Let’s Go Get Away

It being winter still in the middle of nowhere, we’ve had lots of snow flurries recently (and plenty of ice!). I was coming to the end of my contract at Radnorshire Wildlife Trust, and realised that I’d not visited the closest reserve to me – Werndryd. So as the snow started to fall outside the office window, I packed up my laptop and notebooks, drove back to the house. I swapped my work bits and pieces for more layers and two puppies, and we headed out. The light was fantastic, since it was between heavy snow flurries, and I saw a Great Spotted Woodpecker and two birds of prey – Red Kite and Buzzard. Werndryd wasn’t much – but it is mid winter! I admired the large pond and brash piles – they must both be absolutely buzzing with invertebrates in the warmer weather.

Back at the house, a walk around the large garden revealed something rather odd … pink, gelatinous, with a definite shape to it. Apparently it looks a lot like otter anal jelly. Yes you read that right … otter anal jelly. How lovely. And no-one seems to know why it’s produced, suggestions of *ahem* lubricant were offered. Well, indeed. Having seen a number of spraints on the stream, I know that it is indeed used by otters.

Otter anal jelly?!

Otter anal jelly?!

A brief interlude for Welsh wildlife occurred, when I made my way down to Dorset (and back again the same day!) for a job interview at Lulworth Cove. What a stunning place – I’ve visited before of course, having lived not too far away from it last year, and also on a school field trip. The geology of the place is just amazing – beds of rock that were horizontal are now pointing diagonally up at the sky. I’ve made a crude diagram below of some of the rock types there. Naturally, if I get the job, you can expect plenty more information on Lulworth Cove to appear in this blog!

I recently went over to Stanner Rocks and my head exploded. Not literally of course, but I went over with a local ecologist who knows the site well and I learnt so much how plants, geology, birds, and general natural history that I did feel my head was going to explode from all the knowledge I was trying to stuff into it.

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 I think.

The main reason we went there though was for the plants, as Stanner Rocks is a nationally important location for a number of rare plants and lichens. Whilst I went at an awful time of year for seeing the plants – they’re all very small at the moment, and zero flowers are about, at least I got to see them and know where to look for them if I can visit again later in the year.

A lovely finish to the visit was a goldcrest flitting about in the bushes. It flew further away before I managed to get a photo, but the photo isn’t too bad considering it is a fast and constantly moving little bird, and about 60m away from me! A Peregrine Falcon also flew overhead, but I didn’t manage to get a photo of it. The ecologist I went with said that one had been in the trees just before I arrived, hopefully I can show you his photo in my next post!

Blurry Goldcrest from a distance

Blurry Goldcrest from a distance

Below are another few photos I wanted to include – the litter I picked up in a #2minutebeachclean when I was at Charmouth (see this blog post), some books that I’ve treated myself too, and the only wildlife seen on the camera trap I’ve recently put out: myself getting annoyed at the lack of otter spraint!

I find my lack of faith disturbing

(aka I had underestimated just how awesome this traineeship would be)

The original plan had been to write about the traineeship once a fortnight, but that resulted in small essays and cutting out some interesting details. And so for now, I shall be writing every week. The last 7 days have proven my point exactly, three amazingly cool days have happened, each of which could rightly deserve its own blog post.

It all kicked off with a road trip to the Fine Foundation Marine Centre in Kimmeridge Bay for a training session with the two trainees and the marine wardens there. It was a gorgeous day – blue skies, sunshine and just a touch of wind. After a morning of discussing the potential species out in the rockpools whilst we waited for low tide, we headed out to get our feet wet.

High(ish) tide before the sun came out. Jess said: There's a few gulls outside if you want to practice your identification (!)

High(ish) tide before the sun came out. Jess said: There’s a few gulls outside if you want to practice your identification (!)

It began slowly, a few limpets and flat periwinkles until we got past the waterfall and out onto the beds of rock with the pools. And boy, did we find stuff! There were: anemones (of three species), fish, crabs, topshells and shrimps, as well as more limpets (both common and blue-rayed) and periwinkles (and their eggs). Of course, there were a variety of seaweeds but we weren’t examining those this time (that fun is saved for slightly later in the year).

Hello little periwinkle!

Hello little periwinkle!

Flat periwinkle eggs

Flat periwinkle eggs

Blue-rayed Limpet on seaweed

Blue-rayed Limpet on seaweed

Snakelocks Anemone - pretty groovy looking (out of water so a bit less colourful)

Snakelocks Anemone – pretty groovy looking
(out of water so a bit less colourful)

A shy little hermit crab in a purple topshell's shell

A shy little hermit crab in a purple topshell’s shell

Our last exciting find was an unidentified species of chiton, a bizarre looking mollusc. I was congratulated on finding it, but as I said to the others, I was just “thinking seashore creature” (i.e. if I were a seashore creature, where would I be hiding?).

Chiton, photo credit: Philip Abraham

Chiton, photo credit: Philip Abraham

Limpets and rockpool searchers

Limpets and rockpool searchers

On Saturday, the aforementioned Kimmeridge trainees, my Chesil Centre colleagues, and I attended a MARINElife training course on cetaceans and seabirds. I do believe we were all quite blown away by the variety of species found in UK waters. Despite being an all-round naturalist, I will admit to having lacked knowledge on our marine wildlife. And you can add coastal wildlife to that as well, hence why this traineeship is particularly useful for me, I’m learning loads! Did you know that the most of our local dolphins and whales come under the taxonomic group of Odontoceti who are the toothed whales?

A note on taxonomy: Taxonomy is the classifying of organisms (i.e. animals, plants etc) into similar groups dependent on shared characteristics. Thus the dolphins and whales in Odontoceti are more closely related to each other than they are to the other group – Mysticeti who are the baleen whales. 

As well as discussing the species, we were also told about the ferry-based surveys that MARINElife volunteers undertake and introduced to how it all works. Jess had particular fun trying out the Heinemann stick – which is used to measure how far away something is. Interestingly, each volunteer has their own set of sticks (since each volunteer is unique in height/arm length) as one stick is needed per vounteer and a different stick is needed for each ferry that is travelled on (again, ship designs are different).

On a day off, I headed up to the Portland Bird Observatory to introduce myself to the warden there, Martin Cade. Having tweeted to each other about birds and moths, I reckoned it was high time that we actually met in person! I’m particularly keen on the moths as he runs moth traps every night from spring onwards, and fortunately my mentor is happy for me to head up and help out. With the recent weather, it is taking a while to kick off but now that we’re getting into spring, I shall definitely be up there quite often!

I took a walk out to Portland Bill and practised my skills at photographing flying gulls – I definitely need more practice still but I do believe I’m getting better. Naturally, I was also admiring the coastline, it is so dramatic and impressive, especially with the waves crashing in. I was fortunate to see one of the local rock pipits that breed up there, flying about the place and singing away. Great little bird.

Rock Pipit near Portland Bill

Rock Pipit near Portland Bill

Back to PBO, where I basked in the sunshine and made friends with the cat, until I got distracted by the little birds flying to and fro – including goldfinches and greenfinches. I also saw a bee, a toad, newts (either smooth or palmate) and toadspawn. What a day!

Last week a duck friend, this week a cat friend!

Last week a duck friend, this week a cat friend!

Toadspawn

Toadspawn

In smaller news:

  • I contributed to my first school group, giving the introductory talk about Chesil Beach to a Yr 9 group. I was a bunch of nerves but apparently I did really well, so I’m very pleased.
  • The centre had the caterpillar of a Cream-spot Tiger Moth on its outside wall, look up the adult moth, it’s stunning!
Cream-spot Tiger Moth caterpillar

Cream-spot Tiger Moth caterpillar

  • I headed over the road to Hamm Beach to photograph the turnstones (a bird species).
Turnstone on Hamm Beach

Turnstone on Hamm Beach

And at the end of writing this blog post, I find that I’ve still managed to write a small essay even though I’ve missed out a few things! There’s just so much to be learnt and so much going on!

I shall finish with some gull photos as they were lined up rather nicely on the boardwalk earlier this week.

P1180134

P1180136

PS – anyone else liking the Star Wars themed blog title? I think that’s my third Star Wars one now?