Monday, 31 August 2015

Cairngorm National Park 2015

The Cairngorms is the UK's largest national park, and at 4528 square-kilometres in area it hosts a huge range of habitats which are home to an equally huge range of wildlife. Species including red squirrel, mountain hare, otter, beaver, wildcat, osprey and golden eagle can all be found in the park, making it a very unique location as it is inhabited by many species which are endemic(ish, you know what I mean) to the park. On arrival to Pitlochry on the Wednesday evening we wasted no time and headed off to Queen's view tearoom which has an astonishing view of various mountains and loch tummel. After an hour or so we headed back to the car, which took us along a beautiful woodland path surrounded by all sorts of lichens I'd never seen before! Our lodge was literally a few metres away from the river tay, the longest river in Scotland! The river is a Site of Special Scientific Interest as it has a flagship population of Atlantic Salmon, Freshwater Pearl Mussel (hosting two-thirds of the world’s remaining stock according to the website) and native species such as the Eurasian Otter. I took my trail camera with me incase I saw any telltale signs, such as footprints, droppings or well-used paths.

One of the days spent in the Cairngorms was in the company of Andy Howard, an award-winning wildlife photography based in the Scottish highlands. We were trekking around the moorland with three cameras in search of mountain hares, whose latin name is 'lepus timidus' - they were in fact anything but timid, with one individual (seen below) grazing the heather a few metres in front of us quite happily. The most important rule of wildlife photography is to let the animal come to you, not vice versa. This individual was not scared or anxious at all about our presence, allowing Andy and I to get some lovely shots of it going about it's daily business (not much apart from eating and sleeping to be honest!)
The first individual we saw, grazing on the new heather shoots.

Such beautiful eyes.

Whilst out on the moorland we also saw red grouse and plenty of buzzards soaring above us. Mountain hares change their fur colour depending on the season to aid camouflage. In the summer months they have a brown and light grey coat (as seen in these images), but in the winter they go completely white in time for the arrival of the snow, making them invisible to predators. Due to the fact that they are masters of camouflage, mountain hares feel very comfortable sleeping out in the open. Unlike rabbits they don't have burrows to shelter in…instead they usually rest in between rocks and amongst the heather. They can stay in these spots for days on end, especially in the winter, building up quite a collection of droppings (seen in the image below!) The more droppings, the more favoured the 'hideout' is - it could be the most sheltered, have the best view over the moorland to spot predators, just the right size etc. As you can see the one pictures below is near perfect!!

Red grouse amongst the heather.

Mountain hares don't have burrows - they do however have 'bolt holes' which are much less complex, but provide a safe place away from aerial predators. The individual above is sat in her favourite spot, with just enough shelter from the wind, but also with a clear view of the moorland. Every so often she would get up and have a stretch and yawn…but apart from that she didn't really do much…it's a hard life! They may seem to have it easy but their population is not faring too well. The current number of mountain hares in Scotland is unclear but the latest annual research published in 2013 by the BTO has indicated a disturbing decline of "43 per cent since 1995". This may be due to persecution but again this is unclear. Unlike the brown hare mountain hares are native to the UK, dating back for thousands and thousands of years. A discovery of mountain hare bones in Devon were found to be 114,000 years old, so it would be a huge shame to lose something that has survived for so long as a species...

Mountain hare in monochrome.

I had a fabulous day with Andy, and would strongly recommend him to anyone in Scotland/visiting Scotland who has a passion for wildlife photography…you're almost guaranteed to get some good shots! Visit Andy's website by clicking here - see his portfolio and guiding options. The other day in the Cairngorms was spent at Loch of the Lowes (not in the park boundary) looking for red squirrel, osprey and beaver. By the end of the day we had ticked two off the list but the beavers were not showing - not surprisingly as they had last been sighted in early July. Red squirrels however were in full stock! I saw three individuals throughout the day, mostly around the peanut feeders. The Loch of the Lowes nature reserve is well worth a visit…it has large viewing windows looking over the feeders where birds of all sort congregate, and a two story hide with scopes to keep and eye on the osprey nest on the opposite side of the loch.

There was certainly lots of evidence of beavers! I was told that they travel between the two lochs on the reserve through a small channel of water just below the osprey nest. I'm wanting to visit the Cairngorms again some time in the future so hopefully I'll have better luck next time! Whilst I was in the gift shop just about to leave I spotted one of the osprey chicks (just days away from migrating) on the nest! I rushed out to the hide and by the time I got there I managed to get a few previous seconds in before it took to the skies again. The photo of the osprey below was taken through a scope, illustrating just how far away the nest was!

There were two ospreys left (this year's father and one of the chicks) around the reserve as the rest had already headed off to Africa! Once the final two have left it won't be until next spring until they return again.

There were many enjoyable walks in the Cairngorms, through woodlands and along side rivers. One particular woodland was full of all sorts of fungi, including this very colourful Amanita Muscaria variety below. There is something extremely magical about toadstools like this. Overall I had an incredible time in Scotland, seeing things I'd never seen before and capturing some lovely images as well. Now time for a well-earned rest! 

Sunday, 30 August 2015


I love Birdfair! This year was my second time at the event, and I left on Saturday evening no less overwhelmed (in a good way) than I did last year. Birdfair is a truly incredible event, in which an astonishing amount of like-minded, passionate people from all over the UK meet up, to enjoy stalls and talks from the likes of Chris Packham, Simon King and Nick Baker. Rutland water is a lovely location to host the event, with stunning wildlife around the reserve, and lots of space for the various marquees, also being very convenient as it's only an hour away from my house! The event lasts three days but this year I could only attend the Friday and Saturday as I was off to the Cairngorms on the Sunday, which was a shame but who can complain when you're heading up to Scotland in search of even more wildlife?! So I was up early on Friday morning getting ready to set off for a very memorable two days…

White throat at the BTO ringing stand!
After arriving at Rutland waters I rushed to the art marquee, which is one of my favourite aspects of Birdfair, where artists like Richard Lewington and Darren Woodward display their work. I adore Darren’s work and very much enjoyed chatting to him for a while, however some of his work is a little out of my Birdfair budget! The thing I especially like about the art marquee is the sheer diversity of style, with some artist focusing on sculptures, watercolour or ceramics, whilst others do almost photographic drawings and identification illustrations. Even though I have recently done three art-based GCSEs I don’t class myself as a wildlife artist, but that’s something I want to change, and Birdfair is a great way to collect ideas and inspiration. After finishing a quick tour of the art marquee I went to meet up with Sorrel Lyall so that we could both go to a live moth trapping event in which the content of Thursday nights moth trap was released and ID’ed in front of a live audience. I am slowly becoming more and more interested in Lepidoptera after doing work experience at the Natural History Museum at the beginning of the summer, so it was nice to see some moths up-close and personal at Birdfair without them being dead in a box! 

The second event I went to was 'On the trail of a whale' by wildlife photographer and cameraman, Mark Carwardine (who has recently been working with the BBC on the wildlife series Big Blue Live). Whales are such majestic creatures and I can't understand how anyone could wish to directly harm them. Mark explained to us how new scientific studies have revealed a new way of accurately ageing an individual, using an amino acid found in the lens cap or teeth of the whale. Astonishingly, one of the whales tested (a Bowhead senior) was found to be 211 years old…surviving through the heyday of whaling, the industrial revolution and the sinking of the titanic. What an incredible fact, something that all modern day whalers should be told…they're not only ending a life, they are also destroying a living artefact. The penultimate talk which I attended towards the end of the day was 'Top tips for wildlife gardening' by Steve Lovell, which was very useful for both my wildlife garden and also the 'Urban Garden Project' (See 6th tab at top of page).

Sat down ready for the evening event to start.

On the Friday evening I went to watch the main event of the day, with a few others including Kate Macrae (AKA WildlifeKate), starring Chris Packham, Simon King and Nick Baker. The talk was compered by two young birders, Georgia Locock and Josie Hewitt, both of which I know from Twitter. All three speakers were hilarious, revealing personal anecdotes from over their many years in the wildlife-filmmaking industry. I was very pleased for both Georgia and Josie, especially when they received Zeiss binoculars as a thank you gift, even if I was slightly jealous! After the event I headed home to try to get a relatively good sleep so I was ready for the second day…

Various moths and dragonflies spotted around the reserve.

I arrived on the Saturday morning not quite realizing how hot it was going it be! With all the talks and events in greenhouse-like marquees it did get pretty stuffy…however not enough to dampen my spirit! Sorrel and I went to our second moth-focused talk of the weekend: a moth identification class by Tony Davis, which gave an insight into the most common moths of the UK and how you go about trapping and ID'ing them. After the talk I even went and bought myself a beginners moth identification book! The next talk was presented by the BTO and featured three young birders, Georgia, Josie and a photographer called Connor Coombes. All three were brilliant (but I would have liked to see more of Connor's photographs!), and after the event I met up with many other young birders who had also attended the talk (including Toby Carter, Ben Moyes, Evie Miller, Abbie Miller, Sam Pit Miller, Max Hellicar, Noah Walker, Sorrel Lyall and Zach. All of us went on a short walk around the reserve and visited various hides, spotting little egrets, wood sandpiper and Dunlin amongst many other species. 

I was very much looking forward to the final two talks of the day as both were by AFON (A focus on nature) committee members. The first was a summary of AFON's work and objectives by Beth Aucott, and the seconds was 'Wildlife in Trust: A Mammal-Watcher’s Guide' by Lucy McRobert, the creative director of AFON. The talk consisted of the UK's mammal species, their general information and sighting hotspots. After the talk there was an AFON and NGB (Next generation birders) meet up, where all members, both young and old, gathered to meet new like-minded people and catch up with familiar faces. 

Over the two days I managed to chat with a fair few people (mostly from Twitter), including Jack Perks, Ryan Clark, James Common, Megan Shersby, Matt Adam Williams, Susan Jones, Adam Canning, Peter Cooper, Tiffany Imogen and many MANY more (too many to list unfortunately!) If you missed this years Birdfair you really missed a treat…but there is always next year! I'm already looking forward to it…


Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Harrying for #HenHarriers!

Those of you who follow me on twitter will know that I attended this years #HenHarrier evening and #HenHarrier day. If you also attended you will know what a fabulous weekend it was! Hen Harriers are under serious threat from persecution and habitat loss, and it's very easy to get depressed about the decline of these beautiful birds. But, having attended this event, I am now feeling much more positive that things are heading in the right direction. Hundreds of people attended the Goyt Valley event this weekend, including conservationist Chris Packham, Mark Avery and the chief executive of the RSPB, Mike Clarke. It was also nice to catch up with Georgia Locock and finally meet Findlay Wilde. The Goyt Valley event was one of seven different meet-ups all over the country and over 5.5 million people got involved in the "We're missing our Hen Harriers - and we want them back!" thunderclap, which was incredible! The main message that I took away from this weekend was that 'we will never give up' in the plight to save the Hen Harrier and all of our planet's wildlife. I believe that the Hen Harrier is a symbol of all our wildlife, and the efforts we (humanity) need to take to reverse our negative impacts.

Why are Hen Harriers in so much trouble?

Hen Harriers were once a common bird of prey across Britain, and after recovering from their mainland decline in the late 1800s they are now under threat again. Some blame the decline on habitat destruction, but one of the main driving forces is illegal trapping, poisoning and shooting. Because the population is now so small (just 4 breeding pairs last year) an individual person can have a huge affect of the entire species. In the Spring just gone five Hen Harriers "mysteriously' disappeared, resulting in the species rearing no chicks past fledging point. You may wonder why these illegal acts happen in the first place; This is because Hen Harriers occasionally predate on game-keepers Grouse. Since the 1800's Grouse shooting has become a popular pass time for many, with the season lasting 5 months. The game-keepers are hired to rear the birds and maintain the habitat in which they live in, with no thought of the consequences to the environment and other wildlife species. Not only do they view Hen Harriers as a "pest", but foxes, other birds of prey, stoats and even crows are viewed in the same way. The shooting, trapping and poisoning of Hen Harriers is illegal, but with little chance of evidence or even a strong suspect it can be very hard to prosecute. 

The evening event consisted of many talks, stalls and videos. Guests such as Chris Packham, Mark Avery and Mark Cocker were welcomed to the stage for discussions and speeches. Findlay Wilde also announced that Ecotricity would be contributing to more tracking equipment to keep a close eye on the last remaining birds to ensure the persecutors are found if any illegal acts happen again in the future. The turner prise winner Jeremy Deller gave a short talk about his piece 'a good day for cyclists', which features a huge harrier with a blood red range over crushed in it's talons…symbolic on many levels. In the interval Jeremy was selling prints of his for £5 each, which proved to attracts lots of buyer, raising over £500 for the 'Birders against wildlife crime' organisation. It was a very enjoyable evening and the cherry on the cake was arriving home to a huge amount of moths congregating around our outdoor light! I managed to get a few pictures before I went to bed so that I could ID them later on. The four species below: magpie (abraxas grossulariata), yellow-tail (euproctis similes), dingy footman (eilema griseola) and earlythorn (selenia dent aria).

If you know any of the species above please email me at! Thanks :)

After a fairly brief nights sleep I was off again for the main event in Goyt Valley, Derbyshire. There were hundreds and hundreds of people attending, with placards and banners to show their support. The event took place in the peaks, surrounded by studding scenery, but also harsh reminders of why we were there in the first place. Big areas of moorland around the valley had been burnt to make the habitat more suitable for the grouse, which in turn would then be shot in the name of sport…funny how football doesn't cut it for some people! Even though the moorland represented part of the problem is also represented the reason we were there, and it was certainly a very peaceful setting! After the speeches there was plenty of time to chat and takes photos of the beautiful scenery. There was a second event in Buxton that afternoon but I had to leave as it was quite a long journey home! With so many people showing there support over the weekend all I can do is hope that plenty of vital money was raised to help protect these majestic birds of prey for years to come. Overall it was a really incredible event and I left with a positive outlook on the whole issue. So if you couldn't make the weekend this year, why not come along next time!

Videos from the day 
- Chris Packham's speech & summary video

Useful links

Friday, 7 August 2015

What an experience!!

The Natural History Museum is far more than just a museum. With 80 million specimens straddling 4 billion years of natural history it’s more of a microcosm of mother nature herself; a snippet from each stage of our planet’s life hitherto. Its collections are no less over-whelming, including prehistoric creatures worthy enough to feature in Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, to millions of butterfly specimens whose species inhabit our modern world today. From a visitor’s perspective the most exciting aspects of the museum may be the captivating dinosaur exhibition, the butterfly house, or even the museum’s gift shop. But if you’re brave enough to venture behind the scenes you have another thing coming! And that’s exactly what I decided to do for my work experience a few weeks ago…

Image taken from Wikipedia 

Having received the good news a few days previously I packed my bags ready for a week in London! I was staying with my grandparents just out of the centre, having to take an hour commute to the museum every day, but it was worth it! Not only did the work experience prepare me for later life, the travelling did too by helping me organise myself, develop independence and confidence whilst travelling. As I arrived at the museum on the first day Ali Thomas, the Volunteers Project Manager at the museum, welcomed me. After getting my personal ID pass and electronic key card (which let me through all the doors in the museum, exciting!) I met up with Alessandro Giusti, the Lepidoptera Curator and my mentor for the week. One of the first assignments was to process and edit images of Limacodidae (Slug Moths) for a PowerPoint presentation at the 19th European Congress of Lepidopterology in Dresden, Germany later on this year. The software I was using was very specialised, using various images of the same specimen at different focus lengths to blend together, resulting in a sharp final image. I then transferred the pictures over the Adobe Photoshop to do the final touches, editing out the mounting pins and generally enhancing the aesthetics of the image.

This task only took me the Monday morning to complete, so in the afternoon I started my next assignment: moving drawers in the Sphingidae (Hawkmoths) Main Collection and Supplementary collection to different cabinets, in order to free valuable space for recently re-curated drawers. Before I began I had a brief discussion with Alessandro and Dr Ian Kitching (who has a real passion for Hawkmoths in particular) about the process of moving the draws. Even though it sounds like a relatively simple process, believe me, it’s harder than you’d first expect. It took most of that afternoon to get my head round the whole system, but by the end of the Monday I seemed to have got the hang of it! Every draw I moved was filled with all different species of Sphingidae, most brightly coloured. One of the lessons I learnt over the week was that not all moths are the stereotypical brown pest that eat away at your wardrobe whilst you’re sleeping; Moths are in fact more abundant than butterflies, with most species being more colourful than you’d think. It is estimated that out of around 150,000 species of Lepidoptera globally only 20,000 of them are actually butterflies…so why do they get all the attention?! All I know is that I’m now a lot more interested in moths than I was before this experience!

Throughout the week I completed a whole host of jobs, and one of these was to label and re-house four boxes of mixed macro-Lepidoptera from Oman. Similar to my previous jobs, it sounds a whole lot easier than it is. The pure nature of Lepidoptera specimens means that they are very fragile, so caution has to be taken when moving them; to prevent any damage forceps are always used to hold the mounting pins. Each species in the museum’s collections has a very special specimen, which is labelled with a red sticker, called that ‘type’ specimen. This is the first individual to be ever found of a particular species, giving the species it identity and name. By comparing other specimens with the type specimen it can be determined if these other specimens belong to the same species or if a new species has been discovered. As you can imagine it was a huge privilege to see these ‘types’ up-close, even if it was a little daunting!

My final day was cut slightly short as I had to catch the train home but I still made the most of the time I had left. Alessandro and I, along with a few volunteers, accompanied a group of other scientists in the museum’s wildlife garden. Since the garden’s opening in 1995 an astonishing 2,600 species have been recorded, with a fair few of these being moths. A moth trap had been set up on the Thursday night, so most of the Friday morning was spent retrieving and identifying the species for the museums records. Moths have always intrigued me but I would never have called myself a ‘moth-er’, but after my experience at the museum I have been getting more and more into Lepidoptera so who knows where my interest will lead. My week at the museum was a surreal experience, and I enjoyed every moment (especially as I could enter all the exhibitions for free in my breaks!) So I’d like to thank both the Natural History Museum for the opportunity and Alessandro for looking after me for my duration.

NHM website:

Alessandro's blog: Click here

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Welcome to my Wildlife Blog!

Hello Everyone!

Welcome to my wildlife blog that I have been developing over the past 3 years. I have loved every second, and I hope you enjoy reading about my hobby, passions and (hopefully) future career as much as I do writing about it. I primarily use my blog to share my wildlife experiences with everyone who is interested (or wants to be), writing about my latest projects, my photography and various wildlife-related experiences. For me, the wildlife is the most important thing, and there is nothing better than observing spectacles in the natural world. However, when I get these spectacles on camera they suddenly seem 100 times better. I think it's the fact the I can re-live that moment for a second time, or a third time, or fourth. And that's one of the reasons why I created my blog, so that you can experience the wonders of wildlife with me! And learn about ways to protect our wildlife…as it really does need our help (especially with the Tories in power!)

Please feel free to have a browse and read through a handful of my blogs (obviously not all 111 of them! I try to upload a post at least once a week but this does vary greatly depending on the time of year. For the latest wildlife news, follow me on twitter by clicking here. Below is a list of my favourite blogs to date:

Megan the RC Mallard & this years Blue tit chicks - click here.
My Autumnwatch Adventure - click here.
The Wildlife Garden - click here.

My latest wildlife-inspired projects has been my new piano album! There is still a long way to go in terms of recording and finishing composing some of the final pieces, but I have managed to upload a rough solo line recording onto SoundCloud so that you can have a taster of what is to come! If you want to have a listen please click here.

My Wildlife Experiences

Footage featured on BBC2's Autumnwatch main show 2014;

Finalist of Ecotricity's Young Green Britain Award 2015;

My top wildlife tips featured on BBC's Springwatch Extra show;

Two week's work experience including at the Lepidoptera Department at the Natural History Museum in South Kensington, London;

Volunteering work at Brinsley Animal Rescue and Crossdale Drive Primary School where I was involved in the 'Forest Schools' scheme;

Four articles published in the Nottingham Post and the Derby Telegraph (Two written by me and two covering me);

Hedgehog package shown on Notts TV news, where I was interviewed and my patch was the main focus of the package.

Aside my photography I also involve myself in lots of filmmaking! If you want to see some of my latest videos please either see my youtube channel here or click the 'Wildlife on Video' tab at the top of this page! Enjoy…

If you have any further questions please use the contact from at the bottom of this page.