NHBS In the Field – Dino-Lite WF4915ZT Wireless Microscope Kit

Within the last 15 years the availability and quality of USB digital stereo microscopes has vastly improved, and these fantastic devices are now regularly used by naturalists and hobbyists looking to view the hidden details of the natural world.

Dino-Lite are a well-known manufacturer of USB microscopes. Their range comprises basic models for those new to the field of microscopy, alongside cutting-edge models that produce stunningly detailed high-quality images and have additional features such as wireless video streaming.

We recently tested the Dino-Lite WF4915ZT Wireless Microscope Kit. This kit is from Dino-Lite’s professional range and it includes an AF4915ZT microscope and a WF-20 wireless adapter. The AF4915ZT is a dynamic microscope and has a number of features which are not available on more basic models. These include: Extended Depth of Field (EDOF), which helps achieve greater overall focus on surfaces with varying heights; Enhanced Dynamic Range (EDR), which helps when viewing objects with large variations in brightness; Flexible LED Control, which allows you to turn on/off pairs of LED lights to achieve the best possible illumination; and Automatic Magnification Reading, which allows the DinoCapture software to automatically register and display the current magnification.

Our aim was to see how easy and intuitive the device was to setup and use, and to explore the benefits offered by its advanced features and wireless functionality.

How We Tested

First we installed the included DinoCapture 2.0 software onto our computer. All DinoLite USB microscopes come supplied with this program loaded onto a CD-ROM, however it is also available online as a digital download. We tested the microscope using DinoCapture 2.0 on a desktop computer, however, you can also use this microscope wirelessly on either a smartphone or a tablet via the free DinoCapture app.

The WF-20 module was charged overnight and then connected to the AF4915ZT. The WF-20 was easy to attach, as the wired end piece of the AF4915ZT has two release buttons which, when pressed simultaneously, allowed us to gently remove this module and then connect the WF-20. When powered on, the WF-20 appears as a wireless network on any nearby Wi-Fi devices. Once connected to this network we were able to view a live feed from the microscope on DinoCapture.

We used the microscope to view a number of plant and insect samples.

Moth eye – viewed with Extended Dynamic Range
What We Found

The 1.3MP resolution is certainly a big improvement over some of the more basic models. Using the microscope at some of the higher magnifications is hugely rewarding, as you are granted some fantastic views of the minute details that are otherwise easily missed. The advanced features (as listed in the introduction to this review) may not be entirely noticeable to those new to digital microscopy, however, compared to older and more economical models they make operating this microscope far simpler. Previously, one would struggle at times to deal with structures having varying levels of brightness (particularly common with iridescent insects for example), and have little control outside of the overall LED brightness to try and address this. However, with the great LED controls and EDR the overall image can be brought closer together and previously obscured features become visible in much greater detail.

The EDOF is also a really helpful tool, especially at lower magnifications and on specimens with a variable structural height (which in our case was an acorn cup and a seed pod). Despite the differing heights, the microscope was able to keep most of the specimen in focus. Both the EDR and EDOF take around five seconds to process, meaning you can view the results and adapt your settings quickly to achieve the best image possible.

Manoeuvring the microscope freehand was relatively easy as it only has a few buttons on its main body, so there wasn’t any accidental mis-clicking. The focus ring is also light enough that it can be manipulated using only the middle and index fingers. Trying to keep the microscope steady and operate the DinoCapture software at the same time was rather difficult, especially at higher magnifications, and so when taking any images I opted to use the device with a stand (specifically the Dino-Lite RK06A). This allowed me to configure the microscope into the perfect position and then operate the computer without fear of losing that positioning.

When used in its wireless configuration we did find that occasionally there were moments of lag on the live feed. While these were only minor interruptions, it was certainly something that had to be considered when making any adjustments to the magnification and focus.

Leaf: (a) Normal mode, (b) with Extended Dynamic Range
Seed pod: (a) Normal mode, (b) with Extended Depth of Field
Acorn: (a) Normal mode, (b) with Extended Dynamic Range, (c) with Extended Depth Of Field
Feather
Our Opinion

Although we only used the WF4915ZT on a few select samples, it offered us a great opportunity to learn how to operate this advanced USB microscope. Thankfully the literature provided with the microscope was clear and easy to follow, and within 15 minutes of opening the box I was able to install the software and connect to the device in both its wireless and wired configurations. The image quality and the benefits offered by its advanced settings were also hugely impressive, particularly the EDOF, which really stands out as a key feature for this microscope.

While the wireless functionality of this microscope was a very interesting feature of the WF4915ZT, in practice it is not necessarily universally valuable. In the study of Natural History for example, most microscopy happens at a desk on pre-prepared specimens and as such you do not need the greater manoeuvrability that a wireless microscope offers. In other trades, however, these digital microscopes are used to inspect large objects (e.g. automobile manufacture) and in these situations a lack of trailing wires would be of huge benefit for the operator. In a situation where the operator does not have access to a computer/laptop, the Wi-Fi module allows you to connect to the microscope using a tablet or a smartphone, which is especially useful if you are planning to use it in the field.

In summary, we would highly recommend the WF4915ZT for any hobbyist or professional looking for a high quality and portable USB microscope. The AF4915ZT would be an excellent (and more economical) alternative for those who are unlikely to use the device away from a desk.


The Dino-Lite WF4915ZT is available through the NHBS website.

To view our full range of USB microscopes, visit www.nhbs.com. If you have any questions about microscopy or would like some advice on the right product for you then please contact us via email at customer.services@nhbs.com or phone on 01803 865913.

This Week in Biodiversity News – 19th October

Hidden camera’s hugging tiger wins the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2020 competition. Sergey Gorshkov captured a rare, stunning photo of a Siberian, or Amur tiger, deep in the forest’s of Russia’s Far East. You can explore more images here

Rewild to mitigate the climate crisis, urge leading scientists. According to research recently published in the journal Nature, restoring natural landscapes damaged by human exploitation can be one of the most effective and cheapest ways to combat the climate crisis while also boosting dwindling wildlife populations.

Environmental groups push to protect vast swathes of Antarctic seas. A coalition of conservation groups is advocating for the establishment of three new marine protected areas (MPAs) in East Antarctica, the Antarctic Peninsula and the Weddell Sea, which would encompass 4 million square kilometers (1.5 million square miles) of the Southern Ocean, or 1% of the global ocean.

Researcher Jacob Kamminga of the University of Twente developed a motion sensor with built-in intelligence for recognizing motion patterns of a wide range of animals. Kamminga’s research on the sensor has found that by recognizing the movements of animals in the wild using attached sensors, it may well be possible to detect if poachers are nearby. 

How to Clean a Nest Box

Over time nest boxes can become home to parasites such as lice, fleas and mites, so giving them a thorough clean at the end of each breeding season is good practice to ensure the health and safety of the birds nesting there. Removing old nest material also means that the following year’s birds can build their own nest as far as possible from the box entrance hole, thus reducing the risk of predation.

When to clean your nest boxes

The best time to clean out your nest boxes is in the autumn, after any young birds have fledged. Any time between September and January is fine, but bear in mind that birds who have raised a late brood may still be occupying boxes throughout September. By cleaning boxes during October or early November, you will also be able to leave them undisturbed for birds to roost in during the winter. Unhatched eggs may only be legally removed between 1st September and 31st January (or 1st August and 31st January in Scotland) and any eggs must be destroyed.

What you need

• Rubber gloves
• Stiff brush or nest cleaning tool
• Boiling water
• Wood shavings/clean hay (optional)

What to do

1. If possible, remove the box from the tree/wall so that you can safely work at ground level.
2. Wearing rubber gloves, remove old nesting material from the box, along with any unhatched eggs. Eggs must be disposed of – it is illegal to keep them. If possible, try to remove the nest in one piece, as it is fascinating to study the structure and to see the variety of materials that have been used in its construction. This is a great thing to do with children!
3. Use a nest cleaning tool or stiff bristled brush to clean out any remaining debris from the box corners.
4. Use boiling water to kill any lice, fleas or parasites. Don’t use soap, insecticides or flea powders as the residues of these can be harmful to birds. Leave the box open, preferably in a sunny spot, so that it can dry out.
5. Placing some clean hay or wood shavings in the base of the box may encourage mammals to hibernate or birds to roost in the box over winter. This is not essential, however, and any nesting birds arriving in the spring will bring in their own nest-building material.

Cleaning Bird Feeders

While you’re in the garden cleaning your nest boxes, why not take the opportunity to clean out your feeders and bird table too, ready for use over the winter. To thoroughly clean a bird feeder, first empty out all of the old food. Mix up a solution of animal-safe disinfectant in a bucket and soak the feeders for 10-15 minutes. Use a bottle brush to scrub them then rinse thoroughly in cold water. Leave feeders to dry before refilling.

Health and Safety

By following a few simple guidelines you can make sure that both the birds’ and your own health are not compromised. Always wear rubber gloves when cleaning out your nest boxes and feeders and make sure to wash your hands and forearms well with hot soapy water when you have finished. Take care not to breathe in any of the dust when emptying out the remains of old nests. Both nest boxes and feeders should be cleaned outside rather than bringing them into the house. If possible, nest boxes should be removed for cleaning, as dealing with boiling water while perched at the top of a ladder is not advisable. All brushes and equipment used for cleaning boxes, feeders and bird tables should be cleaned after use and should only be used for this purpose.


Visit nhbs.com to see our complete range of nest boxes, feeders and bird tables.

BES Summer School Guest Blog: Part Two

This post continues the series of guest blogs written by students from the BES Undergraduate Summer School 2020. In this, the second installment,  Kira Prouse discusses the gases responsible for the smell of the sea and their role in marine ecosystems.


Kira Prouse

How plankton are responsible for the smell of the sea

The smell of the seaside is distinctive and elicits nostalgic memories for many people. It may be a surprise when you learn this charismatic smell is actually made up of a cocktail of gasses from phytoplankton and bacteria in the ocean’s surface waters! The smelliest of these gasses is Dimethyl Sulphide.

Dimethyl Sulphide, shortened to DMS, starts as DMSP or Dimethylsulfoniopropionate (a bit of a tongue twister!) and is broken down into DMS when the cell containing it dies, and the chemical is released into the water column. DMSP is thought to help with:

• Allowing cellular reactions to continue in polar regions with freezing conditions.
• It acts as a natural sunscreen, protecting against harmful chemicals produced by high light or ultraviolet radiation.
• It allows for survival in saline oceans by regulating DMSP concentrations to match the salinity of the surrounding environment.
• Herbivore deterrent – DMSP and DMS may be produced by algae to make them herbivore deterrents and reducing grazing damage.

Photo by Fer Nando via Unsplash

Many animals, including birds, turtles and marine mammals, use the smell of DMS in order to find areas rich in food. In an otherwise vast and featureless ocean, the scent of DMS could hint at bathymetric features like upwelling zones and seamounts (areas known for their high productivity). As DMS is released when the cell dies, this could happen when the algae or phytoplankton are grazed by zooplankton, which would appeal to animals such as albatrosses who have a very good sense of smell. Unfortunately, as plastics are continually polluting the oceans, DMS particles cling to the surface of the plastic and make it smell appealing to any animal attracted to the scent of DMS. This means more plastic is being injested by birds because it smells like a tasty meal.

Image by The Naked Scientists, 2014

Not only does DMS have an ecological benefit, it also has an impact on how the climate is regulated. DMS stimulates the formation of cloud seeding particles and thus the formation of clouds. DMS leaves the surface of the water where, in the atmosphere, it oxidises into a number of compounds including sulphur dioxide (a cloud condensation nuclei). These particles mix with the evaporated water from the ocean and form clouds. This is important because clouds play a role in the amount of solar radiation reaching the Earth’s surface. Some clouds reflect the solar radiation and prevent the rays reaching the surface, having a cooling effect. Other clouds trap heat from the Earth’s surface, having a warming effect.

The more we understand about DMS the better we will understand how climate is regulated and how it will be affected by climate change. There are still unanswered questions about why some algae produce more DMSP than others and whether this affects concentrations seasonally. This also means that concentrations could vary geographically too. To help find out, NERC are collaborating with The University of East Anglia to investigate DMSP in the English Channel over the span of a year.

This blog post was inspired by the Plymouth Marine Laboratories coffee break science series.

BES Summer School Guest Blog: Part One

This year, NHBS was proud to sponsor the BES Undergraduate Summer School.

This annual event is open to undergraduate students studying in their 1st or 2nd year at a UK or Irish university. The week-long programme provides training in a range of practical, ecological skills alongside networking events and career workshops.

Due to Covid-19 the 2020 Summer School was conducted online. As one of their tasks, students were asked to write a blog article on a subject of their choice. We are pleased to feature a number of their submissions here on the NHBS blog. The first, by Hannah Coburn, looks at the timing of breeding and migration in birds and how the changing climate can impact this.


Hannah Coburn

Changing Times

Phenology refers to the timing of key life events in organisms, which play an important part in every species’ ecology [1]. The phenology of birds, including the timing of breeding and migration, is a well-studied field due to its popularity and ease with which it can be studied [2]. Many bird species have evolved to court, nest, mate and, in some cases, migrate at precise times of the year, in order to coincide with ideal conditions and the height of availability of crucial food sources [1]. However, the changing climate is beginning to disrupt these intricate balances.

Different organisms are acclimatising at different rates to the changing climatic conditions, and this dissonance can be catastrophic for breeding birds, particularly migratory species [3]. For example, if trees begin to produce leaves earlier, the invertebrates that feed on their leaves begin to emerge sooner, and if birds relying on these invertebrates do not lay their eggs earlier in the season, they may miss the peak of the insect abundance and be unable to feed their chicks [1].

Figure by Hannah Coburn. Caterpillar image: animalsake.com, Blue Tit image: RSPB.

The loss of synchrony between the phenology of birds and the species they interact with is already having a variety of consequences. A study in the Netherlands examining the potential impact of climate change on two woodland bird species [3] found that Great Tits, a resident species, respond to temperature changes faster than Pied Flycatchers, a migratory species. This is due to the Tits being able to respond to local temperatures and food availability while the Flycatchers are restricted by the time at which they arrive in spring. It was also predicted that migratory birds may suffer as a result of heightened interspecific competition caused by higher numbers of resident birds surviving milder winters.

Some bird species have already been proven to have advanced the times at which they migrate, in response to increasing global temperatures. A large study of migration data from European and North American bird observatories [4] discovered that birds now migrate on average a week earlier than they did in the late 1950s. While some birds have remained relatively consistent in the times in which they migrate, some species such as the Goldeneye, a diving duck, are now migrating as much as two weeks earlier than they did just forty years ago. Juvenile birds, under less pressure to reproduce, showed little change in migration timing. Another study [5] that analysed global migration data covering almost three centuries and over 400 species found that, on average, birds had migrated two days earlier (in spring) per decade and 1.2 days per degree (Celcius) of global temperature rise. They also noted that generalist species had responded faster to climatic shifts than species that had more specialist niches.

Image by Hannah Coburn

Even in my home town, I have noticed migrants such as Swallows and Swifts arrive earlier and earlier. Is it because the birds migrate in response to certain temperatures, which are coming earlier in the season? Is it because individuals that migrate sooner are now more likely to survive and so this trait or behaviour is becoming more common? We are yet to uncover all the intricacies of bird migration. Like any other aspect of biology affected by climate change, it is the species that adapt fastest that will survive. Sadly, if we fail to prevent runaway climate change, the birds that are unable to synchronise their phenology to the new normal may be lost forever.

References 

  1. Rubenstein, M. (2017). When timing is everything: migratory bird phenology in a changing climate. S. Geographical Survey.
  2. Gordo, O. & Sanz, J. J. (2006). Climate change and bird phenology: a long-term study in the Iberian Peninsula. Global Change Biology.
  3. Samplonius, J. M. & Both, C. (2019). Climate Change May Affect Fatal Competition between Two Bird Species. Current Biology, 29(2):327-331.
  4. Learn, J R. (2019). Climate change has birds migrating earlier. The Wildlife Society.
  5. Usui, T., Butchart, S. H. M. & Phillimore, A. B. (2016). Temporal shifts and temperature sensitivity of avian spring migratory phenology: a phylogenetic meta?analysis. Journal of Animal Ecology, 86(2).

 

Author Interview with Ian Parsons, A Vulture Landscape: Twelve Months in Extremadura

Vultures are a crucial part of many of the world’s ecosystems, and without these specialist environmental cleansers many ecosystems wouldn’t function. In A Vulture Landscape we share a calendar year in the lives of these gargantuan raptors as they live, breed, feed and fly with effortless ease across the skies of the vulture landscape that is Extremadura in central Spain.

 

Ian Parsons signing Vulture landscapes

Author, Ian Parsons visited us at NHBS to answer some questions about these often maligned birds and also signed a limited amount of copies of his new book.

 

 

Could you tell us a little about your background?

I was born and grew up in Devon in south west England, as I grew up I became more and more interested in the natural world, I can remember becoming fascinated by slow worms when I was around seven years old, although I also remember my mum’s slightly horrified reaction when I happily brought one into the house to show her. I wanted to be a Ranger from an early age and after a countryside management course at college I became one for twenty years. When the time was right for a change, myself and my wife moved to Extremadura in Spain where we set up Griffon Holidays, running specialist bird tours in this amazing region that I had first discovered almost twenty years before.

A soaring Egyptian Vulture

Why did you chose to write about vultures?

Because they are brilliant! I am a massive natural history fan and geek and I’m passionate about all types of wildlife, I would say that trees and birds are my two main interests and when it comes to birds there is nothing like a vulture. Watching birds with a nigh on three metre wingspan gliding right past you is an amazing experience, they are masters of the air and take flight efficiency to the extreme, they can read the air and its movements and to watch them is mesmerising. In the book I mention several times how my favourite past time is Vulture Gazing, just sitting back and watching them drift across the blue sky above you, it is a great way to declutter your mind, everyone should vulture gaze!

What’s special about Extremadura and its fauna and flora?

Extremadura is a region in western Spain, it is roughly twice the size of Wales, but with only one third of the human population, it is relatively empty of people and full of amazing wildlife. It has long been known as a bit of a destination for birders and rightly so. There are Great and Little Bustards, two species of Sandgrouse, colourful stars such as the Blue Rock Thrush, Roller and Bee-eater, NHBS’s very own Hoopoe is abundant and then there are the birds of prey, five species of eagle, three species of kite, falcons, harriers etc. And of course there are the vultures, the Griffon Vulture, Black Vulture and Egyptian Vulture, the skies always have something interesting in them.

Spending time on the flower rich plains in the spring listening to the wall to wall surround sound song track of abundant larks whilst raptors drift by overhead is one of life’s pleasures.

What were the major challenges you faced while writing your book?

I think the biggest difficulty is knowing when to stop! When you are passionate about something it is very easy to get carried away.

What impact has Covid had and will continue to have on eco-tourism?

It has had a massive impact. I had to cancel the tours for 2020 which were fully booked, personally it is heart breaking to have to tell people that their trip which they had been really looking forward to is off. But everybody knew why the decision had to be made. I always put the clients up in a lovely Spanish town in a local family run hotel, they are lovely people and they are having to endure a really bad situation. As to the future? Who knows, the situation is so unclear at the moment, it is impossible to make any real plans.

A griffon vulture in flight.

Is it fair to say that vultures have a bit of an unfair reputation?

Vultures are associated with death, it’s what they do, they are scavengers and they eat dead things. We humans don’t like the subject of death, we actively avoid it and therefore anything that is associated with it tends to be seen in a negative light. But vultures need to be seen in a positive light, many of the world’s vulture species are critically endangered, the last category before extinction, they are in that position because of us. Vultures do an incredible job, they are nature’s environmental cleansers and they help keep ecosystems healthy and functioning, they can deal with diseases like bovine TB, rabies and even anthrax, they remove these diseases before they can become a threat to us, they help keep people safe. We should celebrate them and most certainly enjoy them, I hope my book will go some way to helping improve the image of these brilliant birds.

Recently a Bearded Vulture has had an extended stay in Britain, is this normal?

It’s not normal, it is only the second time that one of these majestic birds has been recorded in Britain (in 2016 one briefly visited Devon and South Wales). Vultures are not native to Britain, the climate for one thing is not conducive to them and it is noticeable that after an extended stay in the Peak District the bird has started moving south and east again now that the seasons are changing. Their appearance is the result of some fantastic conservation work carried out in the Alps where the bird has been successfully reintroduced after being persecuted to extinction over one hundred years ago. The new population is absolutely booming, and wild born young are being born in good numbers each year, in 2019 39 young successfully fledged. Vultures like the Bearded don’t breed until they are around five years old and after they become independent the young birds like to wander. For a vulture, distance is rather irrelevant, they often fly several hundred kilometres in a day’s foraging, and it is one of these young birds that has turned up in Britain this year, but the bird is just an avian sightseer and hopefully it will return safely to its natural range before very long. Whilst it will remain unusual for these birds to turn up in Britain on their travels, the continued success of the conservation work in the Alps means that there will be a chance that other wandering young will follow in the future.

After a well-earned rest, are there any plans or works-in-progress that you can tell us about?

I am currently involved in a great new project that aims to rewild your inbox! Purple Crow sends out a mixture of great photography and great writing to your inbox throughout the week, the idea is to inspire people with stunning images and inspiring words, see purplecrow.co.uk for more details. Book wise I am working on a book looking at the wildlife of Britain through the seasons.

A Vulture Landscape: Twelve Months in Extremadura
By: Ian Parsons
Paperback | October 2020| £15.99 £17.99

Readers can enter the world of the vulture, get to know these amazing birds and learn how they control diseases that threaten us, why some species have bald necks, as well as how they have mastered the art of flying without expending any energy.

Signed copies are limited and subject to availability.

All prices correct at the time of this article’s publication.

Froglife: Interview with CEO Kathy Wormald

Kathy Wormald, CEO of Froglife, recently took the time to talk to us about the national charity dedicated to the conservation of amphibians and reptiles. In this insightful and inspiring conversation we talk about some of the threats facing amphibians and reptiles, the ways in which Froglife are addressing these challenges, how Covid-19 is affecting them as a charity, and share simple ways in which you can get involved with amphibian and reptile conservation.


Firstly, can you give us a brief introduction to Froglife and your main goals for amphibian and reptile conservation. 

Froglife is a wildlife conservation charity with a specific focus on the UK’s native reptiles and amphibians and their habitats. We are a practical organisation working on the ground improving sites for our species such as creating wetland habitats, improving grasslands and woodlands and monitoring our species and their habitats. Central to our ethos is to ensure that as many people as possible, from all walks of life, are able to contribute to nature conservation. We deliver our work through three work programmes: Transforming Landscapes, Transforming People and Transforming Research.

If your wildest dreams could be realised, what would you wish for amphibian and reptile populations, both in the UK and internationally? 

To stop decline of amphibian and reptile populations. Internationally amphibians are declining at a faster rate than birds and mammals. To put as much focus on conserving common species as is put on rare species. The lack of emphasis for common species means that many are no longer common. In the UK I would stop the decline of our iconic common toads, decline rates of 68% over the past 30 years. Froglife does have a big focus on common toad conservation but we need to get the whole country behind us.

One of the main problems faced by amphibians and reptiles is mortality and habitat fragmentation due to roads. Can you tell us about the Wildlife Tunnel Campaign and how it hopes to address this problem? 

New property developments require roads and these roads often run through sites that are used by wildlife, if they are protected species then action will be taken to try to help the species, however for non-protected species such as common toads, often no action is required. A lot of wildlife migrate across sites as do common toads. Common toads will migrate to their hereditary breeding pond each year and back to their hibernation sites later in the year. This migration often involves toads having to cross roads, in some cases more than one road intersection. Wildlife Tunnels provide a link between the broken site with wildlife being directed with fencing to cross under the road instead of on the road. We are asking people to sign up to our campaign to ensure that all new developments that will have roads running through wildlife sites must install Wildlife Tunnels (see image at bottom of page for more info). These tunnels need to be monitored and maintained at the cost of the developer.

What would you consider to be Froglife’s greatest success stories so far? 

The people we help to get involved in wildlife conservation, often working with very disadvantaged communities who don’t get the chance to help nature and who live in nature deficient neighbourhoods, their actions help to improve lots of green spaces in neighbourhoods. The amount of successful habitat works that we do that benefit nature and people. The Toads on Roads patrols that Froglife co-ordinates. The many innovative initiatives that we have developed such as our Wildlife Tunnel Exhibition and Virtual Reality Experience and the Wildlife Visualiser App. Opening up new revenue streams for the sector by highlighting to donors that nature conservation does have social benefits and should be funded by social donors as well as those focusing on the environment.

Working with local communities

The Covid-19 pandemic has created a huge number of unforeseen challenges for everyone this year, charities included. How have you been affected and what measures have you taken to deal with the current situation? 

Some of our projects couldn’t deliver activities during Covid-19 which meant that many of our beneficiaries didn’t have the opportunity to get involved. Our finances were impacted by the withdrawal of a lot of grant schemes. We face an uncertain future not knowing of further Covid-19 restrictions and funding opportunities. We took very decisive and quick action to deal with the situation. We developed lots of online content and delivered sessions, workshops and training courses online. We even managed to keep our work with people living with dementia going which meant that at least this group of people were supported during very trying times for them. We successfully secured Covid-19 emergency funding. We have restructured the organisation to ensure that we are harnessing the skill set of all of our staff to help us get through this.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to become more involved with amphibian and reptile conservation in the UK? 

There are many different ways in which people can become more involved: volunteering is great experience for the individual but also helps us so much with our work. There are plenty of varied volunteering opportunities, either getting outdoors and involved with physical site works, helping with our education work, research or fundraising for us. People can also attend our training courses, they are widely promoted on our website and via social media.


You can find out more about Froglife from their website and by following them on Facebook and Twitter.

Wiley Blackwell: Publisher of the Month for October

Wiley Blackwell is the international scientific publishing business of John Wiley & Sons. They aim to partner the research community and authors to enable access to the scientific and scholarly insights that are helping to solve some of the world’s biggest challenges. Wiley Blackwell are our Publisher of the Month for October.

Wiley Blackwell publish internationally across a diverse range of academic and professional fields, including biology, medicine, environmental & social studies, evolutionary biology, ecology and the natural science.

Throughout October we will have special offers on many Wiley Blackwell titles, giving you an opportunity to explore their varied and authoritative range of titles and we have selected some highlights below:

Population Ecology in Practice
Edited by: Dennis L Murray, Brett K Sandercock
Paperback| Feb 2020| £37.99 £44.99
This textbook covers all the analytical methods commonly used by population ecologists. The use of empirical examples and real datasets makes this particular relevant to students and practising ecologists.

Practical Field Ecology: A Project Guide
By: Charles Philip Wheater, Penny A Cook, James R Bell
Paperback | Second Edition | July 2020| £37.99 £44.99

A hands-on guide full of practical advice, a must-read for anyone embarking on a career as a  field ecologist.

 

Avian Evolution: The Fossil Record of Birds and its Paleobiological Significance
By: Gerald Mayr
Hardback | November 2016| £57.50 £67.50
Gives an overview of the avian fossil record and its paleobiological significance. Covers both Mesozoic and more modern-type Cenozoic birds in some detail.

 

Cowen’s History of Life
Edited by: Michael J Benton
Paperback | Sixth Edition | Oct 2019| £47.99 £54.99
For anyone with an interest in the history of life on our planet, the new edition of this classic text describes the biological evolution of Earth’s organisms and reconstructs their adaptations and their ecology.

 

Freshwater Algae: Identification, Enumeration and Use as Bioindicators
By: Edward G Bellinger, David C Sigee
Hardback | Second Edition | Feb 2016| £62.75 £72.75
A comprehensive guide to temperate freshwater algae, with additional information on key species in relation to environmental characteristics and implications for aquatic management.

 

The Royal Entomological Society Book of British Insects
By: Peter C Barnard
Hardback | Oct 2011| £47.50 £51.50
A key reference work for entomologists, and for all professionals who need a comprehensive source of information about the insect groups of the British Isles.

 

The Braconid and Ichneumonid Parasitoid Wasps: Biology, Systematics, Evolution and Ecology
By: Donald LJ Quicke
Hardback | Jan 2015 | £119.50 £142.50
The Ichneumonoidea is a vast and important superfamily of parasitic wasps, with some 60, 000 described species.

 

Handbook of Road Ecology
Edited by: Rodney van der Ree, Daniel J Smith, Clara Grilo.
Hardback | June 2015 | £82.75 £98.75
Offers a comprehensive summary of approximately 30 years of global efforts to quantify the impacts of roads and traffic and implement effective mitigation.

 

Paleoclimatology: From Snowball Earth to the Anthropocene
By: Colin Peter Summerhayes
Paperback | August 2020 | £54.99 £64.99
An invaluable course reference for undergraduate and postgraduate students in geology, climatology, oceanography and the history of science

 

Ecological Methods
By: Peter A Henderson, Thomas RE Southwood
Paperback | Forth Edition | Mar 2016 | £47.50 £54.50
The first edition of Ecological Methods was published in 1966 and became an instant classic text. While still relevant to experienced researchers, the 4th edition has text which is accessible and useful to students.

Browse all our Wiley Blackwell books at NHBS

All prices correct at the time of this article’s publication.

 

 

This Week in Biodiversity News – 5th October

Big Butterfly Count 2020 sees lowest numbers of butterflies recorded in 11 years. The average number of butterflies logged per count was down 34% in comparison with 2019, and the lowest average number of butterflies logged overall since the event began eleven years ago.

In this Philippine community, women guard a marine protected area. Women in the central Philippines have banded together to protect their marine sanctuaries from poachers and illegal fishers. Armed with only paddles and kayaks, these women willingly risk their lives to manage their marine protected area.

Plastic-eating enzyme ‘cocktail’ heralds new hope for plastic waste. The same team who re-engineered the plastic-eating enzyme PETase have now created an enzyme ‘cocktail’ which can digest plastic up to six times faster.

A “nationally scarce” species of bee has been found in Newport for the first time, conservationists say. Buglife Cymru said it discovered a “strong population” of small scabious mining bees at St Julian’s Park local nature reserve last week.

Author Interview with Richard Sale: The Common Kestrel

Once a familiar sight motionless above road verges, the population of kestrels has sharply declined, a decline which continues as the intensification of agriculture and the populations of other raptors increases.

Richard Sales comprehensive new study investigates the decline, after first exploring all aspects of the kestrels’ life, from plumage and diet through breeding to survival.

The book includes data from Richard’s recently completed four-year study in which video cameras were installed to watch breeding behaviour in a barn in southern England.

Richard visited us to sign copies of his new book and answer our questions about how his expertise in physics and engineering have been used to find out more about this illustrious falcon.

Richard Sales and Skua at Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic

Could you tell us a little about your background?

I am from Somerset and have maintained my West Country accent all my life, though I haven’t lived there for many years. I did physics as an undergraduate, then did an MSc in theoretical physics (studying energy loss from general relativistic stars), then a PhD in astrophysics flying a large (50kg) gamma-ray telescope suspended under a 3 million cubic foot balloon filled with hydrogen. The telescope flew at 105,000ft and discovered the first-ever gammar-ray pulsar. I then worked as a glaciologist in Switzerland for a while, and then took a job in the UK power industry.

Kai, the male falconry Kestrel used in the experimental flights.

When did you develop an interest in birds?

My father was bird lover and tailored our family holidays around the breeding season, so we went to Exmoor to watch buzzards and so on, rarely going anywhere near a beach and more often than not learning how to survive in poor weather. Both my brother and myself believe we owe our interest in birds to those trips. My father taught us how to watch birds, not just to learn their names so we could impress other people, but to really watch them. That has stayed with me ever since. I was more academic than my brother (who is a chemist – not a pharmacist, a chemist) and Dad wanted me to study zoology, but I chose physics. I also chose climbing as a primary hobby when I was teenager, first rock faces, then mountains, which is why I finished up in Switzerland when I was offered a post that allowed me to live at the Jungfraujoch and climb every weekend.

We lost our grant money in Switzerland, so I had to find another job. But as the years went by birds became more and more important to me. The dual love of birds, and snow and ice drew me to the Arctic and eventually I took very early retirement – I was only in my 40s – so I could spend more time travelling in the Arctic, supporting myself by starting a physics consultancy and writing books. One of the first Arctic-based books was a Poyser on Gyrfalcons which I co-authored with a Russian friend, Eugene Potapov. For that book I was watching gyrs in the Canadian Arctic. There was breeding pair and I watched the male hunting Arctic Ground Squirrels. He was coming from very high and a long way off and I noticed that he was not travelling in a straight line and couldn’t understand why not since the shortest route is the quickest. That lead me to investigate the eyes of falcons and also to build my own Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) so I could track hunting falconry birds.

Has data from the Inertial Measurement Units (IMUs) you have developed been used in your books?

I flew my first generation IMUs on all four UK breeding falcons – each time on falconry birds. The unit I flew used the satellites to give me track position and had a barometer for height data (as height from satellites is only accurate if there are a lot of satellites in view, which is sometimes not the case on Scottish moors where I was flying on peregrines). The IMU also had a tri-axial accelerometer, gyro and magnetometer. All the data was stored on a flash drive on the bird so I crossed my fingers each time I flew one that the bird would come back.
In 2018 I co-authored a monograph on Steller’s Sea Eagles, the world’s largest eagle, with two Russian colleagues, and was lucky enough to find a captive Steller’s in this country which I could fly the unit on. That was a seriously interesting time. Steller’s are huge. I remember seeing them for the first time in the wild – in Kamchatka – which was awesome, but the size only became apparent when I saw them above sea ice over the Sea of Okhotsk when they flew with White-tailed Eagles. The White-tailed Eagles are the biggest raptors we see over here, but they were dwarfed by the Steller’s.

I also flew the unit on Merlins for the book published earlier this year. By then I was flying second generation units. These are much smaller, weighing only 3g, and much faster, tracking at 13Hz and collecting tri-axial data at up 1.6kHz. How much I can reduce the weight is important because every additional gram affects the bird in some way, and so particularly for Merlins getting the weight down is vital. Speed of data acquisition is also important because Hobbies, for instance, are incredibly agile and so the unit has to be fast to follow every twist and turn. Flying on a hunting Merlin was a strange experience. On the first flight we put the IMU on, released the bird and it flew 60m and attacked a Blackbird in a hedge. After a short fight the Blackbird escaped. For the rest of that day and several other days, the Merlin didn’t catch anything.

Why did you choose Kestrels as the subject for your latest book?

The UK is very lucky in the four falcons we have as breeding species. Peregrines are renowned for their high-speed stoops, Merlins for their fast chases and ringing flights, Hobbies for their agile flights after dragonflies and Kestrels for their ‘hovering’ search for mammals. A different hunting technique for each. I was particularly interested in Kestrels as in hovering – the official term for the technique is now ‘flight-hunting’ – the head must be held stationary for successful hunting so the body has to absorb the phenomenal forces caused by gravity, beating wings and the drag of gusting wind. I was anxious to investigate how they did it.

Did you encounter any challenges collecting data for your new book: Kestrel?

It required a lot of very sensitive equipment and some skilled operators. We borrowed two hi-speed cameras insured for £250,000 and set them up head-on and side-on to a flight-hunting falconry male Kestrel which carried the IMU. The cameras were running at 800fps and were filming 4k images, vast amounts of data were being collected and stored. The unit on the bird was collecting tri-axial data at 800Hz. It was also collecting satellite timing data, so to align wing, eye and head position we had to have a special time code generator which took a signal from the same satellites and stamped each frame of the film with a time measured in microseconds. The results are impressive in terms of how stable the head and eye position are. We are now preparing a paper for the scientific literature of body orientation relative to head position. It would have been good to have had that in the book as well, but the maths is so complex it is hard to make it easily accessible.

Your book features a four-year study to observe breeding behaviour; can you tell us anything about the methods and findings?

For four successive years we set up an array of video cameras filming breeding Kestrels in a barn in Hampshire. We had one camera filming the comings and goings of the adults and, later the fledglings, and two cameras in the nest box watching egg laying, incubation, hatching and chick growth. We filmed 24 hours every day, turning on IR lights to film at night. We measured egg laying intervals to the nearest minute, found accurate hatch times and watched every prey delivery. We also set up live traps where we knew the male hunted so we could weigh the local voles and mice and estimate how many kgs of rodent it takes to make 1kg of Kestrel. The filming was interesting – over the years the adults brought in slow worms, lizards, frogs and moths, as well as voles, mice and shrews. One male also brought in a weasel. This has long been suspected, but never-before filmed.

Can you tell us about any projects you are currently working on?

Because of COVID there is less money about, and writing books also takes lots of time and hard work. I have already decided I will not do a Peregrine book as there are already enough on the market (though none of them cover flight dynamics the way I would). I had planned to do a Hobby book because their flight is so fascinating, but if 2021 is another COVID year l might not be able to.

The Common Kestrel
By: Richard Sale
Hardback | September 2020| £49.99

Investigates all aspects of the Kestrels’ life, from plumage and diet through breeding to survival: also includes a four-year study in which video cameras capture breeding behaviour. Further studies also investigated the flight  using the modern technology of inertial measurement units allied to excellent photography.

 

Richard Sale has also authored two other titles with Snowfinch Publishing: The Merlin and Steller’s Sea Eagle (with Vladimir Borisovich Masterov and Michael S Romanov)

 

You can browse all titles by Richard Sale here