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Making friends with dragons

Everything is beginning to calm down and sort itself out in my life, which is wonderful and also means that I may just have some time to write my blog again! Fingers crossed! There is a lot I could write about in this post, but I am going to focus on a nature walk I took recently – the first in ages and it was wonderful!

(c) Andrew Kerwick-Chrisp

A friend and I decided to use a weekend day to visit Irthlingborough Lakes and Meadows in Northamptonshire. This was a new nature reserve for me so I didn’t know what to expect, but it is on his doorstep so he knows it quite well. However, he isn’t wildlife-mad/obsessed like myself so it turned out to be a learning experience for him too. Not to mention that he hasn’t seen me in wildlife-mad/obsessed mode before, so that also turned out to be a learning experience for him! (Yes, I do actually associate with people outside the world of natural history!)

I managed to find quite a few plump and juicy blackberries to snack on, although we are beginning to near the end of their season sadly. We even found a dragonfly – which I believe to be a Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) though I am completely out of practice, so do let me know if I’m wrong! We watched it for a minute or two, and I tried to get a decent photo of it. I think I did quite well, though not an amazing photo. It then flew off and we didn’t see where it landed, until we went to walk on again at which point my friend noticed that it had landed on my hair! It actually stayed there for about 5 minutes or so, and only flew off when I went to carry on walking. On an unrelated note – how fantastic does my plait look in the photos?!

Further along the way, we were intrigued by the sight of a lady crouching down in the grass by the side of the path. What could she be up to? Something nefarious or was she, like I usually do, looking at something interesting? It turned out that she was photographing Shaggy Ink Caps (Coprinus comatus), a lovely fungus that it is one of the easier species to identify. Apparently it is edible and quite tasty, but before the black ink begins to appear. I wouldn’t take my word for it though, as I don’t know much about foraging for mushrooms!

What with there being lakes at this nature reserve, there were a fair few birds about – Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea), Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus), Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus), Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), etc etc. I had my duck identification skills tested, after quite a few months of not even attempting any duck ID. Racking my brains, I managed to remember that they were Wigeon (Anas penelope) and Teal (Anas crecca). It shouldn’t have been quite so difficult to remember, but I am very out of practice with ducks! Must work harder!

We almost passed by this female Blackbird (Turdus merula) without noticing her, she was sitting ever so still and quietly in the Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) tree. A little later, we spotted another Blackbird, this time a male who was not so still but instead was enjoying some haw berries.

Our last find was a good one – a grasshopper! I had wondered if it would be too late in the year or too chilly to find any Orthoptera, but I was not to be disappointed it seems. With the side keels of the pronotum being so straight and almost parallel, my guess would be Lesser Marsh Grasshopper (Chorthippus albomarginatus)?

All in all, a rather nice nature walk. I bet it is even better in late spring and summer when I am sure it is buzzing with even more Orthoptera, and filled with exciting wildflowers and other insects!

In other news, I have left National Trust’s Wimpole Estate (though not before finding a rare fungus!), moved house, and have exciting plans for the near future. Watch this space! For now, a few tweets of what else has been happening recently:

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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 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 – 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 4 & 5

There isn’t much to show for Day 4 as I spend much of the day out in the garden without my phone or camera. However, I did pop out for a bit and I saw a family of Mute Swans (Cygnus olor) on the river. Look at how cute and fluffy the cygnets are!!!

I was working on Sunday (day 5), but still managed to squeeze quite a lot of wildness in! We have Swallows (Hirundo rustica) nesting in the stable block at Wimpole and I finally saw one of them with nesting material. Until then, I had only seen them flying about and chattering away.

It was relatively quiet at work that day as the county show was occurring nearby (on Wimpole land, but not run by Wimpole). I popped over to give someone a new radio, and walked through the gardens to get there. I was thrilled to find Yellow Rattle () in the gardens, as it is one of my favourite wildflowers, (a) because it is very pretty, (b) because you can rattle the seeds around and (c) because it is a hemi-parasite on grasses and thus it is brilliant for turning an area of grass into a wildflower meadows!

The wildness continued after work as I was able to fit in a short wander whilst I waited for Matt to pick me up from Wimpole. I’ve not identified the white flower or the white moth just yet, though I am taking an educated guess and saying that it is a White Plume moth  (Pterophorus pentadactyla). The other moth is a Blood-vein moth (Timandra comae), a species that I was very excited to find as I have admired in the book for ages and hadn’t actually seen one before!

For both days, I then spent the evening as a volunteer on the @30DaysWild Twitter account (whilst someone else volunteered on the Facebook group). I knew in advance that it was going to be quite busy – but I hadn’t realised quite how busy it would be! I barely had time to take a sip of water or to eat snacks during the four hour sessions. Whilst it was quite hectic, it was very enjoyable and so inspiring to see what everyone has been up to for #30DaysWild

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#30DaysWild – Day 2


Oops, day 2 passed without me posting my 30 Days Wild! However, I did go out and connect with nature on Day 2. In fact, I even managed to do it before work! I was at Wimpole early yesterday, so I went for a short walk around one of the nature areas looking for insects, flowers and generally getting rather soggy knees. And even a nettle sting when I wasn’t careful enough!

Even in the drizzle, there was plenty to be found, especially because there were so many nettles! I have decided that big patches of nettles are one of my favourite habitats as I find so many interesting insects on them!

I was also thrilled to find some Jelly-ear Fungus (Auricularia auricula-judae), Common Spotted Orchids (Dactylorhiza fuchsii), a huge carpet of bright yellow buttercups and to hear and see a little Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) darting around the trees and singing away very loudly!

A most excellent start to the day!

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Hare Again, And Again

After last week’s literal ‘Hare Today, Gone Tomorrow’, I was keeping a keen eye on the fields of Wimpole Estate for some live and happy Brown Hares (Lepus europaeus). Before that though, Matt and I found another hare on the road. Unlike last week, this one had already dead, rather than suffering a prolonged and painful decline. Being me, said hare is now in my freezer. It may be a bit unusual, and a tad gross, but I hope to dissect it in order to study its anatomy.

Anyway, back to the world of the living. Fortunately I have seen some hares that are very much alive. I usually see them at quite a distance, and usually in bad light, so my photos aren’t too good. But I have managed to catch a couple of half-decent photos of them, and they even appeared in my short article in Wimpole’s internal newsletter ‘The Herald’.

Something that has amazed me has been how much they can hunker down into the grass when they want to disappear! The photos below show this very well. The first photo is taken from my car, whilst the second one was taken just after I had gotten out of my car. It took me a while to refind them amongst the grass!

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An Update

Moving house has been fun. However, it has also been stressful, taken up all my free time and at times, it has created difficulties for me as I struggle with the winter blues and the ongoing issue of depression and exhaustion. Particularly when I learnt that the internet wasn’t being installed for a while, and then when the boiler broke during one of our coldest weeks of the year. Fun fun! Being me, I have taken solace in my usual way. Yes, you guessed it, through connecting with nature.

Whilst the odd sign of spring has shown itself, true spring is still a while off. By true spring, I am of course referring to the start of the butterfly and moth season.  My mind wistfully longs for it, and I’ve even been dreaming of Lepidoptera – White Admirals gloriously flutter through my nights, Brown Hairstreaks feed in hot sunshine, whilst Small Coppers are shy and humble amongst wildflower meadows. Spring and summer can’t come soon enough.

Such utterances make it seem like I haven’t found anything worthwhile recently. Which is completely untrue, but I haven’t found all that much in the Lepidoptera department. No, instead, I have contented myself with the beauty of the Avian and Flora worlds.

An unexpected staff illness at National Trust’s Anglesey Abbey during their peak snowdrop season, meant that I was seconded over there for a few days. In addition to testing out the soups and scones of the restaurant team, and keeping track of visitors to their bird feeders, I did my best to learn about their snowdrops (Galanthus). First though, a note about said soups and scones – ever so scrumptious, but I prefer the much cheesier scones at Wimpole. I will also take this time to recommend Anglesey Abbey’s tiffin which is utterly delicious.

As for their avian fauna, it was the usual suspects on the bird feeders, including regular visits by a flock of Long-tailed Tits (Aegithalos caudatus). This species is an ever favourite of mine, despite being so fast-moving and thus difficult to photograph! Most annoyingly, I missed a pair of Crossbills (Loxia curvirostra) that had been reported in the Winter Walk. I went over, with both camera and binoculars, but it seemed they did not want to be seen by me. Oh well, such is life!

Back at Wimpole, I managed to hit a personal record for the number of species seen in a day from the Garden Gate Ticket Office. I had been pleased previously with 12 species, but just last Friday I managed to see a stunning 20 species – including 2 that were new for me in that location: Goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis) and Long-Tailed Tits (Aegithalos caudatus). Of the 12, and then the 20, other species have included Jay (Garrulus glandarius), Nuthatch (Sitta europaea), Buzzard (Buteo buteo) and Goldcrest (Regulus regulus). On Friday just gone, I also saw my first Common Wasp (Vespula vulgaris) of the year, a big beauty that must have been a queen, who buzzed her way around the ticket office until I managed to pot her up and set her free outside.

Now that is all very exciting, but doesn’t quite compare to that of late January / early February when I learnt of a tree that is often favoured by Little Owls (Athene noctua). Having only seen this species briefly and usually at quite a distance, it is fair to say I was desperate to leave the ticket office and see them. Fortunately, I have a wonderful line manager, who also wanted to see them, so off we went! And continuing with the good fortune, the owls posed nicely for a few photos – and have done so again on a couple of days since. I now make a habit of checking aforementioned tree every time I drive into / out of work.

Last week, my line manager and I took a walk into the parkland of Wimpole, discussing some of the history and access that can be pointed out to visitors. In doing so I added some birds to my Wimpole list, and partially worked towards completely my resolution of exploring Wimpole more. New additions to the Wimpole bird list include: Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo), Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula) and Mute Swan (Cygnus olor).  Not particularly exciting I suppose, but it is always good to note them down as records.

What else is there to update on? A few new additions to the garden list at the new house for sure, as our bird feeders have been discovered by some of the locals. Again the usual suspects, such as Goldfinch and Greenfinch (Chloris chloris), but wonderful to see them nonetheless. Whilst digging in the garden to create a vegetable plot, my keen eye spotted a couple of caterpillars and beetles (still to be identified), and later, whilst in the shed sowing herb seeds into pots, I found a beautifully and delicately marked slug (promptly relocated to outside, away from the veg plot!).

Gosh, I almost finished without mentioning one of my favourite events of the year! The National Moth Recorders Conference! I attended for the first time last year and had a blast, and this year was no different. In fact, I could dare to say this year was better. I knew more people, allowed myself to buy a book and soap, and … I contributed to a presentation! Alongside three others, I was representing A Focus On Nature with a talk entitled … wait for it … A Focus On Moths! Simon Phelps began by introducing AFON and University Moth Challenge, followed by Laura Richardson on how she had got into moths, followed by Ben Porter who spoke about the importance of mentors. Last of the four, I spoke about the future, young people and moth recording. Due to moving house the week before, I hadn’t really had time to prepare properly, but I felt it went well and was congratulated afterwards by many for giving a good presentation. In conclusion, Simon finished with thanks to those who are supporting AFON, for being invited to speak, and an invite to attendees to get involved (and who could resist such an invite?).

Sadly it is a while yet before the internet is installed in the house, and so, it could be a while before my next post in all likelihood. However, I am sure I shall be kept busy by the local wildlife and you shall be treated to another post before you know it.

For now, here are a few more photos that I have taken recently at Wimpole.

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Back From My Break

You’ll have noticed I have had a bit of break from blogging, initially due to exhaustion  / depression (thanks for the kind words), then finding out that I need to move house and thus beginning the stress of finding somewhere new, packing and such. So I have been a bit distracted lately! I haven’t yet moved, but am using writing as a distraction technique from the moving stress.

Now, what do we need to catch up on? A couple of things, for sure.

  • BBC Wildlife Magazine – I was Highly Commended in their Wildlife Blogger Awards 2015 which is super exciting and so wonderful to get such amazing feedback on my blog. Full details of Winners and other Highly Commended bloggers on the BBC Wildlife website.
  • We got a cat! And one of the feline variety, rather than a moth caterpillar as is the normal way for us (well, me). She is called Mowgli, she is three (ish) years old and we got her from a local animal shelter. She is very funny, though not always keen on being affectionate.
  • I got a moth cat.! It was found in Kent just after Christmas, and I will admit to being a little anxious about it. The last green caterpillar I picked up and tried to rear died on me, but the online Lepidoptera community identified for me as an Angle Shades caterpillar (Phlogophora meticulosa). It has now made its cocoon and is pupating. Updates will follow.  Other wildlife was also photographed in Kent, though I don’t know what they all are – i.e. the fungus.


I still haven’t had a chance to properly get out into the parkland of Wimpole and discover what wildlife lives there, but I hope to do so soon. Nonetheless, I have of course been keeping track of the wildlife I have seen. My Wimpole bird list is steadily increasing, with the most recent species added to the list being Greenfinch (Chloris chloris), Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus), Nuthatch (Sitta europaea) and Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris). The usual bird suspects have of course been seen on a regular basis, plus some other wildlife – Small Tortoiseshell butterfly (Aglais urticae), Mottled Umber moths (Erannis defoliaria) and Two-spot Ladybird (Adalia bipunctata). The Winter Aconites (Eranthis hyemalis I think) in front of the restaurant are looking good, and the Snowdrops (Galanthus) in the garden too apparently (though  I haven’t seen them yet).

I also found a very interestingly-coloured feather (see below). The iridescent blue / green colour isn’t due to the photo, it’s the actual colour. What do you think it could be?

In addition to keeping track of my own wildlife sightings, I have obtained a diary for 2016 that can be used by other members of the Visitor Welcome Team to note down what they see. I hope to collate the data and send it off to the local records centre and the county recorders. I am also encouraging other staff, volunteers and visitors to add in their sightings too, through word of mouth and writing a small piece for the Wimpole Herald (the in-house newsletter). I have had great fun creating it as I have cut out pictures of British wildlife from some old BBC Wildlife Magazines, and have stuck them in and annotated them. Good learning experience for me, and hopefully others will enjoy flicking through it during the quiet moments at work.

A last note on Wimpole. I had my first lunch break in the restaurant this week, and it was delicious! Sitting with the Head Gardener and his wife, they informed me that the soup was made from squash they had grown. How wonderful! Plus the homemade foccacia and cheese scone were scrumptious! I should treat myself to lunch there more often!

One freezing day, we decided it would be a good idea to visit RSPB Fen Drayton Lakes. It was lovely, but I am not particularly good at standing still in the cold waiting for a Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) to appear. I went for a wander instead to keep warm and to practice my bird identification skills.

Last but not least, I want to share the good news that I have already completed one of my 2016 Wildlife Resolutions! I took part in the BSBI New Year Plant Hunt, although I will admit that Ryan Clark had to help with the identification of many of them. I did recognise a good few though, such as the beautiful Blackthorn flower (Prunus spinosa), plus some other wildlife about. A male Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) taking a break from hunting and a group of Long-tailed Tits (Aegithalos caudatus). Sadly I only have blurry photos of the last, the combination of amateur photographer, fast-moving birds and poor lighting does not work well.

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Here comes the weekend, I get to see the insects

Winter is beginning to settle into the bones now, don’t you think? I’ve had needed to layer up and dig out the thick socks! In the garden, I have been doing some tidying and sorting – pruning of fruit bushes and the hedge. Rather than putting into the green waste bin or straight into the compost, I have made a nice heap of all the cuttings, in the vain hope that I’ll get a hedgehog in there.

Whilst gardening, I was joined by that trusty gardener’s companion, the ever-lovely Robin (Erithacus rubecula). Additionally, I came across a Common Wasp (Vespula vulgaris) in the shed, and some Candlesnuff fungus (Xylaria hypoxylon) by the pond. The latter is a new addition to the garden list, and is quite a distinctive and beautiful fungus species, so do look out for it!

The discoveries continued at the weekend when I attended a course run by the local Wildlife Trust (BCN) – Indoor Invertebrate Techniques, which looked at the different methods for identifying species under microscopes (usually look at their “bits”), for pinning and preserving them. It was highly interesting, though I wish there had been a bit more practical stuff – such as doing some pinning. We did get to dissect a beetle though – taking off its abdomen in order to find its genitalia. Gross, but fascinating.

At Wimpole, they have moved the gorgeous White Park cattle into a field so they are no longer about to keep me company when I am at the Garden Gate ticket office. However, the ornithological gang were about as usual, and of course, I had to take a few photos of them! I counted 11 species on one of the days, which is rather decent for one small spot, plus there were a few species that I know are around there but I didn’t see on that particular day!

At the end of the fortnight, I was headed up to Shropshire as I was treating myself to a weekend away. On a course about dissecting moths to look at their genitals! Busman’s holiday anyone? It was a fascinating weekend, run by Dave Grundy for the Field Studies Council as part of their Tomorrow’s Biodiversity project (and thus very kindly, and heavily subsidised by the project). The first day was given over to demonstrating and attempting the different stages. We were given moths from Dave’s collection of “moths to ID”. I was dissecting a pug moth that had originally been collected in 2002! It turned out to be a male Grey Pug (Eupithecia subfuscata), and although my final slide is a little messy and the bits were all separated and not quite in the right positions, I was rather happy with myself!

The second day was given over to some discussions on the taxonomy of Lepidoptera, including the latest numbering system, followed by more practice in dissecting. On this day, I was doing two moths at the same time – a Copper Underwing sp. and a Common Rustic sp. Upon genital dissection and identification, I was able to say that they were a male Svensson’s Copper Underwing (Amphipyra berbera) and a female Lesser Common Rustic (Mesapamea didyma).