#30DaysWild – Days 15 – 22

Ok, so I fell behind somewhat on my #30DaysWild blogging – oops! Not to worry though, I have been connecting with nature every day despite being busy with work, AFON bits and pieces, and general life stuff. I won’t go into every single wild act that happened every day, so here is a summary, shown through my tweets.

Bee Orchids (Ophrys apifera)! ❤ ❤ ❤

Somehow, and after quite a bit of searching, I found the Bee Orchid from last week again. And in fact, I found a further 6 plants! Then later that day, I was informed of two more locations of Bee Orchids on the estate, which is fantastic news indeed.

 

I was able to put the moth trap out at Wimpole for the first time in ages (since I need to be there two days in a row to run the trap). There wasn’t much, but I did catch this beautiful Pale Tussock moth (Calliteara pudibunda).

 

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#30DaysWild – Days 8 – 11

It’s proving difficult to blog every day for 30 Days Wild this year, but there is no need to worry. I am most definitely still connecting with nature every day!

Day 8

I actually had a day off from working on Wednesday (Day 8), though I spent much of it either working on my laptop or working in the garden. However, Matt and I did go for a lovely walk at lunchtime. Alongside admiring dragonflies and butterflies, we also heard a Corn Bunting (Emberiza calandra) and I managed to get good views (but no photos) of a Whitethroat (Sylvia communis).

Day 9

The wildlife spotting started early on Day 9 when we emptied the garden moth trap. There was a good variety of species, above you can see Cinnabar (Tyria jacobaeae), Poplar Hawk-moth (Laothoe populi), White Ermine (Spilosoma lubricipeda) and Green Silver-lines (Pseudoips prasinana). The morning was then further improved when I found out that the abstract I had submitted for giving a talk at Ento ’16 had been accepted!

I was working at Wimpole that day, so I took a lunchtime walk in front of the house. The lawn is absolutely gorgeous, as they let the grass grow long and there are lots of wildflowers amongst it. Including a Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera), as shown below. I think I may attempt to photograph the orchid in flower next week – though I don’t know if I will manage to find it again!

Day 10

On Friday I was working at Wicken Fen, leading KS2 school groups in pond dipping. We caught a silly number of newt tadpoles, and some absolute whoppers of diving beetles and their larvae. I recently learnt that the underside is useful in identifying the different diving beetle species, hence the photos below of their undersides! For example, I am pretty confident that the adult beetle below on the right is a Black-bellied Diving Beetle (Dytiscus semisulcatus). We also saw the food chain in action when a diving beetle larvae was caught with a water boatman in its jaws! I knew they were predators, but didn’t realise that they ate adult beetles of other species!

Day 11

I had yet another day off this week! Very strange indeed. My To Do list was depressingly long so I spent the morning and much of the afternoon attempting to tackle it, but I did manage to get out and visit a local nature reserve in the late afternoon. I decided to local Wildlife Trust reserve, Houghton Meadows. On the walk down the lane, I found a couple of feathers to stick into my hat which was fun.

Houghton Meadows is a lovely place, the fields were just brimming with flowers. Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor) was everywhere, and so because it has parasitic properties on grasses (thus limiting their growth), there were other wildflowers everywhere too: Bird’s-Foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), Ox-Eye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) and Red Clover (Trifolium pratense). The insect population was strong too, lots of Diamond-backed moths (Plutella xylostella), a Common Blue butterfly (Polyommatus icarus) and plenty of damselflies and dragonflies. I had particular fun photographing a male Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens) through the grass stems.

On my walk back to the car, I was thrilled to find a family of Long-tailed Tits (Aegithalos caudatus), as they were one of my favourite birds. Mind you, they are a nuisance to try and take photographs of as they move around so much! However, a couple of these particular birds didn’t move around as much, I think they must’ve been fledglings.

#30DaysWild – Days 6 & 7

day 7

My first act of going wild on Day 6 started early when I released this Elephant Hawk-moth (Deilephila elpenor) into my garden. I had originally collected it as a caterpillar back in Dorset in September / October. Since then, I had been carefully looking after it – feeding it appropriate food when it was a caterpillar (mainly Fuschia, ) and then keeping it cool and a little bit moist when it was pupating. It had come in ever so useful as a party trick, as the pupae moves when touched! But finally, it emerged as an adult on the evening of Day 5. Ideally, I should’ve released it back where I originally found it, but I was no longer in or near Dorset, so I released it into my garden instead. It didn’t seem to mind!

At work, I was doing Wild Art with schoolchildren at Wicken Fen. The main activity is to make a creature from clay and natural materials – hedgehogs are a popular choice, but there were also ladybirds, snakes and swans. Between sessions, I kept my eye out for interesting wildlife as usual. A good find on this day was a Wasp Beetle (Clytus arietis), I’ve only ever seen one before, during the bioblitz at Llanbwchllyn Lake this time last year. One of the volunteers was running the pond dipping sessions and found some Bladderwort. Although it looks quite benign, Bladderworts are actually carnivorous plants which capture prey (small aquatic invertebrates) in their bladders (small sacs) and slowly digest them to absorb nutrients without having to rely on roots.

The following day (Day 7), I was leading some pond dipping sessions with the school groups. We found some excellent creatures – damselfly, dragonfly and mayfly nymphs, a huge diving beetle larva and some newts (one adult Smooth Newt, and two young newts – one with legs, but still with gills, and one that must have only been a few days old). In the afternoon, I shadowed one of the volunteers on the boardwalk session with the school, as I’ve not seen that session yet. I learnt that Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) was used as a poultice for fixing broken bones, where to find Watermint (Mentha citrata) and that there is a subspecies of Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) called the Fen Nettle (U. dioica subsp. galeopsifolia) which doesn’t sting!

I am unsure whether to add Fen Nettle to my Pan-Species List, since it is a subspecies rather than a separate species. However, it is quite distinctive. Hm. Thoughts welcome.

#30DaysWild – Day 2

 

Oops, day 2 passed without me posting my 30 Days Wild! However, I did go out and connect with nature on Day 2. In fact, I even managed to do it before work! I was at Wimpole early yesterday, so I went for a short walk around one of the nature areas looking for insects, flowers and generally getting rather soggy knees. And even a nettle sting when I wasn’t careful enough!

Even in the drizzle, there was plenty to be found, especially because there were so many nettles! I have decided that big patches of nettles are one of my favourite habitats as I find so many interesting insects on them!

I was also thrilled to find some Jelly-ear Fungus (Auricularia auricula-judae), Common Spotted Orchids (Dactylorhiza fuchsii), a huge carpet of bright yellow buttercups and to hear and see a little Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) darting around the trees and singing away very loudly!

A most excellent start to the day!

Fire In My Heart

I had a rather cool evening earlier this week. Now that the evenings are both lighter and warmer, and it feels like summer is not far around the corner (with the exception of this weekend which has decided to be cold, brr!), I can start going on interesting evening adventure trips again. You may remember that I did these quite a lot when I was working in Dorset, because there was so much to explore and so much wildlife to see! And now I get to do it all over again, but this time in Cambridgeshire where there are new places to explore!

Albeit that Tuesday evening’s adventure wasn’t in Cambs. I decided to take inspiration from Bilbo Baggins by going on an adventure outside the Shire! At least, to the next one, Hertfordshire, which I can see from Wimpole Hall.

Anyway, sparked by inspiration with one of the Hall volunteers during the day, I went down to Therfield Heath near Royston (literally just over the border into Hertfordshire!) to try and find a rare flower that is currently in bloom. More on that later. After initially heading the wrong way, where I saw Bulbous Buttercup (Ranunculus bulbosus), a Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) and about six Skylarks (Alauda arvensis), I found myself walking through a sun-dappled woodland.

Male Blackbirds (Turdus merula) were singing beautifully, and a Robin (Erithacus rubecula) was trilling away. And there was a high pitched noise I couldn’t identify. Up in the branches above, a tiny shape flitted back and forth. Never long enough to get a really good look, but enough to see that it was either a Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) or Firecrest (R.ignicapilla). I just needed to get a view of the face to see if there was a black eyestripe over the eye (Firecrest) or not (Goldcrest). Annoyingly, it did what small birds tend to do, and it flitted away. I dug out my phone from my pocket and looked up the Firecrest song, since my hunch was that it was a Firecrest, as I wanted to check my hunch against what I had heard.

So there was I, thinking the Firecrest had disappeared off into the trees, never to be seen again. Note to self – Firecrests have good hearing. A few moments after playing the song, and confirming my hunch, it was back. And oh my, it was in territorial mode. If it had been a human, I would say that it was in my face saying “you what, mate?”. I feel really bad for having played the song now, and affected its behaviour, particularly as this was during breeding season. I have learnt my lesson! I did manage to get a few photos before it flew off again to search for another (real) Firecrest. I also got a number of blurred or empty photos!

Continuing through the woodland, with a melodious background noise of Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) and Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita), I emerged out on the top of a hill in full sunlight. A small note that I was thrilled, as Cambridgeshire is ever so flat and I have been missing the hills of Dorset and Radnorshire! The hillside was dotted with butter-coloured Cowslips (Primula veris) and flowers of a deeper purple, the aforementioned endangered species. The rare and beautiful Pasqueflowers (Pulsatilla vulgaris), although they aren’t so rare on this particular hillside! There were loads of them! It was almost a carpet of flowers.

Aren’t they just stunning?!

I especially love the hairs on the stalk and sepals, and I did some reading up on them – the Wildlife Trusts species explorer page on the Pasqueflower has some interesting, and succinct, information on them.

An Update

Moving house has been fun. However, it has also been stressful, taken up all my free time and at times, it has created difficulties for me as I struggle with the winter blues and the ongoing issue of depression and exhaustion. Particularly when I learnt that the internet wasn’t being installed for a while, and then when the boiler broke during one of our coldest weeks of the year. Fun fun! Being me, I have taken solace in my usual way. Yes, you guessed it, through connecting with nature.

Whilst the odd sign of spring has shown itself, true spring is still a while off. By true spring, I am of course referring to the start of the butterfly and moth season.  My mind wistfully longs for it, and I’ve even been dreaming of Lepidoptera – White Admirals gloriously flutter through my nights, Brown Hairstreaks feed in hot sunshine, whilst Small Coppers are shy and humble amongst wildflower meadows. Spring and summer can’t come soon enough.

Such utterances make it seem like I haven’t found anything worthwhile recently. Which is completely untrue, but I haven’t found all that much in the Lepidoptera department. No, instead, I have contented myself with the beauty of the Avian and Flora worlds.

An unexpected staff illness at National Trust’s Anglesey Abbey during their peak snowdrop season, meant that I was seconded over there for a few days. In addition to testing out the soups and scones of the restaurant team, and keeping track of visitors to their bird feeders, I did my best to learn about their snowdrops (Galanthus). First though, a note about said soups and scones – ever so scrumptious, but I prefer the much cheesier scones at Wimpole. I will also take this time to recommend Anglesey Abbey’s tiffin which is utterly delicious.

As for their avian fauna, it was the usual suspects on the bird feeders, including regular visits by a flock of Long-tailed Tits (Aegithalos caudatus). This species is an ever favourite of mine, despite being so fast-moving and thus difficult to photograph! Most annoyingly, I missed a pair of Crossbills (Loxia curvirostra) that had been reported in the Winter Walk. I went over, with both camera and binoculars, but it seemed they did not want to be seen by me. Oh well, such is life!

Back at Wimpole, I managed to hit a personal record for the number of species seen in a day from the Garden Gate Ticket Office. I had been pleased previously with 12 species, but just last Friday I managed to see a stunning 20 species – including 2 that were new for me in that location: Goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis) and Long-Tailed Tits (Aegithalos caudatus). Of the 12, and then the 20, other species have included Jay (Garrulus glandarius), Nuthatch (Sitta europaea), Buzzard (Buteo buteo) and Goldcrest (Regulus regulus). On Friday just gone, I also saw my first Common Wasp (Vespula vulgaris) of the year, a big beauty that must have been a queen, who buzzed her way around the ticket office until I managed to pot her up and set her free outside.

Now that is all very exciting, but doesn’t quite compare to that of late January / early February when I learnt of a tree that is often favoured by Little Owls (Athene noctua). Having only seen this species briefly and usually at quite a distance, it is fair to say I was desperate to leave the ticket office and see them. Fortunately, I have a wonderful line manager, who also wanted to see them, so off we went! And continuing with the good fortune, the owls posed nicely for a few photos – and have done so again on a couple of days since. I now make a habit of checking aforementioned tree every time I drive into / out of work.

Last week, my line manager and I took a walk into the parkland of Wimpole, discussing some of the history and access that can be pointed out to visitors. In doing so I added some birds to my Wimpole list, and partially worked towards completely my resolution of exploring Wimpole more. New additions to the Wimpole bird list include: Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo), Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula) and Mute Swan (Cygnus olor).  Not particularly exciting I suppose, but it is always good to note them down as records.

What else is there to update on? A few new additions to the garden list at the new house for sure, as our bird feeders have been discovered by some of the locals. Again the usual suspects, such as Goldfinch and Greenfinch (Chloris chloris), but wonderful to see them nonetheless. Whilst digging in the garden to create a vegetable plot, my keen eye spotted a couple of caterpillars and beetles (still to be identified), and later, whilst in the shed sowing herb seeds into pots, I found a beautifully and delicately marked slug (promptly relocated to outside, away from the veg plot!).

Gosh, I almost finished without mentioning one of my favourite events of the year! The National Moth Recorders Conference! I attended for the first time last year and had a blast, and this year was no different. In fact, I could dare to say this year was better. I knew more people, allowed myself to buy a book and soap, and … I contributed to a presentation! Alongside three others, I was representing A Focus On Nature with a talk entitled … wait for it … A Focus On Moths! Simon Phelps began by introducing AFON and University Moth Challenge, followed by Laura Richardson on how she had got into moths, followed by Ben Porter who spoke about the importance of mentors. Last of the four, I spoke about the future, young people and moth recording. Due to moving house the week before, I hadn’t really had time to prepare properly, but I felt it went well and was congratulated afterwards by many for giving a good presentation. In conclusion, Simon finished with thanks to those who are supporting AFON, for being invited to speak, and an invite to attendees to get involved (and who could resist such an invite?).

Sadly it is a while yet before the internet is installed in the house, and so, it could be a while before my next post in all likelihood. However, I am sure I shall be kept busy by the local wildlife and you shall be treated to another post before you know it.

For now, here are a few more photos that I have taken recently at Wimpole.

Back From My Break

You’ll have noticed I have had a bit of break from blogging, initially due to exhaustion  / depression (thanks for the kind words), then finding out that I need to move house and thus beginning the stress of finding somewhere new, packing and such. So I have been a bit distracted lately! I haven’t yet moved, but am using writing as a distraction technique from the moving stress.

Now, what do we need to catch up on? A couple of things, for sure.

  • BBC Wildlife Magazine – I was Highly Commended in their Wildlife Blogger Awards 2015 which is super exciting and so wonderful to get such amazing feedback on my blog. Full details of Winners and other Highly Commended bloggers on the BBC Wildlife website.
  • We got a cat! And one of the feline variety, rather than a moth caterpillar as is the normal way for us (well, me). She is called Mowgli, she is three (ish) years old and we got her from a local animal shelter. She is very funny, though not always keen on being affectionate.
  • I got a moth cat.! It was found in Kent just after Christmas, and I will admit to being a little anxious about it. The last green caterpillar I picked up and tried to rear died on me, but the online Lepidoptera community identified for me as an Angle Shades caterpillar (Phlogophora meticulosa). It has now made its cocoon and is pupating. Updates will follow.  Other wildlife was also photographed in Kent, though I don’t know what they all are – i.e. the fungus.

 

I still haven’t had a chance to properly get out into the parkland of Wimpole and discover what wildlife lives there, but I hope to do so soon. Nonetheless, I have of course been keeping track of the wildlife I have seen. My Wimpole bird list is steadily increasing, with the most recent species added to the list being Greenfinch (Chloris chloris), Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus), Nuthatch (Sitta europaea) and Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris). The usual bird suspects have of course been seen on a regular basis, plus some other wildlife – Small Tortoiseshell butterfly (Aglais urticae), Mottled Umber moths (Erannis defoliaria) and Two-spot Ladybird (Adalia bipunctata). The Winter Aconites (Eranthis hyemalis I think) in front of the restaurant are looking good, and the Snowdrops (Galanthus) in the garden too apparently (though  I haven’t seen them yet).

I also found a very interestingly-coloured feather (see below). The iridescent blue / green colour isn’t due to the photo, it’s the actual colour. What do you think it could be?

In addition to keeping track of my own wildlife sightings, I have obtained a diary for 2016 that can be used by other members of the Visitor Welcome Team to note down what they see. I hope to collate the data and send it off to the local records centre and the county recorders. I am also encouraging other staff, volunteers and visitors to add in their sightings too, through word of mouth and writing a small piece for the Wimpole Herald (the in-house newsletter). I have had great fun creating it as I have cut out pictures of British wildlife from some old BBC Wildlife Magazines, and have stuck them in and annotated them. Good learning experience for me, and hopefully others will enjoy flicking through it during the quiet moments at work.

A last note on Wimpole. I had my first lunch break in the restaurant this week, and it was delicious! Sitting with the Head Gardener and his wife, they informed me that the soup was made from squash they had grown. How wonderful! Plus the homemade foccacia and cheese scone were scrumptious! I should treat myself to lunch there more often!

One freezing day, we decided it would be a good idea to visit RSPB Fen Drayton Lakes. It was lovely, but I am not particularly good at standing still in the cold waiting for a Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) to appear. I went for a wander instead to keep warm and to practice my bird identification skills.

Last but not least, I want to share the good news that I have already completed one of my 2016 Wildlife Resolutions! I took part in the BSBI New Year Plant Hunt, although I will admit that Ryan Clark had to help with the identification of many of them. I did recognise a good few though, such as the beautiful Blackthorn flower (Prunus spinosa), plus some other wildlife about. A male Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) taking a break from hunting and a group of Long-tailed Tits (Aegithalos caudatus). Sadly I only have blurry photos of the last, the combination of amateur photographer, fast-moving birds and poor lighting does not work well.