Monday, 27 November 2017

Post 479 - A Magnificent Museum and an Entertaining Entomologist!

Hope - the Blue Whale in the magnificent main hall
- a symbol of humanity's power to create a
sustainable future! 
Hey everyone, today’s post 479 and over the 3 years that I’ve been doing my blog, I’ve had lots of people talk to me over social media, and of course in real life (I do get out a bit). Quite often, though, these two things cross each other, like recently when I went to London. I’m in contact with people at the wonderful Natural History Museum in London occasionally over Twitter, and through that, one of the curators that works there reached out to me, and said pop in and say Hi if we were around. Our family was planning a weekend visit to London any way as we hadn't been for a while so I jumped at the opportunity to try and meet up at the NHM. I've been going since I was quite little and it is probably my favourite museum!
The scale of the NHM collection is almost unbeleivable!

So plans were made and Mum, Dad and I got ourselves to London and then set off early on Saturday to see Erica McAlister (aka @flygirlNHM). As we'd got there a bit earlier than expected Erica met us at the entrance around 15 minutes before public opening time and we were really amazed to be able to get in and have a look around some of the public halls without anyone else there. The most spectacular part of the museum for me is the Main Hall, I always loved being there, seeing this huge space and the enormous dinosaur.

There are some incredible creatures!

Obviously we knew about the new Blue Whale (Hope) they had put in Dippy's place and she is an incredible sight. It is quite a breathtaking sight to come so close even to the remains of the world's largest mammal. She's posed in a dive and it's an amazing sight in an amazing building that must have taken years to build. Erica was telling us all about how it was built specifically for a Victorian collector, well at least to house his collection as a condition of him donating it. They made such a good job of the building, the decorations and carvings around it are as incredible as the contents of the building - even the floor - mosaics throughout - it`s absolutely mind-blowing the work that has gone into this building!

It holds specimens from the time of Darwin 
So after we were done looking around the museum, we went ‘back stage’ where they hold the NHM collection, where all the specimens are kept. It`s a bit of an understatement to say there's a lot of them! Species are laid out in wooden display trays. These then go into metal lockers, and each locker is in a block - it`s hard to describe the scale of it because it goes on forever! There are lots of blocks of lockers in a row on one floor, huge rooms of them - and that's just one floor - there were 7 floors just for the insects! Erica was telling us that all together the NHM collection contains over 80 million species. It's the biggest in the world (Erica cheered at that once or twice :-)

There were some specimens from centuries back when people were first going to foreign countries to collect. One of the amazing things we saw there was a shelf with some specimens that Darwin himself and his crew collected on the Beagle!

Erica's favourite - Robberflies
These two were caught carrying
this huge grasshopper!
Erica showed us an amazing array of things from the cabinets, some of the insects there seemed as if they didn’t come from Earth, and ones I probably won’t ever see again. It was amazing to see how people have been storing these exhibits for the years since records started, I felt very special to get to see them.

Then, there were the pickles! A huge room essentially filled with preserved animals of all shapes and sizes, ranging from ticks to a giant squid that was so long I had to get a video instead of a picture! It was so big it has to be kept in a specially made tank - made by Damian Hurst as it was so big! See the video to see what I mean! One of my favourites was the pickled Angler Fish! It was interesting to see one of the creatures of the deep and how it had evolved to live there, and how it uses bioluminescence to attract its prey. Have you ever seen a pickled badger, fox, rat, or boa constrictor - no, well neither had I - but thanks to Erica now I have!

In complete contrast to the display we saw in the main hall, ‘Hope’ the Blue Whale diving, Erica also showed us a jar with a tiny Blue Whale foetus! It’s amazing how something so vast comes from something so tiny and fragile.
Scorpion dimorphism.

One of the fascinating things I got to see was the dimorphism between species of scorpion. There’s a quite small species that wasn’t even the length of one of my fingers, to a much larger Emperor Scorpion that spanned my whole hand! The little one is interestingly the most dangerous, much more venomous - and uses stealth. The big Emperor is all about show (and bravado so mum says) and scaring off predators. I also found out that all scorpions glow in ultraviolet light!

The main thing that I couldn’t get over, though, was the sheer number of specimens they had, it was crazy how many there was just on the floor we went around, and to know they had 6 more floors for insects and another building entirely for plants! I learnt a lot about what curators do and how collections are kept. One of the things I found amazing though is they now have the task of digitising the whole collection! A great opportunity for some overtime or maybe holiday jobs for students I would think!

Thank you for an amazing visit Erica!
So lastly, I’d love to give a huge thank you to Erica for reaching out to me and letting me do this! She was one of the most kind and enthusiastic people I’ve ever met, and she let me have so many experiences I doubt I’ll ever get again. It was amazing to be able to go there and see all of the incredible things Erica showed us. I know we only scratched the surface so I’d love to do it again sometime.

Thank you Erica, I'm so glad they keep you in this institution :-)

Hope you enjoyed,


Friday, 24 November 2017

Post 478 - Celebs champion & celebrate nature rather than distress, disrespect and devalue it.

You're a celebrity so step up and get some respect for nature!

I'm fed up of the 'celebrity' programme. I've never liked it. Why is it that a 'celebrity' gets attention for eating insects, for having to crawl through a box of frogs and spiders and making people think nature is something to be scared of and feared?

I say celebrity. I really don't know who most of the people that go on this programme are! And just to say I never watch it, I get fed up enough of the headlines everywhere, watching the show would only make me more annoyed.

To me a celebrity should be a role model, someone to respect, someone who inspires people and uses their position to make a difference. I wrote about this a while back in Post 378 - and I mentioned the sorts of celebrities that I admire like Chris Packham, Bill Bailey, Bill Oddie. Of course Sir David Attenbrough should have been in that post too. These are people who are trying to get people to care about the environment. There are any more of course but sadly the people that end up on the celeb programme take the money and just perpetuate an image of nature that is wrong. It should not be exploited for entertainment or popularity.

It was actually tweets from Bill Oddie and Chris Packham that reminded me about my earlier blog and inspired me to write this post.

I've felt this way for a while and I've tried to spread the message a little. I rediscovered my Rant for Change video which must be two or three years old now. I've included it at the end if you want to see it.

Why can't more celebrities promote and help nature?

Wouldn't you rather see celebs doing good? Promoting and helping nature? I want to see these people doing beach cleans, to save our marine wildlife from getting caught in and eating harmful plastics - plastics that we end up eating. How about helping hedgehogs and other declining species? Maybe Ant and Dec could volunteer at a nature reserve?

What about helping insects rather than eating them - studies show we've lost three quarters of our insects in the last 25 years!  If we lose the insects then our entire ecological system is at risk of collapse! Don`t they know that our insects are our main pollinators of plants, and food source for birds, reptiles and small mammals?

Try doing some fundraising for wildlife. I think that would impress people much more than poncing around the jungle abusing nature. I'm sure the people eating the meal worms, cockroaches and spiders aren't enjoying it, but I bet the insects like it a lot less even if they are being eaten by a 'celebrity'.

So I decided to start a Thunderclap to try and show that other people feel the same. You can sign up here:

I hope I've timed it right for the final of the show so that lots of people will see that it's not right to exploit nature like this, that it's not right to send a message that nature is scary.

While I was promoting the Thunderclap the RSPCA were kind enough to respond to one of my tweets. They gave some really good advice about some other things that you can do about the way this programme treats wildlife - I've included the tweet below but basically complain to ITV viewer services and Ofcom (link to how to contact them). I noticed when looking at this that I'm a Celebrity had had a few complaints over the last week but we probably need to send them a lot more to get this to change.

Only problem about this though that I can see is that I'd have to watch the programme to be able to make a complaint rather than just be campaigning about the principle of using and eating wildlife for entertainment :-(

Nature is to be treasured. Nature supports us all. Nature is suffering and needs our support more than ever!

Hope you agree,


Friday, 27 October 2017

Post 477 - A happy return to Haggewoods

Removing Deer guards
Hey everyone, Post 477 today and a quick one about a lovely morning I had revisiting a place I wrote about back in Post 410. It's a great project just south of York - Three Hagges Wood Meadow - essentially since 2010 they've turned an old barley field into a completely new and brilliant habitat, a wood meadow. It's now so full of wildlife and insects it's amazing. Even today, almost in November, there was lots to see.

I went along to do a bit of volunteering for the morning. A small group of us took some deer guards off a few rows of young trees that will be forming some hedges. That was quite tricky as you had to cut the guards off around all of the branches that had grown through them, but we managed.

Raking mown grass
The next job was raking up and collecting some of the grass that had been mown off of the meadow. This was hard work but nice to do in the lovely sunshine. I don't think there were any clouds about at all. It was soon too hot to have coats and jumpers on.

Sowing Yellow Rattle
It took a while to get all of the grass raked up. Dad and I did this while some of the other volunteers collected it up in wheelbarrows. The reason for doing this was to help the meadow by taking away the cuttings which reduces things like Nitrogen and Phosphorous in the soil. This makes it harder for the grass as there's not so much to feed it and that gives the wildlflowers more of a chance.

The other thing we did to give the wildflowers a chance was to sow yellow rattle seeds. This is a plant that also makes life harder for the grasses, it's a sort of a parasite and weakens the grass again giving the wild flowers more of a chance to get going. Well it didn't seem to take long for the morning to go, it was lovely being out in the meadow in the sunshine.

A young Toad
After that we went back to the table by the volunteer hut to have a chat. The main reason I went down was that I was invited by Rosalind one of the people who's developed the Hagges Wood project, who wanted to have a chat with a few people about some of the ideas I'd written about in the Yorkshire Naturalists Union magazine - I did an article called 'From Grey Beards to Green Teens - an engagement conundrum'. It was basically a write up of the event and some thoughts about getting more young people involved in nature and conservation. Well Rosalind,  Justin who was volunteering there, Nick a filmmaker who's done some work at the wood, Kat the project volunteer co-ordinator, Dad and I all had a great discussion and came up with lots of ideas. There may be a new project here in the making which I'll tell you more about as it develops.

So a great morning, during the volunteering I found a toad and two frogs in the long grass and we were treated to nice views of a Kestrel and two lovely (I think) Red Deer who passed over the field quite close to us and headed into the woods. I'll be looking forward to going back and seeing how the yellow rattle gets on next season!

Hope you enjoyed,


Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Post 476 - #OwningIt & #OurBrightFuture

The raw materials
Hey everyone, post 476 today and it's the start this week of a fantastic new campaign. A few months ago I was lucky enough to be asked to give a talk at a local youth nature summit organised by Tomorrows Natural Leaders (see blog post here). This is one of a series of projects around the country being run as part of the Our Bright Future programme led by the Wildlife Trusts. It was really good to be involved with so I'm glad to see that something they mentioned would be happening has started this week.

The site
This is a new campaign called #Owningit. In the words of #OurBrightFuture it's about this:

We are asking organisations, projects and young people both within and outside of Our Bright Future to join the #OwningIt movement. We want to illustrate the large-scale impact that can be made to the environment when many people take small actions. The campaign will provide inspiration and ideas to excite young people and encourage them to take action.

You can read more on their website, there's lots going on, loads of organisations and young people are showing how they are trying to make a difference.

Cutting logs to size
Well after giving me a chance to do my talk and as I'm very passionate about connecting young people with nature I thought I just had to do something to mark the start of the campaign. So today I finished a project that I've been meaning to do for a while, that is create a bit of a new habitat in my garden. It's really easy to do and if everyone did something similar it could make a big difference to our insect populations which are sadly struggling!

We've had a pile of cuttings lying around the garden for a while taking up a bits of space here and there and looking a bit untidy. Although that's not such a bad thing today I used them and with a bit of help from Dad we made a great log and stick pile which should be great for beetles, toads, frogs and hopefully some wasps, bees and other species will benefit from a place to hibernate or feed. The original idea was to build a hedgehog house in the middle of it, but I think we'll do that another time and put it in another place. Thinking about it it would have made the job of cleaning the hog house out very difficult.

Halfway there
So this was quite an easy thing to do really. All of the stuff was free and all of it had been collected from our garden as it was trimmings from bushes and trees that needed cutting back. We like the garden quite wild and full but every now and again it does have to be tamed a bit! All of the trimmings were gathered together and sorted into piles of different sizes. The only thing that wasn't from our garden were four pieces of wood that came from my grandparents house just up the road and they were recycled fence posts. They were just knocked into the ground a bit to make a frame.

All of the logs and sticks were then just piled in, the bigger stuff on the bottom and smaller stuff on the top. It's built directly on to the soil and it's placed under our Magnolia tree so that it won't dry out in the summer. Putting fallen leaves on top will help retain moisture too. I'll add to this as the leaves fall more. There you go, an easy DIY bug house.

The finished product!
Dead wood like this should support lots of insect life. Slugs and snails will no doubt like hiding in it too. Frogs and Toads should like the damp nooks and crannies too and hopefully will have lots of slugs to eat. If I'm lucky Wood Mice might take up home too. Then of course birds like the Wren and the Robin will probably have an explore for a meal or two.

I'll be watching with interest!

Hope you enjoyed,


Sunday, 15 October 2017

Post 475 - A Marvellous Gathering for YWT Annual General Meeting

The clouds cleared and it was an incredible day
for the members day at Potteric Carr
Hey everyone, Post 475 and a little post to let you know about a great meeting I went to yesterday. It was the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust AGM. This year they made it into a member's day, so that they could attract a few more people and make the meeting not just about the facts and figures of the last year. The idea was to make it more interesting and to show off Potteric Carr visitor centre, which is one of the big projects they did last year. Did it work? Well for me it did, I had a really great day!

Dad and I set off early as Doncaster is quite a way from us, pretty much the other end of Yorkshire, but we got there in plenty of time. A bit of a co-incidence but the first people that we bumped into when we got there were some people Dad has worked with in Northallerton where we live!

Everyone got a cup of tea before the morning activities started and most people were gathered outside on the decking by the visitor centre as the day was glorious, it was hard to believe it was October. We got to say hi to Richard and Jono from YWT too before things got going and it was good to see them as they've been very helpful to me. More on that in a bit.

A highlight was this Grass snake.
So the member's day started with activities in the morning and a choice of a long walk around the reserve, a short walk or an introduction to bird spotting. Well as it was such a sunny warm day it had to be the long walk. Potteric Carr is a lovely and huge reserve and we find new bits every time we go. It was nice to have a walk around with the visitor centre manager and learn some more facts about the place and where to see some nice species. A spring visit for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker is being planned! The highlight of the walk was seeing some lovely Grass snakes!

After the walk it was back to the visitor centre for lunch. This was in the visitor centre cafe and the catering staff there made us a wonderful lunch, I ate loads as it was so good!

So then onto the afternoon when it was a series of talks including all of the AGM business. Well they were all really interesting. I was looking forward to the first one as it was Lindsey Chapman talking about some of her Unsprung experiences. The last time I saw Lindsey, Springwatch and my Dad had arranged a surprise while I was bird watching, and she presented me with an Unsprung Hero award (there's a link to it on the right >>>). There were some funny insights into the world of Unsprung and it made you appreciate how hard it is to pull the show together live! It was a great talk.
Very proud of this!

Then came the AGM bits. I didn't know if I'd enjoy these bits but it was interesting to learn about how the organisation works, where it gets its money and how it spends it as well as learning about some of the projects. We also had to vote in a couple of new board members.

Last speaker was Rob Stoneman, the Chief Executive and he gave a really powerful presentation about how important the work of the Wildlife Trust is, how fragile a lot of our habitats and environment is but also how some projects are working and making a difference.

Thanks so much YWT and Northwold
So it was a great day and I really enjoyed it but the best was still to come. I'd been working since the summer with YWT to produce a 2018 calendar using some photos I'd taken when I was on my 2016 challenge to visit all their reserves (there were too many and Yorkshire is too big - but I did get to around two thirds :-). Well I had been waiting for the calendars for a while as very kindly Northwold Print were doing them for me as half of the profits are going to YWT. The company is owned by one of the board directors Gurdev and he very kindly brought them with him that morning.

I was having a look through it and Jono and some of the YWT board members had a look through it with me. It looks really good! The photos are pretty good but the graphic design was done by Sally Henderson at YWT and it's made it look so much more professional than my last calendar, thanks Sally!

It was after this that Lindsey came over to have a catch up and we had a chat about some of the things I'd been up to. She was surprised how much I'd grown since the Unsprung Hero filming, but it was quite a while ago now. One of the things we talked about was the calendar, happily she really liked it, so much she asked if she could have it :-)

Well I wasn't going to say no and Lindsey was happy to have a photo taken with me. I never expected the first one to go to a celebrity or to get such a great endorsement! Thanks Lindsey.
Great to catch up with Lindsey
and so glad you like the calendar :-)

After saying goodbye to Lindsey we went off to see Richard in the shop to get a few calendars to bring home to sell and Richard will have them up for sale on the YWT website soon!

Have to say a big thanks to Jono, Sally, Richard and Gurdev for all the help - they look incredible and I'm really proud to see my photos in something so professional.

So a great day, and I was really glad to be part of it. It'll be a hard job to do a better event next year!

Hope you enjoyed,


Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Post 474 - Brilliant Butterflies of 2017

Hey everyone, sorry it's been a little while between posts. School work has been taking up a lot of time again! I hope this post makes up for not posting for a while.

Duke of Burgundy

A little while back I was in touch with Butterfly Conservation on twitter. I'd sent a few pics of butterflies I'd seen and they asked me a question. Well today in post 474 I'm going to sort of answer it and in future years I hope to be able to answer it better.

Orange Tip

So what was the question? It was... had I seen more or less butterflies this year. It's tricky to answer as I have seen some more species this year as I've been out deliberately looking for a few new species. I think I've seen four new species this year, but at the same time I have not seen three of the species that I've seen other years. The new species were the Large Skipper, Duke of Burgundy, Greyling and Silver Washed Fritillary, the ones I didn't manage to see were Holly Blue, Marbled White and Swallow Tail.

Green Veined White

The other reason it's hard to answer is because I haven't started keeping very good records of what I've seen and when yet. It seems like I've seen a lot less in my garden at the start of the year, it got better at the end of summer but it has gone quiet again now. I've definitely seen less Painted Ladies this year and less Peacocks. So I need to record what I see better so that I can answer properly. I do do the Butterfly Count but I'm going to keep more records. 

A challenging Comma

I'm still hoping to see a few more in the garden yet this year, the Michaelmas Daises are still out and I've got lots of fallen apples so there's still lots of food for them. Fingers crossed for a few still sunny days when I'm at home. It's something simple we can all do to help butterflies and many insects, grow a few nectar rich plants that they like. In our garden we have three Buddleia bushes that they especially like but quite a few other plants too that they like.

So what have I seen this year? Well let's start with a rare beauty, The Duke of Burgundy. I was told about this butterfly a little while ago by two different people and that there was a spot near me to find it. (Thanks Dave Renwick & Whitfield Benson). I didn't know at the time until I looked it up again that it is one of the UK's rarest butterflies. So this year I set off to see it and happily I did! I'll be back next year I think as it was a lovely walk out on the North York Moors to find this spot.

Swallowtail Caterpillar - amazing!

One I always try to see but I often miss because I go to Norfolk just at the wrong time of year (school needs to break up earlier for summer!) is the Swallowtail. I have had the odd fleeting view of this magnificent butterfly but never well enough or long enough to get a photo of one. Their larvae I see more often though and they are very pretty as well. Here's a beauty I saw this summer.

Silver washed Fritillary - a little worn

I like looking out for new places and new species so when we were on our Norfolk holiday this year we went to Holt Country Park. I've been to the market town of Holt a lot, and this year rescued a baby hedgehog from the churchyard while Mum was shopping. Afterwards we popped to the park and saw an amazing list of butterflies that had been seen. One that was meant to be in abundance was the Silver Washed Fritillary. I managed to see one but it wasn't in the best condition.

Hummingbird Hawkmoth
I also saw a lovely Brimstone there and a wonderful Hummingbird Hawkmoth. I know it's not a butterfly but I love seeing them. I get them in my garden too - this year I only got a quick glimpse of one on the red Valerian outside of the house so it was great to get this shot of one at Holt.

Large Skipper
A lovely little butterfly I saw, and have probably seen before but never really stopped to photograph or appreciate is the Large Skipper. This is one that hangs around a forest I go to quite often on the fringe of the North York Moors, Silton Forest. I'm not sure what made me pay attention to this one but perhaps it was because it sat still for me!

On the same bit of path in Silton Forest I've also been able to see some lovely Common Blue butterflies too this year. Males and females both sat nicely enough for a photo.
Common Blue

Well, there's a lot more to mention, like Speckled Wood, Painted Lady, Peacock, Red Admiral, Tortishell, a brief view of a White Admiral, Small White, Large White, Green Veined White, Orange Tip, Wall, Meadow Brown, Small Heath and Ringlet. I think that's probably all that I've seen this year.

There's still quite a few species I've yet to see so I'll be looking up where and when I can see something new next year. It's always such a buzz to see a new species and especially with something as beautiful as a butterfly!

Hope you enjoyed,


Thursday, 14 September 2017

Post 473 - Marvellous Migfest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope you enjoyed,


Monday, 4 September 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope you enjoyed.


Post 471 - A nice surprise - Top 50 Wildlife Blogs

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

Hi Zach,

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

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

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

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

Well I didn't expect that :-)

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


Thursday, 31 August 2017

Post 470 - Happily Reclining Hairy Rove Beetle

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

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

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

Hope you enjoyed,


Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Post 469 - Talking to Tomorrows Natural Leaders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope you enjoyed,

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Post 468 - The Wonderful Wild Watch Project!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can follow them on: @TheWildWatch

Or see their website: The Wild Watch

And if you live in Yorkshire, get involved!

Hope you enjoyed,