A visit to heaven, and a busman’s holiday.

You may be quite intrigued by the title of the blog post, but you’ll have to wait a little bit longer to find out what it applies to. A clue though, it is to do with my weekend off. To start off with, I shall fill you in on my working week.

There has been a lot of office work this week – I’m creating a large spreadsheet from scratch, with thousands of entries, so that’s taking up a lot of my time. I can’t say it is the most exciting of work, but the spreadsheet will be very useful once it is in existence, and I’m coming across a variety of scientific names which amuse me – one of my favourites so far as been Veronica beccabunga, which is a plant called Brooklime. I often listen to the radio whilst typing as well, need to catch up on my favourite BBC Radio 4 comedy!

 

Thursday saw 60-ish local primary school children descend upon Gilfach Reserve for an organised day of environmental education, organised by the Radnorshire Outdoor Learning Network Group. It was a fantastic day where the children and teachers tried out a range of cool activities, including my favourite of river dipping! I reckon it’s my favourite because (a) you get to wear wellies, and wellies are awesome, (b) the children are discovering what is literally a whole new world – minibeasts underwater, where they can learn all about the fascinating adaptations, (c) it’s pretty much always lovely down by a pond or river, (d) more reasons that I can’t think of right now. You can find out more information about the great day we had over at RWT’s Facebook page.

Now onto the title of this blog post. This weekend I’ve had one of the ‘parentals’ visiting and on Saturday we took a little trip over to somewhere that is heavenly for the both of us – a town FULL of bookshops, antiques, charity shops (with more books!), boutique shops and a fabulous stationery shop. Can you guess where I’m talking about? If you guessed at Hay-On-Wye, aka the “town of books”, then you would be 100% correct, well done! Now I know this has little to do with nature, however I just had to include it in this blog post as I had so much fun there! I managed to resist buying too much, and it was lovely to have a potter around looking in all the shops and admiring the books (something I do often as a bookworm).

Sunday was spent on a busman’s holiday as we went over to Gilfach Reserve, and what a perfect day we chose for it! It was gorgeously sunny with just a touch of a breeze. It was great fun to introduce my mum to somewhere I loved – her first word when we entered the reserve was “Wow!”. NB: Gilfach does look absolutely stunning in autumn! She comments that it does feel like stepping back in time – very much in keeping with “the farm that time forgot”, and pleasingly (for me) that “there was more to the visitor centre than I expected”. We had a very relaxing time visiting all my favourite spots on the reserve – one of the fields near the visitor centre, the waterfall and the picnic benches at Pont Marteg (near the entrance to the reserve). We listened to the birds, admired the rushing waters and peered at interesting insects.

We then proceeded on to somewhere I had heard much about, but hadn’t got round to visit, the Elan Valley. What a fabulous spot, and we had both completely underestimated how the expanse of the valley – it is HUGE! As I asked at one point, “How many dams [and reservoirs] are there?!” I was rather pleased as I managed to score a moth record in a new location, a Canary-shouldered Thorn resting in a corner of the visitor centre. I believe the visitor centre staff/volunteer were rather bemused by my enthusiasm for the moth, but then, it is one of my favourites as it is a great example of how moths can be just as pretty as butterflies!

Being the stereotypical enthusiast that I am, I was soon pointing out the ID features of various wildlife to my mum (including the former insects), particularly discussing the trees by the dam. Below are two features of one tree, an Ash tree, which was one of the first trees that I learnt to identify – back when I was volunteering/working at ZSL London Zoo (Ash can be used as food / enrichment for a range of animals including giraffes). The two features I remember most are the leaves and the buds.

  • LEAVES: The leaves you see on a stem are actually called leaflets, and are in pairs with an odd one on the end. The leaflets are pointed and slightly toothed.
  • BUDS: The buds are rather distinctive, they are black and quite ‘velvety’ in in appearance (in the photo below, you can just about make out the black buds).

Having had a yummy lunch at the Elan Valley visitor centre, we decided to squeeze in some more food with tea and cake at the Penbont House Tea Rooms, and I’m very glad we did. First, it was very yummy. Second, it was very quaint with cute china. Third, it has a fantastic view looking out from the Tea Rooms. Fourth, we loved watching the cheeky chickens looking for crumbs. Fifth, I had a very close encounter with a chaffinch who evidently didn’t realise I was there and came to less than a foot away from me! It was great because he was obviously looking at me, but hadn’t realised that I was not just a new part of the furniture! I am gutted that I didn’t have my camera out, but I didn’t dare try because I didn’t want to scare him off!

Last but not least, I finally stopped off on the route back from Rhayader to take a photo of the wooden sculpture on the side of the busy road. A brilliant celebration of local wildlife – an otter chasing salmon.

Interesting inverts

This week I’ve been amazed by the variety of wildlife – notably the terrestrial invertebrates. As this year has progressed, I have found that I am getting really intrigued by inverts, especially insects! The range of shapes, sizes, colours and so on – and even just in one group (such as my favourite group, the moths!).

Below are some of the moths I’ve caught this weekend, whilst not showing the extremes in the range of shapes and so on, they are all lovely moths I think – I can’t decide which one I like the most! Naturally all of the species has been noted down and will be sent to the county recorders.

A highlight of the week was discovering a new and slightly weird fly. It’s called a Giant Tachinid Fly (Tachina grossa), which lays its eggs in the caterpillars of moths (usually big hairy caterpillars such as the Oak Eggar Moth Caterpillar). When the young hatch, they then eat the caterpillar! Gross but fascinating! The fly itself also looks pretty odd, I don’t know if the photo below shows just how big it is. It was the size of a stereotypical bumblebee, absolutely huge and really loud when buzzing about!

Giant Tachinid Fly (T.grossa)

Giant Tachinid Fly (T.grossa)

I also got out onto the reserve a bit more this week, enjoying the views in the sunshine and looking for butterflies. I’ve realised that none of my previous blog posts actually featured any photos of the reserve, so here are a few to make up for that:

What else has happened this week? I went off to a Field Studies Council – Preston Montford in Shropshire, to learn about spiders and harvestmen. It was a great day, though I’m a little overwhelmed at the identification of them! I did get a free spi-pot where you’re able to immobilise the spider / harvestmen without harming them, so it’s possible to get a really good look at them and their anatomy.

As mentioned before, I went looking for butterflies on the reserve and saw Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock and Small Copper. I also took some photos of wildflowers to practice my wildflower ID. Whilst out, I also saw a number of cool fungi, but I don’t know fungus identification at all I’m afraid.

And then, saving one of the best parts of the week until last, whilst I was out on this reserve adventure, I saw a woodpecker! Unfortunately it wasn’t being very obliging for taking photographs, but I don’t mind too much, I saw a woodpecker!

Woodpecker!

Woodpecker!