Thursday, 31 March 2016

Post 398 - Brilliant Beetles at Nature-filled Nosterfield

Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) flowers
Hey everyone, well it is a gorgeous Spring day today very bright and sunny so we just had to get out. We didn't know how far we'd get with Dad and his knee recovering from his operation so we went to Nosterfield so we could leave him in a hide while Mum, Esme and I went for a walk.

Well we got to the reserve just before dinner and it was really busy. It's normally quite a quiet place but I guess as it was such a lovely day the car park was almost full. I've not seen it busier except for the open day last year! Still, there's lot of space to spread out.

Bloody-Nosed Beetle (Timarcha tenebricosa) 
I had a peek on the main lake before going for a walk. there was lots of activity. I don't know why but I saw a Black headed Gull flying through the air chasing after a Lapwing. There were Avocets, Curlews, Teal, Oystercatchers and more Gulls milling about the lake and a few Buzzards circling high over head.

There were quite a few flowers around too. I noticed the violets starting to come out but the most easy to photograph was this lovely Blackthorn (I think) as it was close to the path and just at my height. It is a very pretty flower though.

Posing on a twig
Cereal Leaf Beetle (Oulema melanopus)
One of the things I had hoped to see today was one of my favourite insects. I've not seen them at Nosterfield before but I knew they were found here as I've met the Entomologist who does surveys of them here. What I'm talking about is the fabulous Bloody-Nosed Beetle. I did a post on these before (Day 277 - Beautifully Natty and Bonny Bloody-Nosed Beetle) so you can see facts about them there. Well I wasn't disappointed as I managed to find two walking along side the path, they are quite easy to see as they are so big and black. As they just slowly plod along I got to take a good few photos and a few people walking past stopped to have a chat about them. These little creatures seem to fascinate everyone.

Well on the way back I stopped to have a look at the dipping pond too. That was a nice spot to stop too as I found two other beetles. One I think is a Cereal Leaf Beetle, it's a tiny but pretty little beetle but one that seems to have more information on the internet about what a pest it is than anything. If they build up into big numbers they can be a problem to cereal crops. I only saw one today and it didn't seem much of a pest.

The other beetle I saw I thought might be drowning as it looked like it was struggling on top of the water. After a closer look I thought it was probably a water beetle but I wasn't able to identify it but I got some help from @BlattaMann and  who identified it as a Dung Beetle, so it was just as well I fished out of the water.
My mystery water beetle turned out to be the the Dung Beetle
Aphodius prodromus

Well that was about it today, a lovely walk and nice to see the insects coming alive again.

By the way. Nosterfield now has a lovely new website which you can see at

Hope you enjoyed,


Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Post 397 - Cracking Crossbills up at Upper Teesdale

The waterfall at Gibson's cave.
Hey everyone today's Post 397 and I would like to start off by saying I hope everybody had a happy Easter. It means for me that I get two weeks off school which is usually a great opportunity to get out and go Nature Hunting! I may not get as far as usual though as Dad's bad knee got fixed this week with a little operation so we may not be out and about as much as usual. Still I have one or two posts to catch up on so watch this space!

On Good Friday though we thought we'd head to the Lakes for a day out but we didn't get far when we saw the traffic going that way was very, very heavy. Fortunately we had a backup plan and we took a turn off to Upper Teesdale. This area is different to the lakes but is also stunning and a lot of it is a huge national nature reserve. I had a wonderful time but I also saw a lot of wonderful things there! One of which was a complete first for me! The scenery at the place we went to last (Bowlees visitor centre) was lovely. It was basically a really nice forest with a stream running right the way through the middle of it. This runs to the river Tees which has some impressive waterfalls on it.
Coltsfoot Flower (Tussilago farfara)
We went up to High Force first for a nice walk, there's not much wildlife around there because of all the people but it's still nice to see that huge force of nature as well! To get some good photos I had to stand on a rock that was a bit precarious! --->

The walk up to Bowlees was quite fun. We walked along the side seeing some interesting birds, we even saw a Nuthatch in the feeding area! When we got to the end of the walk we found a place called Gibsons Cave which is literally right under a Waterfall!
Me looking at High Force waterfall
Right next to the car park is a place where the stream is quite large, and it was on the banks of it where I happened to see my first ever glimpse of a Crossbill! There must have been about 5 or 6 there all flitting in to get a drink. It was great to see them but they didn't stay around long but just enough for me to get a couple of nice shots.

As a new species for me I had to find out more about them, so, here are some facts:
  • Well you may have guessed how they get their name, the Crossbill has a crossed-bill at the end. An old tale related to Easter is that they got this and their colour from trying to pull the nails out of Jesus's hands and feet when he was on the cross.
  • They have quite a large head and are quite a chunky bird in themselves.
A pair of crossbills
  • One reason why I probably haven't seen them before is because they're usually at the top of pine trees either nesting or eating. 
  • During the Summer months around 40,000 breeding pairs can be seen.
  • I'm not sure how many there are in winter but I read that they have a long breeding season in some parts of their territory - they have been recorded as breeding in every month of the year!
  • They're seen in a lot of the UK but not in central England, the centre of Ireland and some of the far corners of the country.
A male crossbill (Loxia curvirostra)
  • They're a Green status probably as there hasn't been any decline in them. The only threat that I can think of to them would be deforesting of pine trees.
  • They're about 16cm long with a 29cm wingspan. Both Males and Females weigh a rather light 43g.
  • They first breed at 1 year old and they usually live until the ripe old age of 2 years, but the oldest was only 3 years, 2 months and 10 days.
  • So why do they have a crossed bill? Well it allows them to crack open conifer seeds which not many other birds eat. This might be why their population is stable as they have a regular food source and not much competition for it.
Here are some links to some more information:

Hope you enjoyed,


Sunday, 13 March 2016

Post 396 - Got Cracking News - Great Crested Newt!

Great Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus)
Hey everyone, post 396 today and I'm writing about my first amphibian encounter of the year. Two things are amazing about this. First, it was in my garden and secondly it was a Great Crested Newt!

Now I've found newts in my garden before. When Dad's clearing up stuff in the garden or moving plant pots there's often a Common Newt lurking underneath so he's pretty careful when gardening. I wrote about one I re-homed with him back on Day 13 of my blog. It's nice looking back at old posts, like I did with lichens recently, and even nicer when I've come across a new species to tell you about.

Our garden is small, semi wild and has a nice mix of plants, shrubs and trees. There is a tiny pond with a waterfall. Underneath this Dad used a lot of stony material of different sizes, this left lots of space for things to crawl in and hibernate. The pond gets very full of dead leaves and plants though as a tree hangs over it. So I don't think the newts live in our pond. I've only ever seen a bit of frog spawn in it once. All our neighbours have ponds, all sorts of different sizes too so it seems we have a nice area for amphibians. I have seen frogs and toads in the garden too.

Finding the Great Crested Newt though was very special. I was just on my way to my Nana's house for a piano lesson when I spotted it strolling through the garden. I showed Dad and we looked closely to be sure. It's much darker and bumpier than the usual newts we find and we could make out its crest. I've done my research and I'm pretty certain it is one. Here's some of what I found out about them:

Showing his silver lined tail and you can just see the crest

  • They are Britain's largest and most endangered newt. They can be up to 16cm long.
  • You can find them, if you're lucky, in most of Britain, apart from Devon and Cornwall and some parts of Wales and Scotland.
  • It's not just Britain that you will find them though, they are also found in Northern and Central Europe as far as the Ural mountains.
  • Their diet is made up mainly of aquatic invertebrates but they will tackle large prey such as smooth newts and large dragonflies!
  • Sadly though they are not that common and have suffered a severe decline in the last 50 years.
  • One of the reasons for their decline is the loss of their habitat. The ponds they use for breeding in the past have been filled in for agriculture or for house building.
  • I read that around 100 years ago there were probably about 1,000,000 ponds in our country side, now there are only around 478,000.
  • Because of this decline they are protected. Great crested newts are a European protected species. The newt, their eggs, breeding sites and resting places are protected by law. 
He had a nice stroll through the garden -  I love his little orange finger-tips!
  • They get their name from the crest that the males grow during the breeding season. They also develop the silver line on their tails. Mine seems to fit the bill of being a male! The crests are much more impressive in the water.
  • You can't see it on mine but their bellies have an orange and black spotted pattern on them.
  • In their breeding ponds males will do an elaborate display for the females. 
  • Eggs are laid in March-April individually on leaves of aquatic plants which are folded around the egg to protect them.
  • The newt tadpoles grow differently to frogs and toads as they grow their front legs first!
  • They take about 18 weeks to develop from egg to juvenile.
And then headed into a little hidey hole.
  • They like ponds which dry up from time to time. This is because these ponds won't have fish in and the young newts, called efts, won't get eaten by them!
  • Adults newts will hang round in ponds eating frog and toad tadpoles though!
  • They feed up in the Autumn ready for Winter. They like to hide out in piles of rocks or sticks. They don't hibernate and will emerge when it's mild to forage.
So, I hope that's a nice bit of background to these fabulous creatures. You can find lots more information at:


Thursday, 10 March 2016

Post 395 - Looking for Lovely Little Lichens

Hey everyone, post 395 today and I was reminded of an old post I did quite early in my original 'Year of Nature' by this tweet the other day.
My post was way back on Day 14 - World in a Wall - and was all about the things I found in a wall at Rievalux Abbey on a misty Autumn day. It was mainly lichen and since then I have found lots more lichen and some of them look like mini forests. Well these are such amazing organisms that I thought it was worth revisiting them and sharing some of my newer photos with you.

This is the most amazing mini forest I found
- this is a Caldonia Lichen 
So Lichens, they are truly amazing. Why? Well here's why:

  • Lichens are technically an inanimate symbiosis, basically two living organisms coming together to make a type of composite organism.
  • Another way to describe them is just to say that they are an extremely successful partnership between a fungus and an alga.
  • There have been several colonies that have been found to be over 9,000 years old! That's in the times of the Ancient Egyptians...
Lovely lichen with fruiting bodies
- Xanthoria polycarpa 
  • ...Well why did I bring the Egyptians up? Well, back in Ancient Egyptian times, Lichens were used as packing for the mummies! 
  • Some Lichens are thought to be among the oldest living organisms on earth.
  • That means that we still could have living versions of what were used in 7000 BCE!
  • The largest lichens have been known to grow up to 1 metre long in their 'thallus' (the 'vegetative bits of the lichen) although most are usually just a few centimetres.
  • Lichens often grow in areas of exposure that frequently experience droughts and sometimes places that experience extreme hot or cold.
This is a beard or hair lichen - Usnea rubicunda I think
  • By what I've found from the last few facts you might expect to find them in an African desert. I expect there are some there but I have found lots in my trips around Yorkshire and Northumberland, some of which are in my pictures.
  • There are more than 1,700 different species of lichen in just Britain alone, I myself don't know exactly how many I have seen, but it must be over 100. They are hard to identify but I have tried with a few of my images.
A strap type lichen - Ramalina farinacea ?
  • Worldwide, though there are 18,000 described species of lichen.
  • They are very varied in their requirements too. Some species will live in a wide variety of places and conditions but others need very precise conditions. Some for instance like the salty conditions of the sea shore.
  • Lichens don't like pollution, especially sulphur dioxide which was present in a lot of cities in the 19th century as a lot more coal was burned. This chemical dissolved in rain causes acid rain and this was the cause of lichens disappearing from cities.
  • Apparently one lichen, the pollution lichen, Lecanora conizaeoides wasn't affected and thrived!
  • Most Lichens grow very slowly, only around 1mm per year.
There was so much of the orange/yellow lichen on the coast
near Craster, I think it is Xanthoria aureola
  • Some lichens take a long time to spread and can only be found in ancient woodlands because of this.

Here are some links to some more information:

Hope you enjoyed,


Monday, 7 March 2016

Post 394 - Wonderful rambling at wildlife reserves - a challenge update

Some fabulous fungi at Fairburn
Hey everyone, today's post 394 and I have been to a couple of places recently which I haven't written about yet so I thought I'd make up for that today. The weekend before last I went to a reserve that's a favourite of mine, RSPB Fairburn Ings and this weekend I had a stroll around a reserve that's new to me, Yorkshire Wildlife Trusts Strensall Common.

So what were they like and what did I see?

About the best my camera could do with the
displaying Grebes!
Fairburn Ings - I'd been planning to get here the week before but that didn't work out as I wasn't feeling very well, a shame as I heard there was a Spoonbill and a Smew there that week. The reserve had been flooded as well so we didn't know how much was open but as I read that the Smew was still about I was keen to go and have a look for it.

At the entrance to Strensall Common
Well I went and the reserve didn't look like it had been flooded, only one path was still closed. Our family had a lovely walk round but I wasn't lucky enough to find the Smew this time. I saw plenty of other birds though. On the feeders were the Tree Sparrows, Great Tits, Greenfinches, Chaffinches and as we walked round we saw a Treecreeper. On the Lakes there were Goosanders, Oystercatchers, Tufted Ducks, Goldeneyes and Swans.

The highlight though this time was watching a pair of Great Crested Grebes doing their courtship display, bobbing and shaking their heads. It was lovely to watch but I only managed a couple of ropey photos as they were on the far side of the lake. I missed out last year seeing one of these birds with its young being carried on the parent's back so I'll be looking out for that this year!

Reeds, heath and copses, lovely habitats
Strenall Common - this reserve had lots of heather on it, which isn't that unusual where I live being close to the North York Moors but what made this different was that it was in the Vale of York, so quite low down. When I looked it up it is part of a big area of lowland heath which is internationally important!

Dad, Esme and I had a lovely walk round the common while Mum was visiting a friend in York. It had lots of interesting habitats. There was plenty of heathland of course, some nice patches of wet woodland, reedy areas and lovely copses of silver birch.

Wet woodland, the Beech leaves and ferns were
lovely in the sunshine.
It looks like a place that will be great in the summer months and there was evidence of mammals about even at this time of year. I didn't see much here other than Chaffinches and Longtailed Tits in the trees but I'll have to try and get back in a few months as I'm sure there are a lot of dragonflies waiting to emerge. Apparently it's good for Common Lizards too which I really like.

I did a mini clean as well as I found an old helium balloon there as well as a few bottles and cans so I collected a few up as I went round and put them in the bin at home.

A dead Helium balloon, picked this up so it wouldn't
harm any wildlife!

Well that's been it for a couple of weeks, it's a busy patch so I've not been out and about quite as much. Should be getting out and about a bit more soon especially as it's been nice enough to get a walk in the bit of light still around at teatime now!

Hope you enjoyed,


Thursday, 3 March 2016

Post 393 - Old Mouldy Onions Manifested Owl Midges

Owl Midge - Psychodidae family
Hi everyone, Post 393 today. I was talking on twitter yesterday to Zoologist Jess about how the mini-beasts are still tucked up as eggs, larvae or whatever at the moment ready to emerge as the weather gets warmer. At the weekend I saw my first wasp though as it was very mild but it was the other side of my window and didn't hang around for a photograph.

I did find another really mini-beast though at the weekend. We were cleaning up in our sun lounge which is a nice cool part of the house in the winter and Dad stores vegetables from the allotment for winter. Some of the onions though were now starting to look a bit ropey and there were some aphids on new shoots from some. As we sorted through them to get rid of the bad ones we noticed a few little fluffy flies flitting about. I managed to capture one in a petri dish and got it under my microscope. It's one I can hook up to the PC so I got some nice shots of it. I wasn't sure what it was, Dad's best guess was a whitefly of some form as he gets these sometimes on his vegetables.

I really like the antennae and fluffly heads
I did my research but it didn't look quite right for a whitefly so thanks to twitter and @flygirlNHM I found out it is an Owl Midge. I did my research on this species, a new one to me, and here's what I found:

  • The first thing to say is that they are very small, these pictures were taken under a very powerful microscope, it can magnify up to 200x!
  • There actual size is just 2 - 4 millimetres! That puts it among the smallest living organisms that I've covered on my blog!
  • They're usually only seen from May through to October, but you can tell from the date that this post was put up that we're not in that period yet.
  • Well, I was watching an interesting video by a Twitter friend called L.B. Loxley, yes it was about frogs but it was also explaining how our animals are coming out due to the mild Winter.
A view from below - when you look close you
can see the compound eye.
  • There life span is quite small, like themselves, at only 5 days long, I mean, that seems quite average due to their size really. 
  • In the owl midge family, there are a huge 2900 species! Only 99 of these live in Britain, though, which is quite an exact number.
  • One way to identify them is to look for the very small hairy, pointed wings, which all Owl Midge's have.
  • They lay their eggs in stagnant water and in whatever lies in drains and waste pipes, so it seems they don't like the cleanest of places...
I still tried to get a bugs eye view even though
it was a true mini-beast
  • The larvae then hatch out within a 2 days and feed on the decaying matter for the next two weeks. So Dad's old onions were just right for them!
Here are a few links to some more information:

Hope you enjoyed,


Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Post 392 - Usefully Using Leap Day to write a letter to my MP

More people my age need to know about how to look after the planet.
Hey everyone, today's Post 392 and even though it's not a special post number, it was a special Day yesterday, it was the 29th February, a day that I really respect as it really doesn't happen often. So I thought I would do something special and write a reply to my MP. On Day 200 I did a post on writing to him about the fox hunting vote (which got called off :-) and nature in education. He wrote me a really nice reply and invited me to write back letting him know what the Education Secretary had to say about nature in the curriculum.

I got a reply from the Minster for Schools (see Day 250) which showed there isn't much in the curriculum about caring for nature and looking after the planet. Mya Bambrick got an almost identical letter too. I don't think this enough. We need every child to know about the environment, how wildlife and habitats are under threat and how to look after the planet in future.

So I used my Leap Day to write a new letter, you can see it below. I'll let you know what my MP says. It would be great if more people could do the same so that we can try to get more added to the curriculum.

I also thought I'd mention the Wildlife Crime Unit is important and hope he will try to help save that too.

Hope you enjoyed,



Dear Rishi,

Nature needs us!
When I got your latest newsletter at home the other day it reminded me that I haven't written back to you after your very kind response to my letter last May. I understand that people have different views on hunting. I understand population control of some species, like deer, is sometimes required for conservation and sometimes for the protection of farm animals, but I also think it's a very tricky subject as people can get quite upset about it - I don't like cruelty to animals and I don't understand why some people enjoy 'sports' that are cruel.

What I really wanted to contact you about today though is the environment. As the area that you cover is very rural I was surprised your newsletter didn't have something in it about nature and protecting the environment. I read the article on dairy farming and was pleased that it didn't mention Badger culling which is upsetting too when it seems it doesn't work but vaccination does.

I wanted to follow up on what I think was the most important part of my letter, the bit about education in nature. You said to write back when I had a response from Nicky Morgan. She didn’t reply but asked the Minister for Schools to reply. The response that I and a nature loving friend, Mya Bambrick who also wrote to the Minster for Schools, received were pretty similar and emphasised that there are only little bits about nature in the curriculum. You can see the response in my post on Day 250 of my blog, We don't think that there is enough! The Minister didn't mention anything in the curriculum about the threats to our environment and wildlife nor anything to encourage young people to protect nature and our planet. Surely we need this to be part of every child's education if my generation and future ones are going to be the ones looking after it? Will my children and yours have an environment that is capable of being saved,  or even know or ever see some of the species that are in critical decline or facing extinction? Can our planet handle the damage man is doing? Maybe if people know more about these things, especially young people, we will have a chance to reduce the harm humans have done to the world. Some things just need a helping hand to get it into people`s minds, such as Reduce Reuse Recycle - and it is normal now for people to recycle. Maybe other initiatives could be started in a similar way. I hope you can support and promote more education on caring for the environment, as well as local conservation groups like the one at Foxglove Covert. 
All sorts of creatures need our help.

There is something else you might be able to help with. I've signed a petition recently on something which is quite strange. There is a lot in the news about raptors still being under threat and many being found dead in strange circumstances. I find it odd that the Government wants to remove the Wildlife Crime Unit when there are lots of problems still with hunting, hare coursing etc., and of course with raptors like the rare Hen Harrier still needing help. Is this something you support? Would you try to help tell the Government we still need the Wildlife Crime Unit? I'd be grateful if you could.

One more thing I saw in the paper is that you don’t support staying in the EU. I know this is a complicated subject but at least some of the EU rules gives nature a bit more protection and a lot of people I know were very happy when the EU rules were kept recently. If you support nature and, as you mentioned in your letter to me last year, are keen to get more children interested in nature will you be getting involved in more activity to encourage this? Would you be able to help promote nature and local conservation projects?
My MP liked my Elephant Hawkmoth post -
it reminded him of costumes on Eurovision!

I'm glad you enjoyed my blog and the colourful creatures I covered. This year I've set myself the challenge of visiting as many Yorkshire Wildlife Reserves as I can and I'm off to a good start so far. I do want to go back to some again, like Foxglove Covert. They were beautiful in winter and can't wait to see how alive they are in the Summer. 

I hope you are getting ready for the Eurovision song contest again, I especially enjoyed the Swedish entry last year and it will be interesting to see how they do in hosting it this year.

Kind regards,