Skomer Island

In mid May, I went on a mini ‘road trip’ through Wales with my partner, Ed.  For the first half of our trip we stayed near Betws-y-Coed in Snowdonia.  We explored the local area, beautiful woodlands, nature walks, waterfalls, stood on top of Snowdon, and had fun in the forest on the Fforest Coaster – the only Alpine Coaster of it’s kind in UK, which was absolutely fantastic!

The second part of our trip was spent in Pembrokeshire, where again we explored the local area and standing stones, but the main focus of our stay was to visit Skomer Island!  I had learnt about Skomer Island at the beginning of the year when I had researched where to see puffins in the UK, and found out that the island along with “neighbouring Skokholm Island forms the largest breeding puffin colony in Southern Britain”.  We therefore decided to base our trip around a visit there, so were very excited when the day arrived.  You cannot pre-book tickets as the boat across depends on the weather, and tickets are instead issued on a first come first serve basis, so you have got to plan the day well.  I had been checking the weather and Skomer Boat Info Twitter account all week and conditions looked good for our chosen day.  There were northerly winds the day before which meant the boat did not cross, but luckily we woke up to a clear, still day.  I had read many reviews and suggestions recommending that you arrive at Lockley Lodge (visitor centre) for around 8:00am – 8:30am to ensure you get a ticket for either the 10am, 11am or 12pm boat, so this is what we did.  The car park was already quite full when we arrived and there was a queue out of the visitor centre door, but as we got closer to the front we could hear that there were extra boat crossings, and we managed to buy our £11 landing tickets and book onto the 10:30am boat! Relief!

After a little wait and some snacks, we headed down to the ‘pick up point’ on the edge of a small cove, and hung back whilst everyone queued up.  Once we saw ‘the Dale Princess’ passenger boat coming, we joined the end of the queue of fifty people and clambered on board (where you pay your boat fee of £11).  As we were last on, we actually ended up getting the best deal as we were allowed to sit at the front of the boat, which was beautiful as the water was smooth, the sky was blue and the air was fresh – what more could you ask for!?  As we approached the island, we started to see gulls, guillemots and razorbills in the water and flying past, and then we started to see puffins flying too!  I was rather elated, even at this point, so after the ten minute crossing we just so happened to be the first off the front of the boat and up the stone steps, where we were greeted by one of the wardens.  Once everyone else had climbed the steep steps, the group was given an interesting talk about Skomer Island – the wildlife, routes, conservation work and of course informed of the important rules (mainly sticking to the paths to avoid burrows), before we were free to explore.

There are several different touch-points and walking trails on the island, each offering their unique views and array of flora and fauna.  We began by heading up the centre of the island towards the Old Farm (a flat, grassy area which homes the overnight accommodation and picnic area) and within just ten minutes spotted a short-eared owl!  It stayed camouflaged on a stone wall for quite some time, before flying off over a field allowing us and a handful of other visitors to excitedly snap some photos.  Those few minutes set us up for a great day!

There was something very special about Skomer Island – I can’t really think of anywhere else where I have experienced the same atmosphere.  I think the fact that there are only three boat trips a day (up to five during peak times) with each only allowing fifty passengers to land, means that it almost feels like you are there alone, experiencing it in your own way… and then when you do find yourself in the busier spots, there is a sense of community as you are appreciating the same thing and sharing something beautiful.  During our trip, there were people there taking photographs, bird-watching, spotting species they had never seen before, even painting the landscape – and if you like those things too, it is like a dream!  During the spring and summer months, the ground is carpeted with flowers, which for us were mainly bluebells.  It was stunning!  On our way around, we saw numerous insects, rabbits, seals, even oystercatchers, and Ed saw either a dolphin or porpoise through his binoculars.  We were enjoying it so much, that after an hour we realised that we hadn’t even seen any puffins yet!  When one finally popped up, we were very excited and took lots of photographs of it looking around and flapping it’s wings, before it returned to it’s underground burrow.

Continuing anti-clockwise around the island, we remained full of awe and happiness, taking in the magical beauty.  As we approached the south of the island, we could see a gathering of people ahead, opposite the Wick – a deep cut sea cliff, so knew we were getting close to more puffins.  The cliff face was lined with hundreds of seabirds and hundreds more were flying in the valley below and resting on the water – it was like something off the television, but we were actually there!  And then, to top it off, puffins began popping up all over the place, entering and leaving their burrows (and single egg incubation duties), flying in from the sea and landing on the grass in their humorous but cute manner.  My heart was full.  We stayed there for quite some time, clicking away on our cameras and admiring their lovely little faces and webbed feet.  Of course we could have stayed there for hours, but had a bit more of the island to explore before catching our return boat at 3:30pm.

SONY DSC© The Wick – Skomer Island, May 2018.  Can you see the seabirds?

On the boat back, we were told about other trips they run – one of which was to see the Manx shearwaters.  I was amazed to learn that 90% of the world’s population of Manx shearwaters breed around UK islands and 50% of these breed on Skomer and the other Pembrokeshire islands (the largest breeding colony in the world) making them probably the most important species on Skomer!  They are a true seabird, spending most of their time out on the water (where they would have been during the day whilst we were there) and come to land to breed and nest in burrows.  It would be fantastic to stay overnight on Skomer at some point to see the shearwater colony, sunset, sunrise and other animal behaviour.

In total, including the boat journey to the island and group talk, you have five hours there, which may sound a lot, but I can honestly say that for a day trip it was the perfect amount of time to walk around the whole island, have a picnic and appreciate all of the amazing wildlife.

CHECKLIST FOR SKOMER ISLAND:

  • Camera
  • Tripod (if you like using one)
  • Binoculars
  • Walking boots
  • Backpack
  • Food
  • Water
  • Hat and sun-cream (especially if it is sunny)
  • Layers (to take on and off depending on the temperature)
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The Great British Bee Count

If you are buzzing about the start of #30DaysWild tomorrow, then here is something you can begin with!  Friends of the Earth are once again running their bee survey until the end of June, so you have 30 days to get involved.

All you have to do is download the free app, which is really easy to find, and then simply follow the steps:

  1. Wherever you are, whenever you spot a bee, open the app and click ‘submit a bee sighting’
  2. If possible, take a photo of the bee
  3. Use the ID guide in the app to find out which species of bee you have seen
  4. Record the weather and habitat that the bee is in
  5. Enter your postcode or GPS location
  6. Submit your sighting

There is clear evidence that bees are still declining, after a loss of 13 bee species in the UK since 1900!  Taking part in the Great British Bee Count can help build a detailed picture of the bee species around the country to inform the government, local authorities and researchers to make decisions and take the vital steps needed to hopefully reverse the decline.  I think this is a brilliant bit of citizen science, which not only helps wildlife, but also encourages learning and improves our identification skills and knowledge.

I have downloaded the app and will be recording my sightings throughout the #30DaysWild month.  Will you do the same?

Curb @Furygodmother_preview

 

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 nest box 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

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!

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?

Big Garden Birdwatch 2018

It’s January… the month of predicted snow showers and welcoming hygge… but also time to get your binoculars out and fill up your bird feeders, as the Big Garden Birdwatch is once again upon us!

That’s right, the RSPB is holding their annual birdwatch from 27th – 29th of this month and they want you to get involved.  You can request a FREE pack on their website now and that’s it, you will be set to take part in the world’s largest garden wildlife survey!  On your chosen day, simply get comfy in your garden, a room with a good view outside, your local park or green space and count the birds that you see in a single hour, making sure you jot down the maximum number of each species you see at any one time.  Once the hour is up, you will then have to log your results on the Big Garden Birdwatch website or post your paper form (within three weeks) for the RSPB to collate and analyse!

By taking part in the Big Garden Birdwatch, you will play a vital role in the health of the UK’s wildlife and even help “change the fortunes of an entire species“.  There’s nothing to lose!  Last year around 500,000 people took part in the birdwatch and I think we can beat that amazing figure this year – so join me in being a citizen scientist and request your pack today!

Gardens can prove a real life-saver for birds at this time of year, especially when it is frosty or snowy“, so if you are eager to count lots of birds during the survey and need some inspiration on how to attract them into your garden during the cold months (as well as all year round), check out the RSPB’s gardening tips!

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© Chaffinch.  One of the many birds I spotted near my local brook last Autumn.  2017.

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 can be found on the website (and 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).