30 Days Wild: Week Three

How are we three weeks in already? Where did June go? It seems to have shot past in a blur of birds and mini-beasts, leaving a trail of variably blurred photos in its wake. Week three was no exception, with insects again featuring highly in my wildlife hunting exploits, including my favourite species of the month so far – the caterpillar-shaped jewel in my crown! So, without further ado…

Day 15

Following straight on from Day 14, I found myself once again watching the Banded Demoiselles along the river. I keep vowing to leave them be and find something new, but they just draw me back every time. On this occasion I had a front row seat to the whole reproductive cycle, from a male defending territory to a female laying eggs – amazing! But just for variety, I also found a new species for me: Deraeocoris flavilinea, a bug they haven’t bothered to assign a common name. This little creature first arrived in the UK in 1996 and quickly spread, becoming common across much of south and central England.

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Day 16

A last-minute mission for a Father’s Day present consumed far more of my lunch break than it should have, since Thorntons had inexplicably decided to relocate to the inside of a post office on the opposite side of town. This left little time to hunt for bugs so I just took a seat on the riverbank, my legs dangling above the water, and watched the wild world go by.

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Day 17

The weekend once again found me at RSPB Old Moor, as it so often does. But less usually, birds were the last thing on my mind. Despite seeing plenty of avian wonders, including half a dozen bittern views, the highlights were the insects; dragonflies, damselflies and butterflies were evident and spectacular, but the star of the show was a Puss Moth caterpillar! There were several tiny specimens, fresh out of the egg, but I finally found a bigger beast. Just look at how ridiculous it is – my new favourite caterpillar!

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Day 18

A mixed day. The sun was shining fiercely, so I spent the day in my parents’ garden as we were having a BBQ to celebrate Father’s Day. I started reading my book on a sun lounger and became so engrossed I was still there an hour and a half later – by the time evening came around I was lobster red and rather unhappy! But I did keep things wild by spotting a Brimstone Moth and a Mint Moth.

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Day 19

A lovely evening called for a lovely evening stroll along the canal. I didn’t spot much, other than a curious Mute Swan and a (so far) unidentified bug, but it was just nice to be out in the wild after a day in the office.

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Day 20

One of my less wild days, with the only bug hunting occurring on my way to work when I spotted a bizarre little creature with some really hefty antennae – haven’t got round to identifying it yet! We also had an office picnic in the park for lunch.

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Day 21

The longest day of the year also proved to be one of the hottest, with the office becoming a sauna. I made the mistake of walking along the river at lunch. I returned rather sweaty, but with a decent list of species under my belt – 20 birds, 4 damselflies, 3 butterflies and 2 dragonflies. The dragonflies, an Emperor and a Brown Hawker, were the first I’ve seen on this river. The butterfly below is a Ringlet.

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So there went week three! Not the wildest by my standards, but I still managed to get out and enjoy nature at least once a day. Fortunately I’ve got a few special things planned for the final days of 30 Days Wild, so watch this space!

30 Days Wild: Week Two

We’re almost halfway through the Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Days Wild campaign, and I’m proud to say my record is still unblemished. I’ve been outside daily hunting bugs and birds, typically armed with nothing more than an iPhone camera to record my progress. I’ve found insects I’ve never seen before, birds I hadn’t seen yet this year and even managed to stay wild in the urban sprawl of London. Here’s the story of week two:

Day Eight

A trip down to London for an (unfortunately unsuccessful) interview meant I was out of my comfort zone, leaving the forests and fields of Nottinghamshire for the busy streets of a major city. Watching the countryside stream by from the train window helped settle my nerves, but I didn’t relax completely until the interview was over and I headed straight for the nearest park. Eventually I made my way to Hyde Park, where the exotic calls of the Ring-necked Parakeets whisked me off to the tropics. The exotic theme continued as I walked along the Serpentine, passing gaggles of Egyptian Geese, including a sweet little sleeping family.

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Day Nine

Back to normal, with a lunch-time bug hunt around my Newark office. The usual bees and ladybirds were abundant, but for me the highlight was a Vapourer Moth caterpillar – I love these brilliant little creatures with their bright yellow bristles. In the evening I took a drive up to a stretch of farmland near my home, cruising slowly along the track listening for the distinctive “wet-my-lips” call of a Quail. Sadly either none was present, or they weren’t feeling particularly vocal, but I did see several Hares and a couple of Yellow Wagtail.

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Day Ten

A rare lazy day for me, but I finally dragged myself from the house mid-afternoon to get a train to the cinema, meeting my fiancé to watch Wonder Woman (brilliant, by the way). Standing on the platform at the station I couldn’t help but notice the meadow behind me, alive with the songs of Blackcap and Blackbird. I spied a pair of Whitethroat in the bushes and was watching them when another bird burst from the long grass. It was small, brown and rugby ball shaped, with oddly long wings – a Quail! It flew ten feet and dropped out of sight, never to be seen again. Amazing, and somewhat ironic considering my failed attempt to find them the previous night.

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Day Eleven

Day eleven was apparently sponsored by the letter B, as my visit to RSPB Old Moor was most memorable for Bitterns, Bee Orchids and beetles. Great flight views of two female Bitterns were matched by the discovery of two flowering Bee Orchids on the reserve (with more on the nearby roadsides), but far more abundant were the Alder Beetles. These bright blue bugs were dotted about on dozens of plants, some of the females so gravid (full of eggs) that their abdomens no longer fit beneath their wing casings!

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Day Twelve

Back at work, day twelve’s lunchtime excursion was shorter than usual. I did, however, manage to snap this stunning male Banded Demoiselle on my phone.

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Day Thirteen

With the sun putting in more of an appearance this week, the river was alive with damselflies. I sat on the bank as I ate lunch, with Banded Demoiselles chasing each other across the water and Common Blue and Blue-tailed Damselflies flittering between plants. Many of the damselflies were paired up, their slender bodies forming slanted facsimiles of a love heart.

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Day Fourteen

It was a beautiful sunny day, and I’d intended to find a whole host of insects to photograph. But, to paraphrase Robert Burns, the best laid schemes of mice and men fall apart in the presence of damselflies! The Banded Demoiselles were just too dazzling, demanding my attention as they soared and squabbled, wing-patches flashing like they were stop-motion creatures. I determined to capture the essence of this animated flight, using my phone’s slow-mo option – see the result on Twitter:

So that’s it for week two! Two and a bit to go, and I’ll try and drag myself away from the damselflies for the rest of the week – though I make no promises; they are magical, miniature monsters after all.

30 Days Wild: Week One

For those of you that don’t know (where have you been?), we are now just over a week into 30 Days Wild, the Wildlife Trusts’ month-long nature challenge. In the same way that January has become known for laying off the booze and November for hirsute faces, June has developed into a month of unrestrained wildness! For the last three years, the Wildlife Trusts have encouraged us to connect with nature by committing to a Random Act of Wildness a day throughout the whole month, and this year more people than ever have signed up to take part.

Now, I consider myself to be pretty connected to the natural world anyway, spending at least a little time each day outside, admiring the great range of creatures with which we share our planet. But, I have to admit, those creatures are usually birds. So I thought I’d use 30 Days Wild to look a little closer, peering into the undergrowth to see what miniature monsters lurk within. Of course, some days I’ll relapse and return my attention to our feathered friends instead – but each day will most definitely be wild. Here’s the story of the first week:

Day One

June started with glorious sunshine, and the insects were out enjoying it in force. A quick stroll along the River Trent revealed countless bees and a few dozen damselflies, the undisputed highlight of which was this gorgeous female Banded Demoiselle, posing happily on a patch of path-side vegetation.

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Day Two

My new office-based job means that weekday wanderings are usually restricted to lunchtime meanders down the banks of the Trent in Newark, seeing what secretive creatures I can snap with my phone’s camera. Day two featured Blue-tailed Damselfly, a fledgling Song Thrush and a typically cooperative snail!

 

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Day Three

A whole day off and I slipped straight back into old habits – birding time! But at least with some scientific purpose – becoming a citizen scientist is a recommended Random Act of Wildness after all. I headed to RSPB Old Moor for a spot of Bittern monitoring. As a volunteer, I sat in the observation hide for three hours enjoying excellent flight views of these enigmatic herons, recording every journey the females made to and from their well-hidden nests.

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Day Four

Back on my entomological track, I headed to Lincs Wildlife Trust’s Whisby Nature Park to see what mini-beasts I could unearth. Chimney Sweeper Moths were fluttering in force, almost as abundant as the damselflies that covered most patches of riverside vegetation. But my highlights were a Brown-tailed Moth caterpillar and a number of aptly named Scorpion Flies.

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Day Five

Monday meant it was back to work and the lunch-break bug hunt. Today’s star find was a new one for me, this magnificent male Swollen-thighed Flower Beetle! I wonder how it got that name?

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Day Six

Tuesday saw the weather take a turn for the torrential. It hammered it down all morning, leaving me very soggy by the time I reached the office. Still, I was determined to get out and see what was about. Slugs and snails aplenty, was the answer. I thought I’d take a moment to get eye-to-antennae with one and take a look at the world from a slug’s perspective.

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Day Seven

Wednesday’s wanderings saw a veritable bug bonanza. There were ladybirds everywhere, both adults and larvae: Harlequin, Seven-spot and Orange Ladybird were all seen and photographed within the space of a few minutes. I also found a Small Tortoiseshell caterpillar and a beautiful blue beetle whose identity currently remains a mystery to me.

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I’ve been amazed at the diversity of creatures discovered so far; beautiful beetles and alien-looking larvae that I doubt I’d have even noticed before. I can’t wait to see what the next seven days have in store!

The Not-so-Idle Valley

I’ve always been a fan of Idle Valley Nature Reserve, the vast wetland site nestled in the most northerly reaches of Nottinghamshire. Now I live in Retford, it’s my local reserve – a ten minute drive (or much longer walk!) from home. I’ve visited a few times in the last couple of weeks, and had some brilliant birds.

The rush of avian excitement began elsewhere, however, in the neighbouring county of Lincolnshire. Sunday the 30th of April found my partner and I making the short hop over the border to Whisby Nature Park, in search of our first ever Nightingale. A walk around the northern fringes of Coot Lake produced a brilliant burst of song and a fleeting glimpse of this most iconic of songbirds. Sadly, that was to be the extent of our interaction with the elusive creature, and thoughts soon turned to an altogether different family – terns.

Conditions were perfect for an influx of Black Tern, and once we’d learned from a Wildlife Trust volunteer that several had been seen on Teal Lake, our next destination was inevitable. But to our delight, several turned out to be an impressive 25! That’s 25 stunning, black and silver marsh terns, cutting back and forth above the surface of the lake with a grace that defies description. It was such an enchanting spectacle that we all but ignored the handsome drake Garganey dabbling away beneath them. 

Eventually we tore ourselves away from the storm of silver and black feathers and headed for lunch at the impressive on-site restaurant. Studying my terrible phone-scopes over an enormous sandwich, we decided to do some birding closer to home – Idle Valley was calling! And it turned out to be a fantastic decision.

The first highlight came with three Bar-tailed Godwit on Chainbridge Pit, my first for Notts and a great example of the sexual dimorphism of the this species – the bills of the two females appeared to be twice the size of the summer-plumaged male; I even began to question my ID skills until they took flight and flashed their curlew-esque rumps!

 

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Bar-tailed Godwits

 

Onto Chainbridge Scrape and Black Tern was once again the bird of the moment, with three darting around in the presence of four Common Tern and a nice collection of plovers, both ringed and little ringed. They may have been fewer in number, but they were an awful lot closer than the Whisby birds, and we spent a long time enjoying the view.

 

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Black Tern

 

But the real star of the show was waiting for us at the other end of the site, on Neatholme Fen. As soon as I reached the viewpoint and raised my binoculars, an unexpected expletive escaped my lips. An excited “what?” from my partner was answered by a silent, hurried positioning of a ‘scope. Wordlessly, I gestured at the eyepiece and stepped aside. She put her eye to it and exclaimed with a smile, “Little Tern!”

Yes! A beautiful Little Tern in all its yellow-billed, miniature glory. My first for Notts, somewhat of an inland gem and one of my all-time favourite birds. I waved my phone around, desperately hunting signal to spread the word, but the tern obviously had other plans. After only three minutes it took flight, heading towards the river. It was seen later that afternoon at Misson, on the Yorkshire border.

 

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Little Tern

 

My first Notts Grey Plover, lurking in a grassy corner, came soon after, but paled in comparison to the excitement of Sternula albifrons – the little tern with the white forehead. Also on the Fen were twelve Common Tern and a single black, with another eight Black Tern on Neatholme Scrape. I’d seen more of them in one day than I had in the rest of my birding life combined! Two Arctic Tern on Chainbridge Pit capped of a pretty spectacular day.

Over the next couple of weeks Idle Valley just kept on giving, with post-work visits producing two Wood Sandpiper and a Hobby on the 10th of June, and a Little Stint, an escaped drake Wood Duck, three Black Tern (still not sick of them!) and several Turtle Dove on the 11th. 

 

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Wood Sandpiper – Confession, this is actually at Frampton!

 

The Turtle Dove sightings were particularly exciting, as my only previous encounter with these declining doves was a (very) distant juvenile at Frampton Marsh last year. I heard them first, a faint purring deep in the trees beside Hawthorn Lane. Too distant and foliage-dense to spot anything, we reluctantly moved on to Neatholme Lane where, to our utter disbelief, a pair of them sat brazenly on an overhead wire – incredible views! 

 

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Turtle Dove

 

I can only wonder at the next surprise waiting for me at Idle Valley.