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Gull chick day 13

Nearly two weeks now of stinky noisy Gullward/Bindipper Jr. He’s still a fussy eater, but if left with food eventually he does eat it all. He also now hit the 500g mark! His feathers are starting to come through “in pin” so it shouldn’t be long now before he’s moulted out of the downy feathers he hatched with.

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During the day, if it’s not raining or too cold, I’ve started putting him out in the yard, where there’s enough room for him to flap his wings and run around a bit, which I think he seems to like. He’s also eating tiny pebbles for his crop, which is good to see.


2015 started with working in the best pub ever (Bow Bar – again) with the best people ever (again). I went to see Berwick Rangers play Hibs for some reason, and drank some amazingly good beers.

coworkers and Frank

pub regular Rob took me to my first footy match since the mid 90s. we was robbed

I also got to live in a real house like a real person, and it was the best house ever with a complete bunch of nutters who are also the best people ever. And some furry friends!

House Sarah and Frank
Leo, Nootka and Frank’s important business meeting

I continued moth trapping, having finally found a hobby that mystifies everyone else. Getting the first county record for Buff Arches was PRETTY good.

In June I went to Saint Kilda, 40 miles west of the Hebrides. I have always wanted to go, but never even imagined I’d get to visit, let alone work there for a month. After staying a week on Mingulay a few years previously, me and dad committed to getting to Saint Kilda to camp for a few days, but then in May I got 2 weeks notice to head out to take part in the colonial nesting bird survey.
My trip home included a ride around the Gannetry of Borerary and its stacks, about 12 miles from the main St Kilda group

Living and working out there gave me such an amazing appreciation of the place. Incredible, once-in-a-lifetime type stuff. and dad came out to visit too!

Jack, Me, Dad, and Alan Hinkes on the highest point on Saint Kilda
Jack, me, dad and Alan Hinkes

When I got back, alas it became clear I wasn’t in any position to keep Whisky cat, as she was showing signs of stress from being moved about so much as she grew older. Sad, but I assume she’s happy and settled now. What an awesome cat to have had the company of for 7 years!

Best cat ever! Unfortunately I had to rehome Whisky, as I was to spend two years without being able to have her with me, and constantly moving from place to place was stressing her out.

I found her a wonderful family home where she was settled and very much loved, but sadly after just over a year, she died of a blood clot at 8 years old. She really was a one of a kind, the best cat ever. I miss her every day and there will never be another cat like her, my best friend and companion for 8 years xxx

A few months later I was off to the Republic of Georgia, working with Batumi Raptor Count in the south west of the country, to monitor illegal raptor hunting, but generally to have an incredible time with a brilliant bunch of people. And speak Russian, and laugh lots. There might have been some beer too. And like all great times, it ended up with me hospitalised but I was OK really.

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thousands of honey buzzard, black kite, red kite, and various eagles circle overhead at Batumi, one of the world’s biggest migration flyways
the team hard at work counting migrating birds-of-prey

A week after getting back, I was offered a job as a nature reserve warden in Cumbria, which is LITERALLY the job I have been aiming for all of these years. I still cannot believe it!

eh, quite a good year, and it finished with birth of my niece Millie Melissa! Very wonderful and I can’t wait to meet her!

A First for the County

I’m not a great birder; I enjoy sitting in a hide watching them for hours, but when it comes to twitching and sea-watching I’ve never had any success; in 15 years I don’t think I’ve spotted a single unusual sighting that wasn’t first pointed out to me by someone else. It’s possibly also due to my bad habit of assuming that anything I see couldn’t possibly be rare, I must be mistaken. It’s just a pigeon.

Moths however – I take a picture of anything in the trap I’m unsure of and show it to experts. So when this one puzzled me, @ianbennell75 and @MothIDUK quickly confirmed it as a Buff Arches, Habrosyne pyritoides.

Buff Arches having a snooze

Having sent my moth trap off to my dad for him to discover the joys of mothing while I’m away, I sent my list from the past two months to Duncan, our county moth recorder. He requested pictures of a few, including the Buff Arches, and today he confirmed it’s the first record of a Buff Arches for the county!

The current known distribution almost stops completely at the border. It might just have been here a while and be under-recorded; there’s not a vast amount of moth-trappers out there, or is the distribution spreading north with climate change and warmer weather? Either way, a very exciting find for me!

Distribution of Buff Arches from the National Biodiversity Network Gateway:
Distribution of Buff Arches from the NBN Gateway

What a great end to my first summer moth trapping in the garden!

Buff Footman

Last night housemate Tom was complaining about giant moths in the kitchen (it was a few Large yellow underwings) so I thought it might be a good night for the moth trap?

It was!

First, here’s a Buff Footman, the first I’ve ever seen

A lovely Sallow moth

Riband Wave is a common one at the minute, but this one looks really good

Some moths show very wide variation – these are bot hDark/Common Marbled Carpet

My most favourite thing about Moth Trapping, since I really got into it this year, has to be how friendly and helpful the moth-er community is. Every time I trap, there’s at least 3 or 4 species I’m not sure of, and because of the nature of moths it’s very easy to take a picture and either tweet it on #TeamMoth to guys such as @MothIDUK, @LesHillBC, and @Macgregor_Cal and other will cast their expert eye and help ID it for me. Duncan, the County Moth Recorder, is also at the end of an email if I’m stuck, and it really shows how friendly the #teammoth is that he lent me a large moth trap without having met me and after just a few email exchanges!

Full List 18/08/2015:
Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing 23
Mother of Pearl 1
Brimstone Moth 9
Riband Wave 4
Common/Dark Marbled Carpet 1
Large Yellow Underwing 15
Dark Arches 4
Sallow 1
Small Fan-footed Wave 1
Lesser Yellow Underwing 7
Snout 1
Lesser/Common Rustic 3
Dun-bar 1
July Highflyer 1
Buff Footman 1
Clouded Border 1
Common Carpet 2
Flounced Rustic 2


Got a record number of moths in the 150W moth hotel last night – 75 moths of 14 species, mostly Lesser broad-bordered yellow underwings, of which there were 34:

New to the garden was a lovely little Antler Moth:

Also nice to see was this Plain Golden-Y

July High Flyer

Snout Moth

and a small selection here

I’m trying out different locations around the garden each time, last night was next to an overgrown rockery with a big patch of yellow flowers, clearly the Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwings like them! I’m going to try under the apple trees next time.

Full list 12/8/15:
 Common or Lesser Common Rustic 1
 Mottled Beauty 1
 Dark Arches 6
 Plain Golden-Y 1
 Antler Moth 1
 Burnished Brass 1
 July High-flyer 3
 The Snout 1
 Riband Wave 1
 Large Yellow Underwing 17
 Lesser Yellow Underwing 6
 Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing 34
 Brimstone Moth 1
 Swallow-tailed Moth 1

RSPB Big Wild Sleepout

The RSPB Big Wild Sleepout is aimed at getting young people out to experience and connect with nature by camping out over night. My friends Lizzie and Ari had oragnised a camp at Earth Ship Fife, and invited me along in the belief that I know stuff about nature.

The highlight of the evening was spotting a barn owl that, on closer inspection, turned out to be a brick. ha! Actually, there were many highlights – bats flying overhead, catching toadlets, toasting marshmallows over the fire, going on a bug hunt, herons strolling by, stumbling over this little chap

a hedgehoggle

It was really great! The kids were aged between 1 and 7, and just as keen and interested as the grown ups. OF COURSE I took my moth trap, and got everyone really excited to discover the world of moths of all sizes and colours!

Typically, then, I just got a load of brown ones – mostly Yellow-underwings and Dark Arches, although this Burnished Brass was very popular:

and with two Common Wainscot, a Brown-line Bright-eye, which I’d not seen before

Last night I put out the big Robinson trap in the garden, and got a small selection, despite it being a great night for moths (and midges!) I think I need to find a better flower patch to put the trap out next to.

A few good ones, new to me, included this Dun-bar moth

and a Lychnis

This Riband Wave has seen better days

As has this Brimstone!

Robinson trap

Duncan, the county moth recorder, very kindly loaned me a Robinson moth trap.

This beast is a 150W bulb moth hotel that, on a good night and well positioned, can “attract 500 – 1000 moths” I put it out next to the buddleia, and got 50 moths! That’s twice the number I usually get in my DIY box.

Although there weren’t any too exciting, it was really nice to get a whole bunch of moths I’d not had in the garden before. The most interesting was this Phoenix moth –

as it rests with the abdomen curled up:

Full list:
Small fan-foot;
Dark Arches;
Plain Golden-Y;
Common white wave;
Light Emerald;
Catoptria pinella;
Burnished Brass;
Brown China Mark;
Eudonia lacustrata ;
The Phoenix;
July High-flyer;
Riband wave;
Poplar Hawk Moth;
Striped wainscot;
Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing;
Flame shoulder;
Swallow-tailed Moth;
Mother of pearl;
Scalloped Oak;
Coxcomb Prominent.

I did have 68 pictures on the camera trap, but when I connected it to the computer it was 67 pictures of me mowing the lawn and one of the cat.

Butterflies and moths and spreadsheets

Back home after a month on St Kilda, I have already had the moth trap out twice and today the lawn was alive with butterflies while I mowed it (but leaving about half of it unmown for nature, not because we have about half an acre and oh my god it’s 30C out here).

Dark green fritillery
Dark Green Fritillary


And a few from the moth trap..

Moth bros
Golden-Y and a Map-winged Swift

Poplar Hawk Moth
Poplar Hawk Moth

I also wanted to start keeping a good record of things sightings, so I had a search online for hints on setting up a good and useful spreadsheet. I’ve heard of MapMate before, a biological recording software. I didn’t think I’d need that just yet, but it would be good to arrange data in a way that would be easily imported into it. Happily, the MapMate Beginner’s Excel tips has a layout. Spreadsheets! so exciting!

Back to the Skip

I finished work for the summer, so back to the skip. No-one cut the grass while I Was gone.

Inside, I want to paint it and put a desk in, rather than just have my monitor balanced on a box of noodles in the corner. So out with the bench seat

I screwed together some bits of plywood, and then strengthened them with lengths of solid wood

Very pleased with this, the skip feels a lot more homely with a dedicated desk. I also have more bookshelf space, both here and on some other shelving units I put in the space of what used to be the bathroom.

Laridae and Sternidae

So an update on the gulls: We got 5 bodies in total to the government vet lab, 4 chicks and one adult, and they were all killed by a physical injury. The really helpful government vet, who is very interested and came out to have a look at the site himself, believes that in all cases it was another bird which caused death. So it is looking very much like the colony is being wiped out from within. Why this is happening, and what can be done about it, is a complete mystery, and although unusual, I have found another gull colony in the Channel Isles with a similar problem, so there might be a chance to pool information there. Hopefully next year we can all get some answers.

In slightly better news, our terns (family Sternidae) are doing much better than expected. From a high of 240 pairs in the mid-70s, the common tern colony has dropped to the 6 pairs who are believed to have nested on the site last year. Last week, we sat out in the mobile hide (aka the landrover) and spotted a grand total of 12 sitting birds (so twice as many as last year) – this is wonderful!

But will they raise any chicks? With the focus on the gulls, I hadn’t had a chance to fence off this area, and the cattle and sheep who graze the marsh wander through here pretty much daily. This means the terns are at risk from nest trampling.

As well as this, monitoring is difficult, with the scrapes (very simple depressions in the ground scraped out by the terns as a nest) are hard to find, and the chicks are mobile from an early age, makes them both difficult to find and monitor. We had located a few eggs and small chicks, but been unable to find them again. Until today, when we found some very healthy looking, big fat chicks – about 10 days old. This was really great to see!

The next step will be to watch for the parents sitting out with the fledglings on the sands at high tide to try and estimate how many have fledged, but it was absolutely brilliant to see good sized tern chicks. Terns have to be my favourite bird, nothing beats watching the crisp white adults soaring in a clear blue sky!

And afterwards we went to ring some sparrowhawk chicks in the forest, what a privilege to see these deadly young predators up close!

Other good news from the nature reserve? Well we also found a yellow wagtail nest, the first proof of this species breeding on the marsh since 2001.

So even though no gulls fledged, it looks like everyone else on the marsh has had a good year.