Tuesday 16 July 2019

Wicken Fen

The old wind-pump at Wicken Fen

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire is one of Britain's oldest nature reserves.  It has been many years since I was last there, so when I saw a day course in moths was to be held there this July I booked myself on.  I have become very interested in moths over the last couple of years and regularly run a moth trap in my garden.

I decided I would take my camper and stay nearby the night before to make a weekend of it.  In fact I stayed the night after as well and had a good wander around the reserve the following day looking at all sorts of wildlife.

My Bongo on the Trelander Camping and Caravanning site, near Isleham

I arrived on site in time for a late lunch, followed by a good walk along the river bank.  Someone was having a party with a live band in their garden, so that was fun.  Shame I wasn't invited but they were pretty good!  The camp site was pretty peaceful though, just someone in a big tent and a German family staying in one of the chalets.

After a good night's sleep, except for a bit of early morning rain, I headed off to Wicken for the start of the course.  It was all very interesting and I saw lots of new moths including several of the specialities of the reserve.


Beautiful China-mark

Reed Leopard

Afterwards I headed back to the camp site and booked myself in for another night.  It was a lovely evening but a bit breezy so I packed the awning away so it wouldn't flap in the night.

Next day, back at Wicken Fen, I spent the morning walking round the Nature Trail, about 2 1/2 miles in total, taking lots of photos of plants and insects.

Common Bladderwort, an insectivorous plant

Red Admiral butterfly

Roesel's Bush-cricket

Short-winged Cone-head, another type of cricket

Small China-mark, a day-flying moth

Some of the ponies used to graze the vegetation on the reserve.

After a late lunch in the cafe I headed for home.  I had a thoroughly enjoyable weekend.  I am now looking forward to my next expedition in the Bongo which will be a little further afield - 2 weeks in Pembrokeshire coming up soon!

Monday 30 April 2018

Not finding moths in Epping Forest

Some time ago I booked a day course at the Epping Forest FSC entitled 'Spring Moths for Beginners', thinking it would help me with moth ID as I am now running my little moth trap at least once a week.  I planned to make a weekend of it, staying in my campervan the night before and afterwards, and spending a bit of time exploring the area, which is somewhere I had never been before.

I set off late morning last Friday, after checking my trap which I had run the previous night for the Garden Moth Scheme - 6 moths found around the trap - not a good omen, after the much higher figures found the previous two weeks.  However 4 of the 6 were new for this year, so that was nice.  The weather had turned much colder and it was not a good forecast for the weekend.

Purple Thorn on the wall near the moth trap

Arriving at the Lee Valley Campsite, I checked at reception that I would be able to get back on site on Saturday night as I knew we would be trapping until at least 10.30pm. 'Oh no, we put the security barriers down at 8, - but you might be able to squeeze underneath!'  Long story short, a Bongo will go under the barriers at LV with about 1cm to spare.  So that was OK.

Bongo parked up plus new pop-up tent for storage on site

I was impressed by the campsite and the staff were lovely, very helpful.  There were mostly bigger motorhomes on site but a couple of brave souls were in tents - rather them than me.  Mine was the only Bongo.

It rained off and on until about 3, when I ventured out for a walk down by the river.  There is a huge reservoir not far away but I couldn't find the path to be able to see over it.  The river was quite nice though, lots of coots nesting, whitethroat and chiffchaffs singing, and a big flock of swallows all lined up on the fence before swirling around overhead.

Coots with recently hatched chicks
Mosses and lichens on the bridge parapet

On Saturday the course did not start until after lunch so I set off for Epping Forest in good time for an enjoyable walk, before having my lunch in the FSC carpark.  I saw some nice big old trees, quite a lot of walkers, but not much else.  I did find Cardamine flexuosa, Wavy Bittercress, growing by the path, which I think is a new plant for me.

Epping Forest

Epping Forest

The Moths course was very interesting and the tutor Martin Harvey very knowledgable.  We were mostly indoors but had a damp walk around later in the afternoon, looking for day flying moths (1 plume moth found) and larvae (a few very small caterpillars found).  After a nice meal in the Kings Oak nearby, we set up various types of moth traps and spent a couple of hours wandering around in the rain looking at slugs and beetles, and the newts in the pond while waiting for the influx of moths (a grand total of 3 Brindled Pugs).  It was a shame the weather was so inclement but I still learnt a lot.

On Sunday I set off for home, stopping off at Fingringhoe Wick, the Essex Wildlife Trust reserve.  I had previously been there looking for bees on a field trip from Flatford, but this time I concentrated on the bird-watching areas.  It was high tide so the inter-tidal area was covered, it looks to have great potential for waders, and I intend to come back and probably make a weekend of it by including Abberton Reservoir which is just up the road.  I did get a brilliant view of a singing nightingale and heard a turtle dove purring, so well worth it.

Lunch time view

The Inter-tidal area at high tide

Colne Estuary

All in all a great weekend.  The Bongo was ideal as my base, and I am looking forward to many more similar expeditions.

Sunday 31 December 2017

Pan Species 2017

This is the time of year to look back at what was seen over the last 12 months, and to look forward to doing more in the next 12 (where have I heard that before?)  2018 will be my last year of work before I retire at the end of December, so time will still be limited.  Although I do only work a 4 day week, there is always something that needs to be done which eats into PSL time.

Anyway, at the end of 2017 my list stands at 1471, an increase of exactly 100 over the last year, made up as follows:

Fungi: 19

Mostly identified on a local Fungi Foray at Hollesley, in October.  These included the interesting Parasitic Bolete, Pseudoboletus parasiticus on its host the Common Earthball,  Scleroderma citrinum

I also managed to find 3 species of Choke Fungus, Epichloe, which are determined by the species of grass on which they are found.  This one is Epichloe festucae, found on Festuca rubra, on our overgrown garden lawn.

Flowering Plants: 4

I started 2017 on 664, so its not that easy to add plants any more.  However 3 were on a farm walk with Jonny Stone near Ipswich, Persicaria hydropiper, Carex pilulifera and Mentha arvensis which just goes to show the benefit of an expert pair of eyes, and the fourth was a probable garden escape at Flatford Smyrnium perfoliatum.

Spiders: 3

Apart from plants, birds and perhaps butterflies, I have plenty of room for improvement.  I have acquired the new Spider guide this year but have not yet made much use of it.  New for 2017 included Agelena labyrinthica, the Labyrinth Spider, found in my garden and also locally.

Crustaceans: 2

Two woodlice from the garden which I am sure I have seen very many times, but never given a name to Armadillidium vulgare and Philoscia muscorum.

Silverfish: 1

Likewise I remember seeing these as a child, but had never added them to my list.  I found one in our bathroom this year.

Bugs: 6

An assortment of shield bugs and the smart Red and Black Froghopper.  This is Dolycoris baccarum, the Hairy Shield Bug.

Bees etc: 18

2017 was a good year for bees for me, I did a weekend course at Flatford Mill and made contact with some local hymenopterists.  Still plenty to go at though.  We seem to have quite a good garden for bees, I recorded Andrena florea, the Bryony Mining Bee here this year.  Several other new bees were seen on a field trip to Fingringhoe Wick nature reserve in Essex.

Looking over to Felixstowe Ferry from the garden

Beetles: 9

I don't know if I should be worried but these included 2 types of carpet beetle found in the house, and various garden pests such as Figwort Weevil and Rosemary Beetle!

Rosemary Beetle

Flies: 8

An assortment, mainly hovers, but also soldierflies and the aptly named Ivy Waspgrabber, Leopoldius signatus.

Butterflies: 1

I added Large Skipper to the list.  I am sure I have seen this before but recorded one in the garden.

Moths: 28

This is where I intend to make some progress next year, as I now have a moth trap.  In 2017 the majority of new records were from the wall of my office at work where an outside light is left on overnight.  This Garden Tiger Moth was rescued from nearly being run over by the post van!

Lacewings: 1

A Green Lacewing.

I am looking forward to 2018.  I have bought myself a small campervan and intend to use it for short trips and weekends away, where I can concentrate on wildlife.  I have a day course booked with the FSC in Epping Forest, on Spring Moths at the end of April, and I intend to join the PSL weekend down in Cornwall in June.  

Apart from this I am working on a proper Garden List, and there are still plenty of things to get to grips with, not least mosses and lichens!

Sunday 24 December 2017

Christmas Bongo

Christmas Bongo

Hurray, I have my Bongo back in time for the Christmas holidays!  It originally went to the garage because it wasn't starting well in the cold weather - a whole week and a not inconsiderable sum of money later - it is back and starting really well.  Success!

So today I opened up the roof to give it some air, cleaned the floor and brought the bedding indoors as I don't think I shall be sleeping in it for a while and I didn't want it to get too damp.

Then I took it out for a nice run:

I went to Levington Marina which is not far, but always interesting for a good walk and some birds to look at.

Looking over the marina to the River Orwell

I walked through the woods to Loompit Lake which holds a large colony of Cormorants.  On the way I saw a nice flock of Long-tailed Tits, and there were lots of Redshanks feeding on the edge of the water with a solitary Avocet.

Loompit Lake

I had hoped for perhaps a Great Northern Diver to be hanging about out on the river, but not today.  There have been a few around this winter.  

Looking back to the Marina and the woods.

Not much more to be seen here apart from a Little Egret and a single Brent Goose, so I returned to my van and made a cup of tea - just because I could!  Love my van - looking forward to lots of interesting trips further afield in the New Year!

Sunday 17 December 2017

Santon Downham for Parrot Crossbills Sunday 3rd December 2017

A flock of Parrot Crossbills had been reported from St Helens picnic site at Santon Downham for a couple of weeks.  After checking BirdGuides and finding they had been seen again, I made the decision to go and took the Bongo for a day trip.

I parked in the car park just over the level crossing, where there were several other cars.  Checking with some other birders I was given directions into the woods where I found a number of birders peering up into the tops of some fairly distant pine trees.

I had not bothered to bring my scope as I had been told they were showing 'very well', but a scope was definitely required.  However I had good views through my bins, and looked through a couple of other peoples scopes.  I saw around 10 birds, at one point they all flew around calling which was lovely.  After taking a few record shots with my 300mm zoom lens, I returned to the van for lunch intending to go back afterwards with my scope.

Parrot Crossbills

Parrot Crossbills

I enjoyed my lunch and a chat with a nice couple parked nearby who were very interested in my Bongo.  On returning to have another look at the crossbills they had moved off.  I had a good walk round but didn't see them again.

Spot the Bongo

The walk back alongside the railway line

I wanted to check out the St Helens picnic site with a view to overnight parking there next year.  There is a sign which says No Camping / BBQS with a picture of a tent (!) but no mention of motorhomes or campervans.  I think it would be ok for an occasional wild camp - I noted that the toilets are closed from 1st November to 31st March.  I spotted another Bongo there, the only one I saw all day until one on the A14, nearly back to Felixstowe.

A number of Hawfinches had been seen at Lynford so as I still had a bit of time I drove up to have a look.  I parked in the forestry car park and walked down through the Arboretum.  As I arrived at the paddock there were 6 Hawfinch briefly in the tops of trees across the far side of the field. 3 flew off but the light was not good and they were too far away for pictures.

Note to self: Always take your scope and make sure to keep the holder for my phone in the pocket for digi-scoping distant birds!

Arrived back home about 5.15pm, distance travelled 197km.

Saturday 21 October 2017

Suffolk wildlife walks

Last weekend I had a good excuse for a night out in my camper.  I had arranged to go on a fungus foray on Hollesley Common on the Sunday morning, so with the forecast predicting a calm and mild night I decided I would have a good walk on Saturday afternoon, and camp out Saturday night near to the start of the walk in the morning.

I set out after lunch on Saturday heading in the general direction of Woodbridge, then had the good idea of a walk at Martlesham Creek.  You can do a nice circular walk from the car park near Martlesham church, to the river wall, then back via the boatyard and through the woods.

Across the sheep field to the river Deben

Martlesham Creek

Looking back to the boatyard

It was a lovely afternoon, the sun came out, and I saw a good variety of birds including curlews, little egrets, a flock of around 30 lapwings, and lots of little grebes.  I saw a colour-ringed black-tailed godwit which I reported to the ringing scheme after I returned home, it will be interesting to find out where it has come from.

Spot the Bongo!
Returning to the car park there were some nice big chestnuts, just waiting to be picked up.  They made a nice snack for later.

After driving around Hollesley Common for a while I found the car park where we were meeting the next day, and decided it would make a good overnight wild camping spot.  I was able to tuck the van behind some trees away from the road, so it was not too visible to passers by, and far enough from the road to be fairly quiet.

Bongo in the woods, the road is behind the trees.
I had a cosy, peaceful night except for some noisy owls, and after breakfast had a little stroll in the forest while I was waiting for the rest of the group to arrive.

Hollesley Common
We had a very interesting walk, with a very knowledgable guide, and saw a good number of fungi considering that the weather had been very warm and dry.  We found a hornet's nest and a nest of wild honey bees.  There were at least 2 woodlarks singing, confused by the warm weather I think, and we saw where the fallow deer had their rutting ground.  I was invited to see some moths trapped the previous night, which was great - I am thinking of getting a moth trap possibly next year, so it was good to see this one which was home-made and very productive.

I drove on to Butley RSPB car park, where I had lunch, and another walk along the river wall to the ferry slipway.  More curlew, godwits, lapwings etc.  This is usually a good place to see a kingfisher but I was not lucky this time.

Butley Creek

Back home about 4pm, a round trip of 70km.

Monday 2 October 2017

Have camper, will travel

I have always wanted a campervan - the freedom of the open road and all that!  Well now I have one.  OK it's 20 years old, but I love it.  I intend to use it for wildlife and photography trips, even maybe a bit of twitching...

Here it is at East Lane, Bawdsey on my inaugural trial run a couple of weeks ago - I didn't want to go too far from home just in case!  I had a peaceful night except for a few fishermen coming and going from the carpark, and woke up to the fantastic sight of hundreds of swallows and house martins gathering to leave on migration.  

East Lane car park

After a walk along the seawall, I moved on to Hollesley RSPB reserve and then to Boyton marsh.  I had a lovely day out and the van was just what I hoped it would be, comfortable to sleep in, and a great base during the day.  Where to next?