The Present is the point at which time touches eternity

AKA, this blog is finally up to date again!

The start of this week was spent in a different line of work than my usual chatting to people about wildlife. However, it very much still involved chatting with people. I was assisting at the International Food & Drink Event, held at ExCeL London Exhibition and Conference Centre, exhibiting instant teas – both the yummy and refreshing YumCha iced teas, and a new exciting (and still unlaunched) product that is instant hot tea. Sounds a bit odd, but produces a fantastic cuppa!

When not chatting, I was staying in Surrey and very happy as there were two gorgeous Labradors to fuss over. As I’m sure you’ll agree, they are just beautiful!

Anyway, back to the subject that this blog is focussed on. There was plenty of wildlife seen / heard. My second morning there had me hearing and seeing my first Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) of the year – a very distinctive call indeed. A walk with the dogs mid-week resulted in my first Buff-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) of 2015. Whilst the workers are indistinguishable in the field from White-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lucorum), the Buff-tailed queen has (as it says in the name) a buff-coloured tail! Whilst she was too fast for a photo, I did manage to track her behaviour – she seemed to be investigating holes in the ground, on the lookout for a nesting site I imagine. The walk also saw me admiring various plants, as you can see in the photos below. I’m sure that the last photo is showing something odd … it’s a twig from an ash tree, but the bud looks to have grown weirdly!

Heading nearer to the river, I had a good wander about – looking at prints in the mud, keeping an eye out for otter spraint (as ever!) and finding interesting things (such as shells). I wasn’t on the lookout for anything in particular (except the spraint of course), when suddenly something marvellous happened. A bright flash of blue along the river, accompanied by a distinctive cry … could it be?! Did that just happen?! Did I … did I just see a Kingfisher?!?! (Alcedo atthis) Why the excitement you might ask … it’s a common enough bird, and I’ve seen rarer ones. However, I have never ever seen a kingfisher in the UK! I’ve seen at least 3 species over in South Africa, but never one here! That’s why it appears on my 2015 Wildlife Resolutions! And now I’ve seen one!!!! I immediately phoned Matt / posted on Facebook / tweeted about it.

Not long after, I found a fantastic spot where I could sit right by the water’s edge. I was hoping the kingfisher would reappear of course. No joy, but I did see one of my favourite small birds – the Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus), and when you see one, you know that you’ll soon see another as they stick together in groups. Sure enough, I saw at least 5. A little while later, I was intrigued by another bird … it looked a bit like a Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita), but it did not sound anything at all like it! For one thing, it was singing its little heart out – Chiffchaffs have that distinctive “chiff chaff” call (hence the name!). I wonder perhaps if it was a Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus – note the similar name, they are of the same Genus)? I’ve since had it pointed out to me that is a Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes), how I didn’t spot that I’m not sure. Most likely because I was completely exhausted from a couple of days of very intense tiring work. Additionally, I’m not sure I’ve ever taken stock of what a wren’s song sounds like – bird ID from calls / song is yet another skill I want to improve upon! The photos aren’t great; it was a bit of a distance away.

As I walked back towards the house, my eye was caught by something on a dandelion. I didn’t expect it to be much, and figured it would fly off straight away, but decided to try and take a closer look. Kneeling in the grass, I snapped a few shots whilst wondering what it was … a hoverfly perhaps. Hm, but no, it doesn’t look right for a hoverfly – maybe some sort of bee? There are 200+ species of bee in the UK after all, and I’ve only tried to learn the bumblebees so far. It was being very helpful and remaining still, likely the chilly air hadn’t inspired it to be very active. I have since learnt (thanks to Ryan Clark) that it is in the Lasioglossum genus of bees, also known as sweat bees, and that it could be 1 of 4 species – L.morio, L.leucopus, L.smeathmanellum, L.cupromicans (who are all very similar and need a microscope to find the differences!).

Back in London again, and I soon ticked off another species for the year – Early Bumblebee (Bombus pratorum). This queen was buzzing about in the garden, and I managed to catch her and have a small photography session. What a beauty she is! Thanks to Ryan Clark (again) for confirming the identification!

The week was finished off with a visit to Capel Manor. I’ve actually spent a lot of time here in the past – it’s quite nearby, absolutely stunning and a brilliant place to spend much of my childhood. Being there as a littl’un, amongst the plants and the animals, has likely contributed to my enthusiasm for wildlife and the outdoors – and thus to where I am (and who I am) today. Despite the miserable weather (it was definitely a waterproofs day!), the gardens and buildings still managed to look fantastic. And Matt saved a worm from being trod on as well.

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Catching Up pt 3

As this blog catches up with the present day, I can reveal even more exciting wildlife sightings. Over at my local park, I spotted my first Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus) in months – whilst my dad recently saw a Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris) there. Spring is started to appear, as buds begin to burst forth and the scent of blossom from unfurling flowers is carried on that still slightly chilly breeze.

I spotted my first non-bumblebee bee (as yet unidentified, I’m not much good [yet] if it isn’t a bumblebee!) of 2015 in the park, feeding on this yellow flower (as yet unidentified, it’s in the list of plants to ID) in the sunlight – wilfully ignoring both myself taking photos and a number of dogs running about and barking (a good game was going on at the time you see).

I have also checked back on the fungi that I saw growing previously – you can see how much it has dried out!

A quick trip down to Dorset saw me getting a number of new year ticks – Blackcap (see below), Brent Goose, Oystercatcher and more, as well as a few lifers!

A tip-off from Glen at the Portland Bird Observatory led to myself and Sean having a wander through the lovely Broadcroft Quarry (do you remember my fantastic visit last year?) in search of the Widow Iris aka the Snake’s Head Iris (Iris tuberosa). As well as being a lovely plant to look at, it was also rather fascinating to watch the bees as they landed on the flower and crawled deep into the funnel to feed. You can see in the second (slightly blurry) photo, that they get rather covered in pollen!

As mentioned, I saw my first Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) of the year at Portland Bird Observatory. What a stunning bird it is! It’s a male – you can tell because his cap is black whereas the female’s cap is red-brown in colour.

A very exciting lifer for me was seeing a Firecrest (Regulus ignicapillus) – again from the terrace at PBO! It was not long before I needed to head off when Glen pointed it out. And not just one, but two! Fantastic! I’d heard Firecrest before, and seen their close relative the Goldcrest (Regulus regulus), but had never actually seen one so I was ecstatic!

On a short visit to Cambridgeshire, I kept an eye on the garden whilst baking (scones btw, they were delicious!). After having seen my first Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus) in months only a few days previously, I was very pleasantly surprised to see another one so soon! More so because after a few attempts, I managed to get a decent photo of it despite (1) being at a distance, (2) taking the photo through a window, and (3) having obstacles in the way!

Not long after, I enjoyed viewing a female Blackbird (Turdus merula) atop the hedge. She was all fluffed up and evidently sunning herself – I don’t blame her! As the sun started to fade, there was an odd-looking bird in the garden. It was a Blue Tit (Parus caeruleus), but it seemed to have a deformity – a huge lump on the back of its neck – and possibly a bald head? It was hard to tell in the light, and the photo doesn’t help much. Has anyone else seen anything like this in Blue Tits? It didn’t seem to be too effected by its misfortune – it was feeding fine.

Catching Up pt 2

Spring truly began for me on the w/c 23rd February. Twice during the week, I saw a bumblebee, though both times it was just a quick flyby. However, on 1st March (when attending the GMS conference), I photographed my first bumblebee of the year! There was much excitement as Matt and I racked our brains, I definitely recognised the species but couldn’t quite remember the name – it had, after all, been quite a few months since I had last attempted to identify a bumblebee! With a vague inkling in mind, I searched through one of the books on sale at the conference and triumphantly pronounced that it was a Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum). This isn’t actually an original native species to the UK, and was first seen here only in 2001 but has rapidly spread since. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust provides a link to an article written by Clive Hill with more information.

As well as the excitement from photographing my first bumblebee of the year, I was enthralled by her behaviour. I believe she must have literally just emerged from hibernation, as she was sitting very still in the sunlight for a good 10-15 minutes – bumblebees need to warm themselves up after emerging.

My next destination was up in Cambridgeshire where I headed to Fen Drayton Lakes. Before I even got there, I was thrilled – as Matt pointed out my first Brimstone butterfly on a roadside verge (whilst I was driving unfortunately so no photo) – a good sign of spring for sure! At the reserve itself, there was another Brimstone that fluttered away annoyingly quickly, Great Crested Grebes performing their courtship dance (too far away for a decent photo) and lovely small birds all over the place – including my first Bullfinches for a number of months and some Long-tailed Tits (always lovely birds to see). Record shots for both I’m afraid.

Now, a focus on Lepidoptera (as usual) – a wonderful group as I’m sure you’ll agree. In London, I received a call to rescue an animal in distress … admittedly it was from just outside my parents’ house, and by my mum. Nonetheless, my inner superhero burst out and I rushed to the rescue! It was a butterfly, a Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) to be precise, resting in the road very close to one of the wheels of my mum’s car. I dashed forward and scooped it up, it needed safety! With a quick glance around to check the scene, I decided that our garden was probably the best spot for it and proceeded to gently release it into its new home. Phew, a good job well done!

But wait! Not all was well! The butterfly seemed to be struggling … what was wrong with it?! A closer inspection was needed and I peered closely, it seemed – oddly – that the very end part of its hind wings were stuck together! I knew I hadn’t touched those parts of the butterfly, so I am still wondering how it happened. Anyway, gently and with great care, I managed to separate the hind wings, hopefully with minimal damage. The butterfly definitely seemed happier (although, do butterflies feel happiness / emotions in general?), albeit that it was in bad condition from its hibernation.

Moth-trapping has of course been continuing in the garden. I’ve not caught a huge variety of species yet, or even large numbers of moths, but it is still better than when we were in the grip of winter! For the most part, they’re LBJs (little brown jobs) but actually, if you look closely you can see that even these LBJs have some intricate patterning! The last photo is of a leaf mine in a bramble plant over in the local park. You can see that one end of the mine is very thin, this is where the caterpillar hatched out of its egg and started munching. The mine gradually gets bigger and bigger, matching the caterpillar’s growth as it wanders around the inside of the leaf. This mine is caused by one of the micro-moths, likely to be Stigmella aurella I think.

Catching Up pt 1

As you will have noticed, I haven’t posted in a little while. I’ve been cracking on with the fun that is writing job applications and whenever I’ve not being doing that, I have been trying to be away from the laptop – whether it’s attending events and exhibitions, or getting out and seeing wildlife.

So over the next few days, I shall try to play catch-up and fill you in on what I’ve been up with a couple of blog posts that will bring this blog up to date. And then spring will really be underway, and I shall be blogging, tweeting and Facebook-ing galore about wildlife and spring!

Thanks to the wonderfulness that is Lucy McRobert and A Focus On Nature, I was able to attend a book launch at Portcullis House for Tony Juniper‘s new book “What Nature Does Britain“. It was lovely to meet a range of new people and hear more about the book (of which I got a free signed copy – as a bookworm with no funds I was thrilled).

The event consisted of a lot of mingling – I felt a little out of place as most of the attendees were directors / chief executives of various Wildlife Trusts, but I found a couple of people I knew and then managed to talk to some new people. The book was introduced by Zac Goldsmith MP (who actually seemed like a nice politician! I was pleasantly surprised!), followed by Stephanie Hilborne (Chief Executive of the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts). Then of course, Tony Juniper spoke to us about the book – where the inspiration for it came from, why it was needed and some key points from it.

Below are a variety of photos taken at the event, (c) Chris Woods / the Wildlife Trusts.

Following on from this, I returned to my favourite topic – moths!! I had come across the Garden Moth Scheme previously, but hadn’t been able to take part. As someone at the start of my conservation career, I move around a lot so wouldn’t have been able to contribute. However, I decided to head over to their conference to learn more about it and to hear some other interesting talks – the Rothamsted insect survey and insect pheromones for example. A number of book stalls were there, as was Izumi Segawa with her amazing Hachiware Art creations. The photos below were taken by Dave Grundy (who incidentally runs moths courses).

My next post shall start to cover some of the wildlife I’ve seen in the last month or so, and what with spring beginning to get itself underway, there are some exciting sightings to report!