I'm delighted to present a guest blog from one of my colleagues, and talented photographer Michael Harvey, who is often to be found at lunchtimes here at RSPB HQ The Lodge putting his skills to good use. I also had the privilege of being able to select some of my favourite shots from his portfolio to accompany the blog. I hope you'll be inspired to keep taking your wildlife shots and sending them in to firstname.lastname@example.org Here's Michael...
My name is Michael Harvey and I'm a colleague of Marks in the RSPB's Supporter Marketing Team. It's my pleasure to have been invited to write a guest post for this blog. A marketer by profession, I'm also a blogger and semi-pro photographer in my spare time, and the two are more related than you might think.
I photograph a lot of different things: landscapes, people, urban scenes, events and nature, so I couldn't describe myself as a specialist in any one area, but my passion for nature photography has grown immensely since joining the RSPB. Before I came to The Lodge I was a hiker and outdoor enthusiast but someone with very little knowledge about birds and other wildlife. My wife still likes to joke about how proud I used to be of being able to identify a blackbird or a robin, and while that's not the whole picture it certainly shows where I was coming from.
Blackbird (MJH Photography)
Since working for a conservation organisation, however, I've grown from someone with a general appreciation for the natural world into someone who really believes in the cause of giving nature a home and who takes a much greater interest. Whilst someone like Mark is still clearly in a different league, my knowledge has deepened with my fascination.
Spring blossom (MJH Photography)
That growing love and knowledge of nature has also grown in tandem with my photographic skills. The journey there, over the course of a few years, has been from an enthusiastic amateur to someone who now sells images and does commercial photo shoots. It's all a lot more serious, but the photography and nature-love really go hand in hand. The more I get my hands on fantastic high-spec lenses the more I want to capture the wildlife all around me, both on RSPB reserves and off. The more I capture the more I want to know about what it is on my screen. And the more I know, the more I want to capture.
Drinking swan and autumn colours (MJH Photography)
It's a cycle of growth driven by a desire for excellence and maximum use of my ability. It's no longer enough to get a distant snap of the birds on my garden feeder. Now my quest takes me to the cacophonous heights of RSPB Bempton Cliffs, a.k.a Seabird City, the gently sighing reedbeds of Cambridgeshire at dusk, and probing into the secret world of macro photography.
A gannet disagreement captured at RSPB Bempton Cliffs (MJH Photography)
I look forward to further developments in this quest, never knowing where it might take me or what I might discover. It's wonderful to reflect on how many passions and pursuits overlap with nature and how appreciation for the natural world can enrich and enhance our other interests, not to mention our own well-being. I hope that my images will inspire and delight others and help to engender both a love of nature and a resolve to protect it from growing threats.
Bathing beauty (MJH Photography)
Thanks for reading, and please do check out some of my work on my website: or my Facebook page: or you can follow me on: Instagram @mjhphotography1
With Editor Anna enjoying a well-earned summer holiday, Deputy Editor Emma guest writes this week's blog.
If there’s one nature experience in life I never want to repeat, it’s cycling home from work on flying ant day. The air was thick with them buzzing vaguely and, unable to dodge their hoards, I ended up covered. They got caught in my hair, stuck to my skin, they got in my eyes and mouth and nose. By the time I got home I had to change and shower, and I could still feel their creepy feet on me for hours.
The ants fly. Photo: iStock
Gross was the word I found myself using most when talking about this natural phenomenon at work the next day. And my sentiments were reciprocated by the world’s media. Words such as ‘attack’, ‘swarm, ‘plague’ and ‘invasion’ littered the news headlines that appeared when I idly typed “flying ant day” into Google. And it got me thinking…
Sharks featured on the cover of Wingbeat July 2017
In our July issue of Wingbeat magazine, Phoenix member Louise Broatch wrote an informative and inspiring piece about the world’s sharks. She made the valuable point that animals we human don’t like, or fear, or find inconvenient get a bad press, and as such we ignore the fascinating things about them and they don’t get the protection they deserve. This is true of sharks, and it’s true of our October Wingbeat cover star slugs, could it be true of flying ants to?
So I did some research, and discovered a recent study conducted by Professor Adam Hart of the University of Gloucestershire and the Royal Society of Biology. Here are five fascinating things I learned about flying ants:
1. Flying ant day is not a thing
Colonies of ants (largely black ants, Lasius niger) don’t exhibit any significant geographical coordination when it comes to taking to the skies – one garden may see flying ants on one day, with neighbours seeing them weeks or even months later. But weather is confirmed to be absolutely critical for ants to emerge. They will only come out if it is warmer than 13 degrees and when wind speeds are less than 6.3 metres per second.
2. This is a nuptial flight
Ants emerge and fly for the sole purpose of mating. It is only the young queen ants (‘princess ants’) and males that have wings. They take off and fly as far as they can to be sure of mating with a new colony. They mate on the wing and the males die shortly after.
3. It’s a hard life for a queen
After mating, the queen ants drop to the ground and chew off their own wings. They then travel around looking for a suitable nest site. They dig a nest, lay their eggs and won’t eat until their first brood of workers have hatched to go and collect food. They can store the sperm collected in the nuptial flight for years to birth future generations of workers, and can live as queen for over a decade!
4. Ants are excellent weather forecasters
The ants can tell if the short-term weather is liable to change. If it’s set to improve, becoming warmer and calmer, they’ll wait, but if it’s only going to get worse they’ll seize the opportunity and take off.
5. There are a lot of ants
There can be flying ants on as many as 96% of the days between the start of June and the end of September. Ants take off in droves in order to increase the likelihood of some of the queens being successful. the majority will be eaten by predators, killed by changing weather conditions or environmental hazards, or will simply starve. But some do make it, which is good news because ants are vital to our environment – aerating soil, recycling nutrients and returning detritus back to the earth.
Next time the ants decide to fly in my local area, I’ll give this amazing nature spectacle all the admiration it deserves, but I think I’ll take the bus.
My findings are all quoted from the Royal Society of Biology survey, but please comment below and let us know if you have more!
It’s Sunday morning, sunny, and I’ve woken up at the same time I would for work. I’m meeting one of the finest naturalists I know, who also happens to be a very good friend of mine. We’re heading to Cherry Hinton Chalk Pits in Cambridge to try and find some moon carrot.
No, we’re not mad. It’s real and looks a lot like cow parsley. Instead of writing about the challenges we faced, the fun we had, and the outcome, I’ve decided to adapt a song.
Sung to the tune of “Moon River” written by Henry Mancini
Moon carrot, really hard to find
I’ll come across you in style, some day
Arrgghh, shear chalk-cliff, you knee scraper
Wherever you’re growing, I’m coming your way
Two drifters, off to find a plant
There’s such a lot of plant, to find
We’re after the same rainbow’s end, waiting at the pits
My Harding-Morris friend, moon carrot, and me
Wasn’t that lovely?
And to finish, here are some photos of the morning spent failing to find some moon carrot, but finding lots of other interesting plants.
A lovely specimen of robin's pin cushion gall on this wild rose (Photo: Jack Plumb)
A six-spot burnett moth enjoying the flowers as much as we were (Photo: Jack Plumb)
Such a beautiful orange-red colour on this Scarlet Pimpernel (Photo: Jack Plumb)
Gall mites! (Photo: Jack Plumb)
Not moon carrot, but the very closely related wild carrot. The easy tell-tale sign here is the red flower in the centre. Other signs include the length and branching of the bracts - they're much shorter and simpler looking in moon carrot. More information (Photo: Jack Plumb)