Adventures and Learning

I’m writing yet another blog post whilst tired and in recovery from a fantastic few days. Seems to be the way of life for me at the moment, but I’m not complaining!

The week began with office work, which I might have previously thought to be a bit boring. However, I’m working on some exciting projects so the office work is actually enjoyable, especially as I know that the projects will have good end results (fingers crossed!). Additionally I was still buzzing from the AFON conference the week before (hugely inspirational and amazing and such!).

It wasn’t all office work mind, I was instructed to go explore some of RWT‘s nature reserves aside from Gilfach. So I took myself off to Llanbwchllyn Lake, where I had an enjoyable time admiring the lake and the wildlife. I saw one of my favourite birds, the Great Crested Grebe, which is a species that I’ve not seen in ages so I was rather happy.

I also took the time to really appreciate nature, sitting and closing my eyes, listening to the sounds around me – the rustling leaves, the babbling of a bird, the buzzing of the insects. It was nice to take a step back from my usual stance of taking photos of everything and trying to identify everything, and just appreciate it being there. I did also my eyes again to take photos (but without trying to identify the animals).

The reason I’m so tired is that I’ve just got back from a three day ecology course on Animal Diversity, held at the lovely Denmark Farm Conservation Centre. Wow, what a course! My head is absolutely full of fascinating information and interesting facts – sea urchins have a funky anatomical feature called ‘Aristotle’s Lantern’, over 95% of all animals are invertebrates, and platypus (platypi plural?) are really rather odd!

I’d like to take this opportunity to say just how awesome these ecology courses are – they’re provided by the Lifelong Learning department of Aberystwyth University, and they are such fantastic value (£80 early bird for a 10 credit module)! I have done a number of modules now, and I am working towards getting my Certificate in Field Ecology, which is rather exciting. However, the modules can just be taken separately, and even just for fun! Because I love them so much, I have now become a Student Rep for the Ecology courses, so looking forward to getting even more involved with them!

Doing too much cool stuff, as usual!

The week began with a bang, or rather it began with squawking and chirping. I was invited out to the Portland Port breakwaters by Steve Hales who takes me birdringing. The Portland Port Authority and the local birdringers (including Steve) were going out there to ring the chicks of Great Black-backed Gulls (GBBG) – the adults of which are the really big and quite scary-looking gulls.

The chicks however are adorable – incredibly fluffy when young, and actually still quite cute as they get older. We could only ring chicks of certain ages, i.e. once they were big enough for the ring not to slip off, and before they got too big to put the (coloured) ring on. Two types of ring were involved – a metal ring and a coloured ring, both used for identification purposes as part of the British Trust for Ornithology‘s (BTO) ringing scheme.

My first ringed bird!

My first ringed bird!

The latter ring could only be put on the older of the chicks we were ringing, and we almost couldn’t put it on a couple of them (the method for putting coloured rings on is different than for metal rings, due to the material of the ring). In total, we ringed 28 GBBG chicks. We also ringed a couple of Herring Gull chicks with metal rings, as they were nesting nearby.

Putting a ring on

Putting a ring on

So what was the purpose of ringing? By assigning a numbered ring, and thus a specific identification, to each bird, we can keep track of where they are sighted. Through this we can learn more about the different aspects of the bird species – migration patterns, survival rates (both adults and fledgings) and other population information.

I’m very grateful to the birdringers and to the Portland Port Authority for allowing me to go on this trip, it was hugely enjoyable and one of the highlights of my time in Dorset so far.

We saw a range of ages, including chicks that were hatching on the day!

We saw a range of ages, including chicks that were hatching on the day!

Back at the Chesil Centre, I helped with a couple of school groups that we had in. First assisting with a low tide walk with 30-ish young primary school children, then leading a group myself of 15 children. I always love working with children as they are very enthusiastic about everything (hmm … does that sound rather like someone?), and I believe it is important to get children interested in wildlife whilst they’re young. Even if they don’t become scientists, they will hopefully retain an appreciation of wildlife and that we should conserve it.

My appreciation for wildlife was heightened during a trip on the Fleet Observer, this is a glass-bottomed boat which runs trips on the the Fleet. During this trip, we got great views of the underwater world, the Little Terns and even some hares (my highlight of the trip).

I also helped out with a school group up at Lorton Meadows, with one of my favourite activities – pond dipping! I consider this to be one of the best activities to do with children, as ponds are found everywhere (so what they learn will hopefully be remembered easier) and the underwater world is rather mysterious and amazing. We found a variety of creatures including efts (juvenile newts), water boatman and we also saw some dragonflies darting about. After pond dipping, they had a bug hunt in the grasses and caught some interesting insects.

Grasshopper or cricket? I've already forgotten how to differentiate!

Grasshopper or cricket? I’ve already forgotten how to differentiate!

The week finished off with a dash up to Shropshire for an ecology course. I am taking a few modules every year in ecology with the Lifelong Learning department of Aberystwyth University. Although I have a science degree, it is in a subject that I no longer want to pursue and I want to learn more ecology. So by taking these modules I can gain a wide variety of theory and practical knowledge, and even work towards a Certificate in Field / Conservation Ecology. This module was Ecology 1 – i.e. an introduction to the concepts involved in ecology including nutrient cycles, predator-prey relationships and food webs. Although I remember most of it from school, it was very useful to have it consolidated and drawn together.

The course location was at Karuna, a gorgeous family project in the Shropshire AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty). With a passion for trees, permaculture and Insight Design, this is a fabulous example of how living off the land can be done. Whilst not fully self-sufficient, they’re pretty close and it was fascinating to learn from them during the tour. One of the course members described it as “an oasis of hope”, and I thoroughly agree and hope to return there!

Just a quick note about the course tutor – a brilliant ecologist called Dr Jan Martin who seems to be all-knowledgeable! I really enjoy reading her blog which discusses sustainability, and has a brilliant name; The Snail of Happiness.

I do apologise for the long blog post – I guess I must limit the amount of cool stuff that I do! I shall end with a nice photo of the seal that we saw at the Portland Port breakwater.

Seal at Portland Port breakwater

Seal at Portland Port breakwater