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Life goes on

I haven’t managed to write a blog post for three months now, which is just crazy. Due to a combination of being incredibly busy at work, very busy with A Focus On Nature work and some not-so-great stuff happening in my personal life, I haven’t had the time to write. And when I have, the latter has meant that I am not feeling particularly inspired either.

I hope that everything will calm down and sort itself out soon, and that I can return to writing. If so, it is likely that posts will be sporadic for a while before I manage to make a regular posts again. Until then, you can see what I have been up to in the past few months below (most recent first). I haven’t managed to include anywhere near everything I have been up to, but it will give you a flavour of how busy I have been!


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#30DaysWild – Days 24 – 30

I had a manic few days to finish off the month of June and thus 30 Days Wild – pond dipping, moth trapping, butterfly chasing … the usual stuff really. Rather than go through all 6 days, I have included the highlights below.

Day 24

Day 25

Day 28

Day 30

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#30DaysWild – Day 23

Another day at Wicken Fen today with another school group. I was leading two of their activities today: pond dipping and a guided walk on the Fen.

However in other news, this week is National Insect Week and today I published my post for the A Focus On Nature blog about NIW and how AFON members can get more involved with this fascinating group. Read the my post here.

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#30DaysWild – Days 15 – 22

Ok, so I fell behind somewhat on my #30DaysWild blogging – oops! Not to worry though, I have been connecting with nature every day despite being busy with work, AFON bits and pieces, and general life stuff. I won’t go into every single wild act that happened every day, so here is a summary, shown through my tweets.

Bee Orchids (Ophrys apifera)! <3 <3 <3

Somehow, and after quite a bit of searching, I found the Bee Orchid from last week again. And in fact, I found a further 6 plants! Then later that day, I was informed of two more locations of Bee Orchids on the estate, which is fantastic news indeed.


I was able to put the moth trap out at Wimpole for the first time in ages (since I need to be there two days in a row to run the trap). There wasn’t much, but I did catch this beautiful Pale Tussock moth (Calliteara pudibunda).


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#30DaysWild – Day 14

I was at Wicken Fen again today, and I wasn’t actually pond dipping! Instead I was leading the sessions on minibeast hunting for a local school. We went pretended to be centipedes and millipedes – at one I was the centipede’s prey, and we were hungry dragonflies looking for lunch, and we also did some log rolling. Under said logs we found two Lesser Stag Beetles (Dorcus parallelipipedus), a Glow Worm Beetle larvae (Lampyris noctiluca), and many many ants, other beetles, worms, snails, slugs, spiders, millipedes, centipedes … At one point I had a moment of “wow, I’m getting paid for this?!”

Despite not doing pond dipping, my highlight for #30DaysWild had to be a creature that they found during pond dipping. One of the children managed to scoop out a female Great Crested Newt (GCN, Triturus cristatus). You can see how big she is and the typical GCN patterning – orange background with black spots, plus mainly black chin. Apparently each GCN’s patterning is unique to that individual – maybe I should try to build up a photo archive of the GCNs at Wicken Fen?

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#30DaysWild – Day 13

I was back at Wicken Fen today and in charge of 110 children! Fortunately they were ever so well-behaved and not too loud. I was doing the pond dipping sessions with them, and one of the children caught a dragonfly nymph that had started to emerge. However, it was absolutely chucking it down so I took the nymph inside to (a) warm up and (b) dry off!

You can see that it didn’t help all that much as the wings didn’t open properly, not helped further by the fact that the dragonfly kept falling onto them. At the time of writing (c. 7pm), the wings are still quite folded and crumpled. I’m not feeling hopeful for a full recovery.

On an additional note, my photo made it onto the BBC Cambridge Local Live page (posted at 17.49).

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#30DaysWild – Days 8 – 11

It’s proving difficult to blog every day for 30 Days Wild this year, but there is no need to worry. I am most definitely still connecting with nature every day!

Day 8

I actually had a day off from working on Wednesday (Day 8), though I spent much of it either working on my laptop or working in the garden. However, Matt and I did go for a lovely walk at lunchtime. Alongside admiring dragonflies and butterflies, we also heard a Corn Bunting (Emberiza calandra) and I managed to get good views (but no photos) of a Whitethroat (Sylvia communis).

Day 9

The wildlife spotting started early on Day 9 when we emptied the garden moth trap. There was a good variety of species, above you can see Cinnabar (Tyria jacobaeae), Poplar Hawk-moth (Laothoe populi), White Ermine (Spilosoma lubricipeda) and Green Silver-lines (Pseudoips prasinana). The morning was then further improved when I found out that the abstract I had submitted for giving a talk at Ento ’16 had been accepted!

I was working at Wimpole that day, so I took a lunchtime walk in front of the house. The lawn is absolutely gorgeous, as they let the grass grow long and there are lots of wildflowers amongst it. Including a Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera), as shown below. I think I may attempt to photograph the orchid in flower next week – though I don’t know if I will manage to find it again!

Day 10

On Friday I was working at Wicken Fen, leading KS2 school groups in pond dipping. We caught a silly number of newt tadpoles, and some absolute whoppers of diving beetles and their larvae. I recently learnt that the underside is useful in identifying the different diving beetle species, hence the photos below of their undersides! For example, I am pretty confident that the adult beetle below on the right is a Black-bellied Diving Beetle (Dytiscus semisulcatus). We also saw the food chain in action when a diving beetle larvae was caught with a water boatman in its jaws! I knew they were predators, but didn’t realise that they ate adult beetles of other species!

Day 11

I had yet another day off this week! Very strange indeed. My To Do list was depressingly long so I spent the morning and much of the afternoon attempting to tackle it, but I did manage to get out and visit a local nature reserve in the late afternoon. I decided to local Wildlife Trust reserve, Houghton Meadows. On the walk down the lane, I found a couple of feathers to stick into my hat which was fun.

Houghton Meadows is a lovely place, the fields were just brimming with flowers. Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor) was everywhere, and so because it has parasitic properties on grasses (thus limiting their growth), there were other wildflowers everywhere too: Bird’s-Foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), Ox-Eye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) and Red Clover (Trifolium pratense). The insect population was strong too, lots of Diamond-backed moths (Plutella xylostella), a Common Blue butterfly (Polyommatus icarus) and plenty of damselflies and dragonflies. I had particular fun photographing a male Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens) through the grass stems.

On my walk back to the car, I was thrilled to find a family of Long-tailed Tits (Aegithalos caudatus), as they were one of my favourite birds. Mind you, they are a nuisance to try and take photographs of as they move around so much! However, a couple of these particular birds didn’t move around as much, I think they must’ve been fledglings.

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#30DaysWild – Days 6 & 7

day 7

My first act of going wild on Day 6 started early when I released this Elephant Hawk-moth (Deilephila elpenor) into my garden. I had originally collected it as a caterpillar back in Dorset in September / October. Since then, I had been carefully looking after it – feeding it appropriate food when it was a caterpillar (mainly Fuschia, ) and then keeping it cool and a little bit moist when it was pupating. It had come in ever so useful as a party trick, as the pupae moves when touched! But finally, it emerged as an adult on the evening of Day 5. Ideally, I should’ve released it back where I originally found it, but I was no longer in or near Dorset, so I released it into my garden instead. It didn’t seem to mind!

At work, I was doing Wild Art with schoolchildren at Wicken Fen. The main activity is to make a creature from clay and natural materials – hedgehogs are a popular choice, but there were also ladybirds, snakes and swans. Between sessions, I kept my eye out for interesting wildlife as usual. A good find on this day was a Wasp Beetle (Clytus arietis), I’ve only ever seen one before, during the bioblitz at Llanbwchllyn Lake this time last year. One of the volunteers was running the pond dipping sessions and found some Bladderwort. Although it looks quite benign, Bladderworts are actually carnivorous plants which capture prey (small aquatic invertebrates) in their bladders (small sacs) and slowly digest them to absorb nutrients without having to rely on roots.

The following day (Day 7), I was leading some pond dipping sessions with the school groups. We found some excellent creatures – damselfly, dragonfly and mayfly nymphs, a huge diving beetle larva and some newts (one adult Smooth Newt, and two young newts – one with legs, but still with gills, and one that must have only been a few days old). In the afternoon, I shadowed one of the volunteers on the boardwalk session with the school, as I’ve not seen that session yet. I learnt that Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) was used as a poultice for fixing broken bones, where to find Watermint (Mentha citrata) and that there is a subspecies of Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) called the Fen Nettle (U. dioica subsp. galeopsifolia) which doesn’t sting!

I am unsure whether to add Fen Nettle to my Pan-Species List, since it is a subspecies rather than a separate species. However, it is quite distinctive. Hm. Thoughts welcome.

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#30DaysWild – Day 3


Like the first two days of June, Day 3 was grey and drizzly first thing in the morning. And it didn’t change all day, except for occasionally giving us a break from the drizzle every now and then. Fortunately, we were doing the perfect thing at work – teaching children how to light, cook on and be safe around a fire! All outdoors of course (thank goodness for waterproof trousers!).

You will be envious to discover that we roasted marshmallows, made pancakes and popcorn, and have lovely hot drinks too. Plus as I was working all day, I did everything twice – so twice the amount of marshmallows, pancakes, popcorn and hot drinks! I actually had a moment of disbelief / amazement when I thought to myself “I’m getting paid to do this?!”

And I wasn’t the only one to enjoy myself. The children and their parents loved it too. I think the children especially enjoyed it as it isn’t often that children can work with fire, let alone be the ones to light it and cook on it. There were a few that were initially quite afraid of being so close, but by the end, everyone was feeling quite confident and comfortable with controlling the fire and being safe around it. The marshmallows and pancakes probably helped with that quite a lot!

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#30DaysWild – Day 1

day 1

At last! 30 Days Wild is back! It was so much fun last year, and the campaign is a great reminder that it can be so easy to connect with nature every day. Fortunately for me, I work in two beautiful locations – NT Wimpole Estate and NT Wicken Fen, so it is even easier for me to connect and discover something marvellous each day.

Day 1 of 30 Days Wild dawned wet and chilly, and most certainly classified as a good day for a ‘duvet day’. Nonetheless, I figured I ought to be a good employee and I headed off to NT Wicken Fen where I was due to be doing den building as a half term activity. My colleagues and I were wondering just how many children and parents would turn up, but actually we had about a 95% turnout. I do love it when families decide not to care about the weather and are determined to head out and have a good time.

Despite the drizzle, we had a fantastic time! We practised tying knots and learning about camouflage before building large enough dens for the children to sit in. It was great fun! Before coming to Wicken, I hadn’t done den building since my university placement with the Field Studies Council in 2011 / 2012!

We were practicing our knots by one of the ponds, where we were surprised to see a dragonfly on one of the reeds. It must have emerged relatively recently as it hadn’t yet opened its wings. And you can see an exhuvia on the opposite side of the reed to it, most likely the one that it had come from.

PS – I know I haven’t blogged regularly in the last couple of weeks. Now that I am working at Wicken Fen as well as at Wimpole, I am effectively working 6 days / week. This is on top of running the social media for A Focus On Nature (plus planning the social media for the launch of the VisionforNature report), attempting to do gardening (actually very time-consuming) and generally having lots of things to do – so my usual blog posts are a tad sporadic currently.