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!

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).

Pre-Birdfair Wildlife Adventures

The week was all about Birdfair, except that I had four days before it began. Which, to be fair, were pretty awesome days in themselves. So I shall cover those before I even attempt to write about Birdfair – which is going to require a separate post(s?!).

It began on a lunchtime wander at Lorton, with the realisation that autumn has started to creep upon us … quite a few of the flowers are gone, and berries decorate the bushes instead. However, there are still some butterflies flitting about! Plus it was a warm sunny day in which I could take yet more photos of the Wasp Spiders (Argiope bruennichi) which are now in my favourite animals list (a long list I’ll admit).

Mid-week led to the final preparations and unveiling of our hand-printed animal (remember last week’s fun?) – a basking shark for Weymouth Carnival! Due to my back issues (can’t carry anything heavy) AND my short stature (causing lopsidedness), I was unable to help with carrying the shark. However, that was ok with me as I got to be jellyfish! A dancing one at that! Despite the rain and wind, we had a fantastic time, but we are still waiting to hear who came first out of the walking floats, sure it had to be us?!

Thursday was a little bit of a struggle for us at Lorton and Chesil – we were all trying to recover from Carnival. It was surprisingly tiring, and the weather had undoubtable made it worse. At Lorton, the rain was continuing and I had to lead a butterfly activity! Luckily I had plenty of activities to replace looking for butterflies – including making a butterfly mask using one of the resources on the Wildlife Watch website. What do you think?

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).

The Present is the point at which time touches eternity

AKA, this blog is finally up to date again!

The start of this week was spent in a different line of work than my usual chatting to people about wildlife. However, it very much still involved chatting with people. I was assisting at the International Food & Drink Event, held at ExCeL London Exhibition and Conference Centre, exhibiting instant teas – both the yummy and refreshing YumCha iced teas, and a new exciting (and still unlaunched) product that is instant hot tea. Sounds a bit odd, but produces a fantastic cuppa!

When not chatting, I was staying in Surrey and very happy as there were two gorgeous Labradors to fuss over. As I’m sure you’ll agree, they are just beautiful!

Anyway, back to the subject that this blog is focussed on. There was plenty of wildlife seen / heard. My second morning there had me hearing and seeing my first Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) of the year – a very distinctive call indeed. A walk with the dogs mid-week resulted in my first Buff-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) of 2015. Whilst the workers are indistinguishable in the field from White-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lucorum), the Buff-tailed queen has (as it says in the name) a buff-coloured tail! Whilst she was too fast for a photo, I did manage to track her behaviour – she seemed to be investigating holes in the ground, on the lookout for a nesting site I imagine. The walk also saw me admiring various plants, as you can see in the photos below. I’m sure that the last photo is showing something odd … it’s a twig from an ash tree, but the bud looks to have grown weirdly!

Heading nearer to the river, I had a good wander about – looking at prints in the mud, keeping an eye out for otter spraint (as ever!) and finding interesting things (such as shells). I wasn’t on the lookout for anything in particular (except the spraint of course), when suddenly something marvellous happened. A bright flash of blue along the river, accompanied by a distinctive cry … could it be?! Did that just happen?! Did I … did I just see a Kingfisher?!?! (Alcedo atthis) Why the excitement you might ask … it’s a common enough bird, and I’ve seen rarer ones. However, I have never ever seen a kingfisher in the UK! I’ve seen at least 3 species over in South Africa, but never one here! That’s why it appears on my 2015 Wildlife Resolutions! And now I’ve seen one!!!! I immediately phoned Matt / posted on Facebook / tweeted about it.

Not long after, I found a fantastic spot where I could sit right by the water’s edge. I was hoping the kingfisher would reappear of course. No joy, but I did see one of my favourite small birds – the Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus), and when you see one, you know that you’ll soon see another as they stick together in groups. Sure enough, I saw at least 5. A little while later, I was intrigued by another bird … it looked a bit like a Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita), but it did not sound anything at all like it! For one thing, it was singing its little heart out – Chiffchaffs have that distinctive “chiff chaff” call (hence the name!). I wonder perhaps if it was a Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus – note the similar name, they are of the same Genus)? I’ve since had it pointed out to me that is a Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes), how I didn’t spot that I’m not sure. Most likely because I was completely exhausted from a couple of days of very intense tiring work. Additionally, I’m not sure I’ve ever taken stock of what a wren’s song sounds like – bird ID from calls / song is yet another skill I want to improve upon! The photos aren’t great; it was a bit of a distance away.

As I walked back towards the house, my eye was caught by something on a dandelion. I didn’t expect it to be much, and figured it would fly off straight away, but decided to try and take a closer look. Kneeling in the grass, I snapped a few shots whilst wondering what it was … a hoverfly perhaps. Hm, but no, it doesn’t look right for a hoverfly – maybe some sort of bee? There are 200+ species of bee in the UK after all, and I’ve only tried to learn the bumblebees so far. It was being very helpful and remaining still, likely the chilly air hadn’t inspired it to be very active. I have since learnt (thanks to Ryan Clark) that it is in the Lasioglossum genus of bees, also known as sweat bees, and that it could be 1 of 4 species – L.morio, L.leucopus, L.smeathmanellum, L.cupromicans (who are all very similar and need a microscope to find the differences!).

Back in London again, and I soon ticked off another species for the year – Early Bumblebee (Bombus pratorum). This queen was buzzing about in the garden, and I managed to catch her and have a small photography session. What a beauty she is! Thanks to Ryan Clark (again) for confirming the identification!

The week was finished off with a visit to Capel Manor. I’ve actually spent a lot of time here in the past – it’s quite nearby, absolutely stunning and a brilliant place to spend much of my childhood. Being there as a littl’un, amongst the plants and the animals, has likely contributed to my enthusiasm for wildlife and the outdoors – and thus to where I am (and who I am) today. Despite the miserable weather (it was definitely a waterproofs day!), the gardens and buildings still managed to look fantastic. And Matt saved a worm from being trod on as well.

Catching Up pt 2

Spring truly began for me on the w/c 23rd February. Twice during the week, I saw a bumblebee, though both times it was just a quick flyby. However, on 1st March (when attending the GMS conference), I photographed my first bumblebee of the year! There was much excitement as Matt and I racked our brains, I definitely recognised the species but couldn’t quite remember the name – it had, after all, been quite a few months since I had last attempted to identify a bumblebee! With a vague inkling in mind, I searched through one of the books on sale at the conference and triumphantly pronounced that it was a Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum). This isn’t actually an original native species to the UK, and was first seen here only in 2001 but has rapidly spread since. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust provides a link to an article written by Clive Hill with more information.

As well as the excitement from photographing my first bumblebee of the year, I was enthralled by her behaviour. I believe she must have literally just emerged from hibernation, as she was sitting very still in the sunlight for a good 10-15 minutes – bumblebees need to warm themselves up after emerging.

My next destination was up in Cambridgeshire where I headed to Fen Drayton Lakes. Before I even got there, I was thrilled – as Matt pointed out my first Brimstone butterfly on a roadside verge (whilst I was driving unfortunately so no photo) – a good sign of spring for sure! At the reserve itself, there was another Brimstone that fluttered away annoyingly quickly, Great Crested Grebes performing their courtship dance (too far away for a decent photo) and lovely small birds all over the place – including my first Bullfinches for a number of months and some Long-tailed Tits (always lovely birds to see). Record shots for both I’m afraid.

Now, a focus on Lepidoptera (as usual) – a wonderful group as I’m sure you’ll agree. In London, I received a call to rescue an animal in distress … admittedly it was from just outside my parents’ house, and by my mum. Nonetheless, my inner superhero burst out and I rushed to the rescue! It was a butterfly, a Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) to be precise, resting in the road very close to one of the wheels of my mum’s car. I dashed forward and scooped it up, it needed safety! With a quick glance around to check the scene, I decided that our garden was probably the best spot for it and proceeded to gently release it into its new home. Phew, a good job well done!

But wait! Not all was well! The butterfly seemed to be struggling … what was wrong with it?! A closer inspection was needed and I peered closely, it seemed – oddly – that the very end part of its hind wings were stuck together! I knew I hadn’t touched those parts of the butterfly, so I am still wondering how it happened. Anyway, gently and with great care, I managed to separate the hind wings, hopefully with minimal damage. The butterfly definitely seemed happier (although, do butterflies feel happiness / emotions in general?), albeit that it was in bad condition from its hibernation.

Moth-trapping has of course been continuing in the garden. I’ve not caught a huge variety of species yet, or even large numbers of moths, but it is still better than when we were in the grip of winter! For the most part, they’re LBJs (little brown jobs) but actually, if you look closely you can see that even these LBJs have some intricate patterning! The last photo is of a leaf mine in a bramble plant over in the local park. You can see that one end of the mine is very thin, this is where the caterpillar hatched out of its egg and started munching. The mine gradually gets bigger and bigger, matching the caterpillar’s growth as it wanders around the inside of the leaf. This mine is caused by one of the micro-moths, likely to be Stigmella aurella I think.

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.

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!