Let’s go to the beach

This week didn’t kick off with a bang, but rather some very heavy frost. It took me twenty minutes to get into my car on Monday morning it was so iced up! And freezing weather for the rest of the day is obviously the best weather for heading out to a nature reserve. Actually, it was a good idea because 1) the reserve looked awesome in the frost, 2) I got some nice close-up photos of frozen leaves / lichens / etc, and 3) it was actually sunny so the light was good. This was a new reserve to me, Abercamlo Bog, which is quite near to Llandrindod Wells. I’m not gonna lie, I’m pretty chuffed with the last photo, of the fungi. Most fungi photos I take end up looking blurry (unless I use the flash), because the fungi I’ve come across so far seem to not have sharp edges / patterns.

The middle of the week saw me driving south-east back to Dorset. I was visiting the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre for a job interview (I didn’t get it, but I enjoyed my visit and was chuffed enough to have got an interview). I got there super early, so had a lovely (albeit damp) walk along the beach.

At the weekend, I took part in the RSPB’s Garden Birdwatch – a long term citizen science project. I did it twice, first at Radnorshire Wildlife Trust‘s offices in Llandrindod Wells (you can see the results at the Facebook page). Then back at house, where the highlight was 11 Long-tailed Tits at the end of the hour.

After doing the Birdwatch, I went for a walk in the garden. Suddenly above, there appeared 10 red kites, followed not long after by about 100 crows. Evidently, the crows had spotted the kites as they were flying straight towards them and cawing away. Down by the river, I checked the usual rock for otter spraint, no luck. I had been eye-ing up another rock by the river, and managed to find a way down to it. My instinct was right, and there I found some spraint! Relatively fresh as still dark in colour and still whiffy with that distinctive musky smell – a mix of jasmine and fish (as odd as that sounds, that’s what it is!).

And lastly, a rare nice photo of me, taken by one of my line managers last week when we went to Gilfach (as described in last week’s blog post).

*I know that I said that my posts would be fortnightly now, but I underestimated the amount of wildlife I would see during winter!

Off to my summer haunt

You may remember that I was spending rather a lot of time at Gilfach Nature Reserve earlier in the year (well, August). I headed back to this lovely reserve during the week, and it really is just so fantastic there.

I was visiting Gilfach for a specific reason, every autumn madness descends upon the River Marteg as salmon leap up the waterfalls (yes you read that correctly) to reach their spawning grounds further up this tributary. These salmon have been maturing in the Atlantic, facing numerous dangers both natural and from humans. They return to the rivers of their birth to breed again, facing yet more threats as they journey all the up the River Wye. One interesting fact I discovered recently is that upon re-entry into freshwater, they stop feeding in order to develop their gonads. Seems a bit OTT to me, but each to their own. Unfortunately, I didn’t spot any salmon on this visit, but I shall be there again soon enough and they grace me with a view. You can follow the updates on Twitter with my new hashtag – #SalmonAtGilfach (and don’t forget #GilfachReserve, for general wildlife updates there).

Despite the lack of salmon, I had an enjoyable visit. I had roughly 6 layers on – I knew that patience is required to see salmon, so many layers are needed to prevent coldness – and although drizzling, the weather wasn’t too rough. Gilfach is currently a great mix of rusty reds and luscious greens as autumn sets in across the reserve.

I also found a massive pile of otter spraint near the river, so large I believe as it is protected by an overhang which means that it won’t get washed away in the rain. I often get asked how I know when it’s otter spraint, particularly since the size, shape and colour can vary depending on what the otter has been eating. But there is one particular factor that is really distinctive and memorable – the smell! It’s a fantastic smell, and trust me I’ve smelt a lot of different faeces (I used to work / volunteer in a zoo, cattery and animal rescue centre remember). There a whiff of sweetness, usually described as similar to jasmine (I can now no longer drink jasmine tea as a result), with a touch of fish and muskiness. I normally just describe it as a musky jasmine smell. The smell fades over time, so if it’s an older spraint (turned a bit grey), you really have to get your nose in there and take a big old sniff.

This might be why some non-nature people think I’m weird … but I don’t mind, like I said, it’s a relatively decent smell and it’s from an amazing animal. Plus, I’m normally finding / collecting spraint for conservation purposes, so it’s for a good cause.

I also thoroughly enjoyed being by the river, recent rain meant that it was flowing very well (possibly too much for the salmon to leap up against?). It was thundering down against the rocks, so loud that I could barely gather my thoughts! It was truely spectacular and worth going out in the drizzle.

Life is like … buses?

Sometimes we describe things like buses, you wait ages and then three (or more!) come along at once! That is just what happened with me recently – I hadn’t blogged for a couple of weeks as not much wildlife had been seen and I had no activities worth reporting either. Then this week, lots happened and I’m worrying that this blog post may end up being too long!

The week began with one of my favourite activities – moth trapping! I haven’t put my moth trap out much recently because of the weather but the end of last week was relatively mild so I decided to give it a go and hope for the best. I caught some great moths such as Feathered Thorn and Green-brindled Crescent. I also caught four Merveille Du Jour which was pretty awesome because (1) it always seem to cause excitement on Fb/Twitter, (2) the invert (but not moths) county recorder had never seen one but I’d just seen four in two nights, (3) it is a real stunner in terms of its patterning and colouration, and (4) it has a fantastic name!

The middle of the week saw me trekking over to Aberystwyth where I’d been invited to give a guest lecture to third year undergraduates on my personal experience of using Twitter and blogging in science communication. It was really good fun and a great experience, but also very nerve-wracking! I got positive feedback from the lecturer and some students, apparently it was an enjoyable lecture so whoo go me! I also met a fellow moth-er (i.e. someone who traps and identifies moths) so that was nice.

I was also doing some work towards my secret upcoming project (it is getting close to being revealed!), which involved popping into the museum. This was so exciting as I hadn’t actually seen the museum when I was studying there as an undergraduate – it was so thrilling that I even took a selfie which is incredibly rare for me! I also took a photo of Barcode with a platpus skeleton as I was surprised at how small the playpus is! In my imagination it was much large – pine marten size roughly! But actually it’s pretty small!

Thursday had even more excitement as Dr Rhys Jones (from the TV!) was visiting Radnorshire Wildlife Trust to give the Memorial Barnes Lecture. He spoke about his experiences with wildlife, and it was really inspiring to hear how he’d overcome various challenges – both personal and wildlife crime related. If you get the chance to hear him speak, don’t miss on it!

At the weekend, I did the typical thing that a passionate conservationist does on their day off – I did more wildlife / conservation related activity! In this case it was a workshop run by the MISE project / Vincent Wildlife Trust on otter dietary analysis – i.e. taking apart their spraint (aka faeces) to look at what they have been eating. It was really good fun, though quite difficult as deciding which vertebra belongs to which species of fish is rather mind-boggling!

However, it isn’t always just fish bones. There can be amphibian bones, the occasional small mammal or bird bones, and even unexpected objects. One of the spraints I was analysing had some snail shells in it! And a tiny crab claw! For the latter, I don’t think the otter actually ate this tiny crab, but rather it ate a fish who had eaten a crab. As for the snails, it may also be the same reason.

On a separate note, the workshop was being held at a Field Studies Council centre in Pembrokeshire – Orielton. I’ve actually visited the centre before, roughly 7ish years ago, on a school biology field trip. It was nice to visit again, though slightly odd because somehow I staying in exactly the same room as before! How does that even happen?

We took a break from peering down microscopes and headed out to Bosherton Lily Ponds / Stackpole. We found some relatively fresh spraint, though the one in the photo is not the freshest. The beach is also lovely if you do go down there. Plus on the walk back, we met a really relaxed robin who actually fed from my hand! I didn’t manage to get a photo of it doing so, but I did get a cute photo if it nonetheless.

Last but not least, I also saw a cute ladybird (species: Orange Ladybird), who landed on my hand briefly.