Navigational Buoy

Today we spotted a Navigational Buoy washed up on one of our beaches, a cardinal direction buoy that tells ships which side to pass as they approach a large port.

What do you do with a 6 tonne navigational buoy? I phoned Trinity House, who are responsible for all the lighthouses and navigational aids in British Waters, and informed them it was there.
“Yes that one is reported thanks” and hung up.

Are you going to come and get it then? I wrote an email, politely informing Trinity House that the buoy lay within the nature reserve, and more importantly, well within a SSSI.

Unsurprisingly this got me a callback straight away from a very polite man who insisted the gps reading the buoy was reporting was not within the SSSI, but we soon cleared that up (it is within the SSSI).

Buoys are removed by either digging a channel and towing them back out to sea, or by heavy lifting machinery landward (nautical term, it means “on the land”), both of which will damage the ground and therefore need special permission from Natural England to take place in a SSSI.

I’m quite excited to see what sort of kit they use to drag it back out to sea!

Shed Hibernator

Here on the reserve we have several old World War II buildings, in various states of decay, some so perilously close to collapse we are absolutely not to go into them under any circumstances.

So I was having a nose through that one, a concrete shell we used to use as a fencing post storage but during the war was a massive searchlight post. Moving aside some mouldy cardboard I spotted several spiders and insects hibernating, including some lepidoptera! hooray!

This Herald moth is absolutely stunning! I don’t think I’ve seen one before.

Nearby were these two small tortoishell (cheers Sean for IDing, go #teammoth):

I look forward to seeing them in the Spring!

I was in the vicinity as I searched for a badger sett in the dunes. I had heard rumour there was one, and seen tracks here, so I spent a good twenty minutes following reasonably fresh badger tracks – always a fun thing to do! Badger prints are broad, with the toes in a row, and with clear claw marks:

There’s plenty of rabbit holes and digging in the dunes, but the entrance to a badger sett is a more sideways “D” shaped – rabbit burrows are taller than they are wide. And badgers tend to keep their sett entrances clean and tidy, while rabbits like a big mess.

Another nice sign of an active badger sett, rather than a big rabbit hole, is nice clear badger footprints leading straight out of it! (on the right of the picture)


Incredible pictures in the Daily Mail of gannets on Grassholm (off South West Wales) tangled in the fishing and plastic discard that’s become a carpet as birds use it to build their nests. The photos are by Sam Hobson.

Gannets are stunning, large sea birds, perfectly streamlined, they fish by diving at 60mph into the sea. They nest in just a handful of packed colonies (gannetries), most of which are around the British Isles, the largest being on Saint Kilda (59,622 birds), Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth (49,098) and Grassholm, off the coast of Wales (32,094). (These are the most recent survey numbers, which I got from the JNCC’s website. Very interesting to see that there are some birds known to nest on Rockall.)

The RSPB, who manage Grassholm, send a team out every year at the end of the breeding season to free birds that have become entangled. The sight of the plastic really brings home the scale of plastic pollution in the oceans.

I visited Grassholm in 2006, the first time I’d visited a gannetry. The spectacle of thousands of these stunning birds was unforgettable, as was the sight of so much brightly-coloured plastic in amongst the nests that covered the rock.

Grassholm in 2006

The next Gannetry I visited was that on Saint Kilda, this summer. And we had another run in with gannets and plastics – while we were conducting an offshore count of cliff-nesting birds, our expert crew, Angus and young David, spotted something in the water.

They began calling to each other in Gaelic as Angus carefully maneuvered the boat and young David got a grappling hook. After a few attempts, he managed to pull in two gannets who were tangled up together, their bills completely wrapped up in nylon filament from fishing discard.

Beautiful gannet

My colleagues carefully cut the birds free, and after a pose for photos, they went on their way.

“that’ll be the only bird you pick up this weekend, David”

Undoubtedly, without quick eye and action of our boatmen, they would have drowned or starved miserably.

My Favourite Recipe

You need:
An onion
A tin of tomatoes
A pan
A cooker
An implement
Whatever else is in your fridge/cupboard

Chop up an onion into little pieces. In a big pan that you put a glug of olive oil into, place one small piece of onion and turn the heat up to.. like, one stop before the highest. When it starts crackling, turn the heat down to one stop below middle, and shove in the rest of the onion.

This is also when you put in crushed garlic – you can crush it with the flat of a knife, you know – and chopped up chorizo/bacon, if you are using it. You can also put in a chopped up stick of celery, and or a carrot, chopped up also.

Put the lid on, turn it down another notch, let it be for 5 – 10 mins. Shoogle it about every so often.

Meat goes in now, for browning. (If you’re doing chicken, a trick is at the very beginning, to fry it on a high heat to seal it first, that is, just until it’s brown on all sides but not through the middle. Then take it out of the pan, put it to one side, and then start at the onion stuff at the beginning. Then add it back again when you stick the tomatoes in)

Now: stick in a can of tomatos, crushed, or plum (but you need to crush them yourself with an implement) plus any veg (like brocolli or aubergine, all cut up small) and/or canned beans. (Not baked: I mean canneloni, or chickpeas, or borlotti or whatever you fancy/was on offer.) Put lid on, leave for 15 minutes. Stir about halfway through. (we’re still on low-medium heat)

Then take lid off, stir. stick in a bay leaf if you are cooking with beef, put any other stuff in, like a teaspoon of marmite or a shake of worcestererstershire sauce. Leave lid off for 20 minutes or until it’s reduced to a consistency you like. If you have spinach, stick that in when you look at it and think “oh it just needs another bit longer.” when it’s ready, dollop out into bowls. Serve with pasta, rice or crusty bread or whatever.


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.

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

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!

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.

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!

MouseCam: The sniffening

I had a quick look at the cam that’s looking at the mousecam. I put this one so I can check it from a distance to see if anything has been near the Bucket Trap that houses Mousecam, without leaving human-scent all over the BucketTrap


ha! Typical!

So a dark tabby cat comes at about 7pm last night and finds two things behind the camera trap, and quickly carries them off. I’m sure there was nothing there when I put the trap out, and they don’t look like rodents:

What on earth..? I baited the trap by putting lumps of peanut butter on the inside, but the cat appears to have found something solid. How utterly weird! The cat then sniffs about, presumably licking off the peanut butter from where I had put some around the trap’s entrances

It comes back again at half nine, and again at around midnight – and there’s nothing else on the camera! I think this is probably a feral or farm cat. Cheeky thing, guess I needn’t have worried about leaving human-scent all over the bucket!


I was wondering about how to do a small mammal survey on the reserve, the last having been carried out in 1994. I want to get a good idea of what species we have, and the usual way to do this would be with small live traps called Longworth Traps, which are tried and tested and have been used in small mammal survey for nearly 70 years!

These traps are expensive and time-consuming, as they need to be checked ever 12 hours (or less), and once it’s been triggered it won’t register anything else until you’ve been along to have a look, released the catch and reset it.

So I thought about how I could use one of our Trailcams, a motion-activated camera with an infra-red flash and lens (for taking pictures at night) and found a paper called A novel method for camera-trapping small mammals. In it, they use a large plastic barrel with the base cut out, and a camera pointing down into it. The base is replaced with a gridded floor, and baited, so that small mammals entering are seen from above and measurements for size can be seen:

Figure 1: Floating camera trap for small mammals, tested in Florida, USA, during February 2012 to February 2013. The 7-gallon (26.5-L) bucket sits on a base that floats when the tide is high and fiberglass poles keep the trap in place. Lid will be painted white for heat deflection.

Figure 3: Species captured in camera trap to demonstrate ease of identification. Species include (clockwise from top left; a) Microtus pennsylvanicus dukecampbelli and Sigmodon hispidus, b) Oryzomys palustris and S. hispidus, c) M. pennsylvanicus dukecampbelli and O. palustris, and d) O. palustris, M. pennsylvanicus dukecampbelli, and S. hispidus. Trap was tested in Florida, USA, during February 2012 to February 2013.

Additionally, as they want to use it in a tidal area, they affix it to a large float, and then so long as it is baited, it can be left alone.

I thought that sounds like it might be quite interesting! First I’ll need a large plastic bucket with the base cut out… Luckily, the sea provides us with plenty of rubbish, including a large plastic bucket with the base cut out. How convenient.

I fixed some L-shaped brackets, to hold an off-cut of corrugated plastic sheeting in place, then cut a hole in that for the camera to sit, so the whole thing looks like this:

Not very hi-tec! I drilled a few small entrance holes, put it out in the yard and baited it, along with the second camera trap pointed at it to see if anything shows interest but doesn’t go inside.

I’ll have a check of it after a few days. I’ve just put it in the yard here rather than out on the reserve already because I believe as it is, it won’t focus on something as near, and the infra-red flash will be far too bright! They’re designed to take pictures up to about 14m away. But it would be good to get a feel for how it works to start off with.

White Curlew

I’ve started wardening a Nature Reserve on the Cumbrian Coast, which is very exciting. Until moth season starts up again I’ll just have to bore you with pictures of scenery and birds and stuff.

There’s plenty of wintering birds here, oystercatcher, redshank, curlew, dunlin, sanderling, turnstone and grey plover, mostly. I had heard rumour of a leucistic curlew that had been seen for a few years now. Leucistic is when the bird doesn’t have a dark pigmentation, not albino as there might still be some colour, but pale. I found an actual photograph of one in a drawer (along with thousands of other, undated, unlabeled photographs), so set out on a mission to find what I decided was now called Luke. Moby Luke, because it was white, I kept searching for it and wasn’t sure it even existed.

I spotted it a few times, way out on the flats, hanging with some little egrets. After a few weeks, this was the best picture I’d managed of it:


On Friday evening, I set off to work’s Christmas Lunch as the tide was coming in and – wow! there was Moby Luke right by the track. I did a 5-point turn and sped back to get my camera, resulting in these great pictures:


Next week I’ll compare it to the old photo and see if it’s the same bird.

Also: how great are Curlew bills?

Moths &c

It was a muggy, warm night last night and this morning, so I was hoping to get something other than November moths in the 150w Robinson trap I put out before bed last night.

Well I did!

Two lovely Feathered thorn, Colotois pennaria, in the trap this morning, alongside a dozen or so November Moths (another aggregate species, could be one of four species but IDing is difficult without dissection!), this red-green carpet:

and… two of these wonderful Hawthorn shieldbugs, Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale:

an Orange ladybird:

Orange ladybirds were, until 1987, used as indicator species of ancient woodland. Then the ladybirds discovered sycamore, and more recently Ash, trees, and their numbers are increasing.