People and Places of 2014

I know, I know, I’ve already written a blog post about the wonderful wildlife that I’ve seen in 2014. But none of it would’ve been possible if not for fantastic people and amazing places.

Location, Location, Location

I’ve actually already blogged about two amazing places earlier this month as part of AFON’s Advent Blog Posts. I couldn’t pick between them, so I wrote about both Chesil Beach and Gilfach Reserve because they are both just absolutely stunning and have played a really big part in me seeing so much wildlife.

Naturally, I have also visited a variety of other natural areas across the country – from Yorkshire over to a number of spots in Wales, across to London, down south in Dorset, and back east to Sussex. It’s hard to pick highlights, they were all great in their different ways, but I guess the following are probably the ones below:

  • Brownsea Island (Dorset) – persuading the warden to put out the moth trap early, seeing a ridiculous number of new species across a variety of taxa!
  • Anglesey (North Wales) – incredibly blustery, with family, saw butterflies, bumblebees and a red squirrel!
  • Portland (Dorset) in general – rare and/or migratory moths, looking for Lulworth Skipper butterfly, seeing my first wild Barn Owls, I have a lot of love for the Isle of Portland!
  • Slimbridge (Glos) – AFON Christmas Catch-up which was just amazing!!!!

People

Where to start? I have met so many brilliant / fantastic / inspiring naturalists this year. Every single person deserves a big thank you and a hug for being amazing. I’ll try to list them … but I may miss someone out, in which case I’m really sorry, but you’re still awesome!

  • Dorset:
    • Fellow trainees who have been such fantastic friends and fellow conservationists. I may not have seen you in months, but you still continue to inspire me!
    • Staff and volunteers at Dorset Wildlife Trust, but a few in particular: my traineeship mentor Emily, the traineeship manager Steve, Marc at Chesil, everyone who helped at my Big Wild Chesil Event (ah the stress!)
    • Angela and Rowan for being amazing
    • All the Portland naturalists, but especially Sean and Debbie who were patient with my slow progress in learning bird and moth identification!
    • Particular thanks to other Dorset naturalists, Phil and Steve who taught me so much about moths and birds respectively.
  • Wales:
    • Staff at Radnorshire Wildlife Trust for taking me on, and for putting up with my obsession with moths.
    • Rupert at Aber Uni for hearing out my ideas for a new project (soon to be launched!)
  • Groups – this year wouldn’t be anywhere near as awesome if it weren’t for the young conservationists groups that I have joined, it’s been fantastic and I can’t wait to see what we get up to next year!
    • A Focus On Nature
    • Next Generation Birders
    • The Minors (whoo, moths!)
  • And of course, my family and friends who allow me to talk to them on how cool wildlife is

And so whilst finishing this post off, I feel slightly overwhelmed. 2014 has been such an epic year – beautiful places, lovely people, stunning wildlife. Can 2015 compete? Well, I shall shortly be setting myself some Wildlife Resolutions for the new year, and I’ve got an upcoming exciting project. I’m going to be giving it my best shot, that’s for sure!

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Wonderful Wildlife of 2014

We approach the end of the almighty year that was 2014. Whilst 2013 could be called “The Year of South African Wildlife” (albeit there were only four months there, but you know what I mean), 2014 was definitely a year of British wildlife for me.

Lepidoptera

The start of the year saw me quite interested in butterflies and moths, I knew perhaps a couple of species. As I write, I do believe it would be correct to call me obsessed with this wonderful group. I’ll start with the smaller group first, that which is familiar to more people – the butterflies. Out of 59 species, I’ve seen at least 31 – not bad for a beginner who could only just identify the most well-known species at the beginning of the year! I’ve gone on butterfly group walks, set out to see a specific species (Lulworth Skipper – a success btw), and submitted my sightings like a good citizen scientist. Below are a selection of my favourite photos from this year:

And now onto my favourites, the moths! (Though really, butterflies are basically just a group of moths, but that’s for another time). I’m not even sure how many species I’ve seen – a sign I think that I need to get better at recording in 2015! One thing’s for sure though, I’ve seen quite a few, more than I knew existed just a few years ago! I’ve seen tiny moths only a few millimetres long and incredibly large moths that look like birds. I’ve seen a variety of life cycles, I’ve seen day-flying ones, caught ones at night, seen common species, very rare species and many in between!

I’m not sure what my highlights would be, there are so many possibilities!

  • Spotting a Six-belted Clearwing before my keen-eyed fellow Lepidoptera enthusiast
  • Catching 61 December Moths in one night (in one trap!) – when I was only expecting a couple of moths at most
  • Finding the larvae of a micro-moth in its one known location in the British Isles
  • Seeing my first Hummingbird Hawk-Moth on my first day at Gilfach Reserve
  • Catching 5 Merveille Du Jour in only 3 nights of trapping
  • My interest in moths influencing friends and family
  • Finding clothing with a moth design on (naturally I bought them all!)
  • Generally improving my ID skills to the point that I know a number of species without having to look at a guide!

 

Birds

It would be acceptable to say that at the beginning of 2014, I knew how to identify pretty much just your basic garden birds and a couple of other species. I’d heard of a variety of species, but hadn’t pursued learning how to identify them, or ticking them off. That all changed when I arrived at the Chesil Beach Centre in Dorset – with large flocks of birds right in front of me, and a Bird Observatory practically just up the road, it was time to acquire some birding knowledge.

Again, it’s hard to pick highlights, and even when I’m thinking of the possibilities, most of them don’t have accompanying photographs!

Other Beasties

Due to my naivety, I haven’t actually kept a proper list of which other species I’ve seen this year, which is rather silly and a lesson I shall learn from for 2015! As it is, I do know that I saw a number of rather lovely and/or interesting creatures during 2014. I shan’t list them all, but you can see them below.

What of botany?

Suffice to say that my botanical knowledge does need improvement, but then again, it is better than your average layman, and decent for a beginner!

All in all, it’s been a pretty awesome year for me seeing and learning about wildlife – thank you to everyone who has been fantastic in helping me, I can’t even begin to list you all, but you know who you are.

In Good Company

Do you remember my blog post back in September where I raved about how fantastic a certain group called A Focus On Nature is? And I’d gone to their conference and got caught up in an adrenaline high from being around so many young conservationists? Well, I’m back in that mode again!

There is a reason for this mind, it hasn’t just suddenly occurred. I spent a recent Sunday at WWT Slimbridge with a number of other members of AFON. It was great to see them again, and meet new friends. Despite being surrounded by birds, I soon honed in on fellow moth-ers and was nattering again comparing our catches (still haven’t come across anyone catching more than 61 December Moths, so am chuffed with that).

Of course, I did appreciate the birds, how could I not? This visit to Slimbridge saw me ticking off a number of new species for me (both for the year, and for life) such as Bewick’s Swan (looks a bit like a mute swan) and Pintail (which is just such a lovely bird, it’s plumage is stunning!). In the captive animal area, I saw my first harvest mice. Now I’ve seen lifesize illustrations, but it wasn’t til I saw these mice in person that I realised just how tiny they are! It’s ridiculous! So absolutely teeny tiny! Naturally highly adorable, even to the self-admitted non-mammal lover in the group.

During the day, we also watched (via a large screen), the spoon-billed sandpipers being fed – also adorable, heard a talk given by Mya-Rose Craig (aka birdgirl) where she highlighted the oil spill in Sundarbans and the lack of action, had a tour by the senior warden Martin McGill and had an absolutely scrumptious meal at the local pub (highly recommended, both the main and the delicious ice cream!).

Below are various other birds also seen during my visit:

All in all, it was a great day out – many thanks to AFON, and in particular to Matt Collis who arranged the whole day!

Also in December, I had a quick visit to a Sussex Wildlife Trust Nature Reserve – Woods Mill. There is a lovely pond, which must be absolutely buzzing with dragonflies and damselflies during the summer months! It was very still on my visit, a tranquil place to sit by and relax. Though not completely devoid of activity, as I was soon joined by a friendly robin looking for some food. Unfortunately I had to disappoint the little bird as my pockets were bare.

As it was quite still, I took the opportunity to just take a moment and look at parts of nature I might otherwise walk past.

Other blog posts about the AFON visit to WWT Slimbridge:

Wader Quest:  http://www.waderquest.org/2014/12/afon.html

Amy Robjohns: https://birdingaroundhampshire.wordpress.com/2014/12/22/a-focus-on-wwt-slimbridge/

Round and about the place

Winter has set into place in mid-Wales, with some heavy frosts providing some slightly scary commutes (mainly getting out of a very icy driveway!) and even the first snows being reported (and then remaining in place on the very tops of those looming hills).

On one of these oh-so-frosty-and-blimey-it’s-cold(!) days, I headed over to Pant-y-dwr for their Christmas Fayre with a stall for work. It was lovely to meet local people and chat about local wildlife and nature reserves, with a small quiz to test their ID skills. Naturally, I included some moths – two of my favourites, the Canary-shouldered Thorn (which can be seen in this blog post) and the Hummingbird Hawk-Moth (which can be seen in this blog post). A number of people were surprised that they could be moths, after all, moths are viewed as stereotypically being brown, dull and boring! So I have converted a few more people to my Moth Appreciation cause!

To drive there, I went through Gilfach Reserve (what a fab commute hey!). As previously mentioned, it was very frosty! I absolutely had to stop the car and take a few photos because it was just stunning! There is something about frost and nature that is just fantastic. Wait, erase that … nature is always fantastic, no matter the weather!

Later on, I joined the volunteer work party at one of the reserves – Llanbwychllan Lake (which I have previously visited, you can read about my visit here). They were cutting down trees in order to help the wetland grass area – it was very boggy (since I’ve just said wetland, that’s kind of obvious) so I got to wear my fantastic wellies that I got when I was with Dorset Wildlife Trust, they’re so comfy and warm! Due to so much being cut down, a lot of the wood was being burnt in bonfires, which my inner pyromaniac was loving! Fire is just so entrancing, and there is something magical about the wood being burnt.

Oooh, pretty fire

Oooh, pretty fire

As I write, I’m back in London, and have visited my local park. I’m not going to lie, it’s nothing special (as far as I’ve found out anyway) but it is lovely there, and I’ll pretty much always approve of big green spaces that are used by local people. There are a group of ring-necked parakeets living there, and boy do they make a racket sometimes! I didn’t manage to get a decent photo, but the photo below gives you the gist of what one looks like. I also saw a decent sized flock of goldfinches, plenty of starlings, magpies and crows, and very excitingly – a great spotted woodpecker! Although I didn’t get a photo of it (grr!). My dog helped me out with finding wildlife, obligingly picking up a stick that had some interesting slimy stuff on it. Naturally, I photographed it and tweeted it – current suggestion is a Crystal Brain Fungus (thanks Sean Foote and Ryan Clark!).

On a slightly related note, my Caymanian relatives have also found some interesting wildlife recently – one photo of which was put on Facebook and I was tagged because it was of two moths, and everyone knows how much I love moths! Their photos reminded me of some of the wildlife I had seen when visiting them, and I thought I would add in a butterfly photo of mine from Grand Cayman.

And to end, an urban sunset photo.Sunset across the roofs of London

 

PS – My writing is been spreading out from this blog, including this recent post on the A Focus On Nature blog, where I wrote about Chesil Beach and Gilfach. There is a post every day during the Advent period by members of AFON, on the theme of their favourite reserve / patch. I couldn’t decide, so went for both places!

PS #2 – I’m thinking of doing another species / taxon group profile blog post soon, do let me know what you would like me to write about! Perhaps a certain moth? Or maybe a group such as newts or dragonflies?