Saturday, 27 February 2016


The latest trend of #HERpers on Twitter has gotten me thinking about herpetology. For the last 4 years I have been working with seabirds however for many many years reptiles, amphibians and fish were all I could think about.

Growing up I worked in a reptile specialist pet shop- before reptiles became popular pets in the UK. I was very fortunate to work with a wide range of herps (and other animals!) from lizards, snakes, frogs and salamanders. At college I undertook work experience placements at zoological facilities around Scotland and it was during this time I fed my first crocodile- this was definitely the career for me!
Chameleon climbing over me like a tree (photo Jade Mitchell)
Common boa's are stunning animals! (photo Jade Mitchell)
I've always been keen on amphibians! Tiger Salamander by Ryan Mutch

I've had the pleasure of working with a wide range of taxa. Horsefield Tortoise, Bearded Dragon and Red Eyed Green Tree Frog (photos by Laura Shearer)
Looking at universities I explained my herpetological interests however this was often met by confused looks or general disinterest. "Your in the wrong country for that dear" "Why would you want to work with snakes?" - actual quotes from university lecturers! Fortunately at an open day for Edinburgh Napier University I got chatting to a professor who explained that many modules would allow me to research and express my interests in herps. The university was very supportive and when studying my masters at the same institution I decided to study the aquatic and terrestrial habitat requirements of native amphibians. Turns out- I wasn't in the wrong country to work with herps after all!
Analysing pond quality for native amphibians (photo Jennifer Allan)
Male Smooth Newt (photo Laura Shearer)
I currently volunteer with the Lothian Amphibian and Reptile Group (@LothianARG) assisting with toad patrols, pond maintenance and pond surveys. At home I have a Carpet Python (aka Steve the snake), a Whites tree frog (George), Paddle tailed newt (Ned) and Tiger Salamander (Bert). Herpetology is a huge part of my life (and electricity bill) and I would thoroughly encourage young women to pursue this as a career- don't let anyone stand in your way!
My favourite herp is my pet Carpet Python Steve! (photo Laura Shearer)

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Birding the Rhins of Galloway

I recently took a trip to the Rhins of Galloway to check out some of my favourite birding haunts. Travelling South from Glasgow I stopped along the way at Turnberry to check some roosting Shags for colour rings. Unfortunately none of the birds were ringed however the area was covered in wading birds such as Turnstone, Ringed Plovers and lots of ducks such as Eiders, Mallards and Tufted ducks. Not a bad place to stretch some weary legs! Further down the coast I stopped at another beach (again on the hunt for Shag rings or dead seabirds washed onto the beach following recent storms) and came across a lovely male Stonechat (Saxicola torquata) resting on some twigs.

Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) at Turnberry, East Ayrshire (photo Laura Shearer)
Male stonechat (Saxicola torquata) hanging around the coast (photo Laura Shearer)
Upon arrival at Stranraer I checked out the 'usual' birding spots including the local train station which ends at the old ferry port. The harbour is a real hot spot of activity for wintering GuillemotsBlack Guillemots/Tysties as well as divers, Slavonian and Great Crested Grebes. The highlight however was a beautiful female Black Redstart zipping along the ground, feeding between the old track lines.

Heading South I made my way to the Mull of Galloway where I worked last season for the RSPB. Hoping for some raptor activity, I was not disappointed as I watched a Peregrine Falcon wrestle with a Common Buzzard mid-air. Needless to say the Buzzard flew off promptly whilst the Peregrine continued to hunt for some food- what an amazing sight!

Winter plummage Black Guillemot at Stranraer Harbour (photo Laura Shearer)
Winter plummage Great Crested Grebe, Stranraer (photo Laura Shearer)
Female Black Redstart at Stranraer train station (photo Laura Shearer)