Wednesday, 19 August 2015

RSPB Big Wild Sleep Out

Last weekend I decided to go along and have some fun at my local RSPB Big Wild Sleep Out...and fun it was. Lee Schofield from RSPB Haweswater was organising the event and it was held in the next valley over from Haweswater in Swindale. My dad grew up in Bampton just along the road and spent much of his childhood in the surrounding fells so it was great to go and spend the night out there....
Home for the night
The first task was setting up the tents and we were very privileged to be camping right next to a hay meadow with a stream running through it and an amazing backdrop of crags and the surrounding fells. It really is one of the most beautiful places I have camped.

Warm cosy bed complete with Yak wool blanket
Room with a view
Hay Meadow madness!
Once we had set up camp, I got chatting to some of my new fellow sleepover friends. Apologies if the names are incorrect but here goes....There was Paul and his grandson Jack, Bill (also from the RSPB) and Nell, Ryan and his son Ronan (think I have got the names the right way round!) Sarah and her daughter Rhiannon and her friend. Cath, the amazing bat lady and her two children and her husband who would rather not have been camping, but we soon persuaded him otherwise....

River Dipping fun
Some of us headed down to the river to do some dipping and just relax by the water. I was still in awe of what a beautiful place this is. Many childhood memories of playing in rivers and building dens all came flooding back. The first attempt at river dipping wasn't that successful but later on we got some caddis fly larvae, a leech and an extremely long thread type worm. I didn't see these...and I'm not too fussed that I didn't see the leech!

Relaxing and dipping by the river

Some people were still involved with putting up hammocks and tarps, which were to be their beds for the night. I meanwhile went for a bit of a wander and a wildlife hunt to see what I could find. I found some fungi and half a hazelnut...evidence perhaps of the red squirrel that is known to run up and down the wall. I saw a couple of ground beetles and the girls found a common lizard warming up in their tent...which lead to much squeals of alarm!
Hazelnut shell with mini boletus fungi

Funky Fungi

Knapweed with Cuckoo Spit (Rockhoppers) and amybe some dead midges!
Devil's Bit Scabious
As the afternoon drifted away we decided it was time to go for a walk to a local swimming hole and to have a look at the plants and wildlife along the way. Here's just a couple of things we found along the trail:

Bog Asphodel
Bog Asphodel is a water loving plant but what I didn't realise is that in managed land it can cause a bit of conflict between conservationists and farmers. As explained by Lee from the RSPB, bog asphodel can cause problems for sheep. Some conservation programmes involve encouraging areas of wetland to try and increase certain species of wetland flora and fauna. Bog asphodel will grow in these wet areas but the flowerheads if eaten by sheep can cause photosensitivity. This can result in them having painful inflammations of their ears and muzzles.

Further along the path one of the youngsters spotted this lovely Emperor Moth caterpillar. This was a great find. They are pretty cool caterpillars - bright green with pink spots! Also along the way we found some sundew, a very cool carnivorous plant and some viviparious grass, which basically means it reproduces by forming a type of bud rather than produce a seed - which is pretty unusual for a grass!

Emperor Moth Caterpillar
Common Sundew
Viviparous Grass
Then we got to the swimming hole and some brave folk went in for a dip. A couple of the youngsters went in first but also Paul one of the adults braved the cool waters. I have to say I didn't go in but it did look very refreshing and a great spot for a swim. You can't beat a swimming pool with dragonflies buzzing around your head.

Summer swimming fun

After the swimming session it was back to camp for a much needed BBQ. We all piled on sausages and burgers and got the kelly kettle going for a brew. I had a new little gadget to try which is a little sausage cooking prong that fits on the end of a stick. It was loved by many folk, as a lightweight and clever little gadget. It is made by 'light my fire' who also make sporks for camping. It is also a great little tool for cooking marshmallows.

Me trying out my new sausage cooking fork

Popcorn, marshmallows, sweetcorn and sausages!
Feeding time
As dusk drew nearer we set up the moth trap, and left it running overnight to be opened up in the morning to to see what moths were living on the site. We then set off for our bat walk with Cath Johnstone from National Parks. Cath had brought along a handful of bat detectors and told us to set them to a frequency of around 45. We headed up towards the farm buildings and barns and it wasn't long before we were both seeing and hearing bats. The most common one was the Pipistrelle and there may also have been a brown long eared. Cath could tell this mainly from the sound picked up on the bat detectors. She had lots of information for us about echo - location and how bats hunt for their food and how they roost. We could have stayed out for hours but it was getting late and it was starting to get a bit windy....

The black dot is a Pipistrelle bat - honest!
Night Candles
The wind continued to get stronger and we decided it was time for bed. It was not the most restful of nights and the RSPB certainly delivered what they promised. It definitely was a WILD sleep out! I didn't get much sleep - I was lovely and warm but all night the wind roared down the valley and howled around the tents. In the morning there was a bit of destruction - the tarp on Lee's hammock had gone adrift so he moved to the kitchen tent which already had one snapped pole and then lay awake as the other 2 poles collapsed and the tent finally engulfed him! Sarah's tent started to leak so she and her daughter moved back up to the barn where she had left their campervan. The toilet tent blew down and Lee's other smaller tent also got a battering! However, there were some tents left standing - mine included in that thankfully and also the quechua pop up tent survived! Bill and Nell were the last to arise in the morning - their hammocks were tucked behind a rocky outcrop and they had been sheltered from most of the storm.

The damp morning after braving the storm
Bill and Nell tucked up in their hammocks
Unfortunately the moth trap also didn't survive the night but we did find a couple of species. One of them being an orange underwing, a common moth in this area Lee informed us. We got the kelly kettle going and had a soggy brew and started to pack up. The plan was to go to the eagle viewpiont that morning but most people were happy to head home for a warm bath. It had been a brilliant afternoon and evening. Hopefully all the youngsters had a great experience out in the wild - I know that I certainly did and it has to be one of the wildest wild camps I have had! Well done to the RSPB and to Lee Schofield for all the hard work that went into organising the event. I will definitely be back next year and highly recommend it....

Monday, 10 August 2015

Carnivorous Bog Plants and Upland Wildflowers

A few weeks ago I went wandering looking for bog plants. I had been told there was a lot of butterwort in flower near to Watendlath Tarn. So off I went with my camera in hand to see what I could find.....

Butterwort, Pinguicula vulgaris
Butterwort is a cool carnivorous bog plant that is only in flower from around late May to August. It is easily identified by the star shaped leaves. A sticky substance is exuded from the leaves to trap insects which are then broken down by enzymes and ingested by the plant.It leaves in boggy poor nutrient habitats.

Butterwort flower close up
Out on the bog I also found cotton grass, of which there are many different species but is a great looking plant with the white tufty bits. I believe this can be quite good tinder for fire if collected and dried but I have never tried it myself.

Cotton Grass
I also saw a couple of common spotted orchids and heath milkwort dotted around in the grass.

Common Spotted Orchid, Dactylorhiza fuchsii
Heath Milkwort, Polygara vulgaris
One particular species I was pleased to see was the cross leaved heath. This is commonly mistaken with bell heather but it can be identified by the cluster of flowers at the top of the stem and by the leaves which form distinctive symmetrical 4 leaved whorls off the stem.
Cross leaved heath, Erica tetralix

Also on the bog was of course some sphagnum moss . I cannot be sure of the exact species but it is likely to be Sphagnum capillifolium. 

Sphagnum moss
 As I headed further across the bog my find of the day was the cool carnivorous plant sundew. This is probably the common form, round leaved sundew. The sundew reminds me of a venus fly trap! It also exudes a sticky substance which forms globules on the ends of hairs that look like dew.

Common Sundew, Drosera rotundifolia

Sundew with a trapped insect
As I wandered back towards the path I came across some common upland plants such as wild thyme, which has the lovely scent of thyme. There was also the common yellow plants: birds foot trefoil, a pretty yellow flower and another tormentil.

Wild thyme, Thymus polytrichus
Birds Foot Trefoil, Lotus corniculatus

Tormentil, Potentilla erecta
 Another common upland plant found close to paths and on the ground is heath bedstraw, Galium saxatile
Heath Bedstraw, Galium saxatile

So just a lovely little evening jaunt with plenty to see....

Monday, 3 August 2015

A Sneaky bit of Spanish and French Wildlife

Demoiselle, France

 I have recently returned from holiday in the Spanish Pyrenees, followed by a few stops in France. I was actually on a trail biking trip but my little bike got me to some amazing places, where I saw some great wildlife.....First of all was the butterflies - they were abundant to say the least. They did not really rest much for photos - it was so warm that they were able to flutter around all day. Some of the colours were stunning - bright yellows and orange, blue and green.....

Mating butterflies - well I think that is what they are doing!

Beautiful green and bright yellow butterfly with its wings closed

One of my favourites in the insect world has to be dragonflies and I was treated to quite a few sightings of those. Here's just a couple of them.....

I had two great bug treats when I was away. One was a huge stag beetle which flew over my head and landed next to me...I didn't have my camera - I was gutted - he was an angry beast! And the other insect treat of the trip was seeing a demoiselle. I have never seen a demoiselle in the wild, although they can be found at home in Cumbria. I was mesmerised by how iredescent blue and green demoiselles are and when they were in flight they were just stunning. I spotted them on the riverbank at Gorge du Tarn in France.

 And of course when the weather is hot you are always guaranteed to see a lizard or two!

The other treat was the fact that the water was so clear that you could actually see the fish. I particularly liked the trout. I also came across two freshwater crayfish having a bit of a battle over a hiding hole!

Freshwater crayfish
On the drive home I was treated to a stop at the wolf sanctuary and although I only had an hour it was enough time to see some of these majestic animals. The sanctuary/park was near Marvejols which is the town twinned with Cockermouth, near home which was quite cool! The park is really well laid out with a variety of wolf species and lots of information about them.

I particularly liked the Arctic wolves, which whilst at rest reminded me of my white labrador, it may be a different story when they are active!

Arctic Wolf

Some of the wolves were quite hard to spot but if you waited long enough they would have a peek at you and either hide again or just rest with one eye open!

The information at the park was great and inspired me to read up a bit more about these truly majestic animals. Gerard Menatory was one of the pioneering wolf experts whose life of living with and studying wolves led to their preservation and a better understanding of the species. So on that note.....I'm off to read a bit more about him!