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About the Art: Luke Wilkinson

The Horniman will be hosting the British Wildlife Photography Awards until 14 January 2018. Here we talk to photographer Luke Wilkinson about this work.

  • Peeking Red Fox Cub, 'Peeking Red Fox Cub' which appears in the 'Portraits' category, Luke Wilkinson
    'Peeking Red Fox Cub' which appears in the 'Portraits' category, Luke Wilkinson

Can you tell us the story behind your photo in this exhibition?

I had spent five months on this one project; watching and documenting the lives of this family of foxes. It was a huge privilege to watch the cubs grow from just a few weeks old to the cusp of adulthood. This image was taken within a few weeks of finding the den. I was spending up to 10 hours a day, waiting for the cubs to appear, this individual suddenly popped his head out for a quick to look to check if it was safe to venture out. 

How did you go about getting that shot?

Just by being patient, lucky, and putting in the time. I spent as much time outside the den as possible to hopefully get 'that' shot. 

  • Fox Cub, Another view of the fox cub, Luke Wilkinson
    Another view of the fox cub, Luke Wilkinson

What are your favourite scenes, species or motivations behind your photographs?

Obviously, I love photographing foxes, they are so entertaining to watch. I also like spending my time with grey seals on my local beach. Heading to the beach in the dark and watching the sunrise with just myself and the seals is magical. I like to try and create more unique images of my subjects, so they stand out from the crowd more. They take more time to get and plenty of failed attempts but the end results make it worth it. 

What are the difficulties of wildlife and nature photography that you face?

Just trying to stand out from the crowd. Photography is very popular, so it's best to try and be that little bit different from everybody. 

What would you like people to think about when they see your work?

To hopefully inspire people to get outside and to see wildlife for themselves. If people stop and look for a few moments there is wildlife all around us. 

  • Fox Cub at night, A fox cub emerges from the shadows at night, Luke Wilkinson
    A fox cub emerges from the shadows at night, Luke Wilkinson

Did you use any particular equipment or software?

To capture this image I used a Nikon D4 with a 500mm lens plus a 1.4 teleconverter. I used Adobe Lightroom to process the image. 

How long have you been a photographer and how did you get started?

I have been into photography now for about five or six years. I only bought a DSLR camera for a holiday to get some nice 'snaps'. However, I have always been interested in wildlife from a young age, so in the end decided to take that route as I found it the most rewarding form of photography for myself. 

  • Equipment, Luke's equipment, including his Nikon D4 and 1.4m teleconverter, Luke Wilkinson
    Luke's equipment, including his Nikon D4 and 1.4m teleconverter, Luke Wilkinson

What would you advise someone wanting to start taking photos of wildlife or nature in their local environment?

Get out and use the camera as much as possible. Don't be afraid to try different things. The more you use the camera the more you learn. Try and get low and at eye level with your subject to make a more personal image. 

What projects are you working on now or have coming up?

Over the next few months, I will be spending most of my time on the beach working on grey seal pups. I have been working with them for many years now, so will be aiming to add a few different images to my portfolio. I've also got a few weeks up in Scotland focusing entirely on mountain hares. I love being up north, I'm just hoping for a decent amount of snow this year. 

  • Luke and Fox, Luke Wilkinson poses for a selfie with a foxy friend, Luke Wilkinson
    Luke Wilkinson poses for a selfie with a foxy friend, Luke Wilkinson

To find out more about Luke's photography, you can find him on Facebook or Instagram.

Specimen of the Month: The Hawfinch

Our latest exhibition has got Emma-Louise Nicholls, our Deputy Keeper of Natural History, twitching as she tells us all about Hawfinches (Coccothraustes coccothraustes) in her latest Specimen of the Month blog post.

New delights at the Horniman

At the Horniman, we currently have the pleasure of playing host to the British Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition. These 87 invariably fetching images were submitted across 13 categories including the intriguingly named ‘Hidden’, which got imaginations whirring and macro-lenses reeling.

In the 'Habitat' category, a colourful hawfinch sits in a cherry tree, showing off its striking golden eyeshadow and jet black ‘beard’ in remarkable detail. It also reveals the ‘ringing’ that is evidently being carried out on this species in the shape of jewellery about both of the finch’s ankles. The gifter of these adornments is a brave soul indeed. As much as I too would like to get up close and personal with such a beautiful bird, its incredible biting force makes this comparatively tiny bird capable of cracking open tough nuts such as cherry stones - the human equivalent is a force of 60 tonnes.

  • Hawfinch in a Cherry Tree, This image, taken by Jeremy Moore, shows off the beauty of this bulky but shy finch species. − © Jeremy Moore
    This image, taken by Jeremy Moore, shows off the beauty of this bulky but shy finch species.

Twitching is a coincidence

This rather eye-catching bird is not one I’ve ever had the personal pleasure of seeing in the wild. However, in carrying out research for this article I came across, and am now an avid follower of, @HawfinchesUK on Twitter (there has to be a pun in that alone) which documents hawfinch sightings throughout the UK. The regular images of this beautiful bird popping up in their Twitter feed brighten a dreary autumn day and I’ve become thoroughly sold on the idea of a becoming a birdwatcher, who I am reliably informed are not to be called twitchers. Fair enough I’d say… as a palaeontologist, I get extremely irritated when someone says- “Oh you mean like archaeology?” (Another blog for another time).

The word ‘twitcher’ is connected to birdwatchers purely, it seems, due to a gentleman called Howard Medhurst, a British birdwatcher. Depending on your source, his twitching is attributed to either a ‘nervous behavioural trait’ of his or alternatively his shivering in the cold. Bracing against the English winter (and occasional summer) is not something specific to birding, but I can imagine it gets pretty darn chilly sitting motionless in a hide awaiting the arrival of a bird on its own schedule. I quite like the word twitcher, and it certainly appears a damp and chilly day in this nevertheless stunning image caught by birdwatcher Nick Truby, but it is for birdwatchers to decide on their own noun.

  • Nick Truby-1, Two hawfinches in a hornbeam tree, taken in Great Hampden, Buckinghamshire. Note the striking patterns on the wings and tail, being kindly displayed by the bird on the right for your appreciation. Image used with kind permission of Nick Truby− © Nick Truby
    Two hawfinches in a hornbeam tree, taken in Great Hampden, Buckinghamshire. Note the striking patterns on the wings and tail, being kindly displayed by the bird on the right for your appreciation. Image used with kind permission of Nick Truby

In the Hart of our Collection

The Horniman has an alluring case of taxidermy hawfinches that belonged to the esteemed taxidermist and wildfowler Edward Hart (1847-1928). The description of the case on the Museum’s database and Hart’s original catalogue lists the fine feathered figures as ‘two adult males, one immature male, and one adult female’. Those of you who got as far in maths as four will notice that only three hawfinches adorn this case - one is intriguingly absent. The missing male absconded before the case arrived at the Horniman in the 1980s and his original incorporation is only known at all due to Hart’s description of the case.

Of the three remaining finches, the doleful-looking one on the left is the female, identifiable by her slightly lighter plumage (or ‘much’ lighter in the case of certain faded historic specimens). The resplendent young man in flight is an adult male in his summer finery (the missing finch was in winter plumage), and in the bottom right is an immature male, indicated, as in many human teenagers, by the spots on his chest. Hart collected, and subsequently prepared, all three himself between 1873 and 1896 in Christchurch, Dorset*.

It is possible that the female (on the left in the image below) has faded, or perhaps that she was always slightly paler (leucistic) than your average lady hawfinch. Certainly, oddities were a fascination amongst Victorian collectors such as Hart. Thoughts on an electronic postcard (@HornimanMuseum).

*During Hart’s lifetime Christchurch was located in Hampshire, but has since been adopted by Dorset.

  • Hart's Hawfinches, Edward Hart would collect, prepare and mount the taxidermy specimens himself.
    Edward Hart would collect, prepare and mount the taxidermy specimens himself.

Museum Shop Sunday at the Horniman

On 26 November, the Horniman will be taking part in Museum Shop Sunday. Be sure to visit for some one-off bargains.

This Sunday, the Horniman will be offering 10% off the price of any Horniman branded products in our gift shops as part of a Museum Shop Sunday promotion. Museum Shop Sunday is a way for shops in cultural venues across the world to raise their profile during the busy Christmas shopping period.

The Horniman has extra reason to celebrate as ACE (Association for Cultural Enterprises) who run Museum Shop Sunday have awarded the new Butterfly House gift shop the ACE Shop of the Month award for October.

To give you a taste of what's on offer, our shop staff have picked out some of their favourite items in the shop.

Horniman Walrus Necklace

Designed exclusively for the Horniman by Just Trade, this hand-carved necklace is made from a single tagua nut by a fairtrade project in Ecuador. 

Regular Price: £25
Discounted Price: £22.50

Horniman T-Shirt

Display your love of the Walrus with pride by sporting this fetching T-Shirt.

Regular Price: £12
Discounted Price: £10.80

Horniman Kids' Handbook

The Horniman Kids' Handbook is a great way for little ones to get the most out of their visit and to help them keep learning afterwards. Full of facts, quizzes, puzzles, and stickers, it will keep the kids entertained for hours.

Regular Price: £6
Discounted Price: £5.40

Cuddly Walrus

Take the Walrus home with you with this incredibly soft cuddly walrus which makes a great gift for all ages.

Regular Price: £11
Discounted Price: £10

Crowdfunding success - thank you

Our crowdfunding campaign for the World Gallery recently came to a close and we have been overwhelmed by your generosity.

Thanks to you we managed to raise £25,957 over 42 days from 310 supporters, including a large donation from Lewisham Council, who gave £8,000 of funding.

As well as lots of local businesses, members and regular visitors donating, we saw backers from around the world pledge their support.

We’ve now got lots of work ahead to fulfil the rewards for backers, not to mention completing the World Gallery itself, so watch this space for updates.

If you missed the Crowdfunder, but would still like to help contribute you can do so online - donate to the World Gallery appeal.

Learning with Lucy

In our latest blog post, Lucy Maycock, Schools Learning Officer, at the Horniman reflects on her first few months in the post.

Having now spent two months as Schools Learning Officer here at the Horniman, I thought it might be time to share my early experiences of the role. I was truly delighted when my application for Learning Officer was successful. When I was offered the position, I’d already worked at the Horniman as a Learning Assistant for two-and-a-half years and really couldn’t see myself working anywhere else.

My first half term as a Learning Officer was a little overwhelming. The Schools Team here offer nearly 40 different school sessions on a wide range of topics, from ancient history to biology. With a background in music and humanities, I’ve really loved teaching ‘Ancient Egypt’ and ‘Musical Instruments around the World’. I’ve also been really surprised by how much I’ve enjoyed teaching ‘Prehistoric Britain’. I never learned about the Stone, Bronze, or Iron Age in school, but am now completely fascinated by the skill and ingenuity of people who lived during that time.

The really special thing about teaching at The Horniman is our department’s incredible, 3,000 object-strong Handling Collection. Each object is available for visitors to touch, investigate, and even smell. In our ‘Ancient Egypt’ and ‘Prehistoric Britain’ sessions, children handle real museum objects that are thousands of years old, not to mention the hundred-million-year-old fossils in our 'Evolution' workshop. There’s something incredibly special about empowering children to investigate and discover things for themselves - showing that we trust them to carefully handle such precious objects.

Although the amount of learning that I still have to do is a bit daunting, I’ve been surprised by how much I’m enjoying revisiting and revising topics that I haven’t thought about since school, including animal classification and evolution. I’ve learned so much from watching and talking to my experienced and incredibly patient colleagues and also from the school pupils in my sessions.

Terrifyingly, children and adult helpers really can ask you anything but constantly amaze me with their enthusiasm, ideas, and knowledge.

Farmers' Market Focus: Sweet Carolina

This week we caught up with Sweet Carolina to find out about how she has made a business out of what she loves.

Hi, could you introduce yourself to our readers?

My name is Carolina, and I sell sweet treats, small cakes, biscuits, alfajores, brownie bites, and meringues. Everything sweet, everything bite size. At the moment I am based at home in West Dulwich. It's normally a one-woman band but on the busiest time of the year, I can have up to two more people working with me in the kitchen.

How long have you been creating baked goods and what attracted you to the trade?

I always baked as a hobby and because it was my way of expressing my love to my family and friends. I began to trade three years ago because I wanted to make a living out of the thing that I love most. What I love about trading is the relationship with my customers, knowing what they like, or if they have any dietary restrictions, the small chat every morning at the markets, and when they tell me that they loved this or that, because having a treat is a way to indulge yourself and I love to be a part of that.

I put my heart into every cake and you can feel that when you try them. I don’t bake anything that I do not like or I wouldn't give to my family or children.

What does a working week look like for you?

I work every day from Tuesday to Sunday. From Tuesday to I'm in the kitchen by 9:30am to organise the weekly baking for cafes I provide for. On Saturday and Sunday by  6:00am I have to have everything ready to go to the Markets. Monday is my kind of free day.

Friday is one of the busiest days of the week, as I am baking for tomorrow's markets. There is a batch of vanilla biscuits in the oven and my mixers are preparing the batter for the cakes. The kitchen smells delicious, a mix of vanilla, melted chocolate, and caramel.

How do you ensure that your ingredients are organic and fresh?

I have a wholesaler for the main ingredients, sugar, flour, nuts, eggs act. Suma is my wholesaler and all my ingredients are organic and fair trade. For fruits, I use my farmers' markets or the local green shop and I try to stick to what is in season as possible or at least a fair trade product.

My disposable materials are compostable and I do not use or provide any plastic bags to my customers.

What makes trading at the Horniman special for you?

The venue is beautiful, I love being surrender by Gardens even when the temperature is always at least 2 C degrees lower than any other place in London, there is plenty of families and children and the museum itself is in a way a “small family business”, so I feel part of a big family helping other people to have a great day and a good experience.

Do you have anything special planned for the coming seasons?

I try to stick as seasonal as possible, now that apples, figs, and pumpkins are in season, you will have plenty of treats with those ingredients. Apple pie, apple and caramel cakes, pumpkin loaves etc.

Halloween is coming soon so I am in the process of making hundreds of scary biscuits, ghostly meringues, and terrifyingly indulgent cakes. 

Behind the Scenes with Jaz

Jaz from the Horniman Youth Panel shares his photo diary with us, taking us behind the scenes of their film project for the World Gallery.

Hi, my Name is Jaz. Recently, I took part in a project filming for the Horniman with Chocolate Films. It went really well.

  • _MG_0100, Members of the Youth Panel during filmmaking.
    Members of the Youth Panel during filmmaking.

There were lots of cameras and lots of people I did not know and it made me shy, but I got my confidence up by joining in and taking photos behind the scenes.

This photo is of a little girl showing us her microphone, bell, whistle, and medal. She was more confident than me and that’s where I got my confidence from.

This photo is of a lady in her dress, called a Muumuu and she has a volcanic rock for smashing food to make a paste. I took the photo because her dress looks nice and the dress comes from Hawaii.

I had a camera every day to take photos. This photo is of London and I was adjusting the setting on the camera so I can take a good photo of the city and the Shard.

I was adjusting the light levels, zoom, and focus. Doing the settings made me calm and confident.

  • Jaz Photos Before+After, These are two photos taken by Jaz using different settings, you can see the difference that changing the light levels makes to the photos.
    These are two photos taken by Jaz using different settings, you can see the difference that changing the light levels makes to the photos.

For anyone who has not been to the Horniman you should come because it is a nice park. If you are like me, who likes trees, animals, and gardening, you will like it.

Thank you for reading.

Anahita in Sharjah

Horniman volunteer, Anahita, tells us how her experiences in Forest Hill have helped her in her new role in the United Arab Emirates.

My name is Anahita and I volunteer at the Horniman Museum. I recently left London for Sharjah, an Emirate in the United Arab Emirates, for a three-month professional internship at Sharjah Art Foundation.

I thought this would be a great chance to try out living in another country and to learn more about Middle Eastern art. So far I have been to a few exhibitions in both Sharjah and Dubai, and have met lovely artists, curators, and arts administrators.

At the Horniman, I was involved in many different areas across the Museum such as Engage, World of Stories, and Community Engagement. I have been able to use my experiences with Community Engagement in particular for my work here in the Education Department.

I am currently putting together the Autumn Disabilities Education Programme and planning art workshops for disabled young people in the community. Although my work is mainly office based, I am looking forward to working with local people at nearby art centres and the Urban Garden in Sharjah.

I am starting to get used to the heat - it is pretty similar to the temperature and humidity in the butterfly house. I will be back at the Horniman in mid-December, and look forward to seeing everyone then.  

  • Sharjah, The Sharjah Art Museum.
    The Sharjah Art Museum.

The Horniman wins big at volunteer awards

Gemma Murray, Engage Volunteer and Family Learning Volunteer supporting Busy Bees sessions, tells us about the recent London Volunteers in Museums Awards Ceremony 2017 which she and her fellow volunteers attended to recognise their huge contribution to the Horniman Museum and Gardens.

On Friday evening a couple of weeks ago, Horniman staff and volunteers made their way into Central London. What was the big draw? The London Volunteer in Museums Awards at City Hall. 

The London Volunteers in Museums Awards have been running annually for the past nine years with the aim of celebrating the contribution made by volunteers to museums throughout the capital. In previous years, Horniman volunteers including Peter O’Donovan and Ricky Linsdell have been winners, but could we repeat our successes? 

Upon arriving at the awards that were being held at City Hall, the first thing most of us did was to head out onto the balcony. There we found stunning views of Tower Bridge and the river bathed in the evening sun after what had been a long day of drizzle. There is nothing like seeing the Thames to make you really appreciate the fact that you are in London.

Once the awards got going, two things struck me. Firstly, quite how many diverse and fascinating museums there are in London. I like to think I've seen a lot of what London has to offer, but I still have so many places to check off my site seeing list. The second thing was the number and diversity of roles which are filled by volunteers. Listening to the winners was fascinating, but I also felt like I'd never really appreciated how many and various the roles played by volunteers at the Horniman really are.

Seher Ghufoor was a deserving winner of the Youth Award for her huge contribution to the Horniman Youth Panel and work involving young refugees, asylum seekers, and new arrivals. 

  • LVMA 2017 award winners including Seher in the centre of the shot - smaller (002), LVMA 2017 winners, including Seher Ghufoor (Centre)., Marie Stewart
    LVMA 2017 winners, including Seher Ghufoor (Centre)., Marie Stewart

The Engage ‘Discovery Box Project Volunteers’ were runners-up in the Best Team award for all their hard work making their mini-museum. Jane Beales was runner-up in the Developing in a Role award for her huge enthusiasm and hard work over at the SCC. I was runner-up in the Going the Extra Mile award for her proactive and sensitive support to our under-5’s Busy Bee programme, and Michelle Davis has finally been recognised for her sensitive and positive support of volunteers in the Aquarium after years of working tirelessly behind the scenes.

  • Members of the Engage Discovery Box Team at the awards ceremony (002), Members of the Engage Discovery Box Team at the awards ceremony.
    Members of the Engage Discovery Box Team at the awards ceremony.

So many roles – and this is before mentioning all those in the Butterfly House, Animal Walk, on the touch table and in the gardens, supporting weekend stories and events…

As the evening drew to a close, those left from the Horniman team swept Volunteering Manager Rhiannon onto the stage to thank her for her efforts in organising the proceedings -and to strike a pose on the winners' podium. With the massive pool of talent here at the Horniman, I'm sure next year we will sweep the board!



Specimen of the Month: The Giant Squid

The good news is that you still have until the 29th October to enjoy our incredibly popular temporary exhibition the Robot Zoo and interact with the larger than life animatronic animals that inhabit the gallery. In even better news, there is still one final species in the exhibition to have not yet been investigated by the Specimen of the Month blog series, hoorah, and that is the Giant Squid (Architeuthis). NB: There is no bad news in the Specimen of the Month blog series.

Squid or Cuttlefish?

Today is International Squid and Cuttlefish Day, so let’s start with the difference between a squid and a cuttlefish as let’s be honest, probably not everyone has nailed it. Cuttlefish are a type of squid so, that’s confusing for a start. What we’re really asking is - what’s the difference between a cuttlefish-squid and all of the other types of squid that we call squid, ‘traditional squid’ if you prefer. The answer - Cuttlefish have a lovely fringe that skirts their entire body like a tutu, and a face that looks like it got stuck in a spiralizer. A squid-squid, on the other hand, could be compared to an ice cream cone with an octopus stuck on the top. The tutu is restricted to two triangular ‘wings’, one on either side of the mantle, that in some species form an arrow-shaped ‘tail’.

Unlike their close relative, the octopus, whose anatomy is restricted to just the eight appendages, both squid and cuttlefish have eight arms and two tentacles as well for good measure. The arms are covered in suckers, which in the Giant Squid can measure 5 cm across. Tentacles tend to be much longer than the arms and have sucker-covered ‘tentacular clubs’ on the tips. The tentacles are used in the same way as rocket-propelled net launchers; they are flung out at prey with great speed in ambush attacks. Once they’ve got a hold, the tentacles bring the prey in closer to where the arms can get involved and help guide the prey back to the mouth at their base.

  • Cuttlefish+Squid, Left: A Cuttlefish showing the tutu that surrounds the body (mantle). Right: A common squid showing the triangular wing on either side.
    Left: A Cuttlefish showing the tutu that surrounds the body (mantle). Right: A common squid showing the triangular wing on either side.

They don't make it easy

Incredibly, despite extensive efforts by scientists to study them, no Giant Squid had ever been seen alive until 2004 when Japanese scientists managed to get the first photographs of a living animal. It took another two years for scientists to hook one and pull it to the surface, thus making history with the first human (on record) to ever clap eyes on a live Giant Squid. In 2012, scientists used a submersible and both saw and recorded a Giant Squid feeding in its natural habitat. The story of how they acquired the footage that had scientists around the world drooling over their laptops is quite wonderful. Given how vast the world’s oceans are, rather than going in search of a Giant Squid they decided it would be much more efficient to attract a squid to them. The Giant Squid doesn’t prey on jellyfish (that we know of) but jellyfish luminesce when predators are nearby, and jellyfish predators are what the Giant Squid eats. So the research team attached a series of bioluminescent lures to the outside of their submersible in an ingenious effort to mimic panicked jellyfish, and, as you can see from this clip beneath, the ingenuity paid off.

20,000 leagues under the sea

There is a lot of misinformation about the Giant Squid, specifically in relation to its size. It doesn’t help that what we do know about their dimensions is largely based on carcasses that have washed up on beaches half decayed, with tentacles and arms missing, and often bloated with water. Without a doubt, the Giant and Colossal Squid are the two largest invertebrates on the planet (currently known to science), yet because they are so elusive, and we can’t just go out and catch a good sample of specimens, we don’t know realistic maximum body lengths. Putting aside anecdotes from fishermen who report 900 foot monsters far out at sea - the Giant Squid is thought to be responsible for the myth of the Kraken for example - the largest scientifically recorded Giant Squid specimen was 13 metres. That is a massive animal with enough wow-factor to not warrant exaggeration in my book, but exaggeration is human nature I suppose. Measurements for the largest Colossal Squid on record vary greatly but most references seem to acknowledge the Giant Squid as being the larger of the two.

The final thing I want to tell you about the Giant Squid is how they got so big. The best guess scientists have come up with is this species has evolved larger and larger in an eight-arms race with predators. The only (known) predator of an adult Giant Squid is the Sperm Whale, which in itself is a huge beast and imagining epic battles between these two colossal creatures makes one's inner geek salivate. Although this has never been witnessed (presumably their encounters occur many fathoms below the surface) beak parts of Giant Squid are regularly recovered from the stomachs of Sperm Whales, and in a tit-for-tat scenario that suggests a battle rather than clear-cut predation, many Sperm Whales are found to be covered in scars from giant suckers, duh duh duuuuuh...

  • Smithsonian Report 1916 (003), A piece of Sperm Whale skin showing signs of a battle with Giant Squid, note the scarring from suckers - In Smithsonian Report 1916 - Bartsch
    A piece of Sperm Whale skin showing signs of a battle with Giant Squid, note the scarring from suckers - In Smithsonian Report 1916 - Bartsch

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