Friday, 27 October 2017

Post 477 - A happy return to Haggewoods

Removing Deer guards
Hey everyone, Post 477 today and a quick one about a lovely morning I had revisiting a place I wrote about back in Post 410. It's a great project just south of York - Three Hagges Wood Meadow - essentially since 2010 they've turned an old barley field into a completely new and brilliant habitat, a wood meadow. It's now so full of wildlife and insects it's amazing. Even today, almost in November, there was lots to see.

I went along to do a bit of volunteering for the morning. A small group of us took some deer guards off a few rows of young trees that will be forming some hedges. That was quite tricky as you had to cut the guards off around all of the branches that had grown through them, but we managed.

Raking mown grass
The next job was raking up and collecting some of the grass that had been mown off of the meadow. This was hard work but nice to do in the lovely sunshine. I don't think there were any clouds about at all. It was soon too hot to have coats and jumpers on.

Sowing Yellow Rattle
It took a while to get all of the grass raked up. Dad and I did this while some of the other volunteers collected it up in wheelbarrows. The reason for doing this was to help the meadow by taking away the cuttings which reduces things like Nitrogen and Phosphorous in the soil. This makes it harder for the grass as there's not so much to feed it and that gives the wildlflowers more of a chance.

The other thing we did to give the wildflowers a chance was to sow yellow rattle seeds. This is a plant that also makes life harder for the grasses, it's a sort of a parasite and weakens the grass again giving the wild flowers more of a chance to get going. Well it didn't seem to take long for the morning to go, it was lovely being out in the meadow in the sunshine.

A young Toad
After that we went back to the table by the volunteer hut to have a chat. The main reason I went down was that I was invited by Rosalind one of the people who's developed the Hagges Wood project, who wanted to have a chat with a few people about some of the ideas I'd written about in the Yorkshire Naturalists Union magazine - I did an article called 'From Grey Beards to Green Teens - an engagement conundrum'. It was basically a write up of the event and some thoughts about getting more young people involved in nature and conservation. Well Rosalind,  Justin who was volunteering there, Nick a filmmaker who's done some work at the wood, Kat the project volunteer co-ordinator, Dad and I all had a great discussion and came up with lots of ideas. There may be a new project here in the making which I'll tell you more about as it develops.

So a great morning, during the volunteering I found a toad and two frogs in the long grass and we were treated to nice views of a Kestrel and two lovely (I think) Red Deer who passed over the field quite close to us and headed into the woods. I'll be looking forward to going back and seeing how the yellow rattle gets on next season!

Hope you enjoyed,


Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Post 476 - #OwningIt & #OurBrightFuture

The raw materials
Hey everyone, post 476 today and it's the start this week of a fantastic new campaign. A few months ago I was lucky enough to be asked to give a talk at a local youth nature summit organised by Tomorrows Natural Leaders (see blog post here). This is one of a series of projects around the country being run as part of the Our Bright Future programme led by the Wildlife Trusts. It was really good to be involved with so I'm glad to see that something they mentioned would be happening has started this week.

The site
This is a new campaign called #Owningit. In the words of #OurBrightFuture it's about this:

We are asking organisations, projects and young people both within and outside of Our Bright Future to join the #OwningIt movement. We want to illustrate the large-scale impact that can be made to the environment when many people take small actions. The campaign will provide inspiration and ideas to excite young people and encourage them to take action.

You can read more on their website, there's lots going on, loads of organisations and young people are showing how they are trying to make a difference.

Cutting logs to size
Well after giving me a chance to do my talk and as I'm very passionate about connecting young people with nature I thought I just had to do something to mark the start of the campaign. So today I finished a project that I've been meaning to do for a while, that is create a bit of a new habitat in my garden. It's really easy to do and if everyone did something similar it could make a big difference to our insect populations which are sadly struggling!

We've had a pile of cuttings lying around the garden for a while taking up a bits of space here and there and looking a bit untidy. Although that's not such a bad thing today I used them and with a bit of help from Dad we made a great log and stick pile which should be great for beetles, toads, frogs and hopefully some wasps, bees and other species will benefit from a place to hibernate or feed. The original idea was to build a hedgehog house in the middle of it, but I think we'll do that another time and put it in another place. Thinking about it it would have made the job of cleaning the hog house out very difficult.

Halfway there
So this was quite an easy thing to do really. All of the stuff was free and all of it had been collected from our garden as it was trimmings from bushes and trees that needed cutting back. We like the garden quite wild and full but every now and again it does have to be tamed a bit! All of the trimmings were gathered together and sorted into piles of different sizes. The only thing that wasn't from our garden were four pieces of wood that came from my grandparents house just up the road and they were recycled fence posts. They were just knocked into the ground a bit to make a frame.

All of the logs and sticks were then just piled in, the bigger stuff on the bottom and smaller stuff on the top. It's built directly on to the soil and it's placed under our Magnolia tree so that it won't dry out in the summer. Putting fallen leaves on top will help retain moisture too. I'll add to this as the leaves fall more. There you go, an easy DIY bug house.

The finished product!
Dead wood like this should support lots of insect life. Slugs and snails will no doubt like hiding in it too. Frogs and Toads should like the damp nooks and crannies too and hopefully will have lots of slugs to eat. If I'm lucky Wood Mice might take up home too. Then of course birds like the Wren and the Robin will probably have an explore for a meal or two.

I'll be watching with interest!

Hope you enjoyed,


Sunday, 15 October 2017

Post 475 - A Marvellous Gathering for YWT Annual General Meeting

The clouds cleared and it was an incredible day
for the members day at Potteric Carr
Hey everyone, Post 475 and a little post to let you know about a great meeting I went to yesterday. It was the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust AGM. This year they made it into a member's day, so that they could attract a few more people and make the meeting not just about the facts and figures of the last year. The idea was to make it more interesting and to show off Potteric Carr visitor centre, which is one of the big projects they did last year. Did it work? Well for me it did, I had a really great day!

Dad and I set off early as Doncaster is quite a way from us, pretty much the other end of Yorkshire, but we got there in plenty of time. A bit of a co-incidence but the first people that we bumped into when we got there were some people Dad has worked with in Northallerton where we live!

Everyone got a cup of tea before the morning activities started and most people were gathered outside on the decking by the visitor centre as the day was glorious, it was hard to believe it was October. We got to say hi to Richard and Jono from YWT too before things got going and it was good to see them as they've been very helpful to me. More on that in a bit.

A highlight was this Grass snake.
So the member's day started with activities in the morning and a choice of a long walk around the reserve, a short walk or an introduction to bird spotting. Well as it was such a sunny warm day it had to be the long walk. Potteric Carr is a lovely and huge reserve and we find new bits every time we go. It was nice to have a walk around with the visitor centre manager and learn some more facts about the place and where to see some nice species. A spring visit for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker is being planned! The highlight of the walk was seeing some lovely Grass snakes!

After the walk it was back to the visitor centre for lunch. This was in the visitor centre cafe and the catering staff there made us a wonderful lunch, I ate loads as it was so good!

So then onto the afternoon when it was a series of talks including all of the AGM business. Well they were all really interesting. I was looking forward to the first one as it was Lindsey Chapman talking about some of her Unsprung experiences. The last time I saw Lindsey, Springwatch and my Dad had arranged a surprise while I was bird watching, and she presented me with an Unsprung Hero award (there's a link to it on the right >>>). There were some funny insights into the world of Unsprung and it made you appreciate how hard it is to pull the show together live! It was a great talk.
Very proud of this!

Then came the AGM bits. I didn't know if I'd enjoy these bits but it was interesting to learn about how the organisation works, where it gets its money and how it spends it as well as learning about some of the projects. We also had to vote in a couple of new board members.

Last speaker was Rob Stoneman, the Chief Executive and he gave a really powerful presentation about how important the work of the Wildlife Trust is, how fragile a lot of our habitats and environment is but also how some projects are working and making a difference.

Thanks so much YWT and Northwold
So it was a great day and I really enjoyed it but the best was still to come. I'd been working since the summer with YWT to produce a 2018 calendar using some photos I'd taken when I was on my 2016 challenge to visit all their reserves (there were too many and Yorkshire is too big - but I did get to around two thirds :-). Well I had been waiting for the calendars for a while as very kindly Northwold Print were doing them for me as half of the profits are going to YWT. The company is owned by one of the board directors Gurdev and he very kindly brought them with him that morning.

I was having a look through it and Jono and some of the YWT board members had a look through it with me. It looks really good! The photos are pretty good but the graphic design was done by Sally Henderson at YWT and it's made it look so much more professional than my last calendar, thanks Sally!

It was after this that Lindsey came over to have a catch up and we had a chat about some of the things I'd been up to. She was surprised how much I'd grown since the Unsprung Hero filming, but it was quite a while ago now. One of the things we talked about was the calendar, happily she really liked it, so much she asked if she could have it :-)

Well I wasn't going to say no and Lindsey was happy to have a photo taken with me. I never expected the first one to go to a celebrity or to get such a great endorsement! Thanks Lindsey.
Great to catch up with Lindsey
and so glad you like the calendar :-)

After saying goodbye to Lindsey we went off to see Richard in the shop to get a few calendars to bring home to sell and Richard will have them up for sale on the YWT website soon!

Have to say a big thanks to Jono, Sally, Richard and Gurdev for all the help - they look incredible and I'm really proud to see my photos in something so professional.

So a great day, and I was really glad to be part of it. It'll be a hard job to do a better event next year!

Hope you enjoyed,


Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Post 474 - Brilliant Butterflies of 2017

Hey everyone, sorry it's been a little while between posts. School work has been taking up a lot of time again! I hope this post makes up for not posting for a while.

Duke of Burgundy

A little while back I was in touch with Butterfly Conservation on twitter. I'd sent a few pics of butterflies I'd seen and they asked me a question. Well today in post 474 I'm going to sort of answer it and in future years I hope to be able to answer it better.

Orange Tip

So what was the question? It was... had I seen more or less butterflies this year. It's tricky to answer as I have seen some more species this year as I've been out deliberately looking for a few new species. I think I've seen four new species this year, but at the same time I have not seen three of the species that I've seen other years. The new species were the Large Skipper, Duke of Burgundy, Greyling and Silver Washed Fritillary, the ones I didn't manage to see were Holly Blue, Marbled White and Swallow Tail.

Green Veined White

The other reason it's hard to answer is because I haven't started keeping very good records of what I've seen and when yet. It seems like I've seen a lot less in my garden at the start of the year, it got better at the end of summer but it has gone quiet again now. I've definitely seen less Painted Ladies this year and less Peacocks. So I need to record what I see better so that I can answer properly. I do do the Butterfly Count but I'm going to keep more records. 

A challenging Comma

I'm still hoping to see a few more in the garden yet this year, the Michaelmas Daises are still out and I've got lots of fallen apples so there's still lots of food for them. Fingers crossed for a few still sunny days when I'm at home. It's something simple we can all do to help butterflies and many insects, grow a few nectar rich plants that they like. In our garden we have three Buddleia bushes that they especially like but quite a few other plants too that they like.

So what have I seen this year? Well let's start with a rare beauty, The Duke of Burgundy. I was told about this butterfly a little while ago by two different people and that there was a spot near me to find it. (Thanks Dave Renwick & Whitfield Benson). I didn't know at the time until I looked it up again that it is one of the UK's rarest butterflies. So this year I set off to see it and happily I did! I'll be back next year I think as it was a lovely walk out on the North York Moors to find this spot.

Swallowtail Caterpillar - amazing!

One I always try to see but I often miss because I go to Norfolk just at the wrong time of year (school needs to break up earlier for summer!) is the Swallowtail. I have had the odd fleeting view of this magnificent butterfly but never well enough or long enough to get a photo of one. Their larvae I see more often though and they are very pretty as well. Here's a beauty I saw this summer.

Silver washed Fritillary - a little worn

I like looking out for new places and new species so when we were on our Norfolk holiday this year we went to Holt Country Park. I've been to the market town of Holt a lot, and this year rescued a baby hedgehog from the churchyard while Mum was shopping. Afterwards we popped to the park and saw an amazing list of butterflies that had been seen. One that was meant to be in abundance was the Silver Washed Fritillary. I managed to see one but it wasn't in the best condition.

Hummingbird Hawkmoth
I also saw a lovely Brimstone there and a wonderful Hummingbird Hawkmoth. I know it's not a butterfly but I love seeing them. I get them in my garden too - this year I only got a quick glimpse of one on the red Valerian outside of the house so it was great to get this shot of one at Holt.

Large Skipper
A lovely little butterfly I saw, and have probably seen before but never really stopped to photograph or appreciate is the Large Skipper. This is one that hangs around a forest I go to quite often on the fringe of the North York Moors, Silton Forest. I'm not sure what made me pay attention to this one but perhaps it was because it sat still for me!

On the same bit of path in Silton Forest I've also been able to see some lovely Common Blue butterflies too this year. Males and females both sat nicely enough for a photo.
Common Blue

Well, there's a lot more to mention, like Speckled Wood, Painted Lady, Peacock, Red Admiral, Tortishell, a brief view of a White Admiral, Small White, Large White, Green Veined White, Orange Tip, Wall, Meadow Brown, Small Heath and Ringlet. I think that's probably all that I've seen this year.

There's still quite a few species I've yet to see so I'll be looking up where and when I can see something new next year. It's always such a buzz to see a new species and especially with something as beautiful as a butterfly!

Hope you enjoyed,


Thursday, 14 September 2017

Post 473 - Marvellous Migfest

Hey everyone, it's Post 473 and every year in the Autumn months we get to see one of nature's magnificent processes in action, migration! Many of the birds that come to the Northern parts of the world to breed go back to wherever they came from for the Winter. This means that we say goodbye to a lot of the lovely birds that we get the pleasure of hosting for the Summer, but we also have all the lovely birds and general wildlife that stays here, and others that come here to Winter from colder more hostile climates. This means that we can see literally thousands of birds fly over us to go to places such as Africa, and sometimes birds get lost on the way, or come a little closer to land, letting us see some of the beautiful birds that shouldn't really be here. Well, one of the best places to see this happening is Spurn Point, a beautiful Peninsula that sticks out into the North Sea that birds seem to be magnetically attracted to!

A sustainable festival? Well making good use of this resource!
Every year for the past half decade, in a humble shed or barn on Westmere Farm is one of my favourite birding events in the world. Migfest! Everyone there is so incredibly friendly and everyone seems to be friends with each other, all while being in a wonderful place! Sadly, though, this year it was held on the weekend after school starts, so I decided that it was in my best interests to only go for one night as usually it involves getting up quite early to start birding!

I went straight from school on Friday and drove our usual route past some amazing places, such as Thorngumbald, (probably my favourite name of any town), but also passing over the Greenwich meridian which is interesting. Once we were there though, after hurriedly putting up our tent, it was almost immediately time for the opening talk by Andy Clements which was great to listen to, followed by a great talk by Nick Whitehouse all about Spurn and what a magical place it is. After that of course was...the pub! It was great catching up with the folks from the BTO who I haven't seen in ages and finding out about what was happening about next years Bird Camp, and just general birding talk.
A beautiful Wryneck 

The next morning, we went straight out for a full day of birding. We'd booked ourselves on to one of the guided tours around the Triangle which didn't turn up any super rarities, but still a lot of nice birds like a Whinchat, we heard the call of a Whimbrel, thanks to the amazing ID skills and bionic ears of Paul Stancliffe! We were also treated to the sight of a lovely Roe Deer bounding along the scrub by the beech. After the walk had finished we set off to see our first rarity and lifer of the day, a Wryneck! We were stood for quite a while trying to find it, as it was in some shrubs hiding away, but it was eventually seen flying down onto the cliff face which was only visible from the beach. It was quite comical though seeing all the birders with telescopes and huge cameras sliding down the hill though :-). After a little bit of searching (it's difficult for me as I'm colour blind) we spotted it again, but my camera picked an interesting time to play up so I had to use a different one meaning I didn't get much time to get many pictures, but I think I still got a good one.

Britain's heaviest spider, the Four-Spotted Orb Weaver
- really quite pretty once I'd got over the shock of
discovering it 6 inches under my chin!
After this, we tried to go back the 'quick' way to Westmere Farm, which involved going a little bit over some fields to a path, but apparently we missed a turn and had to trek through some very long grass for probably much longer than it would have taken to go the normal way! But I did manage to pick up quite an unusual spider for the area called the Four-Spotted Orb Weaver which was nice to see once I'd got over the initial shock of suddenly discovering Britain's heaviest spider on my chest! A bacon sandwich at Westmere Farm helped.

It was time then for a few more talks. I really enjoyed them all. Yoav Perlman talked about his love of migration and some of his amazing experiences (including with the Chinese Army!). Andy Clements talked about Zen Birding and how sometimes it's best to let the birds come to you. The other talk was by Simon Warwick all about one of my local patches, Nosterfield. Even though I go there a lot I learnt a lot more about what a special place it is.

The Long Billed Dowitcher
Another thing I enjoyed during the talks was the rain! We could hear it bouncing off the roof of the barn. I liked hearing it, and it stopping before the talks finished. Why did I enjoy that, well because we'd dodged it. Last year I spent the whole of Saturday wet!

So time for more birding after that and just as we were setting off back down towards the point to see what was down there, ourselves this time, we saw a couple of people running towards us. Now, at Spurn this usually means there's something very rare in the general direction they're running, this time it turns out it was a Long-Billed Dowitcher! It was quite a long way away so it was difficult to get a good view and picture of it, and as we were all squashed onto a narrow path it wasn't helped by the swarms of people passing past my telescope all desperate to get a view of it as well!Everybody got a spot though and I got a reasonable digi-scoped record shot.
Long Billed Dowitcher Twitchers

After we'd had our fill of this lovely bird we went to try and get a view of the Barred Warbler that had turned up further down the point at the Warren. We were waiting for about 20 minutes before we saw it, though it was very fleeting and we didn't manage to get a picture of it :-(. We waited for about half an hour before seeing the bus that was taking people from one point to another and travelling back to the Farm.

As it was pretty much tea time by this point we decided it was time to say goodbye to everyone there and start to head home. Even though it was a short stay it was still really fun. I saw loads of birds, three lifers, had close encounters with other species, met old friends and met some virtual friends like James McCulloch for the first time.

Spurn really is a magical place and I can't wait for next year's MigFest. I'll definitely go again!

Hope you enjoyed,


Monday, 4 September 2017

Post 472 - Wild watch river survey number 2 - and a lovely water shrew

A view of my transect
Hey everyone, well post 472 is all about my second visit to my transect for the wild watch river surveying that I've been involved in. As I mentioned in Post 468 - The Wonderful Wild Watch Project the project is all about volunteers going out and doing surveys in different environments all around the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Dad and I have been on a river surveying course and have been given an area to survey that is around a wonderful lake tucked away in the woods.

Trees springing from rocks
It's a wonderful place, it feels like time's stood still somehow. There are rock formations in places which trees just seem to appear from, no soil just trees in rock. It's also incredibly peaceful and beautiful. It was quite a cool and overcast day this time compared to when I last went but it was still absolutely lovely to be there. We didn't see many dragonflies this time, only the odd one, and no damselflies at all when there were loads before.

Parts are really tricky to survey as there are high sheer rock banks, areas with very very thick vegetation and some very muddy patches. There's lots of wildlife to see there but I only have to record several key species, like Otter, Water Vole, Kingfisher, Grey Wagtail etc.

Autumn is coming
Well we had a good walk round and a good scan of all the banks we could get to and once again we think we found some Otter Spraint. The only other thing that we found that we needed to record was one patch of Himalayan Balsam as alien invasive species like this we have to record too.

From our walk round it was quite definitely looking like the end of summer, berries and rosehips are ripening and lots of fungi are appearing.

My favourite find of the trip though had to be this. At the end of the lake is a little weir where the water leaves the lake and carries on down the stream. After trying to get down the stream to survey the last bit of the transect, which we couldn't do as it's very overgrown with Rhododendrons, we turned back toward the weir. We noticed a little creature searching through bits of weed growing on the weir, trying to find some food.

I've looked it up and I'm pretty sure it's a Water Shrew. It's the first time I've seen one and they are very fast and fidgety so it was very hard to photograph so I filmed it instead. It didn't seem to mind me watching it for a while.

So not quite the Water Vole I set off to find but lovely to see!

Fungi are appearing
Please check out the Wild Watch project, give them a follow on twitter and if you live near Nidderdale go along and get involved. It's great! I'm hoping I can do some reptile surveying next year.

Hope you enjoyed.


Post 471 - A nice surprise - Top 50 Wildlife Blogs

Hey everyone, just a quick post here just to mention a nice little surprise I had when I got back of my holidays. I was looking through my emails and came across this one:

Hi Zach,

My name is Anuj Agarwal. I'm Founder of Feedspot.

I would like to personally congratulate you as your blog A year of my nature hunting has been selected by our panelist as one of the Top 50 Wildlife Blogs on the web.

I personally give you a high-five and want to thank you for your contribution to this world. This is the most comprehensive list of Top 50 Wildlife Blogs  on the internet and I’m honored to have you as part of this!

Also, you have the honor of displaying the following badge on your blog. Use the below code to display this badge proudly on your blog.

Well I didn't expect that :-)

Thank you Anuj and Feedspot - I'll now add the badge to my site!