Thursday, 31 December 2015

2015 highlights

I have so many favourite memories from 2015, but it's the orchids that really stand out for me. It was a real joy hunting for different orchids and exploring many wonderful reserves, managing to see a wonderful 18 different types of orchid. It's hard to choose, but I think my favourite were the stunningly beautiful butterfly orchids from Aston Clinton Ragpits.
The green-winged orchids at Bernwood Meadow were spectacular, the musk orchids at the Rifle Range were very tiny and very rare and the bee orchids at Yoesden were quirky with their hairy bees knees. Then there were the delicate little fly orchids at Dancersend, the incredibly rare single red helleborine and the frog orchids that we spent a lot of time hunting down on Watlington Hill.
We’ve found some weird and wonderful fungi this Autumn, but some of my favourites have been the ‘out of this world’ earthstars, the statuesque magpie inkcaps, the black trumpet shaped horn of plenty and the prickly terracotta hedgehogs.

The red kites are always a favourite and this year our back garden red kites, Whistlejacket and his wife, had two babies which they brought to meet us. We also watched on helplessly as Kenny and Katrina’s nest was blown out of their tree in my parents back garden, although we did get to have a good look at some of the interesting things they used to line their nest!

The blog has gone from strength to strength with 245 posts this year and over 26,000 pageviews since the blog started. Bug Mad Girl wrote some of the blog posts this year and was awarded an amazing Highly Commended in the BBC Wildlife Magazine Blogger Awards. Three of my photos were chosen as BBC Wildlife photo of the day and a couple were printed in the magazine. I wrote a guest blog post about Yoesden for BBOWT that was also printed in the Bucks Examiner.

So many wonderful memories, but the best thing from last year has to be watching Bug Mad Girl and her brother run, jump, climb, discover and have fun outside. Opening the moth trap in their pyjamas in the morning, filling their wellies with water, peeping under metal sheets in the hope that a slowworm will be underneath, racing up and down slopes and climbing a favourite tree. It's been a thrill to be a part of it all!

As for next year, we'll just have to see what happens. There are some difficult times ahead for our family, so I'll just be glad to get through the next few months with us all in one piece. Saying that, there are a few orchids I'm very keen to try and see and we'll be watching the red kites and hoping they manage to build a more secure nest! I've also written a piece about snakes head fritillaries for a Wildlife Trust book called 'Spring', so I'm looking forward to seeing that published. Whatever happens, we'll be out there and we'll write about it in the blog.

Wishing you all a very happy and healthy New Year and thank you for reading (and hopefully) enjoying the blog this year.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Bug Mad Girl's 2015 best bits

My favourite things about 2015 (by Bug Mad Girl):

Top of the list has to be the huge great green bush-crickets at Yoesden bank, because they're awesome. I loved looking for them and think they look like real mini-monsters. It was really great when one crawled up somebody's leg and body, then sat on their shoulder for ages.

The Ragpits at Aston Clinton are probably my favourite place to visit. It's so unusual there and always feels a bit like were on the moon when we visit, with the hilly craters that are great fun to run up and down. I love to lift up the corrugated iron sheets and see if there are any slowworms underneath (which there often are). It's also always full of lots of beautiful butterflies.

The Roman snails at Grangelands are brilliant because they're massive and really slimy. If it's a rainy Spring day then it's really good fun to go and see them.

We had a lot of fun searching for striped lychnis caterpillars during the summer.  We were helping to monitor the numbers of these rare moths and had to hunt all over one of our local hills and count the caterpillars and their foodplant (Dark Mullein). Go Team Lychnis!

I found a Pilot whale vertebrae on the beach in Ireland. It was big, smelly and brilliant and is my best ever beach find!

We ran the moth trap in our back garden during the summer. Opening it up in the morning and finding all sorts of brilliant moths was a lot of fun. My favourites were the elephant and privet hawkmoths and the lovely buff tips and pale tussocks that pretended to be my rings.

We joined a glow-worm walk on Brush Hill and found lots of glow-worms. They're so cool and they really do glow!

Finally, I was awarded a highly commended in the BBC Wildlife Blogger Awards, which is a real honour and very exciting.

Hope you all have a brilliant  New Year and I'm really looking forward to seeing what great adventures we have next year.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

December primroses at Yoesden

I made the most of the sunshine this morning and went for a final stroll around Yoesden before the new year. It was a great way to clear my head after the excesses of Christmas and as usual I wasn't disappointed by what I found there.

As I walked through the meadow to get to the reserve, I was welcomed by a green woodpecker, who flew across in front of me to some nearby trees. Then I walked through to the reserve and was very surprised to find primroses in flower. It's still December, so I think that makes them at least 2 months early!

I sat and watched the red kites for a while. They seem to think spring has arrived and were chasing each other around and diving in unison. It looked a lot like they were 'courting' to me.

The reserve felt all tucked up for the winter, ready for the spring to burst forth. Despite all the recent mild weather and unseasonal flowers, I don't believe we can really be seeing the start of spring... not in December!
Bird's eye view of the reserve from the 'Hole in the woods'
There were still plenty of signs that we're still in winter. The berries had been stripped from the bare bushes, although the birds had still missed the odd one or two.

There were a few meadow waxcaps in the grass
I believe I saw a bullfinch in one of the trees. It's a terrible photo I'm afraid, but it clearly has a pinky/red chest and black head, so I think that must be what it was. Not something I've seen very often.

I'm looking forward to spring really appearing and spending lots more time at Yoesden next year.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Christmas Art Show

Ho ho ho, welcome to my Christmas art show! 

I hope you enjoy looking at all my art and have a wonderful Christmas! 

Love Bug Mad Girl (age 10) x

1. Foxylox
1. I drew this fox at the art club I go to. I used oil pastels and smudged all the different colours together to make a fur like effect.

2. Christmas Robin
2. This is a Robin I drew for my Dad to make into a Christmas card for the Lymphoma Association. I used my special colouring pencils and I blended the colours in the chest together to create an orangey-red colour. Mum and Dad used this as their Christmas card this year.

3. Twirly Bird
3. I drew this bird at art club. I used a mix of water colour paint and colouring pencils for a nice washy background, then drew around the bird and tree in black pen to make them stand out. 

4. Ink-a-fly
4. This is a butterfly I drew at art club. I used inks by dabbing the paper with water then dripping a blob of ink onto the water so it spread out and made a nice effect. I displayed this one at the Longwick Art Show.

5. Fishing
5. This is a kingfisher that I made with water colour paints and collage. I drew a kingfisher then stuck bits of newspaper and sheet music onto it and painted it.

6. The Dark Owl
6. This is one I did in my spare time using chalk pastels. I used the pastels to go over the outline of an owl I drew, then did a bit of smudging to get the effect of the wings.

7. The Webber
7. This is another picture I did at art club and displayed at the Longwick Art Show. I drew a web shape with wax crayon then painted over it with water colour paints.

8. Big Bluey
8. This is a Pilot Whale I drew after I found a vertebrae from a Pilot Whale on the beach. I used blue colouring pencils to carefully colour it in then found out some facts about Pilot Whales and wrote them in the corner.

9. Woody-wood-wood-wood
9. This is a green woodpecker I drew at home with my colouring pencils. I used shading to get the colour of the wing just right.

10. Colour Fish
10. This is a multicoloured fish I painted at art club. After I'd painted it I went over some of it in black to really make it stand out. 

11. The Majestic Bird
11. This is a red kite I drew at art club. I copied a picture of a red kite then coloured it in with coloured pencil, blending the colours on the wing. 

12. Little Angel
12. This is an angel that I drew at home and shaded with coloured pencils. It's a self portrait of what my mum thinks of me. 

13. Bug Mad Girl Self Portrait
13. ... and this is a real self-portrait of me, a Bug Mad Girl!

Thank you for looking at all my art!

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Watlington Hill

At last the sun has come out and there's a chill in the air. Just the sort of day that we all love and look forward to at this time of year (we just haven't had many of them yet!) We made the most of it and went for a walk across Watlington Hill. It has the most amazing views towards Didcot and Oxford in the distance, Watlington at the bottom of the hill and then back across the Chilterns towards Aston Rowant Nature Reserve.
The view to Aston Rowant Nature reserve
It's a great spot to watch the red kites as you are high up on the top of the hill and can often look down at them below you. It's quite an unusual view of these amazing birds as they glide around in the wind.

The gorse was already in flower, as were some daisies.

Bug Mad Girl found a tiny bone, probably from a mouse or vole.

Then we headed down the hill and called in on Nanny Moth. She already has aconites in flower in her garden and we saw our first daffodils flowering on the side of the road as we drove home.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Seven swans a swimming, six geese a laying...

We met some lovely geese yesterday as we walked through Kensington Gardens on our way to a Christmas concert at the Royal Albert Hall (yes, we did sing the 12 days of Christmas). They weren't laying and there were definitely more than six of them, but they made us feel very Christmassy and were a nice surprise!
Egyptian Goose

Look at those knobbly knees!
Greylag Goose

Synchronised goosing!

Canada Geese

The seven swans a swimming paraded past us as they headed over to some people feeding the birds nearby.
There were a few more than seven, but you get the idea!
Mute swan
There were also tufted ducks, coots, pigeons and a flock of black headed gulls
We saw a crow with some white feathers, which may be leucistic, where the affected feathers lack the melanin pigment so appear white.

The grass was covered in starlings ...

... and we were entertained by the very tame resident squirrels.

Then we found the Albert Monument with the Royal Albert Hall behind it.

We even managed to find an elephant and a camel in the park! They were made of stone and sat on the corners of the Albert Monument, but were still pretty cool! They represent Asia and Africa, with a bison for the Americas and a bull for Europe on the other two corners.

It may have been raining and really windy, but walking through park to get to the hall was lovely and all the wildlife was a real bonus.