Behind The Wall Of Sleep…..

Shhhhh…….else you’ll wake the demon from its slumber mwa hahahaaa!! Did you guys know that the term ‘demon’ doesn’t just mean ‘evil spirits’ or ‘devils’ that could potentially possess your soul!! But, also means the following;

“a forceful or skillful performer of a specified activity”

I.e. such as one of us lot in the Twiss lab – we are skillful performers of our specific research activities, e.g. “we’re demon ethologists!!” – you learn something new every day – keeps the mind fit and healthy!

“Behind The Wall Of Sleep”, an appropriate title for this post due to the radar silence you lovely folk have endured for the last couple of month or so from us – you’d think we had been sleeping, but nope! Wide awake and working at full throttle. So, what have we been up to? Well, our Zoe graduated!! She blasted through her final year with us, battling elemental forces on the Isle of May, acquired some Grey seal cronies, wrote up her research, gave a banging presentation of said research, and then donned her gown for her formal departure, although she stills pops by the office now and then. As for the rest of us, well Courtney has been delving into the depths of her data, and Hagen is currently writing up his PhD thesis so he tends to swoop past the radar like a stealth bomber these days, but no doubt we’ll be announcing his Dr. title on here in a wee while! Oh, and the good ol’ Dr Twiss is taking a well deserved break.

As for me, the hobbit that never leaves the office, well, I have had a couple of great adventures! One to the Farne Islands to see some historical sites (history – it’s just human behavioural ecology if you think about it) and have a gander at some Gannets (Morus bassanus), Puffins (Fratercula arctica), Shags (Phalacrocorax aristotelis), Arctic Terns (Sterna paradisaea), Eider ducks (Somateria mollissima), and of course Grey seals (aye, the wolfy one still likes seals). And as I also delve into academia quite a bit, teaching undergrads and helping students from less fortunate backgrounds realise their potential, my second round of adventures was in the form of two field trips I arranged for a couple of groups of students to go observe some Harbour seals, or Common seals if you prefer…..see this is why we use Latin names for species – even though this wee seal has two ‘common’ names (and potentially more nick-names), it has one scientific name, so everyone knows what species your talking about, in this case Phoca vitulina – so, no confusion! Anyway, my students got to observe some P. vitulina behaviour – plenty of ‘umms’and ‘awwws’ from the students with many questions for me to answer, and a great group gasp as a mass of seal-age splashed into the water! Then it was off to a nature reserve to learn about conservation (with the help of Dr. Christine Howard and Stuart Brooker), ecology and of course behaviour again of various bird species….and Red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) – I just gotta get some canids in there somewhere!

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Bamburgh castle. Did you know, that Bamburgh was called Din Guaire in pre Anglo-Saxon times, and was a tribal stronghold of the ancient British tribe Votadini!?

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The old beacon tower on Brownsman at the Farnes, built in the late 18th century!!

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Eider ducks, the drab looking female on the left, and the more beguiling male on the right!

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Arctic tern egg sitting.

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A couple of Arctic terns sizing each other up – they nest soooo close together (within inches) that there are often a few minor quarrels between neighbouring nesting birds.

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p,p,p, Puffins!

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A Shag with its chicks, on top of a very high cliff!

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Eyes of the Emerald Isle has the Shag, strikingly green, and a very prominent crest like a punk rocker!!……anarchy in the Farnes!!

Ahhhh canids, my research, so what’s happening there then? Well, I’m decoding wolf videos, but I am also currently collecting my Canis lupus familiaris (dog, pooch, hound, K-9 – see, Latin names!) videos with the help of Dogs Trust, and I have recently arranged more wolf fieldwork!! So, we’ll have our wolf fix soon enough!! One of my favourite pastimes while on fieldwork is just watching a wolf trot along one of the trails it’s carve out in its territory, there is something very satisfying about it – watching the way they effortlessly move, so light on their feet. The whole point of this trotting behaviour is to conserve energy while travelling across large distances! Thus, the conserved energy can be used to fuel other behaviours such hunting, defending territories, mating or even playing! One of the main questions I was asked by my field trip students was “why do seals sleep a lot?” Same reason wolves trot – to conserve energy for other behaviours – energy conservation is an important factor to consider in animal behaviour research as it can help explain the occurrence of certain behaviours and the lack of others……I could talk about this and wolves all day, but instead I’ll keep it for another post.

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Farne Island Grey seal (sealssss) – note the slightly more pointed snout to these guys and compare it with the Harbour/Common seals below!

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Couple of Grey seals going for a swim – the facial expression of the seal to the right appears to be somewhat alarmed by its pursuing conspecific to the left!

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Harbour/Common seals from the field trips – lounging about.

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Harbour/Common seals again – not as big as Grey seals and with a more rounded, softer looking face.

Until next time!

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