Looking back, 2015 was probably my most enjoyed year for a long time: a year of learning; of new opportunities and experiences; a year of new adventures. So I’m kicking off 2016 and a new website with a look back at everything that happened last year.
In 2014 I had decided I needed to refocus my life – I seemed to be spending almost all my time either working or training on things to progress my career, occasionally finding the time to do some gardening or housework. This was no good.
I had made a start on this, getting out to a couple of local Wildlife Trust nature reserves, but 2015 was the year I intended to really do something about it.
So, here is the story of that year. Well, the first part of the story anyway.
This is quite long, but there are a LOT of photos (and a video). Links to the complete Flickr albums for each event or place can be found at the end.
2015 kicked off with the #MyWinter social media campaign from BBC Winterwatch. This had started in December but the season had been decidedly un-wintery so I hadn’t really taken any photos. However in January a drop in temperatures and some “encouragement” on Twitter got me out and about with the camera.
The samara (winged fruit) of the sycamore tree.
Blackbird foraging in the snow
March brought with it a solar eclipse (the second one I’ve seen), not total in the UK but enough to leave only a thin crescent of the sun visible. The day had started off with quite thick cloud cover so I wasn’t expecting to be able to see it, but the cloud thinned out just in time!
Pretty much the max point, very little left visible. It was quite dull outside and feeling a bit cold by this point.
A word of warning: DO NOT look at the sun through an optical view finder on a camera as you could damage your eyes, even during an eclipse. I took all my photos in live view using a high f-stop and the camera’s screen to frame up.
March also came with new social media campaign called #SignsOfSpring, in the build up to BBC Springwatch, a simple task to photograph and send in photos of anything that signals the approach of Spring. This got me out with the camera again, in the garden and also back to Summer Leys LNR.
A traditional emblem of spring, the bright yellow trumpet flowers of narcissus, aka the daffodil.
The pretty blossom of various varieties of prunus are coming out everywhere now.
Bullfinch gathering up nesting material.
Always enjoy seeing the bluebells flowering in the garden.
Spotted wolf spider with its egg sac. One of many that were sitting in the sun today.
I’m not sure which particular species of mason bee this is, but you can tell it’s a female from the larger size (see the next picture for the male).
Again I’m not sure on the exact species, but this is a male mason bee. The forget-me-not flowers show how small they are, about half the size of the female.
Starlings feeding their young in the garden this morning.
30 Days Wild
As BBC Springwatch aired at the end of May, #SignsOfSpring came to an end. However the show introduced 30 Days Wild from the Wildlife Trusts: a challenge to do something with nature every day of June. I decided to do 30 days of minibeasts, a different one every day, which proved to be harder than expected.
Much to the bemusement of my colleagues I spent weekday lunch times hunting around Broughton Brook (a park near our offices in Milton Keynes) for minibeasts, armed with camera and macro lens. Weekends I scoured garden or local nature reserves.
In the end I managed it and saw some fantastic creatures in the process.
For #30DaysWild I’ve decided to celebrate all the small things. So to kick off, here’s a shy snail. This is cepaea hortensis, the white-lipped snail.
Warm sun on day 3 of #30DaysWild brought out this common crab spider. There are a couple of different species of “crab spider” in the UK. This is xysticus cristatus.
A trip to Summer Leys LNR for #30DaysWild day 6, yeilded this bloody-nosed beetle. Interesting fact: This rather large beetle is flightless. Though it looks like they have wings, the ‘wing cases’ on their back are actually fused together.
More microbeast than minibeast for #30DaysWild day 13, looking for springtails in the damp. This is entomobrya intermedia, gazing on pollen that had fallen from a flower above.
Spotted this Scorpion Fly on a walk round Ditchford Lakes and Meadows for #30DaysWild day 14. This is panorpa communis, the “sting” signifies that this is a male as the females don’t have one. It’s actually not a sting at all, instead being for clasping the female during mating.
Another lunchtime minibeast hunt for #30DaysWild day 16, spotted this White Legged damselfly. Species platycnemis pennipes, the pale blue colour makes this is a male.
Lunchtime minibeast hunt for #30DaysWild day 17 yeilded this Bishop’s Mitre Shieldbug. Species name is aelia acuminata, easy to ID as they’re pretty unique.
Evening minibeast hunt in the garden for #30DaysWild day 19, found this Fairy Longhorn Moth. I think this is nemophora degeerella, a female as the male’s antennae are significantly longer!
Out and about for #30DaysWild day 21. Spotted this newly emerged Mayfly. Behind it is the empty husk (Exuvia) that it has just emerged from. Unfortunately I don’t know which of the 51 UK species of Mayfly (Ephemeroptera) this is.
#30DaysWild day 23, spotted this amazing ladybird larvae on today’s lunchtime walk. This is the larvae of Subcoccinella 24-punctata (the 24-spot ladybird). A bit of a special one for me as I’ve never seen one of these before!
#30DaysWild day 24, found this little yellow ladybird scurrying around the undergrowth. This is Propylea 14-punctata, the 14-spot ladybird. Sometimes the spots on this ladybird fuse together, as can be seen in the 3 bars (6 spots) down the middle of its wing casings.
After-dinner garden minibeast hunt for #30DaysWild day 25, found this Click Beetle. This is athous haemorrhoidalis, quite a widespread Click Beetle in the UK.
Evening minibeast hunt again for #30DaysWild day 26, found this Tiger Cranefly. Much smaller than the large clumsy craneflies that most people will be familiar with, the Tiger Cranefly (Nephrotoma flavescens) also has some quite vivid markings.
Out and about again for #30DaysWild day 28, spotted this tephritid fly. This is Urophora Stylata, a member of the tephritidae fruit fly family (different to the “common fruit fly” drosophilidae family). There were a pair laying their eggs in the seed head of a spear thistle.
Penultimate garden minibeast hunt for #30DaysWild day 29. Spotted this solitary wasp. This is a female of species Sapyga quinquepunctata. A cleptoparasitic solitary wasp that lays her eggs in the nests of Osmia bees.
During the first half of 2015 my parents had mentioned they were going on holiday to Norfolk in July, and that the place they were staying had space for me at no extra cost.
The last time I’d been on holiday was a family trip to Cornwall in 1996. Obviously I’d been away since then: weekends with friends, trips for work, training courses, etc. But most of my time off work had been spent visiting local places or doing gardening or DIY, nothing that you could really call a holiday.
So in the first week of July I was off to Norfolk for my first holiday in 19 years.
Norfolk isn’t all that far from where I live, basically the other side of the fens, so I drove out on the Friday night. This meant I was there for 7 days rather than the normal 6 for a week holiday.
Day 1 kicked off with a visit to Weybourne Beach to see nesting sand martins. I’ve seen sand martins before at Summer Leys, but it was great to see them in their more natural habitat: the adults spiraling into the air over the cliffs, bringing food in for the close-to-fledging youngsters in their nests.
Sandmartin parent feeding babies in their cliff nest at Weybourne beach, Norfolk.
4 baby sandmartins poking their heads out of this nest!
Weybourne Beach from the top of the cliffs where the sandmartins were nesting.
One of the boats on Weybourne beach, this one had been parked up a lot further from the sea than the others.
Sign post for the Norfolk Coast Path. I’ve never seen a signpost with phone numbers on it before!
Another boat on a trailer, this one ready to be pushing into the sea by the tractor.
The rest of the day was spent at RSPB Titchwell Marsh, a large coastal reserve of marsh land (as the name suggests) stretching down to an equally large sandy beach where there are the petrified remains of an old forest. A great day out and I saw marsh harriers for the first time!
Avocet stalking through the mud, looking for food.
Spotted this Golden-bloomed Grey Longhorn beetle clinging on to the long grass in the wind.
Lucky timing, just happened to walk up to the beach as this small boat was sailing past a gap in the bank.
A row of old posts, slowly being worn away by the sea. The haze around the bottom of the posts is dry sand being blown along the beach. It was quite a windy day!
Barnacles on one of the wooden posts.
Some of the petrified wood on Titchwell Marsh beach, and a tiny crab (infront of the open shell).
Oystercatcher on the beach, getting blown about a bit in the stong wind.
Close up of the Four-spotted Chaser dragonfly.
Day 2 started off a bit grey but undaunted we headed off to Sculthorpe Moor. It remained grey and then started raining around lunchtime, however despite that I saw my first kingfisher!
This kingfisher provided a nice flash of colour in the gloomy rain.
Reed warbler in the amongst the reeds after the rain had passed.
Later in the afternoon the weather cleared up, so we went for a wander round Foxley Wood where I spotted a hare.
Spotted this hare sitting on a track off the main path.
Ringlet butterfly in the sun.
A common blue butterfly, with somewhat tattered wings.
On day 3 the weather was nice again so we headed off to How Hill nature reserve. On the way there we stopped at Ludham Bridge and got an unexpected flypast from some swans.
A few boats moored up on the River Ant at Ludham Bridge.
Unexpected flypast from a small group of swans over Ludham Bridge.
We went to How Hill looking for swallow tail butterflies, but we only saw one and it was too far away to get a decent photos. There was plenty else to see there though.
An open trestle drainage windpump at How Hill.
The Wherry Ardea moored up at How Hill.
A Large Red Damselfly, sat on a leaf in the sun.
All the plants growing in this ditch make it look like very coarse turf.
A male Large Skipper butterfly.
Nice reflections in the water from the plants growing along the bank.
Not the best picture of a red ant, but they don’t say still for long!
Clumps of bright red berries standing out in the shade from the trees. I think they were black bryony.
We also had a wander round How Hill Secret Garden.
A fantastic looking yellow Candelabra Primrose, which I now want in my own garden!
Underneath the massive leaves of a Gunnera plant.
Lovely blanket of white flowers on this Flowering Dogwood. I think this is Cornus Kousa.
Another fantastic and massive Gunnera plant.
The strange dangling green flowers of the Wingnut Tree.
Orange daylily flowers pushing through leaves of ferns.
Then in the afternoon we headed off to RSPB Strumpshaw Fen where I got my first photos of marsh harriers (at Titchwell Marsh they had been too far away).
A meadow brown butterfly and a six-spot burnet moth, on creeping thistle flowers.
A Black-Tailed Skimmer dragonfly poised ready to catch some food.
One of the many species of miridae in the UK. I think this one is deraeocoris ruber.
A Small Tortoiseshell butterfly on a creeping thistle flower.
Two Common Terns surveying the watery landscape from their viewpoints.
A Little Egret hunting for food.
There’s two Marsh Harriers in this photo, quite well camouflaged against the trees in the background.
A female Emerald Danselfly.
Day 4 was a wet day so we went to Sheringham and visited the Mo, Fishermen’s Heritage Museum and had a walk along the seafront.
R.N.L.B. The Manchester Unity of Oddfellows, the most recent lifeboat in the museum. (RNLB stands for Royal National Lifeboat). Photos of the historic lifeboats and fishing boats collection in Sheringham museum. (http://www.sheringhammuseum.co.uk
R.N.L.B. Foresters Centenary, predecessor to the R.N.L.B. The Manchester Unity of Oddfellows. Photos of the historic lifeboats and fishing boats collection in Sheringham museum. (http://www.sheringhammuseum.co.uk
Hollow glass balls that were once used as floats for fishing nets. Photos of the historic lifeboats and fishing boats collection in Sheringham museum. (http://www.sheringhammuseum.co.uk
A collection of fishing and lifesaving equipment. Photos of the historic lifeboats and fishing boats collection in Sheringham museum. (http://www.sheringhammuseum.co.uk
Medicines of yesteryear in the window of the old Chemist and Druggist shop display. Photos of the historic lifeboats and fishing boats collection in Sheringham museum. (http://www.sheringhammuseum.co.uk
A World War 2 gas mask in one of the displays. Photos of the historic lifeboats and fishing boats collection in Sheringham museum. (http://www.sheringhammuseum.co.uk
Lots of oars on the deck of R.N.L.B. J.C. Madge. Gives an idea of how much effort it took to use this boat if there was no wind for the sails! Photos of the historic lifeboats and fishing boats collection in Sheringham museum. (http://www.sheringhammuseum.co.uk
A few photos from the Fishermen’s Heritage Centre in Sheringham, Norfolk.
A few photos from the Fishermen’s Heritage Centre in Sheringham, Norfolk.
A few photos from the Fishermen’s Heritage Centre in Sheringham, Norfolk.
Groynes along Sheringham beach.
On day 5 we went to Pretty Corner Wood, which has a trail of different wooden carvings around it. I won’t put them all here!
Enormous wooden owl at the main entrance to Pretty Corner Wood. (Photo of the whole thing to come later.)
The third post on the Pretty Corner Woods trail. Shame so many of the bristles on the top had been snapped off, this is the only angle left where it looks like this.
The fourth post on the Pretty Corner Woods trail, a carved picture of foxgloves.
Ringlet butterfly in the sun.
The sixth post on the Pretty Corner Woods trail marks the turn off for anyone that fancies a cup of tea.
The seventh post on the Pretty Corner Woods trail.
Seed pods forming on a gorse bush.
A meadow brown butterfly.
The ninth post on the Pretty Corner Woods trail, sculpture of an adder.
Branches of a large conifer twisting up towards the sky.
Closer photos of the carved snake’s head on the right.
The seventeenth and final post on the Pretty Corner Woods trail. A carving of a frog.
In the afternoon we went to Natural Surroundings Wildflower Centre, which is one of the places working on conservation of harvest mice and red squirrels.
Captive harvest mouse, part of a conservation breeding program.
Hanging at the entrance to an underground display about the life of badgers.
Spotted wolf spider carrying her eggsac.
Reflections of the plants on the bank and a tree fallen accross the river, shimmering in the surface of the flowing water.
A few pictures of some captive Red Squirrels at Natural Surroundings Wildflower Centre, part of the UK conservation breeding program.
On day 6, the penultimate day of the holiday, we went to Pensthorpe Natural Park, a former home of BBC Springwatch. This place is huge so we spent the whole day there. There’s loads to see!
A Banded Demoiselle damselfly sitting with its wings open.
Ringlet butterfly resting on a sedge leaf.
A large orchid flower, not sure if this is a common spotted or southern marsh species.
A Common Green grasshopper, sitting on some decking in the sun.
A bright red Knotgrass Leaf Beetle catching the sunlight on a grass stem.
Second of three metal damselfly sculptures next to one of the lakes.
A Red-brested goose.
A somewhat scruffy looking jeuvenile Smew.
Barnacle goose sitting down in the grass. (Photos from Pensthorpe Natural Park)
Eryngium flowers starting to come out. (Photos from Pensthorpe Natural Park)
Flowering dogwood Cornus kousa ‘Satomi’ next to the pond in the Millenium Garden. (Photos from Pensthorpe Natural Park)
Clematis viticella ‘Etoile Violette’ in the Millenium Garden. (Photos from Pensthorpe Natural Park)
Ruddy duck doing a bit of preening. (Photos from Pensthorpe Natural Park)
A Marabou stork having a stretch. (Photos from Pensthorpe Natural Park)
One of Pensthorpe’s Flamingos wading through the pond in their enclosure. (Photos from Pensthorpe Natural Park)
European stork taking a stroll through a patch of wildflowers.
The wacky hairstyle of the Northern Bald Ibis. (Photos from Pensthorpe Natural Park)
Another Eurasian crane having a paddle in the sun. (Photos from Pensthorpe Natural Park)
A female Mandarin duck. (Photos from Pensthorpe Natural Park)
Red squirrel sitting on a wooden stump, in the sun. (Photos from Pensthorpe Natural Park)
A Bearded tit in the enclosure next to the visitor centre. (Photos from Pensthorpe Natural Park)
A female Ruff in the enclosure next to the visitor centre. (Photos from Pensthorpe Natural Park)
A Turtle dove in the enclosure next to the visitor centre. (Photos from Pensthorpe Natural Park)
Flowers of Agapanthus ‘Queen Mum’ in the courtyard outside the visitor centre. (Photos from Pensthorpe Natural Park)
For day 7, the final day of the holiday, we went for a walk round National Trust Sheringham Park. We did the complete walk, all the way down to the coast taking a slight detour to Weybourne Station to see the steam trains running on the North Norfolk Railway.
Sea Holly flowers coming out in the gardens of Sheringham Park. (Photos from National Trust Sheringham Park.)
Bright pink flowers of a sedum in the gardens of Sheringham Park. (Photos from National Trust Sheringham Park.)
Vibrant red rhododendron flowers amongst the green leaves. (Photos from National Trust Sheringham Park.)
Common buzzard soaring on the thermals above Weybourne Heath. (Photos from National Trust Sheringham Park.)
One end of a British Rail class 101 “diesel multiple unit” train. A DMU is two units with built in engines rather than an engine pulling carriages. (Photos from National Trust Sheringham Park.)
Weybourne station from the bottom of the footbridge. (Photos from National Trust Sheringham Park.)
The same train from the previous photo, arriving at Weybourne station. (Photos from National Trust Sheringham Park.)
Changing colours of wheat crop from green to brown as it ripens. (Photos from National Trust Sheringham Park.)
View over the treetops, fields and out to the sea, from the top of the gazebo tower. (Photos from National Trust Sheringham Park.)
A shaft of sunlight catching the flowers of a pink rhododendron. (Photos from National Trust Sheringham Park.)
Steam locomotive 76084 pulling BR Suburban set carriages on the North Norfolk Railway. (Photos from National Trust Sheringham Park.)
Gastrophysa polygoni – a small green and orange leaf beetle – having a wander along the path in the sun. (Photos from National Trust Sheringham Park.)
View along the coast from the top of the cliffs at Sheringham Park. (Photos from National Trust Sheringham Park.)
Ichneumon wasp Ichneumon extensorius rooting around for nectar. (Photos from National Trust Sheringham Park.)
A steam train on the North Norfolk Railway passing behind a wildflower meadow on the clifftops. (Photos from National Trust Sheringham Park.)
A moth having a drink of nectar from a flower head. (Photos from National Trust Sheringham Park.)
A 6 Spot Burnet moth on a thistle flower. (Photos from National Trust Sheringham Park.)
Heading back up the path to the park, back over the railway bridge. (Photos from National Trust Sheringham Park.)
Sheringham Hall (privately owned), the stately home that the park was built around. (Photos from National Trust Sheringham Park.)
Looking back from the garden temple towards the house. The gazebo tower is just visible in the trees above the house, as is the temple visible from the top of the gazebo. (Photos from National Trust Sheringham Park.)
Let’s take a breather!
In the interest of maintaining everyone’s sanity (and because this is taking me ages to write!) I’m doing this story in 2 parts, and this seems like a good point for a break. I’ll pick up the rest of the year in part 2 in a few days time, there’s LOTS more to come!
Links to stuff mentioned here:
BBC Springwatch/Autumnwatch/Winterwatch on Twitter
Wildlife Trust for Beds, Cambs and Northants (Wildlife BCN)
Flickr albums for nature reserves visited:
Norfolk Flickr Albums:
Local places visited:
Norfolk Places Visited: