Scilly Species Sightings

Last weekend was amazing. One of the best weekends in my life for sure. It was a long weekend, where ten women headed down to the Isles of Scilly to relax, drink wine and watch wildlife. This being a wildlife blog, I shall focus on the latter in this post, but I can reassure you that copious amounts of the first two also occurred. Each day on Scilly deserves its own blog post – in fact, each half of a day! But I shall keep it as short and concise as I can.

It was a false start to begin with, when I got very excited during boarding as I saw an Eider Duck (Somateria mollissima) in the Penzance harbour. The excitement was (a) it is a gorgeous duck, and (b) I thought it was lifer. When I got home, I realised that I have actually seen an Eider Duck before during the Scottish wildlife holiday last year. But still, it was very nice to see it. The sightings continued during the journey on the Scillonian across to the Scilly Isles – Gannet (Morus bassanus), Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis), Great Northern Diver (Gavia immer), and most wonderfully – dolphins (Delphinus delphis)! We saw one playing in the waves created by the boat, only briefly mind, but gosh it was superb. Then not long after, I saw a pod of at least 8 in the distance, leaping into the air. There isn’t much in life that beats the thrill of watching wild dolphins.

Once we were on Scilly, I had the pleasant surprise of watching our usual garden birds on the seashore – House Sparrows (Passer domesticus), Robins (Erithacus rubecula) and Blackbirds (Turdus merula), searching amongst the seaweed for food. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was as I had never seen these birds on a sandy beach before! I even saw a Blackbird getting its feet wet – it didn’t seem to enjoy paddling as it quickly jumped out onto a rock!

The timing of our visit worked very well in coinciding with the very low spring tides, and we were able to walk from Tresco to Bryher (after seeing the Iberian Chiffchaff, Phylloscopus ibericus, and feeding crisps to the Golden Pheasants, Chrysolophus pictus). I had great fun rockpooling between the islands, finding the cast-off shells of crabs, peeking in at Hermit Crabs (Pagurus bernhardus) and generally poking around in the seaweed. At one point I almost died (well, not quite, but it makes it more dramatic), as I found a Short-spined Scorpion Fish (Myoxocephalus scorpius) stranded on the sand and moved it back into the water. Fortunately I picked it up by its tail, as it was only afterwards that I found out that they have venomous barbs which can cause swelling and pain! Yikes!

On Bryher, we had one thing in mind. The Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus)! And what a beauty it was. Though I have to admit, I didn’t realise where it was at first. When I first looked through my binoculars at it, its face was turned away and honestly, it looked exactly like a big white rock. I felt like such a bad birder when I had to have someone tell me that actually, the big white rock was the Snowy Owl – oops! Once it turned its face back towards us, it definitely looked like an owl again thankfully. I have some awful distance photos of it which don’t really do it justice sadly.

After the Snowy Owl trip, we headed out on the Sapphire boat to find some seabirds (and to drink Prosecco). There were Razorbills (Alca torda), Guillemots (Uria aalge), Shags (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) and more Great Northern Divers and Gannets. My avian highlight had to be the Puffins (Fratercula arctica)! I’ve only ever seen dead ones, having worked on Chesil Beach just after the big winter storms in January / February 2014 and found plenty of dead birds on the beach. So I was overjoyed to actually see a live one, happily bobbing on the water. We also saw Grey Seals (Halichoerus grypus), which were great fun to watch as they would pop their heads up out of the water and then disappear again, only to resurface in a different spot.

One of the most hilarious moments of the trip came on Sunday afternoon. We’d had a nice relaxed walk in the drizzle, clambering through muddy woodlands and up hills to find the best apple strudel. By the way, I can confirm that it is the best apple strudel I’ve ever eaten. However, strudel / tea / beer was abandoned mid-bite / drink when Lucy shouted incoherently and ran out the cafe. Beth and I followed, somewhat confused but knowing it must be a good bird. And swooping over the fields, was a Harrier bird. Even distantly and without my binoculars (why didn’t I have my bins?!), I could see a nice white patch on it (ruling out Marsh Harrier, Circus aeruginosus), and very long and pointed elegant wings (apparently ruling out Hen Harrier? C.cyaneus). Lucy called it in as being a Montagu’s Harrier (C.pygargus) – my first!

I’ve not yet mentioned insects, and that’s because it wasn’t a good weekend for them. The drizzle and chill meant the only the most industrious were out and about, the bumblebees buzzing about the flowers. I had hauled my moth trap all the way down there, and despite the low numbers of moths caught, I was quite happy. It was better than the (non-existant) hauls I was catching at home, and there were even (at least) two new species for me: Marbled Coronet (Hadena confusa) and Chamomile Shark (Cucullia chamomillae). I say ‘at least’ because there were a couple of micros that I haven’t identified yet, which may turn out to be lifers for me.

It would be wrong to leave out the dipping*. I didn’t manage to see a Red-rumped Swallow (Cecropis daurica), and when we got back to Cornwall, we tried to see the Dalmatian Pelican (Pelecanus crispus) but we didn’t see it sadly. The twitchers in the group were rather gripped** by others seeing it earlier in the day. However I have to admit that by that point, I was absolutely shattered and worried about getting home too late, so I was less gripped.

Despite writing over 1000 words, I really have only laid out the bare bones of the trip. I haven’t mentioned the superb glamping experience at Peninnis Farm (really not anything like camping at all!), the stunning landscapes, the scrumptious food, the cute cats and dogs that I met (there were a few in particular that I absolutely fell in love with), and the wildflowers that I have been attempting to identify. But I’m sure you get the gist – it was amazing and wonderful, and I want to go back!

*dipping is when you go to twitch/see a bird (or other wildlife) and don’t see it

*gripped off is when someone has seen a bird and you haven’t, and you get rather jealous/annoyed/frustrated

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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.

Here comes the weekend, I get to see the insects

Winter is beginning to settle into the bones now, don’t you think? I’ve had needed to layer up and dig out the thick socks! In the garden, I have been doing some tidying and sorting – pruning of fruit bushes and the hedge. Rather than putting into the green waste bin or straight into the compost, I have made a nice heap of all the cuttings, in the vain hope that I’ll get a hedgehog in there.

Whilst gardening, I was joined by that trusty gardener’s companion, the ever-lovely Robin (Erithacus rubecula). Additionally, I came across a Common Wasp (Vespula vulgaris) in the shed, and some Candlesnuff fungus (Xylaria hypoxylon) by the pond. The latter is a new addition to the garden list, and is quite a distinctive and beautiful fungus species, so do look out for it!

The discoveries continued at the weekend when I attended a course run by the local Wildlife Trust (BCN) – Indoor Invertebrate Techniques, which looked at the different methods for identifying species under microscopes (usually look at their “bits”), for pinning and preserving them. It was highly interesting, though I wish there had been a bit more practical stuff – such as doing some pinning. We did get to dissect a beetle though – taking off its abdomen in order to find its genitalia. Gross, but fascinating.

At Wimpole, they have moved the gorgeous White Park cattle into a field so they are no longer about to keep me company when I am at the Garden Gate ticket office. However, the ornithological gang were about as usual, and of course, I had to take a few photos of them! I counted 11 species on one of the days, which is rather decent for one small spot, plus there were a few species that I know are around there but I didn’t see on that particular day!

At the end of the fortnight, I was headed up to Shropshire as I was treating myself to a weekend away. On a course about dissecting moths to look at their genitals! Busman’s holiday anyone? It was a fascinating weekend, run by Dave Grundy for the Field Studies Council as part of their Tomorrow’s Biodiversity project (and thus very kindly, and heavily subsidised by the project). The first day was given over to demonstrating and attempting the different stages. We were given moths from Dave’s collection of “moths to ID”. I was dissecting a pug moth that had originally been collected in 2002! It turned out to be a male Grey Pug (Eupithecia subfuscata), and although my final slide is a little messy and the bits were all separated and not quite in the right positions, I was rather happy with myself!

The second day was given over to some discussions on the taxonomy of Lepidoptera, including the latest numbering system, followed by more practice in dissecting. On this day, I was doing two moths at the same time – a Copper Underwing sp. and a Common Rustic sp. Upon genital dissection and identification, I was able to say that they were a male Svensson’s Copper Underwing (Amphipyra berbera) and a female Lesser Common Rustic (Mesapamea didyma).

A New Dawn

Well, I am all settled in here in Cambridge, and I have started a new job too! However, I shall come onto that momentarily, as I had some interesting wildlife sightings beforehand.

Before the live wildlife sightings, I took a train ride down to big old London town for a meeting at the Natural History Museum. A wonderful meeting, and in addition, I got a quick tour of Angela Marmont Centre – a resource for naturalists! When we went to look at the specimens, naturally I requested to see the Lepidoptera. How superb it was! I spent much of it just going “oh wow … oh look at that one … oh that’s gorgeous”!

Following this, my parents came to see where I am now living and we went for a lovely autumn wander in the nearby woods and fields. Toby had a wonderful time – lots of new smells to investigate! And then we enjoyed a scrumptious Victoria Sponge that I had made as a belated birthday cake for my mum. I suppose I ought to be modest, but it really was scrumptious.

I’m trying to learn how to garden as best I can. I am not naturally green-fingered but I am giving it a go nonetheless. The pond had been completely covered with grass, so I have been clearing that. I haven’t done all of it yet, I wasn’t sure if I should, but I have done a good proportion of it. And managed to spot a little frog (Rana temporaria) whilst doing so! A couple of days later I was pruning the hedge (which is attempting to take over the garden) and found the summer form of the Hawthorn Shieldbug (Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale, the first generation in spring looks different). Matt and I are collating the garden list, I wonder what else will turn up? Domestic cat has – on numerous occasions!

A Saturday morning dawned bright and mostly clear of clouds, and we took ourselves to RSPB’s Fen Drayton Lakes where autumn had definitely taken hold. However, I did spot a couple of bramble flowers! At the end of October! Very odd, or perhaps not? I’m not sure. From what I remember, we saw almost 50 different bird species in just a couple of hours – including my first Bittern (Botaurus stellaris)! Strangely Matt spotted it from the car park within a minute of getting out the car! Other highlights included Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus), Devil’s Coach Horse Beetle (Staphylinus olens) and Ruby Tiger Moth caterpillar (Phragmatobia fuliginosa). For the latter, I risked life and limb to protect it from cyclists zooming past, before managing to safely relocate it off the path!

And so, suspense over – news of my new job! *drum roll* I am now working in the Visitor Welcome and Membership Team at National Trust’s Wimpole Estate. It’s a beautiful location and the team are absolutely lovely! Do flick through the photos below!

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.

 

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).