Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Post 411 - Brilliant & Totally Outstanding - BTO Bird Camp - part 1

Hey everyone, post 411 & this could be a long one! This weekend certainly was, but how much was packed in? Well so much that I'll probably have to do this in instalments!

BTO Headquarters - The Nunnery!
So what was this weekend? It was BTO Bird camp! Still not sure? Well the British Trust for Ornithology are the best bird science organisation, if you've read any of my bird related posts you'll know I've used a lot of their bird facts to learn about birds. Well they held a weekend camp for young birders, you had to apply to go and I was really lucky to get a place! They had lots of experts lined up to show us lots of things and teach us more about birds.

I was one of 20 that turned up at the Nunnery in Thetford, the BTO Headquarters, on Friday evening. I'd been lucky enough to be given the day off school so Dad and I had a nice drive down and stopped off at a couple of reserves on the way. One I went to was RSPB Lakenheath just for an hour trip round to see what it's like, it's a really great reserve and I managed to see two lifers there, a Hobby and a Cuckoo!

When I got to the Nunnery I was met by Viola who gave us a great tour round. It was great to see the offices, the library and the computer servers that hold all the BTO bird facts that I've used so often. By the time I'd finished looking round some of the other people on the camp had started to turn up. There were a few people I knew already, some I knew from twitter and others that I'd never met so it was really exciting.

Friday night we basically got to know each other and found out what we'd be doing on the weekend, before we then went to the camp-site. We all unpacked and just talked and got ready for bed until about 11 o'clock. Then after sleeping quite well we woke up again at half four on the morning! We all got ready again for our first activity which would be at the BTO's Nunnery Lakes Reserve!

Whitethroat chicks!
Once we were there, we were all put into one of four groups who would cycle round the four activities. Our first one was the nest recording with Mike Toms which was really fun! We were given a stick each and were taken over to some scrubland and told to tap bits of bracken. :) But there was more than that to it, first we had to only tap it in a particular way once in a certain area. The idea was to see if there were any birds nesting in the bushes so they could be recorded and monitored. The first nest was found by Ben Moyes who tapped an area that a Linnet popped out of (sadly this was the one activity I didn't get many photos of because pretty much as soon as I turned my camera on, the batteries died - I had spares but not on me). There were 5 eggs (I think) in the nest that were almost ready for hatching. The next one was found by Elliot Montieth  who tapped a Hawthorn Bush quite a way away and managed to uncover another nest in which an unidentified bird flew away from, we thought it was another Linnet but no, the eggs had black 'squiggles' on them, meaning that it was the first Yellow Hammer nest of the year! The final nest that our group found was a Whitethroat nest, again by Elliot, but there weren't any eggs in it, but there were chicks! I managed to get a picture of them with my phone so it won't be the best quality!

Female Kingfisher
The next activity was bird ringing with Lee Barber and Justin Walker. I'm quite familiar with ringing and while we didn't catch much that was that special it is always great to see birds close up. We got a Long-Tailed Tit family as well as some Sedge and Reed Warblers etc. I got to release some like one of the Long-Tailed Tits and one of the Warblers as well. I also processed some of them by measuring the wing length, ageing and sexing them. The only annoying thing was that we arrived about a minute after the previous group had released a KingFisher! My Dad got a picture of it though which was good!

The next activity was the bird 'census' with Su Gough. This involved a map, a clipboard, a pen and some birds. Basically, we walked around the lake looking out for any warblers, such as Sedge Warblers, Reed Warblers and WhiteThroats. When we found one we wrote it down on the map using the two letter code, RW for Reed Warbler and KF for Kingfisher (which we did as well because Su {who voices over the BTO videos!} said that we might as well). There was a key as well for what the birds were doing, a circle indicates that the bird was singing, a line indicates it was calling, a dotted line indicates that it was definitely a different bird, a line with an arrow means it's the same bird and so on. You do this activity every so often over the year and it helps to understand how birds behave and where they are living on that patch.

Slow-worm! Not a bird but still beautiful!
The final activity was just general bird watching with Paul Stancliffe, we had a great walk round again and Paul was telling us how to tell a lot of the birds apart by their song, such as Reed Warbler and Sedge Warbler, something I want to get much better at as Paul was amazing at this. We saw quite a few birds but sadly didn't see a Hepatic Cuckoo that had been seen by other groups. As well as some Tufted Ducks, Grey and Pied Wagtails, Kingfishers etc., we saw two Grass Snakes and about 5 Slow-worms on top of that!

Elliots Bittern Photo - I must get a better camera!
Mya's Female Bearded Tit - a beautiful bird
Once all this had finished we went down to Lakenheath again, after having breakfast back at base of course. While having breakfast though, Toby Carter brought up the idea of having a bird race between the two sides of the table. We travelled down to Lakenheath and we split into two teams but not before the Reserve manager gave us a talk about the reserve and even showed us some Crane eggs! So the teams were Toby, Ben, Sam Pitt Miller and Max Hellicar versus me, Elliot and Luke Nash, There were others in the groups of course but we were the ones that were being most competitive.  The numbers didn't look the best for our team but we had hope and Paul Stancliffe as well as being joined by David Walsh who happened to be at Lakenheath that day!  The other team was with Ieuan Evans and Lee Barber. We had about 3 hours to see as much as we could! We set off and saw the first 30 or so quite easily, the common ones like Crows, Jackdaws, Swans etc. and then it got progressively harder trying to find the specific birds. We saw things like Cuckoos, Hobbies and Marsh Harriers etc. which brought us up to about 45 when somebody shouted the one word that I've been waiting to hear for 5 years: Bittern! I'll hopefully post a full list in the last instalment. I got quite a couple of lifers, like Bearded Tits, while I was there and in the end it was a draw at 57 species each team! Probably the best result as it was great fun.

The Nightjar's wing being inspected.
One our way back to the Nunnery for tea we got to make a quick stop off at a site where we saw Stone Curlews, fantastic to see and yet another Lifer for me. Finally after tea it was Nightjarring. We went out just before dusk and set up some nets for them. For a quite a while, we didn't see any Nightjars, but we did see hear some Cuckoos, Skylarks and even a Long-Eared Owl! Eventually, after listening to them churring for a while, a fantastic sound, we saw one flying about silently but surprisingly acrobatically. After another half an hour, we saw two flying about! These were lifers for both me and Toby so it was so magical for both of us especially. At the end we went to check the net and there was one in it! It was really special to see one so close, they are a beautiful bird. So we ringed it and measured it in all the ways you would a normal bird and it turned out to be a juvenile Male, I think, it was now about 10.30pm so I'd been up 18 hours.

Me (the little dude) and some of the young birders
looking for the Cranes, sadly I was a bit too short to see them!
I have to thank Elliot and Mya Bambrick for a couple of the photos here, they have cameras that are much better than mine for capturing birds in flight or that are a little way off. My camera's great for the close up stuff though which I hope you can see from some of the photos, but you'll see better in a later installment!

Most of the young birders here have blogs so click on the names to see their twitter accounts which have links to their blogs - they're really great and worth a read.  I met and made friends with some great people on my first day and really hope we`ll be meeting up again soon! (Bird Fair is coming up in August! :-). They were all so knowledgeable and friendly and I loved being part of this bootcamp and learning from these guys - it was great spending time with people who have the same passion for nature and birds that I have! I'll come back to this later.

So the first day was really good, maybe one of the best days of my life. Keep an eye out for the next instalments!

Hope you enjoyed,


Sunday, 22 May 2016

Post 410 - Happily Hanging about at Haggewoods

Wasp (to be identified) on a buttercup at Hagges Wood
Hey everyone today's Post 410 and this is a great one in so many ways. First it is another reserve to add to my challenge, second I met another person who is very passionate about nature and thirdly I saw lots of bugs, birds and flowers. But the most amazing thing is that this place didn't exist 4 years ago!

Hagges Wood from the Bee Hotel
I was invited to this place quite a while ago by one of its creators, Lin Hawthorne. It's just outside of York and it's called Three Hagges Wood Meadow or Hagges Wood for short. Work began in 2012, the Queens Jubilee, to clear a field that had been used to grow barley for many years. The project is to try and re-create a very rich and biodiverse habitat - a wood meadow. There's a lot of info on the Three Hagges Wood Meadow website about this but it seems like we have lost almost all of this habitat over the last 60 years!

Lin and the others want to recreate this precious habitat to see how easy or hard it might be to do. They are quite important as similar habitats in Estonia have 76 plant species per square metre. For every new species it's estimated 5 or 6 species of invertebrate can be attracted, and they are just a small part of the food chain so you can see how important they could be.
Checking out the Bee Hotel with Lin

So what did they do once they'd cleared the field of weeds? Well they rolled it and then spread on a meadow seed mix which had in it a variety of meadow plant species. Along with this a lot of native trees were planted in copses. The meadow mix was important to make sure the woods weren't just full of brambles and docks but had a woodland floor that would be something like ancient woodland.

Black & Red Froghopper (Cercopis vulnerata)
A Drinker Moth Caterpiller (Euthrix potatori)
As you can see from the photos it's early days for the trees. They are just starting to get going. The meadow bit is doing very well though. There were all sorts of plants that Lin pointed out. The first seed mix had about 20 species in it. Volunteers have collected seed from verges and grown other species which have been planted and some others found their own way in like the Bluebells from the neighbouring wood. Vetches, Yellow Rattle, Sorrel, Trefoils, Plantains, Clovers, Daisys, well all sorts of plants and grasses including Dogs Tail Grass and others were pointed out by Lin. There are lists on the project's website of all the things that are there now, around 230 plant species altogether!

Not only are there a lot of plants there are so many insects. Even just wandering slowly across the meadow we saw lots of spiders, flies, bees, slugs, beetles, moths and wasps. Lin told me that they have now counted over 400 species of invertebrate on the meadow - incredible after only 3 years!

The hope is this sort of approach could be used in smaller places and could be used to make corridors of habitat to help bring back biodiversity in the country where it has been lost due to farming and development. It could help to reverse the loss of habitats and species that has been happening.

Ermine Moth
Three Hagge Woods is a place that I will have to go to again. When you start to walk into the site it doesn't seem like much is happening, but the closer you look the more you can see is there. I lost count of the number of different spiders I saw. A massive beetle kept falling off the grass and scurrying away when I tried to photograph it. The Bee Hotel was amazing, three different types of plug were in the holes, some plugged with mud, some with wax and others with wood shavings.

We found four Broad Bodied Chasers
(Libulella depressa) emerging as well as around 12 exuvia!
One of the best bits was the pond though. Not only were there pond skaters, water boatmen, whirlygig beetles, snails, newts and tadpoles we saw a spider happily walking across the water (not sure of species yet). I saw my first damselfly of the year and then I found a Broad Bodied Chaser. Looking closer I saw it was in the process of emerging from a nymph. As we looked around we found 3 more. Lin, Dad and I watched them for ages pumping their wings and bodies up and drying out. We kept watching until they eventually flew off. It is an amazing thing to see new life forming like that.

Dragonflies are amazing, this is only the second time I've seen this happen. The first time I wrote a post about it and it's still my most popular post - the lifecycle of Dragonflies and Damsleflies.

Well after that I realised it was well past dinner time so we had a picnic and eventually headed home.

I want to say a big thank you to Lin for inviting me and showing me round. It will be good to keep going back to Hagge Woods to see how it develops. Maybe there will be one near you soon if the idea keeps working as well as it has here. I would be good for everyone to have a Hagge Wood to watch growing up.

Hope you enjoyed,


P.S. You might like the spider photos here, they made me think it was saying this...

Spiders? Around here?
Hmm, well I did see one over there...
It was huge, about this big!

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Post 409 - Coming soon - wonderful wildlife events

Hey everyone, thought I'd do a little post today just to tell you about some wildlife events that are coming up that I'm really looking forward to.

The one you have probably heard about is the Wildlife Trusts 30 Days Wild. This is a great idea and it's really good to have an excuse to try and get in a bit more wild time than usual. If you don't know about it you can find out about it on the website link above. It's quite simple really, in June just get out there, to somewhere where you can get in touch with nature and spend a little wild time and try to do this every day that month. If you sign up for the pack you can get from the Wildlife Trust there's loads of ideas of things to do if you can't think of any yourself. I'm looking forward to moth trapping, bat detecting and lots of other activities! I'll also be trying to get to a few reserves carrying on Yorkshire Reserves challenge.

Whilst this is on there is another great event happening - National Insect Week. This is also great and I'll be taking part in this - my 30 Days Wild activities will no doubt be bug themed from 20th-26th June which is when this is happening. Look at the website as there are lots of events happening all over the country. I'm hoping to get to at least one round by me but I also hope to organise a bug hunt with a great Entomologist I know that lives near to me, Dr Roger Key. Roger and the Royal Entomological Society have been great supporters of me and my blog so I hope to be doing lots of things to support this great event too.

That's just June, there's even more over the summer that I'm looking forward too.

A Tansy Beetle at Rawcliffe Meadows
I was doing something bug related today. The River Ouse in York is home to most of the UK population of a special beetle - sometimes called the Jewel of York. It's quite a rare beetle, but quite easy to find around the Ouse where it lives as it's quite bright and lives on one particular plant. I'm talking of course about the Tansy Beetle.

I went to Rawcliffe Meadows last year to see these lovely creatures. I'm hoping to go back there soon to see them this year too. I also joined the Buglife project to be a Tansy Beetle Champion. We'll it was part of that project that kept me and Dad busy today (well mostly Dad as it was tricky).  You can read my post on the Tansy Beetle by clicking this link.

My Tansy plants being potted up.
I have been growing Tansy plants and the seedlings needed potting up today, so that's what we did. There's quite a few plants now, I just need to keep watering them so they grow big enough to plant out somewhere to help the beetles have more places to live. This is important as if the River floods at the wrong time of year these beetles could be in big trouble.

Well that's it for today, but I do have a special visit planned tomorrow so look out for another post real soon.

Hope you enjoyed,


Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Post 408 - A big box of great goodies & come on McDonalds!

What a box!
Hey everyone, Post 408 today and the main point of this blog is to say a massive thank you to A Planet Fit for Nature!


Well you know I won their latest competition....well yesterday the box arrived with all the goodies in it. I say box, I could easily get inside of it! It was like a small house. It was great to get home and see it. Matt Doogue sent it through and as a little extra touch it was addressed to Zach Boy! Nice one Big Dude!

I'm so looking forward to using all of the various bits and pieces in it. I already have a plan with Dad to use the seeded bee Matt on the allotment, I hope that we get to do this at the weekend so look out for a post on this. There's so much stuff that it will take me a while do decide what to do with it all. I might save up for a camera to go into the bird boxes so I'm planning ahead!

A fabulous prize!

Once again a huge thank you to all at A Planet Fit For Nature!

If you don't follow @fitfornature you really should. They're really great people and very passionate about nature. The competitions and challenges are really fun. This is their latest one, I'm still planning what I will do:

I really enjoy the competitions. Last year I did a video about how I'd get fit for nature which was

about how things I do at home to help nature. I was proud of this so here is is.

This year I did a post about cleaning up when I go to reserves and find litter. I also got quite frustrated about a lot of litter from McDonalds at one reserve, Quarry Moor, especially a lot of it was plastic. So if you follow my antics you'll know I got in touch with them to see if they will use biodegradable materials in their packaging. They got in touch to say they would look into this but I've not had a reply for about three weeks now. They also said that they would look into helping to clear up Quarry Moor from time to time. I didn't get to go there this week but the week before it hadn't been cleaned. So I'm grateful for McDonalds for listening to me but a bit frustrated that nothing has happen yet. I will have to write again but if you get the chance to email them or tweet them about using biodegradable packaging that would help. A small change by a big company would have such a benefit for our wildlife. My campaign is care for nature? #cleanfornature, please use this in your tweets.

This tweet was a bit sad but also good news and should show McDonalds that there are alternative materials that can be used. Thanks to Roy Noon for sending me this.

Well that's it for now but I have a special topic coming up later this week,

Hope you enjoyed,


Sunday, 15 May 2016

Post 407 - Gormire, Garbutt and Great News

My Hoverfly pic in the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust competition
Hey everyone, today's post 407 and today I had an early walk out to Lake Gormire to see what I could
see there. But first I want to say how beautiful it is at Lake Gormire, especially on a lovely day like it was today. And also a big thanks to The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust for running the Nature Reserve above Gormire (Garbutt Wood). As you know I've got a reserves challenge this year where I'm trying to get to as many Yorkshire nature reserves as I can. Well I haven't had much chance to get to many new ones just lately but I don't mind so much as this one is quite close and it is pretty spectacular.

Great Pond Snail (Lymnaea stagnalis)
The yet to be identified
'shrimp' on land
Before I tell you more about my walk I also want to say a big thanks to the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust for running their photography competition. I was thrilled to come second in the Wildlife Watch
The rescued Alderfly
And in the water
category with the Hoverfly picture I entered. Thank you for blowing up my two pictures and the lovely book! I'm already busy trying to get better shots for next years competition.

Now, Garbutt Woods and Lake Gormire! I saw quite a few birds and  that you expect to see in a forest and a lake. Mallards, Tufted Duck, Swans, Sparrows, Chaffinches, Robins, Long Tailed Tits, and I heard some goldfinches but didn't see them. The wood are really lovely at the minute as there are l;ots of beautiful wild flowers out, Bluebells being the most prominent as the pictures will show but also some amazing little flowers such as Wood Sorrel and Wood Anemone which I love as it is a great indicator of Ancient Woodland. They don't set seed but spread by growth of its root structure. This is slow though! It grows something like 6ft every 100 years so seeing a good sized patch is very hard work sometimes, but Garbutt Woods seems to be the place to go to see it!

Bluebells at Garbutt
Wood Anemone
Marsh Marigold
The lake is great for with marine life too. I see lots of things there. Dad rescued an Alderfly that was on its back in the water, he put it on a holly leaf to dry out and soon it was fine and able to fly off. The first was I think only my second ever wild Water Snail and the other, what me and my Dad took to be Freshwater Shrimp. the sad thing was though, that they were all on land, and they really didn't seem to like it, they were wriggling about but not getting anywhere. So we took some pictures on land quickly first just to make sure we had some, and then put them all into the water where they all seemed to be much happier. We then got a couple of pictures of them as we watched them for a while. After that we carried on with our walk around the lake to finish off the walk, but not before I had a good go on the rope swing that is there too!

So, all-in-all quite a successful walk I would say.

Hope you enjoyed,


Sunday, 8 May 2016

Post 406 - Marvellous Moth trapping - Part 1

Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi) - a bugs eye view
Hey everyone, Post 406 today and I thought I would do a post on another nature activity that I do. I have been lucky enough to do this activity in places like Nosterfield nature reserve and High Batts nature reserve and now as often as I like in my back garden. I'm also looking forward to a special event where I will get to do this at Fountains Abbey, that one I'm really looking forward to.

What am I talking about, well it's moth trapping!

Early Grey (Xylocampa areola)
I was really lucky earlier this year when I was asking Jill Warwick (if you read my posts often you'll know Jill is someone I do lots of moth trapping and bird ringing with) about moth traps only to find out she knew someone that was looking for a good home for a trap they didn't need anymore. So I got in touch and I am now the proud owner of a skinner trap :-)

Twin Spot Quaker (Orthosia munda)
I've used it a few times and been very excited every time I go along to it in the morning to start emptying it of all the egg boxes to see what's hiding inside. I also like hunting around the outside to see if any moths have decided to hide in the grass or on the outside of the trap.

It's been a bit on the chilly side since I've had it so I haven't had loads in the trap yet but I'm looking forward to trying again as it gets a bit warmer.

So what have I found living in my garden so far, we'll I've had these species so far:

Common Quakers (these seem to be the most common of the moths I get)
Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica)
Hebrew Characters
Early Greys
Twin Spotted Quakers
Clouded Drabs
Small Quakers

This doesn't seem to be much but I've probably had an average of about 15 of each moth in my garden so it's a nice little moth community. :-)

Black Sexton Beetle (Nicrophorus humator)
I keep putting my moth trap out hoping I'll get a nice amount of moths each time. I had hoped that this weekend would have given me a few more species to tell you about but after putting it out twice this weekend I've only had one Hebrew Character and this beetle!

I'm not sure why I didn't get more this weekend so if anybody has any tips of what sort of weather is really good for getting moths in the trap or what sort of area to put it in my garden then please either Tweet me, e-mail me or comment on this post.

I've called this post Marvellous Moth Trapping Part 1 as I will keep trying to catch more moths and I hope to have some more nice species to tell you about in future parts.

Hope you enjoyed,


Monday, 2 May 2016

Post 405 - Update on a few things

Bluebell woods today at Beningbrough Hall
Hi All, Post 405 and a bit of an unusual post today as I've got a few things to talk about as it's been a funny spring but this last week has been very interesting.

So what to start with. Well, lets start with my 2016 Reserves Challenge.

Reserves Challenge update

Chafer Wood
Spring has been really mixed weather wise and when we've had time the weathers been a bit rubbish. Did manage to get to Scarborough one day though and had a nice walk around Peasholm Park there that Mum really likes. It has pedal boats on a lake too so we had to go on those! Got quite close to some Tufted Ducks too. That was a nice day and on the way back I managed to find where Chafer wood was. I had a little walk there and saw some nice wild flowers so will be back there later in the year to explore more I'm sure. I haven't been doing so much at the moment in going further afield, I've mainly just been staying at my local reserves, visiting the ones I went to in Winter in Spring as some are much better. I have also been planning out when to get some more reserves.

McDonalds - litter at Quarry Moor and bio-degradable packaging

A Tufted Duck at Peasholm Park -
I think they'd like biodegradable packaging too!
You'll know if you read Post 402 that I was a bit upset at all the litter that I found on a little local reserve I visit when I do to Ripon - Quarry Moor. It's not yet been cleaned but I should hear any time soon from McDonalds about the chat with the manager to see if they  include reserve on a litter pick now and again. I checked back again yesterday actually at the reserve at the same bin that I saw the pots, and there were still lots there. Now either they had just been put there, but some did look very old, or McDonalds have not actually got round to helping clean up yet. I hope I'll hear more on this soon.

Biodegradable packing - the good new on this project is that the people who are emailing me are trying to get McDonalds to consider the new packaging! They do look at packging from time to time so if there is something they can use which is good for keeping the food nice and is biodegradable they might change the packaging. This might take a while though.

I'll be updating you on this when I hear more.

UK Blog Awards

This was amazing, a week or two ago I received an invitation (which is now on my bedroom wall ;-) to the awards the night, I already knew about it so it wasn't really only a week ago when I was invited. I didn't know this but 20,000 entries got voted in by the public and the UKBA took it down to 180 finalists so thanks to all who voted me in!

I was a finalist in both Green & Eco category (congrats to Wildlife Gadget Man who got a highly commended in this category). I was also a finalist in and got a highly commended award (i.e. I was in the top 3) for the Photography category!!! I was so happy to hear this so really thank you for everybody supports me!

A Planet Fit For Nature competition

This was more amazing news! Basically it's a competition where A Planet Fit For Nature encourages young people and their families to do things that help nature. They then decide from the entries who's conservation work is the 'best'. I put myself in with my #cleanfornature campaign (Post 400) including my McDonalads work and somehow I actually got first place!

Thank you so much to everybody that decided that I should win this. All the merchandise will be put to use in my nature antics. The new camera will be great for getting some macro shots of loads of things so I may need some pointers from Matt Doogue! Just want to thank Matt as well for basically being an inspiration right from the start of my blog as well as being one of my first big supporters. Thanks so much Big Dude! Really appreciate it and I think what you and everyone do at a Planet Fit For Nature is absolutely awesome.

I'm thinking what I can do to help support their latest campaign #fitfornature - watch this space.

I also got a nice message from a Naturalist you might know saying well done (think that may have been down to Matt too!)

And Finally.

Lambs sunbathing at Beningbrough Hall
Finally, managed a little walk in between some heavy rain today at a lovely place called Beningbrough Hall. The bluebell woods were absolutely beautiful. The Lambs  were enjoying the sunshine too.

More updates soon

Hope you enjoyed,