Looking forward to 2019

I’ve woken on the first morning of the new year hoping to pull back the curtains and see a bright, sunny day but instead there’s more gloom, just as we’ve had for almost the whole festive period. However, I awoke with bright hopes instead of fulfilled plans for the year ahead. The new year brings a clean slate but one which is already being scribbled on.

Just as 2018 was, I’m hoping 2019 will be a year full of time spent outdoors, both locally, further afield in the UK but also abroad. My first trip will be to Botswana in March, returning to the country I first visited in 2017 but this time to the Kalahari desert to spend a week on a camping safari. No doubt I will also have a trip to Sweden to visit family, probably in August, and I plan to have a third foreign trip, potentially in the autumn but I’ve yet to decide where but maybe Eastern Europe.

I’ve also got a return trip to the Isle of Harris which I visited in 2018; this time I’m hoping to get to St Kilda and, possibly, the Shiants too, something I failed to do last year due to the weather. I also hope to have some long weekends away, too few of which I had in 2018, including a trip to Norfolk and possible some of the hills in the South West.

More locally, I will mix cycling, both on road and dirt tracks, walking and running with conservation volunteering, mostly with Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers but also doing bird surveys for Cheshire Wildlife Trust and the British Trust for Ornithology.

However, it’s unlikely that I will be doing many, if any, osprey or peregrine protection shifts as the main time for this volunteering will coincide with my biggest plan of this year.  Since 2012 I have spent two or three weeks per year volunteering for the RSPB on Ramsey Island, off the coast of Pembrokeshire. When I was there this last September I was asked whether I could do a three-month stint in 2019. Well, I couldn’t refuse (after getting approval from work), so I will be spending late spring and much of the summer on the island.

With all this planned, I can’t wait to get the year started! 

Looking back at 2018

In many ways this year has come and gone in a flash but looking back it also seems a long time since some of the events in the early months. With five holidays this year, I’ve had plenty of time away from home doing many of the things I love; travelling, volunteering, watching wildlife, photography and generally being outdoors.

February held my first trip of the year, to a very snowy Poland, looking for wildlife in the winter landscapes. I wasn’t disappointed, with lynx, wildcat and bison being highlights, as well as my best photo of the year; a crested tit feeding off the carcass of a wolf-killed red deer.

After a great trip to London in March, April was the month of a first visit to the Isle of Harris, where I stayed in the most amazing location, in a cottage on Luskentyre Beach. The only disappointment was not being able to get to St Kilda – perhaps in 2019!

June included another trip to the Scottish islands, this time to Orkney at Mid-Summer; a week spent mixing wildlife, photography, island visits and military history – just about perfect. August held my annual trip to see family in Sweden doing some of my favourite things; canoeing on a wildlife rich river and grilling sausages in the wild.

My final trip of the year was to RSPB Ramsey Island where I spent two weeks volunteering and supporting grey seal monitoring.

At the beginning of the year, I made an aim of 2018 to do more exercise than ever before and carried over two aims from 2017, to do more photography and to take up mountain biking. Well, I did 365 separate sessions of exercise and I started visiting the mountain biking trails at Coed Llandegla but I still need to do more photography.

The latter end of the year has been dominated by work, really ever since I returned from Ramsey Island at the end of September, so my free time has been limited and my general energy to get out of the house much diminished – I must not let this happen so much in 2019!

Overall, it’s been another busy year in my world away from work; volunteering, cycling, watching wildlife and being out in nature, and here’s my year in numbers:

  • 1 new country – Poland
  • 1 stay on Ramsey Island
  • 1 weekend away – Pembrokeshire
  • 2 trips abroad – Poland and Sweden
  • 2 weeks on Scottish islands – Harris and Orkney
  • 2 peregrine protection shifts
  • 3 beer festivals
  • 3 mountain-biking days
  • 8 osprey protection shifts – including 2 night shifts
  • 9 counties stayed in
  • 10 ferry journeys
  • 11 bird surveys
  • 22 species of mammal including three new ones – European Bison, Wildcat and Eurasian Lynx
  • 34 days volunteering – Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers, Glaslyn Ospreys and RSPB
  • 59 blog posts
  • 62 walks
  • 62 nights away
  • 118 runs
  • 157 cycles
  • 161 species of bid including eight new ones – Little Owl, Ural Owl, Pygmy Owl, Grey-headed Woodpecker, White-backed Woodpecker, Red-backed Shrike, Great Grey Shrike and Nutcracker
  • 313 miles run
  • 365 sessions of exercise
  • 2,271 miles cycled
  • 11,000+ blog views

…and here are some photo highlights…

Exercise 365

Today I did my 365th session of exercise this year, just in time! Unfortunately, it hasn’t kept off the Christmas pounds, so I’ll need to have a good start to the new year to burn them all off again!

Manchester Buildings

It’s ages since I did a post of images from my daily walk to work across Manchester City centre from Piccadilly Station. Well, this morning I moved into my company’s new office at the First Street development on the southern side of the centre. This now gives me more opportunities to look at Manchester’s buildings, old and new, on a different route to work.

Just a few shots on my way through First Street on my first morning working in the area.

Autumnal Oaks

After a weekend mostly spent working, I went out on my bike on Sunday afternoon to pedal in the lovely late autumn sunshine. With mild temperatures and a clear blue sky, the ride really lifted my soul.

Having not been outside much in the daylight over the past couple of weeks, I hadn’t noticed that the oak leaves have turned. The Cheshire countryside is now washed with an orange made quite startling by the bright sun.

CNCV: Wybunbury Moss

Our first fire of the autumn!!! Today I was out with Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers again and in one of our usual haunts – Wybunbury Moss. We were working for Natural England cutting tree saplings and burning the brash.

Despite not having a fire since early spring, I managed to get today’s going first time and soon it was blazing away fed with brash, thick and thin, for over four hours. As usual, there were plenty of signs of wildlife around with a strangely coloured frog the highlight of the day plus bands of winter thrushes passing through.

We rounded the day off with some chestnuts roasted on the fire – perfect!!!

CNCV: Tegg’s Nose

I was out for another of the (usually) fortnightly tasks with Crewe and Nantwich Conservation Volunteers. It was our first outing for a month and we went a little further than usual this time; to Tegg’s Nose County Park, working for Cheshire East Council Rangers. We were tasked by Ranger Martin to clear gorse in one of the fields. First we cleared a section to widen an approach to a gateway, where the cattle usually get a bit spooked by the narrowness of the path. We then cleared a patch encroaching on the field, giving more space for some of the rare species of plant that grow on the hillside meadows.

It started off as a lovely morning but after lunch we could see the cloud coming in across the Cheshire Plain and the rain started coming down just as we finished. It was that fine rain that gets you really soaked and as Tegg’s Nose is high up on the top of the hill, the rain turned into low cloud, dropping the visibility down quite significantly.

The County Park is a lovely place, just on the edge of the Peak District National Park and good starting point for a number of good walks into the hills and valleys. It has great view into the park but also across the flat Cheshire Plain, with Jodrell Bank standing out well above green pastureland.

Next time we’re out, it will be to Wybunbury Moss, and hopefully a first fire of the autumn – sausages at the ready!

Seals pups – born into a harsh world

It has to be said that the pupping beaches of Ramsey Island aren’t places of peace and quiet where the seals live in harmony with each other. They are actually places of sex and violence, right in full view of the pups (and often the visitors too!).

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The pups arrive in a blood-stained gush straight onto the stony beaches, gasping for breath and open to the often harsh weather conditions and surging tides. They struggle towards their mothers to get their first feed of rich milk, using their weak flippers to push themselves across the hard ground. Some of the pups find themselves in amongst bolder fields while others right on the water’s edge; either blocked in by rocks or at risk of being washed away by a surging wave.

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The gulls take a keen interest in the spectacle, waiting for the afterbirth to appear, a fine meal for them, which they sometimes tug at whilst it’s still attached to the female, eliciting an irritated response. They also look out for those pups struggling into life, those too weak to survive or taken away by the sea only later to be deposited lifeless high up on the strand line. This is a time of plenty for the gulls especially when the weather turns for the worse.

Storms take their toll on the seal pups, last year was particularly hard, but even a short-lived storm in late September this year took a number from the largest beach on the Island. With a  westerly wind, the waves rolled in to Aber Mawr bay, crashing up the shingle beach and against the base of the cliffs, leaving little room for the pups to resist the sea.

It’s not only the angry seas that the pups have to look out for. The adults are a risk to them too. The females are intolerant of others, whether they be adults or pups. Much of the sound coming up the cliffs from the beaches below is from quarrelling females arguing over space and proximity to each other’s pups. The aggression increases with the arrival of the males, it’s not only pupping season but the time for mating too. The males make claims for territories on the beaches and will fight each other to keep control of their patch and to mate with the females within it. I thought that grey seals had relatively tame fights compared to the elephant seals I’ve seen in the Falklands but I saw two really going for it at Aber Mawr with plenty of blood flowing from gashes on their necks.

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The females give as good as they get too, warding off unwanted advanced from males with growling and biting, with fights breaking out at times. Even when they are in the process of mating, there’s plenty of aggression between the pairs.

However, there are times of relative quiet, with the females nursing their pups and others, whether large or small, relaxing on the shore, basking, stretched out in the sun. The only sounds being the water breaking on the beach, the gulls calling from the wing and a pup calling out towards the sea waiting for its mother to return from feeding.

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