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!

So long and thanks for all the proverbial fish, Part One

Having been visited by my parents, packed up my belongings in Dorset, finished my job, had a mad couple of days getting my car fixed, and finally moved house, I have finally got to the end of a very hectic couple of weeks. Despite being so busy, I have still managed to get out and about to see some wildlife!

w/c 5th October 2015

A great start to week at the Chesil Beach Centre. Despite getting confused by Sophie’s directions to the Starry Smooth-Hound shark (Mustelus asterias) as I thought she meant the other bridge, I had a lovely wander looking at crabs and picking up litter. I also spotted my first Brent Geese (Branta bernicla) of the autumn, though they were pretending to be interior design (flying ducks anyone?).

I swapped locations and spent a few days at Lorton Meadows, managing to spot two Roe Deer (Capreolus capreolus) from the office! They can often be seen grazing in the play / picnic / pond area. Whilst a bit cautious, they spent a fair bit of time there before disappearing into other fields.

A new experience for me when our wildlife camera person came to check that the Barn Owl (Tyto alba) box and camera were still in good condition (they are), and I got to go up into the loft. Ignoring the anxious voice inside me muttering about heights, I went up and looked at the box for the first time – in which we found seven Small Tortoiseshell butterflies (Aglais urticae) hibernating!

As the name suggests, at the end of the week came the weekend! Sadly it was my last full weekend in Dorset but I made the most of it! My parents came down to see me and amongst visiting awesome places, we also went out to local restaurants and watched a sunset over the Fleet. Our first location of awesomeness was RSPB Arne Nature Reserve in the Purbeck area of Dorset. I have been meaning to visit for ages and despite a touch of chill in the day, it was fantastic – dragonflies, birds, fungi, deer and more!

The weekend wasn’t over yet though! Oh no, we also went to watch Motor X on Weymouth Beach followed by a visit to Portland Castle! Naturally, I was most interested in seeing what wildlife was about, but I did enjoy reading about the castle’s history, using their interpretation and playing (well, winning) a game of Nine Men’s Morris with my dad. The game is basically a big version of Noughts and Crosses, and was good fun to play. I am tempted to make my own set!

Crossing the bridge to see the rest of the gardens, I found a ladybird wandering around on a bush. The proceeded to find another 100+ ladybirds – some in larvae form, some as pupae and some as adults. I found three different species, but also a couple of different versions of some species. For example, the Ten-Spot Ladybird (Adalia 10-punctata) has a few possible colour variations. Flick through the photos below for the identifications, or you can look at my Twitter thread on them.

The larvae look like they are quite evil, don’t you think?

I couldn’t let my parents without taking them to Lorton of course! Neither had been before, so a late evening walk across the meadows was perfect. As well as pointing out the birds, we ate blackberries and I showed them oak galls. In the pond area I found an Elephant Hawk-Moth caterpillar (Deilephila elpenor), which was rather small so presumably one of the earlier instars (stages of being a larva). It looks like it is plotting world domination!

And the aforementioned sunset, such beauty to finish off my penultimate week in Dorset.

 

A little bird said …

This week I had the almighty pleasure and joy of taking over the Biotweeps account. This Twitter account is curated by a different biologist each week, who discusses their research, knowledge and interests. From a cursory glance over the contributors, the majority are in academia, but I queried whether a naturalist could curate for a week – with an affirmative answer!

During the week I wanted to cover a variety of things across two topics: people and nature, and pure wildlife. One of my regrets is not setting aside enough time to plan thoroughly and thus fit more in. Nonetheless I fit in a fair amount:

  • twitching and panspecieslisting
  • mental health and nature
  • young people and nature (including A Focus On Nature of course)
  • wildlife recording
  • getting a career in conservation
  • mammals of the UK
  • moths
  • butterfly identification
  • photos from scotland / south africa

You can see a selection of my tweets in the images below.

As I began my tweeting, I made sure to venture out into the sunny garden in Cambridge a couple of times, spotting a couple of different insects about, although the Old Lady moth (Mormo maura) had been caught in Matt’s moth trap. I’m not sure how clear it is in the photo – but the wasp is eating a fly caught in a spider’s web!

On the way back to Dorset from Cambridge, I popped into my parents’ house in north London where I was promptly distracted by a jam doughnut, plus a Hornet hoverfly (Volucella zonaria), a Large White butterfly (Pieris brassicae) and a dead bumblebee in the garden.

In work this week, there was a lot of sitting inside working away at various tasks, but I managed to get out for a couple of walks and see some wildlife – including a Wasp Spider (Argiope bruennichi) in a field that hasn’t got any records for them as far as I know! I attempted to do a bit of moth trapping at Lorton for Moth Night – but caught mainly Hornets (Vespa crabro), so I gave up after a little bit. Luckily the hornets weren’t in stinging mode so I was able to get them out of the trap without getting hurt myself! However, I did find a few moths, albeit not in the trap itself!

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).

Catching Up pt 3

As this blog catches up with the present day, I can reveal even more exciting wildlife sightings. Over at my local park, I spotted my first Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus) in months – whilst my dad recently saw a Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris) there. Spring is started to appear, as buds begin to burst forth and the scent of blossom from unfurling flowers is carried on that still slightly chilly breeze.

I spotted my first non-bumblebee bee (as yet unidentified, I’m not much good [yet] if it isn’t a bumblebee!) of 2015 in the park, feeding on this yellow flower (as yet unidentified, it’s in the list of plants to ID) in the sunlight – wilfully ignoring both myself taking photos and a number of dogs running about and barking (a good game was going on at the time you see).

I have also checked back on the fungi that I saw growing previously – you can see how much it has dried out!

A quick trip down to Dorset saw me getting a number of new year ticks – Blackcap (see below), Brent Goose, Oystercatcher and more, as well as a few lifers!

A tip-off from Glen at the Portland Bird Observatory led to myself and Sean having a wander through the lovely Broadcroft Quarry (do you remember my fantastic visit last year?) in search of the Widow Iris aka the Snake’s Head Iris (Iris tuberosa). As well as being a lovely plant to look at, it was also rather fascinating to watch the bees as they landed on the flower and crawled deep into the funnel to feed. You can see in the second (slightly blurry) photo, that they get rather covered in pollen!

As mentioned, I saw my first Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) of the year at Portland Bird Observatory. What a stunning bird it is! It’s a male – you can tell because his cap is black whereas the female’s cap is red-brown in colour.

A very exciting lifer for me was seeing a Firecrest (Regulus ignicapillus) – again from the terrace at PBO! It was not long before I needed to head off when Glen pointed it out. And not just one, but two! Fantastic! I’d heard Firecrest before, and seen their close relative the Goldcrest (Regulus regulus), but had never actually seen one so I was ecstatic!

On a short visit to Cambridgeshire, I kept an eye on the garden whilst baking (scones btw, they were delicious!). After having seen my first Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus) in months only a few days previously, I was very pleasantly surprised to see another one so soon! More so because after a few attempts, I managed to get a decent photo of it despite (1) being at a distance, (2) taking the photo through a window, and (3) having obstacles in the way!

Not long after, I enjoyed viewing a female Blackbird (Turdus merula) atop the hedge. She was all fluffed up and evidently sunning herself – I don’t blame her! As the sun started to fade, there was an odd-looking bird in the garden. It was a Blue Tit (Parus caeruleus), but it seemed to have a deformity – a huge lump on the back of its neck – and possibly a bald head? It was hard to tell in the light, and the photo doesn’t help much. Has anyone else seen anything like this in Blue Tits? It didn’t seem to be too effected by its misfortune – it was feeding fine.

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!

In Good Company

Do you remember my blog post back in September where I raved about how fantastic a certain group called A Focus On Nature is? And I’d gone to their conference and got caught up in an adrenaline high from being around so many young conservationists? Well, I’m back in that mode again!

There is a reason for this mind, it hasn’t just suddenly occurred. I spent a recent Sunday at WWT Slimbridge with a number of other members of AFON. It was great to see them again, and meet new friends. Despite being surrounded by birds, I soon honed in on fellow moth-ers and was nattering again comparing our catches (still haven’t come across anyone catching more than 61 December Moths, so am chuffed with that).

Of course, I did appreciate the birds, how could I not? This visit to Slimbridge saw me ticking off a number of new species for me (both for the year, and for life) such as Bewick’s Swan (looks a bit like a mute swan) and Pintail (which is just such a lovely bird, it’s plumage is stunning!). In the captive animal area, I saw my first harvest mice. Now I’ve seen lifesize illustrations, but it wasn’t til I saw these mice in person that I realised just how tiny they are! It’s ridiculous! So absolutely teeny tiny! Naturally highly adorable, even to the self-admitted non-mammal lover in the group.

During the day, we also watched (via a large screen), the spoon-billed sandpipers being fed – also adorable, heard a talk given by Mya-Rose Craig (aka birdgirl) where she highlighted the oil spill in Sundarbans and the lack of action, had a tour by the senior warden Martin McGill and had an absolutely scrumptious meal at the local pub (highly recommended, both the main and the delicious ice cream!).

Below are various other birds also seen during my visit:

All in all, it was a great day out – many thanks to AFON, and in particular to Matt Collis who arranged the whole day!

Also in December, I had a quick visit to a Sussex Wildlife Trust Nature Reserve – Woods Mill. There is a lovely pond, which must be absolutely buzzing with dragonflies and damselflies during the summer months! It was very still on my visit, a tranquil place to sit by and relax. Though not completely devoid of activity, as I was soon joined by a friendly robin looking for some food. Unfortunately I had to disappoint the little bird as my pockets were bare.

As it was quite still, I took the opportunity to just take a moment and look at parts of nature I might otherwise walk past.

Other blog posts about the AFON visit to WWT Slimbridge:

Wader Quest:  http://www.waderquest.org/2014/12/afon.html

Amy Robjohns: https://birdingaroundhampshire.wordpress.com/2014/12/22/a-focus-on-wwt-slimbridge/

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.