11 February, 2013

Top Wildlife Identification Websites

Regular readers of this blog (yeah, I know the two of you) may remember that I've set myself a little challenge for 2013; to record 1000 species in my home 1km square by the end of the year. With a broad knowledge of British taxon, and a good bit of literature to refer to, this could be done and dusted without much fuss by the end of the summer. The only problem is, I have neither a broad knowledge of British taxon, nor much good literature (bar a few moth identification resources, and a battered pocket sized guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe).

In a desperate attempt to improve my hopeless identification skills, I've been on a mad one, scouring the internet for useful websites and decent field guides, to at least help familiarise myself with the different families and orders of various Diptera (flies), Coleoptera (beetles), and flora, before the full force of spring hits us. The literature search took a couple of days and a bit of dosh, but has resulted in a now fully packed bookshelf, as well as a 'favourites' bar stocked up with websites that should prove useful at some point. Being the kind-hearted sod that I am, I thought I'd share a few of the online resources that have particularly caught my eye:

  • BioImages: I've often stumbled across the site when trying to ID a moth online, but have never taken the time to fully navigate this monumental resource, which displays nearly 80,000 images of over 5,700 British species; from fungi to springtails, and almost all photographed and documented by one guy, Malcolm Storey. It's set out in a hierarchical format, starting (not surprisingly) with 'kingdoms' at the top, branching out into the lower ranks, before eventually reaching the different 'orders' and 'genuses'. Not only does this make it extremely easy to navigate the photo library, but it also provides a useful taxonomic breakdown for beginners. Of course, for a site attempting to document such a dynamic range of wildlife, there are bound to be gaps, but even where a genus is missing, the author provides links to other relevant resources, that may cover the subject.

  • British Bugs: A brilliant comprehensive photographic guide to most UK Hemiptera (true bugs: stink-bugs, leafhoppers, aphids etc), compiled by Tristan Bantock and Joe Botting. Set out with beautiful thumbnails for each family, as well as a brief description for each species regarding distinguishing features, status, habitat and flight period. Even if your not trying to identify anything, just go here for the amazing macro-photography.

  • The Coleopterist: This site basically attempts the impossible- to provide a comprehensive photographic guide for UK Beetles- and I wouldn't say its done too badly, with 766 species illustrated. It's set out in one big list (divided into families), but unfortunately there are no thumbnail previews, so its best to have at least some idea of what you're looking at before you start scrolling down and down... and down. On the bright site, it splits the families up nicely, and as far as I can tell, there's nothing else like it in terms of having access to so many species of beetle in one place (unless you're got access to the London Natural History Museum collections- in which case I envy you).

  • Garden Safari: A large website, providing species accounts (with photographs) for most aspects of wildlife to be found in the average British garden. There's no jargon, no confusing keys, and the links are easy to navigate; it's definitely tailored more for beginners, which is probably why I use it so much. Ideal if you want to quickly identify a house spider you've just found in your shed, not so ideal if you're after the distinguishing features seperating Empoasca decipiens and Empoasca vitis, for a hibernating specimen you've just swept from a conifer tree.  

  • Illustrated Guide to Weeds: Weeds are everywhere, which means they should form a large part of the challenge list. They aren't everyone's cup of tea, but its hard not to admire their competitive nature, their ability to adapt to often barren environments, and their consistent title as the reigning pisser off-ers of gardeners since the middle ages. This particular PDF file does exactly what it says on the tin- a photographic guide to all the weeds you'd expect to find in cultivated environments, namely gardens. The guide dedicates a page to each species, focusing on the most noticable ID features, and explaining them simply. What's good about this particular one is that it includes images of each plant in each stage of its development, not just the final flowering stage.

  • Lepiforum thumbnails: A German-run lepidoptera site containing images of almost every species moth and butterfly recorded in Europe. Whilst most of the site requires a German language degree, the 'thumbnail' part of the website (see the link) is presented like a piece of cake, allowing the user to quite easily seperate any micro or macro moth to species level (bar those requiring dissection), just by casually browsing through the thumbnails. By far the best moth site on the internet, period.

  • Roger's Mushrooms: One of the most extensive photographic collections of wild mushroom species available online, made by a fun guy called Roger (sorry). Most European and North American fungi are covered, and its pretty easy to narrow down your search by using one of the two keys on the left hand side of the homepage, after which you'll be given a list of thumbnail images representing species that matched the given criterea.

  • Amanita Photo Library: Covers most of the common fungi, invertebrates, trees, plants, mammals and birds of Britain and further afield, laid out as thumbnail images. Not as well presented or comprehensive as the previous site; there are no family splits, and many of the fungi images are only tentatively identified, but its still useful for quickly flicking through the possibilities.
This has all mostly been the result of having nothing else to do on a Sunday evening, but hopefully the links above will prove to be at least a little bit helpful to anyone looking to delve deeper into the world of British flora and fauna- I'm sure I'll be adding to the list as the year goes on. When I get more time, I'll do another post on some of the new bookshelf additions, but in the meantime, here are some assorted additions to the 1km square list so far, after a brief stroll around Stokes Field...

Stereum rameale- a relatively uncommon fungi, usually found on dead branches of broad-leaved trees...

Black Witches Butter- a nasty looking fungi, common on decaying hardwoods in winter and early spring...

Ribwort Plantain- a common weed of arable land...

Creeping Buttercup...

1 comment:

Steve Gale said...

A great resource Bill, I'm going to bookmark a few of these. Thanks