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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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#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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Owl have some of that!

I was going to write a post introducing you to the garden at the new house – the little beasties that I have found whilst digging up the vegetable patch, the birds on my new garden bird list and the Lepidoptera that I’ve found hibernating in the shed. However, that shall have to wait and something so wonderful has happened that I am bumping off that topic and devoting a whole blog post to it.

My current work rota at Wimpole is little bit skew-iffy, as I work one day every weekend – and that day varies, and as a result, I get a day off during the week – again, variable. This week, my day off during the week was Thursday, which dawned chilly but bright. Like everyone, I had some urgent tasks that needed doing, but once those were out of the way, I was free as a bird. That is, I was free if I ignored the rest of my To Do list. I had a choice before me, spend the afternoon working through my To Do list or make the most of the sunshine and visit a nature reserve. As a naturalist, there really was no choice. So off to a nature reserve I went, which in this case, was RSPB’s Fen Drayton Lakes.

You may remember that I’ve been there a few times, spotting Bittern (Botaurus stellaris) from the car park, protecting Ruby Tiger Moth caterpillars (Phragmatobia fuliginosa) from cyclists and generally having an all-round lovely time. Which I expected again, although I would have to be lucky to spot a Bittern again and it would be very worrying to spot a Ruby Tiger Moth caterpillar at this time of year, but you know what I mean. I expected to have a charming wander around a couple of the lakes, watching Coots (Fulica atra), Widgeon (Anas penelope) and the other inhabitants. I hoped for a stroke of luck, perhaps seeing a butterfly or one of the Short-eared Owls (Asio flammeus) that I had failed to spot when I visited in January, maybe even the Slavonian Grebe (Podiceps auritus) which had been reported and would be a life tick for me.

So, how did my afternoon go, I hear you asking. It started well with a Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) on the Ferry Lagoon (nb: the biggest lake at Fen Drayton), which was in non-breeding plumage but was beautiful nonetheless. Upon deciding to make a real go of it, I headed off on the long trail around Ferry Lagoon. Walking up the road past the car park, I was forced to stop a little while as Long-tailed Tits (Aegithalos caudatus) shouted their presence in a nearby tree. I always love to see these birds, bouncing here and there, making the most adorable racket. It was by pure chance that during my regard of them, I spotted a much quieter bird, weaving its way vertically up a tree in its silent way. A Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris), and the best (and closest) view of one I had ever had. As I watched it through my binoculars, and occasionally camera lens, another little bird darted briefly through my field of view. Even smaller than the Treecreeper, but not as a quiet, it was a Goldcrest (Regulus regulus). Now I can count on one hand the number of times I have seen a Goldcrest or Treecreeper, so by this point in my visit, I was already a very happy naturalist!

Leaving them to their foraging, I set my boots back onto the path and struck on. Struggling to wade through mud around the top end of the trail, I succeeded in startling a flock of Widgeon who took to the skies in loud whistles and flapping wings. The bird list continued to grow as I added Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus), Canada and Greylag Geese (Branta canadensis and Anser anser), Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) and Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea). A bright colour caught my eye, albeit partially hidden by a tree trunk. Vivid blue amongst the brown and green, and a scan with my binoculars confirmed my excited hunch, it wasn’t a piece of litter but an actual Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis). Quickly whipping out my camera, I managed to take my first ever (and very blurred) photo of a Kingfisher before it flew off down the river!

 

What a day this was turning out to be. If I saw nothing else that afternoon, I would still return home absolutely thrilled. But more was to come.

Reaching the northeast corner of the Lagoon, where the path turns at a right-angle to follow the edge of the Lagoon, I was diverted from this route by a glimpse of something just over the ridge, flying low along the edge of the River Ouse. A large and brown bird, gliding smoothly and I must say, rather majestically. I almost stopped breathing when I realised what it could be. I practically ran across the little bridge, and skidded to a sitting position on the other side of the ridge, frantically grabbing my binoculars to get a better look. Yup, no mistaking it, there, flying not 50m away from me in the late afternoon sun, a Short-eared Owl hunting above in the long grasses. Seriously, it was one of the best birding moments of my life to date. Sure, I’ve seen Short-eared Owls before. But it’s always been at such a distance and / or in really bad light. This was remarkable in comparison. It must have known I was there, but it seemed to totally disregard me as it swooped around the field.

Minutes later, whilst I was still not breathing properly, it headed through a gap in the trees to the next field over. I went to get my notebook out and write it down, when a lighter flash amongst the trees caught my eyes. Up went the binoculars again, pressed against my eyes, in a moment of confusion, for I knew it couldn’t be the Short-eared Owl, it was much too light in colour, and smaller too. Wait a minute, could this actually be happening? For before me, now in the same field as the Short-eared Owl had been moments before, there was a Barn Owl (Tyto alba) hunting! Flying slightly higher than the Short-eared, it glided silently, occasionally with a light flutter to the ground – although I didn’t see it catch anything. Again I almost stopped breathing, as it flew closer and closer, until it flew by my position at a distance of what must have only been 10m!

My mind was in a state of bewilderment. Such brilliant birding was unheard of for me – best ever views of so many birds and my first photos of Kingfisher, Short-eared Owl and Barn Owl in the space of less than 2 hours?! What was happening?!?! And then, you’ll never guess what happened next. Well, unless you saw my tweet on the day. Both owls were hunting in the same field, seeming to ignore each other (do either species care about other owl species hunting in the same place? Do they eat the same prey?). At one point, across a distance of around 300-350m, I managed to get a couple of (blurry) photos where they were both in the same frame!

They headed their separate ways, disappearing behind different stretches of trees and I think I managed to start breathing normally again at that point. I attempted to phone Matt to excitedly tell him about what had happened, but of course, he was at work and couldn’t answer. So my mother got the call instead, where I babbled down the phone something about owls and 10m and best views ever and first photos and omg I love this reserve and so on. Thankfully my mother is used to such outbursts from me, and coincidentally she had heard something about Short-eared Owls in the Fens that afternoon on the radio. Now whilst we were on the phone, I was still looking about and actually spotted the Short-eared Owl again, in a scene that will forever be imprinted in my mind. It flew over the ridge running alongside the river, about 200m or so from where I was and what looked like about 20m behind someone walking along the ridge! Moreover, due to its quiet flight, that person didn’t even notice! As soon as the person got close enough, I went over and told them all about it. She was equally amazed and baffled, and promised that she would keep an eye out for it in future, thanking me for telling her about it.

Now I would have happily stayed there for much longer, but I needed to head off to pick up Matt and besides, as the sun dropped lower in the sky, I was absolutely freezing! A brisk walk back to the car, obviously with occasional pauses to look at birds and take photos of the lagoon, and before long, I was driving down the track to leave the reserve.

I pulled over by the field where many of the birdwatchers are to be found recently, it’s a field with excellent views of a Short-eared Owl. At the time of leaving, I learnt that the owl there had been showing itself quite well and was currently resting in a tree on the far side of the field. I could just about make it out in my binoculars. Beautiful, but nothing on the one I had seen earlier.

And so I headed home – content, thrilled, still a tad bewildered. Looking back on it, I know that the afternoon will become one of my favourite birding memories. Something has struck me since. I love going bird / wildlife watching with Matt, other naturalist friends and even those that aren’t that into wildlife, but I am glad I saw those owls alone. There is something about connecting to nature when you’re alone. More than usual, you become part of the landscape and can connect even more closely than when accompanied. That’s not to say I won’t return to Fen Drayton Lakes with company. Of course not, I love being with other people and seeing wildlife with them. However, I will always savour solo adventures into nature and the special feeling I get in my heart when I’m sitting alone watching something wonderful.

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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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A few twitches might a twitcher make!

No glorious weather on Monday to potter around in, so I attempted to get my affairs in order (job applications and the like since my contract will soon be finishing!). With better weather the next day, I headed south for the evening (after work) and pottered around in King Barrow Quarries Nature Reserve for a little while. It felt like I hadn’t been there for far too long! It was quieter than earlier in the summer – some of the butterflies are reaching the end of their flight season. Plus, it was rather breezy. However, there was enough wildlife about to keep me occupied!

A lunchtime walk at Chesil called to me, having spent the morning within the centre wistfully thinking of the outdoors. I hadn’t been over the road for a little (just like the quarries), so dodged and ducked between the traffic (lies! I walked across the road, but that sounds more exciting). Traipsing around over there revealed some hidden beauties tucked amongst the grasses – Common Toadflax (Linaria vulgaris), White Campion (Silene latifolia), Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis) and Grey Bush-Cricket (Platycleis albopunctata), plus a cute but unidentified little snail shell.

A wander back to the Fleet Lagoon to see what the receding tide was revealing. In this case, a dead Barrel Jellyfish (Rhizostoma pulmo), plus some of the usual bird suspects flitting about.

Whilst working that afternoon, in the back of my mind I was um-ing and ah-ing whether to head up to Portland again. I had heard / seen the news that a Wryneck (Jynx torquilla) was about, and I was tempted to twitch. First, it looked like a pretty awesome bird. Second, it seemed to be showing quite well. And of course, it would add to my list! Three good reasons, and so I climbed the hill (in my car) and zoomed (within the speed limit naturally) over to the Portland Bird Observatory to get directions.

Thanks to them, I was soon in the right spot and casting my eye around the place. I could see a bird quite far away, just a brown blob even through the bins. So I zoomed in and took a photo, just as it took off! Bah, no chance of working out what it was. Oh well. A bit of wandering – a male Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola) over on a Ministry of Defence fence, and a number of gulls circling above. Then out of the corner of my eye, I saw something fly. Quickly with the bins, and success! I had seen a Wryneck! Then snapping away with my camera, before settling down to watch it for a while (though it didn’t do much, it seemed to just be looking about!). I flicked back to the first blurry photo, and was surprised to see it was the Wryneck! Turns out I had seen it about 10 minutes before I knew I had!

A few other photos from my twitch.

There ends my time on Portland for the week, as I was at Lorton Meadows for the other working days working out my workplan for the next few weeks so I can get my various projects finished before I leave! Of course, I still went out to see the wildlife too, even attempting some oak gall and bush-cricket identification!

My weekend off, and so up to Cambridge I went – including a walk in the fields nearby and watching grasshoppers in the garden. The latter is very interesting indeed, to see how they interact with each other, and I even saw one eating some grass and cleaning its antennae! So go and watch some grasshoppers!

I recently rediscovered some lovely Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) photos that I took a while back on a lovely evening at PBO – it was sitting in tree only about 10-15metres away, bathed in some glorious light from the setting sun. What a superb bird!

In other news:

  • I have set up a Facebook group for UK Orthoptera because they didn’t have one and they are wonderful insects which deserve their own group!
  • For the next week, I shall be curating the Biotweeps Twitter account and will be talking about a variety of topics, including moths of course – but also getting a career in conservation, inspiring the next generation, and more!
  • I recently recalculated my Pan-Species List as the number I had online was different to the one on my notebook. I need to add a couple on from this week, but as it stands I am on 732! Will I reach my 1000 target by the end of the year?
  • The title of this blog post refers back to another blog post last year when I went on my first twitch.

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).

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Day Twenty-seven of Megan & Matt Go Wild!

Welcome to our joint-blogging series for the Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Days Wild Challenge – you can read more about the campaign and ourselves in our introduction page.

Matt (in western Scotland)

As the month draws to an end I’m considering how to make interaction with nature, and writing about it, a far more routine part of my everyday life. I suppose this means that #30DaysWild has achieved its goal.

Today was our final day in Scotland, and we made sure we took advantage. We visited the RSPB’s Glenborrodale reserve, where I held a frog and some butterflies. And I ended the week as I began it: with rockpooling and holding a crab.

We also saw porpoise and a golden eagle. This month has truly forced me to think hard about how much nature I actually get in my day to day life, even though I work in nature conservation. And I think it has had a profound impact on me. This wasn’t something I expected, but it is most welcome.

Megan (in western Scotland)

A day out today – we headed west again to visit a reserve we have often driven past this week and have often said “ooh, that would be nice to visit!”. So we went off to the RSPB’s Glenborrodale Reserve, and ascended the steep (ish) path. Note – this isn’t a reserve for those with limited movements! The terrain became mostly flat again once we reached the top. It was the worth the steep but short ascent, birds were singing and calling away throughout the woodland. We even heard a Grasshopper Warbler (Locustella naevia).

In terms of insects, the butterflies were rather showing off. Two (possibly three) Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary (Boloria selene) butterflies were calmly fluttering about a clearing, the warmth in the air not enough to really energise them. As ever, I was excited to see butterflies but particularly so as these were a lifer for me! I had managed to miss them at Gilfach Nature Reserve last year, and they were on my list of species to see. That doubles my 2015 butterfly Wildlife Resolution! Four new species this year, crumbs!

Evidently, another butterfly heard my delight and decided to top the Fritillaries as we soon met a Chequered Skipper (Carterocephalus palaemon) butterfly. Our third this trip, and always a thrill to see – bearing in mind that this species is (a) beautiful and (b) limited in its distribution.

As Matt mentioned, we went rockpooling once we were back at the cottage. I had great fun watching the barnacles feeding and even spotted a small fish darting quickly from beneath a rock. And now I’m typing, but keeping a keen eye on the area beside the conservatory – the Pine Marten (Martes martes) will shortly appear I am sure!

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Days Twenty-four & Twenty-five of Megan & Matt Go Wild!

 

Welcome to our joint-blogging series for the Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Days Wild Challenge – you can read more about the campaign and ourselves in our introduction page.

Matt (in western Scotland)

Yesterday was a quiet day. We hung around the cottage and took a break from dashing about.

But even here that meant a couple of otter sightings and our regular evening visit of pine marten.

Today, we took a trip to one of my favourite places – Mull. It feels like it’s on a different level. On Mull you’re on constantly alert for anything that moves, and we saw porpoises (my first ever), otters, Mull’s famous sea eagles, a peregrine falcon, wheatears, twite and oystercatchers.

We also took the boat to Iona, where I got one of my biggest ever birding ticks – the rare and extremely elusive corncrake. It makes a sound like a comb being run against a desk.

Not only did we hear this bird, we even spotted someone in a front garden of one of the handful of houses of this tiny island community.

But alongside the wildlife, one of the best elements of this trip has been being surrounded by such knowledgeable people whom I have learned so much from. Our current trip list of all the species of wildlife we have seen is 260. This is an incredible total, and I’m so impressed with the friends I’m with and the wildlife they can identify.

Megan (in western Scotland)

DAY 24

Today was a bit of a recovery day after the recent busyness. As someone who suffers a lot from exhaustion, this mid-holiday break was needed so that I don’t burn out before the end. I have spent far too much time at my laptop today, but I have been having fun. Whilst Matt was preparing the vegetables for the roast dinner, I played a bit of my music. The ‘Dear future husband’ song by Meghan Trainor started playing, and I thought about how my version would be quite different – after all, my future husband will have to accept me for who I am which includes dissecting owl pellets, keeping roadkill, smelling otter spraint and looking for insects.

Then I actually decided to write out my own version of the lyrics to the song! It was posted on my blog earlier today.

I then took it further, thinking that it would be quite amusing to make a video for my YouTube channel. I found the instrumental version of the song and edited some text onto photos and videos in time with the music. Here is the result, enjoy!

DAY 25

Following the calm of yesterday, we headed over to the Isle of Mull to try and see lots more wildlife. The plan worked – Harbour Porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) from the ferry and two Otters (Lutra lutra) gliding through still waters of a loch (during which my camera broke, nooooo!). On Iona, we were building our hopes up to hear the calling of male Corncrakes (Crex crex), and we did! It is one of the oddest bird noises I have ever heard, probably more weird than a booming bittern! Do go online and listen to it! Only about 15 minutes later and Matt spotted one as we were walking back to the ferry. What a lifer!

A small detour driving back to look for eagles – always worth detouring for! We had excellent views of an adult White-tailed Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla), and could also glimpse a youngster through the branches of a tree.