Bird Tracking

Black-headed gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus,) by Whiteknights Lake, December 2014.

Black-headed gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus,) by Whiteknights Lake, December 2014.

On December 12th a colour-ringed black-headed gull, white 26L1, was spotted on Whiteknights Lake by dedicated campus birdwatcher Peter Gipson. Pleasingly, it proved to have been ringed as part of the Berkshire gull scheme run by Tim Ball’s Reading and Basingstoke ringing group. The scheme has been running at a number of Berkshire black-headed gull breeding colonies since 2007. So far, most birds have been ringed at Hosehill Lake, just to the southwest of Reading near Junction 12 of the M4, with smaller numbers at Lea Farm Gravel Pit to the east and Moor Green Lakes to the southeast (where the project initially began).

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New Year’s Hunt at Whiteknights

The BSBI New Year’s Hunt takes place in the period 1st to 4th January this year. I went out on the 2nd which was sunny but not particularly warm. Even searching the sunniest banks I could find, I was still disappointed with my count: Only 20 species. Maybe I should have spent more time in the open grassland areas. Last year Dr M and his students found 38 species. Most of the species on their list that I didn’t find were meadow species still flowering from the previous year. Continue reading

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Living fossils on campus

Some species have been described over the years as ‘living fossils’ because they are the last survivors from groups that were once common in the fossil record. The Coelacanth is an example. It belongs to a group of fish first known only from the fossil record and very different from all other fish alive today.

The Ginkgo tree (Ginkgo biloba) is another ‘living fossil’. It is the only surviving species from a group of broad-leaved gymnosperms that were widespread in the Mesozoic era 250-200 million years ago. There is a particularly lovely Ginkgo planted behind Whiteknights House on campus. Continue reading

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Early spring flowers

Not only are flowers lingering late this year – as mentioned by Chris Foster in his recent blog – but some plants seem to think it’s spring already!

Hazel flowers on 16th December 2014

Hazel flowers on 16th December 2014


This hazel, seen in the wilderness on the 16th December, is still carrying the leaves that it should have dropped in the autumn and yet it has next year’s catkins open already!!

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Christmas in Bloom

The warmest year on record seems to be allowing a number of plants to cling on in flower. Perhaps they’re limbering up for the BSBI’s New Year Plant Hunt, which this year is being coordinated with assistance from Reading graduate Ryan Clark. Both Scentless Mayweed (Tripleurospermum inodorum) and Common Knapweed (Centaurea nigra), pictured below in flower on December 15th, were also found by Dr M and teams in their 2014 MSc New Year plant hunt back in January, so perhaps it is no surprise to see them again this winter. Nevertheless, they provide a welcome flash of colour on the darkest days of the year.

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Clearance in the Wilderness

Anyone who frequents the part of the Wilderness woodland closest to the Lyle building entrance will have noticed a dramatic change over the last week. A big swathe of invasive rhododendron and laurel has been taken out and chipped, leaving nothing but a blank space and a lingering smell of marzipan* where before there was a thick mass of green growth.

The Wilderness in December 2014, after rhododendron clearance.

The Wilderness in December 2014, after rhododendron clearance.

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The Lichen Symbiosis Part 4

Lichens are fundamental in the development of many ecosystems, and in some areas can provide food for some relatively large organisms. They are often intrinsically linked with primary succession, being the pioneering life forms that can create soil, by actively degrading rock, and releasing the minerals to other species. Continue reading

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