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How A Nomad Helped My Confidence

This week saw my first office day at the Wildlife Trust BCN as a Volunteer Communications Officer. Alongside writing a piece for their blog, assisting with a competition and learning more about how the communications team functions, there was a particular aspect to the day that has since become very memorable. The lunch break.

Now I didn’t have a very exciting selection of food for my lunch, but it was eaten outside in the beautifully warm spring sunshine. Brimstone butterflies (Gonepteryx rhamni) flitted through the garden, bees worked hard to collect pollen and a Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) called from a nearby tree. Being the keen naturalist that I am, I was mentally noting down the different species about – Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis), Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus), Red-tailed and Early Bumblebees (Bombus lapidarius and B.pratorum), Rosemary Beetle (Chrysolina americana), 7-spot Ladybird (Coccinella 7-punctata) and so on, all of which would be put into my wildlife records notebook. Further to being a naturalist, I am a pan-species lister which means that I am extra excited if I see something new to me. And during this lunch break, I did just that.

I was watching and photographing some bees on the rosemary (NB: I need some for my garden, it is brilliant for pollinators!) when I noticed another insect nearby. With its wicked looking markings, I thought that it was probably an ichneumon wasp species (Ichneumonidae). I snapped a few photos, taking care to get it from different angles, before it wandered off into the undergrowth. I decided against potting it, I didn’t think I would be able to identify myself and figured it would be better off in the wild.

So that was my lunch break, all in all, the type of lunch break I love. Warmth, sunshine and wildlife. I didn’t think much more of it until later. I got home and downloaded the camera photos onto my laptop, whilst flicking through my insect book to find Red Mason Bee (Osmia rufa), a species that I had seen for the first time recently and needed to put a tick next to in the book. I was in the Hymenoptera section (bees, wasps, ants) and as I flicked through, I saw something vaguely familiar – a group that looked like that insect from earlier. But it wasn’t the ichneumon wasp section, it was the Nomada bees group.

After a bit of thinking, and a sip of tea, I decided I would give the identification a go. If nothing else, it would show me whether this group is ever ‘doable’ from photos alone. Immediately I felt a little overwhelmed … the Nomada bees do look pretty similar to each other! Rather than trying to focus on each species at a time, I drew up a shortlist of potential species, casting aside species that I decided against – too much yellow on the abdomen, stripes on the thorax and other such characteristics.

I ended up with a shortlist of 6 potential species, and I turned to a more detailed, and wonderful, book (Falk – Field Guide to Bees of Great Britain and Ireland) to examine each of these species in turn. I slowly read through each description, flicking back to the anatomy page when confronted with technical terms (tergites, labrum, pronatal tubercules), crossing the species off if the description didn’t match the photograph in front of me.

In the end, I was left with one, Nomada ferruginata also known as the Yellow-shouldered Nomad Bee. The technical bits in the description matched up:  the pronatal tubercules were yellow (i.e. small yellow circular lump on the thorax), there were yellow spots on the tergites 2 and 5 (i.e. the yellow spots on different sections of the abdomen) and the antennal scapes were black (i.e. the first section of the antennae, closest to the head).

Nomada ferruginata ID features

I posted my thoughts on the UK Bees, Wasps and Ants Facebook group and on Twitter, and received confirmation that my ID is correct! Having looked on the NBN gateway, I can see that it is not a new species to Cambridgeshire, but it may be a new species for Cambourne. I shall dig further and find out.

Having identified the bee as N.ferruginata, I did some reading about it. Bees in the Nomada genus are commonly referred to as Nomads or ‘homeless bees’. This particular species seems to be quite a rare bee, listed as endangered in the Red Data Book but this probably needs to be revised. It is either being identified correctly more often, or actually experiencing a population increase with more records the last couple of decades (a new species for Worcestershire in 2008). It is a cleptoparasite on another solitary bee species, Andrena praecox, although one website refers a source that suggests that A.varians might also be a host species. A.praecox also seems to be quite a rare species as apparently the females are very dependent on willow catkins.

In conclusion – what I have learnt from the Nomad ID?

  • That not all wicked-looking Hymenoptera are ichneumon wasps.
  • That it is worth taking notice of the small, quiet insects that aren’t buzzing or fluttering about.
  • That some Nomada species can be identified from photos only, but only if photos are taken from lots of angles (I could have done with more angles). However, not all of them are as there can be some slight differences that require closer examination.
  • That a good field guide can make all the difference. Whilst my general insects book (Brock) led me to the correct group, the bee book (Falk) provided the technical expertise to narrow it down to the exact species.
  • That it is worth pursuing identification and I shouldn’t give up on species identification just because it looks difficult! I.e. I should be more confident in myself and my ability to work through the process of identification.
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Hare Again, And Again

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

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

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

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Hare Today, Gone Tomorrow

Sadly the title of this blog post is very literal. Late on an evening this week Matt and I were driving back home when we spotted a Brown Hare by the side of the road. We knew immediately that something must be wrong as it wasn’t moving, but we when circled back, we saw that it wasn’t dead as initially supposed.

Chucking the hazard lights on, we went over for a closer inspection which confirmed our thoughts that something had to be seriously wrong as the hare did not even attempt to move away. If it had been a rabbit, our guess would have been myxomatosis. I’ve since learnt that although hares don’t get myxomatosis, they can be vectors for it.

With no plastic gloves with which to handle it, I resorted to using my jumper to pick it up. Again no attempt to move or escape, but it was definitely alive. We jumped back into the car and sped (although not over the speed limit of course) home, during which time it urinated on me – lovely!

We weren’t entirely sure what to do with it next, neither of us having had much experience with injured wild animals. We popped into a cardboard box with some water, and closed the door so that Mowgli (the cat) wouldn’t get to it and scare it even more. I phoned the RSPCA, and with all the local vets being closed, an officer was despatched out to us.

Sometime later, the RSPCA officer turned up, having somehow managed to actually find our little cottage in the middle of nowhere. Upon inspection, it was revealed that there was a large swelling and the pelvis was shattered beyond possibility of healing, probably due to being hit by a car.With such an awful injury, the hare was put down humanely by the RSPCA officer.

I won’t lie, I did find it very upsetting. Some of you may question why, since I deal with skulls and have dead birds awaiting taxidermy in my freezer. I suppose it is because I had seen the hare alive and worried over it. I knew that putting it down was the right thing to do, and although it was upsetting, I knew that I had down the right thing (in terms of animal welfare) by picking it up. It would have had a very slow (and cold because it was a very very cold night) death.

Despite the sad outcome, the experience was a little bit exciting at the same time. I had never been so close to a hare before, let alone having picked one up! They are absolutely huge! Of course, I knew they were big animals – rabbits have nothing on them, but it was still very much larger than I thought. And so utterly beautiful.

To end, I shall put up a nice photo of a hare that I saw last summer at Chesil Beach from the Fleet Observer boat. Albeit that this photo makes me a little sad because look at how much litter there is on the beach!!

Brown / European Hare (Lepus europaeus)

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Insects In Unexpected Places

My wildlife adventures this week turned away from the typical ventures at nature reserves, towards indoor exploration. Matt and I spent a day with my family at the Science Museum and then the V&A Museum, to celebrate a birthday. I am always a big fan of museums as they are such excellent places for learning – whether it be about the natural world, the lives of humans long ago or otherwise. I wasn’t expecting much, if any, nature in this trip, after all we weren’t at the Natural History Museum. But as the title suggests, I was pleasantly surprised.

Before any insects, we found the DNA model made by Crick and Watson (NB: I feel more should have been said about Franklin in the description). After lots of button-pushing and pointing at shiny things by my nephew (a sign of how the rest of the day would turn out – he loves buttons!), we then stumbled across some bees! From what I remember, the one in the middle is robotic bee whose flight is based on the study of honeybees.

Skip ahead through galleries about atmosphere, household goods and wooden doors, plus some delicious lunch (surrounded by very loud children!), and we get to the Glass Gallery in the V&A Museum. My nephew amused himself, and the family, by running around laughing and looking for buttons to push or stairs to climb. In between being amused by his antics, I took the opportunity to look at the various objects on display. There was plenty of wildlife to be found – as ever, artists being inspired by nature. I think my favourites are the first three – jellyfish, vases and the branch, though I was awed to see work from mosaic tiles from 1-2C AD!

I was intrigued by whether I could find any insects among the collection. There were flowers, trees and birds a-plenty, but I felt certain there must be some insects in there, even if only the usual butterflies found in artwork. I asked the gallery attendant / volunteer, but they didn’t know. So what next? Well, obviously attempt to examine every object in there for insects – a challenge and a half, but I was going to go around and browse anyway, so why not make said browsing a bit more detailed? I was rewarded for my efforts, and many times over. Whilst the insects weren’t normally the main feature on a glassware (or pottery), nonetheless, they were there. Also, a cute snail too.

All in all, a lovely day out with the surprising, but pleasant, appearance of insects and nature within the galleries.

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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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Back From My Break

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


A Review Of My 2015 Wildlife Resolutions.


  • See 2 new species of butterfly.
    • I went beyond the necessary for this resolution, managing to see at least four times as many. However, the first two were particularly wonderful, with the first being a Grizzled Skipper in mid-April, then completing the resolution in mid-May with Duke of Burgundy. (Other new species were Chequered Skipper, Essex Skipper, Grayling, Brown Hairstreak, Purple Hairstreak, Small Pearl-Bordered Fritillary and Silver-washed Fritillary).
  • See an otter (not just spraint!).
    • I saw plenty more otter spraint, and even what I think was otter anal jelly (such a thing exists?!?!). However, this resolution was completed in Scotland in late June (Day 22 of Megan & Matt Go Wild) and I practically danced with excitement. After the otter had swum out of sight of course. Two more otters were seen that week on the Isle of Mull, also an excellent and exciting sighting, but less dancing as that was the moment that my camera decided to break. And the ensuing search for the missing piece of the camera meant I missed good views of Harbour Porpoise and White-tailed Eagle. I won’t lie, there were quite a few tears. However, I saw both HP and W-t Eagle again so all was well, plus of course, I had seen otter!!
  • See a kingfisher.
    • Now this was in the list as I was thoroughly annoyed at myself for not having seen a kingfisher in the UK. Particularly as I had seen at least three species of kingfisher in South Africa!! Bah! However, the resolution was ticked off sooner than I thought it would be, in late March during a visit to Suffolk – as written about in this blog post. Plus, I saw another one later in the year at RSPB Radipole in Weymouth. Phew! Both sightings were quick fly-pasts, but I definitely saw them well enough to identify them as a kingfisher, so it counts!
  • Go on at least one birding twitch.
    • In fact, I went on a couple of twitches this year, but the first twitch was when I saw the Hoopoe on Portland. I had been in Dorset for less than 24 hours at this point (having moved there in mid-April for a seasonal position with Dorset Wildlife Trust). An absolutely stunning bird, and I hope to see this species again in the future!
  • Continue with the moth-ing (Obviously! And hopefully sort out getting a MV trap).
    • Now we all knew this was going to happen, and I did indeed continue with the moth-ing, catch many new species for me – and finding a few new reserve records at Lorton Meadows (mostly through caterpillars and finding adults during the day rather than through light trapping). I didn’t get a MV trap, but it turns out I don’t need to, as Matt has one!
  • Record a species in a new square. – suggested by @mattprince1969
    • I did this at least twice, both at Dorset Wildlife Trust’s Lorton Meadows Nature Reserve with Essex Skipper butterfly (as mentioned above, a new species for me!) and a Nationally Scarce soldier beetle identified as Cantharis fusca (also a new species for me, caught by local schoolchildren during a minibeasts session at Lorton).  
  • Make a proper effort to increase ID skills of insects.
    • I’m not sure what constitutes a “proper effort” – why I wrote that in the resolution I don’t know! However, I think I did so. Thanks to pan-species listing, I have attempted to identify a range of insects, and in doing so, have learnt a lot about the identification process. Plus attending a course on dissecting moths to identify them from their genitalia has surely got to count as a proper effort, right?
  • Organise a BioBlitz.
    • Completed with my bioblitz on 7th June, organised for Radnorshire Wildlife Trust. It was great fun, and I learnt from it. Both on how to organise and run a bioblitz, as well as how to identify different species.
  • Go to Birdfair.
  • Donate wildlife photos to charities (particularly Wildlife Trusts of course!)
    • At the start of the year, I donated the photos taken on RWT reserves to RWT, and likewise later on in the year for DWT. And I have begun the process of donating photos to the central Wildlife Trusts, and now, with BCN WT. So I do believe I can safely tick this resolution as being done!
  • Get into the top 20 on iRecord Butterflies.
    • I will admit to having not finished uploading my records on the iRecord app (to be resolved during 2015), so my record count isn’t as high as it should be. It is 400 records at the time of writing with 38 species, putting me in 14th and 13th place respectively. The latter won’t change as I have uploaded all the species, but perhaps I will go up a place or two with the number of records. Either way, I’m in the top 20 in both lists.
  • Get better at recording wildlife seen (and submit data obviously), including compiling a year list and life list for birds.
    • Well, I set aside a whole notebook for my wildlife sightings of 2015 and have written down the vast majority of wildlife seen, so that part of this resolution is complete. I haven’t submitted all the data yet, but aim to do so (one of my resolutions for 2016!). As for my bird lists, well my year list is yet to be calculated, though I do have a life list of 161 (with an aim of reaching 200 in 2016).
  • Get round to sorting out my Pan-Species Listing website account / list, and set myself a PSL target for the end of the year. – suggested by Tony Davis
    • finally completed this near the end of July, with a PSL total of 661 at that time and a target of 1000. Although I didn’t reach 1000, I am glad that I set myself a target. And I hope to reach 1500 in 2016.
  • Visit Grant Museum of Zoology (London).
    • A spare day off allowed me to complete this resolution, and weirdly, I managed to meet someone working there who I used to work with at ZSL London Zoo. It’s a small world. I had a lovely time wandering about, though I probably didn’t get as much from it as I could’ve. A feeling I get with many museums. I would love to get to know it a bit more and discover more about the specimens. Perhaps I shall get the chance to do so in the future.
  • Pick up more litter!
    • Hard to be sure that I completed this resolution, as I didn’t measure how much litter I was picking up previously … and how much I picked up this year. However, I did plenty of two minute beach cleans whilst working at Chesil Beach, as well as picking up litter when out and about at Lorton Meadows Nature Reserve. Plus, the pockets of my waterproofs and my rucksack can attest to me picking up litter on many more occasions, so I feel that I have completed this resolution.
  • Learn how to use my camera properly, rather than just sticking to the same settings all the time.
    • I am not quite sure if I learnt how to use it “properly” but I have definitely tried out different settings so I am going to tick this one off.
  • Launch my not-so-secret project.
    • I present to you my YouTube Channel. Enjoy! Constructive criticism welcome. (NB: I know I haven’t uploaded anything recently, but I have plans).

Not Completed

So I didn’t complete all 25 resolutions. To be honest, I didn’t really expect to. I just enjoyed setting myself the resolutions and completing some. Most of the ones below are partially completed, so that makes me a little happier than not ticking them all off.

  • See a species from a new Order (to me, not a whole new Order obviously). – suggested by Max Blake (originally suggested as a new phyla, but maybe a little too difficult just now, 2016 perhaps)
  • Start learning scientific names properly.
  • Learn how to pin insects (so that naturally dead insects that I find can be used for educational purposes).
  • Learn how to clean my bones collection (especially the badger skull).
  • Make a proper effort to increase ID skills of wildflowers.
  • Make a proper effort to increase ID skills of birdsong.
  • Write an article for a non-wildlife focussed magazine / newsletter / blog.
  • Try out BirdTrack.
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Here comes the weekend, I get to see the insects

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It’s A New Life For Me

Two weeks can fly by, but here we are again. I believe I am settling in well here in Cambridge – working at Wimpole, attempting to do some gardening, and more baking!

At the beginning of this fortnight, there were still plenty of misty mornings and evenings. These were particularly dramatic at Wimpole, especially when the sun was setting behind the trees. I managed to catch some nice photos, although the churchyard one is rather spooky!

A few interesting invertebrates seen – a ladybird, something I don’t know and what looks like the pupal case of something? I believe the ladybird is a Harlequin (Harmonia axyridis).

On a different note, huzzah! I have ticked off another of my 2015 Wildlife Resolutions and it was wonderful! I have finally managed to visit the Grant Museum of Zoology, full of fascinating specimens to peer at and read about. But first, I peered at wildlife near the bus stop in Cambridge, including a rather soggy bumblebee! Poor thing. You can see it isn’t impressed at my peering – in the second photo, it is raising its leg as a warning sign to me. Wonderful behaviour of bumblebees, showing such politeness.

And so, onto the Grant Museum – glass jars of things (sometimes said things were made of glass which was very clever), mounted skeletons (including a quagga, which is an extinct subspecies of the plains zebra, Equus quagga quagga), and a walk-in closet type thing filled with microscope slides. What more could one want?

Well, except a glass jar of moles of course …

Onto the next day, where I needed to steel my nerves as I was giving a talk at the Orthopterists’ Meeting. Yikes! Unlike many of the other speakers, I am not an academic. In fact, I am not even an expert on Orthoptera (the grasshoppers and crickets)! But having discovered how fascinating these insects are earlier this year, I put myself forward to give a talk on how I got into them and how to get more young naturalists into insects. After all, a challenge is good for one’s self? It was good fun, lovely to meet the other attendees and match some faces to Twitter handles!

Back at Wimpole later in the week, and I had the chance to meet some of the animals down on Home Farm, including some gorgeous Shire horses and adorable piglets. I do so love pigs, they are fantastic animals!

A quiet day at the Garden Gate ticket office was soothed by the presence of the White Park cattle who I cannot resist taking photos of! They are gorgeous! Apparently this breed can be traced back to 5BC?! Also keeping me company were a variety of birds, again I couldn’t resist taking photos!

The quietness wasn’t to last for long as it was soon time for the Christmas Craft Fair at Wimpole! We were incredibly busy in the Ticket Office, but in the late afternoon we had a bit of a lull and I was able to have a quick wander around. Nothing really cried out to me to be bought, but I did see this wonderfully decorated gin! I mentioned to the stallholders that it would go down well at entomological meetings, so let’s see if they take that on board. I didn’t buy any of the gin (though tempted) as Matt and I have some sloe gin stewing currently.