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Bugs For My Birthday

It was my birthday at the beginning of this week – not a big birthday, but a high enough number to make me realise that 30 is creeping closer. Although to be honest, I’m quite excited. They (the mysterious ‘They’!) say that your thirties are better than your twenties!

No matter my age, I was determined to have a nice nature-filled day. Originally I had planned to spend the day at RSPB Minsmere, but then Storm Katie arrived with howling winds and plenty of rain. Instead I had a relaxed morning at home, eating homemade cake (made my Matt) and drinking many cups of tea!

Once the weather had calmed itself down in the afternoon, a few friends and I visited a local nature reserve, Overhall Grove. It was a really sweet reserve, apparently both an Ancient Woodland and a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), and I look forward to returning there again over the coming seasons. Some of the friends accompanying me are also into nature, so we got stuck in with trying to find some good species. I’ve added a few more species to my pan-species list – including Cauliflower Fungus (Sparassis crispa), a new beetle species (Abax parallelepipedus) and Median Wasp (Dolichovespula media). Although I haven’t identified everything just yet, I am getting there gradually.

In addition to the new species, there were a number of 7-spot Ladybirds (Coccinella 7-punctata) about. I am always thrilled to see them as they are a sign that winter is over! Spring has started and summer is not too far away! There was even a butterfly – but it flew away from us and we couldn’t identify it. It was quite a funny sight, particularly for my friends that aren’t into nature – 4 adults running across the field after a butterfly! Bring on much more butterfly (and moth!) chasing this year.

There’s not so much else to add. I had hoped to hear a Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita), which would’ve been my first of the year. But no luck, and I still haven’t heard one since. As I have said above, I look forward to returning there across the current seasons so I am sure I shall hear one there at some point!

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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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We Knew We Had Been There Before

Part of me feels I should start splitting my blog posts into four sections – Chesil Beach, Lorton Meadows, the garden and adventures out and about. Thoughts on that idea welcome, but for now, let’s get on with looking at wildlife!

Wait hang on, wildlife is suffering for oh so many reasons, and I want to highlight one of them briefly – litter. Isn’t it just awful?! Cans with the last remnants of fizzy drinks, dirty plastic bottles, torn and mangled plastic bags hanging from trees or caught up in grass. You’re probably nodding as you read this, we all see litter all the time. But how often do you actually do something about it? If you’re my dad (unlikely as I don’t think he reads this blog often), that’s quite often. Rarely a dog walk goes by when he doesn’t pick up some litter and put it in the bin. The rest of you though? Have an honest think for a moment … how often do you walk past litter? Or watch someone drop litter and say nothing? Or (hopefully not!) drop litter yourself because (a) it’s just a little bit, so it doesn’t matter, (b) there are no bins around and no way are you putting it in your pocket / bag, or (b) you’re in car so it’s fine to chuck it out the window? And that’s just litter … don’t get me started about dog mess!

Why am I going on about litter? Well, first it is one of my 2015 Wildlife Resolutions to pick up more litter which I have been trying to do, and second I took a photo of one of my quick litter picks on Monday to put onto Twitter under the hashtag of #2minutebeachclean. It’s a wonderful idea, literally just spend two minutes picking up litter whilst you’re at the beach (obviously don’t add any litter to the beach during your visit!). Imagine if all the visitors did that … *dreams happily of litter-free beaches*.

Why bother though? Well! As previously mentioned, litter is awful for wildlife. It gets eaten and kills a variety of animals – including beautiful albatrosses and turtles. Even degraded plastic is not safe – it turns into microplastics and ends up in the food chain (and likely in your seafood)! Plus, litter is an eyesore, and by picking it up, perhaps you’ll inspire others to pick up litter too and soon your local area will be litter-free! Hooray!

So next time you’re out and about, do pick up some litter!

Ok, now back to wildlife. Whilst litter picking, I could see some Terns about on the Fleet. I’m still not 100% sure I have seen a Little Tern (Sternula albifrons), so won’t tick that species off for 2015 just yet. However, there were plenty of Sandwich Terns (Sterna sandvicensis) diving for food. I also managed to take a rather blurry photo of Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator). Another aim for my time here – get some better photos of that species?

I also spent time over at Lorton Meadows as expected, trying to learn a bit more about the reserve – both its history and wildlife. There’s a wonderful variety of wildflowers and insects (as well as birds of course – oh, if you don’t know of the Kestrel Webcam, go watch! I warn you though, it’s quite addictive!), and I’m looking forward to seeing how it all changes across the seasons. Fingers crossed, I’ll be allowed to do some moth trapping there as well!

I won’t keep you much longer, I just want to show off a couple of the moths that I caught in the garden this week – before it started raining at the end of the week. My catches included a particular beauty called the Early Thorn (Selenia dentaria) whose wing patterning is beautiful I think. I tweeted about this species early in the week, and it seems that others agree with my thoughts, which is marvellous (though not unexpected).

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A visit to heaven, and a busman’s holiday.

You may be quite intrigued by the title of the blog post, but you’ll have to wait a little bit longer to find out what it applies to. A clue though, it is to do with my weekend off. To start off with, I shall fill you in on my working week.

There has been a lot of office work this week – I’m creating a large spreadsheet from scratch, with thousands of entries, so that’s taking up a lot of my time. I can’t say it is the most exciting of work, but the spreadsheet will be very useful once it is in existence, and I’m coming across a variety of scientific names which amuse me – one of my favourites so far as been Veronica beccabunga, which is a plant called Brooklime. I often listen to the radio whilst typing as well, need to catch up on my favourite BBC Radio 4 comedy!


Thursday saw 60-ish local primary school children descend upon Gilfach Reserve for an organised day of environmental education, organised by the Radnorshire Outdoor Learning Network Group. It was a fantastic day where the children and teachers tried out a range of cool activities, including my favourite of river dipping! I reckon it’s my favourite because (a) you get to wear wellies, and wellies are awesome, (b) the children are discovering what is literally a whole new world – minibeasts underwater, where they can learn all about the fascinating adaptations, (c) it’s pretty much always lovely down by a pond or river, (d) more reasons that I can’t think of right now. You can find out more information about the great day we had over at RWT’s Facebook page.

Now onto the title of this blog post. This weekend I’ve had one of the ‘parentals’ visiting and on Saturday we took a little trip over to somewhere that is heavenly for the both of us – a town FULL of bookshops, antiques, charity shops (with more books!), boutique shops and a fabulous stationery shop. Can you guess where I’m talking about? If you guessed at Hay-On-Wye, aka the “town of books”, then you would be 100% correct, well done! Now I know this has little to do with nature, however I just had to include it in this blog post as I had so much fun there! I managed to resist buying too much, and it was lovely to have a potter around looking in all the shops and admiring the books (something I do often as a bookworm).

Sunday was spent on a busman’s holiday as we went over to Gilfach Reserve, and what a perfect day we chose for it! It was gorgeously sunny with just a touch of a breeze. It was great fun to introduce my mum to somewhere I loved – her first word when we entered the reserve was “Wow!”. NB: Gilfach does look absolutely stunning in autumn! She comments that it does feel like stepping back in time – very much in keeping with “the farm that time forgot”, and pleasingly (for me) that “there was more to the visitor centre than I expected”. We had a very relaxing time visiting all my favourite spots on the reserve – one of the fields near the visitor centre, the waterfall and the picnic benches at Pont Marteg (near the entrance to the reserve). We listened to the birds, admired the rushing waters and peered at interesting insects.

We then proceeded on to somewhere I had heard much about, but hadn’t got round to visit, the Elan Valley. What a fabulous spot, and we had both completely underestimated how the expanse of the valley – it is HUGE! As I asked at one point, “How many dams [and reservoirs] are there?!” I was rather pleased as I managed to score a moth record in a new location, a Canary-shouldered Thorn resting in a corner of the visitor centre. I believe the visitor centre staff/volunteer were rather bemused by my enthusiasm for the moth, but then, it is one of my favourites as it is a great example of how moths can be just as pretty as butterflies!

Being the stereotypical enthusiast that I am, I was soon pointing out the ID features of various wildlife to my mum (including the former insects), particularly discussing the trees by the dam. Below are two features of one tree, an Ash tree, which was one of the first trees that I learnt to identify – back when I was volunteering/working at ZSL London Zoo (Ash can be used as food / enrichment for a range of animals including giraffes). The two features I remember most are the leaves and the buds.

  • LEAVES: The leaves you see on a stem are actually called leaflets, and are in pairs with an odd one on the end. The leaflets are pointed and slightly toothed.
  • BUDS: The buds are rather distinctive, they are black and quite ‘velvety’ in in appearance (in the photo below, you can just about make out the black buds).

Having had a yummy lunch at the Elan Valley visitor centre, we decided to squeeze in some more food with tea and cake at the Penbont House Tea Rooms, and I’m very glad we did. First, it was very yummy. Second, it was very quaint with cute china. Third, it has a fantastic view looking out from the Tea Rooms. Fourth, we loved watching the cheeky chickens looking for crumbs. Fifth, I had a very close encounter with a chaffinch who evidently didn’t realise I was there and came to less than a foot away from me! It was great because he was obviously looking at me, but hadn’t realised that I was not just a new part of the furniture! I am gutted that I didn’t have my camera out, but I didn’t dare try because I didn’t want to scare him off!

Last but not least, I finally stopped off on the route back from Rhayader to take a photo of the wooden sculpture on the side of the busy road. A brilliant celebration of local wildlife – an otter chasing salmon.


Signals and mi-newt details

I know that every blog post, I say how amazing the last week has been and how I’ve seen so many cool species. This week is no exception and what a week it has been! There has been so much awesome stuff happen that this blog post would be ridiculously long if I were to mention everything, or even half of it! So it shall be a very slimmed down affair.

It started off with a visit to one of my favourite Dorset places – Brownsea island! It was just a super quick visit, but I saw a bird that I love which is the Black-Headed Gull, as it was among the first birds I learnt to identify at Chesil and I think that it is generally quite cute.

Black-headed Gull

Black-headed Gull

Crayfish training was rather surprising as there are more non-native species in the UK than I thought! However, the big baddy is the Signal Crayfish from America which is a really awful invasive species and our native White-clawed Crayfish is really suffering as a result.

White-clawed Crayfish (note the whiteness on the underside of its claw)

White-clawed Crayfish (note the whiteness on the underside of its claw)

It’s a combination of the American species acting as carriers for a disease that is fatal for our species, it is also bigger and breeds earlier, thus pushing out the native species. In addition, it’s practically impossible to remove the American species once it establishes itself in a river. Lastly, it is possible to spread the disease through human transmission – wellies and, I should think, leisure craft (e.g. kayaks).

It's me! For once, there were waders in my size and I jumped in. I didn't find any crayfish though.

It’s me! For once, there were waders in my size and I jumped in. I didn’t find any crayfish though.

From crayfish to amphibians, and even more awesomeness. After a theory session on ID on the different native and non-native species, we headed out to Powerstock Common Reserve and had a look for the species. We were particularly interested in Great Crested Newts (GCNs) as they’re a protected species and are also quite groovy animals. They’re relatively large, the largest of our newt species and the adults at unmistakable. The juveniles can have a bit of confusion with other species. SUPER COOL FACT: juvenile newts are called efts!

An eft! Not a great photo, but can you make out the gills at the back of the head?  Unknown whether smooth or palmate newt species.

An eft! Not a great photo, but can you make out the gills at the back of the head?
Unknown whether smooth or palmate newt species.

ID features for GCNs include: size (up t0 16cm!), colouring (black on back, orange on belly), pattern on throat (spotted), feet (stripy!) and the male has a large crest with a distinct dip (this may only be during the breeding season though).

I enjoyed the amphibians training day so much that I’m considering doing a species/group profile post on newts! For now, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation have got a new ID guide in PDF format which can be downloaded for free.

Great Crested Newt male (note the large crest on his back). He is next to another newt species (much smaller!)

Great Crested Newt male (note the large crest on his back). He is next to another newt species (much smaller!)


The last training of the week with Dorset Wildlife Trust was on Odonata – i.e. dragonflies and damselflies, of which there are far more species than of the amphibians! Again, a theory session in the morning was followed by a practical afternoon with a visit to Winfrith Nature Reserve. We were netting damselflies for ID, but you shouldn’t net dragonflies, so we were relying on them to rest for a little while in order to look at their ID features (body shape, colour, wing spots and patterning are the main ones).

I do believe one of the favourites of the day was the Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly, whose specific ID features are the last segments on the abdomen (though we would call it the tail). Segment 8 is half blue and half black, whilst segment 9 is blue with a distinctive black line one it (of 10 segments along the abdomen [tail]). You should be able to see it relatively easily in the photo (I would suggest opening up the photo separately in order to zoom).

Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly (note the end segments of the abdomen [tail])

Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly (note the end segments of the abdomen [tail])

In addition to the lovely creatures that were the focus of the training days, there were so many other amazing species seen from a variety of groups including (but not limited to): Hobby, Grey Wagtail and Lapwing (birds), Green-veined White and Dingy Skipper (butterflies), Cream-spot (ladybird), Bugle, Green-winged Orchid and Yellow Archangel (flowers). I shall finish off this post with nice photos of some of the mentioned species.

Grey Wagtail flitting about whilst we were finding crayfish. Really amazing to watch it.

Grey Wagtail flitting about whilst we were finding crayfish. Really amazing to watch it.

Dingy Skipper Butterfly. Although less bright and flashy than other butterflies, it is still a beauty.

Dingy Skipper Butterfly. Although less bright and flashy than other butterflies, it is still a beauty.

Cream-spot Ladybird. A favourite of mine as it was one of the first ladybird species that I properly identified.

Cream-spot Ladybird. A favourite of mine as it was one of the first ladybird species that I properly identified.

Yellow Archangel - look at that patterning!

Yellow Archangel – look at that patterning!

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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!

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Wear Sunscreen

An interesting week full of different things – events, exploration and of course some moths. With a moth trap on loan from a friend, and permission to set it out in the garden, I’ve been hoping for some interesting moths. A plume moth was nearby but didn’t deign to enter the trap, but that was ok because there was a hedgehog in the garden! I haven’t seen in a hedgehog in so long, so I was super excited. The hedgehog was less impressed and buried its head in the grass in order to ignore me.



On Thursday came a real test for me, my first event at Chesil that I organized and led. It was a Wildlife Trackers day, with the children working out which animals had visited the centre and left clues behind. It was great fun, with everyone becoming detectives, considering the evidence and solving the mystery.

My creative-on-a-budget-side came up and I made an otter holt which I am incredibly proud of! Namely because my creative side normally hides away from me and I have to poke it out with a stick.

Otter clues - spraint and footprints, with a holt to peek into as well

Otter clues – spraint and footprints, with a holt to peek into as well

Thursday also saw a bit of an exploration around Portland Bill as a friend was visiting. Whilst I already knew that Dorset / Portland is an amazing county, this little adventure reminded me of that. Look at these views!



Fab lighthouse

Fab lighthouse

Later in the week, I joined in at a BioBlitz in Wareham. Now if you’ve not heard of a BioBlitz before, no worries, the premise is: IDENTIFY EVERYTHING! Luckily, the organisers enlist experts to cover most of, if not all of, the groups. This time round, the main experts were in plants which was useful for Sarah, another trainee, who is trying to improve her plant ID skills!

A confused Sarah

A confused Sarah

A Common Carder Bee (one of 20+ species of bumblebee!)

A Common Carder Bee (one of 20+ species of bumblebee!)

For me, the invertebrate expert arrived later, so I used social media and apps to help with the identification of caterpillars and ladybirds. It was actually really fun doing it this way and it helped me in learning how to use the apps for future reference.

We didn't have a caterpillar book but Twitter saved the day. A Scarlet Tiger Moth caterpillar.

We didn’t have a caterpillar book but Twitter saved the day! A Scarlet Tiger Moth caterpillar.

I caught a new moth on Saturday night, one that I’ve never come across before! A good learning opportunity. I browsed my moth ID book, but had trouble locating it there so crossed over to Twitter to browse the #teammoth to see if anyone had caught something similar. And sure enough, someone had! It was a male Shuttle-shaped Dart Moth. Quite a common species, so not extremely exciting, but good enough for a learner!

Shuttle-shaped Dart Moth

Shuttle-shaped Dart Moth

The week finished off in style – marshalling for the Walk For Wildlife Event, a fundraising event for Dorset Wildlife Trust. It was a truely difficult day that I had to fight my way through. Imagine this, sitting in the sunshine all day, at a local pub! How I managed it I do not know.

All kidding aside, there was a bad side to this – I’d forgotten my suntan lotion and got a horribly red face. Complete with a white eye mask due to my sunglasses. Such a great look (she says as she hides indoors!).

I shall end with this nice photo of a hoverfly who chilled at my pub table for a while, and a reminder to wear sunscreen because (a) red is not a good look and (b) to go without is very unhealthy for the skin.

A bee!

What a cutie

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Step by Step, Lep by Lep

The title is a little obscure perhaps, but it is reference to the constant learning process that I’m going through, particularly when it comes to the moths whose taxonomic group happens to be Lepidoptera (which also includes butterflies).

This week didn’t start off with moths though, it started off with another topic that I am trying to learn more about: marine species. Marc, the Chesil Beach Centre Officer, led a training session for the volunteers at the centre. We headed out along the shore of the Fleet in time for the low tide and had a good rummage around amongst the rocks and the seaweeds, and wow we found some interesting beasties.

Common (spiny) spider crab

Common (spiny) spider crab

Yup, that’s a crab. This species has neat way of camouflaging itself, it actually has seaweeds and sponges attached to its carapace (shell)! I don’t think that anyone can deny that it’s not effective … though then again, a keen-eyed volunteer did spot this individual.

Shore crab

Shore crab

Ah, now that’s a crab that we’re more used to seeing. A common species in rockpools, this is the shore crab, distinguishable by the five wavy bits on the front bit of its carapace (shell). Apparently.

Marc in action

Marc in action

In the photo above, Marc is holding up something that is very commonly found on our shores, known as a mermaid’s purse. These purses are super cool because they’re actually the eggcases of some species of sharks, rays and skates! So similar to how a bird’s chick develops within an egg, as do the sharks, rays and skates. I do believe that the one he is holding there belongs to a small-spotted catshark (also known as the lesser spotted dogfish).

That night saw my first moth trapping on Portland, although only for a few evening hours. Despite the limited time, I still caught a decent number. Just a couple of moths is a good amount for a beginner to be identifying. I did manage a few of them, but struggled with a couple – the Pug (a group that are notoriously difficult, though mine was an easier one) and the micro-moth (since I don’t have an ID book for micros, yet).

 Moths trapped: x1 Early Thorn, x1 Early Grey, x1 Double-Striped Pug, x2 Light Brown Apple Moth (a micro).

Early Thorn Moth

Early Thorn Moth

Later in the week, I delved further into the moth nerdiness, when I attended a 2 ½ hour long ID workshop. It was far more interesting than it sounds, and I learnt so much. Hopefully some of it will actually remain in my head, but it should help with if I do catch any of the species we covered.

I think one of my favourites covered was the Waved Umber, just look at that patterning!

Waved Umber

Waved Umber

Another example one that was intriguing was the Satellite moth, with its rich red-brown colouration and spots. In the ID book, the three spots are either all white or all red-orange. However I noticed that the example we were looking at had two white spots and one red-orange. Yet another mystery in the world of moths.

Satellite Moth

Further Lepidoptera (moths/butterflies) fun occurred on Sunday when I travelled across to Southampton for the International Butterfly Symposium. This conference was actually three days long, but unfortunately could only afford Sunday’s half day session. Money may not make someone happy usually, but it could definitely make me more learned and educated. In my world this equates to greater happiness as it means books, symposia and training courses.

Anyway, back to the symposia. There’s some really interesting research being done, plenty of field-based conservation and laboratory observations. One that definitely caught my attention was the work of a Canadian researcher, Raynald H. Lemelin, who is studying human perceptions of insects. I was so engrossed that I even asked a question (albeit with a shaky voice as I realised that almost everyone was looking at me)!

A good example of an insect that people often have opinions on

A good example of an insect that people often have opinions on! However, this isn’t actually a bee or wasp, it’s a hoverfly! ID by Sean Foote.

With my role in community engagement (and previous experience with the Field Studies Council), I view at least part of my job as (1) increasing awareness of different creatures and (2) improving peoples’ perceptions of animals that they might otherwise be indifferent to or even dislike.

The best bit of this is that the animals involved are pretty damn amazing, even the simplest or most common is just splendid. The ecology of worms, the behaviour of moths, or the complexity of bird anatomy … each of these is an example of how remarkable  nature can be, without us even noticing much of the time!

Even in this blog post, I’ve only touched on a couple of species but each one has a fascinating life cycle, anatomy and behaviour. What do you think?



If you’re very interested in the moths that I’ve been seeing, I have made a Dorset Moths List page of all the moths I’ve encountered since I moved to Dorset.

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Sleeping, watching TV, baking … wait no, ecology things!

I was very fortunate to spend a week in Yorkshire recently. Less fortunately, it was during a week of almost-constant rain. I took this as a splendid opportunity to relax. I did some nature-related bits: catching up on BBC’s Winterwatch and rereading some BBC Wildlife Magazines. However I will admit to sleeping quite a bit, watching some rubbish TV and baking some very yummy scones (I used the Taste*Chesil scone recipe and thoroughly recommend it).

Obviously, I couldn’t spend a week in Yorkshire and not go out for an adventure, even with such weather. On a precipitation-free morning, I headed over to a nearby reserve, the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust owned Leyburn Old Glebe reserve. Having done some prior reading on it, I wasn’t expecting much at this time of year. It is a traditionally managed hay meadow, known for its rich variety of wildflowers – and plants in general, over 80 species have been recorded here recently, with 11 different species of grass! (I must admit, I didn’t even know there were that many British grass species!) Despite the lack of flowering plants, I still had a nice walk around. The views are lovely as the meadow is located on a small hill overlooking the River Ure.

The River Ure (taken from roadside)

The River Ure by Leyburn Old Glebe (taken from roadside)

I was very impressed by the number of mole hills in the field, always a positive in my book. I’ve only ever seen a mole once, and it was unfortunately dead. I now regret not keeping it and trying to get the bones from it, but you learn from your mistakes I suppose.

Talking of dead things, I actually found the remains of two dead animals in the field. First, half of a dead bird, which I think was a pheasant. It was rather grisly and lacking a skull (damn, I do love a good skull), but I still poked at it and took photos of course.

Half a dead bird, with a lovely view behind

Half a dead bird, with a lovely view behind

I then found the remains of something else, bits of fur and bones spread out. No upper skull remaining, but there were two lower jaw bones which looked rather like they were Rodentia in origin.

The remains scattered about

The remains scattered about

Pelvis bone

Pelvis bone

Lower jaw bones - the most caudal section (rostral?) came apart so not sure how far into the jaw it slides.

Lower jaw bones – the most caudal section (rostral?) came apart so not sure how far into the jaw it slides.

Lower jawbone, minus one tooth at the caudal end. Additionally, they all fell out but I think/hope I've put them back in the right order

Lower jawbone, minus one tooth at the caudal end. Additionally, they all fell out but I think/hope I’ve put them back in the right order

Any guesses for animal of origin? I’m going to hazard a guess at rabbit, but I’ve never seen a rabbit skeleton so taking a guess from images on the internet. If you know the correct answer, please let me know!

So although I know little of plants (something I am hoping to address) and there were no flowers out to appreciate, I still had a fab time at this reserve. I know that I’ll definitely be back when I visit Yorkshire in spring and summer, and I’ll take a plant guide with me then!

A somewhat old rosehip, with the reserve's small stream in the background

A somewhat old rosehip, with the reserve’s small stream in the background

Talking of which, I headed back to where I was staying and saw my first snowdrops of the year!



‘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!