2017 Wildlife Resolutions

After last year’s mixed success of completing my resolutions, I am going to not aim quite so high – but I am still going to set myself 17 resolutions for the year.

  1. See a silver-spotted skipper butterfly (Hesperia comma).
    • If I do this, I will have seen all the skipper species (Hesperiidae) in the UK. My completed groups so far are Nymphalidae and Riodinidae.
  2. See a large blue butterfly (Phengaris arion).
    • I practically live just around the corner from them now, so I should be able to do this!
  3. Put out a moth trap on at least 100 nights in the year.
    • I fell out of practice with moth trapping last year, particularly as the year progressed and life got in the way. Whilst I expect I shall have some weeks where I can barely trap, hopefully I will manage to balance it out so that I trap for at least 100 nights overall.
  4. See two new species of orchids.
    • Not sure how many I’ve seen, but I would love to see some more. I think my current favourite of the ones I have seen is probably the bee orchid (Ophrys apifera)?
  5. See an adder (Vipera berus).
    • Of the six native species of reptiles in the UK (x3 snakes, x3 lizards), I have seen five so far – even including holding a smooth snake (Cornella austriaca, whilst with a licence holder of course)
  6. Reach 200 on my birds list.
    • Yes, this was on my list of 2016 wildlife resolutions, but at least now I am slightly closer to achieving that! My latest addition (not sure of what number I’ve got to now though) is waxwings on 8 Jan 2017.
  7. Go on at least two birding twitches.
    • I have decided not to include the waxwings, as they were a 20 minute drive away and that isn’t a proper twitch.
  8. Reach 1000 on my pan-species list
    • I aimed far too high last year trying to reach 1500, I don’t think I have even reached 800 (that needs to be confirmed, my PSL is so out of date!). 1000 seems far more achievable.
  9. Catalogue my collection of wildlife items
    • This could turn out to be quite a task, especially trying to remember where and when everything was found!
  10. Submit an application to give a talk at BirdFair.
    • Yes, this was a resolution last year. I missed the deadline though (albeit that I still ended up on the main stage twice). This year, I am definitely getting my application in early!
  11. Visit the park near the office at least once a week and note down any wildlife sightings.
    • This one shouldn’t be too difficult, there is a nice little park nearby. The most number of birds I have seen there in a lunchtime is 10 species, here’s hoping that increases and I also see plenty of insects come spring and summer!
  12. Take a photo of a peregrines falcon (Falco peregrinus) in Bristol.
    • I have only managed to see the peregrines twice so far, both times were very fleeting. It would be great to get a good view and take some photos of them.
  13. Visit Bristol Museum & Art Gallery.
    • One of the benefits of living and working in a city is that I now have plenty of cultural attractions on my doorstop! Definitely one of the top places I need to visit is the natural history section of Bristol Museum & Art Gallery.
  14. Fully read at least two of Stephen Moss’ books.
    • I realised late last year that despite owning a few of his books, and being fortunate to count him as a good friend, I have never actually read any Stephen Moss’ books cover to cover! Oops! I must amend that this year, and have aimed for at least two of his books.
  15. Read Silent Spring by Rachel Carson.
    • I am even more ashamed to admit that I have never read Silent Spring. Don’t judge me too much please.
  16. Go on a course about non-insect invertebrates.
    • I have been on a number of insect, bird, mammal, etc courses, and I have even run an insects course myself. Aside from helping to test a new draft of an earthworm key, I haven’t done anything – let alone an actual course – that focusses on non-insect invertebrates.
  17. Go to a new conference.
    • By new I don’t mean brand new and never happened before, but a conference that is new to me. Having not attended loads of conferences, this shouldn’t be too difficult, but it will be interesting to see what I end up attending!

Wildlife Resolutions of 2016

Completed

  • Take part in BSBI’s New Year Plant Hunt
  • Explore NT Wimpole Estate
    • Definitely managed that, although I still didn’t get to visit everywhere on the estate – but that is because it is ridiculously huge
  • Visit NT Wicken Fen
    • I went a bit further than expected – I visited and I got a job there as an assistant in the education team! I ended up working part-time at Wimpole and part-time at Wicken Fen between May – September 2017. Suffice to say I had an wonderful time because I love teaching children about nature, and I also saw lots of amazing wildlife!
  • Organise an event for AFON
    • In the summer I ran an ‘introduction to insects’ workshop for AFON members at WT BCN’s Ring Haw field station. I definitely did *not* run said workshop for my own interests … In all honesty, it was a great couple of days, and we all learnt a lot!

Kind of completed

  • Submit application to give a talk(s) at BirdFair 2016.
    • I didn’t submit an application in the end (I just missed the deadline, d’oh!). However, I did manage to end up on the main stage at BirdFair twice! First, when invited by Jess French to talk about AFON, and second, to play a mouse during the play of ‘The Jungle Book’.
  • Publish an article in a major wildlife magazine.
    • Kind of done in two ways – I have an article on moths in the Spring 2017 issue of Wildlife Watch, and I also now work at a major wildlife magazine.
  • Visit RSPB Minsmere.
    • I visited, but incredibly briefly at dusk so I don’t feel I can count this as completed!
  • Start my own collection of pinned insects.
    • Yes, in that I have two pinned insects … and then I stopped because I moved house twice and started a new job.

Not at all in any way completed

  • See 4 new species of butterfly, including Swallowtail & Black Hairstreak.
  • See and identify 5 new species of hoverfly.
  • Reach 200 on my bird life list (161 at the end of 2015).
  • Reach 500 on my moth life list (209 at the end of 2015) by BirdFair 2016 – as challenged by Dominic Couzens at BirdFair 2015.
  • Reach 1500 on my pan-species list (769 at the end of 2015).
  • Get at least one of the birds in my freezer taxidermied.
  • Sort and submit all my 2015 wildlife records.
  • Dissect and identify the dead moths in my freezer / dead insect pots.

Lucy McRobert to NowforNature

This post originally appeared on the A Focus On Nature blog on 24th December 2016.

Welcome to our 2016 Advent Calendar series (#AFONAdvent)! This year, our theme is “The Gift of Inspiration”. For each day, one of our members has written a blog post about someone who has inspired them, and how that inspiration has lead to them being where they are today. Each member is a shining example of a young person who is acting Now for Nature. We hope that you enjoy the series and have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

I hadn’t realised what a difficult challenge I had set the writers in this Advent series until it came to writing my own post. Should I opt for my parents, as they brought me up as an outdoors child – kayaking, hiking, watching birds? Or the legendary David Attenborough for all the reasons ever? What about colleagues from my career so far? I have certainly been inspired by them!

I needed to be logical about this and follow the the Now for Nature theme. What am I doing right now for wildlife and the natural environment that has been inspired by a particular person? And then there was only one choice, and you all know who she is – AFON’s founder and former Creative Director, Lucy McRobert.

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I first met Lucy at the AFON conference in 2014 and I was immediately impressed by her energy, enthusiasm and drive. Here was someone that was truly making a difference. Through her work, AFON has grown to be the largest youth nature network in the UK, with members invited to the launches of reports, to give presentations at conferences (including Susan Jones speaking as the support act to David Attenborough) and consulted by conservation organisations on how best to engage young people.

Members of AFON are part of a special community and network, providing support and enabling confidence. I don’t just say all this for the sake of it – I speak from personal experience. I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am today without being part of AFON.

Some of the AFON members, at Birdfair 2016. (c) Stephen Moss

It isn’t just Lucy’s AFON work that inspires me. In her employment as Communications Manager for the Wildlife Trusts, she has run the inspirational 30 Days Wild campaign, brightened up the social media accounts of the Wildlife Trusts (including “salacious live tweets during Springwatch and Autumnwatch” – Adam Cormack’s words, not mine), been a key part in the campaign to protect the Nature Directives, written a range of fabulous articles, and generally been an inspiration and a supportive colleague to those she works with.

On a personal level, Lucy has been an inspiration as well. I am thrilled and honoured to count as her one of my close friends. She is an excellent and no-nonsense birder. Her unbridled passion for wildlife, exemplified by having her hen do on the Isles of Scilly, has reminded me that it is ok to let my own passion shine through.

Lucy’s hens on the Bryher, twitching a Snowy Owl which is theoretically in the photo as well (c) Megan Shersby

Prior to the Snowy Owl, we also twitched an Iberian Chiffchaff on Tresco (c) Megan Shersby

Lucy McRobert’s inspiring influence has led me to pursue a career in communications. This career path was first prompted my Skills for the Future traineeship with Dorset Wildlife Trust (funded by the Heritage Lottery), and it has been a growing part of my life as I have tried to include it as much as possible within each successive employment role.

In August 2015, I became the Online & Social Media Manager for A Focus On Nature – a role that has been thrilling and challenging in equal respects. From planning the launch of the Vision for Nature report (FYI, the hashtag trended on Twitter, one of my proudest achievements), to acquiring review copies of books for our members to review, through to co-ordinating the Advent Calendars – this role has kept me incredibly busy and I have gained so much from it.

As a committee member, I am also involved with the running of AFON which has included sourcing different opportunities for our members, organising the occasional event, representing AFON at workshops and conferences, and generally trying to help with the exponential growth and wonderfulness (yes that isn’t a word, but I’m using it) of the group.

And now, I’m moving into the next stage of my communications career as an assistant at a wildlife magazine!

Megan Shersby at RSPB Ham Wall (c) Andrew Kerwick-Chrisp

I truly believe that if it hadn’t been for Lucy McRobert’s influence within my life, both professionally and personally, I wouldn’t be embarking down this wonderful road. So I have one thing left to say – thank you Lucy.

Lucy at Birdfair 2016, apparently working? (c) Zoe Broughton

Winter at Chesil Beach

Having recently read and reviewed Winter, I was reminded of the winter storms I experienced at Chesil Beach.


The wind is rising. I can hear it buffeting against the windows, thundering its way down the street like it’s throwing a tantrum. The cottage isn’t right next to the beach, but I can hear the waves roaring as they engulf the stony incline and hurtle over the peak into the streets behind.

I decide to walk to the cliffs to see this roaring action with my own eyes. Opening the door, I am almost swept back inside, the wind is so strong and I’m not exactly large in stature. With determination, I step out and force the door closed behind me. It takes a lot of strength to slam it shut. I make my way down the road, face half-buried in my waterproof and eyes already streaming.

Down at the beach, there is an almighty sight to behold. I stand on the footpath, not at the edge of the clifftop as that would be foolish. I value my life. No, this footpath is located about 50m back from the shoreline, on the gradual slope behind the boulders and behind the beach huts. Normally you can see the large pebbles, too big to be called shingle, just in front of the boulders, but they’ve disappeared. The water is covering them all.

The word storm doesn’t do this scene justice. The combination of a high tide and the strong winds has created a furious beast. It roils over the beach with passion, the waves crashing loudly and, when combined with the sound of the wind as well, I can barely hear my thoughts. I do manage to take a couple of photos, but soon retreat to hide in the shelter of a nearby wall. The wind is so strong that I actually have difficulty breathing, the air is whipped away and there is nothing to inhale.

It’s hard to believe that only the other day, it was a calm and tranquil beach scene here, the still blue surface stretching out to the horizon under bright skies. You can normally sit at the top of the beach, thirty or forty metres from the edge of the sea. If you were to sit there now, you would be immediately soaked and swept away. I can’t even guess how tall these waves are, I have never seen such monsters. And these are monsters indeed, devouring the beach, and even hurling themselves over the seafront pub. Later I will see a fantastic photo capturing this scene, and I still won’t be able to believe it happened. This disbelief will continue when I visit the beach again once the storm has passed, and discover that all of the shingle has disappeared from one end, revealing the underlying clay – a remarkable and rare occurrence.

The sea is so high that the Isle of Portland has truly become an island, the road back to the mainland has been flooded and the connecting beach is overrun with waves. I am rather glad not to be in work today, the educational centre where I work is only small building located, on the edge of the currently flooded road, probably about to be flooded itself. As I stand on the footpath, I can’t even see the centre from here, so obscured is the view by spray and cloud.

I have never before experienced a storm like this, and I wonder if I ever will again. Across the news, between the internet cutting out, I read about railway lines collapsing, beach towns flooding and the sad loss of life. That summer, I enjoy my time on the beach, both for work and for pleasure, but these memories linger in my mind as a reminder that while nature can be peaceful and beautiful, she can also be a mighty and dangerous force.

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NB – there are better photos of the waves online, this photo doesn’t do them justice at all

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Book Review: Winter – an anthology for the seasons

*This post originally appeared on the A Focus On Nature blog*


Thus far the Season anthologies from E&T and The Wildlife Trusts have been wonderful reads, and when Winter alighted on my doormat, I had my fingers crossed for more literary delights.

I always struggle with winter as a season. Suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder for years, and more recently, year-round depression, winter is a difficult time. The light is minimal, the temperature bitter and there are no insects to cheer me up. I was hoping that the Winter book would help to remind me of why this frosty season is actually worth appreciating, and perhaps even worth looking forward to.

Winter cover.indd

I am sure that the editor, Melissa Harrison, spent a long time deciding which order to put the chapters in. However, as with the previous books, I couldn’t resist dipping into a random chapter within the book each time I picked it up. Each chapter is an aforementioned literary delight, and there are different styles throughout the book – diary entries, letters, poetry and prose.

“The wind made whips of the dwarf willows … The spines of the marram grasses scratched wildly at the rushing air, which passed over the hollows where larks and linnets crouched with puffed feathers”

Reading through the chapters, there were sentences that struck a chord. Be it amusing, or philosophical in tone, each of these phrases resonated within me. Some brought memories to the fore – when reading the passage featured above by Henry Williamson (Tarka the Ottter), I was transported back to exploring the sand dunes of Kenfig NNR in south Wales, hearing the wind whistling through the grass and the dunes. In contrast, Richard Adams’ phrase about wild flowers made me smile and almost laugh out loud, even though I was on public transport at the time. And how true his words are, I remember taking part in BSBI’s New Year Plant Hunt and the pleasant surprise of flowers in bloom despite the frosty cold spread across the landscape.

“Wild flowers are like pubs. There are generally one or two open somewhere, if only you look hard enough.”

One particular sentence that resonated was this by Elizabeth Guntrip; “In nature, in solitude, I find an inner strength.” With recent turnabouts in my own life, I was struck by how true this sentence was for me, and how often I have turned to nature in the past few months for that strong feeling of connection that grounds me and firms my resolve.

One of the most enthralling delights of this book (and those before it), was discovering the creative talents of friends. I read with intrigue and suspense as Lucy McRobert (Founder and former Creative Director of AFON) writes “Then, without pomp or fanfare, the spectre appears unannounced, materialising from the marsh”. A few pages before, I had giggled to myself trying to imagine the self-described “pimply over-excited teenage naturalist in the summer of 1985” of her husband, Rob Lambert, when meeting Sir Peter Scott. In other chapters, I stepped beneath the boughs and met woodland creatures accompanied by Tiffany Francis, and felt warmed by a mug of soup and the marine treasures with Sophie Bagshaw.

In case you hadn’t guessed, I have vastly enjoyed reading Winter and in doing so, I have been reminded that this season of cold sunlight and long nights is actually a beautiful season in its own right. I look forward to going into this coming winter now, in the knowledge that there is interesting wildlife and stunning landscapes to find and appreciate – as long as I remember to wrap up warm!

A look back at all four books

Suffice to say, the Seasons anthologies are different amongst my favourite books and not just because I have chapters in two of them. Each one is a world to enter and explore, to read about familiar and unfamiliar experiences.

I can’t help but compare the chapters within these anthologies to wine tasting. The initial opening of the book to a chapter, is that swirl of the wine in the glass, odd words catching the light within the depths of the text. Your eyes settle on the first paragraph, and you visually drink in the words, discovering the aroma of the particular chapter chosen. The following paragraphs are the sips, where you swirl the words around in your mouth, certain phrases seemingly like the deep fruity notes of wine. Here the analogy falls down slightly, because you don’t spit out the final part of the chapters as in wine tasting. However, I dislike spitting out wine anyway so on a personal note, this analogy still works for me with the final paragraphs swallowed enthusiastically, leaving the aftertaste on your tongue. You long for more, perhaps going back to try out that chapter again, or moving on to something with a different flavour.

When reading these books, especially if I’m in the city at the time, I ache to be outside somewhere wild and glorious – be it running through wildflower meadows or dipping my toes in the sea. Reading other reviews, and discussing the anthologies with friends, I know that I’m not the only one to feel this way and I am thoroughly impressed by everyone involved for creating such wonderful books. And I am grateful to them for doing so.

Megan Shersby is a naturalist, blogger and (amateur) pan-species lister. She is a committee member of A Focus On Nature, working as their Online & Social Media Manager. She is currently living in London, but will soon be moving to Bristol to start a new and exciting job. She is passionate about inspiring others to explore the natural world. You can follow her on Twitter at: @MeganShersby, or via her blog at: mshersby.wordpress.com

Making friends with dragons

Everything is beginning to calm down and sort itself out in my life, which is wonderful and also means that I may just have some time to write my blog again! Fingers crossed! There is a lot I could write about in this post, but I am going to focus on a nature walk I took recently – the first in ages and it was wonderful!

(c) Andrew Kerwick-Chrisp

A friend and I decided to use a weekend day to visit Irthlingborough Lakes and Meadows in Northamptonshire. This was a new nature reserve for me so I didn’t know what to expect, but it is on his doorstep so he knows it quite well. However, he isn’t wildlife-mad/obsessed like myself so it turned out to be a learning experience for him too. Not to mention that he hasn’t seen me in wildlife-mad/obsessed mode before, so that also turned out to be a learning experience for him! (Yes, I do actually associate with people outside the world of natural history!)

I managed to find quite a few plump and juicy blackberries to snack on, although we are beginning to near the end of their season sadly. We even found a dragonfly – which I believe to be a Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) though I am completely out of practice, so do let me know if I’m wrong! We watched it for a minute or two, and I tried to get a decent photo of it. I think I did quite well, though not an amazing photo. It then flew off and we didn’t see where it landed, until we went to walk on again at which point my friend noticed that it had landed on my hair! It actually stayed there for about 5 minutes or so, and only flew off when I went to carry on walking. On an unrelated note – how fantastic does my plait look in the photos?!

Further along the way, we were intrigued by the sight of a lady crouching down in the grass by the side of the path. What could she be up to? Something nefarious or was she, like I usually do, looking at something interesting? It turned out that she was photographing Shaggy Ink Caps (Coprinus comatus), a lovely fungus that it is one of the easier species to identify. Apparently it is edible and quite tasty, but before the black ink begins to appear. I wouldn’t take my word for it though, as I don’t know much about foraging for mushrooms!

What with there being lakes at this nature reserve, there were a fair few birds about – Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea), Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus), Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus), Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), etc etc. I had my duck identification skills tested, after quite a few months of not even attempting any duck ID. Racking my brains, I managed to remember that they were Wigeon (Anas penelope) and Teal (Anas crecca). It shouldn’t have been quite so difficult to remember, but I am very out of practice with ducks! Must work harder!

We almost passed by this female Blackbird (Turdus merula) without noticing her, she was sitting ever so still and quietly in the Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) tree. A little later, we spotted another Blackbird, this time a male who was not so still but instead was enjoying some haw berries.

Our last find was a good one – a grasshopper! I had wondered if it would be too late in the year or too chilly to find any Orthoptera, but I was not to be disappointed it seems. With the side keels of the pronotum being so straight and almost parallel, my guess would be Lesser Marsh Grasshopper (Chorthippus albomarginatus)?

All in all, a rather nice nature walk. I bet it is even better in late spring and summer when I am sure it is buzzing with even more Orthoptera, and filled with exciting wildflowers and other insects!

In other news, I have left National Trust’s Wimpole Estate (though not before finding a rare fungus!), moved house, and have exciting plans for the near future. Watch this space! For now, a few tweets of what else has been happening recently:

Life goes on

I haven’t managed to write a blog post for three months now, which is just crazy. Due to a combination of being incredibly busy at work, very busy with A Focus On Nature work and some not-so-great stuff happening in my personal life, I haven’t had the time to write. And when I have, the latter has meant that I am not feeling particularly inspired either.

I hope that everything will calm down and sort itself out soon, and that I can return to writing. If so, it is likely that posts will be sporadic for a while before I manage to make a regular posts again. Until then, you can see what I have been up to in the past few months below (most recent first). I haven’t managed to include anywhere near everything I have been up to, but it will give you a flavour of how busy I have been!