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.

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.