Friday, 22 July 2016

Springwatch adventure!

We are now in full summer swing with temperatures reaching record highs, but I'd like to take you back to spring, slightly less sunny, but just as enjoyable predominantly due to my involvement in the BBC 2's popular series Springwatch! 

Having received a message from Ruth Peacey a few weeks before the opening show it was a slightly mad rush to get prepared, especially with school work, but this just added to the excitement of it all. After a phone call with Ruth and a Springwatch researcher, we decided the main areas of focus were to be my wildlife garden (including the camera bird boxes I have set up over the years), the projects I'm involved with at school, and my nature-inspired music. The days went by quickly and before I knew it we - my parents and I - were off, heading to the RSPB Minsmere reserve on the east coast! 

Arriving at the BBC compound on Wednesday morning I spotted Jack Perks, a friend of mine, who had appeared on Springwatch the night before. He directed us in the right direction, and it wasn't long before we bumped into Ruth and the rest of the Springwatch Team. After a few introductions we headed out onto the reserve to do some filming and, of course, enjoy the stunning views and magnificent array of wildlife. 

The Sand Martin nests rigged with cameras

Our filming began in a hide overlooking the scrape, where Avocets, Lapwings and other waterfowl nest, but we moved on shorty after, having been told to 'shhhh' by an obviously keen birder. Having been banished from the hide we made our way to the Sand Martin nests, adjacent to a small pond and areas of woodland/shrubbery. I think this was fate, as what came next was, in my opinion, much better than anything we could have seen from the hide... 

Whilst shuffling closer to some rabbits, trying not to make any sudden movements, in order to get a (what would have been average) photo, I spotted a sizeable snake slither into the bracken, just centimetres in front of my left foot. It moved so fast that I had no time to get a photo, and with Ruth fixing the video camera back at the compound, I had no choice by to rely on my dad for help re-finding this unidentified reptile. To no avail I headed back to the meet Ruth, knowing full well that the likelihood of re-finding this individual was very, very low. But luck was on our side. Returning to the same spot 20 or so minutes later we found not one, but two, Adders (Vipera berus) basking in the sun. Having never seen an adder before living in a county where they are thought to be locally extinct, the thrill of finding two - one being melanistic - was unbelievable. And Ruth managed to get the whole thing on camera! This footage was later compiled into a short sequence to use in the live show if there was enough time (or if conversation ran dry!) 

We were back at the compound just in time for lunch - a wonderful buffet with quite a choice of cakes for dessert! Over the break we chatted with Stephen Moss and Rob Lambert who both made me feel very welcome, putting my nerves at ease. Chris Howard, the producer of Unsprung, ran over the running order of the show with me, and explained the logistics of the day. Not too long after, the second guest arrived! Best known for her song 'Proud' which was used for the 2012 Olympics, it was of course Heather Small! We almost immediately headed out onto the reserve for more filming as Heather arrived a little late, but with plenty of time before the show it was no problem. Heather and I were followed by the camera crew and sound recordist Gary Moore whilst I pointed out any species of interest - we heard Cetti's Warbler and Chiff Chaff, saw a Cinnabar moth and a Small Heath butterfly and watched a darter dragonfly lay eggs.

Mating damselflies 

The infamous art challenge was up next and I chose to paint foxgloves with watercolour. We only had 10 minutes so I went for expression over accuracy, flicking paint to create more movement. The judging was made by Chris Packham himself, well-known for his unique taste and harsh scrutiny. However, despite this, I managed to come joint first place! I was amazed! 

Heather and I busy going out #drawtobewild art challenge!

After a similarly delicious evening meal we headed up to location for the 6:00 run through, where Chris got an idea of the order of the show and the topics he would be discussing. The way he retained all the information for the real show at 6:30 was incredible! To view the show you can purchase the episode on BBC iPlayer, but here are a few screenshots from my interview. 

Following the show we - my parents, Ruth and I - retired to the tower hide, enjoying views of two kingfishers preening, a marsh harrier and the sound of distant bitterns. Not only did my mum think warblers were called 'swarblers' but my dad's phone kept vibrating, impersonating a booming bittern surprisingly well, making us jump every time!

My parents birding from the hide, using Ruth's lovely Swarovski bins!

Heather Small, Ruth Peacey, Lizzie Guntrip and Lindsey Chapman. 

On the way back to the compound we spotted two muntjac deer foraging in the woodland. We concluded the day by watching the 8:00 live show, joined by Tony Hall - the director-general of the BBC! Overall it was an incredible day, one I will never forget, and one I hope to experience again some time in the future. Thank you Springwatch! 

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Mothing madness!

Sometimes the best way to acquire knowledge is not by reading from a textbook, like I've been doing for the past 4 or so months during my AS exams, but rather through experience. 

My moth ID skills were very poor, and still are, but they are improving. Instead of learning from my field guide I decided to curve round the obstacle of pricey moth traps by building one myself! It's not perfect, having made it from bits and bobs I found in our garage, but it's a start. I set it up for the first time a few nights ago in my wildlife garden - the overgrown vegetation providing shelter for the moths, luring them closer. There was an element of risk with the trap as hot bulbs, paper (which I used to construct the funnel) and rain don't usually mix well, but the results, clear to see the next morning, made it all worth it!

The basic principle of the trap is that the light attracts the moths, which collide with the three acrylic panels, falling down through the funnel into the box, where they rest on the egg boxes (which are said to represent tree bark) until the morning. This design is often used in Heath traps, but over the next few weeks I'm going to experiment with the other styles. 

Female Oak Eggar   |   Lasiocampa quercus

Swallow-tail Moth   |   Ourapteryx sambucaria

Ghost Moth   |   Hepialus humble

Other species I've trapped over the last few nights include: Common Emerald, (7) Drinker Moth, Garden Pebble, Large Yellow Underwing, Riband Wave, Single-dotted Wave and a few other micros I'm yet to identify.

Even though the trap is evidently working there are a few small adjustments I need to make to increase the yield, such as deepening the box and narrowing the funnel preventing escapees. Below is a table illustrating the species I have caught, with the columns representing different factors - family name, common name, latin name, frequency, observed or trapped, the date of capture and the specific location. 

Please keep an eye on my blog over the next few weeks for more moth updates, a blog about my day out with Springwatch at RSPB Minsmere and news about my up and coming trip to Sri Lanka!