Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Post 376 - Jolly Fabulous Jelly Fungus!

A white Jelly Fungus
Hey everyone, thought it was time I did a species post so I'm going to take a look at something I had not seen until the last few weeks, and now I seem to be seeing it everywhere! I wondered if it was to do with it being so wet, but maybe my research will reveal that...

It has been very, very rainy pretty much all of December where ever I have been - I got stuck in the Lakes due to Storm Desmond (see my Chaotic Climate Change post) and over this Christmas holiday there have been lots of floods in Yorkshire, but thankfully our village hasn't been badly affected, the village green flooded but that's all. The worst effect for me has been being stuck as roads have been flooded, but all the same I've stayed warm and dry and I feel very sorry for everybody that has been flooded, especially right over Christmas :-(

Before I get started on the species I want to ask anyone reading this a favour. After winning the BBC Wildlife Magazine Junior Blogger of the Year award I decided to enter the UK Blogger Awards, voting starts on 4th January. If I've done it right you'll be able to click on the button at the side to vote, but it won't work till then. I'd love to get even short listed for this so I'd be very grateful if you would cast me a vote :-)

So, sorry for the long pre-amble and onto today's fabulous fungi - Jelly Fungus! I mentioned how wet it has been and the first one I found was when I was stuck in the Lakes, it was just down a road on a tree in a hedgerow. The others I saw at Fox Glove Covert when I went there recently and at our local forest. So what did I find out about these fungi?


Crystal Brain Fungus (Exidia nucleata)
Spotted this on the ground looking just like frogspawn
  • The white jelly fungus caught my eye as at first I thought it was spawn of some form which I thought would be unusual for December!
  • In fact it turned out to be a jelly fungus, as far as I can work out it is Exidia nucleata or White Crystal Brain fungus.
  • They are quite common across most of the UK but more common in the South. 
  • The best time to find them is in late Autumn and Winter.
  • They like to grow on decaying wet wood.


  • It is made up of individual blobs about 1cm big but they coalesce (or join together) to form jelly like patches that look like frog spawn!

Orange Jelly Fungus (Tremella mesenterica)
  • The orangey one I think is Tremella mesenterica and it has a lot of common names including Orange Jelly Fungus, Yellow Brain Fungus, and my favourite - Witches Butter
  • It is found on dead branches in Autumn and Winter, this one grows on hardwood like the one in the picture but there is a another yellow jelly fungus that grows on pine called Dacrymyces palmatus
  • It grows after rain but this fungus is quite interesting in that if it dries out it will go crusty but can revive itself back into jelly when it rains again.
  • Its latin name Tremella means trembling which refers to the wobbly nature of the fungus. The second bit is made from Ancient Greek words meso and enteron which means middle intestine. Apparently it looks like a wobbly middle intestine! Euw...
Also know as Witches butter!
  • There are legends from Eastern Europe that say if this fungus grows on the door or gate of a home the house has had a spell cast on it by a witch. To remove the spell you had to pierce the fungus with something sharp until it died.
  • Fruiting bodies form dense clusters and are about 1-6cm by 2.5cm in size.
  • This is apparently an edible fungus if it is boiled or steamed but not raw! May not be worth trying though as it is meant to be rubbery and not tasty.
  • This fungus doesn't break down wood but is a parasite of another type of fungus, a crust fungus.
Possibly a rare white Yellow Jelly Fungus
  • The first one I found is in this last picture and might be something quite rare from what I have read, but I'm not sure.
  • The Yellow Jelly fungus can have a rare white form Tremella mesenterica var. alba - the alba bit means white. I'm not certain about this but I can't find another fungus like it.

Well, that's about all I could find but try these links for more pics and info:




Hope you enjoyed, 

Z.




Sunday, 27 December 2015

Post 375 - New Year of Nature Plans

Fox Glove Covert - wonderful to be greeted by a rainbow
one of the few sunny spells we've lately.
Hey everyone. Before I start I just want to say I hope you had a very merry Christmas (if you celebrate that sort of thing). It is the 375th post today and as it's almost the New Year (and that it's a small milestone) I thought I would run through a few of my New Year of Nature Plans. I've been thinking about this a lot and as it's not that far away so I thought I would publish my thoughts before I changed my mind. ;-).

The wildlife is very safe here!
Well, the first of my plans is to try to go to every single Yorkshire Nature Reserve. That itself is a very hard challenge as Yorkshire is quite big but I am going to try and do it in one year. I kind of think it's impossible but we're going try for it, I'll start with North Yorkshire first and the Wildlife Trust reserves mainly but will try and go to any others I find too. The good thing about this challenge is both the places that we're going to find during this as well as the amount of both birds, insects and any other animals.

I have actually started on this already a bit when I went to a great reserve called Foxglove Covert. It was a little hard to get into because of the facts that a lot of the roads to get there were closed due to the A1 being upgraded. It was also hard to get into as there was a man with a machine gun in front of the gates. No, don't worry it wasn't anything bad. It was just that this particular nature reserve happened to be in the middle of an army base. Obviously we couldn't get any pictures of the actual base but we did get some pictures of the reserve and of the gates to the nature reserve itself.

Lichens lich it here!
I wasn't there long as it took longer to get to than we thought and as we were on our way to do a bit of food shopping ready for Christmas. But while I was there I did manage to see some fantastic lichens, jelly fungus, chaffinches and a Great Spotted Woodpecker. Look out for a post on some of these soon.

A white jelly fungus
My other challenge is also quite difficult, but I hope possible with luck. I'm going to try and find as many, maybe all, Red List bird species in the UK. It's quite hard as there will be a little bit of travelling involved as well as the luck involved in seeing these birds wherever they are. So, the same twist as my first challenge, do it in one year. Today me and my Dad were making a list of the different birds on the UK list that I have seen, both in general and in our Garden. We found out I'd seen 35 different bird species in our garden and over 140 in general. I'm not 100% sure how many of these were Red List Species so I'll have to either look them up or find them again.

And an orange one!
I did get a bit of a start on this too as I was at Nosterfield just before Christmas and there were Lapwings, Curlews and Pochards there. There's quite a few House Sparrows in my garden and I think I'll make them a special nest box too. Watch out for posts on some of these soon.

Wish me luck!

So, you may notice (if you visited this post within the few days it was available) that there is a small poll on the right hand side of the page. It basically just asks you if you would rather see me cover cover one of my plans more than the other so if you could vote on it just to give me some sort of guidance that would be great. :-)

I hope you enjoyed hearing about my New Year of Nature Plans, I hope they give me lots of blog topics to cover as well as new places and species to see.

Z.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Post 374 - Some Amazing News and Super Finds in Silton Forest

Post 374 - Hi everyone, well it's been another amazing week. It was the last week of school ahead of Christmas, which made it a good week anyway, but on Thursday this news was released:

I was totally amazed when I heard the news, it's still a bit hard to believe, but a big thank you to BBC Wildlife Magazine, Jo Price, @LucyMcRobert1 @juleslhoward and @StephenMoss_TV for selecting my blog as the winner. Big thanks too to everyone who nominated me. There are some great bloggers too who got highly commended awards who are really worth checking out. If you like my blog you'll love @JGHellewell @MyaBambrick1 @BirdgirlUK @Appletonwild @SCroxford @jakesbones .

I've just entered the UK Blog Awards #UKBA16


Well I had been wondering about doing this but hearing the news I decided I should also enter the UK Blog Awards 2016 - I've entered in the Green and Photography sections. Voting is due to start in the New Year and I hope a few of you reading this might cast a vote for me.





It was nice to be back in the forest, still quite green in places
Well, back to normality, and as it's the first day of the holiday my family got out for a walk. In the end we decided to do a local walk in Silton Forest, just on the edge of the fabulous North York Moors. If you read my posts often you'll know I love this place for all the bugs and other wildlife I see there. Now it's Winter, well it's supposed to be, I didn't think I'd see much - the temperature gauge on our car was showing 16 degrees C!



A little fungi
As it's quite mild there were a few surprises in store as we walk around. The first was a little fungi which I didn't expect to see as most of the others had gone or were decaying badly. This one looked quite fresh, not sure what type it is but it looked quite pretty amongst the moss.

A nice Cladonia lichen I found
The next thing I found I did expect to see, and I really like looking at them as they grow almost everywhere I go, but this one really stood out today growing away on a fallen branch. It was a lovely lichen, still learning about lichens but pretty sure this is one of the Cladonia lichens because of the stalks which are the fruiting bodies where the fungus bit of the lichen produces the spores. The fruiting bits are called apothecia.

A sleepy Toad
Well not far from where I found this I was helped out by Esme, my little Jack Russell, who was sniffing at something I really wouldn't have expected to see in December usually. There was a Toad in the middle of the path! I didn't expect to see it as I did Toad patrol in the spring and thought they emerged from hibernating to breed. Well when I read up on this it seems they just lie dormant under logs and vegetation and do emerge to forage when the temperatures are warm enough. Well this one looked very sleepy and was in the middle of a path so we found a nice spot with lots of fallen leaves to put in in out of the way.
Bugs tucked up for winter.

The last little find was a group of beasties that I found under the bark of a log I trod on. A bit of bark came away and there were spiders, millipedes, beetles and an unidentified mealworm type insect tucked up underneath. Well I got a few shots and then put the piece of bark back over them to save them being disturbed or eaten!

I hope to get to some more reserves soon where I'm looking out for one or two birds I've not seen for a while so I hope to bring you some nice species posts over Christmas. I'll leave you with a few links to more information.

British Lichens

FrogLife - Frog & Toad Behaviour

Hope you enjoyed - and a big, big thank you again to BBC Wildlife Magazine, the judges and anyone who nominated me!

Z.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Post 373 - Brilliantly Coloured Super Broad Centurion Soldierfly

Broad Centurion Soldierfly (Chloromyia formosa)
Hey everyone, today's Post 373 and seeing as I have only really done 1 species since the end of my year and I thought, as it's actually snowing where I am as I'm writing this, I would bring back some of the warmer and sunnier weather by covering a nice hover-fly, specifically it's a soldierfly called the Broad Centurion or the Chloromyia formosa. Now, at school, in History we have been covering the Romans and from what I heard, a Centurain is a leader of a small group of people, so maybe this fly is a leader of some sort of family. We found it in July in Silton Forest a lovely place near us that I go walking in a lot. I thought it was a nice little thing to cover on a nice snowy December afternoon, as it is quite colourful and reminded me of Summer walks.

So, here are a couple of facts on it:

The lovely woodland edges at Silton are filled with lots of wild flowers
they have been great for finding bugs
  • They are quite common around all of the United Kingdom including Ireland and all of the surrounding islands.
  • They fly mostly throughout May, all of the way to the end of August but can be found a small bit outside of these times. 
  • They are only 9mm long which is a tiny little thing. I don't think I've encountered a smaller fly yet. 
  • Their larvae are found in cow dung, rotting grass and all of that sort thing.
  • Coming from this they will be found in places like moist forests which is where I found it, there's a lovely little beck that babbles through the bit of the forest I walk in
  • Their antennae are short and the first segment of their antennae is longer than the second segment.
  • Larvae feed on decaying plant matter which is probably why they live in it.
  • So, while the larvae feed on this, the adults feed on nectar like most insects. These ones mostly feed on Hogweed, which the one in the picture is on.
A shot further out, you can see the Hogweed stems better.
  • They are found in Europe, North Africa, the Eastern side of Asia and Southern Arctic.
  • The one I photographed is probably a female, they tend to be a more metallic blue green while the males are more bronzy green.
  • My photo isn't quite close enough but if you see one try to get a close look at their eyes as they are very hairy.
Here are some links to some more information:


Hope you enjoyed,

Z.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Post 372 - Jolly Eccentric and Fantastic - Jelly Ear Fungus

Jelly Ear Fungus ( Auricularia auricula-judae)
Hey everyone, well I didn't get any pictures of wildlife especially to talk about this weekend, I was meant to be going to Leighton Moss but due to Cumbria's floods I didn't make it that far. I haven't heard if it affected Leighton Moss but I hope not.

To find a species to blog about I looked through my old photos. I've still got a lot of things to identify, but this is one that I could work out quite easily (I hope!). I've been on the look out for this since someone sent me a picture of some last year. The name made me want to find some to see what it was like in real life, and it is just like its name. I found this on a walk in Ripon in October, right at the end of a walk in a lovely woodland I go to quite often. There's lots of different fungi around there but this one is my favourite. Today I'm talking about the Jelly Ear Fungus.

So, what did my research tell me about this fungi?
Some smaller younger growths

  • It seems to have lots of names, all ear related. Wood Ear, Jelly Ear, Sows Ear Judas Ear and Jews Ear. Jelly Ear seems to be the most common though.
  • You can find it through most of the year even in the middle of winter as it doesn't seem to be affected by the cold.
  • It grows on dead Elder trees and is generally 5-15cm across.
  • One of the oldest names for it is Judas Ear and this seems to be linked to the fact it grows on Elder trees as Judas
    from Bible stories hung himself on an Elder tree
  • This fungus grows in Europe, Asia and North America.
  • This mushroom is edible and is used a lot in cooking in Japan and China.
  • In 100g of this fungi there are 284 calories, very little fat but nearly 10% protein.
  • It has sausage shaped spores which give a white spore print.
And a mix here.
  • Not only can you eat this fungus it has been used in places like Japan for its medicinal benefits. 
  • Some of its benefits include its use as an anti-inflammatory, to relieve tonsillitis and also swellings. 
  • I also read that is is a powerful anti-carcinogen and is used to prevent and treat tumours. I'm not sure if this has been scientifically proved but would be great if it has.
  • There are lots of recipes for this fungi but I still think I'll get my mushrooms from the supermarket as you have to be very careful what you pick with fungi as lots are poisonous.
Here's a couple of links to more information:




Hope you enjoyed,

Z.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Post 371 - Chaotic Climate Change

Hey everyone - well I'm going to change my titles to Post rather than Day as I'm not going them daily now so today is post 371. By the way I've done this post on an iPhone so it may look different to usual.

A female Mallard looking at us through a rain covered window at breakfast
Well this weekend I had hoped to bring you a post about a lovely ramble around the fabulous RSPB Leighton Moss. I am in the Lake District but I've not got far as there is a Red Weather alert for this part of the country, you may see some pictures on the news about how rainy it is. Most of the roads around us are flooded and I'm in a hotel wondering what to do. Instead of Christmas shopping and nature hunting I'm looking out of a window at a very grey rainy Lake District.

The news said this is storm Desmond. Storms have only just started to be named in the UK, storm Abigail only happened on November 16th, so we've had four storms worth naming since then. This together with the Climate Change talks in Paris got me thinking. So I looked into climate change (glad the hotel Wifi is working) and here's what I found:


  • The basic cause is increases in Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere. In 1960 CO2 levels were about 315 parts per million, now they are about 400. There has been a 30% rise in CO2 levels since the industrial revolution.

  • This is changing the weather. In the UK 9 out of the 10 hottest years on record have been since 2000! 
  • All the extra CO2 is causing temperatures to rise as the CO2 traps more of the suns energy in the atmosphere. The Climate change talks are about trying to keep temperarture rises below 2 degrees C.
  • Since 1979 there has been a decrease in arctic sea ice of 4% per decade 
  • Scientists have been looking at why this is happening and they nearly all seem to think it is because of human activity.
  • There are a few, called climate change sceptics, that don't believe it's down to humans but that it's a natural effect.
  • There are about 150 World leaders in Paris talking about this so that seems to say to me that they are convinced humans are having an effect.
  • The main source of extra carbon in the atmosphere seems to be down to human use of fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas.
  • The UK isn't very good at using non fossil fuels for energy - in 2011 we still generated 71% of our electricity from fossil fuels.
  •  At the talks in Paris they are making promises to use less fossil fuels. Rich countries like the UK have started to change to other methods of generating electric like wind power, solar power and nuclear power. The Government has said it will shut coal power stations by 2023.
  • At the Paris talks the world leaders are also trying to work out how to help poorer countries use less coal as renewable power generation is more expensive.
  • I really hope they come up with plans that make a difference as Climate Change is affecting us all and especially wildlife.
  • Not only are Arctic species like the Polar Bear at risk but our UK wildlife is also suffering. 500 native species have been lost in the last 200 years according to the Wildlife Trusts.
  • in my blogs I've noticed how species are spreading further north over time.
  • One of the impacts of climate change and the planet warming is more extreme weather events, just like Storm Desmond!

So, it doesn't look great for us and wildlife unless we start to help. What should we be doing?

  • Well at primary school they taught us a really good thing - we should all try to use less 'stuff' and if we do use 'stuff' we should reduce, reuse and recycle what we do use.
  • We can change our electricity suppliers to companies that generate from renewable resources.
  • Using our cars less, flying less, eating less meat, using energy efficient products are all ways to reduce our carbon footprint too!
  • I think we also need to keep writing to our MP's too to tell them we are concerned and what them to do things to help reduce CO2. A lot of what the Government has done lately isn't helping, see the link to the last article below.
Well I hope that was interesting - you may all be seeing a lot about it in the news this week, but sitting in a hotel all day as storm Desmond has stopped us going anywhere it seemed a good time to research all this.

Home safe and dry now, luckier than a lot of people. I hope those affected get sorted out soon. Here's a few links to more information.

Hope you found this interesting, I'll certainly be doing more to help reduce climate change after this experience.

Z.




Sunday, 29 November 2015

Day 370 - Fabulously Fascinating Fungi Part 3

Amazing fungi at Fountains Abbey
Hey everyone today's Day 370 and a while ago, when I was still in my year, I did a post called Fabulous Fungi. I basically covered a whole load of different fungi and what they looked like and that sort of thing, as well as covering the underground world of fungi, the mycellium. In this Fabulous Fungi I will be covering how fungi are important to us ans some of the uses for fungi. I thought I'd come back to this subject as I'm still finding a lot of them around when I'm out walking. The leaves have fallen off the trees but there are still plenty of fungi around.

Fungi have been used by humans for lots of things for centuries. I'm going to cover some of the uses I have found out that you may not know about as well as a few you probably will.

The first fungi that you probably know about and its uses is yeast. This is used to make something most of us eat quite often. Bread! Yeast works by fermenting sugars, basically that means turning them from sugar into alcohol, and releasing a gas, carbon dioxide. That's what makes the bread rise, lots of little pockets of gas in the dough which set when it bakes. Baking makes any alcohol evaporate.

By fermenting sugars in liquids you get something quite different like beer or wine, this time it's the carbon dioxide that escapes and leaves the alcohol behind!

I also remembered from a programme I watched ages ago with Ray Mears that some fungi were very useful in making fire. You can see how Horseshoe fungus can be helpful in this video here.

Shaggy Inkcap fungus dripping ink
Then there's the Shaggy Inkcap fungus. As this fungus grows older its cap starts to liquefy to spread its spores around. The liquid can be used just like ink.

There's also the Puffballs. These were actually used by our ancestors as a sort of healer. When you flick a Puffball it will puff out (hence the name) a sort of green-brown mist of spores. This is actually a good medicine for cuts and that sort of thing. There once was a time when every single blacksmith in England had some of these to hand, just in case they cut themselves.

One thing on Fungi in general. If there is any extra-terrestrial life out there (and I'm sure there is), fungi are likely to be among all of it in general. As science has proved, they can use radiation, instead of sunlight, to grow, some planets may have a fair amount of this so we may soon see some ET's out there!
Fungi may be able to use radiation rather than the sun to grow.

There is a particular type of Fungus called, Cordyceps. These are fungi that, once eaten by an ant, will infect the ant's brain making it walk upwards. It will hang onto a stem with its feet and will be killed by the fungus. Then, the fruiting body of the fungus will sprout out of the ant's head and, after about 3 weeks or so, will erupt with new spores which more ants will eat. But don't worry, that's highly unlikely to happen to us! This could be useful to us as we may be able to find fungi that help to control crop pests.


 Here's a video to explain it better by BBC Earth:



In fact fungi are great allies for us and have been used to make medicines such as penicillin. In 1928, when Alexander Fleming was studying flu, he noticed that a mould had grown accidentally on one of the dishes of bacteria. The mould had created a bacteria-free circle around itself, basically, it had killed the bacteria around it. Fleming experimented further and called the substance penicillin. Two other scientists then developed it into the drug that it is now.

One last thing on useful Fungi, we need them to survive. Without a type of Fungi called Mycorrhizal fungi many plants would not survive, and as plants create oxygen for us we wouldn't last very long without them. Most plants rely on Mycorrhizal fungi around their roots to provide nutrients and water acting as an extension to their roots. The fungi get some sugars from the plants in exchange.

Here's a few links to further information:

BBC - Alexander Flemming

Live Science - 6 ways Fungi can help humanity

Kew Gardens - Fungi's Importance

I also got a lot of this information from a Ray Mears clip from when he was very young:


Hope you enjoyed,

Z.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Day 369 - Defend Nature, Green Government & a Calendar

Looks like it's down to us to look after nature
Hey everyone, well it's not really Day 369, more like post 369 so I'll have to think about how I title things now. Anyway. I was wondering what to cover today but then I found a letter from the RSPB about asking the Government to defend nature. I'll be writing a letter to my MP soon, or maybe using the system the RSPB have set up on line - click the link to see it.

Dad came home and was talking about what the Chancellor had been speaking about today, it affects his work, so we had a chat about this. We looked up the Comprehensive Spending Review and you can see that at this link.

The Government has told us in the past that it will be 'the greenest Government ever'. I'm not sure what they think that means but Dad and I had a search of the Comprehensive Spending Review. We searched for nature, wildlife and environment. Nature isn't mentioned once, nor is wildlife. Better news on environment - that is mentioned 25 times but not much of it is about protecting the environment - most of it is about taking money away from the bit of Government that looks after it....

The Chancellor's job is about looking after our country's money so maybe I shouldn't expect much but you would have thought he would put a bit more money towards looking after nature if this is 'the greenest Government ever'. Going back to the RSPB letter I certainly will be writing to my MP to try and get the Government to defend nature!

Now to something much nicer. Over the last year I've taken lots and lots of photos, some are pretty good I think, so I've decided to do two things with them. The first thing I am doing is donating some of my photos to nature organisations. If you're a nature charity and like any on my blog please get in touch :-)

The second thing I've done is to make a 2016 calendar with them. They came just yesterday and they look rather good!  There are some photos of it dotted around this post so you can see what sort of things are included.

If you like the look of them and would like to buy one, they are £10 plus £2 postage. Please Tweet me or comment on this post and I'll tell you how to get one. I'm trying to raise some money to put towards a telescope so I can find even more nature. David Cameron is always telling us to be more enterprising so this is a Government policy I am trying out... :-p


Hope you enjoyed,

Z.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Day 368 - Simply Spectacular Squeak!

Hey everyone, today's Day 368 and as you all will know, my year has now finished but this does not mean I cannot keep on with my blog anyway. Even though it has been over a week since the day it finished I have still been getting congratulations from various people, I am truly amazed and very grateful for all of the lovely messages from everyone. Two messages are particularly worth mentioning again as they are the reason for today's post:


Little Squeak!
Awesome! But I had to tell them that my family already has a WWT Membership so they replied with something even better. They said that they wanted to give me an adoption pack for a baby Otter! They told me that at Washington (my nearest WWT reserve) there was a new little otter that was born on the 28th of May and that I could be one of the first to adopt her! I could not believe this and I was really happy and, obviously, accepted this offer.

Calling for the keepers just before feeding time
- Squeak is in the middle.
I hadn't been to Washington for a while and didn't know about Little Squeak so, yesterday I just had to go to see her. Her actual name is Ruby but they named her Little Squeak beforehand as they didn't know what gender she was for about 6 weeks. We got there in time for the feeding at 11:30 and we saw her parents as well, Musa and Mimi.

Mum and Squeak have a cuddle.
They were all really cute to see. I should probably also mention that they are all Asian-Short-Clawed Otter, the smallest of all 13 known Otter species. They have a lovely enclosure as well as a little room with a heater inside of one of the building's walls. I learnt a few more things about them too that I didn't have in my 'Oarsome Otter' post.


  • They need to eat 20% of their body weight everyday!
  • Only the dominant pair in a group will breed, any offspring that hang around will help to bring up the young. 
    Family feeding time - Squeak is at the back.
  • The pair bond for life and can have up to two broods a year with up to six babies in each
  • They have two layers of fur. The top one is the waterproof one but they also have an undercoat which is finer and dense. This traps air and keeps them warm and buoyant!
  • Squeak is now six months old and weighs 1.9kg
  • She is learning what skills she needs to be an otter by watching Mum and Dad.

Great Spotted Woodpecker
It was lovely to go back to Washington to see all of the other animals there and it was lovely to see one of my favourite birds, the Smew, in its Winter plumage as well, it looks lovely in any case. It's weird how they are going to eclipse already whereas the Mandarin ducks, which are in the same place, are still in full breeding plumage. I love Washington as there's such a lovely mix of wild areas and captive areas such as the Hawthorn Wood hide, this is a place where I have got some great photos such as the one to the right.

Black swan cygnets all grown up
Then there's the Close Encounters area where you really can get up close with the the birds all around you especially all of the various types of Geese like the Nene (or Hawaiian) Geese, the Red Breasted Geese and many others. I find this the best place to get some lovely photos such as the one below of a Smew:

It was nice to also see the Black Swan Cygnets, which we saw last time we visited, all grown up and looking like adults. It's such a lovely sight to see and I really like the contrast to the more common mute Swans. They are literally exactly the opposite, black with a red beak

Smew
I absolutely love Washington WWT, I'm going to try and get to some other reserves of theirs this year, I would have gone to Martin Mere this weekend but it ended up being quite busy so we didn't get chance as it's quite a long drive for us . I'm so happy that the WWT gave me the adoption of Little Squeak, it's a fantastic present and honour, thank you very much!

You can find out more about Squeak at the Washington WWT website where she has her own webpage:

Welcome to the world of Little Squeak!

Hope you enjoyed,

Z.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Day 367 - The Mindbending Making Of...

Hey everyone, today's Day 367 and I've gone past the year mark now and had a couple of days off but the excitement of it hasn't calmed down. For me, it's been totally amazing. All of the nice messages of congratulations and support have been incredible. I have even had people like this congratulating me, today!



Thank you so much Chris and BBC Earth! Really appreciate the tweets :-)



Getting in close in spite of thistles for a close up.
It's been a great year with some great memories so I thought I'd fill you in on some of the funny things that happened as I went along:


Doing it everyday has been a real challenge at times, it's really worked its way into my brain. Mum and Dad told me a funny story about one night when I was sleeping and they came into check on me, as I stirred I actually said www.yearofnature.blogspot.com in my sleep. I didn't do this just one but ON TWO DIFFERENT OCCASIONS!!!!!  Sooo, yeah. It's obviously got its way into my psyche.


This was tricky - but got a great shot!
As you can see from the pictures,. I am also going to be talking about some of the challenges I've had before the post is written, when I'm taking the pictures basically. I've had to get into some weird positions, for example. when I was taking the picture for my life-cycle of a dragonfly, I found some weird green thing and shouted my Dad to see if he knew what it was. He said that it was a dragonfly emerging from its nymph and we were pretty amazed so I had to get lots of photos. What I didn't tell you in that post is that this particular one was on a rock right next to a pond. So I either had to swim in the pond with my camera, a little expensive, or get into a weird position:


Up close to a Humming bird Hawkmoth
It was relatively fun to do actually. There has been some other funny moments taking pictures, several of which have involved an insect... and a Thorn Bush or Thistles. To get my Trademark 'bug's eye view' photos I really had to get up and close with the insect so I have to go inside the Thorn Bush. sometimes I wonder 'is this really worth it?!' but then I think about it or see the pictures and say "Oh yes, yes it is." even though it has resulted in me sleep-talking...
Camping and early mornings - hmmm - yes it is worth it!


I've mainly stayed in the North to do my blog but did go on some trips to other areas. Birdfair was one example that was great fun. I've done a bit more camping this year because of this. That's great fun, love the camp fires, not so keen on the early mornings but it is worth it once I'm up and out. Bird ringing especially means early starts but it's wonderful to do and gets you so close to the birds, you really see them in a different way to looking through binoculars, see really small details.

Where it all started - in the audience at Unsprung :-)


It is a very hard to actually write the posts themselves because I have to think of what I've already covered and then find one to cover in the first place, do all the research, process the photos etc. There have been a few occasions where I have done a full post and then Dad sees it and we realise that I have already done that particular species. That's quite annoying!


Family bird watching,
Dad, Me and Esme, from Mum's iPhone
Well that's a little look 'behind the scenes' at a wonderful year. I've always gone out walking and taking an interest in what I see but this year has taken it to a whole new level. I've met lots and lots of great people of all ages and backgrounds. I'm just wondering what next year will bring!


I'm thinking of challenges like trying to get to all the nature reserves in Yorkshire, but I've got to get Dad's taxi onside for that one - it's a big place and I haven't counted all of the reserves yet!


I've got a new birdwatching companion too, Esme, she's very good and just watches everything with us, no barking at all which is brilliant!


Close encounter of the Beetle kind.
One last thing, I've got hundreds of great photos and I've been wondering what to do with them. Some I will donate to nature organisations like the Wildlife Trusts but I'm also thinking of making a calendar maybe to raise money for a telescope. I don't know if any of you would be interested though so if you think that's a good idea and you might like one please could you leave me a comment or tweet me @nerdboy386.


Hope you enjoyed,

Z.





Sunday, 15 November 2015

Day 366 - A few thank you's

Thanks everyone :-)
Hey Everyone, well back with a slightly different blog today just to say some thank you's for the incredible support I've had through my year of nature. There have been so many people out there that have been very kind and encouraging, it's been a truly amazing year. What I find most amazing is that I did not know any of the nature based people I have met through my blog before I started.

You have all been totally awesome and I want to say thank you to lots of people for support and putting up with my daily blogging and repeated tweeting. I also wanted to put the page together to record some of the lovely comments people have made so there's a few at the bottom. If you want to make any comments as well that would be awesome as I'll have them all in one place to look back on.

There are lots of people to thank so I'm bound to miss some, sorry if I do miss you, but here goes.

Thank you to some amazing young naturalists for lots of support, comments and retweets. Most of these folks have blogs that are definately worth a look:

Thank To some amazing organisations for lots of support, retweets and some great opportunities :
  • Wildlife Trusts, RSPB, BTO, Royal Entomological Society, Butterfly Conservation Trust, BBC Springwatch, BBC wildlife Magazine, Birdlife International, Buglife.

Thanks for some great battles of bad puns:



Some long standing followers, great tweeps, and fab supporters, thanks so much for comments and tweets:

Thanks to some of my favourite places for all the great work making sure there's wildlife for me to watch!

Thanks to these folks for ID advice when I've been stuck:

Thanks for opportunities to write guest blogs:

To save this getting too long there's one last group to thank. Basically the people that inspired me to start this great adventure, well it really started with Mum and Dad taking me places and starting my love of nature. My Nana & Grandad have been very encouraging too and I've made my family very proud. I have to mention Matt Doogue, Lydia Johnson and @BBCSpringwatch with the #100days of nature as they are what gave me the idea and inspiration for the blog. Thanks guys :-)




Just so I can look back at these here's a few of my favourite tweets from yesterday - so many nice messages, thank you everyone :-)













Got a couple of bits in the local papers too which went down well at school :-)

Northern Echo - 11 year old inspires the world with his nature notes

Darlington and Stockton Times - 11 year old inspires the world with his nature notes



Saturday, 14 November 2015

Day 365 - Massively Happy to introduce the Mightily Handsome Montagus Harrier

Today is the day. Day 365. Three-Hundred-and-Sixty-Five posts with hardly any days missed. 103,500 views so far. A dream come true. When I started this, even I didn't believe I would finish this blog. But here we are. It's weird because I can't actually write a simple diary everyday for even a week. It boggles my mind how I managed to do it. I think it was because I am very passionate about this subject. I love nature. Before I get on with today's subject, I want to stress that my blog is not finished. I probably won't post daily. What I think I'm going to try to do at least is cover each week an issue, such as getting kids connected to nature, and a species, such as what I'm doing now. My next post will be the making of the blog, so make sure to keep an eye out for that!

So, to mark this very special occasion I thought I would cover a very special bird. The one I chose was at Blacktoft Sands in East Yorkshire and was one of the most incredible moments in my life.

Pair of Montagu's Harriers ( Circus pygargus ) at Blacktoft Sands
Right from the start of my blog when I was reading up about the UK's rarest birds and I saw the Montagu's Harrier I said 'Wow, I really want to see one!' so I was thrilled when I heard there were some at Blacktoft. It is quite near to us but still around one and a half hours away. So when we got to Blacktoft we found a bench outside a hide to have our lunch. Just as we were finishing, someone came out of the hide and said 'oh, you've just missed the harrier!' So we had to sit in the hide for another 2 hours waiting for it. But it was worth it!

They were amazing to watch but they were a long way off so sadly my photos don't do this lovely bird justice but the Crossley ones show you just how magnificent this bird is.

So, here are the facts:
  • Habitats they like include marshes. moors and grasslands. Blacktoft is England's largest tidal reedbed so lots of lovely marshy habitat for them.
The male flying about
  • Their diet is animals that they take from hunting over areas with low vegetation.
  • They are the United Kingdom's rarest breeding bird of prey. This year there were only 6 breeding pairs and I was lucky enough to see one pair.
  • They don't live here all year, they only come to breed here, and the best chance you have of seeing them is in the South of England. They usually aren't found anywhere else in the UK, so this pair at Blacktoft seem to be unusual - but lucky for me.
  • Now, when I say they only breed here, it's true. But that does mean they need to undergo a migration. So, I looked into this a bit more..
  • Well, they seem to spend most of the rest of their time down in Africa. Specifically in Mali with what's been found by the RSPB.
  • What they've been doing is satellite tagging 5 different birds (Madge, Mark, Roger, Rose and Rowan) and tracking them around the world.
Swooping around for a while before going back to hunt
  • I will be following Mark, seeing as that's my Dad's name, and seeing where he's been going as they can have some pretty big adventures.
  • So, he started off in London on the 24th August 2015. He managed to get across the channel to near Etreux in just 1 day and spent another day resting up. After this he did a weird circle thing over 5 days near Reims and then managed to scale France by the 3rd of September.
  • He then covered all of Spain in the next day only to make it into Africa by the 6th! He carried on trekking along Western Africa slowing down eventually when he hit the border of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania and on the 11th, he went slowly down to the Southern border in 10 days.
  • So, you can see, they undergo huge journeys in such little amounts of time. I'm personally not surprised at all that he slowed down in Africa. 
  • They live for an average of six years but the oldest one recorded was nearly eight years old, he must have flown thousands and thousands of miles!
  • They are a medium sized UK bird of prey with a length of only 40 cm - 50 cm and its wingspan is around 1.1 metres, Still seems impressive to me I'm only a bit taller than they are wide!


Montagu's Harrier from the Crossley ID Guide Britain and Ireland
Montagu's Harrier from the Crossley ID Guide Britain and Ireland


Here are a few links to some more information:





Thanks for a great year with all of the support, lots of people have been really helpful and supportive and it would need a really long blog one day to thank everybody!

I really hope you enjoyed it, but it's not over, it is never over,

Zach :-)

Friday, 13 November 2015

Day 364 - Brilliantly Positioned - Beautiful Plume Moth

Beautiful Plume Moth (Amblyptilia acanthadactyla)
Hey everyone today's Day 364, just 1 day to go! So, to celebrate I thought I would cover a very nice little Moth that I really like because of its unique shape. This one turned up in my front garden in September, pretty much outside of my front door on some nearby plants. I was on my way out somewhere so my camera was handy and I managed to get a few shots before it flew off.  It is of course, one of the Plume Moths and it is a very beautiful looking one. On that basis, and from my research, this looks like a Moth that is 'what it says on the tin' - the Beautiful Plume Moth.

So, here are the facts:

  • There have been records of them across the United Kingdom, but they get rarer the more Northerly you travel.
    Got in a bit close
  • Well, they are widespread but there are not as many places with sightings in the UK as a lot of Moths I have covered.
  • I haven't found anywhere that they are classed as rare as such, but they certainly seem less common than a lot of Moths.
  • The good news is that they have been getting more common since the 1990's and are now more often found in gardens - just like this one.
  • There are two generations in a year so they are found flying from July and from September onwards, I'm guessing this means until the weather gets too cold and it's time so say goodbye to them!
  • When it gets cold the second generation go into hibernation and once they wake will be flying until May.
Got a crazy looking shot when I went in for a bug's eye view
  • Their wingspan is between the very specific sizes of 17mm and 23mm. This is one of the smaller non-micro-moths that I have ever covered.
  • The larvae feed in June and August on the flowers and young leaves of small plants.
  • Some of these plants include Restharrow, Hedge woundwort, Goosefoots and even Heather.
  • A lot of other types of Plume Moths feed on these plants too so you should be cautious when you are identifying them from their larvae as they are easy to confuse.
Here are some links to more information:




Hope you enjoyed,

Z.