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Dreaming of summer – Latvian wildlife part 1

Spring is taking forever to properly arrive, and more cold weather is due. I’ve sown various seeds, and even have a few seedlings, but spring (let alone summer) feels like years away!

Which makes me dream of last summer and its various adventures, especially our week in Latvia in late July / early August. We had gone for a wedding at the end of the week, and made a really wonderful week’s holiday out of it.

Latvia shares a lot of the same wildlife species as the UK, so I saw a lot of very familiar species – blackbird, robin, house sparrow, various butterflies and other insects. However, there it is just different enough for there to be some exciting new species – some of which I managed to identify while in Latvia, and some of which I am still puzzling over!

I won’t go through everything we saw, but here is part one:

Rose chafer (Cetonia aurata).

Spotted in a park in Riga city, also found in the UK.

 

Robin feeding a juvenile cuckoo (Erithacus rubecula / Cuculus canorus)

Seen in Kemeri National Park. Both found in the UK, but robins are rarely a host in the UK.

 

White stork (Ciconia ciconia) – very grubby looking!

Spotted somewhere between Kemeri and Sliteres National Parks. Not found in the UK.

 

Sooty copper butterfly (Lycaena tityrus).

Seen near Kolka Point. Not found in the UK.

 

Map butterfly (Araschnia levana f. prorsa).

Seen near Kolka Point. Not usually found in the UK, any sightings are normally released individuals.

 

Otter spraint (Lutra lutra).

Found in Guaja National Park – even in a different country, I can’t help finding otter spraint!

 

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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.

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Day Twenty-two 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)

If every day could be like today, life would be perfect, which really shows the value of going wild.

By 5am I was looking for otters. And as I’ve just been typing we’ve all dashed outside to see an otter at 9pm at night.

I’m now back at the iPad typing away having watched an otter make its way through the bay.

A few minutes ago I had a sore back from lying on the floor for three hours waiting for the pine martens with limited success. But it’s all forgotten after seeing my first Scottish otter in a while, and Megan’s first ever

And I haven’t even mentioned the extremely rare northern emerald dragonfly I spotted this morning or the chequered skipper butterfly we found, or the newts and toads I held.

Most importantly, I feel restored and refreshed, and have shared these experiences with amazing, talented, knowledgeable friends.

Megan (in western Scotland)

If you read yesterday’s post, you’ll know that I am already having a fantastic time in Scotland watching wildlife. The evening eclipsed all that when pine martens, yes PINE MARTENS!!!!!, appeared just outside the garden. Beth and I practically died of excitement – Beth cried and I was almost not breathing. It even came up onto the steps by us!

As I write now, it is early evening and we are all hanging out in the conservatory waiting for the pine martens to reappear. We think there are three individuals.

In terms of today, we went off to Claish Moss in search of more wildlife in different habitats. Very tiring walk, but totally worth it. There are no set footpaths on Claish Moss itself, as visitors aren’t encouraged since the bog is pretty dangerous to walk across due to, well, it being a bog. We went down a track in the neighbouring forest to access the reserve. There were lots of wonderful insects for me to marvel at including plenty of Clouded Border (Lomaspilis marginata) moths, dragonflies and best of all, a Chequered Skipper (Carterocephalus palaemon) butterfly! This beautiful little skipper is found only in north-western Scotland and was one of the target species of this holiday.

Coming back to this post because OTTER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! My first ever!! After assisting on otter spraint surveys, dissecting otter spraint for dietary analysis, seen otter prints and finding otter anal jelly, I was desperate to see an otter. It is even one of my 2015 Wildlife Resolutions! When the call resonated through the cottage of “Otter!”, I was just putting my laptop onto charge. I raced through the house, almost knocking over a couple of the others and almost had a heart attack when I saw it. Otter!!!!

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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!