Thursday, 14 September 2017

Post 473 - Marvellous Migfest

Hey everyone, it's Post 473 and every year in the Autumn months we get to see one of nature's magnificent processes in action, migration! Many of the birds that come to the Northern parts of the world to breed go back to wherever they came from for the Winter. This means that we say goodbye to a lot of the lovely birds that we get the pleasure of hosting for the Summer, but we also have all the lovely birds and general wildlife that stays here, and others that come here to Winter from colder more hostile climates. This means that we can see literally thousands of birds fly over us to go to places such as Africa, and sometimes birds get lost on the way, or come a little closer to land, letting us see some of the beautiful birds that shouldn't really be here. Well, one of the best places to see this happening is Spurn Point, a beautiful Peninsula that sticks out into the North Sea that birds seem to be magnetically attracted to!

A sustainable festival? Well making good use of this resource!
Every year for the past half decade, in a humble shed or barn on Westmere Farm is one of my favourite birding events in the world. Migfest! Everyone there is so incredibly friendly and everyone seems to be friends with each other, all while being in a wonderful place! Sadly, though, this year it was held on the weekend after school starts, so I decided that it was in my best interests to only go for one night as usually it involves getting up quite early to start birding!

I went straight from school on Friday and drove our usual route past some amazing places, such as Thorngumbald, (probably my favourite name of any town), but also passing over the Greenwich meridian which is interesting. Once we were there though, after hurriedly putting up our tent, it was almost immediately time for the opening talk by Andy Clements which was great to listen to, followed by a great talk by Nick Whitehouse all about Spurn and what a magical place it is. After that of course was...the pub! It was great catching up with the folks from the BTO who I haven't seen in ages and finding out about what was happening about next years Bird Camp, and just general birding talk.
A beautiful Wryneck 

The next morning, we went straight out for a full day of birding. We'd booked ourselves on to one of the guided tours around the Triangle which didn't turn up any super rarities, but still a lot of nice birds like a Whinchat, we heard the call of a Whimbrel, thanks to the amazing ID skills and bionic ears of Paul Stancliffe! We were also treated to the sight of a lovely Roe Deer bounding along the scrub by the beech. After the walk had finished we set off to see our first rarity and lifer of the day, a Wryneck! We were stood for quite a while trying to find it, as it was in some shrubs hiding away, but it was eventually seen flying down onto the cliff face which was only visible from the beach. It was quite comical though seeing all the birders with telescopes and huge cameras sliding down the hill though :-). After a little bit of searching (it's difficult for me as I'm colour blind) we spotted it again, but my camera picked an interesting time to play up so I had to use a different one meaning I didn't get much time to get many pictures, but I think I still got a good one.

Britain's heaviest spider, the Four-Spotted Orb Weaver
- really quite pretty once I'd got over the shock of
discovering it 6 inches under my chin!
After this, we tried to go back the 'quick' way to Westmere Farm, which involved going a little bit over some fields to a path, but apparently we missed a turn and had to trek through some very long grass for probably much longer than it would have taken to go the normal way! But I did manage to pick up quite an unusual spider for the area called the Four-Spotted Orb Weaver which was nice to see once I'd got over the initial shock of suddenly discovering Britain's heaviest spider on my chest! A bacon sandwich at Westmere Farm helped.

It was time then for a few more talks. I really enjoyed them all. Yoav Perlman talked about his love of migration and some of his amazing experiences (including with the Chinese Army!). Andy Clements talked about Zen Birding and how sometimes it's best to let the birds come to you. The other talk was by Simon Warwick all about one of my local patches, Nosterfield. Even though I go there a lot I learnt a lot more about what a special place it is.

The Long Billed Dowitcher
Another thing I enjoyed during the talks was the rain! We could hear it bouncing off the roof of the barn. I liked hearing it, and it stopping before the talks finished. Why did I enjoy that, well because we'd dodged it. Last year I spent the whole of Saturday wet!

So time for more birding after that and just as we were setting off back down towards the point to see what was down there, ourselves this time, we saw a couple of people running towards us. Now, at Spurn this usually means there's something very rare in the general direction they're running, this time it turns out it was a Long-Billed Dowitcher! It was quite a long way away so it was difficult to get a good view and picture of it, and as we were all squashed onto a narrow path it wasn't helped by the swarms of people passing past my telescope all desperate to get a view of it as well!Everybody got a spot though and I got a reasonable digi-scoped record shot.
Long Billed Dowitcher Twitchers

After we'd had our fill of this lovely bird we went to try and get a view of the Barred Warbler that had turned up further down the point at the Warren. We were waiting for about 20 minutes before we saw it, though it was very fleeting and we didn't manage to get a picture of it :-(. We waited for about half an hour before seeing the bus that was taking people from one point to another and travelling back to the Farm.

As it was pretty much tea time by this point we decided it was time to say goodbye to everyone there and start to head home. Even though it was a short stay it was still really fun. I saw loads of birds, three lifers, had close encounters with other species, met old friends and met some virtual friends like James McCulloch for the first time.

Spurn really is a magical place and I can't wait for next year's MigFest. I'll definitely go again!

Hope you enjoyed,


Monday, 4 September 2017

Post 472 - Wild watch river survey number 2 - and a lovely water shrew

A view of my transect
Hey everyone, well post 472 is all about my second visit to my transect for the wild watch river surveying that I've been involved in. As I mentioned in Post 468 - The Wonderful Wild Watch Project the project is all about volunteers going out and doing surveys in different environments all around the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Dad and I have been on a river surveying course and have been given an area to survey that is around a wonderful lake tucked away in the woods.

Trees springing from rocks
It's a wonderful place, it feels like time's stood still somehow. There are rock formations in places which trees just seem to appear from, no soil just trees in rock. It's also incredibly peaceful and beautiful. It was quite a cool and overcast day this time compared to when I last went but it was still absolutely lovely to be there. We didn't see many dragonflies this time, only the odd one, and no damselflies at all when there were loads before.

Parts are really tricky to survey as there are high sheer rock banks, areas with very very thick vegetation and some very muddy patches. There's lots of wildlife to see there but I only have to record several key species, like Otter, Water Vole, Kingfisher, Grey Wagtail etc.

Autumn is coming
Well we had a good walk round and a good scan of all the banks we could get to and once again we think we found some Otter Spraint. The only other thing that we found that we needed to record was one patch of Himalayan Balsam as alien invasive species like this we have to record too.

From our walk round it was quite definitely looking like the end of summer, berries and rosehips are ripening and lots of fungi are appearing.

My favourite find of the trip though had to be this. At the end of the lake is a little weir where the water leaves the lake and carries on down the stream. After trying to get down the stream to survey the last bit of the transect, which we couldn't do as it's very overgrown with Rhododendrons, we turned back toward the weir. We noticed a little creature searching through bits of weed growing on the weir, trying to find some food.

I've looked it up and I'm pretty sure it's a Water Shrew. It's the first time I've seen one and they are very fast and fidgety so it was very hard to photograph so I filmed it instead. It didn't seem to mind me watching it for a while.

So not quite the Water Vole I set off to find but lovely to see!

Fungi are appearing
Please check out the Wild Watch project, give them a follow on twitter and if you live near Nidderdale go along and get involved. It's great! I'm hoping I can do some reptile surveying next year.

Hope you enjoyed.


Post 471 - A nice surprise - Top 50 Wildlife Blogs

Hey everyone, just a quick post here just to mention a nice little surprise I had when I got back of my holidays. I was looking through my emails and came across this one:

Hi Zach,

My name is Anuj Agarwal. I'm Founder of Feedspot.

I would like to personally congratulate you as your blog A year of my nature hunting has been selected by our panelist as one of the Top 50 Wildlife Blogs on the web.

I personally give you a high-five and want to thank you for your contribution to this world. This is the most comprehensive list of Top 50 Wildlife Blogs  on the internet and I’m honored to have you as part of this!

Also, you have the honor of displaying the following badge on your blog. Use the below code to display this badge proudly on your blog.

Well I didn't expect that :-)

Thank you Anuj and Feedspot - I'll now add the badge to my site!


Thursday, 31 August 2017

Post 470 - Happily Reclining Hairy Rove Beetle

Hairy Rove Beetle (Creophius maxillosus)
Hey everyone, Post 470 and a little look at a new species, for me, that I saw whilst I was away on holiday. Our family always tends to go to North Norfolk in the summer and we have a lovely relaxing time visiting the beaches, RSPB Titchwell, Hickling Broad, Sheringham Park and lots of places like that.

On one of our walks I just happened to spot an unusual shaped and sized insect on a plant when I was walking on a path down to the beach near Weybourne. I had a closer look and realised it was a Beetle but didn't know what sort. So I took a few photos so I could look it up when I got home as I hadn't taken all of my nature books with me.

So I got home and downloaded all of my photos and rediscovered these and started to look it up. I found out it was a Hairy Rove Beetle so I was able to do a bit of research on it, this is what I found out.
  • They are a Beetle that it widespread in the UK but not that common.
  • It's quite a big beetle at 15 - 22mm long. 
  • The size, sturdy build and light grey hairs on the dark body are the main identifying characteristics of this beetle.
Posing nicely
  • It seems they like a variety of habitats but mostly wooded habitats, so finding this one hanging around in the sand dunes was maybe unusual.
  • That said in hot weather, and it was a lovely day, they are supposed to like decaying vegetation.
  • Other places you may find them include compost heaps, decaying fungus, dung, and carrion (dead animals).
  • This is because they are predators and they feed on all sorts of larvae and adults of other insects. 
  • They are attracted to the smell of decay and I guess that means to them they will find an easy meal of maggots in whatever is rotting.
  • They are a fast moving beetle and tend to run away or take to the wing if disturbed so again it was probably unusual to find this one happily resting on a plant and reasonably happy to have its photo taken.
But eventually headed to cover
  • Also when threatened it may curl itself up or raise its tail in a similar way to a Scorpion. As another deterrent for predators they secrete a number of substances that are irritating.
  • Their life-cycle is quite short, the egg stage is 4 days, larvae 14 days and pupae stage 16 days, though I couldn't find out how long adults live. 
  • You should be able to see the adult beetles from spring right through to October/November.
Well, that's another fascinating beetle and one I'll keep an eye out for on my walks, though from what I've read it might be a while before I see another one.

Hope you enjoyed,


Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Post 469 - Talking to Tomorrows Natural Leaders

Hey everyone, today's post is 469 and last month I attended a great event down in Doncaster, it was held at a great Yorkshire Wildlife Trust reserve called Potterick Carr which I've been to a few times now, but it was great to go there again. This time though I had a special reason to go down, a Youth Summit on nature!

It was held down at the Education Centre there and started at about 10 o'clock meaning we had to get up quite early and have an early drive down there, but it was still great fun and I'd been really looking forward to it.

Why, well, there's a bit of a funny story connected to this. The lottery are funding a brilliant and massive project called Our Bright Future - £33m has been given to 31 projects across the UK and they are being co-ordinated by the Wildlife Trusts. The project that Yorkshire Wildlife Trusts are running as part of this is called Tomorrows Natural Leaders - it's a project "which will train 96 Leaders, upskilling and empowering them to inspire young people and community members to take action on local environmental projects and campaigns across Yorkshire."

Well I'd read about the project sometime last year and it sounded interesting so I asked Dad to find out a bit more about it and if it was something I could do. Well he made the call and found out I was three years too early in applying as I you have to be 16 to take part. Oh well I thought I'll have to wait, and didn't think much more about it.

Then a couple of months ago Dad got an unexpected email about the Youth Summit. As part of the summit I was asked to do a talk about how to engage young people. I was obviously thrilled and took up the opportunity immediately, and for a couple of weeks before I'd been rehearsing! Eventually though, the day came around, and there were loads of really great and supportive people there. I found it absolutely great talking to all these people and looking at what everybody was there to present. There were a couple of talks before me which were really interesting covering the Our Bright Futures Programme and the Tomorrows Natural Leaders project. These were all give by young people and it was great to hear their experiences.

Then it was my turn to talk. I was introduced as the youngest applicant to the Tomorrows Natural Leaders project which made me and the crowd laugh when they said I was a bit too young though!  I got up to start my talk and found I wasn't' as nervous as I was when I did my previous talk at the Wild Watch project, despite there being more people at Potterick. I had a great time talking about young people and how to engage them in nature, especially as it's one of my favourite things to talk about and discuss.
The talk after me was another of the Tomorrows Natural Leaders, John Cave, he made us all laugh too as John said I had made him feel old for the first time in his life, 'Thanks for that!' he said :-)

Afterwards there was a lot of different things that went on, lunch was great as we got to walk around and talk to everyone there more than we did in the morning. Everyone was really nice and congratulated me on my talk and said it was inspiring. I got some nice invitations to visit other projects too.
After about an hour of lunch we went into our two groups where we went either for a tour around Potterick, or we did some discussions. They were both good (when is a walk around Potterick not good?) and a lot of good things came out of the talks which were all on topics of nature and engagement.
You can read the Our Bright Future blog summary of the day on their website here.

So I want to say a big thank you to Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and to Joe and Paul for inviting me along. Hope you have another great event like this next year.

Hope you enjoyed,

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Post 468 - The Wonderful Wild Watch Project!

Hey everyone, today's Post 468 and over the course of my blog I've been given a lot of great opportunities, whether it be radio interviews or going to promote nature at national science fairs, it's all been great. One of the things that I've had the chance to do lately is something I never thought I'd get the chance to do. That is to be a patron of something, but recently that's just what I've been asked to do!

I live in a wonderful part of the world in my opinion, and surrounding me are lots of beautiful parks like the North Yorkshire Moors, and the Yorkshire Dales, but one that a lot of people won't know about is the Nidderdale AONB. This is a wonderful part of the world with what seems like a lot of lovely people. I've been to places there before like the wonderful World Heritage site of Fountains Abbey, and the amazing Brimham Rocks with its fantastic formations, but I've come to realise just how special this area is because of a wonderful project called The Wild Watch. This is a project run primarily by a lovely group of people who have asked me to be the Youth Ambassador for the
project. Of course I jumped at this idea and since then I've been attending whatever events I can get to and doing my part for the project. So far, I've been to three events, and I'm going to give you a run through of my favourite parts of them all. But first, I want to give a big thank you to the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust for suggesting I get involved and to the Wild Watch for agreeing and for giving me this absolutely amazing opportunity.

Anyway, here's a little bit of what I've been up to so far:

Dippers are one of the species being surveyed.
The first event I went to was a training session where about 20 people or so attended to learn how to do river surveys. The main aim of the project is to map the wildlife of Nidderdale and to do this they are using volunteers to survey 50 key species across the AONB area, species of national and international conservation concern. Of course I wanted to get involved and so I've started get along to a few very interesting sessions!
Golden ringed dragonflies are too, not seen them on my
transect but did spot Emperors and Brown Hawkers

The first session, the river survey training, was run on a school day but luckily my school is very supportive of what I do and gave me the day off as they have on all these occasions (but I do have to catch up on the work I miss!!). For the first hour or so we went over what the project was, and we were told which species we had to look out for and the key signs to look for to tell if they are present. The ones that I am most interested in are the Otters, Water Voles, Himalayan Balsam and Azure Damselflies. At this point, we were also given our 'transects', which was a small plot of land in the Nidderdale area which follows one of a few rivers. After we were told about everything, we went out on a sort of guided walk around the Millenium Gardens in Pateley Bridge and along the river there. We were told mostly how to find Otters and Water Voles, and the signs that they were around. These included looking for droppings and prints. I now know how Otter spraint (otter poo to you and me) smells! Eventually, we all went down to Hackfall Woods, which is a beautiful area which I hadn't explored for years. We went round essentially doing the same thing as we did in Pateley, but instead, we were given our own maps of the area and were given a little more freedom to put into action what we had already learned. All in all, this was a great day and I had a lot of fun, even though it was swelteringly hot!

The next event I went to was the Bird Song Chorus event, run by Peter Cowdrey of Planet Birdong and Isak Herman from Cambridge University. They are two wonderful people that I had a great time talking to and learning about what they do and the best ways to do it myself. Firstly, Isak introduced us to a couple of games that he had made which are designed to help people identify the different birds, and their calls, in Nidderdale. There were a couple of games, the first was a memory game where you had to flip over the different tiles and remember where the different bird was. As you flipped the tile over, the bird's call played as well. As you progressed through the levels it started giving you the call along with a spectograph of the birdsong and again you had to match them up until eventually you were only given the bird's call. Isak also gathered some data from us all which was put together to help him learn about how we all enjoyed the games and what we learned. In the second session, Peter started talking to us about how we can make music out of bird's calls, and then proceeded to get his trombone out and mimic a goldfinch call which had been slowed down! I have to admit, it was very clever how he could imitate and make music out of a bird's call, especially one as fast as a goldfinch's! Throughout the rest of the day, he kept on talking about what you can do with bird calls and the human voice. He also showed us a primary school boy who was recorded singing the goldfinch call which was sped up to sound just like a real one! Doing this you can get
human calls so good that the birds will respond to them! We also got out into the church yard in Pateley to listen to calls and we were treated to a little Goldcrest singing for us. Apart from that, that was about all, it was a great day again and taught me a whole lot about bird calls, how they are structured and how birds use them.
The programme of speakers!

The final and most recent event I went to was the Wild Watch Launch event where I had been invited as youth Patron to give a talk! There were many other speakers over the course of the day, most of which I was surprised to see were Professors and Doctors! We started out downstairs in a lovely little building called 'The Playhouse' in Pateley Bridge. We were mainly all just chatting to each other about other little projects we were doing and about the Wild Watch in general. When it was time to begin, Paul Burgess, the AONB Manager, introduced us to the day's plans and what was going to be taking place. There were many great speakers there and I think everybody there was captivated by what was being said. Eventually though, it was time for my talk. I'd been rehearsing for about a week and I think it went alright. My talk was about engaging the next generation of conservationists, and I went over a couple of reasons that I think why most people my age aren't into nature, and what I think the solutions are. It was my first public presentation like that and I was a bit nervous but it seemed to go very well and lots of people said afterwards that I'd done pretty well.
I found Otter spraint though :-)
Well after talking to the people after all the presentations Dad and I went off to our river transect and did our first survey. We've got an old Victorian lake that makes up most of ours. It's a really nice place, it's a bit like a totally forgotten place that's been left to get overgrown. Makes it a bit tricky to survey but it's very, very tranquil and full of wildlife. Not so much of the wildlife that I was looking for, though we found Otter Spraint, but lots of lovely creatures to see all the same. I'm looking forward to going back.

I'm also looking forward to  learning how to do surveys for reptiles and getting involved in that. I hope I can learn the signs to look out for Adders and Grass snakes in particular!
A wonderful place to survey!

Overall I think this project is really amazing and I hope you will all join me in supporting it!

You can follow them on: @TheWildWatch

Or see their website: The Wild Watch

And if you live in Yorkshire, get involved!

Hope you enjoyed,


Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Post 467 - Dazzlingly beautiful Duke of Burgundy Butterflies

I'd been looking out for Crosswort so it was amazing to
see the first Duke of Burgundy resting on a patch of it!
Hey everyone, today's post is post 467 and time to catch up on a special species I saw a little while ago now. I'd been out with Mum, Dad and Esme for a trip to Rievalux terrace and temples, a lovely spot that looks out over the ruins of Rievaulx Abbey. It's a lovely walk through some woods and then out on to the big terrace with views over the abbey and moors. There's a big bank as well that's full of wild flowers and often great to look for bugs. We'd got there quite early so there was still a good bit of the day left so we decided to head further into the North York Moors to a place where I had a tip-off that there was a special butterfly around.

We went for a walk around there, for a while, with no luck, but then we realised that we were looking in the wrong place! A helpful volunteer from the park luckily happened to be parked next to us and told us exactly where to try looking. So, now feeling a bit more hopeful, we set off up a little hill to the spot we were told about. It was late in the season and late in the day so the helpful volunteer said we'd be lucky to spot the butterfly. Well, thankfully we were lucky and we managed to find the beautiful Duke of Burgundy Butterfly! It was a lovely butterfly to see and well worth the trip.

But why is it so special? Well here are a few facts:
    Resting on a fern after having chased off another male
  • It's quite a small butterfly with a wingspan of about 3cm. 
  • It is one of the rarest butterflies in the UK and also one of the most rapidly declining UK species suffering substantial declines over the last 3 decades.
  • Since the 1970's this butterfly`s population has decreased by 52%. It is a high conservation priority species.
  • There are still a few places to see them. Where I saw them (in certain areas in the moors), is the most northerly place you'll see them. You can see them in a few spots in the south of the lake district but the main places to see them in Bedfordshire, Kent, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire.
  • They typically live in woodland areas, and because of woodlands being cut back, there are now only 20 sites where they live.
    This slightly ragged one was chased off
  • As a sun loving butterfly it likes warm sheltered places especially clearings in ancient woodlands but it also likes limestone or chalk scrubby grassland.
  • They used to be called the 'Mr Vernon's Small Fritillary', and this is quite apt as they do look quite like a fritillary.
  • They are small with mainly brown wings with many orange spots on the edges of their wings.
  • The adults will only live for about five days!
  • Males will sit in sunny spots guarding a territory chasing off other males - they fly really fast for something so small and light. Females tend to hide away looking for places to lay eggs.
  • She'll be looking for primroses and cowslips which are the main foodplants of the caterpillars.
And then went off to these flowers.
  • I read that they're not frequent visitors to flowers so I was maybe lucky to get this last shot.
They really are a lovely butterfly, and I'm glad I found some! I'll have to go back again earlier in the season next year to see if I can see a few more. I've read that there is a lot of work going on by the North York Moors National Park to try to reintroduce these lovely little butterflies to sites where they used to live. So I hope they may be a bit easier to see in the future!

Just a little last note to say sorry I've not been able to blog very often, I've been busy with school work and a few projects, one of which I'll be writing about soon.

Hope you enjoyed,