Friday, 26 February 2016

Yoesden Primroses

Yoesden is stunning at any time of the year, even a grey day in February. It doesn't matter how many times I visit, I always love the feeling when I walk through the trees and step out onto the top corner of the chalk grassland slope. The view is quite literally breathtaking!

I was hoping to see primroses in flower. I'd seen a couple of flowers there at the end of December, so I was fairly sure there would be flowers today, but you never quite know what you'll see. I wasn't disappointed, as the pretty pale yellow flowers were lining the edge of the slope.

They're such pretty flowers and such an early sign of spring. In fact their name comes from prima rosa in Latin, meaning first rose, as they're some of the first spring flowers to bloom.

Primroses have a lot of folklore attached to them and it's said that they give you the ability to see fairies. I didn't see any today though!

I love the bushes growing along the back of the bank as they're covered in different types of lichen. They look like they've been decorated with splashes of yellow, green and grey.

Lichen is strange stuff. It may look like a plant or a moss, but it's neither. It's an organism that comes from an algae and fungus living together in a symbiotic relationship. Lichens don't have roots to absorb water and nutrients, but like plants they use photosynthesis to produce their own food. The fungus benefits from the relationship because the algae produces nutrients. The algae benefits because the fungus protect it from the environment and usually provide it with an anchor.
Lichen with a view

I sat for a while on one of the yellow meadow ants nests and enjoyed the sights and sounds. I sat in the same place last April and watched the green hairstreak butterflies (you can see the blog post here). I'm looking forward to doing the same again in a couple of months time, when the bank will have completely changed again.

As I was on my way home, a farmer was ploughing a field. I stopped to watch for a while as the field was full of birds, mostly gulls, quite a lot of crows and a few red kites. They were obviously making the most of the freshly turned soil. There was not much peace and harmony amongst the birds though as the crows and kites were mobbing the gulls, sending great waves of them up into the sky. Then the crows and kites were chasing each other around in the air. It was a real treat to watch!

Wednesday, 17 February 2016


BBOWT have been running a Wild At Heart campaign during February, to highlight some of the many reasons to love local wildlife. One of the events was at College Lake this morning, so we decided to go along as the kids love it there, especially when there are extra crafts and trails to enjoy.

We headed straight down to the barn, where Bug Mad Girl got stuck into some papier mache. She was helping to make a lapwing head that would eventually be painted and stuck up on the wall of the barn. She was quite happy to be elbow deep in a bucket of glue !

Honest, it's a lapwing!
I helped Little Brother make some wings, which he flapped with pride for the rest of our visit. He received many compliments for his beautiful wings!

We looked at a selection of different birds nests and some skulls. There's something fascinating about bones and it was very interesting to look at the different types of beaks that each bird had.

Nests of all shapes and sizes
Curlew skull

Barn owl skull

Woodpecker skull
After we'd made all our crafts, we headed out to the wildlife garden and the woodland walk. The garden was full of beautiful snowdrops, as well as aconites and primroses.



We found some fantastic lichen growing in the woods. I believe this is called Pixie Cup Lichen, but I think it looks like the tees that golfers use to rest their ball on. Looked amazing anyway!

Pixie cups or golf tees?
We walked through the woods and the kids put on a quick play in the outdoor theatre. As we walked, the kids completed their Nature Challenge Trail sheets, which I'd printed out and brought with us. They had to use their senses to listen for birds singing, feel and describe different things and even close their eyes and see what they could smell. There were some interesting answers to that one! We made our way along to a couple of the hides to see what we could spot out on the lake.

The kids couldn't resist helping with the sightings board ...
The very rare orange winged monkey bird!
Some long-tailed tits were in the bushes right outside one of the hide, so we sat and watched them for a while. They really are the cutest little birds.

Long-tailed tit
We also spotted a hawthorn bush that not only has leaves, but is very nearly in flower. That's bonkers as it's only the middle of Feb and I don't think it should flower until the end of April. The mild weather really is making it a crazy winter this year.
Hawthorn not quite in flower, but very close
We headed back to the visitor centre and the kids handed in their completed Nature Challenge Trail sheets. There's going to be a prize draw from all the completes sheets, so fingers crossed.

While we were in the visitor centre, I spotted 'Spring' on sale. I fought off the urge to race around the centre waving it above my head, but how exciting to actually see it on sale.

I think we're already pretty wild at heart, but it was still another brilliant morning at College Lake.

You can find out more about the Wild At Heart campaign at

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

More than a Dodo

It's half term this week and we were in Oxford, so couldn't resist a visit to the Natural History Museum. It's such a cool building, both inside and outside and is a great museum for kids.
Oxford University Museum of Natural History - Swifts nest in the ventilation
flues in the tower each summer, which you can watch on webcams.
Inside the large central area is full of gothic arches and has a high glass
ceiling. It feels almost like you're standing inside a giant whale skeleton!

The dinosaurs are always a big hit, especially the ferocious Tyrannosaurus Rex with its huge teeth. Apparently T-rex had the strongest bite of any land animal that ever lived.

T-Rex: what big teeth you have!
The kids couldn't resist sticking their heads in the mouth of the model and comparing the size of their hands. They even had a go at roaring like a dinosaur!

We met the Oxford Dodo, which was actually a type of pigeon. I always thought that man hunted Dodos for food (they were flightless birds so were easy prey) until they became extinct. Apparently they tasted awful though and it was actually the cats and dogs that men brought with them to the islands that wiped them out.

As dead as a Dodo!
There were plenty of butterflies and beetles to keep Bug Mad Girl happy and they even had some live beasties (cockroaches and tarantulas) which she would have loved to hold.

Some of the amazing beetles on display
The skeleton parade made a really stunning display, with two rows of six skeletons. The two skeletons at the front were a polar bear on the left and a pig on the right. They appeared to be very similar in size which was a real surprise.

Skeleton Parade

The pig from the skeleton parade

The skeleton parade from above
It was great to see loads of things to touch and feel, including different minerals, a 4.5 billion year old meteorite, ammonites and stuffed animals.



We couldn't touch this long eared bat, as it was far to delicate, but what a great view of such a wonderful creature.

We finished off by looking around the Wytham Woods display, which included lots of very old fashioned equipment.

So glad we visited ... definitely more to the museum than just a Dodo!

Monday, 15 February 2016

Spring has arrived!

Spring has been threatening to put in an early appearance this year, so I was over the moon when it finally arrived, through the letter box, last week! It wasn't the nesting birds, smiley-faced flowers kind, but a new book that I have been lucky enough to be involved with.

Spring, an anthology for the changing seasons is the first in a series of books by the Wildlife Trust, containing both old and new writing about each of the seasons. The blurb on the book says it contains extracts from classic texts, new work from established nature writers and pieces by Wildlife Trust supporters. I fall into the enthusiastic Wildlife Trust supporter category!  My piece of writing keeps some very illustrious company in the line up of authors!

My contribution to the book was about the wonderful snake's head fritillaries that put on a fabulous display each April in Oxford's Iffley Meadows, but are now lost from many of our traditional water meadows.

Quite by chance I saw a tweet from the Wildlife Trust saying the last chance to pitch an idea for their new Spring book was the next day. I followed the link in the tweet, found out more about the book and thought I would give it a go. I never expected them to like my idea and just sent a pitch in as I had nothing to lose. Anyway, the publishers came back to me and asked me to write the piece and it's ended up in the book. I have my first piece of writing published in a book and my first publishing contract. That's pretty exciting!

To read the piece I wrote you'll need to buy the book, which is out on Thursday.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Buzzards, branches and bonfire moss at beautiful Grangelands

After storm Imogen howled through on Monday we were left with a lovely crisp day on Tuesday, so I took the dog for a walk around Grangelands. The air was cold and the paths were thick with mud, but the views were fabulous and the sun was very welcome. Everything always looks wonderful when the sun shines!

A pair of buzzards circled overhead calling to each other as we walked down through the woods and the red kites chased each other, obviously enjoying the sunshine. The trees were full of blue tits and great tits chattering away and robins serenaded us as we walked.

One of a pair of buzzards
Somebody had been very busy out on the chalk grassland, as large areas of scrub had been cleared. That's got to be good news for the orchids and other wildflowers that make it such a special site in summer.
A few weeks ago this was thick scrub, which has now been cleared ready for spring
Grangelands and the Rifle Range wrap about half way around the base of Pulpit Hill, with the hill fort high up on the top of the hill.
Pulpit Hill (seen from Grangelands)
Rosie made the most of the refreshments laid on half way around our walk!

It would be easy at this time of year to think there's not very much to see, but it was the trees that really struck me as I walked around. The kids love climbing this large beech and it even has a rope swing attached to one of its branches.

Up close its branches twist and turn around the trunk,
making it ideal for climbing (and rather pleasing to look at!)  

The leaf buds are still tightly closed - still too early for them to break open
The branches were splattered with little lichen rosettes. I must get a book about lichen as I don't know what any of them are called, but find them fascinating.

Grangelands is an important conservation site for juniper, which is now quite rare and is very slow growing and notoriously hard to germinate. It seemed to be doing OK though and the branches were heavy with immature berries.

I stopped to admire a holly tree that I must have walked past dozens of times before. It was literally hanging onto the side of a steep slope and all of the leaves were on the far side of the tree, revealing an amazingly contorted trunk.

There were a couple of large patches of moss growing in a cleared area in the woods. When I looked closer I could see that the moss was growing over the entire site of two old bonfires, growing in the ashes. I believe this is the aptly named bonfire moss.

Bonfire moss
I found an empty Roman snail shell. They're so pretty and appear cream at first sight, but actually have many colours running through them. Amazing to think a shape like this can be found in nature! It's still to early for them to be out and about, but I'm sure Bug Mad Girl will want to go and look for them in a couple of months.

What a great way to spend a sunny morning in Feb!