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!

Birdfair – Day One

It has taken me a couple of days to come to terms with Birdfair. And by that, I mean the sheer amount of awesomeness packed into just three days. I’m going to attempt to describe my experience of Birdfair, but I really don’t think I’ll do it justice!

Day One

I travelled up from Cambridge with Matt and Tom, who had to put up with my growing excitement. Though they were partially to blame – both of them had been to Birdfair previously and were telling me what, and who, they had seen before. Following the signs directing us to the Fair, we found the queue to get in. As naturalists we used the opportunity to look out the car windows at surrounding wildlife (no photos I’m afraid).

We drove past the shiny new Volunteer Training Centre that had be opened by Sir David Attenborough last month for the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust. Apparently “the centre will provide support and training for volunteers in conservation, countryside and heritage skills.” I shall keep an eye on what they get up to, it sounds interesting!

And then, it was Birdfair itself and all that comes with it! We were soon bumping into familiar faces and meeting some faces who were familiar from the internet but now appearing in the real world, and the planning which events to go to across the weekend.

11.15am – Bug Walk, Brian Eversham & Ryan Clark (the Wildlife Trusts)

Prior to even arriving at Birdfair, I absolutely knew I had to go on this Bug Walk. I often talk about insects and invertebrates with Brian on Twitter, and wanted to support Ryan as this was his first Birdfair event he had assisted with (I think?). Armed with sweep nets and pots, we headed out into a nearby meadow where Brian demonstrated how to use the net before letting us loose! It wasn’t the warmest of days, but there were plenty of invertebrates to be found – spiders, ladybirds, bees, beetles and more! I haven’t labelled the species on any of my photos as Ryan is putting together a bugs at Birdfair ID quiz for A Focus On Nature.

Post-bug walk provided an opportunity to do some wandering and the beginning of working out how to decide what to buy. There was SO MUCH – whole libraries’ worth of books, optical equipment, exquisite illustrations, clothing, stunning photographs, carvings, memberships, holidays, and more! Matt and I began with a couple of books – Inglorious and Behind the Binoculars, as Mark Avery and Keith Betton were both doing signings.

1.15pm – Moth Trapping – Live on the big screen, Phil Sterling & Richard Lewington

A glance at the time and it was time to head over to the Events Marquee as moths were in the limelight (well spotlight). Phil Sterling and Richard Lewington were opening a moth trap at the front, and they had some lovely species – Dusky Thorn (Ennomos fuscantaria), Canary-shouldered Thorn (one of my favourites! Ennomos alniaria), Eyed Hawk-Moth (stunning! Smerinthus ocellata), plus some escapees (particularly the Large Yellow Underwings (Noctua pronuba), surprise surprise!).

Exiting out the side of the tent, we found the craft beer, woohoo! I’ve come across From the Notebook on social media as various naturalists excitedly tweet about beer that has wildlife on it!!!! Sadly, I still don’t like beer, but I liked the designs, and both Matt and Pete liked the beer.

 

More wanderings, including via the Butterfly Conservation stand  of course – cue a good chat with Martin Warren, Tony Davies, Douglas Boyes, and Nick Baker! I was wearing my H&M moths shirt and Nick Baker was very impressed with it, which was rather awesome. Also at the BC stand, I picked up a copy of the latest Moths Count newsletter, in which I have an article!

I also went via the Art Mural (which was being added to across the weekend) and, of course, the Children’s Art Mural that A Focus On Nature run. Just before the last event of the day, I managed to meet up with Phil Sterling. We live just around the corner from each other in Dorset, but hadn’t managed to meet up yet this year, so it was good to catch-up. He had brought some cool caterpillars along, and my query to get better lighting on them (for taking photographs) led to a bit of a gathering just outside the marquee as passerbys noticed the caterpillars!

6pm – RSPB Birders Lecture in association with British Birds

Crikey, 6pm already! Time to run over to one of the lecture marquees in order to catch the RSPB Birders Lecture in association with British Birds! Introduced by Stuart Housden (Director of RSPB Scotland), four birders were competing for the title of ‘Best ever day’. We heard from the marvellous Bill Oddie, the ever-inspirational Lucy McRobert, the wonderful Adam Rowlands and the legendary Ian Wallace. I was slightly biased towards Lucy winning of course, but was blown away by Ian Wallace’s account. He had made it into a spectacular play, which he performed with flair and style. As to be expected, he won.

A drinks reception afterwards, hosted by RSPB, provided another opportunity to chatting with fellow A Focus On Nature members, and other Birdfair attendees. I even spoke to Bill Oddie without getting too starstruck! And so, the end of the first day, and I was exhausted, bewildered and overwhelmed. What would the second day bring?

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).

Something old, something new

Just to clear up first, no I am not getting married. However, this part of the traditional saying rang true this week during my visit to Dorset, where I was room hunting prior to my move down there at the end of the month.

Being me, I absolutely had to do some wildlife-related stuff during my visit. First, the something new – i.e. my new workplace (from February), the Fine Foundation Chesil Beach Centre! Based halfway along the causeway between Weymouth and Portland, it is perched at the eastern edge of The Fleet, a unique lagoon protected by a range of designations and a real hotspot for birdwatchers.

The centre and the Fleet

The centre and the Fleet

I popped in to say hi and actually see my future workplace. It is fab and in a brilliant location! Better yet, I found out that there is a dog in the office, which is always a major bonus for me. Even more of a bonus, I went into the Taste* Chesil cafe (in the centre) and it doesn’t have nuts in the flapjacks – could life get much better?

The beach on the other side of The Fleet - going up!

The beach on the other side of The Fleet – going up!

Well, it seems it could. When thinking of Weymouth, I was sure I had never visited, but upon driving around I saw Radipole Lake, an RSPB reserve in the centre of the town, and had a sudden sense of déjà vu! Why, I had been here before, as part of school geography field trip which must have been almost seven years ago now. Obviously, I adjusted my schedule and made a visit to have a little wander along its walkways.

Currently I don’t know one species of gull from another, so I can’t say if I saw anything special, I suspect not though. However the senior member of staff there soon pointed out a water rail to me – my first one! No photo though as it was only a quick appearance. Apparently they spend the majority of their time hidden away in the reeds, so I was thrilled. I also saw a couple of cormorants drying out their wings, some swans, coots and a variety of ducks.

Resting cormorants

Resting cormorants

Swan grooming itself

Swan grooming itself

One bird I will always love is the grey heron. I know they are everywhere and such, but I think they’re brilliant. I love watching them launch off and fly (which this one didn’t do, but nonetheless I liked watching it).

Grey heron

Grey heron

My visit had a great ending when I was told that they have at least one otter on the lake! Naturally, I immediately asked after the possibilities of collecting some of the spraints (otter poo), as I love taking them apart and identifying what they’ve been eating, and was told that it should be ok. So hopefully there will be some blog posts on that in the not too distant future!

A lovely view from the walkway

A lovely view from the walkway

Three counties, three days, three reserves.

Now if you’re a friend in the real life, or you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed that I’ve been having some adventures since I came back from South Africa. One of these took place last week when I headed southwest to Dorset from the big city (London) and decided to make the most of the trip by visiting a couple of places.

On the way down I took the opportunity to visit the RSPB reserve, Farnham Heath, since my route was taking me quite close anyway. I knew nothing about this reserve before I picked it out on a map and had a quick read about it and its history on the RSPB website. As part of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, this reserve is being restored back to heath and acid grassland. Through felling the conifer plantations and managing the heath through traditional grazing, the heath is being brought back to this area along with its associated wildlife. Some of the coniferous and deciduous woodland has been retained, in which traditional practices are again used – coppicing (sweet chestnut trees) and encouraging wet woodland (willow and alder trees). The wildlife on the site is diverse with a range of bird species throughout the year, and over 150 species of fungi during autumn.

Unknown fungi from above

Unknown fungi from above

Unknown fungi from below

Unknown fungi from below

As a mid-autumn day, the weather was perfect. A little chilly, but sunny and clear. I had a nice wander through the reserve on the orange route, watching some birds and making friends with a couple of dogs. I also found this fungi which I am attempting to identify (suggestions on ID are welcome).

This pool was lovely to sit by, I even saw a dragonfly though it was gone before I could take a photo.

Great spot to relax, wish I'd got a photo of that dragonfly though!

Great spot to relax, wish I’d got a photo of that dragonfly though!

Walking through the heath, I saw a couple of little birds dropping down from branches to the heath and the ground, but didn’t recognise the species. Naturally, I’d brought my bird ID book with me but left it in the car (I also had my moth ID book, in case I should come across one). Once I got back to the car park, I looked it up and found it was a stonechat, Saxicola torquata. I’d heard of this species but never seen one (or at least, I have no memory of seeing and identifying one), so I was rather pleased. They often perch on the top of bushes or on overhead wires, and drop down to pick up invertebrates.

Stonechat

Stonechat resting on a branch

The next day I was down in Dorset at the Urban Wildlife Centre near Poole with the Wildlife Trust. This was for a day of activities and meeting mentors and current trainees to get a better idea of the Skills for the Future traineeship that they run. One activity was scrub-bashing which was very good fun – lots of cutting of birch trees and having arguments with brambles (I won – I was definitely more stubborn!). These were used for a fire in which jacket potatoes were cooked for our lunch.

The scrub-bashing area with the fire on the right

The scrub-bashing area with the fire on the right

Later on, we took part in a Forest Schools session where we made forest friends (i.e. figures made out of sticks, clay, leaves etc). Mine was a warrior who defended the forest from the baddies, though he didn’t have a name. My group all agreed that the session was brilliant and felt rather like a group therapy session!

Materials for the Forest Schools session

Materials for the Forest Schools session

On my last day away from the big city, I was in the New Forest as I’m lucky enough to have a friend who lives there and let me stay the night. I was leaving early, but managed to fit in a dog walk through the heathlands. We didn’t see much wildlife but did meet a couple of ponies who were completely unbothered by both us and the dogs. Driving back was lovely as the sun peeked through the clouds to show the autumn colours of the forest. Shame I didn’t have a passenger who could take a photo for me!

Ignored by a horse ...

Ignored by a horse …

NB: the three counties in order were Surrey, Dorset and Hampshire.