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Catching Up pt 3

As this blog catches up with the present day, I can reveal even more exciting wildlife sightings. Over at my local park, I spotted my first Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus) in months – whilst my dad recently saw a Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris) there. Spring is started to appear, as buds begin to burst forth and the scent of blossom from unfurling flowers is carried on that still slightly chilly breeze.

I spotted my first non-bumblebee bee (as yet unidentified, I’m not much good [yet] if it isn’t a bumblebee!) of 2015 in the park, feeding on this yellow flower (as yet unidentified, it’s in the list of plants to ID) in the sunlight – wilfully ignoring both myself taking photos and a number of dogs running about and barking (a good game was going on at the time you see).

I have also checked back on the fungi that I saw growing previously – you can see how much it has dried out!

A quick trip down to Dorset saw me getting a number of new year ticks – Blackcap (see below), Brent Goose, Oystercatcher and more, as well as a few lifers!

A tip-off from Glen at the Portland Bird Observatory led to myself and Sean having a wander through the lovely Broadcroft Quarry (do you remember my fantastic visit last year?) in search of the Widow Iris aka the Snake’s Head Iris (Iris tuberosa). As well as being a lovely plant to look at, it was also rather fascinating to watch the bees as they landed on the flower and crawled deep into the funnel to feed. You can see in the second (slightly blurry) photo, that they get rather covered in pollen!

As mentioned, I saw my first Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) of the year at Portland Bird Observatory. What a stunning bird it is! It’s a male – you can tell because his cap is black whereas the female’s cap is red-brown in colour.

A very exciting lifer for me was seeing a Firecrest (Regulus ignicapillus) – again from the terrace at PBO! It was not long before I needed to head off when Glen pointed it out. And not just one, but two! Fantastic! I’d heard Firecrest before, and seen their close relative the Goldcrest (Regulus regulus), but had never actually seen one so I was ecstatic!

On a short visit to Cambridgeshire, I kept an eye on the garden whilst baking (scones btw, they were delicious!). After having seen my first Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus) in months only a few days previously, I was very pleasantly surprised to see another one so soon! More so because after a few attempts, I managed to get a decent photo of it despite (1) being at a distance, (2) taking the photo through a window, and (3) having obstacles in the way!

Not long after, I enjoyed viewing a female Blackbird (Turdus merula) atop the hedge. She was all fluffed up and evidently sunning herself – I don’t blame her! As the sun started to fade, there was an odd-looking bird in the garden. It was a Blue Tit (Parus caeruleus), but it seemed to have a deformity – a huge lump on the back of its neck – and possibly a bald head? It was hard to tell in the light, and the photo doesn’t help much. Has anyone else seen anything like this in Blue Tits? It didn’t seem to be too effected by its misfortune – it was feeding fine.

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Catching Up pt 2

Spring truly began for me on the w/c 23rd February. Twice during the week, I saw a bumblebee, though both times it was just a quick flyby. However, on 1st March (when attending the GMS conference), I photographed my first bumblebee of the year! There was much excitement as Matt and I racked our brains, I definitely recognised the species but couldn’t quite remember the name – it had, after all, been quite a few months since I had last attempted to identify a bumblebee! With a vague inkling in mind, I searched through one of the books on sale at the conference and triumphantly pronounced that it was a Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum). This isn’t actually an original native species to the UK, and was first seen here only in 2001 but has rapidly spread since. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust provides a link to an article written by Clive Hill with more information.

As well as the excitement from photographing my first bumblebee of the year, I was enthralled by her behaviour. I believe she must have literally just emerged from hibernation, as she was sitting very still in the sunlight for a good 10-15 minutes – bumblebees need to warm themselves up after emerging.

My next destination was up in Cambridgeshire where I headed to Fen Drayton Lakes. Before I even got there, I was thrilled – as Matt pointed out my first Brimstone butterfly on a roadside verge (whilst I was driving unfortunately so no photo) – a good sign of spring for sure! At the reserve itself, there was another Brimstone that fluttered away annoyingly quickly, Great Crested Grebes performing their courtship dance (too far away for a decent photo) and lovely small birds all over the place – including my first Bullfinches for a number of months and some Long-tailed Tits (always lovely birds to see). Record shots for both I’m afraid.

Now, a focus on Lepidoptera (as usual) – a wonderful group as I’m sure you’ll agree. In London, I received a call to rescue an animal in distress … admittedly it was from just outside my parents’ house, and by my mum. Nonetheless, my inner superhero burst out and I rushed to the rescue! It was a butterfly, a Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) to be precise, resting in the road very close to one of the wheels of my mum’s car. I dashed forward and scooped it up, it needed safety! With a quick glance around to check the scene, I decided that our garden was probably the best spot for it and proceeded to gently release it into its new home. Phew, a good job well done!

But wait! Not all was well! The butterfly seemed to be struggling … what was wrong with it?! A closer inspection was needed and I peered closely, it seemed – oddly – that the very end part of its hind wings were stuck together! I knew I hadn’t touched those parts of the butterfly, so I am still wondering how it happened. Anyway, gently and with great care, I managed to separate the hind wings, hopefully with minimal damage. The butterfly definitely seemed happier (although, do butterflies feel happiness / emotions in general?), albeit that it was in bad condition from its hibernation.

Moth-trapping has of course been continuing in the garden. I’ve not caught a huge variety of species yet, or even large numbers of moths, but it is still better than when we were in the grip of winter! For the most part, they’re LBJs (little brown jobs) but actually, if you look closely you can see that even these LBJs have some intricate patterning! The last photo is of a leaf mine in a bramble plant over in the local park. You can see that one end of the mine is very thin, this is where the caterpillar hatched out of its egg and started munching. The mine gradually gets bigger and bigger, matching the caterpillar’s growth as it wanders around the inside of the leaf. This mine is caused by one of the micro-moths, likely to be Stigmella aurella I think.

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Wonderful Wildlife of 2014

We approach the end of the almighty year that was 2014. Whilst 2013 could be called “The Year of South African Wildlife” (albeit there were only four months there, but you know what I mean), 2014 was definitely a year of British wildlife for me.


The start of the year saw me quite interested in butterflies and moths, I knew perhaps a couple of species. As I write, I do believe it would be correct to call me obsessed with this wonderful group. I’ll start with the smaller group first, that which is familiar to more people – the butterflies. Out of 59 species, I’ve seen at least 31 – not bad for a beginner who could only just identify the most well-known species at the beginning of the year! I’ve gone on butterfly group walks, set out to see a specific species (Lulworth Skipper – a success btw), and submitted my sightings like a good citizen scientist. Below are a selection of my favourite photos from this year:

And now onto my favourites, the moths! (Though really, butterflies are basically just a group of moths, but that’s for another time). I’m not even sure how many species I’ve seen – a sign I think that I need to get better at recording in 2015! One thing’s for sure though, I’ve seen quite a few, more than I knew existed just a few years ago! I’ve seen tiny moths only a few millimetres long and incredibly large moths that look like birds. I’ve seen a variety of life cycles, I’ve seen day-flying ones, caught ones at night, seen common species, very rare species and many in between!

I’m not sure what my highlights would be, there are so many possibilities!

  • Spotting a Six-belted Clearwing before my keen-eyed fellow Lepidoptera enthusiast
  • Catching 61 December Moths in one night (in one trap!) – when I was only expecting a couple of moths at most
  • Finding the larvae of a micro-moth in its one known location in the British Isles
  • Seeing my first Hummingbird Hawk-Moth on my first day at Gilfach Reserve
  • Catching 5 Merveille Du Jour in only 3 nights of trapping
  • My interest in moths influencing friends and family
  • Finding clothing with a moth design on (naturally I bought them all!)
  • Generally improving my ID skills to the point that I know a number of species without having to look at a guide!



It would be acceptable to say that at the beginning of 2014, I knew how to identify pretty much just your basic garden birds and a couple of other species. I’d heard of a variety of species, but hadn’t pursued learning how to identify them, or ticking them off. That all changed when I arrived at the Chesil Beach Centre in Dorset – with large flocks of birds right in front of me, and a Bird Observatory practically just up the road, it was time to acquire some birding knowledge.

Again, it’s hard to pick highlights, and even when I’m thinking of the possibilities, most of them don’t have accompanying photographs!

Other Beasties

Due to my naivety, I haven’t actually kept a proper list of which other species I’ve seen this year, which is rather silly and a lesson I shall learn from for 2015! As it is, I do know that I saw a number of rather lovely and/or interesting creatures during 2014. I shan’t list them all, but you can see them below.

What of botany?

Suffice to say that my botanical knowledge does need improvement, but then again, it is better than your average layman, and decent for a beginner!

All in all, it’s been a pretty awesome year for me seeing and learning about wildlife – thank you to everyone who has been fantastic in helping me, I can’t even begin to list you all, but you know who you are.

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Adventures and Learning

I’m writing yet another blog post whilst tired and in recovery from a fantastic few days. Seems to be the way of life for me at the moment, but I’m not complaining!

The week began with office work, which I might have previously thought to be a bit boring. However, I’m working on some exciting projects so the office work is actually enjoyable, especially as I know that the projects will have good end results (fingers crossed!). Additionally I was still buzzing from the AFON conference the week before (hugely inspirational and amazing and such!).

It wasn’t all office work mind, I was instructed to go explore some of RWT‘s nature reserves aside from Gilfach. So I took myself off to Llanbwchllyn Lake, where I had an enjoyable time admiring the lake and the wildlife. I saw one of my favourite birds, the Great Crested Grebe, which is a species that I’ve not seen in ages so I was rather happy.

I also took the time to really appreciate nature, sitting and closing my eyes, listening to the sounds around me – the rustling leaves, the babbling of a bird, the buzzing of the insects. It was nice to take a step back from my usual stance of taking photos of everything and trying to identify everything, and just appreciate it being there. I did also my eyes again to take photos (but without trying to identify the animals).

The reason I’m so tired is that I’ve just got back from a three day ecology course on Animal Diversity, held at the lovely Denmark Farm Conservation Centre. Wow, what a course! My head is absolutely full of fascinating information and interesting facts – sea urchins have a funky anatomical feature called ‘Aristotle’s Lantern’, over 95% of all animals are invertebrates, and platypus (platypi plural?) are really rather odd!

I’d like to take this opportunity to say just how awesome these ecology courses are – they’re provided by the Lifelong Learning department of Aberystwyth University, and they are such fantastic value (£80 early bird for a 10 credit module)! I have done a number of modules now, and I am working towards getting my Certificate in Field Ecology, which is rather exciting. However, the modules can just be taken separately, and even just for fun! Because I love them so much, I have now become a Student Rep for the Ecology courses, so looking forward to getting even more involved with them!

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Beginning to settle in

The past week has seen me working on a variety of tasks at work – including (but definitely not limited to) making new information displays for the visitor centre, writing Facebook posts for the Trust, rearranging some of the interpretation at the centre, starting research into a report that I will be writing and of course, the usual running of the visitor centre for the long weekend (Fri-Mon).

I say “the usual”, but each day is different! I see different species, particularly if I’ve been moth trapping or decide to go out with a sweep net (tomorrow’s plan), listen to a variety of programs as I work if the centre is very quiet (mostly Radio 4 – Just A Minute, Ramblings, Inside Science and Costing The Earth), and every time someone walks into the centre, I know that something new will happen. I have had such a variety of conversations this week – the politics of conservation, the process of CRB checks and the Scouting movement, the bizarre forms of ladybird larvae, and of course, how cool moths are! Inevitably, I meet at least one new dog every day which I absolutely love.

So a round-up of some of this week’s wildlife. Not many butterflies as the summer draws to a close, but I did see a new favourite of mine – the Small Copper Butterfly. And I took a photo of it that is now one of my favourite butterfly photos that I’ve ever taken. It was resting on the wall of the Visitors Centre above my head, and I had to lean into the wall and look up to get the photo. I feel like it’s thinking “What are you doing?!” There were also moths about of course, including some new ones for me such as the Autumnal Rustic, Hedge Rustic and Rosy Rustic (I sense a theme …), and the ever-fabulous Canary-shouldered Thorn.

I also found a dead bee, which made me sad. But I took the opportunity to study it closely, and saw that what I believe is it’s tongue sticking out the mouth. There are three parts to the tongue it seems. Very interesting, and now I want to look into bee anatomy.

Three-part tongue?!

Three-part tongue?!

Towards the end of the week, I went to a local theatre production by Mid-Powys Youth Theatre at the Willow Globe (open air theatre- my favourite!). They were performing Humans On Trial – An Ecological Fable, and they were fantastic! The premise is that humans are trial for their actions against animals. With witnesses, a judge, a prosecution lawyer and a defence lawyer, the crimes of the accused are laid forth and debated. It’s a great play and very thought-provoking. If you get the opportunity to see it, do so!

Next week should bring even more variety as I continue moth trapping, go out with the sweep net, potentially assist on a bat survey, sort through some of the interpretation at the centre (including skulls!) and attempt some wildflower identification.


You can follow the wildlife, news and events of Gilfach by following #GilfachReserve on Twitter!

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Shersby’s back, tell a friend

Well, that break turned out to be slightly longer than planned, but a lot has happened including a life-changing decision, a couple of holidays and more!

To start with, the BIG SCARY life-changing decision. As of the beginning of August, I was no longer a trainee with Dorset Wildlife Trust but on a Jobs Growth Wales position with Radnorshire Wildlife Trust (in mid-Wales). I am now the Assistant Environmental Engagement Officer at RWT!

To cut it short, I do the day-to-day running of the visitor centre at Gilfach Reserve (follow #GilfachReserve on Twitter for wildlife sightings and events!), have started doing some of the social media for the Trust (see my most recent Facebook post!) and will be assisting with events, activities and school groups. There is also the opportunity to do more surveying, which I am thrilled about – I’m already running a moth trap at the reserve and hope to assist others in the Trust with their survey work.

So backtracking to the end of my traineeship in Dorset – despite having a new job to prepare for (and all the preparation of moving house / finding somewhere to live / etc), I still had plenty to get on with. The biggest thing that was taking over my life was planning for the Big Wild Chesil Event, a celebration of Chesil’s wildlife and the work of Dorset Wildlife Trust. It was a fabulous day in the end (albeit slightly stressful since I was the organiser!), and I think my favourite bit was probably trying some Morris Dancing – I do believe there is a photo somewhere, but I won’t look too hard for it!

I also managed to fit in some adventuring before I left Dorset, with the result of seeing a wide variety of species – some of which I hadn’t seen before. Thanks to Sean Foote for doing most of the identification!

Holiday-wise, I went a minibreak to Anglesey with family. We went off to the Anglesey Show which was fantastic! I think the most thrilling bit was the Shetland Pony Grand National, there was so much drama! And it is possibly one of the cutest things I have ever seen! We also went to Newborough Beach where I may have annoyed my parents slightly by stopping to take photos of lots of invertebrates. However, by doing so, I also saw a red squirrel which they didn’t see! No photo though as it was very quick and off in the distance. NB: why was there a red squirrel at the beach? There’s also lots of woodland there!

So yes, quite a lot has occurred and it’s all been a bit mad! But then, that’s life and I’ve been enjoying it, and I’ve seen lots of beautiful wildlife.

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A bit of everything (well, almost)

I know that every week I say, “Wow, what an amazing and full-on week I’ve had, and I’ve learnt so much!” It just seems to be the nature of this traineeship (and my spare time!) to just be jam-packed with cool wildlife stuff. Despite not being able to top the Short-Toed Eagle from last week, this week has seen a great variety of wildlife in a range of habitats.

It started off with a trip up to Lorton Meadows Nature Reserve, a gorgeous place on the edge of Weymouth. It’s full of interesting wildlife (including a nesting barn owl whose chicks you can watch on a webcam!), but the focus of this trip was the mysterious underwater world as the Chesil Beach Centre volunteers and I were there to do some pond dipping!

A damselfly nymph

A damselfly nymph, Lorton Meadows

Coming up from underwater, I headed over to Fontmell Down Reserve in the north of Dorset for the big staff field trip of Dorset Wildlife Trust. Again, a variety of wildlife but I was particularly interested by the range of wildflowers there. Naturally we also saw some animals, including my favourites – some moths!

A Yellow Shell moth

A Yellow Shell moth, Fontmell Down

It was great to be out on a new reserve to me, and with knowledgeable people. With so many conservation people in one place, there was always someone on hand to tell you what a species was – and why (i.e. it’s identification features).

A Bee Orchid, Fontmell Down

A Bee Orchid, Fontmell Down

An excursion to Somerset saw a couple of the trainees learning about bumblebees and how land managers, particularly farmers, can help them – and other pollinators – out. The focus was on field margins, excellent spots for planting wildflowers. Our case study was the Frogmary Green Farm which has made the room for wildflowers, and it had worked as we saw plenty of bumblebees. One species of note was the Tree Bumblebee, and I believe the photo below shows a melanistic Tree Bumblee (i.e. it’s abdomen is black rather than the normal orange).

Melanistic Tree Bumblebee? Somerset

Melanistic Tree Bumblebee? Somerset

The big event of the week was the Little Tern Fundraising Evening at the Chesil Beach Centre where we were raising money for the Little Terns of Chesil Beach. As the second rarest breeding seabird in the UK, and the only colony of Little Terns in the southwest, this population definitely needs help. Although numbers have gradually increased, support is still needed as the eggs and chicks are so vulnerable to predators.

I still don’t have a decent photo of a Little Tern I’m afraid, so I’ve included a photo of Morgan Vaughan (the current Little Tern Officer) from the evening where he was getting excited about the eggs. You can follow Morgan on Twitter at @Morgan_Vaughan

Morgan talks about Little Tern eggs, Chesil Centre

Morgan talks about Little Tern eggs, Chesil Centre

The weekend began with a trip up to Barton Meadows Farm to learn about butterfly identification with the Dorset Branch of Butterfly Conservation. Although I knew a few species (e.g. Red Admiral / Peacock / Large Skipper), I wanted to know about the key identification features to look for when I see a butterfly. I can say that these are:

  • Family (e.g. Skippers or Blues)
  • Flight period
  • Habitat
  • Food plants
  • Behaviour
  • And last, but most obvious, patterning on wings

After a morning of theory, we put it into practice with a walk in the afternoon sun. We saw 16 butterfly species, as well as a number of moths (including Mother Shipton, Burnet Companion and Cinnabar), beetles and interesting wildflowers. A big thank you to Bill Shreeves and other members of the Dorset Branch for running the day – I know I learnt a lot and hope to get out there more often to get butterfly records!

Theory session. NB: the pinned butterflies are from an old collection donated to the Dorset Branch.

Theory session. NB: the pinned butterflies are from an old collection donated to the Dorset Branch.

Marsh Fritillary Butterfly, Barton Meadows Farm

Marsh Fritillary butterfly, Barton Meadows Farm

A female Large Skipper butterfly, Barton Meadows Farm

A female Large Skipper butterfly, Barton Meadows Farm

The evening saw me out birdringing, or should I say birdwatching! With the target species of Cuckoo and Nightjar, we had set up mist nets on the heathland of the Lulworth Ranges. We referring to Steve Hales, Luke Philips and I. One of each of the target species flew into the net, but both promptly flew out again! Very frustrating, but at least I saw both of them – and I saw / heard a number of other birds including Woodlark, Meadow Pipit and Swallows.

I'm new to wildflowers, but thought maybe a Spotted Heath orchid, Lulworth Ranges.

I’m new to wildflowers, but thought maybe a Spotted Heath orchid, Lulworth Ranges.

Therein is the end of this week’s roundup, though I will admit to missing some things out – roadside verges surveying, World Oceans Day at the Chesil Beach Centre, my personal moth trapping. But to cover everything would be too much!

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A number of new beasties

I gave myself the weekend off from blogging last weekend so there are two weeks to catch up on and it’s been a mixed lot! In the Lepidoptera world, I’ve caught some beautiful moths recently including a Powdered Quaker, Angle Shades and a Plume Moth.

Plume Moth, note the T-shaped wings

Plume Moth, note the T-shaped wings

I took the Angle Shades into work (moths are usually fairly happy to be in a bug pot for the day) to convert more people to the moth cause. Well, convert them into appreciating moths. It’s a fantastic example of how amazing moths can be – the way it holds its wings, the pattern, the colouring and the edges of its wing. And everyone was very impressed with it, although I shall continue improving peoples’ perceptions of moths of course (and other wildlife).

Angle Shades Moth - very distinctive!

Angle Shades Moth – very distinctive!

For the start of this week, my housemates and I did a lot of squealing as we found a slow worm in the garden!

Slow Worm

Slow Worm

Despite its name, it isn’t a worm. And despite its appearance, it isn’t a snake. It’s actually a lizard, albeit without the legs. Like other lizards, it is able to lose its tail and regrow it again. This is a neat little trick because if a predator catches its tail, it can just drop it and slither off into cover, and thus survive. The one that I saw in the garden did look like it might have had this occur and new growth was going back. However, I’ve not come across slow worms much so I’m not entirely sure about that.

Thursday saw the volunteers of the Chesil Centre heading up to the wonderful Portland Bird Observatory where the warden (Martin Cade) and assistant warden (Joe Stockwell) showed us how they do bird ringing up there.

Joe Stockwell (assistant warden) does some alfresco ringing

Joe Stockwell (assistant warden) does some alfresco ringing

Martin had also saved the moths from their moth traps (I believe they run four?!), which I was thrilled with – especially as two of them were new species to me, the Herald and the Red Sword-grass (the latter was caught over on the ‘mainland’ in Preston). I do believe that the volunteers are slowly being converted to appreciating moths, I’m sure my enthusiasm for them helps a lot.

Herald Moth - distinctive orange patches and edge of wings

Herald Moth – distinctive orange patches with white dots, and edges of wings

With the help of Sean Foote, I got two more Dorset species “ticked off” – a Little Ringed Plover and a Sanderling, both by the Chesil Centre with a larger group of Ringed Plover and Dunlin. The Little Ringed Plover does look a lot like a Ringed Plover (hence the name) but is quite a bit smaller (again, hence the name). It also has a distinctive yellow around its eye.

Little Ringed Plover, photo by Sean Foote.

Little Ringed Plover, photo by Sean Foote.

My Saturday afternoon was filled with a hunt for otters – unfortunately I didn’t find any (though there may be one nearby) but I did have a nice time outside in the (mostly) sunshine. I did come across an interesting bee as well, who as identified as an Ashy Mining Bee by @Bex_Cartwright. Fun fact: there are around 250 species of bee in the UK, 24 of the 250 are bumblebee species, 1 is a honeybee species and the remaining are solitary bees (like the Ashy Mining Bee). Pretty amazing stuff – 250!!!!

Unknown insect

Ashy Mining Bee

Apologies for the last couple of blog posts in terms of the quality of the photos – my camera is in for repair and I’m having to rely on my phone. Saying that though, they are pretty decent photos for a phone! Technology is pretty amazing!