Winter and Spring

It has been a little while since my last post, but over winter and spring I have continued to get out and about to different nature reserves, arboretums and gardens, have been on numerous wild walks and have taken photographs of plants and nature whenever I can.  I even saw my first starling murmuration at Attenborough Nature Reserve at the end of last year.  It was breathtaking!

Of course, I have also been following Leicester’s pair of peregrine falcons and was impressed to see that the female laid a clutch of five eggs this year… three of which hatched in early May.  The fantastic Leicester Peregrine Project, which is run by the Leicestershire and Rutland Ornithological Society and supported by Leicester City Council and Leicester Cathedral, continues and as usual the nest cameras are live (a third camera angle has recently been added, showing the whole box) and their detailed commentary is updated daily, which I highly recommend having a look at.  The adults have been doing a great job so far with feeding and protecting the chicks, who are growing quickly and getting pretty active!

Whilst I have been enjoying nature as much as possible over winter and spring so far, I always look forward to The Wildlife Trusts’ #30DaysWild challenge as it encourages me to do more and share my experiences.  As I have for the last three years, I will once again be taking part this June and you can join in too by signing up to receive a free pack of goodies and inspiration here.  I have a few wild ideas in mind already, so can’t wait to get started and read what wild things others get up to throughout the month (and beyond).


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!

#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…

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.

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.


#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.


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!


Unleash Your Wild Side For #30DaysWild

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!

30DAYSWILD_ID2 lightorange_preview

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

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 entry into 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!

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 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”.

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 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!

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

#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?

#30DaysWild Days 1-10

It is the 10th June today, meaning we are a third way through #30DaysWild.  Like last June, it has been a relatively rainy month so far, but I have managed to do my ten random acts of wildness:

1. I signed up for two online environmental courses through FutureLearn.  ‘Extinctions: Past and Present’ which starts on the 19th June.  This course is run by the University of Cape Town and will explore how life on earth has been shaped by five mass extinction events in the distant past and the crisis that biodiversity is currently facing.  The second course is ‘Elements of Renewable Energy’ which starts later in the year with the Open University.  I will be studying renewable energy using the four Greek elements: Earth –the Earth’s renewable energy sources, Air – wind power, Fire – the direct power of the Sun and finally, Water – hydropower.  I am very much looking forward to these, particularly the latter as on the 7th June 2017 the National Grid reported that power from wind, solar, hydro and wood pellet burning supplied 50.7% of UK energy – more than half of UK electricity for the first time!

2. One of my favourite lunch-time spots to visit when I am at work is Welford Road Cemetery.  It is designated as a Local Wildlife Site and is actually listed Grade 2 in the English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens, so it is used by many as a ‘park’.  I spent by lunch break walking around the cemetery, taking in the views and spotting plenty of wild animals.

3. Although I love to be outdoors, I have got to admit that I am a bit of a shade-hunter… but I decided to make the most of the sun and actually stayed out in it all afternoon painting my Grandma’s shed.  I, of course, wore plenty of sun-cream and a rather fetching hat!

4. Last year, I grew my own tomatoes for the first time and absolutely loved it!  The plants were still going strong well in to October and I ended up making tomato chutney for Christmas!  I decided not to grow any from seed this year as I only have a small yard and one suitable windowsill which has been taken up by chilli seedlings for a couple of months, but I was given some large tomato seedlings ready to plant out, so that’s what I did – replanted them in a grow-bag in my garden.

5. I have recently become a voluntary ‘Positive Impact Coordinator’ for the Environment Team at the University where I work.  As part of my role, I organised a ‘Fruit & Veg cake sale’ in my office and also volunteered on the main cake stall at the annual Sustainability Festival.  The event fell on World Environment Day and aimed to raise awareness of sustainable lifestyles whilst raising money for The Real Junk Food Project Leicester.  The main event raised £60 and I managed to raise another £40 for them from my cake sale!


These are just some of the cakes that my workmates and I baked.  The idea was that they each contained either a fruit or vegetable and at least one fair trade or ethically sourced ingredient.  I made savoury cheese and courgette muffins and chocolate, carrot and cinnamon cupcakes with chocolate cinnamon buttercream!

6. I had quite a busy day, but managed to share some of my favourite wildlife footage from live cameras with my family and friends.

7. For a few weeks now, I have noticed a row of ants keeping busy at the bottom of some outdoor steps at work.  The numbers have gradually been increasing and on the 7th I noticed that there were a lot more than I had previously seen, so watched and studied their actions for quite a while!

8. It was raining on and off, but having not spent much time outdoors recently, I decided it was time to do a random act of wildness in the fresh air!  Luckily I managed to get out on my lunch break during a dry spell and walk around a local park.

9. A nice simple random act of wildness for the 9th.  I gave my workmate two tomato plants that were going spare.  I will definitely be asking for updates on their progress over the summer!

10. I sowed a virtual seed for Grow Wild!  Grow Wild is the national outreach initiative of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and is supported by the Big Lottery Fund.  It is the UK’s biggest ever wild flower campaign and by sowing a virtual seed we can all help raise awareness of the importance of wild flowers and their impact on our well-being.  So join me and the 20,385 other people so far by sowing a virtual seed too!

Throughout the last ten days I have also been continuing to check the NTU peregrine falcon live stream footage, which has become less active as the chicks become more and more independent and of course, I have been watching Springwatch!  It has been brilliant seeing so many animals raising their young, watching wild birds fledge (including some jays) and learning how different birds and raptors nest!  I absolutely love the kestrel nest in the side of Sherborne village church – it looks cosy, sheltered and gets lit up beautifully by the sun at times.  

(Video from the Springwatch Facebook page)

One of my favourite stories on Springwatch so far has got to be the Salisbury Cathedral peregrines fostering an orphaned chick.  It began with three peregrine chicks having to be rescued from a nest in Shropshire after the parent birds were found illegally killed!  As a result, the orphaned chicks were fostered into carefully-selected nests in the wild – two went to a nest in the Midlands, and the third chick was fostered in the Salisbury Cathedral nest, which is currently being filmed and shown on Springwatch.  The footage of the orphaned chick meeting the single chick at Salisbury Cathedral, snuggling down together, being instantly fed by the adult female and being accepted by both adults as their own was a joy to watch!  You can read more about the story here.