Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Taxidermied Birds at the Natural History Museum

Bearded Vulture (known as a Bartgeier in Switzerland). This magnificent bird went extinct in Switzerland in 1913 when the last one was shot, but the Swiss Alps were repopulated with the bearded vulture through an ambitious re-introduction program in the 1980s. I had the privilege of being eyed by one in flight as she swooped just 5 meters beside me while I was belaying a fellow climber on a cliff-side on Piz Kesch. I made eye contact with this beautiful, massive scavenger.
Let's take a look at an exhibit at the Natural History Museum before we move on through the city. The Birds exhibit is a magnificent collection of common, rare, and curious ornithological specimens.

An American Bald Eagle
A pheasant (this one is from China). These are such funny birds. I've only ever a glimpse of one running into a meadow in Maryland, but here in the UK, they are raised for game hunters and they are everywhere! I mean everywhere! And they aren't very smart, which means you often see them bopping around road sides, popping on and off golf course greens, and standing conspicuously in the open. But that doesn't change the fact that they are gorgeous fowl! I would love to raise a few from chicks myself someday.

Bird collection
The Dodo
And here's a photograph of a video display played in the ecology section of the museum. I was really excited that they have an ecology section, but I was less impressed with the display than in the rest of the museum. Still, even having an ecology section is a very good start!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Let's take a closer look at the Natural History Museum in London

When you arrive at the Natural History Museum in London, this is the sight that greets you. The building is stunning! My favorite part about it is that the building was actually built in 1881 with the intention of it being a Natural History Museum. How rare! Most of the museums I have encountered in my life seem to be in repurposed buildings. What this means for the Natural History Museum in London is that the entire building contains details rich with flora and fauna in every nook and cranny. There are relief sculptures of animals and plants everywhere! Try to find some in the pictures I've taken... 
Do you see the dragon-like creature guarding the windows here?
And do you recognize these unique animals? Perhaps they were real or perhaps they were imagined.
Even the interior is covered in details. Here, sculptures of fossils line the walls and decorate the columns.
The main hall's centerpiece is this complete dinosaur skeleton, but what catches my eye is still the details in the building!
How oranate!
This is a view toward the entrance of the building, looking through the dinosaur.
And of course, I looked for the plants, which are interestingly all over the ceiling of the grand hall. Look at all those gorgeous illustrations of plants. I could spend hours just laying on the floor gazing up at these.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

What happens at the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) Annual Exhibition Meeting?

This is the grand entrance to the Natural History Museum in London. The front entrance is German Romanesque architecture style designed by Alfred Waterhouse, a young architect who was called upon when the original architect died. We all fall into our jobs in funny ways, don't we? But I digress...

This weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland's Annual Exhibition Meeting here in this fabulous building. I should mention that the BSBI recently changed names from the Botanical Society of the British Isles, but managed to hold on to the acronym. Nicely done!
So what happens at an Exhibition meeting? Well, I walked in shyly to find out and was instantly consumed by a small area of tables showcasing botanical information, fun plant identification curiosities, and plant research information. There was also a large book sale going on. When I say consumed, I don't mean by the exhibits themselves, but by the huge masses of very friendly, eclectic botanists of all ages chattering away about the exciting plants they had recently seen, discovered, or happened upon. 

Following the exhibition period, there were talks by the staff and volunteers of the BSBI to discuss recent society happenings, plans, and updates. Then there were talks about how plant geeks like myself can use different venues to get others excited about the green leafy things around us too. We are encouraged to use digital avenues (social media like Facebook, Twitter and blogging) as well as tutoring, guiding walks, and engaging the public in all ways big and small. The highlights were from:
  • John Tweddle (Head of the Angela Marmot Centre at the Natural History Museum) who talked about how he is working to engage the public at the museum with hands on science
  • Brian Eversham, who is an amazing speaker and loves nature enough that he crosses over from entomology to botany. He can be heard in this video talking about the Wildlife Trusts in Britain:

It was a wonderful way to spend my day and as I was leaving, I paid my dues to be a member for the next year. I'm really inspired by the national botanical society and I can't wait to be kneeling in the mud next to fellow members looking at a new plant.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Mama always said... not to drink milk when you've got a cold

The Englishman has a cold and I'm doing everything I can to help him feel better. I've made Dad's famous chicken corn soup, bought him man-sized tissues (haha, yes, that is a thing here in England!), and tucked him into bed early. This morning we were talking about food and I mentioned that he probably should lay off the dairy for a bit because it would make him feel even more stuffy. He'd never heard that theory before. Here's what the Mayo Clinic has to say about it:

I've heard that you shouldn't drink milk when you have a cold because it increases phlegm. Is this true?


from James M. Steckelberg, M.D.
Phlegm is the thick, sticky mucus that drips down the back of your throat when you have a cold. Although drinking milk may make phlegm thicker and more irritating to your throat than it would normally be, milk doesn't cause your body to make more phlegm. In fact, frozen dairy products can soothe a sore throat and provide calories when you otherwise may not eat.
So, the myth is half true! I do like the recommendation that you binge on ice cream when you're sick!

Did your Mama tell you the same thing as a kid?

Still learning after all these years!

Are you still learning new things? In addition to reading a lot more books lately, I've also been picking up a few other things.

Although I now have three nice degrees from esteemed universities - 2 bachelor degrees and a masters - I'm still not done learning. If anything, I find being back in the 9-to-5 working world even more of a learning curve. I'm constantly having new concepts, new technologies, and new policies thrown at me. And my curiosity keeps me looking for exciting new things to learn.

Here are a couple of things I'm learning at the moment:


Though I'm familiar and fluent in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Florida and Swiss plant species, I'm still learning my British flora. So I'm on a mission to teach myself as much as possible through books, other experts, and time spent outside on my hands and knees with a magnifying glass (loop). There is a test called the Field Identification Skills Certificate through the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland which I can use to test my abilities by next summer.


Being in a technical job now, I need to know more programming and because JavaScript is one of the most commonly used programming languages for software applications (or apps as the kids are calling them these days), API connections and mobile devices, I thought it'd be a good time to brush up on a new language. I've programmed using Visual Basic, Python, and HTML languages before, but this one is new for me. So I'm using an amazing game-like online school called Codecademy to learn JavaScript. It's actually really fun!

It's a fun time to learn new things! Especially with winter coming, I have to resist the urge to curl up and hibernate. So keeping my mind active is a great way to avoid the winter blues. And there's a method to my madness. I'm hoping to someday be able to help build an amazing app or perhaps a new technology to help people discover, explore and identify plant species in the wild. The available apps now don't quite meet my needs!

Are you teaching yourself any new skills at the moment?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Have you ever wondered how plants are grouped and named?

I couldn't describe it to you any better than this video does. It is a beautiful depiction of evolution and how we have worked to understand the evolution of our species based on how species are grouped into Genus, Family, Order, Class, Phylum and Kingdom. And of course, it shows off how things are done at Kew Gardens. What an amazing building!