lizbrownlee – poet

Poems, animal info and Lola the labradoodle!

Z is for Zetek’s Treefrog


This brilliant photo of this little treefrog was taken by Dr Robert Puschendorf, Lecturer in Conservation Biology at Plymouth University, and is used by permission.

Here it is again, peeking out from a bromeliad, so you can see where it lives – this gorgeous photo was taken by Andreas Hertz and is also used by permission:


These are the only images I could find of this little frog, so I’m very grateful to both these scientists for allowing me to use their photos.

It is a small (less than 3cm) Zetek’s treefrog that lives in Costa Rica and western Panama, at 1,200-1,800m above sea level, in cloud forests.

To be more specific, they live in bromeliads, in the water the cup-like leaves hold, and bromeliads grow high on trees – bromeliads are not a parasite on the tree, they gain all their nutrients and water from the atmosphere.

Zetek’s frogs lay their eggs above the waterline of the bromeliad’s interior, and when ready the tadpoles fall into the water – uniquely, the tadpoles are flattened and shaped like a guitar when seen from above.

Their tadpoles, that have been dissected, had eggs in their stomach – so it is possible that in common with other frogs that live in bromeliads (where unlike in a stream, there is nothing for the tadpoles to live upon), the mother revisits the pools and lays unfertilised eggs in the water for the tadpoles to eat.

Because they live so high in the trees, they were only discovered by tracing the male’s unique mating call – 5 pulsed notes that last about 4 seconds.

In Costa Rica their population appears to be stable, but it is thought they are suffering from habitat loss in Panama.

All treefrogs are at risk from the chytrid (Chytridiomycosis) fungus. The fungus is capable of causing sporadic deaths in some amphibian populations and 100% mortality in others. No effective measure is known for control of the disease in wild populations. It has been called “the worst infectious disease ever recorded among vertebrates in terms of the number of species impacted, and it’s propensity to drive them to extinction.” (Gascon et al, 2007).

This disease is thought to have originated in frogs caught in Africa, where it has been known for a long time, that were caught for pets or used for pregnancy testing in laboratories, that may have escaped or been moved to new locations, so it is now threatening populations in areas which have little immunity.

Dr Andreas Hertz, who took the second photo above, works at a laboratory that is looking for a way to advance probiotic strategies to mitigate the effects of chytridiomycosis in wild amphibian populations. (I’m pretty certain this means using microorganisms to help kill off the fungus or strengthen the immune response in the frogs).

Treefrogs are particularly at risk from deforestation, and sometimes species are only discovered when their trees are cut down.

Zetek’s treefrog is classified Near Threatened by the IUCN Red List for Threatened Species.

How our needs subsume those of every other species on the planet!

Here is my very last poem for the 2016 A-Z:




Just one tall tree

among the trees,

a scoop of water

furled in leaves,


an ant or two

on which to feed,

is all the world

a treefrog needs,


just one small part

of forest’s song –

but when trees fall

and all are gone,


rains turn flood,

earth turns stones,

and in the dust

a treefrog’s bones.


© Liz Brownlee


Information from:


Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

IUCN Red List for Threatened Species.

Gascon C., J.P. Collins, R.D. Moore et al., editors: Amphibian Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SSC Amphibian Specialist Group. Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge UK, 2007.




Y is for Yellow Tit

This wonderful photo of the yellow tit was taken by John&Fish.



Yellow Tit


A small bird

with soaring crest

black top,

lemon breast,


some birds lift hearts

this is one,

sings a song

shines the sun.


.© Liz Brownlee


This little bird is found in the central mountain ranges of Taiwan, living on insects it finds in the coniferous and broadleaf forests.

It is thought that it may always have been uncommon, but it is the victim of being caught in nets for the pet trade, and unfortunately felling of its forests have further reduced the population.

Luckily parts of its habitat are now in protected nature reserves and wildlife parks.

It is classified by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals and Birdlife International as Near Threatened.

Here it is showing its crest, taken again by John&Fish, and below that, a little video of its lovely song.

JohnandFish yellow tit



I can hardly believe that tomorrow is the end of the A-Z! I’m going to miss it. If you’d like to blog hop to another A-Z Challenge blog, please click on the logo in the right-hand column!


Information from:


Birdlife International.

Birding in Taiwan.

IUCN Red List for Threatened Species.

Image by John&Fish, shown here by Creative Commons License.

Prose and Poem © Liz Brownlee, all rights reserved, not to be used in any manner whatsoever without the permission of the author.

X is for Xantu’s Murrelet

This image from Wiki shows the size of a Xantu’s murrelet (recently renamed Scripp’s murrelet) when it leaves the nest and plunges into the ocean at fewer than 48 hours old, having not been fed, and without being able to fly. It is about 5 inches long:


Uniquely, from this moment forward this little chick spends it’s entire time at sea, with its parents in attendance for a few months, until it is an adult and returns to the cliffs where it hatched to breed itself.

Luckily it is hatched fully fluffy-feathered and half the size of the parents – the huge eggs the mother murrelet lays (in the cliff rock crevices on islands in the Channel Islands of California, and on Santa Barbara Island, and also several islands off Baja California) have one of the largest egg to bird ratios in the world.

I haven’t been able to find any information as to how the parents keep the chicks together on the open sea, but when the parent birds leave the nest, the babies follow them. The parents fly out to the sea, leaving the chicks to fall and scramble down the cliffs into the water. At this point the parents call to them and the babies swim out to join them – murrelets have a piercing whistle, probably to be heard through the surf, and I surmise that this call would help reunite them if they become separated.

They feed by diving underwater to get larval fish and crustaceans, and rely heavily on shoals of anchovy. They are usually seen feeding in pairs, and if one bird is on the nest then unrelated birds will team up.

While they are briefly in the nest, and as eggs, the chicks are vulnerable to feral cats, house mice, deer mice, and black rats.

Out at sea they become prey to marine animals, oil spills, getting entangled in fishing nets, and pollution.

Xantu’s or Scripp’s murrelet is classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Here is a great photo of a pair in the water, by Tony Morris:

Tony Morris Scripp's Murrelet


Here is my poem:




Murrelet’s chicks

jump into the surf

just two days after

their egg-hatched birth,


follow their parents’

loud cries to be free,

riding the swell

on the rising, green sea.


How do their parents

guide them and guard,

when their world becomes

just water and dark?


What do they do

in wind rush and storm,

tossed and plunged

when waves grow strong?


But the ocean is where

they make their home,

wind in feather, air in bone,

part ocean, part foam.


© Liz Brownlee


If you would like to blog hop to another A-Z Challenge, please click on the logo in the right-hand column!


Information from:



Channel Islands (USA!) National Park Service.

Prose and Poem © Liz Brownlee, all rights reserved not to be used in any manner whatsoever without the permission of the author.



W is for Wagner’s Viper

This stunning photo of a female and two young Wagner’s vipers is by Mario Schweiger, and is used by permission.

wagn babypaar 1b karakurt 8-89

Wagner’s viper was first discovered and described by German naturalist Moritz Wagner in 1846. Sadly he mislabelled the specimen’s place of habitat and so it was unseen for another 140 years, and presumed extinct. Then it was rediscovered on a road in eastern Turkey, its actual habitat, where it now lives mainly in one river valley about 1,600 and 1,900m above sea level.

Unfortunately, due to its rather attractive colouring, and rarity value, publication of the whereabouts of this beautiful snake brought a massive number of collectors to the area, mainly from Europe. They took large numbers of snakes, especially gravid females. So many in fact, that over succeeding years the snake suffered a devastating loss to its population.

Worried scientists worked to get the snake listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which bans international trade of species without export permits. But sadly 80% of these snakes had already disappeared. Furthermore a dam on the river in its territory threatened to destroy its habitat.

Today the snake is classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and zoos (Saint Louis Zoo in particular) have instituted a breeding programme to bring the snake back from the brink.

Here is my poem:


Wagner’s Viper


On the rocky mountain slopes

around the rivers and the lake,

in coils of camouflaging scales

dwells the Wagner’s viper snake,


but every year more disappear

their future has been sold,

for the beauty of their souls

has been drawn in bronze and gold.


© Liz Brownlee


Information from:


Scientific American.

Image © Mario Schweiger and used by permission.

Prose and Poem © Liz Brownlee, all rights reserved, not to be used in any manner whatsoever without the permission of the author.



V is for Vietnamese Mossy Frog

This is another extraordinary frog – frogs really have some of the most incredible adaptations for their environment of any animal. This wonderful photo was taken by Andrew Mudd


And this photo was taken by Josh More:

Josh More vietnamese mossy frog

Have I mentioned yet this year that I adore frogs? I have been most restrained and only posted two so far this year. There’s still time, though!

These mossy frogs live in flooded caves and on the banks of mountain streams in northern Vietnam, among the mosses, and are semi-aquatic, often hiding among floating plants in the water.

They have also been found breeding on crevices of mossy trees, and are excellent climbers thanks to the large suction discs on the ends of their toes.

The texture and colour of their skin with their bulbous and spiny growths is very similar to moss, and a frog that is sitting still is almost impossible to see.

Even their large eyes have beautiful, mossy patterns – and give them excellent night vision (they are nocturnal) when they are looking for small invertebrates and insects to eat.

If these frogs are threatened they curl into a ball of moss – making them look even less like an edible frog.

Vietnamese mossy frogs are protected by the Vietnamese Government, but are suffering from habitat loss and being collected illegally for the pet trade. The IUCN Red List for Threatened Species does not have enough information to classify them.

Here is my poem for them:


Vietnamese Mossy Frog


As mossy as the moss it’s on

upon the mossy log,

it misdirects so you expect

it’s moss and miss the frog.


© Liz Brownlee


Information from:


Metropolitan Oceanic Institute and Aquarium.

Rosamund Gifford Zoo PDF.

IUCN Red List.

Image one taken by Andrew Mudd and used by kind permission.

Image two taken by Josh More by Creative Commons License.

Prose and Poem © Liz Brownlee, all rights reserved, not to be used in any manner whatsoever without the permission of the author.




U is for Umbrella Jelly

This is a short Youtube video of delicate and beautiful umbrella jellyfish, or ‘umbrella jellies’ which is the preferred term, as they are not actually fish, and their magical water dancing. Uploaded by Aquarium of the Pacific.

These tiny little jellies’ Latin name is Eutonia indicans, and they are at the most 1 inch in diameter.

Being almost completely transparent they are quite hard to spot in the ocean. They are up to 98% water, with skin so thin, they don’t need lungs or breathing apparatus because the oxygen can be absorbed straight from the water by their outer layer.

These little jellyfish eat tiny invertebrate eggs and larvae, copepods, and other, tinier jellies near the surface of the waters of the Pacific coast from Santa Barbara to Japan.

Their mouths have four frilly lips and hang below the centre of the jellies (the ‘handle’ of the umbrella) and when food is trapped in the tentacles their mouths swing over and lick the food off.

Some jellies are suffering the very reverse of extinction – they are proliferating beyond a safe number. Usually these delicate creatures are kept in balance.

But their predators, bigger marine creatures such as tuna, have been overfished to the point of extinction, and animals like turtles have been overwhelmed by our plastic rubbish floating in the sea, which they mistake for food and on which they choke to death.

Not only this, we are providing jellyfish with abundant food – agricultural fertilisers are washed into the sea, and feed the plankton population on which jellyfish thrive. Warmer waters, due to climate change/warming are also helping jellies increase.

We have a lot to answer for.

This is my jelly poem:


Umbrella Jelly


Living in the ocean swell,

see-through as transparent gel,

part tentacles, part frilly bell,

it opens, closes to propel – a

tiny sea-water umbrella.


© Liz Brownlee


Information from:


Tennessee Aquarium.

Prose and Poem © Liz Brownlee, all rights reserved not to be used in any manner whatsoever without the permission of the author.




T is for Tricoloured Blackbird

This is rather a gorgeous-looking bird from North America – here is a male in a photo by Alan Vernon:

Alan vernon male tricoloured blackbird

The tricoloured blackbird is not related in any way to the Old World blackbirds found in the British Isles, which are a type of thrush. This bird is a little smaller, and its feathers glossier.

It forms the largest breeding colonies of any bird in North America – but this unfortunately is the species’ achilles heel. They feed predominately on grains, and nest in silage fields – they are being decimated by herbicides and the silage harvesting that takes place while they are nesting. If they didn’t nest all in one area they would be safer – in almost literal fact they have their eggs all in one basket.

The female constructs her nest by dipping leaves in water and weaving them around upright plant stems – then she sticks it all together with wet mud in layers to hold her eggs and chicks safely.

The nestlings are fed by both parents for about 14 days, and they have a unique way of encouraging their chicks to leave the nest when they are ready – they coax them by flying temptingly away from the nest with a delicious morsel in their beaks, with the babies flying in pursuit.

These birds have suffered a huge decline and are now classified as Endangered by the IUCN Red List for Threatened Species.

Here is my poem for them:


Tricoloured Blackbirds


Tricoloured blackbirds

are oxymoronic,

and also ironically

not blackbirds at all,

nesting in colonies

of thousands in flocks

could paradoxically

be their downfall,

for what happens to one bird

happens to all.


© Liz Brownlee


Information from:



Top image by Alan Vernon, shown by Creative Commons License.

Prose and Poem © Liz Brownlee, all rights reserved not to be used in any manner whatsoever without the permission of the author.



S is for Sparklemuffin

Of course there is an animal called a sparklemuffin! This is a serious blog!

It’s a creature which is often disliked, but this particular specimen has earned the adoration of millions if not gazillions (*this fact not checked) of internet users.

Really the only way to demonstrate the wonder of this creature is to link to a short video of it and its friends, taken by the biologist, Otto Jürgen, who discovered and started studying and filming, photographing and blogging them:

Sparklemuffin, as you can see, is the nickname given to the peacock spider Maratus jactatus, and this wonderful dance is used by the male to attract a mate.

These spiders are tiny, only about 4mm across, and live in eastern Australia. Otto Jürgen spotted a specimen of one of these species one day, investigated further, and found out about their incredible mating display dances.

Jumping spiders have excellent eyesight – they have lenses, with an internal focussing mechanism and complex four layered retina. All this means that a jumping spider can see well into the distance, more colours than a human and fine detail.

As Jürgen started to film them he noticed that the spiders also had incredible characters – they were curious, showed excitement and anticipation, in fact he became so fond of them the thought of squashing one became an anathema.

If you’d like to see more, Otto Jürgen has a Facebook page, and a Youtube account.

Here is my Peacock Spider poem – with apologies to Hilaire Belloc’s Tarantella! The tarantella is a dance of southern Italy – said to be danced by those that had been bitten by the tarantula spider, to get rid of the poison from their system! Peacock spiders like this however, can’t bite us, they are too tiny and their jaws can’t puncture our skin, so no danger to humans!


The Peacock Spiders Dance

(after Hilaire Belloc)


This is the dance of the spiders,

watch the spiders dance if you dare!

There’s a jazzle and a razzle

of colours that bedazzle

and their knees are a tease waving high in the trees

as their backsides waggle in the air!


And they dance and they prance

for the females who are there,

who have to be impressed

before they’ll be caressed

by the tip top taps

and the spring,

and the flip of the back


and tap of the feet to the beat and repeat

of the spider glancing, dancing,

backing and advancing,

spinnerets all twiddling in a spin, out and in

and pedipalps padding in the air –


This is the dance of the spiders,

watch the spiders dance if you dare!



© Liz Brownlee


If you would like to blog hop to another A-Z Challenge please click on the logo in the right-hand column!


Information from:



Prose and Poem © Liz Brownlee, all rights reserved, not to be used in any manner whatsoever without the permission of the author.





R is for Rockhopper Penguin

Rockhopper penguins are not like other penguins – they live on rocky, inhospitable places, mainly around the antarctic, so inhospitable these penguins have no land predators. Here is a wonderful picture of one by Robert Orr:

Robert Orr, rockhopper penguin

As well as being the kookiest-looking penguin, their behaviour is different. They do not slide around the place on icy floes, and neither do they do the famous penguin waddle – they BOUND around the rocky outcrops they live on, on their pink feet.

What is more, although they live and nest together in large, noisy colonies, they show none of the cooperation evident in other penguin species – they are quite aggressive with each other and will peck at anything at all that comes near them. But they are gentle with their partners.

They are small penguins, about 50 cm tall, and return to the same nesting places, and nests, and usually the same partner year after year – perhaps having fought for the right mate, they like to keep them!

Like all penguins they swim brilliantly, usually in the shallow seas around their home – but they can dive quite deeply to get their food of krill, squid and small fish (although they are happy to eat anything if food is scarce). However, out in the sea they are prey for seals and sharks.

They were the among the most numerous of penguins – but scientists estimate that their population has declined over the last 30 years by 30%, Eastern rockhoppers possibly due to commercial overfishing and pollution, Northern rockhoppers definitely due to fishing with gill-nets, and egging. Now the Southern rockhopper has been classed as Vulnerable, and the Northern rockhopper classed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Here’s their poem (title courtesy of Durbad @


Rock Star


We’re black

and white,

red eyes and bill,


punk rock

crests in



we hop

on rock,

a pink-foot bound,


we’re not

the sort

to slide around,


we dive,

and fish,

which we defend,


and quarrel

with our

penguin friends,


we used

to be

a noisy throng,


now we’re


going… gone?


© Liz Brownlee


If you would like to blog hop to another A-Z Challenge, please use the link from the logo in the right-hand column!


Information from:


International Penguin Conservation Work Group.


Photo by Robert Orr by Creative Commons License.

Prose and Poem © Liz Brownlee, all rights reserved not to be used in any manner whatsoever without the permission of the author.



Q is for Quino Checkerspot Butterfly

This is a rare good news story on the sustainability front – that of the 3 cm quino checkerspot butterfly, here photographed by Adam Braziel:

Quino checkerspot butterfly Adam Braziel

Adam isn’t sure if this is the quino or the Wright’s checkerspot, but after making my eyes go whizzy looking at both species’ photos, Wright’s checkerspot is a different species altogether, not a subspecies of Edith’s checkerspot, (as is the quino) and the quino is less than half the size of the Wright’s, so my bet’s on the quino. In any case, this is what a quino checkerspot looks like – gorgeous!

The quino butterfly lives in southern California, and over the last 100 years has suffered a devastating loss of population, due to climate change (warming, so that its food plant, a type of plantain, could not grow), agricultural and urban development, the introduction of non-native grasses, fire suppression and grazing.

It declined to the extent of being present only in two small areas, and it is listed comprehensively on most species endangered lists – which is how I found it.

Scientists were concerned for its survival, including Professor Camille Parmesan of the Marine Sciences Institute at Plymouth University. She suggested in 2008 that the butterfly would be a good candidate for ‘assisted colonisation’, which is where humans intervene and help a species by moving it to a more suitable area.

BUT! To the amazement of scientists, the butterfly upped and moved itself to an area east of Los Angeles, and changed the food it feeds on, the first butterfly known to change its habits so comprehensively and rapidly.

Unfortunately most of the evidence is in the other direction, but this does give hope that at least some other insect species will be able to cope with the vagaries of climate change – there was an area for the quino checkerspot to go to avoid extinction, and a very important part of butterfly conservation is making ‘corridors’ – conserving and linking unspoiled land so that there is somewhere for our endangered insect species to move to.

Fight for your green spaces – insect species, butterflies and bees, pollinate our flowers, pollinate our crops, they are the essence of the reproduction of what sustains us. 




we are the movements

of the music

that the petal

perfumes sing,


we are pollen

and the nectar,

we are flowers

given wing


© Liz Brownlee


If you would like to blog hop to another A-Z Blog Challenge, please click from the logo in the right-hand column!


Information from:


Union of Concerned Scientists.

Butterfly Conservation.

Photo by Adam Braziel, used by Creative Commons License.

Prose and Poem © Liz Brownlee, all rights reserved, not to be used in any manner whatsoever without the permission of the author.







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