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!

Let’s go to the beach

This week didn’t kick off with a bang, but rather some very heavy frost. It took me twenty minutes to get into my car on Monday morning it was so iced up! And freezing weather for the rest of the day is obviously the best weather for heading out to a nature reserve. Actually, it was a good idea because 1) the reserve looked awesome in the frost, 2) I got some nice close-up photos of frozen leaves / lichens / etc, and 3) it was actually sunny so the light was good. This was a new reserve to me, Abercamlo Bog, which is quite near to Llandrindod Wells. I’m not gonna lie, I’m pretty chuffed with the last photo, of the fungi. Most fungi photos I take end up looking blurry (unless I use the flash), because the fungi I’ve come across so far seem to not have sharp edges / patterns.

The middle of the week saw me driving south-east back to Dorset. I was visiting the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre for a job interview (I didn’t get it, but I enjoyed my visit and was chuffed enough to have got an interview). I got there super early, so had a lovely (albeit damp) walk along the beach.

At the weekend, I took part in the RSPB’s Garden Birdwatch – a long term citizen science project. I did it twice, first at Radnorshire Wildlife Trust‘s offices in Llandrindod Wells (you can see the results at the Facebook page). Then back at house, where the highlight was 11 Long-tailed Tits at the end of the hour.

After doing the Birdwatch, I went for a walk in the garden. Suddenly above, there appeared 10 red kites, followed not long after by about 100 crows. Evidently, the crows had spotted the kites as they were flying straight towards them and cawing away. Down by the river, I checked the usual rock for otter spraint, no luck. I had been eye-ing up another rock by the river, and managed to find a way down to it. My instinct was right, and there I found some spraint! Relatively fresh as still dark in colour and still whiffy with that distinctive musky smell – a mix of jasmine and fish (as odd as that sounds, that’s what it is!).

And lastly, a rare nice photo of me, taken by one of my line managers last week when we went to Gilfach (as described in last week’s blog post).

*I know that I said that my posts would be fortnightly now, but I underestimated the amount of wildlife I would see during winter!

Wild Winter Days

Brr, what a cold couple of weeks it has been! Not all that surprising mind, since it is mid-winter in central Wales! We’ve even had snow, which was very exciting indeed! Just below are my photos from the offices in Llandrindod Wells when the snowfall began. The last one looks a bit Narnia-esque with the falling snow and that lantern! If there was more grass / trees, it could almost be Lantern Waste (not far from the Land of Spare ‘Oom!).

The snow started falling a bit heavier, so I decided to make a dash for it. Where I’m living currently is very definitely in the middle of nowhere and any sort of snow / ice makes travel a little difficult! Actually scrap that, living in the middle of the Welsh hills means driving through the little Welsh country lanes, which is always difficult – whether you’re turning a corner to suddenly being faced with a large lorry taking up the whole road, or a Tak-tak (how I pronounced tractor as a child) rumbling towards you, or a confused block of sheep bleating everywhere. That’s not taking into account the potholes / puddles that are dotting the road, or the occasional open field gate, or ALL the mud and / or hay strewn across the road.

Nonetheless, I enjoy the commute – it takes me up over one of the big local hills and shows off some fantastic views, which are even more spectacular when in the snow! I did love this drive, as the altitude increased, I could see the snow level also increasing. I absolutely had to stop and take some photographs, but I couldn’t stop for long. With the darkness rolling in and some heavy snow clouds rumbling up and over the hills behind me, I had to get myself back to the house before it got dangerous.

I went to sleep quite excited, I knew that heavy snowfall was due overnight. And what a vista I woke up to – a thick blanket of snow sparkling in the mid-winter sun. I chucked on the wellies and waterproofs and got out there, chasing the dogs through the snow, hurtling down the slopes on a sledge (slightly worrying since there is a stream and trees at the bottom of the slope) and generally having a wonderful time! I did get round to doing some work in the end of course.

A couple of days I was back at certain reserve, can you guess which one? Gilfach of course! As usual, it was absolutely stunning!

I also had a look at some lichens down by the river. Whilst I have no idea what they are, some helpful people on Twitter gave me some insights to the world of lichens – C.coniocraea, C.chlorophaea, U.florida, and P.membranacea/hymenina.

A last couple of photos from the day. My line manager’s awesome wizard-like stick, where the swirls were caused by honeysuckle. A hailstone caught in some moss. And being in the back of a little truck briefly when we were on a farm – it’s was like being back in South Africa and going round in the back of the bakkie (truck!), except for the temperature!

Wonderful Wildlife of 2014

We approach the end of the almighty year that was 2014. Whilst 2013 could be called “The Year of South African Wildlife” (albeit there were only four months there, but you know what I mean), 2014 was definitely a year of British wildlife for me.

Lepidoptera

The start of the year saw me quite interested in butterflies and moths, I knew perhaps a couple of species. As I write, I do believe it would be correct to call me obsessed with this wonderful group. I’ll start with the smaller group first, that which is familiar to more people – the butterflies. Out of 59 species, I’ve seen at least 31 – not bad for a beginner who could only just identify the most well-known species at the beginning of the year! I’ve gone on butterfly group walks, set out to see a specific species (Lulworth Skipper – a success btw), and submitted my sightings like a good citizen scientist. Below are a selection of my favourite photos from this year:

And now onto my favourites, the moths! (Though really, butterflies are basically just a group of moths, but that’s for another time). I’m not even sure how many species I’ve seen – a sign I think that I need to get better at recording in 2015! One thing’s for sure though, I’ve seen quite a few, more than I knew existed just a few years ago! I’ve seen tiny moths only a few millimetres long and incredibly large moths that look like birds. I’ve seen a variety of life cycles, I’ve seen day-flying ones, caught ones at night, seen common species, very rare species and many in between!

I’m not sure what my highlights would be, there are so many possibilities!

  • Spotting a Six-belted Clearwing before my keen-eyed fellow Lepidoptera enthusiast
  • Catching 61 December Moths in one night (in one trap!) – when I was only expecting a couple of moths at most
  • Finding the larvae of a micro-moth in its one known location in the British Isles
  • Seeing my first Hummingbird Hawk-Moth on my first day at Gilfach Reserve
  • Catching 5 Merveille Du Jour in only 3 nights of trapping
  • My interest in moths influencing friends and family
  • Finding clothing with a moth design on (naturally I bought them all!)
  • Generally improving my ID skills to the point that I know a number of species without having to look at a guide!

 

Birds

It would be acceptable to say that at the beginning of 2014, I knew how to identify pretty much just your basic garden birds and a couple of other species. I’d heard of a variety of species, but hadn’t pursued learning how to identify them, or ticking them off. That all changed when I arrived at the Chesil Beach Centre in Dorset – with large flocks of birds right in front of me, and a Bird Observatory practically just up the road, it was time to acquire some birding knowledge.

Again, it’s hard to pick highlights, and even when I’m thinking of the possibilities, most of them don’t have accompanying photographs!

Other Beasties

Due to my naivety, I haven’t actually kept a proper list of which other species I’ve seen this year, which is rather silly and a lesson I shall learn from for 2015! As it is, I do know that I saw a number of rather lovely and/or interesting creatures during 2014. I shan’t list them all, but you can see them below.

What of botany?

Suffice to say that my botanical knowledge does need improvement, but then again, it is better than your average layman, and decent for a beginner!

All in all, it’s been a pretty awesome year for me seeing and learning about wildlife – thank you to everyone who has been fantastic in helping me, I can’t even begin to list you all, but you know who you are.

Round and about the place

Winter has set into place in mid-Wales, with some heavy frosts providing some slightly scary commutes (mainly getting out of a very icy driveway!) and even the first snows being reported (and then remaining in place on the very tops of those looming hills).

On one of these oh-so-frosty-and-blimey-it’s-cold(!) days, I headed over to Pant-y-dwr for their Christmas Fayre with a stall for work. It was lovely to meet local people and chat about local wildlife and nature reserves, with a small quiz to test their ID skills. Naturally, I included some moths – two of my favourites, the Canary-shouldered Thorn (which can be seen in this blog post) and the Hummingbird Hawk-Moth (which can be seen in this blog post). A number of people were surprised that they could be moths, after all, moths are viewed as stereotypically being brown, dull and boring! So I have converted a few more people to my Moth Appreciation cause!

To drive there, I went through Gilfach Reserve (what a fab commute hey!). As previously mentioned, it was very frosty! I absolutely had to stop the car and take a few photos because it was just stunning! There is something about frost and nature that is just fantastic. Wait, erase that … nature is always fantastic, no matter the weather!

Later on, I joined the volunteer work party at one of the reserves – Llanbwychllan Lake (which I have previously visited, you can read about my visit here). They were cutting down trees in order to help the wetland grass area – it was very boggy (since I’ve just said wetland, that’s kind of obvious) so I got to wear my fantastic wellies that I got when I was with Dorset Wildlife Trust, they’re so comfy and warm! Due to so much being cut down, a lot of the wood was being burnt in bonfires, which my inner pyromaniac was loving! Fire is just so entrancing, and there is something magical about the wood being burnt.

Oooh, pretty fire

Oooh, pretty fire

As I write, I’m back in London, and have visited my local park. I’m not going to lie, it’s nothing special (as far as I’ve found out anyway) but it is lovely there, and I’ll pretty much always approve of big green spaces that are used by local people. There are a group of ring-necked parakeets living there, and boy do they make a racket sometimes! I didn’t manage to get a decent photo, but the photo below gives you the gist of what one looks like. I also saw a decent sized flock of goldfinches, plenty of starlings, magpies and crows, and very excitingly – a great spotted woodpecker! Although I didn’t get a photo of it (grr!). My dog helped me out with finding wildlife, obligingly picking up a stick that had some interesting slimy stuff on it. Naturally, I photographed it and tweeted it – current suggestion is a Crystal Brain Fungus (thanks Sean Foote and Ryan Clark!).

On a slightly related note, my Caymanian relatives have also found some interesting wildlife recently – one photo of which was put on Facebook and I was tagged because it was of two moths, and everyone knows how much I love moths! Their photos reminded me of some of the wildlife I had seen when visiting them, and I thought I would add in a butterfly photo of mine from Grand Cayman.

And to end, an urban sunset photo.Sunset across the roofs of London

 

PS – My writing is been spreading out from this blog, including this recent post on the A Focus On Nature blog, where I wrote about Chesil Beach and Gilfach. There is a post every day during the Advent period by members of AFON, on the theme of their favourite reserve / patch. I couldn’t decide, so went for both places!

PS #2 – I’m thinking of doing another species / taxon group profile blog post soon, do let me know what you would like me to write about! Perhaps a certain moth? Or maybe a group such as newts or dragonflies?

A Weekend of Firsts

This weekend has been one of those really great couple of days, there’s been fantastic wildlife, half-decent weather and some lovely people (and dogs). I spent it working up at Gilfach – the visitor centre is opened up at the weekends when the salmon are leaping so that people can warm themselves up after watching out for them. On either side of manning the centre, I went down to the viewing platform to see if I could see the salmon myself, and I did indeed! There were some impressive leaps, it’s really quite spectacular. I only got one photo, it is really blurry!

Watching the salmon is quite funny, there’s a little bit of a trick to it. You need to be really patient – they’re typical wildlife in that they make you wait around a bit. And since it’s mid-November, it’s important to layer up so that you don’t get cold. Then it’s a case of just watching the falls. I find myself getting quite mesmerized, going into a bit of a trance. Normally, I’m in the middle of daydreaming, when suddenly a salmon leaps and I get startled, almost like I’ve forgotten why I was there!

A very blurry salmon

A very blurry salmon

I commented to someone there, that it is a bit like cheering on someone in a race, because you’re going “oooh, go on, you can do it!!”, but they don’t always make it and sometimes end up being washed downstream again. I honestly don’t know how they do it, the water is really flowing fast down the River Marteg, crashing down over and between the rocks. It’s not quite loud enough to drown out your thoughts, but it isn’t far off!

My commute in this morning was intriguing, it felt a bit like the valley was on fire – the trees were yellow / orange / red in colour, and the mist was down across valleys. The photo below is at Gilfach, when the mist has lifted a bit, and the trees aren’t so bright, but you get the gist. Whilst driving through the reserve, I also saw a Green Woodpecker which was fantastic. I’ve seen Greater Spotted Woodpecker, but I’m not sure if I’ve actually seen a Green before. But now I can definitely say I have!

With spending two days in a row at the reserve, I was not going to miss the chance to put my moth trap out! I put out the work one, which has a MV (Mercury Vapour) bulb (i.e. really bright). I wasn’t expecting too much, it was a bit chilly overnight and it’s quite late in the season. I was thinking maybe between 5-10 individuals, from maybe 2 or 3 species. Boy was I surprised when I open up my moth trap, it was one of my highest catches for individuals. Better yet, there were 4 new species for me – December Moth (P.populi), Winter Moth (O.brumata), Red-green Carpet (C.siterata) and Scarce Umber (A.aurantiaria).

Even more exciting, the number of December moths was really rather extraordinary! I counted at least 61 individuals, and talking to a few moth-ers, anecdotal records seems to be that only a few are caught usually. So 61 does seem pretty amazing! I’m hoping to get in touch with Butterfly Conservation and find out what the highest amount of these moths caught in one night is, maybe I have a new record (unlikely, exciting stuff like that doesn’t happen for me!).

Talking of species, I’m thinking of becoming a pan-species lister. This involves keeping a record of EVERY species that I see in the UK (there are a few rules, but it’s not strict and people can pick and choose which ones they follow). I’m probably quite low in numbers currently, because I’ve not been keeping exact records for most things (particularly botanical!), so I will probably have seen more than my total will add up to.