills and ant nests and will then feed on the insects with their long (2ft) tongue, flicking it out of their snout about 150 times per minute. Anteaters have no teeth, but they can crush their prey against their palate and have a particularly muscular stomach to help with digesting their food. They will open and feed on a number of termite/ant hills during one day and will never eat so much that the colony is destroyed. You can see a video of a feeding anteater here, with a great view of the snout and claws. They will also take grubs and eggs if they find them.

Giant Anteaters have a very poor sense of sight, but smell and hear very well. When they sleep, they cover themselves with their big tail.
A female will give birth to one baby (sitting up, leaning on her tail) and will carry it around with her on her back. The baby stays with her for about two years.

When threatened, the anteater tries to just run away, they can also swim very well. If cornered, they can rear up and embrace an attacker - no joke with those strong arms and claws they have.
Giant Anteaters are threatened by habitat destruction and they are also hunted. Sometimes their tails are turned into brooms.

This is a Northern Tamandua (Tamandua mexicana), tamandua means insect eater. Unlike their bigger relatives, tamanduas have adapted to living in the trees and can climb very well.

More As at ABC Wednesday

Photos were taken at Wilhelma, Stuttgart (Giant Anteater) and Frankfurt Zoo (Tamandua)

Sources and further reading:
Arkive Giant Anteater
Online Anteater
Wikipedia Giant Anteater
Wikipedia Tamandua

World Bird Wednesday: Abdim's Stork

(that's a stone next to it, not an egg)

Abdim's Storks (Ciconia abdimii) are native to much of southern Africa where they live on the veldt and open grasslands. They feed on insects and other invertebrates, but will also take carrion, frogs, lizards and small mammals. Watch a foraging bird. With a body length of only about 80cm, they are the smallest stork species.


They are a welcome sight to the people of their habitat because of all the insects they eat, but they are also considered to be lucky and to bring rain. The reason for this is that the stork migrate north to use the rainy season for breeding. In German, they are also called Regenstorch, rain stork.

The species is not considered threatened. Natural predators include servals, who can easily jump as high as nine feet. Here's a video of a serval bringing down an Abdim's Stork after several failed attempts.

More birds at World Bird Wednesday

Photos were taken at London Zoo.

Sources and further reading:
Biodiversity Explorer
Internet Bird Collection
Lincoln Park Zoo

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

World Bird Wednesday: Green Peafowl

A female green peafowl (Pavo muticus), the closest relative of the much better known Indian Peafowl. As the name suggests, the plumage of this bird is green, a very bright green in the case of the males. Here's a video of a displaying male and an excellent photo of a bird in flight. Since Indian and green peafowl are closely related, there can be hybrids, which look quite striking.

Green peafowl live in much of Southeast Asia and can be found in forests, open grasslands, bamboo forests, farmlands ect., but they need a source of water nearby. They feed on pretty much everything: grass, seeds, fruit, insects, leaves and will also wade into the water in search of food. Occasionally, they will hunt snakes.

Listen to the calls of a female and a male

In the wild, females live in small groups of 2-6 birds and will wander widely, passing through the territories of the males. During breeding season, the males will display for the females and will gather harems. In captivity, the birds form monogamous pairs, though. A single clutch usually contains 3-6 eggs which are incubated by the female and will stay with the adults for about about a year.

More birds at World Bird Wednesday.

Photos were taken at London Zoo.
Sources and further reading:
Internet Bird Collection

ABC Wednesday: Z is for Zebra Shark

A zebra shark (Stegostoma fasciatum) is a member of the order Orectolobiformes, the carpet sharks. They are so called for their distinct markings that apparently remind some people of carpets. Other members of that order are the Wobbegongs (my favourite shark name ever) and the Whale Shark, the largest living fish.

Zebra sharks look very different as juveniles and that is where their name comes from. It was thought for a long time that the juveniles were another species. Another name for the species is leopard shark, which fits the adults much better.

They live in the West Pacific and prefer coral reefs and sandy areas as their habitat. An adult shark reaches a length of 2,5-3 metres. During the day, zebra sharks often rest on the ground propped up on their pectoral fins (the ones on the side), usually in a current to help them with breathing.

Zebra sharks feed during the night, mainly on molluscs, but they will also take crabs, shrimps and small fish. They basically hoover up prey on the ground with their mouth, but they can also suck prey from small crevices.

They are powerful swimmers and their movements look a lot like those of an eel. You can see this very nicely in this video. They are not aggressive at all and may even allow themselves to be touched, however they are still wild animals and attacks have happened when divers grabbed a shark's tail to ride it. Which is just plain stupid, if you ask me...who wouldn't lash out when he was suddenly grabbed.

Zebra sharks are hunted for their fins and liver and the status of the species is considered vulnerable by the IUCN

More Zs at ABC Wednesday

Photos were taken at Hagenbecks Tierpark.
Sources and further reading:
Biology of Sharks and Rays

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Nature Notes: Birds and Apples

A male eurasian Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus). We occasionally see him and his mate in the backyard. The magpies were not amused and tried to mob him, but he returned when they had flown off.

A Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)

Tea crabapples (Malus hupehensis), a tree often planted for its beautiful flowers and fruit. Like all crabapple species, the fruit is edible, but often too sour to be eaten. But it's great for apple sauce and jelly and the leaves can be made into tea.

Nature Notes is hosted by Michelle at Rambling Woods

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Y is for Yellow-billed Stork


The Yellow-Billed Stork (Mycteria ibis) is called Nimmersatt in Germany, which roughly translates to always hungry/never full. It's native to Madagascar and southern Africa and roughly the size of a grey heron.

They feed on invertebrates, fish, amphibians - including bullfrogs. Yellow-billed storks feed in groups and they may stir up the water with one foot or follow big animals like hippos around, feeding on flushed prey. Here's a video of a huge group feeding.

They often nest together with ibises, herons, other stork species spoonbills and other birds. The nest is built in trees and after about 30 days, 2-4 chicks hatch. The chicks may stay in the nest, cared for by their parents, for as long as 55 days and will occasionally return to the nest even after that.

More Ys at ABC Wednesday and more birds at World Bird Wednesday

Sources and further reading:
Biodiversity Explorer