#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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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)

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

#30DaysWild Days 21-30

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

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

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

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

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

P1030734 (2)© the Green & the Wild

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

rtb© the Green & the Wild

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

The Major Oak

It has been a busy few months, but recently ‘the Green & the Wild’ has been calling… so here I am, ready to write about the beautifully fading green and welcomed wildlife of Autumn and Winter in the UK.

I awoke this past Sunday to a lovely, crisp, blue-skied morning – the ideal day for a ramble outdoors.  Hoping for a day like this, my partner Ed and I had bought some picnic food and planned to drive to Sherwood Forest after having seen the magical ‘Major Oak’ tree on television a few weeks before.  I was amazed that I had not heard of ‘Britain’s Favourite Tree’ before, and living only a 90 minute drive away, Ed was equally as amazed that I had never visited it as a child, as he had done several times.

After a simple, pleasant drive, we arrived at Sherwood Forest Visitor Centre car park, where we paid our £3 parking fee (very reasonable we thought) and headed for the map to get our bearings.  There were three different marked routes through the forest to pick from, each of varying length, so we opted for the two hour walk… but first the Major Oak!  A five minute stroll took us straight to the 800+ year old Oak, which like a wise old man full of stories and memories, stood, resting on several stilts.  I spent a good while studying it’s branches, golden leaves and aged bark, picturing the hundreds of years of change that had taken place to it and the surrounding forest – my own imagined time lapse.

“Due to its national importance, conservation measures to the tree have been carried out continually since 1908” which is very important as despite it’s age and hollow core, the Major Oak still supports a variety of insects and creatures.  Jackdaws nest there, Winter Moth Caterpillars take nutrients from the leaves and in turn provide food for Blue Tits and their chicks.  In Autumn, Squirrels forage for the tree’s precious acorns, but not only them – rangers also collect and plant the acorns “so even though the Major might be nearing the end of its life, its descendants live on” – how lovely is that!?

The two hour walk that followed was just as wonderful and awe-inspiring.  It was a pleasure spending time amongst so many veteran trees and walking across nature’s different carpets, from dark-leaf mud to freshly fallen yellow paths, all glittered with the delicate warmth and light of autumnal sunbeams.

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© the Green & the Wild

Find out more about Sherwood Forest and the Major Oak here.

30 Days Wild 11-20

June has not been the warm, sunny month I had hoped for, but it has not stopped me from going wild for the #30DaysWild challenge.  Not all of my activities have been outdoors, but I have certainly been learning a lot and developing an interest in new topics.

11. I did some extensive reading on the subject of Habitat Management in the UK, including general principles, management planning, surveying, monitoring and research.

12. I watched some fantastic LIVE wildlife footage online.  I tend to go into a different world when I do this and feel so close to the creatures I am watching.

13. A creative act of wildness! I added this British Wildflower drawing to my sketchbook:

P1060325.JPG

© the Green & the Wild

14. I withdrew some ‘wild’ books from the library: ‘Why Big Fierce Animals are Rare’, ‘Managing Habitats for Conservation’ and ‘British Plant Communities – Woodlands and Scrubs’.

15. I once again embraced the rain and this time stood outside in it (under an umbrella) for over a hour and actually felt very content.

16. Once the patio had dried, I did a Sun Salutation yoga sequence in my garden.

17. After getting rid of an aphid-infested plant, there had been a gap for something new in my garden, so as a slight experiment, I planted a cutting from an unknown plant that someone gave me.  Lets hope it grows and turns into something beautiful.

18. I visited one of my favourite places in my city for a peaceful walk – the University of Leicester Botanic Garden. With their extensive collection of plants and wildlife, I managed to take a few decent photos too.

19. I relived my childhood by spotting and catching little frogs with my dad and sister in her new garden.

20. As I am starting a new job at a university next month, I am eager to get involved with as much as I can, so I contacted Hungry for Change – a growing project that aims to change the way staff and students think about what they’re eating and why.  It has a 40m x 40m plot including 9 large raised beds, a huge herb bed, a soft fruit area teaming with different fruit bushes, a 22m edible hedge, a 12ft greenhouse and a south facing wall complete with cordon apple trees and their very own Fig tree.  I will be meeting with the Project Coordinator in the next couple of weeks and will hopefully have some interesting experiences and developments to blog about in the future!