We Knew We Had Been There Before

Part of me feels I should start splitting my blog posts into four sections – Chesil Beach, Lorton Meadows, the garden and adventures out and about. Thoughts on that idea welcome, but for now, let’s get on with looking at wildlife!

Wait hang on, wildlife is suffering for oh so many reasons, and I want to highlight one of them briefly – litter. Isn’t it just awful?! Cans with the last remnants of fizzy drinks, dirty plastic bottles, torn and mangled plastic bags hanging from trees or caught up in grass. You’re probably nodding as you read this, we all see litter all the time. But how often do you actually do something about it? If you’re my dad (unlikely as I don’t think he reads this blog often), that’s quite often. Rarely a dog walk goes by when he doesn’t pick up some litter and put it in the bin. The rest of you though? Have an honest think for a moment … how often do you walk past litter? Or watch someone drop litter and say nothing? Or (hopefully not!) drop litter yourself because (a) it’s just a little bit, so it doesn’t matter, (b) there are no bins around and no way are you putting it in your pocket / bag, or (b) you’re in car so it’s fine to chuck it out the window? And that’s just litter … don’t get me started about dog mess!

Why am I going on about litter? Well, first it is one of my 2015 Wildlife Resolutions to pick up more litter which I have been trying to do, and second I took a photo of one of my quick litter picks on Monday to put onto Twitter under the hashtag of #2minutebeachclean. It’s a wonderful idea, literally just spend two minutes picking up litter whilst you’re at the beach (obviously don’t add any litter to the beach during your visit!). Imagine if all the visitors did that … *dreams happily of litter-free beaches*.

Why bother though? Well! As previously mentioned, litter is awful for wildlife. It gets eaten and kills a variety of animals – including beautiful albatrosses and turtles. Even degraded plastic is not safe – it turns into microplastics and ends up in the food chain (and likely in your seafood)! Plus, litter is an eyesore, and by picking it up, perhaps you’ll inspire others to pick up litter too and soon your local area will be litter-free! Hooray!

So next time you’re out and about, do pick up some litter!

Ok, now back to wildlife. Whilst litter picking, I could see some Terns about on the Fleet. I’m still not 100% sure I have seen a Little Tern (Sternula albifrons), so won’t tick that species off for 2015 just yet. However, there were plenty of Sandwich Terns (Sterna sandvicensis) diving for food. I also managed to take a rather blurry photo of Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator). Another aim for my time here – get some better photos of that species?

I also spent time over at Lorton Meadows as expected, trying to learn a bit more about the reserve – both its history and wildlife. There’s a wonderful variety of wildflowers and insects (as well as birds of course – oh, if you don’t know of the Kestrel Webcam, go watch! I warn you though, it’s quite addictive!), and I’m looking forward to seeing how it all changes across the seasons. Fingers crossed, I’ll be allowed to do some moth trapping there as well!

I won’t keep you much longer, I just want to show off a couple of the moths that I caught in the garden this week – before it started raining at the end of the week. My catches included a particular beauty called the Early Thorn (Selenia dentaria) whose wing patterning is beautiful I think. I tweeted about this species early in the week, and it seems that others agree with my thoughts, which is marvellous (though not unexpected).

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.