Unleash Your Wild Side For #30DaysWild

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After enjoying a ‘wild’ week in Wales, exploring the nature of Snowdonia and Pembrokeshire (which I will be blogging about soon), I am feeling more inspired than ever to “make room for nature this June” for The Wildlife Trusts’ #30DaysWild challenge.  I have been writing about my random acts of wildness for the last two years during June and will be doing so again this year.  I signed up at the beginning of May and have received my pack, which has definitely given me motivation… so much so that I already have some ideas of what I will be doing.  I am really looking forward to getting started and recognising the simple and bold ways in which I decide to make nature part of my life each day.

To give you some ideas and hopefully inspire you to sign up too, here are 30 ways in which you could be wild this June:

1. Sketch / paint / draw an outdoor landscape

2. Read a book about nature / wildlife

3. Create a rainbow collage using pressed flowers and leaves

4. Write a poem inspired by nature

5. Practice patience by trying the art of stone balancing

6. Make a bumblebee nest (I love the teapot idea!)

7. Build an insect hotel

8. Design with plants

9. Try your hand at foraging

10. Open your eyes to nature through photography

11. Create some unique bark and outdoor texture rubbings

12. “Treat yo’self” and help a wildlife charity at the same time – upgrade your binoculars, buy something for your home, even adopt a species!

13. Go for a walk at lunchtime

14. Try outdoor yoga and / or meditation

15. Make your workplace green with plants and photos of wildlife to improve productivity

16. Explore a rock pool or shallow stream

17. Go bird watching

18. Do a butterfly count

19. Watch a wild webcam

20. Reduce your plastic usage to help save our oceans

21. Get up early to watch the sunrise, or stay out to watch the sunset

22. Eat your lunch / have a picnic in the great outdoors

23. Hunt for animal tracks

24. Learn to whistle with a blade of grass

25. Use homegrown herbs and flowers to make beauty products

26. Swim in the sea (if you are lucky enough to live near the coast or go on holiday)

27. Go on an ‘urban safari’ around your neighbourhood and look out for often overlooked wildlife

28. Do some environmental volunteering

29. Find a way to encounter a species you have never seen before

30. Literally “stop and smell the roses” or any other flower that takes your fancy – lilac is a favourite of mine!

If you like some of these ideas and are ready to join me and the 41,762 others (at the time of writing) who have signed up so far to take on the wild challenge, then click here to order your pack!  You will receive a brilliant wall-chart to track your acts as well as some lovely stickers and lots of ideas for the 30 days.  You can take part on your own, with your friends and family, colleagues or classmates – however you want to do it, be wild and have fun!

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Peregrine Falcons: The Latest

It has been a long ‘thirty days’ for anyone who has been following the Leicester and Nottingham peregrines since they laid their eggs at the end of March!  I have continued to keep my eye on the live cameras and have been impressed with how attentive both pairs have been – I literally didn’t see any of the eggs uncovered throughout the whole incubation period!

As May approached, I checked the Leicester Peregrines and NTU Biodiversity websites and social media pages more often for updates and finally, on the morning of the 5th May it was noted that the Leicester pair’s four eggs had decreased to three after the female had been seen eating one of the eggs along with the deceased chick inside.  This may sound horrible, but is quite common when an egg is damaged or the adult can tell that something is wrong, and by eating the egg the nutrients are recycled, energy is saved and the nest is kept clean.

The female continued to incubate the remaining three eggs and was looking quite restless as the day went on… it was time for some hatching!  At 1:30am on the 6th May, the first fluffy white chick could be seen.  Luckily, for those of us who were asleep, there is a fantastic thorough commentary down the right hand side of the live stream, which details the behaviour, feeding and interactions of the peregrines each day.  Let’s just say that the female is definitely the boss!  There are also some great and often funny videos which means we don’t miss a thing, such as the hatching of the second chick at 3:15pm on the 7th May!

I am so happy that the Leicester pair have been successful this year and am enjoying watching the chicks already.  The third egg still remains in the nest, but is very unlikely to hatch now.  Despite this, I say that two chicks out of four eggs is brilliant considering the pair had no hatchlings in 2017.  If you remember from my ‘Eyas Update‘ last year, peregrine falcon development is pretty rapid, so it will be interesting to see how they change over the next few weeks.  I can’t wait to see them exploring their nestbox mansion!

l12Stills taken from Leicester Peregrines live cameras (a collaboration between LROS and LCC).

Now from good news, to not so good news… the Nottingham peregrine falcons.  After an amazing nesting season last year, fingers have been crossed for Mrs P and Archie but sadly things aren’t looking good.  Back in April I blogged about how the weather had not been great and that Mrs P had struggled to lay her second egg.  It was also believed that because of the time gap between the first two eggs, she may have reabsorbed what would have been the second egg, and that the original first egg may not be successful.  Well it actually looks like none of the three eggs will be hatching this year.  On the morning of the 10th May one of the eggs and chick inside was eaten by one of the adults (most likely the female) and there has been no signs of pipping on either of the two remaining eggs.

I had been concerned from the beginning of May that this was going to be the case, as Mrs P remained hunkered down, hardly moving whenever I checked the camera.  She worked hard over the month with incubation, but unfortunately at this point the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust and NTU agree that it seems unlikely that the eggs will hatch.

Let’s stay positive though – we know that the Nottingham pair have been successful before, so they can have a rest this season and who knows, maybe next year they will be successful again!

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n17Stills taken from the NTU live cameras.

RSPB Middleton Lakes

With the excessive precipitation and topsy-turvy weather over the last few months, it has been difficult to get out and about at the weekends for a ‘proper walk’, but a couple of weeks ago it was warm and dry enough for an excursion to a nature reserve.  It was easy to pick which one – RSPB Middleton Lakes in Staffordshire – as myself and partner Ed had visited in 2016 and really enjoyed it, so had been keen to return ever since.

We arrived just before lunchtime and parked up in the well-kept car park which is free for RSPB members or a reasonable £3 for non-members.  From the car park you can either head through a small wooded area to a little square of shops and eateries, as well as Middleton Hallor in the other direction past the RSPB hut straight to the reserve.  We decided to have some lunch first in Bake180 Coffee Shop which offers a variety of light bites, treats and drinks, and also sells the RSPB pin badges if you want to add to your collection, which is exactly what I did.  I donated some money and chose a blue tit and pied wagtail.  Once we had finished eating, we headed back through the car park, picked up a map from the RSPB hut, which also has lots of information leaflets, badges and a chalkboard with interesting daily sightings written on it by visitors, and then we made our way into the reserve.

Middleton Lakes is a relatively young RSPB reserve, having been acquired in 2007.  It has since been developed into a lovely site which benefits numerous bird species as well as other wildlife such as otters and of course, the visitors.  The site is described as “one of the best birdwatching sites in the area”, which I certainly agree with as it is divided into sections – water, woodland, grassland and reedbeds, and has various viewpoints, a large lookout, nature trails, a rookery and a heronry!  The conservation work and management that has been done already and continues to take place at Middleton Lakes is ultimately creating a ‘refuge’ for many beautiful birds and excitingly, the RSPB say that it “will become the most important site for breeding waders in the Midlands”.

 It was really enjoyable exploring the different areas of the reserve and spotting the wildlife related to the surrounding nature and environments.  Our favourite spots were a large grass snake (the first either of us had seen in the wild) and a beautiful pheasant who casually wandered up to us through the grass and took a liking to Ed.  He stayed at our feet for a lengthy photo-shoot and good old feather study, and followed Ed’s steps until we could stay no longer.  I was very pleased with my photographs of the pheasant and many stunning plants throughout the reserve, some of which you can view on my Instagram page.

I plan to visit Middleton Lakes more often and explore it further, so keep your eye out for future posts about my current favourite nature reserve.  In the meantime I would love to hear about your favourite nature reserves!

DSC01295 (2)© RSPB Middleton Lakes, April 2018

Year Of The Bird

Did you know that it is the Year of the Bird?  To mark the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, why not join the celebration by being part of Global Big Day on the 5th May, this Saturday!  This is a worldwide 24 hour ‘birdwatch’ in which you commit as much time as you like to counting the birds you see.  You can stay in one spot like a garden, or even go for a walk and travel around – all you need is a free eBird account.  If you took part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch then I am sure you will enjoy this too!

What I find exciting about Global Big Day is the fact that the stats will be updated in real-time, meaning everyone involved will be able to see sightings from over 150 countries and make comparisons based on location or climate, for example, whilst actually taking part.  Last year 6,659 species were reported during Global Big Day, which was a new record.  I wonder whether that number will be beaten on Saturday?

Eggcellent News

Following my post on the 24th March, I have been watching and keeping note of the activity taking place in both the Leicester and Nottingham peregrine nests.  I left you with the news that the Nottingham pair had laid one egg, but were yet to lay their second despite being almost a week later!  I had seen Mrs P trying to lay an egg during the latter part of the week, as had many other observers, and concern began to grow as she appeared to be uncomfortable and distressed.  It was reported at the time that she was believed to be egg bound and at risk of dying!  Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust was contacted by the University to see if anything could be done, but as they are wild birds the Trust decided to let nature take its course.  Luckily, this was the correct decision because at 7:20am on Monday 26th March, the second egg finally appeared!

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The weather improved, as did Mrs P’s health and four days later, on Good Friday, she laid the third egg of the season.  Due to the cold weather and time gap between the first two eggs though, the Trust thinks that there is a chance she may have reabsorbed what would have been the second egg during that week, and that the ‘second’ egg we see in the photo above is in fact the ‘first’ egg of a new clutch and the original first egg may not be successful.  This is very interesting and I can’t wait to see if their theory is correct!

I have continued to check the cameras to see whether a fourth egg would be laid this week, but I think the Nottingham clutch is now complete.

n15All stills taken from the NTU live cameras.

The Leicester pair have also given us plenty to watch since my last post.  Their first egg was laid on the 26th March at around 5:30pm, which I didn’t actually see until the 28th.  I was very excited when I turned on the camera and saw the below shot, so grabbed a still and let several people know!  I also set up my Grandma with links to the live cameras on her tablet, as she has recently become very fond of feeding and watching ‘her’ woodpigeons, blackbirds and dunnocks in her back garden, so I knew she would love watching the peregrines (maybe not when they are eating other birds though)!

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The lovely pair welcomed their second egg on the 29th March at 3:15pm and I just so happened to check the camera 40 minutes later when they were swapping incubation duties…

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Things moved quickly and on Easter Sunday, 1st April, the female decided to get in the Easter spirit by laying their third egg during the afternoon, and then their fourth and probably final egg on the 4th April at 6:50am.  There will now be around a thirty day wait and then hopefully the hatching will begin in both Leicester and Nottingham!  If the Nottingham pair’s first egg is in fact viable, we may even see it hatch before the end of this month.

l08Stills taken from Leicester Peregrines live cameras (a collaboration between LROS and LCC).

Big Garden Birdwatch 2018 – Results!

At the end of January, the RSPB held their 39th Big Garden Birdwatch, and for the third year running I took part.  Although my watch wasn’t particularly inspiring, 420,489 results were submitted across the UK and a fantastic 6,764,475 birds were counted in total!

The overall results have been published and the 2018 top 10 garden birds are:

  1. House sparrow (non-mover)
  2. Starling (non-mover)
  3. Blue tit (up one place)
  4. Blackbird (down one place)
  5. Woodpigeon (non-mover)
  6. Goldfinch (non-mover)
  7. Great tit (up one place)
  8. Robin (down one place)
  9. Long-tailed tit (up one place)
  10. Chaffinch (down one place)

This is another great year of results for the RSPB to use along with previous data to determine which species need help, and which species are thriving.

Next year will be the Big Garden Birdwatch’s 40th anniversary, so I am hoping for big things and another big count!

Easter Eggs

If you are a peregrine falcon fan like me, you may have been keeping your eye on a specific breeding pair over the last few weeks.  Perhaps you have had your binoculars out and attended a local ‘peregrine watch’, or have been tuning in to a live camera online.  As mentioned in my previous post, the birds I am watching this year are once again Nottingham Trent University’s resident peregrine falcons and Leicester Cathedral’s pair.  (I will also be keeping up to date with the Coventry peregrines via their Twitter account).

After noting that last year Mrs P, the Nottingham female, laid her first egg on 17th March, I have been periodically checking the camera since the beginning of March, during the snow storms and then spring-like weather, to look out for any signs of egg laying!  I first noticed her sitting in the scrape on 9th March so knew the pair were getting ready for this year’s season, but then the ‘beast from the east’ returned to the UK!  This did concern me as the nest box was covered in snow, but every time I checked between the 16th and 18th March, the male was hunkering down in the scrape.

As I had been away on holiday the week before, I wasn’t sure if there was already an egg being kept warm, but it was later announced that their first egg was laid in the early hours of Sunday 18th March.  It took a few days before I got a glimpse of it, but I finally managed to grab a still image:

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I also managed to save a great shot of one of the peregrines and the egg glowing warmly on the thermal camera:

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On the 21st March, I thought Mrs P was preparing to lay her second egg, as she appeared to be in the ‘crouching’ position I witnessed last year, but there is still only one egg in the nest.  As peregrine eggs tend to be laid at 2-3 day intervals, surely another will come along this weekend…

n07All stills taken from the NTU live cameras.

Both male and female have been sharing the incubation and I expect (hope) that by Easter, this attentive pair will have their full clutch of eggs to incubate!

The Leicester pair on the other hand are yet to lay any eggs, but there is nothing to worry about as peregrines usually lay eggs in late March / early April.  The Leicester pair have however been very active – calling, posturing and scraping.  I have seen both birds on their ledge, each spending different amounts of time in and around the back of the box.

Only time will tell if they have a successful breeding season!

l01l02Stills taken from Leicester Peregrines live camera (a collaboration between LROS and LCC).

It’s Peregrine Time!

You may remember that last year I posted regularly about a breeding pair of peregrine falcons on Nottingham Trent University’s Newton building… well it is once again that time of year when they will begin nesting, ready to lay eggs and rear their young!  I have already started checking the live webcams and have seen the female on several occasions sitting on the ledge around the nest site, so I expect that in a month or so we will see a clutch of eggs in the scrape!  This year is extra exciting though, as not only will I be watching and blogging about the Nottingham peregrines, but also the Coventry AND Leicester pairs!

Why Coventry?  Well, last Christmas I was gifted an ‘adopted’ peregrine through Warwickshire Wildlife Trust which supports the “amazing falcon that has made its home at the top of Holy Trinity Church and Coventry Cathedral”, so of course I will be following their story over this breeding season, as well as throughout the rest of the year.

Why Leicester?  Being my home town, I have followed the Leicester Peregrine Project (a collaboration between the Leicestershire and Rutland Ornithological Society and Leicester City Council) for quite a while now, and try to spot and watch the peregrines on the Cathedral whenever I go into the city centre.  Last year I wrote about how they hoped to install a live camera, which unfortunately did not happen during the 2017 season… but I am happy and excited to find that the live stream is now available to watch on their website!  The camera is positioned brilliantly on the “5-star nest platform”, providing an intimate view of the nest site and close-ups of the gorgeous birds.  What is also great is that there is a daily written commentary alongside the video, so we won’t miss a thing – such as the fact that there has been lots of ‘bond-posturing’ and calling recently, which is a very good sign.  Last year, the Leicester pair did actually lay a clutch of eggs, but sadly they were all unsuccessful… so I am keeping my fingers crossed that we see some chicks this year!  I will make sure to keep you all posted.

IMG_20170318_150738_259© Peregrine Falcon on Leicester Cathedral, 2017

What did I see?

Last weekend was the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch and I chose Saturday to do my count.  Unintentionally, I always seem to pick the day with the worst weather and this year was no exception – drizzly and windy!  As planned though, this year’s count was done in my grandma’s garden (2016 was at my mum’s and last year was at my in-law’s) as I am very interested to see the results from different locations.

rspb© the Green & the Wild

My grandma has been putting food out over winter, so after ensuring there was plenty on the grass and in the feeder, I sat in her conservatory between 11:30am – 12:30pm expecting to at least see my grandma’s regular garden visitors (2 woodpigeons and 2 magpies), but all I counted in the whole hour was a fleeting visit from a single blackbird and one woodpigeon!

As it is just as important to record no birds as it is many birds, I wasn’t disappointed but my grandma was keen for me to see the regulars, so later that afternoon once the weather had cleared up, we had another ‘birdwatch’ and would you believe it, within five minutes the lawn was crowded with two blackbirds, one of the two regular magpies and three woodpigeons, one of which was a juvenile which I found very sweet as the whole family was out for dinner together!

I didn’t manage to take any photographs of the birds this year, so instead I thought I would take part in the RSPB #ShareHowYouWear

shyw© My RSPB and some of my other wildlife charities pin badges.  I usually pick a species that represents the RSPB reserve I buy it from or is a bird that I have seen there.

Did you take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch this year?  If so, please share with us what you counted and of course, don’t forget to submit your results!

The Plastic Problem

As many of you will know, one of the biggest environmental problems right now is plastic pollution, specifically in our oceans!  Plastics do not go away and what is scary is the fact that over 300 million tonnes of plastic is being produced globally every year and half of this is for single use!  Furthermore, more than 8 million tonnes of plastic finds its way into the ocean and onto our beaches every single year… and if action isn’t taken, this figure will continue to rise, as society has produced more plastic in the last ten years than during the whole of the last century!  The average plastic bottle takes about 450 years to completely break down, meaning the plastic waste of today will be floating around the ocean or laying on the sea bed for generations.

The effect of plastics on ocean wildlife is absolutely awful.  For example, turtles choke on or get entangled in big pieces of plastic, smaller pieces fill the stomachs of seabirds leaving no room for food to feed their young, whilst microplastics (which are defined as particles less than 5mm across) are contaminated further by toxic chemicals and pesticides and are then consumed by a range of marine animals such as corals and zooplankton, which ultimately end up entering the food chain!

Thankfully this crisis has been at the forefront of discussion recently, with help from environmental charities and programmes such as Blue Planet II, as big corporations and Governments have been called upon to take action!  The UK Government’s 25 year environmental plan commits the UK to “eliminating all avoidable plastic waste by 2042”, but I think as individuals we need to and CAN help now by making some simple life changes.

Firstly, why not find out what your plastic footprint is by using this calculator.  Once you know how you are using plastics, think about how you can reduce your usage.  I have come up with a list of 10 easy ideas:

  1. Carry a reusable bag around with you for those unexpected shopping trips
  2. Always use a reusable water bottle
  3. Take your own travel mug to coffee shops for the barista to fill up
  4. Reduce the use of sandwich bags by putting food straight into a lunchbox or Bento box
  5. Ask for ‘no straw’ when ordering drinks
  6. Use real cutlery and plates instead of disposable ones at parties
  7. Swap your plastic toothbrush for an eco-friendly bamboo one
  8. Stop using cosmetics that contain exfoliating micro-beads
  9. Avoid excessive food packaging by buying fresh and shopping wisely
  10. Recycle! Take a little extra time to check packaging and break it down properly for the different types of recycling

Do you have any other tips or suggestions for how we can all individually reduce our plastic usage?