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Round and about the place

Winter has set into place in mid-Wales, with some heavy frosts providing some slightly scary commutes (mainly getting out of a very icy driveway!) and even the first snows being reported (and then remaining in place on the very tops of those looming hills).

On one of these oh-so-frosty-and-blimey-it’s-cold(!) days, I headed over to Pant-y-dwr for their Christmas Fayre with a stall for work. It was lovely to meet local people and chat about local wildlife and nature reserves, with a small quiz to test their ID skills. Naturally, I included some moths – two of my favourites, the Canary-shouldered Thorn (which can be seen in this blog post) and the Hummingbird Hawk-Moth (which can be seen in this blog post). A number of people were surprised that they could be moths, after all, moths are viewed as stereotypically being brown, dull and boring! So I have converted a few more people to my Moth Appreciation cause!

To drive there, I went through Gilfach Reserve (what a fab commute hey!). As previously mentioned, it was very frosty! I absolutely had to stop the car and take a few photos because it was just stunning! There is something about frost and nature that is just fantastic. Wait, erase that … nature is always fantastic, no matter the weather!

Later on, I joined the volunteer work party at one of the reserves – Llanbwychllan Lake (which I have previously visited, you can read about my visit here). They were cutting down trees in order to help the wetland grass area – it was very boggy (since I’ve just said wetland, that’s kind of obvious) so I got to wear my fantastic wellies that I got when I was with Dorset Wildlife Trust, they’re so comfy and warm! Due to so much being cut down, a lot of the wood was being burnt in bonfires, which my inner pyromaniac was loving! Fire is just so entrancing, and there is something magical about the wood being burnt.

Oooh, pretty fire

Oooh, pretty fire

As I write, I’m back in London, and have visited my local park. I’m not going to lie, it’s nothing special (as far as I’ve found out anyway) but it is lovely there, and I’ll pretty much always approve of big green spaces that are used by local people. There are a group of ring-necked parakeets living there, and boy do they make a racket sometimes! I didn’t manage to get a decent photo, but the photo below gives you the gist of what one looks like. I also saw a decent sized flock of goldfinches, plenty of starlings, magpies and crows, and very excitingly – a great spotted woodpecker! Although I didn’t get a photo of it (grr!). My dog helped me out with finding wildlife, obligingly picking up a stick that had some interesting slimy stuff on it. Naturally, I photographed it and tweeted it – current suggestion is a Crystal Brain Fungus (thanks Sean Foote and Ryan Clark!).

On a slightly related note, my Caymanian relatives have also found some interesting wildlife recently – one photo of which was put on Facebook and I was tagged because it was of two moths, and everyone knows how much I love moths! Their photos reminded me of some of the wildlife I had seen when visiting them, and I thought I would add in a butterfly photo of mine from Grand Cayman.

And to end, an urban sunset photo.Sunset across the roofs of London


PS – My writing is been spreading out from this blog, including this recent post on the A Focus On Nature blog, where I wrote about Chesil Beach and Gilfach. There is a post every day during the Advent period by members of AFON, on the theme of their favourite reserve / patch. I couldn’t decide, so went for both places!

PS #2 – I’m thinking of doing another species / taxon group profile blog post soon, do let me know what you would like me to write about! Perhaps a certain moth? Or maybe a group such as newts or dragonflies?

‘Fessing up to an urban love affair

As a naturalist and improving ecologist, you might think I would hate or at least dislike the large urban craziness that is our capital city (i.e. London).  I say that nay, it’s not true! Despite the greyness, the common “heads down, don’t talk to anyone” attitude and the high concentrations of people, I do love London. It’s my hometown, I grew up here.

On a non-natural side, I adore some of the architecture in the city. You’ve got the classics and ionic buildings such as St. Paul’s Cathedral or The Gherkin, but it is usually the less well-known things that get me. Walking around a corner to find an unexpected and beautifully designed church. Looking up and spotting a golden statue on top of a building. It’s the little things that get you. Saying that, my favourite is of course the Natural History Museum which is just stuns me every time I see it, the exquisite details and that there are carvings throughout the older building.

Beautiful carvings alongside a window

Beautiful carvings alongside a window

Newer architecture - no carvings but I love it, the Cocoon in the NHM

Newer architecture – no carvings but I love it, the Cocoon in the NHM

Related to the architecture, you’ve got the spots of greenery spotted throughout the urban layout. Small corners or large expansive parks, and everything in between. And often where you don’t expect it – such as the small Wildlife Trust reserve next to St Pancras which I hadn’t even known existed (Camley Street Natural Park)!

Traveller's joy seed head on the fenceline along Camley Street

Traveller’s joy seed head on the fenceline along Camley Street

Sometimes, it’s the combination of nature and buildings that stops me, such as this fuzzy view on Euston Road earlier this week.

Quite a fuzzy photo - apologies!

Quite a fuzzy photo – apologies!

On a different note, London provides some fantastic opportunities for any naturalist. An obvious start is the previously mentioned Natural History Museum, a great place to learn a wide variety of information – my favourites are always the mammals room with the blue whale, and the whole ecology section! And of course, the annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.

Part of the NHM ecology section - some of the conservation work done in the UK

Part of the NHM ecology section – some of the conservation work done in the UK

The wide variety of parks available is brilliant, right in the centre of the city and continuing right throughout to the suburbs. As my family own a dog, we’re always over there and aware of the wildlife – the birds chirping away in the trees and the squirrels attempting to forage despite repeated chasings by all the dogs! (I should say that I don’t particularly like them doing this, but Toby never actually comes anywhere close to catching one!)

My dog, Toby (right) with his best friend and fellow squirrel chaser, Bertie.

My dog, Toby (right) with his best friend: fellow squirrel chaser and completely soppy dog, Bertie.

Then there are the events available, from lectures at institutions (my favourites are the ZSL Scientific Events) to outdoor activities to sociable events (such as this week’s #ukscitweetup), there are plenty of dates to schedule into your diary.

All in all, I do love a rural location, but I never complain too much when I am back in London as I’m usually busy exploring and learning new things!

A green surprise in the centre of London

Earlier this week, I left my leafy suburbia and headed deep into urban environment. Rushing through dark tunnels on a Tube train where everyone was consciously avoiding each others’ eyes, walking through a swish but very grey Kings Cross train station and along a busy city street – which was also rather grey.

But then I came to Camley Street and suddenly, there was colour! A wall of green extending perpendicularly from the corner along Camley Street and along Goods Way, shining a lovely mix of bottle green, emerald, and olive green in the warm autumn sun. Trees towering above (though that’s not difficult at my height!) and plants spilling out over the fence.

A wall of greens!  (taken from Goods Way looking at the junction with Camley St / Pancras Rd)

A wall of greens!
(taken from Goods Way looking at the junction with Camley St / Pancras Rd)

I was fascinated by the number of wasps buzzing in the sunshine, evidently interested in ivy flowers. Despite a fear of these insects (the result of a traumatic experience a few years back!), I went up close to take some photos and get a better look. Unfortunately I am lacking in my ownership of invertebrate identification keys (except moths, I love my moth book!), but fellow Twitterers helped me out. Apparently they were the females of the common wasp, V.vulgaris. I love the one in the photo below. She was very content to sit in the sunshine and groom herself for a while, completely unfussed about me trying to find the best angle for a photo!

Relaxing in the sunshine

Relaxing in the sunshine

So Camley Street Natural Park itself. The first thing that struck me was this amazing dragonfly artwork! I especially love the use of a stereo for the head, that’s inspired and actually makes perfect sense! I took a wander down the paths, taking a sneak peek at the Growing Out section with all the vegetables. They have a great pond dipping area, and I bet it’s full of interesting wildlife! I also scampered amongst the log piles, intrigued by the fungi growing there. I have limited identification skills with fungi so I don’t know what they were but I had good fun looking at them and taking photos.

Great dragonfly

Great dragonfly sculpture!

Fungi from below!

Fungi from below!

The park is one of many reserves by the London Wildlife Trust (and somehow, it may possibly the only one I’ve been to!) and is the hub for their volunteers, as well as being a great spot to escape the busy city rush. I’m definitely bookmarking it for a return visit!


My favourite photo from the day:

Traveller's joy seed head on the fenceline along Camley Street - did you know they're also known as Old Man's Beard?

Traveller’s joy seed head on the fence line along Camley Street – did you know they’re also known as Old Man’s Beard?! Looking at it, you can see why!


Check out Camley Street Natural Park at

Thanks to @RichardComont, @bugmanjones and @Bex_Cartwright for helping with the wasp ID!