The Nature of Iceland

Happy December everyone!  I hope you are all feeling jolly and are enjoying the festive season so far.

It has been a while since I have written about a specific place, but after a wonderful break and first visit to Iceland, I have been inspired to share my experience by delving into some brilliant, beautiful natural wonders!  Arriving on the evening of 23rd November, myself and partner Ed, had planned an eventful trip which certainly lived up to expectations.

Friday 24th November:  The sun didn’t rise until around 10:30am, by which time we were already out and about.  We spent the first day exploring Reykjavik, sampling several delicious pastries from Sandholt bakery and the highly rated Brauð & Co bakery, visiting Hallgrímskirkja, spotting birds we had not seen in real life before (American robins and ravens were regulars on the trip), absorbing some wonderful views along the harbour and admiring the Solfar (Sun Voyager) sculpture.  The steel sculpture is “a dream boat and an ode to the sun“, and the way in which the metal catches and reflects the sunlight is simply stunning!  We also walked under 23 life-size models of whales in the ‘Whales of Iceland’ museum.  Although entrance for the museum was quite pricey, I enjoyed learning about the natural history of Icelandic waters, experiencing the immense size and magnificence of such a beautiful species, whilst also capturing some photographs which look like we had been swimming with them!

© Whales of Iceland, November 2017

Once the sun began to set, we headed back to our apartment and filled up on pasta, delicious cinnamon biscuits and tea before layering up in numerous layers, thermals and jumpers and heading out once again at 8:30pm for our Northern Lights trip!  We were picked up at a stop around the corner from our apartment by BusTravel Iceland (which was very handy indeed) and reached our destination out in the countryside after around forty minutes.  The guide instantly led us to a snowy, dark, open area of land which was amazingly already crowned by a graceful, wide arc of cloudy green light!  (The green of the aurora is caused by collisions between fast-moving electrons from solar activity and the oxygen particles in our atmosphere).  We were lucky to have the aurora borealis above us all evening, and as time passed, the wide arc separated into thinner streaks which stretched almost from horizon to horizon and towards the end of the night, Mother Nature even treated us to an ephemeral curved aurora band with vertical rays.  Stunning!  The best way I found to see the colour distinctively was to cup my hands around the side of my temples to block any peripheral light (of which there was little anyway) and frame the aurora above me… I think this along with the nighttime darkness and cold air on my face made me feel in my own little world whilst experiencing the natural, magical spectacle.   It was certainly a memorable experience which truthfully, I haven’t stopped thinking about.

Saturday 25th November:  It was an early start for another trip with BusTravel Iceland – this time the Grand Golden Circle tour in the Southwest of Iceland!  As we travelled out into the countryside, we were able to watch the sun rise over snowy mountains before making a brief stop in Hveragerði, “the capital of hot springs” or “flower village“.  This was a lovely little town to view on the way down the mountain road as it lays on an active geothermal zone, so there were many hot springs and pillars of steam dotted throughout (even in people’s gardens) reflecting the early light, along with warmly lit greenhouses, which are heated by hot water from the volcanic hot springs.  In fact, Hveragerði “has the highest concentration of greenhouses in Iceland where residents have been harnessing geothermal energy since 1920 to provide the country with much of its home grown produce“.  We had a little wander and stretch and before returning to the bus, also had a look at a small exhibition called ‘Quake 2008’ which was all about a powerful earthquake (6.3 on the Richter scale) that struck the area on 29th May 2008.

We made five ‘highlight’ stops throughout the day – each offering something remarkable and with snow on the ground and sunny blue skies, we were both able to take some lovely photographs to save and share the beauty.

Kerið volcanic crater:  I had only seen pictures of this in spring and summer – a bright blue crater ‘lake’ looking up through a red and green embankment, so was fascinated to see it frozen over, surrounded by dark snowy slopes and patches of red rock.  It is believed that Kerið (which measures about 270m long, 170m wide and 55m deep) was once a cone volcano that erupted, clearing its full magma chamber in the process.  With no magma remaining, the cone likely collapsed into the void, resulting in the crater we see today.  The ‘lake’ naturally lays at the same level as the water table and varies between 7m and 14m throughout the year.  During our visit, it had a peaceful, still atmosphere which I would love to experience again, maybe even in the warm season to see the wonderful colours of the water and moss complementing the red volcanic rock of the caldera!

Faxi waterfall:  Faxi or Vatnsleysufoss waterfall is located on the Tungufljót river and is a striking natural wonder that glistened magically in the mid-morning sunlight for us.  At 80m wide and 7m high, Faxi had a humble charm about it and a prettiness that has remained in my mind.

Geysir Geothermal area:  This was our longest stop of the day as it included lunch and the extra time meant that we were able to slowly walk around the geothermal field and witness some impressive hot spring action!  It is believed that the entire field has a surface area of 3km², but most of the springs are aligned along a 100m wide strip.  The Great ‘Geysir’ is a large hot spring in this area and gives its name to hot springs all over the world – the name is actually derived from the Old Norse Icelandic verb geysa, meaning “to gush”Although Geysir is relatively inactive itself anymore, he was once a powerful marvel, reaching heights of 170m at one point, but as our guide explained “he is now in retirement”… but just as magnificent as ever!

‘Strokkur’ is now the most energetic spring in Iceland.  It spouts every ten minutes (or less as we saw it occur several times) and generally reaches between 10m and 20m in height, yet has been known to reach 40m!  Like Geysir, Strokkur’s power has fluctuated over time.  In 1789, it began mightily spouting water, gas and steam, yet by 1830 had calmed down and actually had to be encouraged to spout by people with stones and turf!  Between 1896 (after an earthquake) and 1920, it subsided completely twice with slight activity occurring occasionally in between the years, but in 1963, on the recommendation of the Geysir committee, “a 40m deep hole was drilled from the bottom of its basin” after which it has been spouting regularly ever since.

As well as the spectacular geysers, we also saw smaller bubbling hot springs, mud pots and steam eruptions from fumaroles.  Once again, the blue sky, snow and this time ice made for some awesome bright and reflective photographs, but it also meant that these natural sights were accompanied by sights of people sliding in slow motion and slipping over, so if you do visit in winter and want to remain upright (like Ed and I managed to) either take in the surroundings calmly by walking slowly or as the signs suggest in certain areas, wear crampons!

Gullfoss waterfall:  Of the locations on the Golden Circle tour, Gullfoss or the ‘Golden’ Waterfall (which gives the tour its name) is probably the most famous.  It has been named as one of the world’s top ten waterfalls and in 1979, officially became a nature reserve to permanently protect it and to allow visitors to safely enjoy the impressive site and sight.  Being the largest volume fall in Europe, Gullfoss has an average flow of 1400m³/s in the summertime and 80m³/s in the wintertime, which cascades down 32m in two stages into a commanding canyon (70m high and 2.5km long) below.  This canyon “was created at the end of the Ice Age by catastrophic flood waves and is lengthened by 25cm (9.8in) a year by the constant erosion from the water”.

As we visited the majestic Gullfoss in November, a lot of the ‘falling’ water was actually frozen mid-flow, which looked absolutely amazing and dreamlike in the ambient amber light of the setting sun!  I was interested to later learn that a waterfall freezes in such a way because the flow of water ‘supercools’ (experiences a temperature less than its freezing point without becoming a solid) and consequently slows down which causes the water molecules to stick together and form tiny, solid particles of ‘frazil ice’.  There are three vantage points from which the waterfall can be viewed (the lowest of which was closed whilst we were there for safety as it was very slippy), so we were able to get a clear look at this well known beautiful area of nature.

Þingvellir:  ‘Thingvellir’ National Park or ‘Parliament Plains’ was our final stop of the tour, and what an awe-inspiring stop it was!  On the way there, our guide explained that the Alþing general assembly was established around 930 AD and the Icelandic parliament continued to assemble at Þingvellir until 1798 to have important discussions and plan significant events.  Even today, the people of Iceland meet there for special occasions and dates, so it has become “a protected national shrine” and was accepted on the World Heritage list for its cultural values in 2004.  “The Environmental Policy of the Thingvellir National Park was approved by the Thingvellir Committee to ensure that the internal work of the national park is in accordance with the management plan of the park and to make sure that the actions of the park are environmentally responsible”.

The Thingvellir National Park is part of a “fissure zone” that runs through Iceland and is situated on the tectonic plate boundaries of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge (the boundary between the North American and the Eurasian tectonic plates).   There was so much to see – mountains, trees, rocky cliffs and valleys, all of which were covered in crisp, white snow.  It was simply breathtaking – reminiscent of vintage Christmas card scenes!  I feel that a whole day could definitely be spent there, so I would love to go back and explore even further than we did.  One section would be Lake Þingvallavatn which lies partially in the National Park and sounds spectacular:  “The lake is particularly fertile and rich in vegetation, despite the very cold temperatures.  A third of the bottom area is covered by vegetation, and there is a large amount of algae.  Low-growing vegetation extends out to a depth of 10 metres while higher vegetation forms a large growing-belt to 10-30 metres deep.  A total of 150 types of plants have been found and 50 kinds of invertebrates, from the shore to the center”.

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© Þingvellir National Park, November 2017

Once we were back on the bus, our guide thought it would be apt to sing the Icelandic national anthem to us.  I had not heard it before, but apparently it is notorious for being extremely challenging to sing, due to its large vocal range of high and low registers, but she was absolutely fantastic!  A lovely end to a wonderful tour.  Back in Reykjavik, we treated ourselves to a nice warm dinner of wild mushroom soup from Svarta Kaffið, a cosy eatery which offers two soup options served in a large crusty bread roll!  We then settled down in our apartment and slept very well ready for our final day.

Sunday 26th November:  We enjoyed a relaxing morning in Reykjavik, walking around and looking in the shops for a couple of mementos.  Being Christmas time, we had learnt about the interesting Icelandic Christmas traditions and folklore which instead of Santa Claus, includes thirteen ‘Yule Lads‘ who descend from the mountains to visit the towns and “wreak mischief in the nights leading up to Christmas”, but to also leave small gifts in the shoes of good children, or potatoes for the naughty children!  We agreed that it that would be appropriate and fun to buy a bauble with a Yule Lad on, so had a read through them and chose our favourite – ‘Pottasleikir’.

“Pot Licker, the fifth one,

was a funny sort of chap.

When kids were given scrapings,

he’d come to the door and tap”.

(Excerpt from the poem “Jólasveinavísur” by Jóhannes frá Kötlum)

At 2pm we set off on our final trip in Iceland – the Blue Lagoon!  We had been keeping our eye on the weather forecast and snow was predicted for the afternoon, so we were in for a magical time.  The snow started to fall right on cue whilst we were travelling and within an hour we had arrived.  After getting changed, showering and slathering plenty of conditioner through our hair, we met at the indoor mouth of the lagoon and made our way into the mineral-rich, hot blue water, through a door and out into the open.  “The geothermal water originates 2,000 metres below the surface, where freshwater and seawater combine at extreme temperatures.  It is then harnessed via drilling holes at a nearby geothermal power plant, Svartsengi, to create electricity and hot water for nearby communities.  On its way to the surface, the water picks up silica and minerals. When the water emerges, its temperature is generally between 37°C and 40°C”.  

It was a surreal and ethereal experience – with the steam rising and snow rapidly falling, we were in a white-out for the majority of our time there, so we couldn’t really see many people, which was nice as it is a popular place, so made us feel like we were alone at times and didn’t feel busy at all.  Everyone was relaxed and quiet, so it was lovely and peaceful.  We slowly swam around, tried out the silica mud mask and chilled out in the dreamy waters.  (If you do go, look out for people with their mobile phones wrapped in plastic bags, taking selfies and holding them above their heads instead of relaxing – it’s very bizarre)!  When we were well and truly ‘pruned’, we changed back into our layers, hopped on to a Reykjavik Excursions bus and travelled back to the capital.  We had a bite to eat at Reykjavik Chips (for the second time on our trip because the chips were so amazing) and ended our visit to Iceland reinvigorated and content.

Our first trip to Iceland was amazing and certainly somewhere I would go again.  Have you been, or perhaps you are planning a trip there?  I would love to hear what you did or what you have planned!

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Big Butterfly Count Results

At the beginning of summer, I posted about the Big Butterfly Count which was held throughout July and August to gain an understanding of the health of our environment.  I took part and recorded a handful of species so was interested to see what other people had spotted when the results were recently released.

Despite the weather being poor this summer, resulting in relatively scarce numbers of butterflies, the number of participants for the survey was extremely high!  It has been reported that over 60,400 people took part – an increase of 66% compared to the 2016 count, which I think is absolutely fantastic!!  Because of this, 62,547 counts were submitted (a 64% increase on the previous year), meaning the environmental health assessment and protection plans have been helped greatly.

There were 20 target butterfly and moth species in the 2017 Big Butterfly Count and the results are as follows:

 Species

Abundance % change from 2016
1 Gatekeeper 93171 24%
2 Red Admiral 73161 75%
3 Meadow Brown 69528 -23%
4 Small White 61812 -37%
5 Large White 61064 -38%
6 Peacock 29454 1%
7 Comma 22436 90%
8 Small Tortoiseshell 20267 4%
9 Common Blue 19567 109%
10 Speckled Wood 18639 15%
11 Ringlet 18381 -57%
12 Green-veined White 16456 -38%
13 Six-spot Burnet 9517 -28%
14 Painted Lady 8737 31%
15 Large Skipper 6579 -49%
16 Holly Blue 5929 -5%
17 Small Copper 5814 62%
18 Brimstone 5281 -7%
19 Marbled White 4894 -67%
20 Silver Y 1923 -2%

The species with the highest abundance this year was the Gatekeeper.  The Comma and Common Blue also both did very well with a 90% and 109% increase compared to 2016 respectively.  However, the species I was most interested in finding out about was the Red Admiral.  I did not count any during my survey, but saw many during September and even October (so far) in different parts of the UK, more than I recall seeing before in fact, so I wasn’t surprised to learn that “numbers of this powerful, migratory butterfly soared during 2017″, and it recorded its best ever Big Butterfly Count performance!

IMG_20170924_134722_535© Red Admiral, September 2017

Whilst several species increased compared to last year’s numbers, there were of course some that did not do so well.  Counts of the three common ‘whites’ all decreased along with several others including the Ringlet and Large Skipper.  The least counted species from the target list was the Silver Y moth which saw a decrease of -2%.

With the high overall count and mixed results, it is important to remember that butterflies in the UK are still under threat from both human and natural factors.  Intensive farming, pesticides and urbanisation have all contributed to the loss of butterfly habitat, whilst summers over the last 10 years have been relatively and increasingly damper, which is not the best condition for butterflies and moths as it impacts their food sources and breeding.  This knowledge and growing awareness however, should hopefully encourage more and more people to take part in this important annual survey and ultimately build up a bigger picture of the health of our environment.

If you would like to see what species were spotted in your area, you can view the results map here.

Bees at the UoL Botanic Garden

One of my favourite local places to go for a stroll is the University of Leicester Botanic Garden.  I have frequently visited the Garden for many years and have lots of fond memories there right back to primary school!  I now work for the University and am happy to be linked to this beautiful natural space.  I am even more happy to know that the Botanic Garden is “home to almost half of the total number of bumblebee species native to Britain”.

Back in June you may have read my Bee post about their decline in the UK which is largely due to changes in agricultural practices, the removal of flowers from the landscape, the loss of habitat and exposure to harmful pesticides.  And although this general decline is occurring in bumblebee species, bee populations in the Botanic Garden are actually thriving!  Bumblebee survey and identification workshops have been held within the Garden over the last few months and the results have revealed that eleven of the twenty-four species of UK bumblebee reside there, seven of which are social bumblebees and four are cuckoo-bumbles.

I actually spotted and photographed many bees and pollinators there this summer too, which you can view on my Instagram account.

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© Pollinators at Botanic Garden

The Botanic Garden is a lovely place to visit and relax and is one of the most diverse gardens in the region with a herb garden, woodland and herbaceous borders, rock gardens, a water garden, special collections of Skimmia, Aubrieta, and hardy Fuchsia, and a series of glasshouses displaying temperate and tropical plants, alpines and succulents.  Guided tours are offered as well as education and adult learning programmes, workshops and special events such as the LRWT Wild about Gardens Week, which last year was all about bat conservation!  You can even become a Friend of the Garden to promote and support the development of the Garden’s plant collections and amenities.

The Botanic Garden is free to enter, although it does accept donations.  It is open throughout the year, seven days a week (except 25th December, 26th December and 1st January), 10.00am to 4.00pm (5.00pm in British Summer time).

Invite A Tree To Tea!

This summer, the Woodland Trust wants us to have fun with family and friends, while honouring trees for their ‘Invite a tree to tea’ event.  I was very keen to get involved and decided to share my tree-love with my work colleagues as over 1,700 trees supplied by the Woodland Trust have been planted by mainly student volunteers at the University where I work over the last three years.  Since 2014, these 1,700 trees have offset 12.5 tonnes of CO2 – the same produced by 81,315 miles driven by the average car!

Although it would have been great to work outdoors all day and have a proper party under a tree, this just wasn’t feasible, so I therefore decided to hold a ‘Tree Party’ CAKE SALE to raise vital funds for the charity’s work, helping plant native trees and protect precious woodland for people and wildlife.

I baked some black coffee and chocolate brownies as well as some leaf-shaped chocolate chip shortbread biscuits.  Some of my colleagues also donated their homemade ‘treeats’ too, which was very much appreciated!  As well as buying and eating cakes, people were also encouraged to make a ‘tree-based’ pledge to tell everyone how they plan to help or appreciate trees and woodland in the future.  These pledges included printing less to save paper, going on more woodland walks and even making monthly donations to the Woodland Trust.  In total, the cake sale made £27.50 – enough to plant nine trees, which I am very happy about!

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“We all need trees. They are essential to life. They clean our air and cool our cities. They provide homes and food for wildlife. And they are the best playgrounds. But they are facing more threats than ever before and they need us to fight for them”.

Have you held a ‘Tree Party’ this summer?  If not, there is still time – you can apply for your free fundraising picnic box and make a tree the guest of honour, or even just hold a cake sale like me!  If you would like to find out what your fundraising could go towards, you can read about the Woodland Trust’s 10 year strategy here: Join us on the Journey to 2025.

Corvids

I am a big fan of corvids and have been wanting to write a post about them for quite a while… so here it is!  I don’t have a particular story to tell, or pet crow to write about (I wish), but just wanted to share some information and my favourite facts about this particular beautiful bird family!

So first things first – which UK birds are actually in the corvid/crow family?

Carrion Crow – An all-black bird that although is known to be fearless, can actually be quite wary of humans – they will however take advantage if food is put out for them in gardens.  They are relatively solitary and can be seen alone or in pairs, but there will be several around in one area as they stay close to their roost.

Chough – A beautiful black crow with a red bill and legs!  They can be found in the west of the British Isles diving and swooping near cliff edges… in fact I saw them for the first time in 2015 around South Stack, Anglesey.

Hooded Crow – The hooded crow is closely related to the carrion crow but they have grey ‘hoods’ and are mainly distributed across in North and West of Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man.  They are more sociable than carrion crows however, so can be found feeding and ‘mixing’ together.

Jackdaw – A small, black crow with pale eyes and a characteristic silvery sheen to the back of their heads.  Jackdaws really make me smile!

Jay – Again, I saw my first jay (that I was aware of) in Anglesey.  They are shy woodland birds and do not move far from the trees.  They are very colourful with mainly pinkish-brown feathers and black-and-white wings, with eye-catching blue patches.

Magpie – A noisy bird, but so interesting to watch!  They can often be seen scavenging together or spread out across a particular area.  Magpies are very distinctive with their black-and-white plumage and long tail, which shines blue, purple and green in the sun.

Raven – Ravens are the largest member of the crow family.  They are all-black like carrion crows but have larger bills and long wings.  I have been told that you probably think you have seen a raven until you actually see one and then realise just how big they really are… and that what you saw in the past was probably just a large carrion crow!  I haven’t actually seen one in real life!

Rook – Rooks have a greyish-white face, thinner beak than a carrion crow and a peaked head.  They are sociable birds, and actually roost and feed with jackdaws.

It is good to know that all eight of these crows are RSPB green listed, meaning that they occur regularly in the UK!

chough© Chough – South Stack, Anglesey – 2015

Corvids are extremely intelligent for their size and are deemed among the most intelligent birds studied.   Some demonstrate self-awareness and even tool-making skills, which I find very exciting!  It’s not surprising though once you know that their total brain-to-body mass ratio is equal to that of great apes and cetaceans, and only slightly lower than in humans.  Amazing right!?

FUN FACTS:

  • Corvids are emotional creatures – they show happiness, sadness and anger.  They are also know to react to hunger and danger by vocalising their feelings… much like me!
  • They have brilliant memories and are masters at hiding, moving and storing food in different locations, and remembering where it all is.
  • Crows form huge roosts together where they rest in the evening, but during the day they separate into groups and tend to stay within a particular area around their roost.
  • They build fake nests in their roost to fool predators and make their colony appear bigger!  (This is one of my favourite facts that I like to tell people).
  • Ravens can be taught to speak basic human language!  Check out Mischief the raven!

Do you have any interesting facts or stories about crows that you would like to share?

Big Butterfly Count

Tomorrow is the start of this year’s ‘Big Butterfly Count‘ – a nationwide survey (and the world’s largest butterfly survey) held by the British charity, Butterfly Conservation and Waitrose, to gain an understanding of the health of our environment.  Counting butterflies helps determine natural health as they “react very quickly to change in their environment which makes them excellent biodiversity indicators“.  If we begin to see a reduction in butterfly numbers and/or species, it could warn us of other wildlife declines.

To take part, you simply have to count the butterflies that you see in any location within a 15 minute time period.  Like the Big Garden Birdwatch, if you are counting in a single area, you should count the maximum number of each species that you can see at a single time.  However, if you decide to count the butterflies you see on a 15 minute walk for example, then you can add up the number of each species that you come across.

Your results, even if you see no butterflies, will not only support the environmental health assessment, but also help the charity identify species’ trends and consequently develop protection plans.

To help you with your 15 minute butterfly count, you can download a useful identification chart from the Butterfly Conservation!  Once your sightings have been tallied up, you then simply have to submit your results online or via the free Big Butterfly Count app.

The Big Butterfly Count runs from Friday 14 July to Sunday 6 August, so if you find yourself with a spare 15 minutes, do something wild, get counting and have fun!

pb© Peacock Butterfly

Speak Up Week Of Action

Just a quick post for you this evening… did you know that it is Community Energy Fortnight and Speak Up Week Of Action?

Organised by The Climate Coalition, the Speak Up Week Of Action aims to raise awareness about climate change and get people from all over the country to hold events and speak up to show just how much love and care there is for our beautiful planet.

You can check if there are any events happening near you over the next few days on their event map!

If you have not already done so, I feel that this week is the perfect time to calculate your environmental carbon footprint and see if and how you can start reducing it for a future where people and nature thrive.gh

#30DaysWild Days 21-30

I had a really enjoyable #30DaysWild and hope you all did too!  I continued to complete my random acts of wildness during the final ten days of June… and here is what I did:

21. It was another hot day, so I took a stroll during my lunch break to have a look at the large pond on the park near my workplace.  I had not explored the pond for many years, so it was interesting to see how much it had changed.  There are now large amounts of aquatic plants and due to the heat on the day, hundreds of beautiful damselflies!  I was also happy to see a family of moorhens swimming around.

22. Having always welcomed in the solstices and equinoxes, I chose to do an outdoor Sun Salutation for midsummer.

23. The heatwave came to an end, so it was a rather overcast day.  Despite this, I watched the evening sky and focused on the subtle movement of the clouds and gradual change in colour.  This act of wildness brought back memories and inspiration from my university days studying Fine Art.  Feel free to have a look at my archive blog of experimentation and creation which I created during my degree.

24. It was my mother’s birthday, so my family and I went to her house for afternoon tea.  We each took a homemade cake and enjoyed the afternoon out in the garden.  My random act of wildness was taking lots of photographs of the plants and flowers in her garden.

P1030734 (2)© the Green & the Wild

25. My boyfriend and I went to an open day at Holwell Reserves, a LRWT nature reserve.  It was a lovely location and despite a spot of rain, also a lovely day.  On the drive home, we stopped off at Cossington Meadows – another LRWT reserve that we had never visited before.

26. During my lunchtime walk around Welford Road Cemetery, I spotted a grounded bumblebee.  It was a very large bee and was clearly tired and struggling to walk, let alone fly.  After a few attempts I managed to get it to climb on to the lid of my lunchbox (by lining it with dry grass for it to grip to) and gently placed it on some flowers.  It instantly began to get nectar and was soon a lot more energetic!  Here are some tips on how you can help bees at this time of year.

27. I had a surprising act of wildness on the 27th – I was walking through my local park (again) and suddenly heard loud chirping.  I looked up to see a brilliant nest box in a tree, so continued to listen to the many chicks inside.  I am not yet attuned to identifying chick chirps though, so couldn’t tell what they were… maybe one day I will be able to!?

28. I read a very interesting summary report about the Paris Agreement and 450 Scenario by the International Energy Agency.  There are several other publications on their website which you can download here.

29. I subscribed to the BTO, Butterfly Conservation, WWT and Plantlife.  I am looking forward to receiving monthly updates and information from them.

30. As I spent the day travelling to Brugge, I utilised my time well by doing a bit of bird spotting whilst waiting at several train stations.  At one point, I saw what I believed to be a pair of goldfinches gripping onto and pecking at a stone wall – strange behaviour that I had not seen before (especially from goldfinches).  I have since found out that seed eating birds do in fact sometimes eat mortar from walls for the grit it contains to help with digestion.  Awesome!

Now that this year’s #30DaysWild challenge is complete, it is important that we continue to #StayWild.  I certainly did in Brugge (hence the delay in blogging about my final ten days)… and one of my favourite wild things I did there was spot and photograph several red-tailed bumblebees – a species I had not seen up-close before!

rtb© the Green & the Wild

Did you enjoy #30DaysWild this year?  How do you plan to #StayWild?

#30DaysWild Days 11-20

June seems to be flying by… and I have another ten random acts of wildness to write about!  The majority this time unintentionally ended up being bird-themed.

11. It had been a while since I had been on a decent walk, so my boyfriend and I visited Dovedale in the Peak District.  As soon as we started our walk, a grey wagtail hopped on the path in front of us with a beak full of midges, flew up onto a branch at eye level and stayed there long enough for us to get a good look and some grainy phone photographs (neither of us had taken our proper cameras)!!  I was very excited as it was the first grey wagtail I had seen (that I am aware of) and I had been admiring them on Springwatch the week before.  The yellow of it’s underside was so bright and beautiful!

Grey wagtails unfortunately have a red status with the RSPB – red is the highest conservation priority, with species needing urgent action.

12. I decided to have a lunchtime stroll and watch magpies!  I am very fond of magpies, their large nests, their distinctive call… and always salute if I see one on it’s own.  There are often large numbers of magpies near my work and on this particular day, I noticed that there was something unusual about one.  After a while, I realised that it looked smaller and didn’t have a long tail – it was a lovely little juvenile exploring the ground!

13. I planted some chilli seeds back in April and as they had grown into two-inch tall seedlings, I re-potted them and gave some away to my family.

14. It was a lovely hot day (the beginning of the ‘heatwave’) and I had planned to visit my friend for the evening.  I chose to walk to her house via a conservation area, one of 24 in my city.  “Conservation areas are parts of the city that have been designated for their special historical or architectural quality.  They are areas where the preservation or enhancement of the unique townscape is particularly important and they add much to the city in terms of attractive living environments, historical and cultural significance and high quality design”.  Buildings and developments are controlled to preserve their character and appearance, the demolition of buildings is controlled and I am glad that trees are also protected in the conservation areas.

15. As some of you may have seen, there was a fascinating section on Springwatch about soundscapes and acoustic niche hypothesis which you can read about here.  I thought the idea of ‘Soundscape Ecology’ was brilliant and consequently listened to the soundscape of my back garden.

16. I have loved bird-watching since 2015 when I stayed in a lovely cottage in Anglesey.  It had its own woodland, a garden full of bird feeders and as a result, lots of amazing birds, including a great spotted woodpecker and a jay!  I have since spotted and watched many birds, so decided to treat myself to a little British birds Spotting & Jotting Guide by Matt Sewell, who just so happens to be one of my favourite illustrators too!

17. It was a Wildlife Weekend at Bradgate Park in Charnwood Forest and I went bat detecting!  The park usually closes just before dusk, but it was opened up at 9:30pm especially for the 30 odd people who attended the event.  It was run by the Leicestershire and Rutland Bat Group – a voluntary organisation formed in 1984, dedicated to the conservation of bats in the two counties.  My sister and I took our own bat detectors and the group handed out several to other people.  It was a slow start, but once we reached the River Lin, which runs through the Lower Park, we picked up regular ‘calls’ and detected several common pipistrelles, soprano pipistrelles, one or two Daubenton’s bats and noctules, which I was very pleased with, particularly the latter as you may remember from my post about Bat Conservation that I wanted to see one this year.

18. I spent a nice, chilled-out day in my dad’s garden, admiring the plants, flowers and of course, birds!

19. Having seen a glimpse of several ‘fork-tailed’ birds near my dad’s house, I wanted to learn how to distinguish between swifts, swallows and martins from just a silhouette.  I found a brilliant ID guide on the RSPB website but also discovered just how much swifts are in trouble.  “Their breeding numbers plummeted by 47 per cent between 1995-2014, making them an amber-listed species on the list of Birds of Conservation Concern”.  As a result, the RSPB would like to find out where swifts are seen and where they are nesting, so if you are aware of any, let them know by submitting your sightings to the Swift Survey.

20. A slow walk home from work in the heat called for a simple but pleasant act of wildness… a bit of bird identification using the BirdUp app on my phone.

What did you do for days 11-20 of #30DaysWild?

Bees

At the end of May, my grandma was lucky enough to find a bumblebee nest in her garden… in the outside wall of her house! This may sound worrying to some, but having become a member of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust in 2016 I was instantly excited and told her not to disturb it.  Bumblebees are harmless and only the females will sting if they feel threatened.  They do not cause structural damage as they use material which is already available to make their nests and they will only live for about 2 to 3 months, meaning nests are empty by late autumn.

It is brilliant being able to watch a living, working bumblebee colony as it is a well-known fact that our bumblebees are in trouble!  There are 24 species of bumblebee in the UK but many of these such as the Great yellow bumblebee which used to have a wide UK distribution, are now less common and can only found in a few locations.  Around 13 species of bee have been lost since 1900 and another 35 are considered under threat of extinction.  This decline is largely due to changes in agricultural practices, the removal of flowers from the landscape, the loss of habitat and exposure to harmful pesticides.  ‘Bees are vital to a healthy environment and healthy economy.  Around 75% of the food we eat needs to be pollinated, and bees – wild bees, not just honey bees – are major players in that job.  Bees also help keep our green spaces flourishing.  That includes gardens, parks and streets, as well as uncultivated areas like woodland, heath and grasslands’ which is why it is important that we must help to save bees and other pollinating insects! You can financially help the Bumblebee Conservation Trust in many ways but also physically get involved, perhaps as part of #30DaysWild to show your support.

You could:

  • Attend an event run by the Trust
  • Make a bee-waterer
  • Plant bee-friendly flowers and other plants in your garden
  • Become a ‘BeeWalker
  • Or even take part in the Great British Bee Count

The Great British Bee Count has been set up by ‘Friends of the Earth’ and lasts until 30th June this year, so you still have time to take part.  All you have to do is download the free Great British Bee Count app and get counting.  The app will help you identify and record different species, whilst your recordings will help experts build an understanding of species, distribution and how bees are getting on in the UK in general.  Eventually, the information that is collected will be shared with other expert researchers, government ecologists and ‘environmental decision-makers’, even go towards conservation programmes and of course the future protection of our pollinators!

The Bumblebee Conservation Trust has some brilliant information about how to identify bees and also has some lovely illustrations on their website of the UK’s most common bumblebees.

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© I took this photograph at Middleton Lakes RSPB reserve in 2016.

Have you spotted any rare bees this year so far, or are you lucky enough to have a bumblebee nest in your garden?  I would love to know!