Friday, 2 October 2015

Birds and Blackberries: an afternoon at Keyhaven

Rob and I both had a day off today so we decided to go somewhere different for a change and head down to Pennington, near Lymington and explore the Keyhaven Nature Reserve. I had never been there before, in fact my only knowledge of Keyhaven was that it was the grassy bit where all the bird watchers stand on the right hand side as you leave Lymington on the ferry to the Isle of Wight.

It was much more than I expected! The nature reserve is huge; made up of extensive saltmarsh, brackish lagoons and mudflats. The sea wall enables great views over these lagoons and provides a very scenic stroll. As you would imagine there were a lot of wading birds and ducks here! Tens of Black-tailed godwits, Ringed plover, Wigeon and Teal were enjoying the sunshine in the shallow waters. Lapwing, Dunlin and Starling periodically took to the sky, showing off their impressive formations, and Eider ducks bobbed around peacefully in the sea. Amongst all of these there were also some birds I have rarely, if ever, seen before - Little stint, Snipe, Greenshank, and Spotted redshank were also enjoying the lagoons.

Lapwing and Starling take to the sky


After a spot of blackberry picking (I really want to make my own jam this year) we headed over to Fish tail lake on the other side of the reserve. The sun was low in the sky by this point so we thought we'd just walk and see what we could find. Within a few minutes we had spotted a Hen harrier hunting over the scrub, a Kingfisher, and most surprisingly two Water rail having a scrap on the path just below us! 

Heron in the sunset


A (very blurry) Water rail scrap
Overall I think we must have spotted around 40 species of bird! Not bad for a blackberry picking afternoon :)

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Nature Adventurers Overseas - La Brenne (Day 1)

Back in Mid-June my boyfriend Rob, and I ventured over the sea to France for a holiday with a hint of nature. We had arranged to stay in a self-catering Gite for a week in Parc Naturel Regional de la Brenne - a National Park in central France. We had heard a lot about La Brenne from various friends and work colleagues and were keen to visit and explore the fantastic fauna and flora we had heard so much about.
The next few blog posts are a 'shortened' account of our adventures each day:

Friday 19th June
Took the evening ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe. Drove for a good few hours before finding a service station to pull over and nap in - I'll add a VW golf is not a very comfy bed...

Saturday 20th June
Arrived in La Brenne around 8am. Our first stop was Le Blanc, probably the biggest town in the National Park. We had stumbled upon market day - quite an experience for two very tired people whose French is barely GCSE level... From the visuals though I'm pretty sure we were offered dead chickens with their heads still attached and various forms of rabbit.

Driving away from the hustle and bustle, we found a lovely quiet spot on the edge of Etang Purais - one of the two thousand or so lakes in La Brenne. On arrival in to the car park we were greeted by some beautiful butterflies including Marbled brown, Brimstone, and Marbled fritillary. Just a few yards away from the car park there is a bird hide looking out over the lake. Here we saw lots of Whiskered terns fishing, Red-crested pochard, Tufted duck, Purple heron, Great crested grebe, and a Coypu swimming amongst the lillies.

Just keep swimming - Coypu
Later that afternoon we arrived at our Gite for the week. It was beautiful. We were staying in the tiny rural village of Champ d-oeuf near to Martizay. Our hosts Chris and Sue were there to welcome us and gave us a tour of the Gite and their lovely garden. Their Lavendar patch was incredible - it was literally buzzing with Hummingbird Hawk-moths!

Hummingbird Hawk-moth in the garden
Other highlights from our first day in La Brenne included two Hen harriers, Cattle egret, Stonechat, Redstart, and a Red squirrel in our hosts garden.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

#30DaysWild: An island adventure

Day 5 and 6 of the #30DaysWild challenge was a little different to the norm. I headed off to the Isle of Wight to help Hampshire and IOW Wildlife Trust survey for Reddish Buff - an extremely rare species of moth in Britain.

We travelled over yesterday evening, set up 6 moth traps, and waited patiently for it to get dark. Although the temperature dropped very rapidly, by 11pm we had managed to attract two Reddish buff to our traps!

The moment we found a Reddish buff
The next morning (today) we went back to the site to see what we could find in the daytime. There were lots of butterflies about and I saw my first Green hairstreak, Common blue, and Large skipper of the year. We also spotted Small heath, Brimstone, Holly blue and Red admiral too.

Green hairstreak
In the afternoon we headed to Ventnor on the island and saw tens of Glanville fritillaries - beautiful butterflies that I have never managed to see before. There was also a Wall lizard, and a couple of Hummingbird Hawkmoths around too.

Glanville Fritillary
It was a bit windy for underwing shots...

Thursday, 4 June 2015

#30DaysWild: Outdoor Event and BBQ

Today I got to spend the whole day outside in the beautiful sunshine. I was working at a nature event at Butts Pond Meadows in Sturminster Newton. The event was aimed at local schools and involved a number of nature organisations including the Hawk and Owl Trust, Butterfly Conservation, and Dorset County Council rangers team.
I spent the day planting caterpillar 'munch boxes' and butterfly/moth 'fuel stations' (aka Bird's foot trefoil and Catmint) with around 140 children! It was a great day and we even found some caterpillars busily munching away on nearby stinging nettles.

I continued to make the most of the sunshine in to the evening, having my first BBQ of the year!

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

#30DaysWild: Moth trapping

Day 3 of #30DaysWild was a day full of moths. Moth trapping and recording is something I do very often in the summer months, partly due to my job but also as a hobby. I love the mystery of it all - the fact that these creatures are flying throughout the night and we rarely get to see them, and the surprise in the morning when you look through the trap and see what you have found.

I mainly use a Robinsons light trap to trap and record the moths in my garden. This basically consists of a really bright light (Mercury vapour bulb), sat within a cone on top of a large round box full with eggboxes. Moths that are attracted to the light fly in, get a little confused and end up inside the large box full of eggboxes. Come morning the moths have snuggled themselves in to a corner of an eggbox and most will try to stay as still as possible throughout the day so they don't get spotted by predators. This makes them really easy to record and also great 'live specimens' to take to schools and show children.

This morning I had a total of 18 species of moth in the moth trap, including one of my favourites, the White Ermine. Named after the fluffy ermine coats, the White ermine has a really fluffy head.

White ermine from my garden moth trap

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

#30DaysWild: Planting a Butterfly Garden

Day 2 of #30DaysWild took me to a primary school in Wincanton, Somerset. I am very lucky to work as an Education Officer for Butterfly Conservation on a Project called "Munching Caterpillars", which visits schools and events all across Dorset and Somerset. The Project itself is primarily funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and aims to provide children with free, fun and interactive workshops all about butterflies, moths and caterpillars. It's a great project, and a great job!

Today it was Our Lady of Mount Carmel Primary School's turn to take part in the workshops. Three classes got involved (Year 1, Year 3/4 and Year 6), each learning lots about butterflies, moths and caterpillars in the classroom before heading outside to help plant up their very own butterfly garden within their school grounds!

The children planted butterfly-friendly wild flower plug plants to help provide an important nectar source for hungry insects. Hopefully the plants will also attract more butterflies and moths to the school grounds so the children will have a better chance of spotting these beautiful creatures during break times.

The plants we planted today were:

Bird's Foot Trefoil - a good nectar source, but also the food plant of many caterpillars including the Six-spot burnet moth and Common blue butterfly.

Catmint - a lovely scented wildflower that produces lots of nectar.

Cornflower - a very pretty nectar plant that produces bright blue flowers.

PS Wildlife Gardening tip of the day: plant a variety of native wildflowers in your garden to keep butterflies hanging around for longer. Butterflies like there to be a mixture of nectar plants and caterpillar food plants.

Monday, 1 June 2015

#30DaysWild: Walk in the Rain

#30DaysWild is a fun initiative set up by the Wildlife Trusts to encourage everyone to take a little time each day in June and have a 'wild' moment. You can find out more about it on their website..

Although I find it extremely easy to have wild moments every day both through work and my hobbies; I have decided to take this challenge to help raise awareness of the importance of the natural world, and to try to encourage myself to write more blogs... because I am rubbish at it!

So my little bit of wild for Day 1?

Well it's the official first day of summer so of course it had to be a walk in the rain! After a hectic day in the office, a walk with my dog Fleur was just what I needed :)

Accidental 'artistic rain' shot

Wet dog
Ooh and I also found out that I have a scarce (ish) moth living in the moss on my roof. It's quite a small brown jobber called Bryotropha basaltinella. Thank you to Mark Parsons who dissected a dead specimen for me.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Valentines Birdboxes, Little Owls, and Rainbow Walks

After being cooped up in the office all week, it was great to spend some quality time outdoors this weekend!

Saturday was of course Valentines Day - a slightly controversial day for some, but I think most would agree it's a good excuse for some great food and exchanging little gifts with loved ones. The gift for me this year, was a fine, hand crafted Robin nestbox. Perfect, also, to celebrate the first day of BTOs National Nestbox Week - this week (14th Feb - 21st Feb) is apparently the best time to put up a new nestbox to help our garden birds find the perfect home ready for the breeding season. 

The Nestbox

Inspired by a sketch created by the North Wales Wildlife Trust and Skyes Cottages on Project Wildthings website, we placed our nestbox below 2m high on a silver birch monolith in our wildlife patch.

Birdbox going up
Hopefully it will attract some attention and I can write about its success here soon! 

Whilst reading about National Nestbox Week I spotted another BTO initiative called the Nestbox Challenge; a monitoring programme encouraging us to record any sightings of breeding birds in our gardens (nestbox or not). I'm always looking for an excuse to record things so with any luck I will be taking part this year. 

Saturday afternoon was spent wandering around Manor Farm with my collie Fleur. I have been here bird ringing a few times, but never had the chance to actually explore the area. We found some lovely walks encompassing everything from arable fields to woodlands, an estuary to a play park.

Fleur and a Rainbow

After the walk I met up with my boyfriend Rob and his bird ringing trainer Trev. They had spent the afternoon putting up mist nets around Manor Farm ready for an early morning ringing session the next day. Although they only caught four birds that afternoon (house sparrow, robin and 2 dunnock) we were all treated to the sight and sounds of at least four Little owls coming out of roost as dusk set in. There were even two snuggled up on a branch together - a beautiful sight.

Sunday morning came around very quickly and we soon found ourselves back at Manor Farm keeping an eye on 6 mist nets set up around the farmyard and neighbouring fields. We were aiming for House sparrows and Redwings. Unfortunately no Redwings this time but we did catch a fair few sparrows, blue tits, dunnocks and robins. Slightly more unusual were a wood pigeon and a song thrush.

Ringing a Blue Tit
I had also put the moth trap out the night before. Although the trap itself didn't produce much, I did spot a lovely Oak Beauty on the wall nearby.

Oak Beauty - caught 14/02/2015

Oh and how could I forget the great Valentines food?!! Delicious fillet steak, home cut chips, field mushroom and tomato, followed by homemade melt in the middle chocolate pudding and vanilla ice cream. :)

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Nature Resolutions 2015

I have been thinking a lot recently about the things I would like to achieve this year. I guess you could call them New Year's Resolutions, but I don't really want them to be about lifestyle changes. Instead I would like to set myself some challenges for the year that not only benefit me but are also useful to others, including wildlife.

I am calling these my nature resolutions - some are certainly more challenging than others, but most are something that I keep thinking I should do but have never got around to.

My 2015 Nature Resolutions

1. Try to identify more micro moths caught in my moth trap
2. Take part in the Garden Bioblitz - an intense 24hour record of the wildlife in your garden
3. Go to Blandford and spot an otter
4. Monitor the success of my managed 'wildlife' patch - I planted a wildlife area in the Autumn and would like to keep an eye on what species are using it
5. Take part in the Wider Countryside Butterfly Survey and record butterflies in a km square
6. Use my bike more - cycle to the places I can reach by bike rather than drive. Maybe enter a charity bike race for incentive to ride more and raise money for charity

Another thing I always think I should allow more time for is art.  This evening I did just that:

A Marbled White Butterfly - acrylic, pencil and sharpie!
Marsh Fritillary done years ago and the Marbled White from today

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Chestnut and Pheasant

Don't worry I'm not about to go all food review on you. As much as Chestnut and Pheasant may sound like a tasty seasonal dish served at a countrymans pub, it is actually the wildlife I encountered today.

Last night was the first night of 2015 that I put the moth trap out. Last year I recorded an incredible 322 species in my garden and I didn't even start til March! This year I would, of course, like to see if I can beat that, although it is not really all about the numbers - moths, like all insects, are good indicators of climate change, pollution levels, and habitat loss etc so the more records we collect the better chance we have of seeing how the environment is doing.

So after a rough nights sleep (I have the dreaded winter lurgy) and having a couple of Robins sing to me all night (the moth trap light must had fooled them into thinking it was daytime) I opened the trap and searched all the way to the bottom to find nothing but midges and a single Chestnut moth. This was actually a good thing, I am usually very enthusiastic about moths but the lurgy I awoke with this morning made it feel more like a chore than a fun activity. Needless to say I was soon back curled up in a sleepy ball under my blanket and duvet. 

My Chestnut moth looked a little like this one - I didn't get a picture
so this one is borrowed from Gail Hampshire on Flickr

Later this afternoon I emerged again for a cup of earl grey and a bite of naan (leftover dinner). Just as I took my first few sips of tea a stunning male pheasant strutted past our front gate, over our driveway, and in to the garden. We've had pheasants shyly wander through the garden before but this one looked to have a purpose, like he'd done this before. He headed straight for the bird feeders. At first he considered trying to leap up and land on one, but soon opted for just the leftover seeds on the ground.

Male Pheasant

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Festive Sunsets and Starlings

A little late to be talking about Christmas Eve maybe, but with the hustle of the festive season and the welcome break from a computer screen I have only just got around to looking at the photographs I had taken pre-Christmas rush.

I was spending Christmas (or at least part of it) in Taunton this year so it was the perfect opportunity to pay a visit to the RSPB reserve Ham Wall on the Somerset Levels. The aim: to try and catch a glimpse of the starling murmuration as they came down to roost in the reedbeds.

Three of us headed out in the late afternoon sun on Christmas Eve. It was already a beautiful evening and as the reserve filled with people there was a sense of excitement and anticipation filling the air. As we strolled from the new car park down through the reserve we spotted a large white bird wading in the shallows - a Great White Egret! Now I would never deserve the title of a 'birder' but I was very excited to see this bird as I have never seen one before. Unfortunately it was too far away to photograph, but stunning nonetheless. This bird is quite uncommon in Britain, but like the Little Egret it's population in Europe is expanding, meaning it's likely we will see a lot more of these birds in years to come. Compared to the Little Egret it is noticeably larger and its beak is yellow, not black.

As the sun lowered the reserve was washed with beautiful light and although no starlings yet, the views alone were worth the trip.

Beautiful Light and Gulls
As the light eventually started to fade the first flock of starlings arrived. And there were thousands of them! More and more groups of starlings came circling over our heads and dropped in to the reedbeds in front of us like large black raindrops. 

Lots of Starlings

Unfortunately for us the starlings did not decide to put on a show and perform their famous murmuration this time. But we were very lucky to be only a few metres away from the spot they had chosen to roost in that night. The reeds were soon alive with a sea of black bodies rippling through the vegetation and the noise of that many wings and chattering voices was mesmerising.