So long and thanks for all the proverbial fish, Part One

Having been visited by my parents, packed up my belongings in Dorset, finished my job, had a mad couple of days getting my car fixed, and finally moved house, I have finally got to the end of a very hectic couple of weeks. Despite being so busy, I have still managed to get out and about to see some wildlife!

w/c 5th October 2015

A great start to week at the Chesil Beach Centre. Despite getting confused by Sophie’s directions to the Starry Smooth-Hound shark (Mustelus asterias) as I thought she meant the other bridge, I had a lovely wander looking at crabs and picking up litter. I also spotted my first Brent Geese (Branta bernicla) of the autumn, though they were pretending to be interior design (flying ducks anyone?).

I swapped locations and spent a few days at Lorton Meadows, managing to spot two Roe Deer (Capreolus capreolus) from the office! They can often be seen grazing in the play / picnic / pond area. Whilst a bit cautious, they spent a fair bit of time there before disappearing into other fields.

A new experience for me when our wildlife camera person came to check that the Barn Owl (Tyto alba) box and camera were still in good condition (they are), and I got to go up into the loft. Ignoring the anxious voice inside me muttering about heights, I went up and looked at the box for the first time – in which we found seven Small Tortoiseshell butterflies (Aglais urticae) hibernating!

As the name suggests, at the end of the week came the weekend! Sadly it was my last full weekend in Dorset but I made the most of it! My parents came down to see me and amongst visiting awesome places, we also went out to local restaurants and watched a sunset over the Fleet. Our first location of awesomeness was RSPB Arne Nature Reserve in the Purbeck area of Dorset. I have been meaning to visit for ages and despite a touch of chill in the day, it was fantastic – dragonflies, birds, fungi, deer and more!

The weekend wasn’t over yet though! Oh no, we also went to watch Motor X on Weymouth Beach followed by a visit to Portland Castle! Naturally, I was most interested in seeing what wildlife was about, but I did enjoy reading about the castle’s history, using their interpretation and playing (well, winning) a game of Nine Men’s Morris with my dad. The game is basically a big version of Noughts and Crosses, and was good fun to play. I am tempted to make my own set!

Crossing the bridge to see the rest of the gardens, I found a ladybird wandering around on a bush. The proceeded to find another 100+ ladybirds – some in larvae form, some as pupae and some as adults. I found three different species, but also a couple of different versions of some species. For example, the Ten-Spot Ladybird (Adalia 10-punctata) has a few possible colour variations. Flick through the photos below for the identifications, or you can look at my Twitter thread on them.

The larvae look like they are quite evil, don’t you think?

I couldn’t let my parents without taking them to Lorton of course! Neither had been before, so a late evening walk across the meadows was perfect. As well as pointing out the birds, we ate blackberries and I showed them oak galls. In the pond area I found an Elephant Hawk-Moth caterpillar (Deilephila elpenor), which was rather small so presumably one of the earlier instars (stages of being a larva). It looks like it is plotting world domination!

And the aforementioned sunset, such beauty to finish off my penultimate week in Dorset.

 

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Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,

A bewildering start to the week, as I awoke in the east side of Dorset. Not by magic mind, I had travelled over on Sunday evening to visit a friend who has just started a Masters at Bournemouth University. Watch out Bournemouth! A lovely start to the week, due to seeing both my friend and also a Red Admiral first thing in the morning. As she (my friend, not the butterfly) went off to her first lectures of the term, I wondered how to pass the time for the rest of my day off. There was no question of course – at a nature reserve! But which one …

I settled upon Dorset Wildlife Trust’s Upton Heath Nature Reserve, as it had been over a year since I had visited, and I haven’t wandered around heathland much. Naturally I popped my head around the door at the Beacon Hill Urban Wildlife Centre to say hello, then headed out to see what I could discover.

Ah, heathland … still purple in autumn, with the bright splashes of other colours, plus the more subdued oranges and browns of drooping leaves and partially hidden fungi. The quick glimpse of a snake as it is startled by my footsteps and slides away into the gorse and heather. (I think it was a Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca), but not 100% sure as I haven’t got much experience with snakes).

I was drawn to examine the stems of the plants as I could hear the singing of a cricket … it took me a while, but I finally spotted a male singing away. It was a Bog Bush-Cricket (Metrioptera brachyptera), a new species for me and my eighth Orthopteran. I soon found a couple more, including one with the green patterning.

I also saw a couple of different grasshoppers and a groundhopper, but I haven’t yet worked out which species they are. With the grasshoppers, I think one of them was a Meadow Grasshopper (Chorthippus parallelus), and the others are Field Grasshoppers (Chorthippus brunneus). The groundhopper is most likely a Common Groundhopper (Tetrix undulata).  I also took a video of the bush-crickets/grasshoppers singing, but haven’t uploaded it yet.

And then the fungi … no idea what they were, but they look rather cool!

A few days of working at Lorton, and I made sure to eat my lunch outdoors. I had allowed myself to get into the bad habit of eating at my computer, which is not at all healthy. I even sat in the sunshine by the pond for my lunch, which was just lovely – and still warm despite being the beginning of October! I enjoyed watching the dragonflies zooming about – and even managed to get a few shots of one in flight. A tad blurry, but the best I’ve ever got! This particular one was very curious and kept flying over to see what I was doing (or to work out what I was?).

At one point, I was rather startled as suddenly a bird appeared suddenly overhead and splashed into the pond. A duck! Rather surprisingly, this is actually the first duck I’ve seen at Lorton! I wonder if she was hiding from a bird of prey?

A few more photos from lunchtime outside, including a slow-worm (Anguis fragilis) who was really chilled out and let me take lots of photos!

A post-work weekend walk with Sean took us down to Two Mile Coppice as we peered into the undergrowth attempting to find fungi. However, it has been rather dry recently so we weren’t expecting much. We found a few scattered about though and Sean managed to identify a few (I got one too, wahey!).

End of the week, I was sleepy and wanting my bed. But I headed up to Portland to show Christina and Amy (two of the trainees) where the Portland Bird Observatory is. We saw a Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) in the PBO garden, plus the Little Owl (Athene noctua) in the quarry, ate plenty of blackberries, saw some tiny caterpillars and listened to Great Green Bush-Crickets (Tettigonia viridissima). All in all, a very nice Sunday evening.

As I finish writing up this post, I can hear the wind howling outside. Looks like our spell of good weather is over for now! I wonder if there will be any more decent periods of weather before I leave Dorset? There’s still so much to see and do!

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent Dorset Wildlife Trust’s positions, strategies or opinions (or any other organisation or individuals for that matter).

 

Autumn is coming. Actually, it’s here already!

I know I have been saying it for a little while, what with the ripening berries and the variety in, and number of, butterflies seen declining, but summer is truely ending and autumn is upon us. Now the majority of berries I’ve seen are ripe, though a few are still lagging behind. It’s a pleasant surprise, but not yet very uncommon, to come across some flowering buddleia. I suppose that’s how the remaining butterflies feel too. Our September seems to be rather mixed so far, a few glorious days but also a few days of utter downpours. I don’t feel it is qualified to be an Indian summer, but then I’m not entirely sure of the definition … something else to read up upon!

Lorton Meadows revealed a couple of its secrets to me this week, though I am aware that it stills keeps me in the dark as to much of what it contains within its green fields, sun-dappled woodland and shimmering ponds. You will note the slight creativity creeping into this blog post. I now have less than a month until the end of my contract and am feeling rather sad about leaving Lorton Meadows. I have come to love it, and can you blame me? I feel a blog post devoted to the wonders of Lorton Meadows coming on …

Anyway, back to the wildlife at Lorton. After the dismal failure of my moth trapping the previous weekend, I was looking forward to an activity that never lets me down – pond dipping! Before I even got to that, my day started well with a new species on the porch wall of my landlord’s house. An unexpected Speckled Bush-Cricket (Leptophyes punctatissima)! And then a new moth species at Lorton, a Red Underwing Moth that would not let itself to be photographed.

That day, I ran an evening session with a local group of Brownies, with pond dipping and a meadow minibeast search. Despite having done pond dipping a couple of times, we still managed to turn up a couple of new creatures for me!

Two terrestrial larvae were also discovered during our session. One was a bright orange creature, crawling across one of the tables during the pond dipping. Of course, I hoped it was from the Lepidoptera group (butterflies & moths), but it turned out to be a new Hymenoptera species for me – the larva of a Poplar Sawfly (Cladius grandis)! Then we found a number of Fox moth (Macrothylacia rubi) caterpillars crawling about in the meadow. I warned the children that they need to be careful of fluffy caterpillars (the hairs can cause rashes), but truthfully I’m not sure if the Fox moth caterpillar is one of those to be careful of?

A downpour mid-week didn’t inspire me to take a wildlife wander, but I just had to on Friday. Lovely sunshine outside and I was spending a lot of time at my laptop! I am very glad that I did, as I identified at least 11 different insect species, plus found a new fungi species. New to me, not new to science, I should add!

The new fungus was a Shaggy Ink Cap (Coprinus comatus), sometimes known as Lawyer’s Wig or Shaggy Mane. There were at least ten fruiting bodies (the mushroom part, I think) spotted around one area – I bet they are all connected though. Fungi has a tendency to do that I vaguely remember. The fruiting bodies were all in different stages of development (ripeness)? I think I’ve put the ones I saw into the correct order of development below (left to right, top row then bottom row).

The weekend rolled around, as it is wont to do, and I headed north to Malvern (Worcestershire). A garden stroll resulted in a surprise new species tick – a Hempiteran, the Hairy Shieldbug (Dolycoris baccarum). Pottering further around the garden, I examined spiders, spotted five 7-spot Ladybirds (Coccinella 7-punctata) and took photos of some hoverflies with the vague hope that I will get around to identifying them at some point!

End of the week, and time to head back to Dorset. Via Cambridge. Because I’m logical like that. No, truthfully it was to give Matt a lift back – typical train engineering works would have meant a very long and arduous journey for him. The warming autumn sunshine (with the right level of breeze) was a perfect for an afternoon walk. As I commented to Matt, there were much fewer butterflies as well as a number of other changes as the seasons plod on. The leaves are losing their green pigment, and flashes of yellow, orange, red and brown can be seen as the trees dance in the wind. Ivy flowers are starting to bloom, much to the delight of the pollinators, whilst the lanes are busy with local people foraging berries – blackberries, elderberries and of course sloes to make some sloe gin. Scrumptious!

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent Dorset Wildlife Trust’s positions, strategies or opinions (or any other organisation or individuals for that matter).

A little bird said …

This week I had the almighty pleasure and joy of taking over the Biotweeps account. This Twitter account is curated by a different biologist each week, who discusses their research, knowledge and interests. From a cursory glance over the contributors, the majority are in academia, but I queried whether a naturalist could curate for a week – with an affirmative answer!

During the week I wanted to cover a variety of things across two topics: people and nature, and pure wildlife. One of my regrets is not setting aside enough time to plan thoroughly and thus fit more in. Nonetheless I fit in a fair amount:

  • twitching and panspecieslisting
  • mental health and nature
  • young people and nature (including A Focus On Nature of course)
  • wildlife recording
  • getting a career in conservation
  • mammals of the UK
  • moths
  • butterfly identification
  • photos from scotland / south africa

You can see a selection of my tweets in the images below.

As I began my tweeting, I made sure to venture out into the sunny garden in Cambridge a couple of times, spotting a couple of different insects about, although the Old Lady moth (Mormo maura) had been caught in Matt’s moth trap. I’m not sure how clear it is in the photo – but the wasp is eating a fly caught in a spider’s web!

On the way back to Dorset from Cambridge, I popped into my parents’ house in north London where I was promptly distracted by a jam doughnut, plus a Hornet hoverfly (Volucella zonaria), a Large White butterfly (Pieris brassicae) and a dead bumblebee in the garden.

In work this week, there was a lot of sitting inside working away at various tasks, but I managed to get out for a couple of walks and see some wildlife – including a Wasp Spider (Argiope bruennichi) in a field that hasn’t got any records for them as far as I know! I attempted to do a bit of moth trapping at Lorton for Moth Night – but caught mainly Hornets (Vespa crabro), so I gave up after a little bit. Luckily the hornets weren’t in stinging mode so I was able to get them out of the trap without getting hurt myself! However, I did find a few moths, albeit not in the trap itself!

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent Dorset Wildlife Trust’s positions, strategies or opinions (or any other organisation or individuals for that matter).

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.

Time enough for life, to unfold all the precious things

Before I crack on with my most recent wildlife adventures, I would like to quickly refer back to my blog post when I went to Stanner Rocks. First, to show two extra photos – taken by the local ecologist, Andy Shaw, I went to the reserve with. One shows myself, hunched over some plants to take photographs. The other shows a Peregrine Falcon, which had been at the reserve mere moments before I arrived (typical!).

Second, despite the praise that I heaped on Stanner Rocks, I managed to miss out some very vital information. Obviously, you’ve already read how it’s a nationally important site for plants. What I forgot to include there, is that it is the only UK site for a number of plants – the Radnor Lily (Gagea bohemica, pictured below beginning to bud) and the Perennial Knawel (Scleranthus perennis ssp perennis) for example. In addition, a number of other rare plants are there – Upright Clover (Trigolium strictum), Sticky Catchfly (Silene viscaria), Spiked Speedwell (Veronica spicata), Rock Stonecrop (Sedum fosterianum), Pale St John’s-wort (Hypericum montanum), Upright Chickweed (Moenchia erecta), and that’s without even mentioning the lower plants! There are rare mosses (apple moss sp, Bartramia stricta), liverworts (Black Crystalwort, Riccia nigrella) and lichens (Elm Sap-weep Lichen, Bacidia incompta) there too!

So if you end up in the area and fancy visiting somewhere amazing, Stanner Rocks is a good bet. But remember, my note from last time:

NOTE: Should you wish to visit Stanner Rocks, there is very limited access due to the sensitivity of the plants and that the landscape can be quite hazardous. Contact National Resources Wales should you wish to visit!

Now onto animals again. Finding myself unemployed when my contract at Radnorshire Wildlife Trust came to an end, I was feeling a little bit down. However, I realised that this is actually a blessing in disguise (as long as the unemployment doesn’t stretch for too long). First, being unemployed means job interviews, and being in the conservation sector, this means job interviews in fantastic locations – you’ve already seen my visits to Charmouth  and Lulworth Cove, and later in this blog post you’ll see another brilliant location. Second, being unemployed gives me some time to focus on wildlife a bit more – whether it is reading some fantastic books, or discovering wildlife in my local park (see later in this post).

So the year has been passing us by, and as I write, we’re already nearing the end of February! I was beginning to get a little frustrated – I’d not yet caught any moths! But all this was to change upon my return to London. Feeling hopeful, but resigned to reality, I set out my trap in the suburban garden. Lo and behold, the next morning revealed two moths! A Satellite (Eupsilia transversa) and a Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica), so as you can imagine I was utterly thrilled! Whilst I’ve not caught anything since, I am still riding on the joy that I’ve finally caught my first moths for 2015.

Being back in London doesn’t mean I’m only in London. Fortunately for me, my parents have a little flat down in Kent, and I wasn’t back from Wales long before we headed down there. An extra bonus is my parents’ ownership of a small motorboat, and soon we were out on the river. I even had a go at steering! But only when the river was straight and there were no other boats about – I’m not a confident person on boats.

Whilst this trip was lovely, I found myself getting very frustrated as there was litter everywhere! The storms / floods of 2013-14 had washed a lot of debris into the river, and it’s still there! Upon returning to the flat, I bought myself some marigolds (Fair Trade rubber!) with which to do litter picking – you may remember that picking up more litter is one of my 2015 wildlife resolutions. Another resolution is to see a kingfisher, and I was feeling hopeful on this trip as my parents often see one on the river. Alas, it was not to be.

During this week, I had the good fortune to be invited to WWT Slimbridge in Gloucestershire for a job interview. Whilst I didn’t get the job, it was a really fantastic day and I had the opportunity to play around with the settings of my camera (another wildlife resolution). I didn’t get any lifer bird ticks (i.e. birds I’ve not seen before), because apparently you can’t count the cranes / smews at Slimbridge for some reason. However, I did get a number of year ticks. In addition, I managed to see a male Reed Bunting in winter plumage – having only seen one in summer plumage previously. Well done to my dad for spotting it – I was busy attempting to get a half-decent photo of the Water Rail.

Naturally, there weren’t just birds at WWT Slimbridge. I’ve not yet worked out what the fungus is, a task for me to undertake. I knew the flower straight away – Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), which is another name for Sloe. The flower is very similar to that of Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), but the leaves of the two plants are different and the leaves of the Hawthorn come out before its flowers (vica versa for Blackthorn). I just had to include a photo of the otters at Slimbridge – they’re such beautiful creatures.

And on the way back from Slimbridge, I was invited to pop in and see Sally-Ann Spence, aka Minibeast Mayhem. I do believe that she is one of the loveliest and most inspirational people I have had the good fortune to meet, and I look forward to our future chats about bugs, the environment and life in general.

This brings me to my walk in the park. And what a walk it was! It was only going to be a standard lunchtime dog walk, and I took my camera along just in case – you never know what you might see after all! I made the decision to do a bit of digging around, and ending up stripping some bark from a fallen branch – resulting in lots of invertebrates (many are still being identified!). Not long after, I came across a good variety of fungi as well. What I found particularly interesting whilst there, is that nobody asked me what I was looking at! I wonder how many people walk past these fantastic species / habitats and don’t take a closer look at them?

 

My dog was very patient with me, bless him. When he was younger, if we stood still for too long he would get bored and start barking at us. But this time, he just found himself a stick to chew on whilst I was busy looking at and photographing the wildlife. He can be quite helpful sometimes – you may remember that I found some Crystal Brain Fungus (Myxarium nucleatum) back in December at my local park, which was on a stick he wanted to play with.

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!