Sunday, 8 July 2018

Post 487 - Eagerly Surveying Species at Eavestone

Hey everyone, post 487 is about my surveying today for the Wild Watch project.

A Common Blue Damselfly - not the Azure that I was
looking for but still very pretty.
As most of you will know if you have seen some of my earlier posts (like this one, this one or this one) I'm lucky enough to be the youth patron of this wonderful project in Nidderdale. It's given me a lot of wonderful opportunities but an important part of the project is the actual surveying that it needs done to be able to find out more about the wildlife of the area. When more is known about where wildlife is doing well and not so well the Wild Watch team will be able to work out how to help it best.

So today I set out early with Dad to go to our transect at Eavestone Lake. It's a really nice place, very quiet and tranquil so much so that we were there for almost two hours today and we didn't see another person, just lots of wonderful wildlife.
A Meadow Brown - bit bigger than the
Small Heath on my survey list

It was really warm and there were some massive splashes as we walked around the lake as some big fish jumped for bugs. There were more splashes too as we disturbed the odd Mallard and they paddled away pretty sharpish. Today I was doing three surveys: Invertebrates, a river survey and a reptile survey.

Volucella pellucens - one of the UK's largest Hoverflies
- impressive but not on the list!
Eavestone Lake is pretty much woodland all the way round, the trees overhang the water along most of the shore with a good crop of Rhododendrons thrown in too. Earlier this year we'd set out  some roofing felt squares as refugia for reptiles - they basically should gravitate to these and use them to warm up in the mornings and shelter under them too at night. Well with it being so woody there weren't many places that would get sun and sadly when we checked them today we didn't see any reptiles at all!

Garden Bumble Bee - and it is on the list!
However we had two other surveys to do. So we looked at the river survey. This was also tricky as it's hard to get to much of the shore but in one spot last year we did see some Otter spraint. We checked today along as much of the shore as we could get to but sadly this time we didn't find any. I also have to look for signs of Water Vole but again didn't see anything. Likewise for the birds on the River survey, no Kingfisher, Dipper of Grey Wagtails today. The good thing was I didn't see any of the plants though. We have to survey for invasive plants. Last year there was one patch of Himalayan Balsam but not so far this year! I wonder if it's late or just doesn't like the hot dry weather.

Helophilus pendulus - also know as Sun Fly or
the Footballer  apparently (stripy jersey?) 
The last survey was invertebrates and there's quite a few to try and see. There is one spot at the end of the lake that is alive with insects when I've been before so I was quite hopeful. So after trekking through the shade and cool of the tree lined lake before I emerged out of the undergrowth to a clearing at the dammed end of the lake.After my eyes had adjusted sure enough I could see masses of insects.

Quite quickly I found a Garden Bumblebee, one of the species on the list, at last a record for the survey! I followed a few butterflies, mostly Meadow Browns but not the Small Heaths I was looking for. There were masses of Common Blue Damselflies - I took lots of shots to check these - but no Azure Damselflies which were on the list. There were plenty of insects around not on the list but I was hoping for at least one more that was.

Nice find for the end of the survey
the Wild Watch logo - Golden-ringed Dragonfly
After sitting for a little while I could hear a faint whirring sound. I'd heard it before, the sound of a big Dragonfly. It took a while to find where it was coming from and to then wait for it to get close enough to see what it was. I had to look twice to be sure but was amazed and pleased to see it was a Golden-Ringed Dragonfly, the UK's longest insect, the Wild Watch logo and one of my favourites!

A really nice find for the end of my survey and a sort of double tick as it's on the invertebrate survey and the river survey. So I set off home hot but happy!

Hope you enjoyed,


Sunday, 24 June 2018

Post 486 - Fundraising for Fabulous Owls - Stage 1

Hey everyone, today's post is a little update.

Where it all started - the walk and, well, me too really!
A couple of posts ago I mentioned that I was going to do a bit of fundraising to see if I could help the BTO Owl Appeal to raise more money to be able to understand how to help these wonderful but struggling creatures. It's going ok so far. I set a target of £2,000 as I just didn't know what would be a good or realistic target. So far I'm up to £350 or 17% of that target. That's 3 and a half times more than I raised last time I did something like this so I'm pretty happy but hoping to make it much better yet.

Amazing countryside and weather.
So my challenge is to walk the Nidderdale Way, 52 miles around some amazing Yorkshire countryside. I'm doing the Nidderdale Way  because of my connection with the Wild Watch project, I'm its youth patron, and this year they've been doing a lot of work with Owls, so it all seemed to fit nicely.

The first challenge though has been trying to find time to fit it in! I'm not set up for backpacking so I'm doing it with Dad when we can get lifts there and back. Happily this weekend, with the weather being so amazing, Mum was able to drop us off and my Grandad picked us up at the end of the stage.

So late morning we were dropped off by Mum in Ripley. I started with stage 4 as Ripley is a bit special to us, it's where Mum and Dad got married, so I decided to start here. We set off from the castle and headed out into the countryside. The route was lovely, taking in fields, passing through woods, crossing little babbling becks and gently taking us on a meandering route though the AONB. We passed a deserted medieval village which I couldn't make out - I will need to explore better when I have more time, and continued on until we hit our first point for a little break at a lovely village called Shaw Mills.
Heading on to Brimham Moor

We didn't stop long as we had a timetable to stick to as Grandad was under instructions from Mum to pick us up a set time as we had friends coming for dinner. So we headed off on the next stretch which was just as nice through more fields, woods, along streams and passing some lovely places like Brimham Lodge. We followed the route of a Monks Wall and enjoyed the view.

A bit of a surprise find!
Then suddenly as we went through a gate the terrain changed. We were suddenly into the moorland of Brimham Moor. That was the first surprise, the next was quite alarming at first as there was a funny grunting - what was it - well pigs of course! Two of them cuddled up sleeping. Never seen that before!

We passed through Brimham Moor and we could see  a few of the rock formations which Brimham is famous for but we also enjoyed Skylarks flying high and singing and a lovely Fritillary butterfly that was too quick to see exactly what it was.

Some rocks at Brimham.
We'd been enjoying the walk and the scenery a bit too much, taking our time, enjoying the views and the wildlife we saw along the way and time was escaping us a bit so we pressed on and got as far as Glasshouses before we had to get picked up. So I'll have to do the little stretch into Pateley Bridge next time. To be honest though I like stopping, admiring the views and exploring the wildlife so I think it's going to take me longer than I thought!

Thank you to everyone that has donated so far, I really appreciate it and so will the Owls.

If you haven't yet but could see your way to helping out then you can donate on my Just giving page:

I'll keep you updated as I do more!

Hope you enjoyed,


Thursday, 14 June 2018

Post 485 - Lord Lieutenant & Cracking Cairngorms

Hey everyone, I don't know where the time goes these days but glad I've finally found the time to write up a little blog about a recent visit I had to the Cairngorms. 

This trip came about because I was lucky enough to be awarded the North York Moors National Park Trust Young Ranger Award. It was the first one they did and I was amazed to win. The prize was some cash to put towards visiting another national park and I had to attend a prize giving ceremony at the Moors Centre at Danby to be presented with my prize by the Lord Lieutentant of North Yorkshire Barry Dodd. 

This made us both laugh
 - but I really didn't thump the Lord Lieutenant!
I mention this in particular as it was great to meet Barry and he was a really nice man, he wrote me a lovely letter afterwards that I have hung on my wall congratulating me and being very nice about all the things I do for nature. He also laughed at this photo we took at the ceremony where it looks like I'm thumping him. I promise I wasn't! That's probably treason! So it was very sad to hear whilst I was in the Cairngorms that Barry had died in a helicopter accident. I didn't know Barry well or for very long but it was a pleasure to have met him.

It was a bit of a strange co-incidence to hear the news whilst on the trip that the award made possible but it made me all the more determined to get the most out of the opportunity. So what did I do?
A random stop and a Redstart!

Well, I had an amazing nature filled week of course. The weather was amazing too, clear skies and warm days all week. 

The journey was long but we made the best of it by taking nice quiet routes where we could. That was rewarded by nice views and on one little stop we pulled up right next to this Redstart.

We stayed right next to Craigellachie National Nature Reserve in Aviemore which was amazing in itself. Spotted and Pied Flycatchers, Wood Warblers, Roe Deer, Peregrines, Heron were some of the things I saw on a few walks I had here. On the second night I walked up to the top of the hill with Dad and was rewarded with some fantastic views over the Cairngorms.


I had one or two special trips lined up as the North York Moors National Park kindly put me in touch with the folks at Cairngorm National Park so I was able to organise a few things.

A Wheatear at Glen Tanar
The first was a land rover safari on the Glen Tanar estate, which is next to the Queen's Balmoral Estate. This was a really interesting visit. Not only did we see some fantastic wildlife, like a Green Hairstreak, Osprey, Ring Ouzel and Wheatear, but we learnt all about the way the estate is managed. Glen Tanar is managing the estate a bit differently to a lot of the estates in Scotland and is very conservation focused. We saw lots of work that they are doing to allow the moorland to revert to woodland. The landscape isn't 'Sheepwrecked' and the only animals that are shot on the estate are deer but only to control their numbers and keep everything in balance. You can pay to go Deer stalking here but it is nice to know that the money is used to help the estate be maintained for forestry and conservation.  The land rover safari was a great way to see a lot of the estate and what it is doing. You even get a little picnic half way round and that's where I was able to see the Green Hairstreak and a big Wood Ant nest.
Cairngorm Summit

Snowbunting in summer plumage on Cairngorm
The second trip I'd organised was with Natural Retreats to have a look around the top of Cairngorm. I was looking forward to this as I was hoping to see a few nice species like Ptarmigan, Dotteral, Mountain Hare and Snow Bunting. We met our guide, Ruari, at the Ranger Station and headed up the hill. A big advantage of a guided tour is that you can use the railway to take you most of the way up the hill. Otherwise if you want to go to the summit you have to walk up. Well with all the walking I was doing that week it was nice to use the railway and Ruari told us lots about it, how it worked and how many people it carried up and down the hill. I found it strange that on a clear sunny very warm day with incredible views ( I could see the five highest peaks in the UK and I was on the sixth highest) that I was there in the off season. Winter and skiing is the busy time.

Dotterel on Cairngorm
So, off the railway and on to the top of the hill. Looking back down the hill, there were amazing views as the only clouds you could see were clouds of pine pollen blowing off the trees way down in the valley.  Rurai told us all about how special and delicate the environment on the top of Cairngorm is, it has lots of national and international designations as it is such a special environment. Ruari was explaining how they maintain it and how easy it is for it to be damaged so they have to manage visitor numbers and routes very carefully. That's why you can't normally use the railway to get up the hill and then go for a walk around.

Amazing views and sky on Cairngorm
What a place though. Amazing views and I got to see Dotterel, Mountain Hare and Snow Bunting on that trip up. Later in the week I went back and got to see a Ptarmigan too. Ruari was a great guide and what a fantastic job he has!

There was more to come of course. Dad had also found out about a Badger hide run by a wildlife group at Boat of Garten. We met up with an amazing champion for nature Alan Bantick. He told us so much about what he had done in the area including being one of the lead people for reintroducing Beavers back into Scotland. He'd set up the hide in the 1990's and has had all sorts of people visit it with him like Chris Packham and Nick Baker. 

Badger at dusk
We met up with Alan just before dusk and he drove us to the hide. Once there he set things up, basically putting a bit of food out for the Badgers and swapping out a memory card in a camera trap. I think we were there about five or ten minutes and then the Badgers started to emerge. I think I have only ever distantly glimpsed a Badger once before as where I live is mostly arable farms. So it was an amazing experience to sit and watch up to six or seven badgers at a time foraging, playing and grooming. It was an amazing experience that will stay with me for a very long time.

No King Eider but I did see a lovely Slavonian Grebe
Aside from that we spent the week exploring different areas, Lochs, the Coast and different bits of the Cairngorms. I got to see a few Red Squirrels and Seals but I didn't see everything I wanted, King Eider was one species I'd hoped to see, but it didn't matter as I had an amazing time. 

I'm very grateful to everyone that made this trip possible, the North York Moors National Park Trust for the award that made this possible and to all the people in the Caringorms, especially The Glen Tanar EstateNatural Retreats and Allan Bantick, that helped me to get the most out of the visit. I will definitely be back!

Hope you enjoyed,


Thursday, 10 May 2018

Post 484 - Fundraising for fabulous Owls

Tawny Owl
Hey everyone! Some of you might have already seen on twitter and my blog that I am having a bit of an Owl year. Well, I'm not the only one.

It started really with The Wild Watch, a project that I'm very honoured to be the youth patron for. I try to encourage other young people in the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (and anywhere else really) to get more involved with nature, and especially to help out with the Wild Watch project a big citizen science project that is surveying the wildlife of Nidderdale. Well this year they wanted to survey Owls and to get the help of a lot of young people they decided to do a film to show in the schools across the area. I'm really grateful that they asked me to be in the film, I enjoyed doing this and getting the chance to get up close to some fabulous Owls was awesome.

Well shortly after this I found out the BTO was having its own year of the Owl and is trying to raise funding to help understand more about Owls and how best to help them. Well Owls are a family favourite and we often say we don't see enough Owls. You can read the details on the BTO website about why this project is so important but essentially Owls are struggling, so I decided that I ought to do more to help.
My first sponsored walk - aged 8
I conquered Roseberry Topping! 

I do bits of fundraising now and again. Many of you buy my calendars and half of the profits got to the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. The other half I use to buy more camera equipment and you should see some of the results of that in the 2019 calendar!

My first fundraising challenge though was to help a local wildlife rescue centre that cared for some injured animals we found. They gave me lots of advice too when I found a baby Hedgehog out in our road in the day time. I was able to raise him (Prickles!) to adulthood and set him free in the garden. So to help repay the centre I did a sponsored walk up a local hill. That was back in 2012 when I was eight! I think I raised just over £100 which the rescue centre was very grateful for.

Well not being able to think of any other more brilliant idea I thought a sponsored walk would be a good idea to do again. Only this time it's a bit longer. I had the idea that I could sort of promote the Wild Watch Owl project and the BTO Owl Appeal by walking the Nidderdale Way.

This is a 52 mile walk around the Nidderdale AONB. That's a lot further than I've walked before!

I do go camping now and again but I'm not set up for backpacking so the Nidderdale walk is good as it is near enough to home that I can do the four stages by being dropped off with Dad over four different days. I intend to fit them in as soon as I can but doing it this way means I can pick days that aren't too wet or too hot!
Tawny Owl up close.

So I've talked to the BTO, found they are set up on Justgiving and I've made a fundraising page. I've set an ambitious target of £2000 which I'd really like to achieve but it's a lot more money than I've ever managed to raise before.

I'll be doing my best to reach this target so I'll be tweeting and posting about it quite a bit in the next few weeks which I hope you all don't mind. If you think that helping Owls is a cause you can support I'd appreciate any help you can give. Retweeting, sharing or donating would all be appreciated.

If you are able to make a contribution to my challenge you can donate here:

Zach's Nidderdale Way Walk for Owls

Hope you enjoyed,


Monday, 30 April 2018

Post 483 - Riveting Reptile Surveying with Wonderful Wildwatch

Misty moorland survey for reptiles!
Hey everyone, as many of you will know I’m involved with a wonderful project called the Wild Watch. For those who don’t the Wild Watch is a 3 year long Heritage Lottery funded project that is trying to both survey wildlife in the Nidderdale area, but also spread awareness about how much some species are in need.

Those of you that see my blogs regularly will know I've done a couple of posts on this before - Post 481 on a nice Owl video I got to do and Post 468 and Post 472 on a river survey I did as part of the project last year.

A reptile refugia
Of course, there needs to be quite a lot of people to survey such a huge area, so I, among many others, go to ‘lessons’ held by the Wild Watch which enable us to go out and do some proper surveying!

Some of the survey party
Recently they held one of these days for reptile surveys, so me and my Dad jumped at the opportunity and went to see what we could learn. The day started off with us being told what species we would be looking for, which included grass snakes, adders and slow-worms, all great species that I would love to see more of. Then, we were told how to put out the refuges which would attract the reptiles. They’re essentially just pieces of roofing felt which we’d leave in sunny spots; when the reptiles look for somewhere to warm themselves in the morning they’d find these, which had absorbed the sun’s heat, and just wait on it until they had enough energy to start hunting.

So, once we were told all of this, we went out to a lovely piece of Nidderdale moor, where we were shown how to do this in action. It was quite an overcast day, so there wasn’t much of an opportunity of us actually seeing anything, it was hard at first even to see the Red Grouse that were about, but it was still good to get out into the field and actually do what we’d been taught. All the transects we’re given are 1km long, so seeing as we have 10 refuges to put down, we have to put them 100m apart, but we also have to make sure we put them in a good spot for the reptiles.
My transect from a little stone arch at the end.

We were taken to all of the refuges that Gordon, our trainer for the survey, had marked along this transect with a GPS, and then told how to check them to see if there’s anything using them. We have to wear thick, protective gloves that are to help protect our hands if an adder attacks us when we find one. We also have to try and approach with the wind coming from the refuge, so the reptile doesn’t smell us coming and flee. Once we’d been around this patch of moor and seen all 10 of the refuges, we headed back to base camp and headed back home with all our new found knowledge. It was a really great day and I must thank the Wild Watch team for giving me and everyone else that attended this opportunity, and to teach us everything you did!
Hoping to see some of these amazing creatures!

I've been out to my transect now, which is the same one I did my river survey on. It's a fabulous place, a quite almost forgotten reservoir with thick wooded banks, so thick in fact that the trees overhang the water edge quite a way in most places. As the leaves weren't all out yet we tried to find spots where we hope the sun will be able to get through on a morning when the tree canopy has thickened up. A bit of guess work but we hope we might see a lizard or two. I have to leave them now for three weeks and give the reptiles time to find them and start to use them for heating up of a morning. It was surprising to see even on our misty moorland training session how even just a little bit of sun soon heats up the felt.
And some lovely Slow-worms!

I've not seen an Adder for a few years, despite trips to places that are known to be really good for them, so I hope that my training now will mean I see lots of them and other reptiles this year.

I'll let you know how I get on!

Hope you enjoyed,


Sunday, 4 March 2018

Post 482 - A surprising Spring brings beautiful birds.

Snowdrops poking through the snow
Hey everyone. Post 482 today and I thought I'd write up a few things I've noticed recently. I was quite surprised to hear that it was the first meteorological day of spring on the 1st of March. It was also surprising to see how much snow we had, it feels like mid winter rather than almost Spring! Whilst the bad weather stopped us going very far it was still interesting to see what has been happening around the garden.

Witch Hazel flowers hanging under the snow
One of the first things I noticed was how some of the plants around the garden were adapted to cope with the snow. It hadn't occurred to me before that they would be but then I don't think we've had snow like this for quite a while. The shapes of the Snowdrops looks to have helped them to not get weighed down by snow settling on them, that they are designed to poke through the snow. I also noticed how the Witch-hazel has all of its flowers arranged so that the snow collects above them. I don't know if it's insects or the wind that pollinates this plant but either way the flowers are exposed even after the heavy snow.

We always feed our birds and we have a nice garden selection, though we get less finches than we think we ought to. A neighbour has a big field with quite a large pond in it so it's not unusual to see big flocks of Greylags and Canada Geese flying over our house. I've also got Cormorant on my garden list thanks to the neighbours pond. It's not often I get to add new birds to this list.

When the snow came we stepped up the feeding and worked hard to keep the bird bath from freezing so our feathered visitors  had plenty of food and water. The extra food plus the bad weather has meant my garden list has grown by three in the space of a week.

My favourite new garden list addition - Treecreeper
The first new bird I was surprised to see was a Tree-creeper. It was a lovely bird to see in the garden. Normally when I see them they are a lot more distant working their way up a tree in a wood somewhere. To have one on the bird table a few feet from the window was amazing as I could see its wonderful intricate plumage which I'd never really seen that close up before. After its first visit I hoped it would be a garden regular and while I've not seen it every day it has been back a few times now snacking on the fat balls.

Long-tailed Tits feeding up!
I've also had some Long Tailed Tits in the garden. Like the Tree-creeper they've been enjoying the suet. They only came back to the garden lately, they weren't around when I did the Big Garden Birdwatch, but they've been around quite a bit since and before it snowed I noticed they had been collecting nesting material. I thought these little birds must have it the worst of my garden birds in this weather being such small delicate looking creatures. Another surprise was to find out the Tree-creeper probably has a harder time as the Long Tails have seen it off the feeders a few times. It has snuck back when they've finished to top up on food though.

Fieldfare on the bird table - the apple bait worked!
Over the week Dad's been going to and from work and has been coming back with sightings of Redwings and Fieldfares in the village so we've been putting down apples to encourage them in and give them a good feed. It's paid off. A couple of Fieldfares have spent a day or two in the garden, seeing off Blackbirds at first, but quite happy to feed next to Starlings. As time went on they were a bit more tolerant of the Blackbirds so I guess they're not so hungry. Today was the first time they've not been around but the snow is melting well now so I wonder if they've found food elsewhere.

This Redwing appreciated them too.
Mum's been keeping her eye out too and it was down to her sharp eyes that we now also have a Redwing on our garden list. It's only been in once that we know of but it stayed long enough to have a good feed and to let Mum get a few photos to mark the occasion.

Blue Tits are claiming their boxes!
I hope the weather is improving now. While I've enjoyed seeing these birds I know they are probably only coming to gardens as they're short of food elsewhere. It's close to mating season for birds too and they'll need lots of food and energy. My Blue Tits seem to think Spring isn't far away though. They've been eyeing up one of our nest boxes for a few days and today we saw them popping in and out of it! Fingers crossed they know the weather is set to improve.

Hope you enjoyed,


Sunday, 4 February 2018

Post 481 - Outstandingly Obliging Owls & the Wonderful Wild Watch

Me and Spike the Barn Owl
Hey everyone, a great post today for post 481 about an amazing opportunity I was given that happened today. If you regularly read my blog you'll know that I've been working with a great project called The Wild Watch. It's based in Nidderdale and is surveying 50 key species across the area of outstanding natural beauty so that they can see what is happening with their populations and work out how best to look after the land to help the wildlife. This year I'm looking forward to two things in particular, the first is reptile surveying, but the second is related to my opportunity today - Owl surveying!

Flynn the Tawny Owl busy surveying the area
A key part of The Wild Watch is getting more young people engaged in nature so to help with the Owl surveying they are going to go to the schools in Nidderdale and talk to them about the project. As part of that they wanted a film about Owls to use as part of the talk. As youth patron they asked if I'd like to do the film. It didn't take too long to think about as Owls are a family favourite, I gladly said of course I'd do it!

So today we headed down to the Thirsk Bird of Prey Centre to do some filming. It's a great place. I've been a few times when I was younger, they have some absolutely amazing birds there, 30 species altogether. They very kindly said we could come along  to do the film and we had the place to ourselves as they don't open to the public until March. As if that wasn't kind enough one of falcloners, Kerry, also came in on her day off as she looks after the Owls that we wanted to see!

Sprout the Little Owl
So my family and a few of the Wild Watch team and their children arrived not long after it had stopped sleeting so it was a bit chilly, but the cold didn't bother us much and we certainly forgot about it as soon as the Owls came out. The film was great to do and it was really just explaining a bit about the Wild Watch and how we want all the school kids in Nidderdale to help survey the area for 3 species. One of the best bits was that I got to hold the three species, a Barn Owl (Spike), a Tawny Owl (Flynn) and a Little Owl (Sprout). Owls are so beautiful and it was such a privilege to hold them and see them up so close. While I was holding them we filmed a few facts about each Owl and the other young people there added to them too. I think it'll be a great film and I hope it gets lots of people out looking for these wonderful creatures.

Flynn was very watchful
Since I heard about this opportunity I also saw that the BTO are having a year of the Owl and are also raising money to be able to find out more about these special creatures. I started wondering how I could help. I've done some fundraising before, recently mainly through selling calendars, but a while back I did a sponsored walk for a local wildlife santuary. I've noticed other young conservationists have done walks lately too (like Georgia Locock and Dara McAnulty) so I started thinking about this and then Dad reminded me that there is a Nidderdale Way - so it all seemed to fit into place quite nicely. It's a 56 mile walk around the Nidderdale AONB. I know little bits of Nidderdale but not all of it so this is a great way to help out the Owls and spend some good time out exploring a bit more of the area.
I'm talking to the BTO and the Wild Watch and I'm still making plans but once I know when I'm going to do it I'll be setting up a page for people to sponsor me. I'll make sure I let you know when!

So the last thing to do is to say a big thank you again to the Thirsk Bird of Prey Centre, to the Falconers Colin, Kerry and David, to the wonderful Owls Sprout, Flynn and Spike and to the Wild Watch team for giving me the chance of this wonderful experience.

Hope you enjoyed,