Sunday, 31 January 2016

Post 385 - Breakfast Gazing beyond windows for Big Garden Bird Watch

My little back garden where we feed the birds.
Hey everyone today's post 385 and 2 days ago WinterWatch ended, this is a show that is aired on UK television about the nature that can be seen at this particular time of year. I love watching it as it's one of the few nature programmes on the TV here and the best in my opinion. It's always nice to see what is happening each season and what sort of nature there is about. They cover some really great species and you get to find out lots about them.  It's also a great opportunity for asking and getting answers to questions.

Blackbirds are quick to come once the food's out!
Well, I only bring this up because on the show they mentioned the Big Garden Birdwatch which is run by the RSPB at this time of year. Basically it's a huge event that happens nationwide that is solely for counting the amount of birds that are in your garden or the area that you're surveying. This area could be a garden, a park or anywhere that you know of that is wild enough to see birds, it could be in the middle of a big city too - they need some people to survey everywhere!

The Starlings aren't far behind!
Well, anyway, I took part in this, as I do every year, and I think I managed to see a good amount of birds. I sort of expected I would as we feed the birds everyday but you never quite know what's going to turn up when. I watch the birds on the bird table most days at breakfast but don't always count or list what I've seen so the Big Garden Birdwatch always helps me to realise just how much there is out there in our gardens! I got some nice pics today but they are though the window so some aren't that clear.

We get quite a few!
Once the foods been put out there seems to be a bit of a regular routine at our birdtable. The Blackbirds are the first to move in, they hit the bird table and the lawn and patio where we spread a few bits of mealworm and suet. Next we get the Starlings, usually quite a crowd of them. Once they are sure the coast is clear the Wood Pigeons and Collared Doves show up. It's about this time that the Jackdaws and Magpies, if they are going to, show up.

A Jackdaw decided to join us today.
In amongst all of this the little birds are darting about getting what they can. We are lucky to have House Sparrows that love our hedge and they dart in and out grabbing bits when they can. They also nest in the eves of our house so we get to see lots of fluffly fledglings!

Here is the list of birds I saw today:

  • Dunnock - 1
  • Jackdaws - 2
  • Woodpigeon - 3
  • Collared Dove - 2
  • Blackbird - 8
  • Robin - 1
  • House Sparrow - 6
  • Starlings - 12
  • Great Tit - 1
  • Blue Tit - 2
  • And a Goldcrest but only for seconds!
  • Coal Tit - 1
And the favourite surprise sighting, as I haven't seen one in my garden this year was a lovely Goldcrest. Too quick for a good photo but just caught one of it on the feeder! I also saw a Heron and a couple of Herring Gulls flying over the garden too!   
And a lovely Robin!
I did the same thing on Saturday morning and I had a Chaffinch, Long Tailed Tits and the Magpie show up. It was a bit of a disappointment that the Nuthatch that was visiting us in the Autumn didn't show up. Probably a good job the Sparrowhawk we see from time to time wasn't about this weekend!

Our garden is rural and backs onto a paddock but it is quite small with just a bit of garden on each side of our house. Even though it's small it helps a lot of birds and lots of species. If everyone in the country does this our birds will be very well looked after!

Hope you enjoyed.


Saturday, 30 January 2016

Post 384 - Really Changeable Reserves Challenge Report

Last weekend I got to Quarry Moor near Ripon
Hey Everyone, it's post 384, a bit overdue but it's been a busy week with school and homework as well as of course a great week of Winterwatch! So there's quite a bit to catch up on so sorry if this is a bit of a longer post than usual.

First thing I have to do though is say a massive thank you to everyone again. I entered the UK Blog Awards 2016 and I've had lots of support on twitter and lots of people must have voted for me as I'm now in the finals in both the "Green & Eco" and "Photography" categories! Thank you to everyone who voted for me and made this happen. We have to wait until April to find out who wins but I'm happy now knowing that lots of you guys think my blog is good enough to be a finalist!

So what I have I been up to this last week or so? Well, I've been out and about on some nice walks and managed to get to a few reserves to keep going with my Yorkshire Reserves challenge. Here's a little update of the reserves I've been to:

Quarry Moor

Goldfinch in a thicket
Still Fungus about
I went here last week, it's a fabulous Local Nature Reserve that we walk around quite often.

There were quite a lot of birds around in the trees but with there being no leaves on them they were keeping their distance. Did manage to get a long distance shot of a Goldfinch though. As well as this I saw lots of Chaffinches as well as Blue Tits, Great Tits, Coal Tits, Blackbirds,Wood Pigeons, Jay and probably a few others too. I might have seen a Brambling there but I'm not 100% sure. I see an awful lot there and it's a great place to go to. On an earlier visit, I have seen Willow Tits there too.

I also saw some interesting fungi there. I guess it's because it's so mild that I'm still seeing fungi like this at the moment as I don't normally see anything other than bracket fungus in the winter.  Well it's only a little reserve but it sure delivers!

Pair of Goosanders
Lovely Treecreeper

As it is only little though I also got to have a walk around another bit of Ripon along a river where I go quite often. It was worthwhile too as I saw a lovely Treecreeper and a pair of Goosanders.

Moorlands Nature Reserve:

Arriving at Moorlands
This is a reserve that I went to today. It was quite a surprise actually when I found this one as I have driven past this woodland lots of times but never been down the road where the entrance is so I didn't know that it was a reserve! As it was on the way to another reserve we were heading to we decided to stop and have a look around.Well it was a lovely woodland. It seemed to take 5 minutes but the entire loop took 20 minutes or more! It was really engaging to walk around and I saw lots of nice fungi, there were some on a huge old dead tree that were almost as big as me! One of the things I quite liked about Moorlands is that there are lots of sculptures in the woods, some carved out of old trees
Enormous Fungi!

Sculpture & Fungi

We found the first Snowdrops that I'd seen this year which was exciting, I don't ever recall seeing them quite this early in the year. I also saw a group of Long-Tailed Tits as well high in the trees.

I didn't see many birds but then it was a popular place and there were lots of families around enjoying the woods. I think on a quieter day this place will be alive with all sorts of nature.

At the start of the walk
It's a lovely place.
Askham Bogs

This is another one that we went to today, as it was also on the way to the reserve we wanted to get to.   I have been to it previously as it's quite close to York and sometimes Dad and I go there if Mum is visiting a friend. It's great in the summer as there's lots of insects around, especially dragonflies but  I did like seeing it in the winter too and there was quite a lot of wildlife around still but mainly birds.

Watervole survey
Robin #headshot but too
late for Winterwatch!
I saw a Robin really close up and also loads of Great Tits and Blue Tits, we didn't see the rarest birds but what we did see was beautiful.

There was some nice fungi around as well as some nice signs of Water Voles being around, well it seems there might be as a local college is doing  a count there using a special tunnel that records the footprints of mammals that pass through it. I wasn't lucky enough today to see a Water Vole but I will be going back to watch for them again! It was getting colder and a bit rainy so we kept moving to keep warm!

Wheldrake Ings

Arriving at Wheldrake!
This was the reserve that our family had decided to head to today. Dad wanted to see the Whooper Swans coming in at dusk and Mum wanted to see the Barn Owls. Well York has been very wet and badly flooded this winter and the water was still very high in a few places. There was a lot more water here than I'd seen before. That meant we didn't go far on the reserve as I know it's usually pretty muddy anyway but as the water levels were high I could see lots of birds from quite close to the car park.

A bit wet on way to the car park!

Throughout the day the weather was getting worse and here at Wheldrake Ings it was just before the peak of the bad weather where I managed to break out the telescope and have a look at an awful lot of birds. They were quite a way away but the new telescope did a great job. Now I need to get an attachment to take photos through it.

Don't know what disturbed the birds.

Well what a brilliant place for birds. Teals, Widgeons, Lapwings, Tufted Ducks, Mallards and Golden Plover in minutes. I tried to use Dad's phone to digiscope but sadly, the moment I managed to focus on the birds they all flew away. Not sure what disturbed them but it was quite a display!

Bank Island

Blowy at Bank Island.
Well as it was getting toward dusk we thought we'd move up the road to another reserve, it's pretty much next door but it has an elevated platform where you can watch a huge area. I've seen four Barn Owls from here before out hunting at the same time! It's also where I found the Owl pellets that I dissected in an earlier post.

There were some feeders out with Chaffinches, Robins and Tree Sparrows enjoying a feed. They were doing well though as you can see from my photo it was getting quite windy and wet. Not quite what Chris and Michaela faced last night but quite bad.

Tree Sparrows
Still we went up the platform to have a look around, got the telescope up and saw more tufted ducks, and mallards. We waited for as long as we could stand but this isn't a hide it's just a platform about 20 feet up and it started to snow!

We decided if we didn't like the weather then the Barn Owls probably wouldn't either unless they were very hungry so we packed up and headed home. I will be back another day as this is a great little place and I love Barn Owls!

View from the platform -
wetter than usual!
Well, that's about it for now. I have been recording my visits on a map and I will post that up soon so you can see where I've managed to get to.

Hope you enjoyed,


Sunday, 24 January 2016

Post 383 - Creatively Capturing Coots with Cannons!

Lovely red eyes on the Coot (Fulica atra)
Hey everyone, today's post is 383 and I woke up at quarter to seven this morning, no, not accidently, it was so I could go bird ringing, but not as I knew it. Today I went cannon netting a Nosterfield. Yes, it's exactly like it sounds. There is a net in a cannon and you fire the cannon and the net is fired over some birds, in this case it was Coots, and what fun it was. It is part of a big UK study to colour ring Coots to understand where they move around.

One of the cannons!
It takes quite a lot of preparation though to make it possible to catch many birds to ring. The Coots were attracted to one part of the lakeside with food put out for them every day for two or three weeks.

The people that set the cannons up were out in the middle of last night to set up the cannon and the net. The coots are very flighty so they were all out in the pouring rain setting up so they weren't disturbed in the morning. Poor people, I felt a little guilty seeing as I was snuggled up in  my house with a hot chocolate in front of a log fire...

Coot feet are amazing!
The bait for the coots was laid out too so that they all grouped into the same place to get the net over them. When the cannon went off it was kind of magical when all of the birds on the reserve flocked away from the bang, even me, my Dad and Simon Warrick were a bit surprised as there was no warning to when it went off. We saw the big puffs of smoke and then everyone running to the net to retrieve the birds.

Shortly before this one Did Attack Zach!
I did a post on Coots way back on Day 87 but they're really great birds to see up close. You see a lot of things I didn't expect -  there's all the usual colours that you see, but as well as the black and white on some their legs have really great yellow colouring as well as deep red eyes. Juveniles have a sort of speckling of brown on their bellies too. Their feet always amaze me, they aren't webbed but have sort of flaps on each of their toes. This must help them walk on boggy surfaces as well as act like paddles when theh swim.

You can see the brown speckling on the juvenile.
But they're also quite vicious birds, I nicknamed the bird with the colour ring 'DAZ' to 'Did attack Zach' seeing as it was the first bird that I actually handled and it jumped up and snapped at my mouth. It did hurt quite a bit but not as much as you'd think. They also gave me some scratches and bites all over my hands, but it's all in a good cause.

There were 68 birds colour ringed today, white bands with a three letter code in black on their left legs and also a metal ring on their right. It will be interesting to see where these birds turn up, so please keep an eye out when you are looking at coots especially for the one that 'Did Attack Zach'!

Here's a newsletter on the Coot ringing project, it tells you a bit about the movements of Coots that have been colour ringed.

Coot Ringing Project Newsletter

BTO Bird Facts on Coots

Hope you enjoyed,


Thursday, 21 January 2016

Post 382 - Continuing Conservation for Nature at Nosterfield

The pile at the start - I'm in the green jumper by the fire
Hey everyone, Post 382 and just a little update on a fabulous morning at Nosterfield last Sunday. As you know I like to go there quite a lot as its a great local reserve and one of the nearest to me. I really like helping out there to by volunteering when I can. I got to help out with the open day last year and I also helped to take out a lot of Ash saplings in part of the reserve that were growing in place that they weren't needed.

A lot of other work has gone on over the reserve to make sure the best environments for the wildlife are kept that way. That had left a big pile of 'brash' on part of the reserve where all the stuff that had been cut down was collected. Our job on Sunday was to go through the huge pile and make sure there wasn't anything living in it and then have a bonfire!

And at the end just a little pile in the
pond left for the shrike to come back to - we hope!
Well it didn't take long for the fire to get going really well. That was great, especially as it was a really cold morning, the car had said it was between -3 and 0 C on the way over! Once I got moving and with the fire it was lovely and warm though.

It was nice working and chatting to everyone and watching the wildlife get one with its day around us. At one point around 300 geese  (greylags probably - I was watching my feet and trying not to step in rabbit holes!) came onto the far side of the lake, pretty awesome!

Water levels on the reserve are really high!
The pile was massive but there were about 10 volunteers so it only took until lunchtime to get it all on the fire. Even though some of it had been lying in water it all burnt really fast as the fire was so hot. I have a log fire at home and I know how hard that is to light sometimes so it was amazing to see this pile of branches, sticks and logs but so well.

I'm looking forward to going back for more volunteering but my next trip there I hope is for a ringing session so more on that soon I hope.

Hope you enjoyed,


Sunday, 17 January 2016

Post 381 - Need Nature Enhanced Education

Woodland walks got me hooked on nature from when I was little. 
Hey everyone, today's post is 381 and recently I have been reading posts by two other great young naturalists, Mya Bambrick who has written to Nicky Morgan about nature in education, and Elliot Monteith who was covering how and why he got into birding.

Like Mya I wrote to Nicky Morgan back on day 200 and shared the response I got on day 250. Together with Elliot's post it reminded me that I hadn't got round to thinking about nature and education for a while but this is another thing I am quite passionate about. We need nature in education for lots of reasons and I thought I'd cover why I think it is so important.

So, more to what Mya was saying, and something I feel really strongly about. Education in Schools.

An awesome boat trip at Blakney. 
At my primary school, I got basically nothing about nature at all in lessons. I mean, nothing. Nothing at all. I have to say the school was good though as with a few donations of feeders, feed and a bird book I was able to help set up a lunchtime bird club during my final year there. We didn't see many birds, mainly garden birds, but at least there was a bit of nature time for around 10 of us every Thursday.

At my secondary school we're doing a little bit on nature but it's in science and so far it's only looking at cells of onions under a micro-scope and that sort of thing. My deputy-head teacher seems to be very interested in science and nature though so it's better and it's still only early days (my second term there). The trouble is it's not just biology and nature itself that people need to know about, it's more conservation and how to look after the environment and help to stop all of the declining birds and everything else like that, that's important. Schools are the best way to get this through to people seeing as most people in the world go to schools but not much of the population has internet access, even less so which they use to look at things like this issue.

All species great and small are important.
I only know one other person at school (though I haven't asked them all...) that is at all interested in nature, I actually have some pretty interesting discussions with him. But based on these figures, if it was the same all over the world, I did a little calculation to find that only 0.26% of the world's children would be interested in nature. I mean, that's 99.7% of the world that isn't interested in nature. If we just put even one lesson every two weeks about nature and conservation, how much better would that percentage be? I wonder what percentage of the world's children are interested in, football say. 99.7% is my guess! I hope these figures are wrong but they show that nature isn't something discussed at school much.

Who couldn't love a Bloody-nosed beetle!
The letters Mya and I got back from Nick Gibb are very similar and when Dad and I talked about the response we got we thought I needed to ask the question more carefully. The curriculum looks at biology and geography fieldwork but Mr Gibb says nothing about educating children to care for the environment and nature.

Why does this upset me? If not many people in my school know much about nature, and fewer care enough to help it out, what will happen to the world? There is a lot of concern for the world, the environment and many of our native species let alone the lions, rhinos and elephants. We need education on these issues if nature is to have a chance in the future.

Day 253 - Lifecycle of Dragonflies
If schools or parents could get children out into forests, moors, beaches or wetlands to experience the natural world and start to appreciate it,  maybe that would start to change things. I mean nature has so many benefits to us as people, I really liked Elliot's blog as it sums up ways nature can help us all. It's great to have a calm place to go and get absorbed in the dabbling of ducks, watching butterflies flitter about and feed, to watch a dragonfly emerge from its larvae. If we can get children to appreciate its wonder then hopefully more will care and some will start to help it out.

I will be asking some of my friends this week if they want to come to a reserve as I do my Yorkshire reserve challenge. Hopefully a bit of my passion will rub off on them and they'll get the nature bug too!

I hope you enjoyed this rant,


Thursday, 14 January 2016

Post 380 - The Spectacular, Marvellous and Fantastic St. Marks Fly

St Mark's Fly (Bibio marci) at Ripon
Hey everybody, today's Day 380 and as I haven't covered a species for a while so I thought I'd do one today. I sometimes go out to Ripon and a regular walk we do there is at a nice spot where there's a riverside walk, I see lots of species on the river and in woods. I really love it there and it is a great place to walk about. So when I was looking through my photos and I managed to find something that I saw there. It's called a St Mark's Fly, personally, I didn't know my Dad was a saint, but you learn something new everyday! These were tricky to photograph as they didn't land very often and I had to follow them around for quite a while to get some shots.

Quickly, before I start on the facts, I would like to thank every one of you that brought one of my calenders, using the proceeds my parents managed to surprise me with an Opticron telescope. I'm really happy with it and I hope that I will be able to up my list of birds dramatically with it! Can't wait to test it out at a reserve!

So, here are the facts:
    Too difficult that day to photo in flight
  • The main reason they are called the St Mark's Fly is because they emerge around the time of St Mark's Day.
  • When I say St Mark's Day, it's about the 25th of April, so they are very much a Spring Fly.
  • St Mark's Day is a festival held in Italy and is basically a huge feast to commemorate Mark the Evangelist.
  • This day is celebrated globally, it seems, even though it celebrates the patron state of Venice. It's celebrated in Lithuania and Mexico.
  • It has another name for the people that don't celebrate this event much: The Hawthorn Fly.
  • It is 11mm long and has a black and shiny body with quite a lot of hair on it too. 
  • They are found on Farmland, Woodland, Heathland, Grassland, Towns and Gardens. So a good variety I'd say.
  • They have the conservation status 'common' in both Europe and England it seems.
    This one looks a bit different with an antennae
    - not sure if it is the same species
  • In England they are found mostly in the South of England, like most bugs and Flies, but they get less common the further North you go.
  • Swarms of St Mark's flies can be annoying in the early Spring but they are actually quite useful.
  • As their main food source is nectar making they are very useful pollinators of fruit trees and crops.
  • I must have timed my walk well to see these insects as their adult life cycle only lasts about a week.

    You can see here how hairy they are.
  • They spend the majority of their lifecycle as larva in the soil where they feed on rotting vegetation.
  • Once they emerge as adults, the males emerge first followed by the females, they have a short time to mate and then the female lays eggs in the soil.
  • The main habitat for these flies is hedgerows and woodland edges especially if it is a moist area.

Here are some links to some more information:

Buglife - St Mark's Fly

NatureSpot - St Mark's Fly

The Wildlife Trusts - St Mark's Fly

Hope you enjoyed,


Sunday, 10 January 2016

Post 379 - A cracking continuation to my challenge!

A Saturday stroll at Nosterfield
Hey everyone today is post 379 and I thought I would carry on with the challenge that I have set myself this year. The Reserves Challenge. It's basically where I will try to go to every single Yorkshire Wildlife Trust reserve in 1 year, and any local ones that I find too. It's going to be quite a, well, challenge. So far I have completed 6 of them. It's not many but we're only 10 days into the year.

This weekend I added three to my list, 1 that I go to quite often, 1 less so, and the other, it was my first time.

A young Peregrine (in the centre)
 watching Lapwings - the lake is
very big now so hard for my zoom! 
I'm going to start with Nosterfield. I go here very regularly, in fact I'll be back next weekend volunteering. It's a great place. In the summer the water levels were just about the lowest anyone had seen them. Now all of the lakes that are normally separate are pretty much one big one! Recently, we have found a nice little walk outside of Nosterfield too, it's actually a henge that was built quite a long time ago. I was a little bit disappointed when my Dad says it was a henge because I was expecting there to be huge stones but there wasn't any... it's basically a large circular walk around a sort of island that's separated from the 'mainland' by a huge trench but it`s still a lovely place to be and has a really calm atmosphere.

Coral Spot Fungus
(Nectria cinnabarina)at Nosterfield
We have seen some lovely things there such as a Great-Spotted Woodpecker and a Treecreeper. The biggest treat was having a Hare run out in front of me and bound across a field. I really do love it there, both at the Henge but especially the reserve itself. The reserve had most of its usual birds there, but as the lake was so high most were too far away for any good photos. I saw lots of lapwings, mallards, a few swans, some curlews and a highlight was three Buzzards! It's been great for raptors lately, last time I was there I saw a young Peregrine that was sat at the back of the lake for ages.
At the start of the
Littlebeck Wood Walk

Today we headed towards the coast & Littlebeck woods. If you follow my blog you'll know that I have mentioned this place quite a lot in recent months... it's really a lovely place, not too far from Whitby so we always try to tie it in with a visit there. It's basically a lovely wood on the edge of the village of (you guessed it) Littlebeck. Running through the woods is not really a Little Beck at the moment, it's actually quite deep. The ford on the road is 6 inches deep at the moment! I took some pictures down the river from the shallow bits as you can see on the right.

Very green still at Littlebeck
As far as nature goes, it's pretty amazing really. It seemed today the bushes were alive with the sound of birdsong and the chattering of them. A highlight was seeing Gold Crests but they just didn't sit still so I didn't manage to get any photos of them. There were also lots of Great Tits, Blue Tits, Long Tailed Tits around. This wood is meant to be great for Nuthatches too but I've not seen one there yet! I also thought it was very green there for the middle of January, ferns and other plants still cover the woodland floor. It has been mild and Little beck is a lovely sheltered valley so the plants have just kept growing! Saw some more Jelly Ear Fungus there too.

Found Fen Bog on way home
Sun setting though so will
have to go back!
Finally, there was the newest one. Fen Bog. Now, I don't have much to report on this one as, because of the time we spent at the lovely Whitby and Littlebeck, it had taken us to the sun setting and even by 4 o'clock it was starting to get dark. From what we saw of it though, it looked quite nice but it was quite Boggy and Fenny. From what the Wildlife Trusts book said, it has some good wildlife too, such as Merlins, Emperor Butterflies, and some interesting wild flowers too. I can't wait to go back there in the Summer.

A nice diversion!
Can't wait for breakfast!

I also managed to fit in a visit to my favourite shop in Whitby.

Hope you enjoyed,