Questions from some budding young naturalists

This week I’ve been really honoured to hear that a local primary school have been using my blog to help them learn about ‘living things and their habitat’ during their science lessons.

What was really amazing was the variety of questions and thought that has gone in to each question they have sent me to answer.

To the Children of Years 1 and 2 from Woodstock Primary School, here are my answers.

1. How do you photograph animals that move so fast?

With difficulty.

I use a setting on my camera that takes lots of photos, one after the other really quickly. Sometimes I have to guess where an animal is going to run to, then focus on one place and hope that the animal will pass that spot.

Hares can be quite hard, but insects like dragonflies can be impossible to take a photo of in flight, sometimes it is easier to film them.

You would be amazed at how many photos I have to delete. Like the one below.

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2. Why do you like nature?

Nature is absolutely fascinating, there is always something new to learn and something new to discover, a species or a behaviour that you have never seen before.

Just this week I learnt all about the journey that Swallows take when they migrate to South Africa.

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3. Where is the best place in Oxfordshire to watch wildlife?

My favourite place is my local patch. If you spend the time to learn where each animal lives or is likely to appear, then an area you know well is always the best place to see wildlife.

Other than my local patch, the Wildlife Trust Nature Reserves such as Dry Sandford Pit, or RSPB reserves like RSPB Otmoor are great places to visit.

Starlings and Beckley mast at Otmoor

One of my favourite places in Oxfordshire is Wytham woods.

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4. Is it difficult to reach the right places to see animals? Do you climb over trees and rocks?

Sometimes I have to climb over and around things. I think Brambles are probably the thing that gets in the way the most when I am trying to take photos, lots of animal use brambles for shelter and hiding in.

5. How many peregrine falcons are living and have you seen any?

According to the RSPB there are 1,500 breeding pairs in the UK. I have been lucky enough to see two Peregrine falcons at RSPB Otmoor. I also took a quick photo of one flying over my house a couple of years ago and I’ve seen one on a cliff in Devon.

6. How many animals are getting extinct at the moment? What animal has the lowest number?

When we think about extinction we normally think about White Rhino’s, polar bears and Cheetahs, the big mammals, but Scientists estimate that 150 – 200 species of plant, insect, bird and mammal become extinct every 24 hours, or between 200 and 2,000 species each year depending on which study you read.

Many of these are from ‘natural extinction’ and would have happened even if humans had nothing to do with it, but humans do effect lots of animals and their survival.

Animals such as the White Rhino and the Vaquita porpoise have very low numbers.

 

7. What is your favourite animal and why?

Badgers are my favourite animals, with Hares coming a close second.

I have been watching my local badger sett for over 10 years and each badger has its own personality, some are playful and cheeky. Others are bossy and push other badgers around. I admire how powerful and strong they are.

Hares are fantastic to watch, they are so fast especially when they are chasing each other before they start boxing.

Sitting hare Alex White - 300 dpi

8. How many hedgehogs are living?

It is very difficult to know how many hedgehogs there are in the UK, some think only around 1 million hedgehogs are left which is shocking when in the 1950’s there were 36.5 million hedgehogs.

There is lots you can do to try and help hedgehogs and encourage them in to your back garden. Have a look at Hedgehog Street.

Hedgehog Street

The hedgehog in my garden loves slugs.

9. How long have you been looking for animals?

I have been looking for animals since I was 3 years old when my parents had to carry me down to the woods to see the badgers, as it was too far for me to walk. I’ve always been interested in animals especially mammals.

10. How many different types of animal have you seen in Oxfordshire?

Wow, that’s a hard question. I have no idea. I have probably only seen a very very small percentage of all the mammals, birds, insects, fish, moths and butterflies in Oxfordshire. That is why nature is so fascinating because there is always something new to find even in your own back garden.

The mammals are easy I have seen Badgers, hares, roe deer, fallow deer and muntjac, rabbits, different types of mice, voles and shrews, rats, hedgehogs, grey squirrels, mink, stoat, weasel, polecat and foxes, bats and moles.

I have seen Otters and water voles, but not in Oxfordshire. I would love to see a wild boar and a beaver.

There are 294 types of birds in Oxfordshire, although some of those just visit or have only been seen once and some not for a very long time.

My favourites are the birds of prey and I’d love to see a Red-footed falcon. One was seen this week in Oxfordshire.

11. How do you look after nature?

You can look after nature by respecting it. We all have to share this planet and we all have the right to have somewhere to live and grow.

There are plenty of things each one of us can do every day such as not dropping litter, putting out water in the garden and little actions like not killing that spider you find in the bath, but picking it up and letting it go.

The best way to look after nature is to learn more about it, the more you know the more you will care about it.

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Thank you for such interesting questions. Good luck with your science lessons.

Alex

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Big Butterfly Count 2017

Big Butterfly Count 2017.

Weather: cloudy, patchy sun      19 degrees C

Time: 2.20pm to 2.35pm

Place: Wild flower meadow, edged with brambles and nettles, with bordering woodland. Sheltered from wind.

I did the count first then took time to take the photos after.

2    Green Veined White

13   Ringlet

8    Meadow Brown

12   Gatekeeper

2   Marbled White

2   Comma

1   Red Admiral

1   small skipper

1   Brown Argus

2   Small White

3 Tiny brown butterflies (not identified and couldn’t get a photo)

Comma butterflyComma undersideFemale Small whiteMeadow BrownBrown Argus

Green-veined whiteRingletRingletGreen-veined whiteGatekeeperSkipper?Gatekeeper undersideRed admiral

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Guest blog from Norfolk

Thanks to my Nan for writing about her recent visit to Norfolk

After our recent camping trip to the Norfolk Broads Alex has once again asked us to do a guest blog. This trip during the June heatwave gave us the opportunity to not only go out on a boat on the Broads but also to visit two of the many nature reserves around the area.

On our first full day we went on a boat trip out of Wroxham and travelled up the river Bure to explore Wroxham Broad and Salhouse Broad. It was quite a big boat so we had to keep to the main route so we mainly saw lots of greylag geese, a heron or two, some grebes and lots of the more common ducks.

 

On our second day, after an abortive attempt to visit the north coast where the mist was swirling in off the sea and it was pretty cold. We headed back to the RSPB Reserve at Strumpshaw Fen. Just outside the Visitor Centre we saw a Bee Orchid but failed to take a photo. Deciding to do better we started off on one of the various walks available in search of the famous swallowtail butterfly. We stopped off at the first hide where we were intrigued by a long-legged bird standing in the mud, no-one could work out what it was until its mother came down next to it. It was a young black headed gull, looking nothing like its mother.

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Further into our walk we did manage to see the swallowtail caterpillar but no luck with the butterfly. We did spot other birds, including a hobby, and lots of dragonflies and damselflies and a lizard sunning itself. Strumpshaw has 23 species of dragonfly including the Norfolk Hawker. Although someone did tell us where they had just seen one, we were not lucky enough to see it ourselves.

 

The follow day we visited the reserve at Hickling Broad where we were camping. Here our persistence was rewarded and we did see two different swallowtail butterflies and another caterpillar.

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We spent a while in the Bittern Hide but were not lucky to either hear or see a bittern, perhaps next year. Although we didn’t have enough time to get to the Crane Hide we did see a number flying overhead. Walking back to the Visitor Centre we saw many more dragonflies and damselflies.

 

Norfolk and Suffolk are the only places in the UK where you can see Swallowtail Butterflies and they can only be seen from late May to mid July and perhaps again in August. They are the largest British butterfly with a wingspan of 8 to 10cms.

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Swallows

Each summer Swallows arrive and nest in the barn near my garden. Once the young have fledged, the wire that runs over my garden becomes their favourite place to rest. All we can hear through the open windows is their chitchat and clicks and whistles.

Swallows use the same nesting sites year after year and first year breeders (if they survive) will use a site within half an mile of where they were born, so perhaps the Swallows I filmed being fed by their parents over the garden last year are now some of the parents this year.

The Swallows arrive late Spring zipping up and down the meadow after insects, chasing each other around the trees and  in and out of the barns.

The chicks fledged a couple of weeks ago and slowly began following their parents and each other round and round in the sky, resting less and less as they got stronger and more confident.

By September they will all be getting ready to leave for their 6,000 mile journey to South Africa. The journey will take them 6 weeks, travelling around 180 miles per day, and resting at night. They fly through Western France and Eastern Spain to Morocco. Then across the Sahara Desert and the Congo rainforest. If they survive the journey they will finally reach South Africa where they will spend the winter before the return journey to the UK starting in February.

I have been reading about Horatio Clare who followed the Swallow’s route by plane, bus, taxi, hire car, boat, canoe and on foot.

I’m going to South Africa soon and I’ll be thinking about the Swallows on my 11 hour plane journey.

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Day 30 of 30 Days Wild

The last day of 30 Days Wild was totally hectic. It was my sister’s prom so the house was full of people while Amelia got ready.

I’ve put this photo up as Amelia hasn’t worn a dress since she was 8 years old so it is kind of special.

While Amelia was at her prom, the rest of us went to a garden party and my last Random Act of Wildness was toasting food over a fire pit.

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This years 30 Days Wild has been fantastic. I’ve managed to do a Random Act of Wildness and blog about it everyday. There were lots of things I’d planned but ran out of time to do.

I hope everyone manages to #staywild

Here are a few of my favourite moments from the month.

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Day 29 – Garden birds

Not much time after school today to spend on wildlife so my Random Act of Wildness was to watch the birds in my garden.

The Pigeons are now sitting on their third nest, after abandoning the first not long after the strong winds. They made a second in the fir tree which was predated by Magpies, now they are back using the first nest again.

We have plenty of Blue tit and Great tit fledglings and a few Goldfinch, although one was recently taken, I presume by a Sparrowhawk which I have seen flying over the garden.

The House Sparrows have done well this year with at least 6 fledglings between to sets of adults.

I’m sure we have more nests and fledglings in the garden as I can hear little noises coming from deep inside the laurel tree, ivy and the clematis so I’m hoping to see more fledglings in the coming days and weeks.

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Day 28 – mini beast hunt

Mini beasts often go unnoticed, but they are easy to find if you take the time to stop and look.

Here are a few I found in about 10 minutes.

Meadow Brown on oxeye daisy

Meadow Brown

The Meadow Brown is one of the most common and widespread UK butterflies, often seen flying lower over and in amongst grasses and flowers during the summer.

Peacock butterfly caterpillar

Peacock butterfly caterpillar

To me, the Peacock butterfly caterpillar looks like the midnight sky filled with tiny stars.

Roesel's Bush-cricket

Roesel’s Bush-cricket

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The Roesel’s Bush cricket was once only found on the South East coast of the UK, but in recent years it has spread West and North and can now be found on my local patch in Oxfordshire.

7 spot ladybird

7 spot ladybird

Feeding on aphids the 7-spot ladybird can be found all over the UK. As the name suggests it has seven spots, three on each wing case (elytra), the seventh at the front in the middle.

 

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