Saturday 30 January 2016

The past 12 months in one whirlwind post


I have not disappeared off the face of the Earth, despite the fact I have not written a post in over a year! 

It has definitely been a very busy 12 months and hopefully I can summarise it all in a few paragraphs and then share some of the few photos which I have taken over the last year. 

I'll work my way through in chronological order so I don't confuse myself! 

December 2014 I finished my traineeship with Kent Wildlife Trust. It was a great experience and I learnt so many skills, however, the Trust didn't have any vacancies and there weren't that many opportunities in the area, so I was still jobless. I was determined that I needed to carry on getting more experience, so I stuck with pub work to earn money and continued to volunteer with KWT. I had a great time, I accompanied the Land Management Advisor on numerous site visits, including solar farms in different parts of the country. All very interesting stuff. 

Roe deer in between solar panels

A small group of us decided to have a little competition and started our wildflower diaries in January 2015 - writing down plants we saw when they came into flower. This was so educational - it meant we all carried our wildflower key with us wherever we went and I could actually identify quite a few new plants!

In February the Trust took on some work which they needed an extra pair of hands to carry out. I very happily put myself forward to carry out the work which I would be paid for. Hoorah! My first paid bit of conservation work. This then led the Trust to take on a few more extra bits of work which I was also to carry out, meaning that I had a few little paid projects to work on. Two of these projects were mainly bird surveys, but also included water vole surveys and habitat surveys. The bird surveys meant very early mornings but it was so worth it when we heard a nightingale and grasshopper warbler in the same bit of scrub. 

In the middle of all of this, mum and I went on a little trip to Suffolk. We found a lovely cottage which allowed dogs that was really close to the RSPB Minsmere reserve. The cottage was gorgeous and only a fence and ditch separated the end of the garden from a lovely bit of marshland. Every morning we looked out of the upstairs bedroom window and watched the resident barn owl hunting. It was incredible! Our daily routine consisted of a lovely long walk with Bracken, followed by a trip to Minsmere, followed by a 2 minute walk down to the local pub, The Eel's Foot Inn, which was so friendly and welcoming. We had a number of fantastic sightings including bitterns, otters, marsh harriers, whooper swans, Dartford warblers, red deer, a spoonbill and so much more! 
We also went to Southwold and stocked up on Adnams Ketchup - yum!!   

Bracken by the Minsmere sign

One of 3 otters we watched for about 20 minutes

By Southwold pier

Southwold beach huts

Amazing starling murmuration

Red deer

Spoonbill looking gorgeous amongst the glinting water

The best views of a bittern! 

Magically lit reedbeds

'our' resident barn owl

In addition to the bits of paid work I was doing, I also volunteered to carry out some breeding wader surveys for the RSPB. More early mornings! Highlights included hares, cuckoos, a water vole, a whinchat, nightingales and many other lovely birds. All the while avoiding roaming ponies and herds of cattle. 

At KWT we also took on another project carrying out a National Vegetation Classification (NVC) survey at a privately owned meadow near Walmer in Kent. This was in June/July and the weather was absolutely gorgeous! This was one of my favourite projects because there was such a wealth of plants and insects and the couple who owned the meadow were the best hosts, bringing us cups of tea and scones and so much enthusiasm and friendliness! It was absolutely idyllic and we had such a lovely time. We have become good friends and I took my moth trap along a few weeks later and we caught lots of different species! 

Ele hawk

Our local pub re-opened under new management so I managed to get myself a job there behind the bar. It is a special pub because it is also a cycling cafe and bike workshop. It was great to be part of its re-opening and now it is just going from strength to strength (possibly due to having prosecco on tap!). There are so many different things that go on, including Friday film nights, bridge afternoon, bike maintenance classes, yoga classes and many bike themed events. I also run guided nature walks and bike rides from the pub and also moth mornings. I even have my own blackboard section for writing the walk/bike rides sightings! 

The Miller

Big headed poplar!

In August I bought a macro lens for my camera so I could take better photos of moths and other stuff too. It set me back a few hundred squid but it was so worth it! 

Iron prominent

Red admiral

Willow beauty 

The lovely female oak eggar moth in the photo below, laid her eggs in the trap. 20 of them! They were like little tiny birds eggs - 1mm in diameter with a hard shell! I did some research and it appeared they would take about 20 days to hatch, so I kept them in a yoghurt pot until they hatched 20 days after they were laid! I bought a 'bugdorm' and collected some bramble which is one of their preferred food plants. I have kept feeding them and they have grown from approximately 5mm to about 4cm in length! They should have overwintered as a 3rd instar caterpillar but it has been so warm that they haven't and I've been able to find plenty of bramble to keep feeding them.

Teeny tiny!

Having a good old munch!

Eating and eating and getting bigger and bigger!!

Later on in August we took the moth trap on holiday to France where we stayed with my Auntie in the Dordogne. We got some excellent moths and not quite so excellent hornets. We also went canoeing down the Dordogne river where we saw lots of kingfishers, which had been taking lessons from kestrels... They had learnt to hover before diving instead of sitting on a sticky outy branch! 

Lobster moth face

Lobster moth

Leopard moth

Gypsy moth / long eared bat

Oak hook-tip on the perspex laid over the image in the book! 

Canoeing along the Dordogne

Passenger on my canoe - banded demoiselle 

Mum and I got very brief views of the black-winged kite which had taken up residence nearby. They are typically a bird of Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia but has more recently established populations in Spain, Portugal and even more recently Southern France!! 

In September I started a new job as a Secondary School Science Teacher! A completely new venture and one which I have survived so far! I was really hoping that I was going to be able to keep up conservation work too, but clearly I was disillusioned about how much work teachers had to do! 

Subliming iodine

I did still find the time in September to go back to the meadows at Walmer to help with a bit of practical habitat management. From the NVC data and just from looking at the habitat it was clear it needed some management, so following the management plan we had written, we took some of KWT's meadow management machinery to the meadows at Walmer. It was a great weekend of cutting hay and raking it up. We also sowed a section of bare ground with wildflower seeds which will hopefully help to increase the diversity of flowers there. We were once again treated to more scones and tea and delicious lunch and of course lovely company.    

Wasp spider 

Sowing the wildflower seed

October, November and the first 2 weeks of December were consumed by teaching then at Christmas, we took Bracken, lots of food and all the Christmas presents back to the cottage in Suffolk! The cottage is joined to another which is owned by the same lady. We also rented the other cottage for my Auntie, cousins and my cousin's fiancΓ©e. We had a lovely time and sat outside at the Eel's foot Inn on Boxing Day after our walk, it was like the middle of Spring!!  

Cosy by the fire at Christmas

I hope this hasn't been so long that you've given up half way! I really miss writing blogs and reading other people's too! Maybe life will become less hectic and I'll have more time for things like this! 

Thanks for reading :) 


  1. Lou! So great to hear all your news and to see your wonderful photos. What a brilliant year you've had, so many interesting things you've done and so much knowledge built up. Many congrats on your teaching job. Love to Bracken from T and P. CT xx

    1. Thanks CT! I guess it has been a pretty jam packed year and writing it all down has just made it sink in! I really have gained such a love for moths over the last year and a bit which is mainly down to you and I have now passed that on to several people this year :)

      Lou xx

  2. What a year Lou. I'm delighted to hear you have a job and teaching science at school too, but sorry conservation work didn't come your way. You are still so young and you will have plenty of time and choices as your life develops, so don't give up hopes of working in your dream job.
    I've been a STEM ambassador at junior schools for many years, it's so important to get our youngsters interested in maths and science and see the value of it in life too.
    Lovely to hear from you and I hope you get time to post more regularly. That gypsy moth is a stunner.

    1. Thank you Suzie :) I am seeing it as further work experience which will help me get my dream job in the future (whatever that might be!!)

      We have a STEM club at school which the kids love!

  3. Its really lovely to catch up with all your news Lou - a great post with some super photos. What a year you have had :) Congratulations on the teaching job and as Suzie says you are still young and I am sure all the volunteering, courses etc., in conservation work will stand you in good stead in the future and you may well one day be able to get into conservation work.

    You certainly had some wonderful holidays and so glad you are trapping some good moths - I love the gypsy one :)

    I love the wildflower diary idea too - a good way to make sure you id flowers as and when you see them. I might do that myself this year!

    Do hope you get to chance this year to blog a bit more often.

    1. Thanks RR :) I hope I get more time to write blogs too, unfortunately I usually have a whole heap of marking to do!

      I started off doing the diary really consistently but then as I got busier, I got more slack!

      I have had lovely hols, and I am off to Morocco in less than 2 weeks!

      Hopefully I can catch up with everything you have been up to soon too :)

  4. Looks like you have had an eventful and rewarding year and I hope, like others have also written above, that you manage to blog more in 2016. However my eldest sister is a deputy head at a school in Hull so I can appreciate just how hard it must be to find free time!

    I have never ventured down to Minsmere but hopefully one day I will visit it, it does look and sound rather special (watching the otters must have been awesome), whilst the variety of moths you have seen is terrific. The Wasp spider is a wonderful looking arachnid as well!

    All the best and kindest regards :-)

    1. Thanks David, lovely to hear from you! I am looking forward to mothing again as soon as the weather improves a bit. I love taking the trap on holiday!

      The otters were magical at Minsmere! I'd not seen them in the 'wild' before.

      Thanks again for stopping by!

  5. Lovely to catch up with what you've been up to! You have some stunning photos there. You weren't too far from me when you stayed at Minsmere, it's only 7 miles down the road :o) Congratulations on your teaching job :o) xx

    1. Thank you Julie :) I had quite a lot to tell it seems! You are very lucky living so close by, we absolutely love it at Minsmere! Although we do have some great places in Kent, but I find we don't actually visit them very much - it's different when you actually go somewhere on holiday as one makes more effort!

      I hope to pop over to your blog this week to see what you've been up to as well :)

  6. Hello Lou from a fellow absentee! You've done so many interesting things this year. I do envy you photos of the roe deer (I haven't seen one for ages) and the bittern (again, it's a long time since I've seen one). I hope to go to Minsmere again soon, probably in May and hope I get some good sightings of wildlife. I've started to keep a nature diary and hope to add wildflowers to it, so it will be interesting to compare. Lovely to see gorgeous Bracken - who's obviously had good holidays too! Good luck with the teaching!

    1. Hi Wendy! I had never seen roe deer that well ever! So that was a real treat! The bittern was also a wonderful sighting! I look forward to hearing about your trip in May - I expect that will be a fabulous time to visit with all the migrants! Thank you for your well wishes, this teaching year is over half done!
      p.s. you had posted the comment twice so I just deleted one of them :) thanks for popping by!

  7. What a wonderfully wild life you've been living over the past year. Now that my son is getting a bit older, we getting outdoors a bit more, which is awesome.
    It was great to see you success in raising the oak eggar moth caterpillars. A few years ago I found some ladybird eggs and raised them to aduldhood. It was a great experience.
    Glad to read that you're doing so well.

    1. Thank you Tim! I don't think that now I'm teaching I'm leading that much of a wild life - mostly indoors!! Certainly different every day though! I do hope that my caterpillars eventually metamorphose and turn into beautiful moths! Trying to think of a way to capture the moment in case it happens at night! Any ideas?! Glad you are managing to get outdoors and inspiring your son to do the same!

    2. I think you did more nature stuff in the last year than many do in a whole lifetime :)
      Perhaps you could set up a light and record them with a webcam? Or you could set up time lapse, there seem to be apps available for smartphones?
      Hope you get something sorted, would be a shame to miss it.