Wednesday, 27 January 2021

Your local patch

 Lockdown#3 drags on here in the UK, and I for one am keen for some fresh air and nature, even though it is the middle of winter. As an incentive to get out of the house (once per day!) I am doing a virtual Land's End to John O'Groats challenge. I'm alternating running and walking days, and the walking days are all done on the farm tracks, footpaths and bridleways around and about the village - my local patch.

I do feel really fortunate to be living in the countryside, with lots of green space and walking opportunities everywhere, and the nature and wildlife that goes along with that. But your local patch can be just as intriguing no matter where you are - the chance to watch the changes over the seasons, to find the rhythms of nature, and to notice the life all around is not to be missed.

One great activity for a local patch is to keep a local patch bird list. My regular walking routes include various paths and loops, but all cover much the same area, and I have this set up as one of my 'places' on the BTO BirdTrack site. I've had this set up for years, but fell out of the habit of regularly logging anything - until now! On my walks I'm now looking and listening for bird life, and I'm looking forward to the arrival of spring and summer visitors. It's given me a focus, and I'm noticing things like how the weather affects the birds I see or don't see, and I'm getting familiar with some of the birds too - I know where the kestrel hangs out, the territories of the two pairs of crows, the buzzard's favourite perch.

 And this is all adding to the BirdTrack data, contributing to ongoing research into trends in bird populations and movements. What's not to like!


Getting to know your local patch, wherever you are, is a great way to connect with nature!

Saturday, 2 January 2021

Goodbye 2020, hello New Year!

2020 was the most rubbish of years without doubt. The pandemic put a stop to all the planned nature journalling sessions with BCN Wildlife Trust over the spring and summer, and it's looking like we won't get going again until maybe spring this year.

But, in all the gloom and hard times, there has been a silver lining, in the heightened appreciation of the benefits that the natural world can bring. On the last day of the year I enjoyed a walk around the fields here in my corner of Cambridgeshire. The weather had turned very cold, and the freezing fog had barely lifted all day, but still there was plenty to appreciate.

Amid the muted greys and greens, the hedgerow fruits really popped with colour - there are lots of crab apples about, many still on the trees and plenty on the ground, a winter store of food for lots of wildlife. And a nice treat was a fox, nose to ground, back and forth over the frozen field, looking for a meal no doubt - another splash of colour in a foggy, frosted landscape.
A record of my walk for the last nature journal entry of the year.
Bring on 2021!

Sunday, 1 November 2020

October nature nates - and a rarity!

Back in August I signed up for a virtual Land's End to John O' Groats challenge - 874 miles to be completed in a year. I'm alternating running and walking days, and the challenge has certainly got me out and about more regularly, especially walking. I usually just walk around the fields here in my corner of Cambridgeshire - nothing spectacular, but pleasant rural routes nonetheless. 

And it was when I was out on one of these walks that I spotted my first ever Great Grey Shrike! I saw an unfamiliar bird flying away from me along the ditch at a field edge - found it in my binoculars (note - NEVER leave home without your binoculars!), and there it was, unmistakeable, a Great Grey Shrike with it's black bandit mask, perched atop a scrubby bit of blackthorn. I watched it for a few minutes as it flew from perch to perch along the field edge, then further away down the far side of the field until it disappeared from sight. I continued my walk, which took me round the edge of the field. As I approached the far corner - there it was again! It popped back up and perched up on a stand of dog rose, then flew back across the field to where I'd first seen it, giving me a great view of its black, white-flashed wings.

I didn't really realise at the time what a rarity this bird is in the UK. I reported it to my local bird club, who sent me a UK rarities form to fill in and submit. I also recorded it on BirdTrack, and the whole thing has now prompted me to start keeping and submitting complete lists whenever I go for a walk around the fields (a habit I had fallen out of!)

Other October highlights for me included a Brambling in the rowan tree at the end of our drive. I've only ever seen them here two or three times over the last 10 years, so this was a treat!

And I've been adding weekly to my perpetual journal, bits and pieces I've found while out walking mostly...

And of course the wet and mild weather has been great for fungi. I took a couple of hours off to go and walk around a marvellously muddy Waresley Wood.

I even found a fab little beetle - a False ladybird beetle Endomychus coccineus, which I submitted to iRecord.

 As we head into November the skies are stormy, and once again lockdown is looming. It will surely be a hard winter for many people; just remember, nature endures, the rhythms of the seasons march on, and the wild, in all its forms, continues to be there for us, if we will only stop and notice it. 


Thursday, 1 October 2020

Autumn is here - nature notes for September

September has been rather a lovely month here in this part of Cambridgeshire. There has been lots of sunny and warm weather, with things cooling down a little in the last week or so of the month. Autumn is definitely here!

I had a very pleasant afternoon walking round Paxton Pits nature reserve one sunny day. I was sitting sketching a Meadow Cranesbill flower when along came a hornet - very impressive! I watched as it spent a good few minutes thoroughly investigating the many nooks and crannies in the curled up and drying out leaves of a hedge bindweed plant that was growing up the fence. I guess it was looking for a meal, but it eventually left unsuccessful in its search. Despite their fearsome reputation I have always found hornets to be quite laid-back insects that just get on with whatever it is they are doing - wasps are much more bothersome!

A walk around the fields one damp afternoon saw me treading very carefully - there were loads of huge slugs! Another nature journal spread, and lots to learn...

I often see wildlife, and notice the roadside/pathside plants, while I'm out running - and I think keeping a nature journal makes you more attentive of what's around you. Out for a run one afternoon a couple of weeks back, I kept spotting things to include on a little map page, starting with the various crowds of house sparrows along the way, to a small flock of lapwings and a low-flying buzzard. Another day and another run, along the same road, I saw a peregrine falcon - the first I've ever seen on my 'local patch' - that was quite exciting (literally stopped me in my tracks)!

And so the year marches on. I'm seeing our summer visitors less and less, with very few swallows and martins around by the end of September, and I'm enjoying watching some bright and smart-looking chiffchaffs picking their way through the shrubs. I guess it won't be long before I hear the calls of the redwings arriving in the darkness, and the fieldfares will be here soon enough to feast on the berries on the rowan tree.

There's always another wonder of nature to look forward to!

Monday, 31 August 2020

Nature notes August 2020 - summer's end

The strange year that is 2020 moves into Autumn. In August we've had blazing hot sunshine and high humidity, freezing cold downpours, thunderstorms and, in the last few days of the month, a definite autumnal feel with a cooler breeze and rainy, chilly nights. There are still some house martins and swallows around but the swifts have long since departed. The rowan tree at the end of the drive is loaded with red berries, and a group of four or five mistle thrushes have been visiting (are these the ones I saw earlier this year perhaps?).


Early in the month, when the weather was warm and settled and the nights balmy, I thought I'd try some low-tech mothing - a light and a white sheet - for a couple of hours, just to see what I might find. Well, I learned that flying ant day can also be flying ant night! The first night I tried there were hundreds of flying ants attracted to the light, plus a few moths. I tried again the next night - this time no ants, but not many moths either. I think a proper moth trap is on the cards for next year!

My walks around the village have been feeling increasingly autumnal. The bright russet colour of the dock plants seems extra vivid, and I found a huge flock of goldfinches feeding on thistle heads in an uncropped field, a real treat.

Another treat this month has been a barn owl webcam - a second brood, with (currently) two owlets. I spent much of May sketching peregrines and their chicks via webcams, and now I'm hooked on barn owls and their chicks (unexpectedly, this late in the year!).

 Next is another nature journal page, put together from stuff I saw while out running - I was struck by the numbers of house sparrows I saw and heard along my route, which took me from my house, via a quiet country road, through the next village, and back. First was the gang that hangs out in the shrubs at the end of the drive. Then, a big flock that lives in the hedgerow on the way out of the village. As I continued on through the next village I found another busy colony chattering away in a hedgerow. And finally, out in the fields was another group, again in a hedgerow, by a barn. They definitely stick together in the most sociable way, and they seems to have had a really good year this year - there are loads! Further out I was really pleased to see a flock of lapwings in the fields, and on the way back I saw a buzzard, hanging low and still in the stiff breeze, looking for all the world like a huge kestrel :-)

And I'm keeping up with the perpetual journal, one drawing per week. Really looking forward to this journal filling up and filling out over the years!

And a final sunset picture, just because!