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Content Updated: 1st December 2016

SEASONAL UPDATE: December 2016

Frosty

November was, to put it mildly, a changeable month. We had an unseasonably cold start, with high pressure over Scandinavia bringing air down from the Arctic across the UK for the first week or so. Temperatures dropped to -8C (16 F) in some parts of Scotland and even here on the south coast the New Forest saw -4C (25 F) on 8th November and our garden in Southampton dropped to -1C (30 F), with the second frost of the autumn. The night of the 7th/8th November saw snow in parts of eastern northern England, but generally the cold spell was short lived and the arrival of a couple of low pressure systems brought wind and rain and saw the temperatures climb back up to a very mild 17C (63 F) by mid-November. Overall, a provisional dataset released on 15th November suggests 2016 is on course to, once again, be the warmest since pre-industrial times. Unfortunately for most stargazers in England, the very mild middle of the month was partly the result of a thick blanket of cloud that obscured the ‘super moon’ on the 14th. Wales saw mini-tornados during the middle of the month and storm “Angus” brought heavy rain and strong winds to the south of England on the weekend of the 19/20th November. Angus brought 97mph winds in the Channel and 108mph off the Kent coast, as well as some heavy rain, which caused localised flooding. Northern England and Scotland escaped the storm, but experienced some of their coldest weather of the autumn. High elevations of northern England saw their first snowfall of the season. November finished on a bitterly cold note, with -10C (14 F) recorded in sheltered Scottish glens, -8C down south in Oxford and even -4C here in Southampton city.

If November didn’t convince you to stay indoors until the spring, as always, the RSPB and Wildlife Trusts are running a series of outdoor events this month aimed at getting people involved with the nature that surrounds them. Similarly, the Forestry Commission has various events, including walks, talks and craft sessions, and the Marine Conservation Society has its usual selection of beach clean events running up and down the country this month.

Fighting Chinese water deerMammals: December marks the beginning of the breeding season for two of our mammal species: the red fox and the Chinese water deer. Foxes start to become more territorial at this time of year, they’re more vocal and they are more likely to be seen travelling in pairs, as the dog follows a vixen waiting for her to come into season. Most matings will happen after Christmas, but the pace of fox society picks up this month as preparations begin and urban families will begin breaking down.  Not all fox families split up, and dispersal of cubs can happen at any time of the year, but winter is a peak time for cubs to strike out on their own. More information about the fox breeding can be found in the main red fox article.

Territoriality among male Chinese water deer is also increasing this month. This species escaped from captivity during the 1940s and had established itself within the wilds of Bedfordshire within two decades. Water deer can now be found widely throughout Bedfordshire and East Anglia, particularly the fenland and farmland of Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk and around Woburn. At this time of year, the normally chilled-out water deer bucks dig small scrapes in the ground into which they urinate or defecate; the latrines serve as territory markers. Bucks try to attract does to their territories and then follow them while emitting a ‘squeaking’ sound. When approaching a doe the buck will hold his head low while twisting it, causing a slapping noise to be generated by the ears. Most matings will occur in the buck’s own territory and there are reports of bucks trying to constrain females by encircling them. Interloping males are chased away and occasionally two evenly matched bucks may fight. As with all deer species, fights start with two animals walking side-by-side, each assessing the other’s size and general condition – this we call parallel walking. If neither backs down, the two will fight. Water deer lack antlers; instead, they dance around each other, each trying to slash the other with their elongated upper canines (above), which may grow to 6cm (almost 2.5 inches). Fights can be serious, and deaths do occur, although water deer fur is comparatively loose and falls out easily, which can make fights seem more violent than they actually are. Cold weather is required to bring Chinese water deer does into season, so very mild autumns and winters, as we experienced last year, reduce rutting activity.

Being the start of winter, December is a month in which many mammals, ourselves included, venture out less. Badgers, for example, spend most of the winter underground where they even create indoor toilets to reduce the need to go outside. Some mammals prefer to opt out of winter altogether and our bats, dormice and hedgehogs are the only British mammals that truly hibernate (if you’re wonder what makes hibernation ‘true’, it’s all to do with lowering body temperature and reducing biochemical processes – read more here). With that in mind, please check any piles of garden rubbish before having a bonfire. Such spots make ideal hedgehog hibernation venues and an untold number are killed in bonfires every year. Hedgehogs build thick-walled hibernaculums in which to spend the winter, although hibernation is not the constant state that many imagine and a hedgehog will wake up periodically. In most cases the hog will wake up, move around in the hibernaculum for a while and then settle back down to re-enter hibernation. It is not uncommon, however, for hedgehogs to venture out (particularly if it gets very cold) and even move to a new hibernaculum for the rest of the winter.

Bewick swanBirds: December is the month of the ‘bop’ (bird of prey). During the winter, many harriers and owls can be found around our coastline; some are residents that have moved from their upland breeding grounds, while others are migrants from the continent. Hen harriers can be found on some southern heathlands during the winter, including here on the New Forest, while marsh harriers and peregrine falcons are attracted to our estuaries and marshes by the number of wading birds arriving from further north to spend the winter in Britain. Marshes and the surrounding farmland are a good place to look for short-eared owls (below), which hunt for small mammals during the daytime. In good owling years, Britain’s resident short-eared population can swell by as many as 50,000 individuals coming in from Europe. ‘Shorties’ aren’t the only owl species to over-winter here. Britain’s 4,000 pairs of barn owls are joined by as many as 25,000 migrants from Europe during the winter. The lack of foliage on the trees at this time of year makes spotting other owl species, particularly long-eared and tawny owls, a bit easier. Tawnies are currently re-establishing pair bonds and territories in anticipation of the breeding season and there is much ‘kee-wicking’ and ‘hoo-hooooing’ going on in parks, gardens and woodlands across the country.

Our lakes and estuaries are busy at this time of year, with flocks of waders and ducks, many of which have arrived from further north and east to overwinter in our milder conditions. Keep an eye out for gadwall, teal, lapwings, snipe, and large flocks of dunlin. Estuaries and reservoirs are also good spots for swan-watching, with large aggregations of mute swans around during this month as well as immigrant yellow-beaked Bewick (left) and whooper swans. Some 190,000 Canada geese and 200,000 greylag geese come to Britain for winter and there are an estimated 7,000 avocets that also overwinter here, with Brownsea Island and Poole Harbour being among the best spots to watch them. Similarly, our resident populations of garden birds like robins, starlings and blackbirds are augmented with migrants from continental Europe and this can produce some large flocks. Last December, one of my local nature reserves had a count of almost 4,000 starlings and these murmurations are true winter spectaculars – not only are they amazing to watch, but the noise made by several thousand starlings pass overhead is something to experience. Good spots for watching murmurations include Slimbridge WWT in Gloucester, Leighton Moss Reserve in Lancashire, Aberystwyth Pier in Wales, Blashford Lakes in Hampshire and Brighton Pier in West Sussex. In the fields, keep an eye out for large mixed flocks of buntings and finches, including reed buntings, yellowhammers and chaffinches as well as the odd hawfinch and brambling. Winter also sees flocks of snow buntings venture along the coastline as they spread out from their normal haunts of the Cairngorm slopes.

Reptiles and amphibians: Very few reptiles and amphibians are to be found this month, particularly when air temperatures drop below about 10 Celsius (50F). Some species are hardier than others, though, and the introduced wall lizard, which can be found along parts of the Hampshire and Dorset coast, can be seen out and about even in frosty conditions provided there are some patches of sunshine to bask in. If the winter remains cold then the rest of our snakes, lizards, frogs, toads and newts will remain in torpor among dense vegetation, under logs, in the leaflitter or at the bottom of ponds until spring.

Invertebrates: If December is another mild one there’s a good chance there will be a few bees and butterflies on the wing, and there were a few insects in flight towards the end of last month, although fewer than last winter. Nonetheless, further north, where it is much colder at the moment, and if that cold air is pushed further south, insects will either die or find somewhere to hibernate – stairwells, sheds, garages, conservatories and log piles are all favoured over-wintering spots for invertebrates. Hibernating insects such as butterflies are a marvel of biological adaptation, able to survive temperatures well below freezing during torpor. These insects have large quantities of sodium, potassium and chloride ions in their body, which increases the concentration of their body fluids, lowering the freezing point. In some insect species, glycerol is produced which can prevent the insect freezing even if the ambient temperature drops to -50oC (-58oF)! Spiders will also remain active if the winter is mild, particularly those in our houses. For the arachnophobic, it may be perversely comforting that there are daddy long-legs spiders (Pholcus phalangioides) lurking in their houses – they are harmless to us, but have a bite sufficiently venomous to kill the much larger house spiders and false widows.

MistletoePlants and fungi: Most of the trees have now lost their leaves, but this makes their branches more visible and it is now easier to spot mosses and lichens growing on their bark. Woodland mosses and lichens can be beautifully elegant, especially when tinged with frost, and make good photographic subjects. Lichens are a fused partnership of fungus and alga; the alga photosynthesises to produce sugars (food) which the fungus absorbs, while the fungal cell protects the alga from the environment. A win-win situation.

You may also notice clumps of vegetation growing among the bare branches (right) this month – this is mistletoe. Mistletoe (Viscum album) is a parasitic plant and botanists generally group it into three types, or subspecies, according to the host tree on which they are found growing. V. album album grows on hardwood (deciduous) trees, while the subspecies abietis and austriacum are softwood (coniferous) parasites growing on fir and pine, respectively. Here in the UK mistletoe is found from Devon in the south west to about Yorkshire in the north, being particularly common in central and southern England and around London. It is the album subspecies that can be found growing wild in Britain and it is found most commonly on apple, lime and poplar trees, although it will also grow on blackthorn, hawthorn, rowan, willow, cherry, ash, sycamore, pear, whitebeam, crab apple and occasionally on oak. In common with two other plants often associated with the festive season, holly and ivy, mistletoe is dioecious - in other words, rather than having male and female organs on the same organism like most plants, it produces male and female flowers on different plants. Ergo, a mistletoe bush is either male or female, and survey data suggest that female bushes are about four times as common as males. Berries are produced by female bushes and are an important source of winter food for many bird species, particularly thrushes. In spite of their cultural and wildlife importance, mistletoes are, nonetheless, parasites and sequester minerals, carbohydrates and nitrogen from the trees on which they grow. The impact on their host depends on the health of the tree and the prevailing conditions as much as the intensity of the mistletoe ‘infection’. Broadly speaking, mistletoe infection has been linked with reduced trunk/branch/leaf/needle growth, increased leaf/needle shedding, lower vigour, reduced fruiting, lower wood quality and increased susceptibility to parasite/pest infection of host species. The result can be a higher than expected mortality among infected trees.

Why mistletoe has such cultural significance, particularly around Christmas time, remains unclear. There are, however, no shortage of stories about how kissing under the mistletoe came to be a favoured festive pastime. Legend has it that mistletoe was considered sacred by Celtic Druids because it was leafy and berry-laden even during the depths of winter when the host trees were bare. Indeed, in his Historia naturalis, Pliny the Elder wrote of how mistletoe was especially venerated by the Druids of Gaul as a symbol of eternal life. There are records of various early cultures using mistletoe together with aromatic substances, such as an incense, to scent houses, animals and men in a bid to protect against lightning, spells and bad dreams, or to get in contact with ‘elementary power of nature’ and to find ‘inner stability’. Subsequent authors point to a particular association between mistletoe and romance appearing in ancient Norse mythology and note that, by the eighteenth century, it was apparently common practice for servants in British houses to steal kisses under bunches of mistletoe hung in doorways at Christmas. In an article for Fox News last year, Adam Verwymeren said that it was actually bad luck to kiss under mistletoe, and stated that a berry was taken from the bunch after each kiss – when the berries ran out, the bough no longer had the power to command kisses.

Also around at this time of year is the seasonally appropriate scarlet elf-cup fungus, which grows from rotten wood and is quite widespread although not abundant in Britain. The fruiting body has a diameter of a few centimetres, with a pale pinky-orange outside and a bright red inside to the cup. So, why not wrap up and go for a walk to settle that Christmas dinner?

Pick of the Month – Natural World Discoveries

German sheperd portratiDogs judge threats differently if they have female owners
Dogs are often referred to as “man’s best friend” because they play a diverse role in our society, from protecting our property to improving the quality of life for many disabled people. We still don’t know when humans first attempted to domesticate the wild canid that we now know as the dog, but genetic data published in August of last year suggests it was probably about 15,000 years ago. According to the Pet Food Manufacturer’s Association, about a quarter of UK households own one or more dogs, suggesting there are about 8.5 million in Britain. Dogs provide companionship that enriches our lives in many ways; one in particular being that they can make people feel safer and more confident. Indeed, several female friends of mine have said they feel safer when their dog is around than when they’re walking on their own, particularly in the dark, and new research from Hungary suggests that dogs with female owners assess threats differently to those owned by men.

In a paper to the journal Animal Cognition a team of behaviourists at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, led by Peter Pongrácz, describe their study looking at how dog vocal behaviour (specifically growls) changed when different ‘threatening’ strangers approached their owners. They recruited 138 dogs and their owners and ended up testing 64 of them. Half the group of dogs were males and the other half females and, as a whole, ranged from 9 months to 11 years old. They set up a test that involved the dog standing in front of its owner in one corner of a 4x6 metre (13x20 ft) room as a stranger approached from the opposite corner. The owners were in charge of deciding if their dogs were becoming too stressed by the test and could stop at any time – none did. All strangers were adult white men or women, eight of each, working at the University’s Department of Ethology – four of each sex were classed as ‘large’ and the other four as ‘small’ based on a series of criteria. The idea was to see whether dogs gauged one body size or sex more threatening than the other. They rigged the room with video cameras and microphones and watched the responses of the dogs to various combinations of large and small male and female strangers. Once all the experiments were complete, the recordings were analysed for the intensity, pitch, acoustic dynamics and tone of the growls the dogs gave when the stranger approached.

The results showed that the dogs didn’t care about body size, but male strangers caused the dogs to produce a growl with a lower Pitch-Formant (P-F) response and narrower formant dispersions when the dog had either a female owner or was owned by a mixed-sex household. This suggested to the researchers that these dogs were more highly aroused and aggressive than dogs either owned by men or approached by women. This type of growl is also thought to exaggerate the dog’s body size, making the dog sound larger than it actually is. Interestingly, they also found that this effect was less pronounced in bigger dogs; so big dogs were generally less phased than smaller ones. Overall, this could be interpreted as the dogs being more protective of female owners approached by men, and that they recognise men as being a more significant threat to a woman than another woman. These data also help support a previous study that found dogs in mixed sex households were better able to assess genders than those who in female-only or male-only families.

Reference: Bálint, A. et al. (2016). Threat level dependent manipulation of signalled body size – dog growls’ indexical cues depend on the different levels of potential danger. Anim. Cogn. 19: 1115-1131.


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Bovine TB science: Badgers and cattle use the same fields, but don’t interact
CowTuberculosis is an infection of the respiratory system caused by bacteria of the genus Mycobacterium; in humans Mycobacterium tuberculosis is typically the causative agent, while it is M. bovis that causes the disease in cattle. M. bovis can also be passed to other mammals, including badgers, deer, foxes, domestic cats and dogs and even humans. There were 8,585 incidents of TB in UK cattle herds in the 12 months to June 2016 that resulted in the slaughter of 69,289 cattle, and it is estimated that, during the past decade, efforts to control the spread of TB in cattle herds have cost the British taxpayer £500 million. Many argue that the situation with bovine TB in Britain is complicated by badger (Meles meles) populations that have increased in the last 20 years as a result of legal protection. Badgers are susceptible to the TB bacterium and are unique among our wild mammals in that it is often a ‘sub-lethal’ infection. This means that badgers can carry the bacteria, and potentially spread them in the environment, for many years before succumbing to it – most other mammals are killed relatively quickly. The first record of tuberculosis in Meles meles came from Switzerland during the mid-1950s. In 1971, a dead badger recovered from the Cotswold Hills in Gloucestershire was found to be infected with Mycobacterium bovis – this represented the first confirmed case in the UK.

A huge amount of money and resource has been invested in trying to understand the dynamics of TB in the environment and what role cattle and badgers play in sustaining it. Some argue that badger populations must be reduced, by culling, to limit the wild reservoir of the disease, thereby reducing the potential for infection/reinfection of cattle. Others claim that vaccinating badgers and/or cattle is the only logical way forward if we are to eradicate the disease, and point to inaccurate TB tests that mean some carriers go unidentified and can therefore reinfect the herd. Some countries have seen positive results by culling wildlife vectors, while there is no shortage of studies suggesting that culling is not an effective means by which to control the disease. In recent years we have come closer to understanding how the TB bacteria may be passed between livestock and wildlife, and a new tracking study by a team at the Zoological Society of London and Imperial College casts doubt on the direct inhalation route – i.e. where cattle breathe in bacteria that infected badgers have breathed out.

The study, led by Rosie Woodroffe and published in the journal Ecology Letters during August, looked at 421 cows and 54 badgers on dairy and beef farms at four sites in Cornwall between May 2013 and August 2015. Not only did they track the badgers and cattle, but they also fitted the badgers with ultra-high frequency contact collars that could detect the collars worn by the cattle at distances less than two metres. In other words, any time a collared badger got within two metres of one of the collared cows, the badgers’ collar would log it. (The current thinking is that badgers must be within 1.5m of a cow in order to transfer M. bovis bacteria to it via its breath.) The data show that of the GPS locations falling on the farms, almost 60% were in cattle pasture and that, statistically-speaking, badgers actively chose this type of habitat. Despite this obvious preference for cattle fields, however, in 2,914 nights when the contact collars were in use there were no direct contacts between the two species. Furthermore, when you combine the GPS and contact collar data it shows that in 8,294 monitoring nights when badgers were located in the ranges of cattle (and therefore could potentially have wandered up to each other) there were no occasions when a badger was detected within 1.5m of a cow. Now, obviously, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, so we can’t say badgers and cattle never come together, but these findings certainly imply that such occurrences are rare and that direct airborne transmission of TB between badgers and cattle is unlikely to be a significant pathway of infection. Instead, the data imply we should be looking more closely at environmental contamination as a major pathway.

Reference: Woodroffe, R. et al. (2016). Badgers prefer cattle pasture but avoid cattle: implications for bovine tuberculosis control. Ecol. Lett. 19: 1201-1208.


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Garden reflected in windowBird feeders increase risk of window-strikes, but that’s not the whole story
Britons generally like to think of themselves as a nation of animal lovers. Many of us feed wildlife in our gardens and birds are the animals we feed most commonly. A survey for BBC West Midlands in 2010 estimated that 75% of the UK population fed birds at some point during the year and, of those, nine out of 10 put food out all year round. The result is that we spend an estimated £282 million on bird food every year. In the US the percentage is lower, with about 50% of households feeding the birds, but in total it is estimated that they spend $3.5 billion on food and supplies. This increase in garden bird traffic can result in some distressing ‘side effects’. Some of us aren’t, for example, accustomed to predation in our own back garden and are distressed by the activities of foxes, cats and sparrowhawks. In addition to this, birds may fly into our windows – sometimes with fatal results.

A survey for East Sussex Wildlife Rescue between 2012 and 2013 found that an estimated 100 million birds struck windows in Britain every year and they made up about 5% of the bird casualties admitted to wildlife rescue centres. Similarly, in an article to The Condor, Scott Loss at the National Zoological Park in Washington and colleagues estimated that anywhere between 365 and 988 million birds were killed each when they flew into buildings in the US. About 56% of birds that collided with low-rise buildings were killed, while 44% of those that hit residences died and fewer than 1% of high-rise collisions were fatal. In recent years researchers have tried to understand what causes birds to fly into windows and how we can reduce their frequency or prevent them altogether. We have thought for a while now that having bird feeders in the garden increases the risk birds flying into windows, but only recently has this been tested empirically.

Justine Kummer and Erin Bayne at the University of Alberta in Canada have conducted a series of studies looking at how the placement of bird feeders relative to the house affects the number of birds that fly into windows. One of these studies was published in the journal Avian Conservation and Ecology at the end of last year and presented data on 284 trials between April 2014 and May 2015. The study consisted of paired month-long trials during which a feeder was either present of absent for a month and then removed or added accordingly for another month. During the trial there were 145 collisions, 51 at houses without feeders and 94 at those with them. The data suggest that window collisions were almost twice as likely at houses with bird feeders installed. Statistically, however, this wasn’t significant, suggesting that the feeders were only eliciting a weak effect. The season was a better predictor, with most collisions happening during the autumn and the fewest during the winter. Overall, there was a lot of variation between the houses, indicating that window collisions are context-dependent. The researchers found that changing the placement, timing and occurrence of the feeders could reduce the likelihood of a window collision, but having a feeder is only one part of the picture. It does seem that placing a feeder close to (within 1m / 3ft) or at distance (10m / 30ft) from the house may be safest, but in their paper, the authors conclude:
“Eliminating bird feeders will not solve the bird-window collision issue.”

The current thinking is that it is vegetation reflected in the windows that dupes birds into thinking the garden extends into the house, or a mirror or another window in the room makes it appear that there is a way through. The advice from charities such as the RSPB is to obscure windows using random shapes – bird-shaped stickers are widely available, but most shapes will accomplish the same effect of making the window more obvious to the birds. The East Sussex Wildlife Rescue point out that some birds suffer only minor concussion following a strike and will fly off shortly after, while others suffer more serious beak, neck or head injuries. Their advice is:

If a bird is showing visible signs of injury such as blood, in coordination or inability to move or fly always contact your local wildlife rescue centre for advice as it may require treatment. Whilst consulting a rescue centre, place the bird in to a box somewhere quiet and dark to await rescue or to settle down before release.”

Reference: Kummer, J.A. & Bayne, E.M. (2015). Bird feeders and their effects on bird-window collisions at residential houses. Avian Cons. Ecol. 10(2):6.


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As always, I love hearing from readers; any queries or comments regarding the information on the site can be sent in using the addresses on the Contact page. (Note: So: Some website questions are answered on the FAQ, while many animal-related questions are covered in the Q/A). Photos can be e-mailed to a dedicated e-mail address - please keep them coming and don't forget to check out my Photos Needed page. I'm also interested in hearing any reports of unusual behaviour in any of the animals featured on this site, or interactions between humans and wildlife. Thanks as always for your continued patience and support. Special thanks this month to Mike McKenzie, for letting me use is amazing photo of water deer bucks fighting, and Steph Powley for her stunning pooch-portrait. As another year draws to a close, I want to thank, once again, all the people who have contributed photos to these updates and to Steph Powley and Ali Magnum for their expert proof-reading skills. Finally, I want to take this opportunity to wish readers and their families a very MERRY CHRISTMAS and a HAPPY NEW YEAR. I hope to see you back in in 2017!

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WildlifeonlineOkay, for those of you that are new to the site, let's take it from the top!

What is Wildlife Online?
Essentially, WLOL is an educational website about British wildlife. The site contains profiles of various British animal species, with new articles in preparation all the time. The site also has articles looking at wildlife-related subjects, including hunting and animal emotions. This site is purely a hobby of mine; it does not generate any money or contain any advertising and, for the time being at least, I am happy for it to stay that way.

What does Wildlife Online aim to achieve?
The ultimate goal of the website is to be useful. My intention has always been to provide un-biased, accurate information that’s accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. Increasingly people are coming into contact with their local wildlife and whether such interactions are positive or negative, they generally inspire a desire to learn more about the species. Moreover, there are still a great many misconceptions surrounding our wildlife (fox behaviour springs immediately to mind) and these are brought up time and time again during discussions in the media. Each article aims to provide a reasonably comprehensive overview of the species in question by drawing on information from the media, books, TV programmes and the scientific literature. I feel that this combination of sources, along with my own observations and those of my friends/colleagues/readers provides a unique online resource of British wildlife information. My hope is that the information provided here will go some way to changing people's perceptions of the creatures with which they share their parks and gardens.

Why create a website when there are books and TV programmes about your subjects?
Books can be a fantastic resource and I can't imagine being without my library. Not all libraries are, however, equally well stocked, and not everyone has the funds to splash out on what are often very expensive wildlife books (especially those written by scientists). More importantly, much of the scientific research never makes it out of the journals into books and TV shows. Similarly, many of the early books -- which contain some of the pioneering work on the species -- are now long out of print and can be difficult or expensive to track down. Books have the 'luxury' of being able to devote their entire contents to a particular species, covering all aspects of its life history. Television, by contrast, is a much more limited and variable medium: the programme editor(s) has to create a show that is likely to hold the viewers' attention and appeal to a very wide audience. The result is that, although some reach this compromise very well, many documentaries focus heavily on the 'wow factor' (multitudinous slow motion shots of Great whites leaping out of the water in pursuit of seals, for example) and this often comes at the inevitable expense of the information about the animal. Finally, both books and TV programmes go out of date quite quickly; new research is being conducted all the time. Consequently, a website is an ideal and dynamic intermediate - it offers the opportunity to provide a decent amount of information about the subject that can be updated at the metaphorical drop-of-a-hat as any new research is published.

Why include so much information?
I honestly believe that if a job is worth doing, it's worth doing well. There are hundreds of websites with brief species profiles and if that's all WLOL offered there would be little point to it. I understand and appreciate that some people find being confronted with large volumes of text very daunting while others are of the 'too long; didn't read' mind-set and will thus be turned off by the amount of text facing them. I have tried to remedy this as far as possible via two avenues: there is a Speed Read section with a brief profile of each species featured in a main article; and each article has been 'virtually split', with the aid of hyperlinks, into sections that allow people to easily jump to the information they're looking for. Ultimately, I want to provide as much information as is feasible in order to provide the reader with the clearest appraisal of each species or topic; I hope that most readers approve of this approach.

Why haven't you included a complete bibliography?
My intention with WLOL is to provide the information in an accessible format, which means that anyone should be able to read an article and understand the information in it. Consequently, I didn't want to format it as a scientific paper because the current format allows for a much more informal approach and writing style which, I hope, will appeal to a wider audience. Most people should find enough information in the article (I typically provide the name or one or more of the authors and the journal and year) to track down the original scientific paper. When I take information from books, I always give the name of the author(s) and the full title of the book for easy reference. I am also happy to provide full details of any of the references upon request.

Are you really qualified to do this?
I'm certainly not an expert on any of the subjects presented on this site. The articles stem from my varied interests in natural history and biological sciences. In terms of qualifications, I trained as a scientist (studying natural sciences at degree and postgraduate level) and all I really do is interpret information, blend it with associated research and personal observation, and present it in what I hope is an accessible format. Unless specifically stated, I do not claim any of the information on this site to be my own research. I have built relationships with some of the many diligent researchers who have produced the data that I use, and I am happy either to recommend an expert or provide my own opinions on a subject.

As a final note, I want to make a quick reference to the quality of the material on the site. The great French philosopher and mathematician, Rene Descartes, once said: "If you would be a real seeker of truth, you first must be willing to doubt as far as possible all things." This is very sage advice, especially when it comes to believing what you read on the Internet. Most Internet sites (indeed, some books and TV shows too), including this one, have no form of peer-review (i.e. nobody with experience of the topic checks the site for accuracy); consequently pretty much anyone can have their own little corner of cyberspace and information can make it onto websites that is either misguided, or downright false! When creating material for this site I take every care to ensure that the information I present is accurate. Invariably errors will creep in; typos are almost inevitable (although each article goes through several levels of proof reading before it appears online) and research is always underway on the species featured here, so the data can go out of date almost overnight. Each page has regular (ish!) reviews, however, during which I update the information, adding details of new findings and taking out that which is now thought highly unlikely. You can see most of the books I have used in the preparation of this site on the Recommended Reading page and I have provided links to some of the most interesting sites I came across during my research – these can be found under the appropriate sub-heading on the Links page.

Anyway, I digress.... I hope you enjoy looking around the site and I hope equally that you get something worthwhile out of it. Any comments, suggestions or (constructive) criticisms are welcome via e-mail - appropriate addresses can be found on the Contact page.

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DISCLAIMER: All the photographs and artwork on this site are either my own work or have been donated by readers. All images remain property of their authors and, if you wish to reproduce any of the pictures, consent must be granted by the appropriate person - requests can be directed via myself or see FAQ. For more details on the content of this site, please see the full WLOL Disclaimer.

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