Thursday, 10 May 2018

Post 484 - Fundraising for fabulous Owls

Tawny Owl
Hey everyone! Some of you might have already seen on twitter and my blog that I am having a bit of an Owl year. Well, I'm not the only one.

It started really with The Wild Watch, a project that I'm very honoured to be the youth patron for. I try to encourage other young people in the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (and anywhere else really) to get more involved with nature, and especially to help out with the Wild Watch project a big citizen science project that is surveying the wildlife of Nidderdale. Well this year they wanted to survey Owls and to get the help of a lot of young people they decided to do a film to show in the schools across the area. I'm really grateful that they asked me to be in the film, I enjoyed doing this and getting the chance to get up close to some fabulous Owls was awesome.

Well shortly after this I found out the BTO was having its own year of the Owl and is trying to raise funding to help understand more about Owls and how best to help them. Well Owls are a family favourite and we often say we don't see enough Owls. You can read the details on the BTO website about why this project is so important but essentially Owls are struggling, so I decided that I ought to do more to help.
My first sponsored walk - aged 8
I conquered Roseberry Topping! 

I do bits of fundraising now and again. Many of you buy my calendars and half of the profits got to the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. The other half I use to buy more camera equipment and you should see some of the results of that in the 2019 calendar!

My first fundraising challenge though was to help a local wildlife rescue centre that cared for some injured animals we found. They gave me lots of advice too when I found a baby Hedgehog out in our road in the day time. I was able to raise him (Prickles!) to adulthood and set him free in the garden. So to help repay the centre I did a sponsored walk up a local hill. That was back in 2012 when I was eight! I think I raised just over £100 which the rescue centre was very grateful for.

Well not being able to think of any other more brilliant idea I thought a sponsored walk would be a good idea to do again. Only this time it's a bit longer. I had the idea that I could sort of promote the Wild Watch Owl project and the BTO Owl Appeal by walking the Nidderdale Way.

This is a 52 mile walk around the Nidderdale AONB. That's a lot further than I've walked before!

I do go camping now and again but I'm not set up for backpacking so the Nidderdale walk is good as it is near enough to home that I can do the four stages by being dropped off with Dad over four different days. I intend to fit them in as soon as I can but doing it this way means I can pick days that aren't too wet or too hot!
Tawny Owl up close.

So I've talked to the BTO, found they are set up on Justgiving and I've made a fundraising page. I've set an ambitious target of £2000 which I'd really like to achieve but it's a lot more money than I've ever managed to raise before.

I'll be doing my best to reach this target so I'll be tweeting and posting about it quite a bit in the next few weeks which I hope you all don't mind. If you think that helping Owls is a cause you can support I'd appreciate any help you can give. Retweeting, sharing or donating would all be appreciated.

If you are able to make a contribution to my challenge you can donate here:

Zach's Nidderdale Way Walk for Owls

Hope you enjoyed,


Monday, 30 April 2018

Post 483 - Riveting Reptile Surveying with Wonderful Wildwatch

Misty moorland survey for reptiles!
Hey everyone, as many of you will know I’m involved with a wonderful project called the Wild Watch. For those who don’t the Wild Watch is a 3 year long Heritage Lottery funded project that is trying to both survey wildlife in the Nidderdale area, but also spread awareness about how much some species are in need.

Those of you that see my blogs regularly will know I've done a couple of posts on this before - Post 481 on a nice Owl video I got to do and Post 468 and Post 472 on a river survey I did as part of the project last year.

A reptile refugia
Of course, there needs to be quite a lot of people to survey such a huge area, so I, among many others, go to ‘lessons’ held by the Wild Watch which enable us to go out and do some proper surveying!

Some of the survey party
Recently they held one of these days for reptile surveys, so me and my Dad jumped at the opportunity and went to see what we could learn. The day started off with us being told what species we would be looking for, which included grass snakes, adders and slow-worms, all great species that I would love to see more of. Then, we were told how to put out the refuges which would attract the reptiles. They’re essentially just pieces of roofing felt which we’d leave in sunny spots; when the reptiles look for somewhere to warm themselves in the morning they’d find these, which had absorbed the sun’s heat, and just wait on it until they had enough energy to start hunting.

So, once we were told all of this, we went out to a lovely piece of Nidderdale moor, where we were shown how to do this in action. It was quite an overcast day, so there wasn’t much of an opportunity of us actually seeing anything, it was hard at first even to see the Red Grouse that were about, but it was still good to get out into the field and actually do what we’d been taught. All the transects we’re given are 1km long, so seeing as we have 10 refuges to put down, we have to put them 100m apart, but we also have to make sure we put them in a good spot for the reptiles.
My transect from a little stone arch at the end.

We were taken to all of the refuges that Gordon, our trainer for the survey, had marked along this transect with a GPS, and then told how to check them to see if there’s anything using them. We have to wear thick, protective gloves that are to help protect our hands if an adder attacks us when we find one. We also have to try and approach with the wind coming from the refuge, so the reptile doesn’t smell us coming and flee. Once we’d been around this patch of moor and seen all 10 of the refuges, we headed back to base camp and headed back home with all our new found knowledge. It was a really great day and I must thank the Wild Watch team for giving me and everyone else that attended this opportunity, and to teach us everything you did!
Hoping to see some of these amazing creatures!

I've been out to my transect now, which is the same one I did my river survey on. It's a fabulous place, a quite almost forgotten reservoir with thick wooded banks, so thick in fact that the trees overhang the water edge quite a way in most places. As the leaves weren't all out yet we tried to find spots where we hope the sun will be able to get through on a morning when the tree canopy has thickened up. A bit of guess work but we hope we might see a lizard or two. I have to leave them now for three weeks and give the reptiles time to find them and start to use them for heating up of a morning. It was surprising to see even on our misty moorland training session how even just a little bit of sun soon heats up the felt.
And some lovely Slow-worms!

I've not seen an Adder for a few years, despite trips to places that are known to be really good for them, so I hope that my training now will mean I see lots of them and other reptiles this year.

I'll let you know how I get on!

Hope you enjoyed,


Sunday, 4 March 2018

Post 482 - A surprising Spring brings beautiful birds.

Snowdrops poking through the snow
Hey everyone. Post 482 today and I thought I'd write up a few things I've noticed recently. I was quite surprised to hear that it was the first meteorological day of spring on the 1st of March. It was also surprising to see how much snow we had, it feels like mid winter rather than almost Spring! Whilst the bad weather stopped us going very far it was still interesting to see what has been happening around the garden.

Witch Hazel flowers hanging under the snow
One of the first things I noticed was how some of the plants around the garden were adapted to cope with the snow. It hadn't occurred to me before that they would be but then I don't think we've had snow like this for quite a while. The shapes of the Snowdrops looks to have helped them to not get weighed down by snow settling on them, that they are designed to poke through the snow. I also noticed how the Witch-hazel has all of its flowers arranged so that the snow collects above them. I don't know if it's insects or the wind that pollinates this plant but either way the flowers are exposed even after the heavy snow.

We always feed our birds and we have a nice garden selection, though we get less finches than we think we ought to. A neighbour has a big field with quite a large pond in it so it's not unusual to see big flocks of Greylags and Canada Geese flying over our house. I've also got Cormorant on my garden list thanks to the neighbours pond. It's not often I get to add new birds to this list.

When the snow came we stepped up the feeding and worked hard to keep the bird bath from freezing so our feathered visitors  had plenty of food and water. The extra food plus the bad weather has meant my garden list has grown by three in the space of a week.

My favourite new garden list addition - Treecreeper
The first new bird I was surprised to see was a Tree-creeper. It was a lovely bird to see in the garden. Normally when I see them they are a lot more distant working their way up a tree in a wood somewhere. To have one on the bird table a few feet from the window was amazing as I could see its wonderful intricate plumage which I'd never really seen that close up before. After its first visit I hoped it would be a garden regular and while I've not seen it every day it has been back a few times now snacking on the fat balls.

Long-tailed Tits feeding up!
I've also had some Long Tailed Tits in the garden. Like the Tree-creeper they've been enjoying the suet. They only came back to the garden lately, they weren't around when I did the Big Garden Birdwatch, but they've been around quite a bit since and before it snowed I noticed they had been collecting nesting material. I thought these little birds must have it the worst of my garden birds in this weather being such small delicate looking creatures. Another surprise was to find out the Tree-creeper probably has a harder time as the Long Tails have seen it off the feeders a few times. It has snuck back when they've finished to top up on food though.

Fieldfare on the bird table - the apple bait worked!
Over the week Dad's been going to and from work and has been coming back with sightings of Redwings and Fieldfares in the village so we've been putting down apples to encourage them in and give them a good feed. It's paid off. A couple of Fieldfares have spent a day or two in the garden, seeing off Blackbirds at first, but quite happy to feed next to Starlings. As time went on they were a bit more tolerant of the Blackbirds so I guess they're not so hungry. Today was the first time they've not been around but the snow is melting well now so I wonder if they've found food elsewhere.

This Redwing appreciated them too.
Mum's been keeping her eye out too and it was down to her sharp eyes that we now also have a Redwing on our garden list. It's only been in once that we know of but it stayed long enough to have a good feed and to let Mum get a few photos to mark the occasion.

Blue Tits are claiming their boxes!
I hope the weather is improving now. While I've enjoyed seeing these birds I know they are probably only coming to gardens as they're short of food elsewhere. It's close to mating season for birds too and they'll need lots of food and energy. My Blue Tits seem to think Spring isn't far away though. They've been eyeing up one of our nest boxes for a few days and today we saw them popping in and out of it! Fingers crossed they know the weather is set to improve.

Hope you enjoyed,


Sunday, 4 February 2018

Post 481 - Outstandingly Obliging Owls & the Wonderful Wild Watch

Me and Spike the Barn Owl
Hey everyone, a great post today for post 481 about an amazing opportunity I was given that happened today. If you regularly read my blog you'll know that I've been working with a great project called The Wild Watch. It's based in Nidderdale and is surveying 50 key species across the area of outstanding natural beauty so that they can see what is happening with their populations and work out how best to look after the land to help the wildlife. This year I'm looking forward to two things in particular, the first is reptile surveying, but the second is related to my opportunity today - Owl surveying!

Flynn the Tawny Owl busy surveying the area
A key part of The Wild Watch is getting more young people engaged in nature so to help with the Owl surveying they are going to go to the schools in Nidderdale and talk to them about the project. As part of that they wanted a film about Owls to use as part of the talk. As youth patron they asked if I'd like to do the film. It didn't take too long to think about as Owls are a family favourite, I gladly said of course I'd do it!

So today we headed down to the Thirsk Bird of Prey Centre to do some filming. It's a great place. I've been a few times when I was younger, they have some absolutely amazing birds there, 30 species altogether. They very kindly said we could come along  to do the film and we had the place to ourselves as they don't open to the public until March. As if that wasn't kind enough one of falcloners, Kerry, also came in on her day off as she looks after the Owls that we wanted to see!

Sprout the Little Owl
So my family and a few of the Wild Watch team and their children arrived not long after it had stopped sleeting so it was a bit chilly, but the cold didn't bother us much and we certainly forgot about it as soon as the Owls came out. The film was great to do and it was really just explaining a bit about the Wild Watch and how we want all the school kids in Nidderdale to help survey the area for 3 species. One of the best bits was that I got to hold the three species, a Barn Owl (Spike), a Tawny Owl (Flynn) and a Little Owl (Sprout). Owls are so beautiful and it was such a privilege to hold them and see them up so close. While I was holding them we filmed a few facts about each Owl and the other young people there added to them too. I think it'll be a great film and I hope it gets lots of people out looking for these wonderful creatures.

Flynn was very watchful
Since I heard about this opportunity I also saw that the BTO are having a year of the Owl and are also raising money to be able to find out more about these special creatures. I started wondering how I could help. I've done some fundraising before, recently mainly through selling calendars, but a while back I did a sponsored walk for a local wildlife santuary. I've noticed other young conservationists have done walks lately too (like Georgia Locock and Dara McAnulty) so I started thinking about this and then Dad reminded me that there is a Nidderdale Way - so it all seemed to fit into place quite nicely. It's a 56 mile walk around the Nidderdale AONB. I know little bits of Nidderdale but not all of it so this is a great way to help out the Owls and spend some good time out exploring a bit more of the area.
I'm talking to the BTO and the Wild Watch and I'm still making plans but once I know when I'm going to do it I'll be setting up a page for people to sponsor me. I'll make sure I let you know when!

So the last thing to do is to say a big thank you again to the Thirsk Bird of Prey Centre, to the Falconers Colin, Kerry and David, to the wonderful Owls Sprout, Flynn and Spike and to the Wild Watch team for giving me the chance of this wonderful experience.

Hope you enjoyed,


Sunday, 14 January 2018

Post 480 - Looking back & forward

Hey everyone, Post 480 today and I can't believe it was the end of November when I last wrote a post! Apart from Christmas I don't know what took up my time in December but during the holidays I started a big job that has been a long time coming - sorting out all the photos I take! I've been organising them so I can find them more easily.
Saw this beautiful Eastern Black Redstart a few times.
A really lovely bird and very willing to pose!

So to get back into the swing of things again I thought I'd have a little look back at 2017 and let you know a few of the things I plan to do in 2018. Most of the pics today are some of my favourite finds of 2017.

Well I've got lots of people to thank for some wonderful opportunities in 2017. I got to do quite a bit of writing and guest blogging for people. Guest blogs included Rewilding Europe, the BTO, New Nature, the  Wild Watch and Our Bright Future - thanks for these opportunities!

I was great to find the Duke of Burgundy up on t' moors
It was also a year when I got to do a couple talks and got to conferences and events to spread the nature word. Thanks to The Wild Watch for letting me speak at your launch event and to the Yorkshire Wildlife Trusts Tomorrows Natural Leaders for a big talking slot at their Youth Summit. It was also great to attend Yorkshire Naturalists Union annual conference to display my photos and to provide some insights into helping engage young people. I also got to write a follow up article for this in their magazine The Naturalist which was great and I got some lovely feedback from this.

The most writing I've done for anyone was this last year for New Nature magazine. Thanks very much to James and the team for this opportunity - I've never been called a stalwart before :-)
Made sure I got back to see these beauties this year,
the 'Jewel of York' - the Tansy Beetle

One of the most exciting  developments last year was to be the youth patron for a new project - The Wild Watch - a great project in Nidderdale that will have some big benefits for the areas nature! It's been great working with this project and learning new things like river surveying. Really looking forward to getting involved in this years activities!

A big thank you also has to go to the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust for their continued support and helping with this year's calendar. I also enjoyed helping out First News with a 'party political broadcast' putting over a young person's view during the general election.

I was really lucky to get great views of this Cuckoo in
my local forest.
I was also honoured last year to be awarded the North York Moors National Park Trust Young Ranger Award. I met the Lord Lieutenant to receive that and it came with an award that will help me visit another national park this year so I'm busy planning that.

One of the final highlights of the year was a trip to London and the Natural History Museum - a big thank you to Erica for making this the most memorable visit yet!

So on to 2018. I've been wondering what to do. I'm still wondering but I've take some inspiration from the last blog I did last year for Our Bright Future. I wrote about a lot of practical ways young people can make a difference for nature, so I'm going to put some of this into action again!
A botanical highlight was finding a patch of May Lily

I did a lot less campaigning last year whilst waiting to see what the Government would do for nature after Brexit. Since the 25 year environment plan has been released there's been a lot of people talking about how it needs to be backed up with an Act and policies. Well I noticed my MP Rishi Sunak had got a Cabinet job in the Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government so I decided it was a good time to write and ask him if he could do anything to introduce policies to make new housing developments better for wildlife. I'll let you know what he says!

I've got some more fundraising ideas that I'm working on but they're not really arranged fully so more on those when they are.

Today's haul - impressed the beach
was so clean :-)
I'm going to do my bit on plastic pollution. Our family is quite good with recycling but when we look at what's in the boxes when they're put out there's still quite a few things we could try not to use in the first place. We're trying really hard as a family to reduce our use of single-use plastic. I'm still litter picking, I'll pop dropped bottles and cans I see on my way to school in the bin and when I get to the beach like we did today I'm still doing #2minbeachcleans - well they last as long as we're out. I was really pleased that today at Saltburn it was quite hard to find much plastic.

Well that's a start for 2018. There will be a lot more to come. Please look out on my twitter, facebook and instagram - I'll be trying to share photos regularly from my newly organised collection (I'll try daily but I know what that involves :-)

Hope you enjoyed,


Monday, 27 November 2017

Post 479 - A Magnificent Museum and an Entertaining Entomologist!

Hope - the Blue Whale in the magnificent main hall
- a symbol of humanity's power to create a
sustainable future! 
Hey everyone, today’s post 479 and over the 3 years that I’ve been doing my blog, I’ve had lots of people talk to me over social media, and of course in real life (I do get out a bit). Quite often, though, these two things cross each other, like recently when I went to London. I’m in contact with people at the wonderful Natural History Museum in London occasionally over Twitter, and through that, one of the curators that works there reached out to me, and said pop in and say Hi if we were around. Our family was planning a weekend visit to London any way as we hadn't been for a while so I jumped at the opportunity to try and meet up at the NHM. I've been going since I was quite little and it is probably my favourite museum!
The scale of the NHM collection is almost unbeleivable!

So plans were made and Mum, Dad and I got ourselves to London and then set off early on Saturday to see Erica McAlister (aka @flygirlNHM). As we'd got there a bit earlier than expected Erica met us at the entrance around 15 minutes before public opening time and we were really amazed to be able to get in and have a look around some of the public halls without anyone else there. The most spectacular part of the museum for me is the Main Hall, I always loved being there, seeing this huge space and the enormous dinosaur.

There are some incredible creatures!

Obviously we knew about the new Blue Whale (Hope) they had put in Dippy's place and she is an incredible sight. It is quite a breathtaking sight to come so close even to the remains of the world's largest mammal. She's posed in a dive and it's an amazing sight in an amazing building that must have taken years to build. Erica was telling us all about how it was built specifically for a Victorian collector, well at least to house his collection as a condition of him donating it. They made such a good job of the building, the decorations and carvings around it are as incredible as the contents of the building - even the floor - mosaics throughout - it`s absolutely mind-blowing the work that has gone into this building!

It holds specimens from the time of Darwin 
So after we were done looking around the museum, we went ‘back stage’ where they hold the NHM collection, where all the specimens are kept. It`s a bit of an understatement to say there's a lot of them! Species are laid out in wooden display trays. These then go into metal lockers, and each locker is in a block - it`s hard to describe the scale of it because it goes on forever! There are lots of blocks of lockers in a row on one floor, huge rooms of them - and that's just one floor - there were 7 floors just for the insects! Erica was telling us that all together the NHM collection contains over 80 million species. It's the biggest in the world (Erica cheered at that once or twice :-)

There were some specimens from centuries back when people were first going to foreign countries to collect. One of the amazing things we saw there was a shelf with some specimens that Darwin himself and his crew collected on the Beagle!

Erica's favourite - Robberflies
These two were caught carrying
this huge grasshopper!
Erica showed us an amazing array of things from the cabinets, some of the insects there seemed as if they didn’t come from Earth, and ones I probably won’t ever see again. It was amazing to see how people have been storing these exhibits for the years since records started, I felt very special to get to see them.

Then, there were the pickles! A huge room essentially filled with preserved animals of all shapes and sizes, ranging from ticks to a giant squid that was so long I had to get a video instead of a picture! It was so big it has to be kept in a specially made tank - made by Damian Hurst as it was so big! See the video to see what I mean! One of my favourites was the pickled Angler Fish! It was interesting to see one of the creatures of the deep and how it had evolved to live there, and how it uses bioluminescence to attract its prey. Have you ever seen a pickled badger, fox, rat, or boa constrictor - no, well neither had I - but thanks to Erica now I have!

In complete contrast to the display we saw in the main hall, ‘Hope’ the Blue Whale diving, Erica also showed us a jar with a tiny Blue Whale foetus! It’s amazing how something so vast comes from something so tiny and fragile.
Scorpion dimorphism.

One of the fascinating things I got to see was the dimorphism between species of scorpion. There’s a quite small species that wasn’t even the length of one of my fingers, to a much larger Emperor Scorpion that spanned my whole hand! The little one is interestingly the most dangerous, much more venomous - and uses stealth. The big Emperor is all about show (and bravado so mum says) and scaring off predators. I also found out that all scorpions glow in ultraviolet light!

The main thing that I couldn’t get over, though, was the sheer number of specimens they had, it was crazy how many there was just on the floor we went around, and to know they had 6 more floors for insects and another building entirely for plants! I learnt a lot about what curators do and how collections are kept. One of the things I found amazing though is they now have the task of digitising the whole collection! A great opportunity for some overtime or maybe holiday jobs for students I would think!

Thank you for an amazing visit Erica!
So lastly, I’d love to give a huge thank you to Erica for reaching out to me and letting me do this! She was one of the most kind and enthusiastic people I’ve ever met, and she let me have so many experiences I doubt I’ll ever get again. It was amazing to be able to go there and see all of the incredible things Erica showed us. I know we only scratched the surface so I’d love to do it again sometime.

Thank you Erica, I'm so glad they keep you in this institution :-)

Hope you enjoyed,


Friday, 24 November 2017

Post 478 - Celebs champion & celebrate nature rather than distress, disrespect and devalue it.

You're a celebrity so step up and get some respect for nature!

I'm fed up of the 'celebrity' programme. I've never liked it. Why is it that a 'celebrity' gets attention for eating insects, for having to crawl through a box of frogs and spiders and making people think nature is something to be scared of and feared?

I say celebrity. I really don't know who most of the people that go on this programme are! And just to say I never watch it, I get fed up enough of the headlines everywhere, watching the show would only make me more annoyed.

To me a celebrity should be a role model, someone to respect, someone who inspires people and uses their position to make a difference. I wrote about this a while back in Post 378 - and I mentioned the sorts of celebrities that I admire like Chris Packham, Bill Bailey, Bill Oddie. Of course Sir David Attenbrough should have been in that post too. These are people who are trying to get people to care about the environment. There are any more of course but sadly the people that end up on the celeb programme take the money and just perpetuate an image of nature that is wrong. It should not be exploited for entertainment or popularity.

It was actually tweets from Bill Oddie and Chris Packham that reminded me about my earlier blog and inspired me to write this post.

I've felt this way for a while and I've tried to spread the message a little. I rediscovered my Rant for Change video which must be two or three years old now. I've included it at the end if you want to see it.

Why can't more celebrities promote and help nature?

Wouldn't you rather see celebs doing good? Promoting and helping nature? I want to see these people doing beach cleans, to save our marine wildlife from getting caught in and eating harmful plastics - plastics that we end up eating. How about helping hedgehogs and other declining species? Maybe Ant and Dec could volunteer at a nature reserve?

What about helping insects rather than eating them - studies show we've lost three quarters of our insects in the last 25 years!  If we lose the insects then our entire ecological system is at risk of collapse! Don`t they know that our insects are our main pollinators of plants, and food source for birds, reptiles and small mammals?

Try doing some fundraising for wildlife. I think that would impress people much more than poncing around the jungle abusing nature. I'm sure the people eating the meal worms, cockroaches and spiders aren't enjoying it, but I bet the insects like it a lot less even if they are being eaten by a 'celebrity'.

So I decided to start a Thunderclap to try and show that other people feel the same. You can sign up here:

I hope I've timed it right for the final of the show so that lots of people will see that it's not right to exploit nature like this, that it's not right to send a message that nature is scary.

While I was promoting the Thunderclap the RSPCA were kind enough to respond to one of my tweets. They gave some really good advice about some other things that you can do about the way this programme treats wildlife - I've included the tweet below but basically complain to ITV viewer services and Ofcom (link to how to contact them). I noticed when looking at this that I'm a Celebrity had had a few complaints over the last week but we probably need to send them a lot more to get this to change.

Only problem about this though that I can see is that I'd have to watch the programme to be able to make a complaint rather than just be campaigning about the principle of using and eating wildlife for entertainment :-(

Nature is to be treasured. Nature supports us all. Nature is suffering and needs our support more than ever!

Hope you agree,