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Days Thirteen & Fourteen 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.

Megan (in various parts of Dorset)

Crikey, that was a weekend and a half! I don’t think we could have fitted in much more wildlife if we had tried! A trip over to Brownsea Island for Saturday morning was a brilliant start. I had volunteered my time to help with the Dorset Wildlife Trust side of the bioblitz. The warden had tempted me over with the promise of many moth traps, and he was true to his word! There were some fantastic moths to behold – both colourful ones and (many) ones that I hadn’t seen before. The highlights for me were the Privet Hawk-Moth (Sphinx ligustri) and the Common Cockchafer / Maybug (Melolontha melolontha), just look at the antennae on the latter!!

A quick (ish) stop by RSPB’s Radipole Lake reserve resulted in us failing to hear / see Common Rosefinch (Carpodacus erythrinus), but Matt saw his first (also, 2nd-6th) Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera). He has taken some absolutely superb photos – I must get him to teach me how to improve my photography techniques!

A (very early) morning on the Isle of Portland meant more rummaging in moth traps at the Portland Bird Observatory, my first Little Owl (Athene noctua), plus my first Pyramidal Orchids (Anacamptis pyramidalis) of 2015, as well as catching up with the Pan-species Listing group.

It was wonderful to go out and find wildlife with Matt – we first met through our love of nature and wanting to conserve it, so it feels right that going out into the natural world is a continuing theme in our relationship. After a busy week of work for the both of us, a weekend of connecting with nature in Dorset together was perfect timing.

Matt (in various parts of Dorset)

What can I say? This weekend has been so wild I haven’t had time to do any writing.

I spent the weekend with Megan in Dorset, visiting a string of wildlife sites and seeing a whole bunch of wildlife.

We were truly wild this weekend, waking up early both days to get out and see some nature.

Saturday took us to Brownsea island where I saw my first ever red squirrel in the UK, a longtime omission from my UK species list.

We also joined the bioblitz being run there and Megan worked her way through a myriad of moths.

Best of all for me was the chance to spend a couple of hours lying on my belly pointing my camera at squirrels. The results will follow soon.

The harbour between Poole and Brownsea was full of terns, gulls and even a diving gannet.

That afternoon we tried to track down a common rosefinch at Radipole Lake. Failing to find this rather dull first summer male we instead spent about an hour photographing bee orchids.

On Sunday we started even earlier to get ourselves over to one of the institutions of British birdwatching: Portland Bird Observeratory

Here, again, we peered into the many moth traps, before seeking out the little owl in the quarry and photographing pyramidal orchids in the meadow. Manx shearwaters and gannets sped by over the waves.

After a week during which work made it difficult to find time for wild, we made up for it in oodles this weekend.

Best of all it was all with my partner in crime and best friend.

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Day Twelve 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 London/Cambridge)

A tale of two halves

My twelfth day of going wild is split between last night and this morning. Last night I spoke at Parliamentaphobia, an event organised by the UK Youth Climate Coalition on how young people can engage with politics and their MPs.

I mentioned the importance of young people who care about nature speaking to their MPs and asking for a future rich in wildlife. It was a small and cosy event, and the discussion there (and in the pub afterwards) were thought-provoking.

Due to disruption at Kings X I didn’t get home until half past midnight, and so this morning when I woke up I felt less than prepared for work. The worst hayfever I’ve had in several years didn’t help either.

But my walk across the fields and through the wood behind my cottage gave me a burst of energy. Skylarks danced in the air above the fields and trilled away. Whitethroats coughed out their scratchy song and a distant willow warbler trilled down through the scales like a chorister warming up their vocal chords.

Best of all was a sound that I couldn’t miss, even with my headphones in – the purr of a turtle dove. These are the fastest declining birds in the UK, and every time I hear one I am left wondering whether that’s the last time I’ll encounter one in the UK.

There was one in the small wood a few weeks ago, but I thought it had moved on to where it hopes to breed. Perhaps it has and this is a new one, or perhaps it was just ranging widely but still nearby.

Either way, I will keep an eye, and an ear, on this one and look out for any signs that it might be breeding.

Megan (in coastal Dorset)

I’m not gonna lie, I am barely awake enough to write this post. We had such a busy day at Lorton today, with what felt like a million and one young children (and their parents) visiting.

Actually in reality, it was more like 80 or so people. We went pond dipping and minibeast hunting, made butterfly bunting and caterpillar palettes, and played a minibeast game. Of course, it was all great fun, but phew it was tiring!

I took a moment to identify at least one of the minibeasts – an orange and white ladybird – to species level. Rather nicely, it is one of those species that looks like its name – it’s an Orange Ladybird (Halyzia 16-guttata)!

As you will see, I have tweeted about it – but I have also submitted it to the iRecord Ladybirds App, and thus contributed towards a citizen science project!

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Day Eleven 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.

Megan (in coastal Dorset)

It was another office day for me – spending much of the time glued to my laptop preparing for events and the like. I could hear the leaves rustling outside, and a Chiffchaff that was determined to make sure that everyone knew he was present in the area.

I decided to work downstairs at Lorton, rather than up out of the way in the office. A bit more sociable for talking to visitors, plus it lets me keep an eye on live kestrel camera.

By the time I managed to grab a late lunch, I needed to get outside so headed to the picnic benches to munch. Having attended a time management training session, I was reminded of how important it is to actually take a break. I am definitely guilty of having short breaks, and usually working whilst I eat too.

I have to say, it was a lovely break. A small fly popped by to say hello, I followed the fluttering adventures of a blue butterfly across the vegetation, read a little bit of my book and generally basked in the sun. Must take such lunch breaks more often!

Matt (in Cambridge/Sandy)

June is not just one of my wildest ever months but also one of my busiest.

Even though I was working at home today I felt the stress of several projects crunching together at the same time.

This is a short blog post, but it’s dedicated to the immense power of nature to calm and soothe us.

At my most stressed moment today I stepped out into my garden and noticed a blue-tailed dameslfly flitting about delicately near my tiny garden pond.

Among the huge poppies and oxeye daisies in my back garden this moment of quiet contemplation calmed me down and set me up for a few more hours’ work.

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Day Ten 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 Cambridge/Sandy)


On a day spent entirely at my desk, I have to get my wildlife where I can. Most days, that’s during my regular carpool lift to work.

Not only does my 35 minute lift to work give me a chance to spot swallows, kestrels, buzzards and occasionally red kites or barn owls; it’s also when I chat to colleagues and friends at the RSPB about the projects they’re working on – migrants, waders, bees, UK overseas territories, UK woodlands and more.

My daily lift to and from work helps me make sure I spend part of each day going wild.

Megan (in mid and coastal Dorset)

Continuing Matt’s theme of wildlife on the road, much of my connection with nature today came whilst I was driving. I did take some Cub and Beaver Scouts out in the evening for pond dipping and minibeast hunting, but I particularly noticed the nature whilst driving.

I had to go up to Brooklands Farm for the morning, which meant driving along the Weymouth Relief Road whose verges have been created as butterfly habitat. It has worked – 22 species of butterfly have been recorded there so far! I saw a few of them a couple of weeks ago.

I drove across Ferrybridge as I headed back to the Chesil Beach Centre and was awed by the vista that is Chesil Beach and the shining gem of the Fleet Lagoon.

Back up to Lorton for the early evening, and oxeye daisies were bobbing their flower heads in the breeze.

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Day Nine 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.

Megan (in coastal Dorset)

Today’s 30 Days Wild Theme was appreciating meadows. These wonderful habitats are scarce indeed, but are vitally important for our wildlife!

After a pond dipping session with a local school group (plenty of newts, dragonfly nymphs and snails!), we headed over to the meadow to look for minibeasts (aka insects and other invertebrates) there. Some fervent swishing later and I think the best find was a real big green cricket. Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera on me at the time.

I went back after my working hours to try and get some meadow photos as most of my photos at Lorton have been of the pond or butterflies. I even took a selfie! And yes … I am wearing my hair in plaits. I know they are rather Pippi Longstocking-esque, but they are perfect for keeping my hair out the way whilst working.

Matt (in Cambridge/Sandy)

I’m focussing on an indoor activity today: for the first time this season I managed to catch up with BBC Springwatch. I was taking the helm of the RSPB’s twitter account and watched the show while live tweeting.

I love Springwatch but haven’t had a free evening to watch an episode yet.

Normally, I think it’s far better to get outside than sit in front of a screen.

But, I am definitely able to appreciate the power of technology – radio tags for adders, slow-mo cameras for dragonflies, night-vision cameras for intrepid, obstacle course mice (all on Springwatch tonight) – to help people connect with nature and see new sides of it.

And even just twitter can open up conversations and help to share wildlife.

You can’t be outside 24-7, so sometimes technology has an important role to play.

And those who agree should follow a project of mine I’ll be writing more about soon – #rainforestlive on 19 June.

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Some people do cuticle care …

… but I do caterpillar care!

What with this year being quite poor for moths so far, I have been since been focussing on learning more about caterpillars. After all, they are still moths … albeit young’uns. One of the best ways to do so is to raise them up into adults at home. Additionally, by looking after caterpillars, I am also learning about (and improving my) plant identification as they can be quite specific about what they feed upon. Below is an update on each of the caterpillars in my care.

  • Green unidentified (aka Jade): unfortunately died, no known cause.
  • Small brown unidentified (aka Fusspot): also died – appearance of small insects suggests it had been parasitised before it came into my care.
  • Garden Tigers (aka Fluffies 1, 2, 3): after a period of eating (and pooping) energetically, they have recently gone very sluggish. I hope that they are about to pupate.
  • Brown-tail (aka Arnold): was sluggish for a while, and spun itself a cocoon earlier this week.

I also have some recent additions to the family.

  • Lackey (currently no name): found on Thursday evening at Lorton Meadows Nature Reserve. It was evidently good timing as it then spun itself a cocoon overnight on Friday. Interesting to note, in some text I was reading about this species, it says that the caterpillars are gregarious (i.e. hang out together) and on plants such as blackthorn/hawthorn. Whereas this individual was found by itself, on oak!
  • Emperors (x12, no names): given to me by a wonderfully inspiring couple in Herefordshire – their adults had managed to hatch and mate without them noticing, resulting in many eggs! So they have given me some early instar caterpillars (an instar is a stage in a caterpillar’s growth).

In other news:

  • I was interviewed on BBC Dorset about the kestrels at Lorton Meadows.
  • Still no further responses from Red Magazine or the Radio Times.
  • I visited the Gloucester motorway services this weekend. This is actually more interesting than it sounds, as the services have been built with the local landscape in mind – read more about them here. Plus, the services have farmshops, which was extra pleasing as I found a cheese in there that I love but have only ever found at one other deli (all the way back in London).
  • My participation in the 30 Days Wild challenge has been going well I think. I’ve definitely been enjoying it!
  • My South African wildlife ID quiz for the A Focus On Nature Facebook page didn’t go down well – in hindsight, I’ve realised that it was uni exam season, so I shall repost it another time.
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Day Eight 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 Cambridge/Sandy)

Wild to work

In the Spring and Summer I forgo a 12 minute bike ride to where I get picked up for work and instead opt for the 40 minute saunter through the small millennium woodland and across the fields behind my cottage.

Whilst there isn’t anything spectacular I begin each day like I did today – hearing the songs and calls of stock doves, whitethroats, garden warblers and blackcaps, and smelling the elderflowers coming into bloom.

There’s nothing better than this to set me up for a day’s work trying to save nature.

Megan (in coastal Dorset)

Today’s going wild for the 30 Days Wild Challenge is actually for the benefit of someone else. It was my landlord’s birthday last week, and I wanted to buy him something for the garden as he has been redoing it. Being a wildlife person, it just had to be a plant for pollinators. I had initially planned buddleia as butterflies absolutely love it, and it is pretty easy to care for, but the garden centre didn’t have it (question – what kind of garden centre doesn’t stock buddleia?). So I settled for lavender instead – after all, it will still be loved by insects and it smells lush! I hope he likes it!

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Day Four 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, at a conference in Germany)

Dear negotiators,

Please take even just ten minutes to go Wild.

The reasons to prevent climate change are right under your noses. In the tiny patch of grass and trees squeezed in between the conference buildings, black redstarts flit to and from their nest. Blackbirds scour the lawn for worms, hopping among the daisies and buttercups.

Chiffchaffs and blue tits call from the trees and red squirrels hop and jump around. Wildlife (perhaps not this wildlife, but certainly species around the world) are on the front line of climate change now and in the future.

I paused for 20 minutes to sit outside and soak up the wildlife around us at this conference.

I wonder how many of those in suits, here to edit text, who stand only yards from where I was on cigarette breaks and having hushed exchanges of intelligence, notice the creatures right before them.

Sure, human rights, intergenerational justice and many other things are also sufficient reason to want to tackle climate change.

But nature should be near the top of that list too. So please, like I did, pause for a few moments and look around. It’s scientifically proven that a small break in nature reinvigorates our minds and bodies during a working day.

Then, return to the negotiating halls, hopefully carrying with you the memory of a small, furry, bouncy red squirrel.

(Megan, in coastal Dorset)

Unlike yesterday’s day at work, I wasn’t in the office for the whole day today. This time round, I actually spent most of it outside at Lorton Meadows Nature Reserve looking for minibeasts! We had a couple of local schools groups in – in the morning, I was looking under logs and on trees with Yr 1s and 2s. In the afternoon, I was looking in the pond with Reception.

Now pond dipping is absolutely one of my favourite activities to do with children – the underwater world is fascinating and it makes the children really think about how different habitats are and how animals need to be adapted for habitats. Plus, the animals look really groovy! In today’s session, my favourite finds were probably:

  • baby newts, dragonfly and damselfly nymphs, diving beetle larvae and a currently unidentified creature – perhaps also the larvae of something?

If you are a usual follower of my blog, you will know how much I already love the pond at Lorton. It is incredibly calming to sit there for an hour or so after work – much better than getting caught up in the traffic! I am in the process of putting together various clips of the wildlife at the pond to go onto my YouTube channel in the near future. Below are some more of today’s photos from by the pond.

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Day Three 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.

(Megan, in coastal Dorset)

As the third day of the challenge continued along its way, I was not feeling hopeful about connecting with nature. I had to be in the office all day. Whilst my job does support the conservation of wildlife, there wasn’t any direct connection happening today. After work wasn’t much better, as I had to quickly gulp down some food before dashing out to Scouts (I am in the process of becoming a trainee leader with a local group).

I breathed a sigh of relief when the main leader announced that we were off to the local woodland to practice shelter building. Finally, in amongst some nature! The scouts made their shelter, whilst we leaders also made one. It has been a while since I last did shelter building, I had forgotten just how fun it is!

(Matt, at a conference in Germany)

When the only green space you have access to is fairly low quality (compared to what you’re used to) you really become grateful for the small things.

Outside the buildings on the UN campus here in Bonn buttercups and daisies bring some colour to the grass, and a few trees add shade amongst the sunlit lawns. These subtle colour mixes are light relief from the heavy duty negotiations over commas and brackets going on inside the conference.

But I was overjoyed when I heard an unfamiliar bird call, one I hadn’t heard for a while. It took me a moment to remember what it was, before I spotted a smart male black redstart sitting on top of the fence and, moments later, a female one flitted from a bush to land atop a post.

Extremely rare in the UK these birds are far more common on the continent and I should probably have been on the lookout for them. They’ve certainly been the most exciting wild encounter I’ve had during my 30 days so far.

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Day 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, at a conference in Germany)

It’s a wet and dreary day in Bonn, but as I left my hotel at 7.10 this morning I took a scenic route through the park next to the U-Bahn (the overground train system). The gentle dripping of the rain through the trees’ foliage calmed my mind as it whirred with the previous day’s climate negotiations and the tasks for the day ahead.

I paused for a moment to watch a mistle thrush pulling a worm from the sodden earth, and felt reconnected with the birds and the global web of life that’s the reason I’m here in Germany to fight for a safe and stable climate.

(Megan, in coastal Dorset)

I had a much earlier start than usual for Day 2 of 30 Days Wild. Not as early as a dawn chorus walk, but earlier enough for me to be sleepy mid-afternoon! I had kindly been invited over to the neighbouring town of Dorchester by BBC Dorset to be interviewed on the nesting kestrels at Lorton Meadows Nature Reserve (which is [a] owned/managed by Dorset Wildlife Trust, and [b] one of my work locations – the other being the Chesil Beach Centre).

If you’ve been following my weekly blog posts, you will know the story already. For those new to the drama – the previous female was killed just 6 days before the eggs were due to hatch. Luckily, a new female appeared one the scene and has paired up with the male. I stitched together a video of them, just before their first egg was lain. At the time of the interview, there were 4 eggs. At the time of writing, there are now 5! You can watching the nestbox online via the webcam.

It was fantastic to have this opportunity to talk about wildlife to a different audience. I found it quite nerve-wracking but the BBC staff were brilliant at putting me at ease, and the wonderful Sally (Communications Officer for Dorset Wildlife Trust) came along for moral support. I have since listened back at the recording – it is very odd to listen to my own voice!