Spotting Insects at the Local Nature Trail

21 June 2021


Each year during late spring and into summer, I always take a walk down to my local nature trail to see the beautiful display of wildflowers at the little meadow that grows at the end of the trail. At the moment the meadow has the beautiful, bright colour palette of red campion, creeping buttercup, welsh poppies and many other types of wildflowers sweeping throughout. I remember last year, during a low point in my life, I wandered along this meadow each day during summer and felt so much more calm as I watched the flowers sway gently in the breeze and butterflies dancing around me, landing gracefully on the flower petals. That feeling of calm came back to me recently as I wandered the wildflower meadow again. 


I have a big love for insects, I find them so fascinating and could spend hours watching them. A wildflower meadow is a perfect spot to see many different species of insects, however we don't have enough meadows for them. Sadly our insect numbers are declining rapidly, with habitat loss being one of the biggest issues. Fortunately there are little things that we can do to help insects thrive again, such as signing petitions/joining campaigns, community gardening and planting our own mini wildflower patches. 








I love that I have a little wildflower meadow to visit locally, it was planted a few years back and has been blooming each spring and summer ever since. Walking around the meadow I came across a number of bumblebees such as common carders and buff tails, common blue damselflies were spotted along with the banded demoiselle. I spotted hairy shield bugs hiding amongst the folds of leaves and ladybirds creeping up stems. Many butterflies were fluttering around the meadow, common blues, holly blues, orange tips, large whites and small whites. I was filled with joy to see so many insects surrounding this little wildflower patch, I see plenty in the garden but not as much as this. It gave me hope that there are more communities coming together to provide a home for nature. 


We have just over one week left of 30DaysWild, so why search for your local wildflower meadow and go on an insect hunt! I look forward to visiting this little patch again soon, especially when the oxeye daisies take over, it's such a wonderful display. I'll certainly be keeping an eye out for more species of insects around this spot. 

Bitterns Booming and Grasshopper Warblers at Middleton Lakes

7 June 2021


It had been a year since I visited Middleton Lakes for the first time and so two months back I decided to go back to explore the wetlands and woodland paths. Middleton Lakes is a RSPB reserve, nestled away in the heart of the River Tame Valley in Tamworth. The reserve has a network of wetlands, meadows and woodland trails to explore and is home to a variety of wildlife. I went out to the reserve on one sunny Saturday to see what wildlife I could find. 


As soon as I got out of my car, two swallows zoomed past my head, circled the sky and landed on a telephone wire to the edge of the car park. I couldn't believe it as I had only just seen my first ever swallow a week ago and there they were, with their long pointed tails, glossy blue feathers and red throats, metres away from me. I set off through the woodland trail which was surrounded by a sea of bluebells, with the scent of pungent wild garlic floating in the air. I made my way along the path and headed towards the wetland trail. Along the way I spotted two orange tip butterflies chasing each other in the air and landing on the cuckoo flowers amongst the long grass. I spotted many butterflies around Middleton Lakes that day including peacocks, speckled wood and a brimstone. 


I stopped for a while at the bridge over the canal and took in the beautiful views of the rapeseed fields. There were two friendly mallard ducks who were waddling along the bridge, followed by robins and chaffinches swooping down towards some bird seed that had been left on the bridge. I walked over the bridge and made my way to the start of the wetland trail where the first sound I heard was a loud, high pitched, grasshopper like sound coming from the long grass beside the wetland. Camouflaged against the long grass, perched on a low hanging branch was a grasshopper warbler! You can certainly understand where this warbler gets its name from as it makes this loud, insect-like reeling noise. Unfortunately this bird is now on the red list as its numbers have plummeted over the years, so I was very happy to have been lucky enough to see one for the first time at Middleton Lakes. 


After watching the grasshopper warbler for a while, I made my way along the trail watching wading birds spread out across the different pockets of wetland pools. Then all of a sudden, from what I think came from the reedbeds in front of me, was the sound of the famous bittern 'boom'. I couldn't believe it, it sounded exactly like someone was blowing a tune into an empty bottle. A local birder who was only a few metres away from me stopped to listen to the bittern too. We stood for a while waiting and we were very lucky to hear the sound of the bittern again! 



I saw plenty of butterflies whilst walking around the reserve. There were brimstones, small tortoiseshells, orange tips, peacocks and even a speckled wood which was lovely to see. Mayflies danced in the sky and many bumblebees were spotted buzzing around the wildflowers that were springing up. After a good walk around the reserve I made my way back towards the woodland and heard my first cuckoo of the year. A friendly robin was perched on a branch right in front of me as I walked back towards the car park. I left some bird seed on a wooden pallet as it wasn't too sure about whether to land on my hand, which it very nearly did! There are quite a few tame robins and other birds around the site and so I would recommend keeping some bird seed to hand! 


I look forward to visiting again soon, especially as I have been told that there are barn owls around the site, which unfortunately I missed as I was heading to the car park. Now that summer is on the way, I'm sure the reserve is going to be bursting with even more life. 


RSPB Middleton Lakes

Spring at the Wetlands

9 May 2021


A while ago I went for a walk around Willington Wetlands to see spring unfolding around the wetlands and to see what wildlife I could spot. I also did an Instagram takeover on the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust account, with a mini walk around the site. I thought I would share a mini photo diary and share what sightings I had that day. 


The weather keeps changing and can't decide whether to stay warm or cold, but when I visited Willington Wetlands it was a bright and sunny day with a lovely warmth and cool breeze in the air. The first bird I saw and heard when I walked into the site was a buzzard, who was circling around the grassland and soaring over the trees. Another bird of prey flew over which turned out to be a sparrowhawk, a male one which is smaller than the female and with an orange and brown streaked chest. Plenty of birds of prey can be seen around the site, such as kestrels, peregrines and occasionally marsh harriers. It's the perfect hunting ground for them. 





Another familiar sound that surrounded me as I walked down Meadow Lane towards the main wetland reserve, was a chiffchaff. To me it is the sound of spring, it's the sound I always look forward to hearing when spring arrives and I heard many of them singing away up in the trees as I wandered down the path. In fact there was a chiffchaff right in front of me, I stopped still in time to not scare it away and watched as it was singing and hopping from one branch to another. They can be a difficult bird to ID as they look very much like a willow warbler and so an easier way to determine the species would be to listen to their song as they are very different from one another. 


The wetland itself was teeming with bird life, noisy bird life I should say, because the sound coming from across the water was incredible. Lots of squawking black headed gulls and honking Canada geese was coming from the shingle and grass islands. It's understandable that there be so much noise as it's nesting season and all that commotion is mostly all about territory! I took my time to stop at each of the viewing platforms, keeping an eye out for the kingfisher that I usually see when I visit the site or just to stand for a moment to watch the breeze blow through the reedbeds. When I got down to the bottom of the trail, I stopped by the bird feeding station to see what birds were vising, although not many this time, there's usually a flock of long-tailed tits who hang about the bird feeders, but this time it was just the reed buntings and blue tits. 






I made my way back with a chorus of chiffchaffs following me along the path and chaffinches hopping from branch to branch in front of me. I took a walk back along the grassland where I spotted common stork's-bill dotted around the shorter patches of grass and many other little wildflowers that are starting to spring up. As I made my way back to my car, the buzzards were soaring through the sky again up above me and bumblebees were buzzing around the blackthorn blossom that lined the path. I look forward to visiting again in the summer time when the sand martins, dragonflies and damselflies begin to visit.  

Springtime wanderings

12 April 2021


Since I spend a lot of my time based around the Derbyshire, I thought I would take a trip down to Staffordshire Wildlife Trust and go for a walk around The Wolseley Centre. It's the HQ for Staffs Wildlife Trust and has 26 acres of grounds to explore. You can take a stroll along the river bank where you could see kingfishers speeding past in a flash of blue, a beautiful boardwalk surrounding tranquil pools and streams and there's even a sensory garden with pond and feeding stations for you to sit and relax and enjoy wildlife surrounding you. 


As soon as I stepped into the grounds, I was greeted by wildlife. Chiffchaffs were singing in the trees, ducks and geese were greeting people as they walked over with bags of feed and tadpoles were seen swimming about in the ponds. It's been a very long time since I last saw a tadpole, I think I was in reception and I remember seeing lots of little tadpoles in the pond in the school grounds. When wandering around the Wolseley Centre, I walked over to one of the pond dipping stations and couldn't believe my eyes when I saw these tiny tadpoles in the water. 




I wandered over to walk beside the river bank and a flash of blue sped along the water, a kingfisher landed on a branch for a while and then flew off again, speeding off through the trees. I felt at ease as I was stood beside the sandy river bank, watching mallard ducks swim past, blue tits chirping in the alder trees to the side of me and two grey wagtails chasing each other along the river bank. I took a walk along the boardwalk where I spotted marsh-marigold along the fringes of the pools and Canadian geese making perfect spots for their nests. I came across a very friendly robin, who wasn't afraid to swoop down from a tree and land beside me to take a few seeds that had been left on the boardwalk. 


I fell in love with the sensory garden, which has a section of raised flower beds with pollinating plants, mini ponds full of colour, bird feeding station for the birds and plenty more. I could have sat for hours watching the birds swoop to the feeders, coal tits, blue tits, robins and dunnocks were seen at the feeders and in the trees. I saw a song thrush hopping amongst the shrubs, flicking up the leaves and dirt with its beak so that it could look for insects to eat. I spotted a female wood duck, which I've only ever seen at WWT reserves and didn't realise that it's a duck that isn't native to the UK. 






Wherever I wandered, spring was surrounding me. Leaves growing on the trees, flowers blooming, birds singing and plenty of life in the ponds and rivers. There's nothing I love more than springtime wanderings. 


The Wolseley Centre 


Frogs at the Nature Trail

5 April 2021

I've always had a fascination with frogs. They've been visiting the garden for as long as I can remember, hopping around the borders in search of a good meal amongst the shrubs and stones. We've had small ones, large ones and each with different blends of earthy colours. I had never thought to build a pond in the garden until last year, when the first lockdown started and I decided to make a mini pond in the border. I was very surprised to see that one of the resident frogs appeared in the pond a week later after building it. I am yet to see the garden frog, but around two weeks ago I heard that there were lots of frogs down at my local nature trail and so I just couldn't resist going out for a walk with my camera to see if I could capture some frog photos. 


The first thing I could hear as I was walking towards the location of the frogs, was this loud croaking noise. I couldn't believe it, all of these male frogs competing against each other with their loud croaking chorus that reverberated around the woodland. I wandered along the path and there they were, little frog heads poking out of the water below the banks, surrounded by clumps of jelly like spawn. I crouched down to take some photos and to my surprise watched as two frogs swam towards me and stared right into the camera lens with their large eyes that sparkle like gold dust. I could have watched them for hours, there must have been around 20 of them scattered around that part of the woodland, swimming about in the shallow body of water that collects at the bottom of the woodland banks.


Unfortunately, due to hardly any rainfall over the past few weeks and the frogs choosing not much of a great place for their spawn, they have ventured elsewhere and the water levels have decreased massively. I hope that they have wandered back to the main pond at the beginning of the trail, which is a much more perfect spot for them to breed!


Have you seen any frogs lately?


A Visitor at the Pond 

Common Frog - Wildlife Trust

How to create a mini pond - Wildlife Trust


Wetland Wanderings

7 March 2021

If you asked me what my favourite type of reserve to explore is, I'd find it rather difficult to give one answer. I love walking around a variety of different types of reserves, each and every one of them are very different to each other and offer so much wildlife to see. Wetland reserves are a favourite of mine to visit, purely for the sounds of wetland birds out at water and on land. I must admit, my wetland bird ID skills aren't as great as my garden bird ID skills, but whenever I'm out visiting a wetland reserve I'll take notice of the information boards and try and spot the birds that are listed. 


I walked around a favourite wetland reserve of mine a couple of weeks ago. Most of the wetland birds were too far away to get photos, but I was glad I bought my binoculars with me so that I could get a good enough view across the wetland. I normally see a kingfisher each time I visit and this time I spotted a flash of blue, zoom across one of the flooded gravel pits. A gaggle of geese were heard in the distance, over on the grassland beside the waters edge and suddenly a group of four herons took off from the ground and flew off across the water. I had never seen so many herons before!

I took a wander down towards the end of the trail, to watch the birds visit the feeders. Long-tailed tits, blue tits, great tits, reed buntings, robins, blackbirds and dunnocks were all out at the feeders. I absolutely love watching the long-tailed tits at the fatball feeders, as so many of them visit this one particular feeder. Sometimes I can get so close and stand almost underneath the feeder, quietly watching them with my camera at the ready and they never seem bothered by my presence. 





On my way back, I took the longer route back to the car so that I can wander along the edges of the smaller flooded gravel pits. I heard a distinctive sound in the distance, a song thrush singing loudly with its repeated phrases that it sings. A robin greeted me, who was perched on a buddleia branch and a dunnock was also heard singing nearby. There's just something so refreshing about walking around a wetland, for me, I think it's being by water and listening to the sounds of gulls, geese and many other birds that visit the wetlands. I recommend searching for your local wetland reserve and take a wander along its paths, you just never know what you might come across.


Bumblebees & Butterflies

28 February 2021

The days are getting lighter, the dawn chorus is beginning and the crocuses and daffodils are blooming. Spring is in the air, I can feel it and I can certainly see it too. As I write this blog post, I'm sat at the desk in the dining area, I keep looking out of the patio door windows to see the sun shining at the bottom of the garden. Not long ago, I spotted something flutter in the sunshine, so I quickly grabbed my camera, popped on my wellies (it's still a bit muddy in the garden) and to my surprise saw that it was a small tortoiseshell butterfly. The first small tortoiseshell in the garden! I don't know a lot about butterflies, but I do know that they are one of the first butterflies to appear in spring.

 

The other day I had just finished clearing out some leaves from my pond when I heard a buzzing noise behind me. Again, I quickly grabbed my camera and spotted a bumblebee enjoying the first taste of nectar from the pink dawn viburnum in the garden. I don't really know much about bumblebees either, but know that the queen bees are the ones to emerge first from their winter hibernation. I'm looking forward to doing a bumblebee ID course very soon and to do my own butterfly ID research too. I also look forward to when all the spring and summer flowers come into bloom over the next few months, I'll be growing plenty of wildflowers for the insects!