A tweet can lead to a good Nose for butterflies

Last night a friend posted on Facebook a photo of a caterpillar he had seen while working. I’m not great at identifying butterflies or moths, in fact I’m a complete novice, so I tweeted a copy of the photo and included Cheshire East Council Rangers (@CECRangers) in the tweet. Within a few minutes, Martin, the Ranger from Tegg’s Nose Country Park, replied and identified it as a Mullein Moth (no, I hadn’t heard of one of those before either!). Martin then asked whether I was attending the butterfly walk he was leading this morning. As I didn’t have anything else to do, I thought it was a great idea and booked a place via the Council’s (very efficient) on line system.


As I drove to Tegg’s Nose this morning the weather didn’t look great and as I arrived at the country park, just above Macclesfield, the rain started to fall. However, I pressed on and joined a small, select band of hardy folk who, like me, didn’t really want to let a bit of wind and rain get in the way. Martin was joined by a local butterfly expert, who does weekly surveys of Tegg’s Nose, and the group of us set off to try to find some butterflies.

Slowly wandering around the country park in the rain and wind we didn’t expect to see many butterflies but spirits remained high, as did hopes that the rain wouldn’t last forever. Eventually, as the rain was blown away and the wind dropped, we started to see some movement over the grass. First we saw a few moths and eventually after over an hour of looking we found and caught (then released) a Meadow Brown and then found a Common Blue sheltering in the grass.


While the number of butterflies wasn’t huge, we were given some very good hints and tips on finding them in better weather and I will probably return later in the summer to check the place again – taking my butterfly education further. However, we didn’t just look at the butterflies on the way around and we were given a good general guide of the different habitats at Tegg’s Nose. The meadows and fields on the way back to the visitor centre had carpets of flowers and I got some nice shots with my phone.

Image 4

Some people say that social media reduces face-to-face human interaction – for me, today at least, it has done the exact opposite – used well, it can make life richer and fuller.

Battling through a Breeding Bird Survey

I’ve just finished the fourth and final visit to Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s Blakenhall Moss Reserve to undertake the Breeding Bird Survey for the site.  Wandering around a nature reserve recording the birds heard or seen, seems like an idilic way to spend an early morning in summer; however, it was a bit of a battle today.


As I’ve mentioned before, the Trust bought the site last year and has blocked the drainage channels and cleared the majority of the woodland to hopefully restore the Moss to its previous bog-like state.  This has brought about a transformation to the reserve, which is now open in the centre and has large areas of standing water.  Throughout the time I have been doing the surveys (March, April, May and June), the raised water level has provided a few obstacles, with water overtopping my wellies, hidden timber to trip over and mud to get stuck in.  With the undergrowth having grown so much over the course of the spring and early summer, the brambles and nettles now also provide more obstacles to get over, through and around.  All this is then added to by the lovely mosquitoes which seem to like me quite a lot and they followed me around and bit me for much of the hour and a quarter it took to complete the survey.

With the final of the four visits completed, I can now submit my records to the Trust.  In total, over the course of the four visits, I noted 35 species, with a reasonably consistent number (26, 25, 23 and 26) recorded each time.  Of these species, five were confirmed as breeding including:

  • Mallard (destroyed nest found in March)
  • Great Tit (fledglings seen today)
  • Canada Goose (four goslings seen today)
  • Coot (three chicks seen today)
  • Buzzard (at least one chick heard in a nest today with an agitated adult nearby)


I also recorded 16 ‘probable’ breeders; this is based on the numbers seen either during one visit or a number of visits, pairs seen or agitated behaviour indicating a nest may be nearby.

Also of note were seven species that are unlikely to have been breeding at the site last year but have now been attracted by the new areas of water; these species include mallard, canada goose, coot, greylag goose, little grebe, grey heron and lapwing.  Of course, with less tree cover at the reserve, the number of woodland birds will have decreased significantly since last year but hopefully only in total numbers of individual birds and not species.

While I was at the site, I also recorded three species of mammal, either by seeing them (rabbit) or finding signs (mole hills and badger tracks – see below).  I also noted small white and spotted wood butterflies.


I’ve really enjoyed doing the surveys for the Trust and I’ve learnt a lot over the course of the surveys, both at Blakenhall Moss and the same surveys completed at the Bagmere reserve – hopefully, I will be able to continue doing the surveys next years – now I just need to find some new activities to fill my weekend early mornings!

Icelandic Little People

After having a blank page on my blog site for a while, titled ‘Little People’, I’ve finally got around to posting something on this subject!

I have thought for some time that little people might actually exist. When I say little people, I don’t mean short homo sapiens; I think there might be a completely different species of little people.

I’m trying to gather some evidence and I’m sure there’s plenty out there, but the first I’ve found is taken from the BBC News Website (Link to BBC News) which has published a story about changes made to an Icelandic road scheme due to the presence of elves.

I work in transport planning and until now we have produced Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) as part of proposals for major schemes.  I now think we may have to do a new form of EIA – yes, that’s right, an Elf Impact Assessment or perhaps a LPIA to allow for other types of Little People.



Summer in the Glaslyn Valley

As I drive down the track once more, the sun is already high and its light makes dappled patterns through the old oak trees. The breeze brings a shimmering to the shadowed world beneath the canopy, with the leaves dancing in its wake. I have my windows open, letting in the sounds of the valley and I’m serenaded by bird song from the wrens and willow warblers. The harsh light across the fields is visible before I break out into the open. The sky is a deep blue with the few clouds shadowing the tops of the surrounding hills and mountains. Summer has truly taken over from the spring now and the flowers are starting to finish their show. The irises have faded and the foxgloves are coming to their final flowers but the bramble blossom is more plentiful and there is even greater promise of autumn fruits. The day is warm and there are hours more for the real heat to grow but the breeze will be welcome high up in that fir tree.


The three chicks have grown up over the last fortnight and they are now looking more like their parents. They try to shelter from the sun under the female’s shadow but there is really only room for one, two at most. The eldest is starting to stand up to its full height with some first tentative flaps of its wings; it will be only a matter of weeks before they are all taking their first flights. It’s amazing to think that in just a few short months, these chicks will have changed from hatchlings to intercontinental flyers – it does show how remarkable nature can be.

The valley really is full of life. From the birds in the woodland and over the open fields, to the butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies searching the meadows, hedgerows and water, and the fish in the river, darting from cover to cover. Whilst the focus may be on the young ospreys, the volunteers at the protection site are surrounded by new life; there are parties of young swallows, blue tits, great tits, long-tailed tits, redstarts and wrens, flitting, rambling and racing around the area.


I spent the day divided between the caravan, the bridge and a sunny spot between the two. I even sat on the river bank for a time, dangling my feet in the cool water; a spot from where I got a different perspective on the scene and I was surrounded by flying life. The swallows were collecting mud from the riverbanks and were dropping low over the river, scooping up mouthfuls of the water. A moth (well I need to look up exactly what it was) hovered by my side, about a foot above the river, then dropped to dip its abdomen into the water before returning to its hover; it repeated this process several times and then flew off out of sight.

A walker with a dog went through on the footpath today. I gave him the usual warning but he was intent on going through. He stuck to the footpath and although both adults left the next, it was difficult to tell whether they were worried by him or were simply continuing their daily battles with their crow neighbours.

So much for only ever being there in the cold, rain and wind – that’s now two shifts in a row at Glaslyn with lovely weather. This will be my last visit for a few weeks but hopefully I’ll see the chicks again before they make their way south.

Breeding Bird Survey – Getting back more than I put in…

Today, I completed the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) for Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s Bagmere reserve.  The site is located at the centre of a triangle formed by Sandbach, Holmes Chapel and Congleton and is only a short drive from where I live (well it should be if I hadn’t been caught in rush hour traffic today!).  The survey has involved visiting the site once per month during March, April, May and June, and recording the species of birds seen, the number of each species and their behaviour.  Now at the end of the four visits, I can assess what birds are possibly breeding, probably breeding or confirmed breeding on the site.

Over the course of the four visits, I have noted 41 species at the site. A number of these have been flying over Bagmere and therefore are unlikely to be breeding there (e.g. Lapwing, swallow and jackdaw) but many of the others are either possible or probable breeders.  I was quite excited that in the earlier visits I had recorded both Willow Tit and Water Rail but these species have not put in an appearance more recently but I think I can put the former down as a probable breeder at least. Today I saw young Blue Tits and Great Tits, so these are likely to be recorded as confirmed breeders for the site.

One thing that has struck me over the course of the four visits is how Bagmere and the birds have changed as the Spring has progressed.  During my first visit, the trees were bare, the temperatures were low and there were still some avian winter visitors around (Fieldfares and Redwings).  When I did the surveys in April and May, the grass was starting to grow, the trees were coming into leaf and the migrants gradually started to arrive. My visit today found the reserve in its prime; all of the summer migrants had arrived, the grass was almost too long to walk through, the trees were in full leaf and the flowers were blooming.


While undertaking the surveys I have also noted the other fauna I have seen within the reserve and today I saw both Spotted Wood and Meadow Brown butterflies (pictured below).  I also saw two brown hares during the May visit to the site – for me, a lovely moment and highlight.



One of the things that makes this task so special is that I’m the first person to do a full BBS for the site and my list of species is the first complete one done for Bagmere (I think so, anyway).

I have gained so much through doing these surveys. I don’t think I have ever noticed the seasons change as much as I have this year.  I have always thought I was in touch with the changing of the seasons but these surveys have taken it to a whole new level. The surveys have also improved my ear for birds and I now seem to be able to cut through the general cacophony of the modern world and pick out a single bird singing amongst the trees or undergrowth.

I started doing these surveys to help Cheshire Wildlife Trust with its work but I have received far more than I have put in – I think I have really learnt and grown by doing them – I just hope I can continue to do the surveys for the years to come!

Summer is most definitely on!

The first test has started, Springwatch is coming to an end and I’m having my tea by the open kitchen door, being serenaded by a goldcrest amongst the trees at the bottom of my garden.  The evening sun is shining, I have a glass of wine in hand and I’m just finishing a lovely meal – and I have four days off…


The atmosphere has just been slightly disturbed by a tomato squirting juice all the way up my arm!

Never mind…strawberries to finish.

Masters of the summer sky

Since they disappeared during the closing months of last year, I’ve been longing to look up at the sky above my house and see them darting, playing, chasing, gliding and screaming through the warm summer air.

I’m blessed where I live as I have swallows, house martins and swifts all living in the surrounding area. On a summer evening I can stand at my back door, glass of wine in hand, music in the background, and watch an aerial spectacle unfold above my head. Swallows are the popular sign of summer and I have become very attached to the house martins that nest on my home each year; even the twittering during warm nights, when I have my windows open, doesn’t stop me from cherishing their presence. However, it is the swifts that I really love.

Swifts are true masters of the sky, these living scythes in the summer blue don’t land except to feed their young. Constantly on the wing, even sleeping in the air, their dusk screaming parties are a true sign of summer – the season would be empty without them.

The bird surveys I’ve been doing over the course of the last few months have given me a stronger ear for birds and even as I’ve been watching TV I’ve been picking up the birds in the background. It seems to me that a summer scene in any good TV show isn’t complete without the sound of a gang of swifts chasing and screaming above the actors.

However, I suspect my favourite summer domestic views may not last much longer. When I first moved into my house over thirteen years ago, I had two house martin nests under the eves and there was another immediately next door. I now have one, and they turned up late this year; I was worried that they wouldn’t turn up at all. I’m concerned for a future without the swallows, martins and swifts and that if we don’t do something now, they will be lost forever. As I read this morning (I can’t remember where now), if children have never seen something, how will they ever cherish it and how will they ever be driven to fight for it? If these birds disappear in the next few years we don’t have much time to show the current generation of children just how special these creatures are and just how much they should be part of our lives.

It might already be too late.