Big Butterfly Count 2018

If you didn’t know already, the Big Butterfly Count is once again running this month until the 12th August.

I have noticed a lot more butterflies (particularly whites) flying around this summer compared to last year, so thought the count would be a great way of noting and identifying what I see.  I chose to do my fifteen minute count on a walk around my local cemetery, which I have written about numerous times!  It is a lovely old grade II listed site, which is no longer used for new burials but is open all year round for visitors to walk around the 12+ hectares and admire the wildflower areas which are there to “maintain and protect a decreasing inner-city habitat and monitor native flora and fauna within the cemetery”.  I therefore thought that this would be an ideal area for counting butterflies!

The idea behind the survey is that you count the highest number of one species you see at the same time (if you are in one spot like a garden) or if on a walk like I was, then to add up the number of each butterfly species that you see during the 15 minutes.  I started by heading towards a large patch of lavender as I knew there would be several there and as anticipated there were quite a few, but not as many as the bees – of which there must have been at least 70!  It was a wonderful sight to see, after having seen so many struggling in the heat this year.

Anyway, the first butterfly I saw was a pretty little Common Blue, followed quickly by many Whites (my ID skills led me to settle on 14x Large and 8x Small).  These were mainly in pairs.  I then walked back via a shaded area to see what else I could count and I managed to spot 6x Speckled Wood butterflies and a further two orangey-brown medium butterflies fluttering in a spiral together, but they were too quick to identify so I did not log those.

It is a really enjoyable activity to do on your own or with others, whether it be during your lunch break, on the way to work and when you are out and about at the weekend.  City or countryside, it doesn’t matter – all you need is the free app or the handy identification chart and something to note down your sightings to log online.  If you would like to take part, you can find out more about the project here.  In the meantime, why not check out my post about last year’s results!

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#30DaysWild Days 21-30

Well hasn’t it been a fantastic #30DaysWild?  I have really enjoyed taking the time to recognise how I connect with nature on a daily basis and pushing myself to do more.  The final ten days presented us with some lovely weather, and although at times it has been ‘too hot to handle’, I made the most of it for my final random acts of wildness…
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21.  The summer solstice meant that it was the longest day of the year.  At around 10pm it was still really light outside, but I noticed the moon was bright and beautiful.  I therefore grabbed my binoculars and did some moon-gazing.  Even with a pair of binoculars you can see craters and the distinctive ‘seas’.

22. I spent some time at my Grandma’s house in the afternoon before going for afternoon tea with her, my mum and sister.  Whilst I was there, we watched her garden birds and I topped up her new bird table with seeds and mealworms (which had all gone when we returned from our tea).

23. Saturday was spent at my in-laws house.  They had blue tits nesting in one of their birdhouses this year for the first time, and throughout May their eggs hatched and we could hear the chicks chirping as the adults went back and forth with little green caterpillars.  They hoped they would see them fledge before they went away on holiday at the beginning of June, but unfortunately they didn’t time it right.  We discussed the birds, when and how the fledging would have happened and are now hoping more nest there next year for us all to see!

24. It was my mum’s 60th birthday, so we had planned a lovely garden gathering to celebrate the day.  We literally spent all day outside relaxing in the wonderful sun (protected of course).  It was a very nice day indeed.

25. About two months ago, I was gardening and found a moth pupa under an upside down plant pot that I moved.  I left the pupa where it was and found it the next day half buried in the soil.  I kept checking on it, where it remained in the soil for weeks.  I couldn’t identify it so had no idea how long it was meant to be there for or if I would ever find out what sort of moth is was…

Then, last Monday evening (25th June) I went outside to see if it was okay in the heat and noticed the pupa now on top of the soil.  I hoped a cat hadn’t fatally dug it up… but then something caught my eye on the fence about 40cm away from the case!  A beautiful olive and pink Elephant Hawk-moth!!!  It stayed still for a few minutes and then it’s wings began to vibrate (which I managed to record).  I stayed and watched it until it flew off to start it’s new life as a moth.

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© Elephant Hawk-moth, June 2018 – the Green & the Wild

26. It was a very busy day at work, but I made sure I left the office and had some time outside.  I walked to the park during my lunch hour and sat in the shade for a bit, watching the trees moving lightly in the breeze.

27. I planted a few sunflower seeds back in May, but as soon as the shoots started appearing, they were eaten by slugs!  A few weeks ago I read about a clever ‘hack’ and thought I would give it a go.  I found a recycled plastic bottle, cut it in half around the middle, added some holes and then covered one of the remaining seedlings with it.  The idea was that over the next couple of weeks this would act as a little ‘greenhouse’ as well as keeping pests away… and it actually worked!  I was able to remove it on the 27th as the plant had reached the top and another had also started to grow with it.  I separated these to avoid competition, so hopefully I will have at least one sunflower by the end of summer.

28. I have a half an hour walk each way to and from work every day, which is great for my fitness but can easily become repetitive and not pleasant when there is a lot of traffic and noise on the roads next to me.  On the 28th I had the opportunity to walk in from a different direction, across a sun-dappled park and enjoyed the peace and quiet very much!

29. Another thing I noticed on my usual route home (near the main roads) was just how much litter there was hidden in the long grass alongside the pavement!  My attention was drawn to it as a teenager was kicking a plastic bottle along the floor and instead of picking it up, decided to do a final big kick into the grass.  As soon as I got home, I looked online for local litter picking groups I could join and found the #LitterHeroes via Keep Britain Tidy where you can find events in your area, get advice and support on organising your own litter-pick and access Keep Britain Tidy resources.  I have signed up and will keep my eye open for local events.

30. My back yard is canopied by a lovely big tree, so I was able to comfortably keep out of the sun and spend some of the morning doing a bit of gardening and generally neatening up the outside area.

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…And They’re Off…

As you may have read in my previous blog post, there has been some good news – the Leicester juvenile peregrines have both successfully left the nest.  The female left first on the 15th June at 17:43 and landed safely after a quick jump, flapping and tumble (I love how her sibling runs into shot after the fall)!  The male then had a nice elegant take-off on the 16th June at 05:18.  They have since both been spotted around the cathedral and on nearby roofs, often still sitting together.  I went into town on the 20th and could see a peregrine falcon near the top of the cathedral spire.  It did look smaller than when I have viewed the adults before, and also from what I could see looked slightly darker on the chest – so I would like to think it was one of the youngsters, but I didn’t have my binoculars with me so could not be sure… it may well have been the adult male.

Throughout June, I continued to watch them grow on the live cameras and as expected in my last post about them, the final stage of development was very quick indeed.  Their body feathers replaced their white ‘fluff’ within days, they were frequently exploring, sitting on the ledge, flapping their wings and running around the nest box – even taking prey items and feeding themselves!  At some point during the month, I thought one of them had left the nest as every time I checked, I could only see one.  Upon close examination, I eventually saw the edge of some feathers near the bottom of the screen and realised that they had found a hiding place out of shot, under the camera.  They also liked to sit in front of the pillar, but their shadows gave that hiding place away!

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I have really enjoyed watching the Leicester peregrines and sharing their journey with you, and thank Jim Graham for keeping the written commentary up to date on the official website!  Hopefully the juveniles will soon go their separate ways and have families of their own in the future, and as they have been ringed we may even find out what they get up to, or at least where they go.  The adults are likely to return to this nest next year, so fingers crossed for more successful breeding.

To end their story for this year, here’s a lovely image of the two juveniles together on the 14th June, the day before the first flight…

l25Stills taken from Leicester Peregrines live cameras (a collaboration between LROS and LCC).

#30DaysWild Days 11-20

Another ten days of #30DaysWild have been and gone, and I have continued to stay wild throughout.  I have been enjoying the steady weather and as it gets warmer this coming week, I expect that a lot of people will do some lovely outdoor random acts of wildness to complete the challenge!  So what have I been up to?…
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11. I have noticed again this year that there are several swifts flying around my area, which is fantastic as swifts are an amber-listed species since their breeding numbers decreased by 51% in the UK between 1995 and 2015!  I love to hear their distinctive screaming call in the mornings and evenings, and it was particularly noticeable on the 11th along with house sparrow songs and calls.  On my way to work, I paid close attention, listened to them for longer than usual and spotted a lot of the sparrows flying into their nests in local house eaves and guttering!

12. A simple but calming act was getting some fresh air by going on a lunchtime walk to break up my day.

13. My partner and I strolled around our favourite local cemetery and played ‘name that bird’ to test our bird call knowledge.  We also saw a cute baby squirrel and some awesome fungi growing on a tree.

14. To help further reduce my plastic usage, I bought a lunch bag made from recycled plastic bottles (to use when I don’t use my bento box) along with a fantastic picnic bag and large shopping bag also made from recycled plastic bottles!

15. After booking the day off work, my partner and I were happy to wake up to a warm day, perfect for a trip to Hunstanton or ‘sunny Hunny’.  It was just lovely to relax outdoors and walk along the beach.

16. I took action and ordered myself a vegan, biodegradable bamboo toothbrush (which has since arrived and is great)!  In the evening I went on a Wildlife Weekend Bat Walk hosted by Leicestershire & Rutland Bat Group and Bradgate Park Trust.  Led by local specialists, we had an informative walk around Bradgate Park and actually detected quite a few bats – which like last year were common pipistrelles, soprano pipistrelles and Daubenton’s.

17. After treating my dad to breakfast for Father’s Day, we visited good old Leicester Botanic Garden for a walk and of course to take some photographs of the wonderful array of plants.  I also discovered #wildflowerhour which encourages people to share photos between 8-9pm every Sunday of the flowers they have found growing wild in Britain and Ireland during the week.

18. My partner and I extended our weekend even more with a trip to Stratford-upon-Avon where we went rowing down the river and saw lots of beautiful creatures including moorhens, coots, ducks, swans, geese and stunning damselflies (possibly ‘beautiful demoiselles’).

19. Having seen a lot of articles about National Insect Week I was happy to read that the 2018 Photography Competition is now open.  “To take part, all you have to do is to take photographs of an insect or a group of insects and submit the images using the online submission form”.  I better get looking through my photographs!

20. I was pleased to learn that the Leicester juvenile peregrines had successfully fledged on the 15th and 16th June, so I took a couple of my friends to the cathedral to see if we could spot them.  There was definitely a peregrine falcon perched near the top of the spire, and from the size and colouring I could see, I think it may have actually been one of the youngsters.

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#30DaysWild Days 1-10: Flower Power

The first ten days of #30DaysWild have been lovely.  My random acts of wildness have been gentle, calming and have allowed me to slow down and take time for myself.  Flowers have been prevalent during this first third of the challenge, as well as personal learning, which I believe is very important.

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1. To begin the month, I planted the #30DaysWild biodegradable paper flowers which are full of wildflower seeds, in my garden.  I am looking forward to seeing what grows.

2. On my walk home from work I spotted some eye-catching flowers growing at the edge of the pavement across the street.  They were pink and yellow and reminded me of rhubarb and custard sweets.  I took some photographs on my phone and then did some investigating and was able to ID them as Snapdragons!  This has inspired me to start learning how to identify flowers, I would love to be able to walk along and name the different flowers I see.

IMG_20180601_172116607_3© Snapdragons – the Green & the Wild

3. We had been planning for a while to take my grandma to Leicester Botanic Garden, as she had not been there for years.  Finally the weather was ideal enough for a visit, so my grandma, mum, boyfriend and I spent the afternoon there taking photographs, admiring the insects and of course, beautiful array of flowers.

4. To help with my flower ID mission and also relax me in the evenings, I bought a Kew Gardens dot-to-dot book.  It is based on original artworks and includes colour plates to help learn and accurately colour in the final drawings.

5. I have been out in my yard a few times with my bat detector this season, but have failed to pick up any echolocation signals.  I decided to try again on the 5th, but still nothing!  Last year I detected some pipistrelles flying above my house and the tree in my garden, but not very frequently so perhaps it’s simply down to timing.

6. After seeing puffins for the first time on Skomer Island back in May, I have fallen in love with them and keep seeing fantastic photos and learning things about them online.  Some of the information I read encouraged me to do my own research and three of my favourite puffin facts are:

  • Puffins usually pair up with the same partner every breeding season and may be together for 20 years!
  • In winter, puffins orange feet fade and they shed their outer colourful bills, leaving smaller, duller ones behind.  The colour grows back and returns ready for the next breeding season.
  • When it is not breeding season, puffins live out at sea for the rest of the year – floating on the waves, swimming and diving for small fish.

7. I decided to get learning again and do some more online environmental courses, so signed up to three on Futurelearn:

  • Unleash Your Potential: Sustainable Futures with the University of Bristol.  Through this I will learn about the sustainability challenges of the modern world, and ways in which I can make a positive contribution to society.
  • Citizen Science: Living Soils, Growing Food with the University of Dundee.  Through this I will learn about approaches to food growing that can help regenerate soil and solve environmental issues.
  • And in August I will start Concepts in Sustainable Development: An Introduction to the Key Issues with the University of Leicester, which will enable me to explore some of the key issues in sustainability, tackling the big questions with examples from around the world.

8. I ordered a free Guide to Animal Kindness from the RSPCA.  It is full of inspiration and ideas of how to be and encourage others to be #AnimalKind, such as picking up litter to prevent injuries or making your garden wildlife friendly.

9. I sowed a virtual seed with Grow Wild to pledge my support and help raise awareness of the importance of wild flowers and their impact on our wellbeing.  This year my seed ended up being a Ribwort Plantain.  Join me and sow a virtual seed too – you will be able to view the map and see how many other people have taken action to transform your area as well as the rest of the UK.

10. A splendid Sunday morning called for an outdoor stroll.  We thought it would be nice to have a walk around Thornton reservoir, but upon arrival realised that everyone else thought that too which meant there was nowhere to park!  We continued driving until we found a nice park, small woods and old village where we were able to get some fresh air!

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Leicester Cathedral Chicks

It has been a busy three and a half weeks at the top of Leicester Cathedral, with the resident Peregrine pair doing a great job at raising their chicks.  They have been back and forth with a good supply of prey items, feeding, stashing leftovers and generally protecting the chicks.  For a couple of weeks, the final egg remained in the nest, but on the 21st May I noticed that it had finally been broken and eaten.

With all the attention on just two chicks, the adults have been able to work well as a team so far, which as you can see is paying off as the chicks are growing well and looking very healthy!  Feather tips are quite noticeable now on their wings and tails, and they are becoming a lot more independent.  They are even walking around and sitting on the ledge!

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

On the 24th May, the chicks were colour-ringed by licensed ringers to help identify them this season as well as in the future when they have fledged and matured.  It’s nice to know that the siblings have also been sexed provisionally as one female and one male – how lovely!

This coming week, I expect to see a lot more body feathers push through their down, along with their wings begin to look larger and fuller.  The chicks should also open their wings more often and start running around the nest box and ledge.

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

 

Unleash Your Wild Side For #30DaysWild

sky @happy hippy d_preview

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 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