30 Days Wild – Day 2 – Teeming Down by the Teme

It’s Day 2 of 30 Days Wild and slightly bizarrely I found myself sitting under a bandstand! As I drove home from work today, I was debating what to do for my wild fix. It had been a grey day up on the hill and Titterstone summit had been shrouded in mist for most of it. As I reached Tenbury and drove across the bridge, the sun came out and everything seemed to sparkle, so I decided to go for a walk by the river.

Tenbury is famous for its mistletoe fairs at Christmas time. I wasn’t expecting to see any in June, so was surprised to find a large heart shaped display of it on a wall. At first I thought it was dried seaweed (too many years as a marine biologist have clearly left their mark), which would have been a bit incongruous this far inland. The mistletoe had obviously been there a long time – perhaps some left over display from Valentine’s Day. Mistletoe is after all the kissing plant.

Tenbury sits on the south bank of the River Teme. On the north side you are in Shropshire, but as you cross the river you enter Worcestershire – there’s even a sign on the bridge so you can stand astride the two counties, should you so wish! There’s a big new supermarket by the river, so I parked up and went for a stroll.


The river is only small and wends its way lazily through the town.

It is flanked either side by lots of trees and the whole area was full of birds and insects. I don’t tend to think of sparrows as being riverside birds, but they were there in abundance. I watched them perch on branches over the water then dart up in the air, catch an insect and return back to the bushes. A wagtail was doing the same, but slightly more elegantly and on the grass park area next to the water.

The big trees lining the water must make for a splendid habitat for lots of species. I found a large Tree Bumblebee sitting appropriately on one of them.

On another tree someone had put up bat and bird boxes.

There was a lot of cheeping noises in the trees and I found a family of blue tits, with a young one still being fed by the adults. Although I could see them, they were unfortunately hidden by too much foliage to get a decent photo.

The pathway I was on opened up into a large park area, with lots of beautiful mature trees.

Baby chestnuts were forming on one of them. I don’t think I’ve ever really looked at a chestnut tree at this time of year; I’m used to seeing the chestnuts fully formed in the autumn, not as babies like these. Funny to see what felt like signs of autumn, when summer was barely beginning!


By this time, the sunshine that had tempted me to stop in Tenbury had given way to rain. I quite like walking in the rain by a river and the ducks of course weren’t bothered.

Although the rain wasn’t bothering me, I didn’t really want to get the camera all wet, so sat for a while under a bandstand on the green.

The only other people about were a few dog walkers braving the rain and it was lovely and tranquil sitting there with the sound of the river and the rain. I don’t normally give much thought to nationality; but it occurred to me that you couldn’t get much more English than sitting out in a bandstand in the summer rain watching people walk their dogs across a village green!

I’m not sure if this would count as “wild”, but it was the most peaceful few minutes I’ve spent in a while.










Out and About – Grimley Brick and Gravel Pits

The weekend brought some gloriously sunny weather – forget spring, it felt like we had skipped ahead to summer. So we ventured forth, if not very far, to Grimley which is just north of Worcester. Grimley has several old flooded gravel extraction pits, which now form important wildfowl sites for the county. There are 2 main areas – each situated conveniently next to a pub!

The first pit we went to was off Wagon Wheel Lane. The Worcester Birding twitter feed had been full of news that an American wigeon had been spotted amongst our British wigeons. Having never seen a wigeon of any nationality, we hoped to see some. Having said that, it would probably have helped if we’d googled what a wigeon looked like before we set off! All we really knew was that they were ducks, so we snapped photos of anything vaguely duck like.  Fortunately when we got back and studied the photos, it turned out we had seen some of the British ones, although no sign of the elusive American. As with so many birds the male (top) is flashier looking than the relatively plain female (below).

Of course while chasing anything duck like, we inevitably got pics of a few other species. This lucky female Northern Shoveller was accompanied by at least 5 males.

Tufted ducks were bobbing about everywhere. I love the clean lines of the black and white plumage and the bright golden eye of the males.

Another species that was new to us was the Common Teal. We didn’t manage to get very close and from a distance we thought initially these were just mallards, until we spotted the creamy yellow rump. From our distant viewpoint it hadn’t been possible to make out the beautiful red and green plumage on the head, but thanks to the power of the zoom on the computer we could appreciate it back home.

Possibly the stars of the show for us on this trip were the exotic looking Great Crested Grebes – birds that we’d only ever seen on Springwatch before.  We got a fairly close up view of this one, although as with most birds it hid behind twigs to avoid decent photos.

There was a pair though doing what looked like a courtship display on the far side of the lake. They bobbed up and down facing each other. If they’d been a bit closer I’d have tried videoing it, but they were just too far away for that.

Love seemed to be in the air for a pair of swans too. One was already on the lake when another one landed further away. The first one spotted it and hurtled across the water – I thought at first it was an aggressive or territorial thing, but then they started entwining their necks around each other, so I guess they had other things in mind!

After a short pit stop at the Camp House Inn, we headed to the other set of pits nearby. First sight was this heron – I’d never studied one before and hadn’t realised just how large they were. We tried creeping closer to get a better shot, but as we were going across an open field, he spotted us straight away and flew off when he considered we were too close for comfort.

These lakes were clearly popular with a group of cormorants that were perched on fence posts in the middle and in trees. I still find it hard to get my head round seeing what I think of as sea birds this far in land!

As we headed back to the car we spotted some smaller birds. The first is definitely a reed bunting (which proves we are learning something as we didn’t know this before we went to Upton Warren a few weeks ago).

The second is either a chiffchaff or a willow warbler – you can apparently only differentiate them confidently by their song. We weren’t paying attention to the song, but having listened to both of them on the RSPB website, the chiffchaff song seems the more familiar, so this is maybe what we heard. Either way it was a very cute, tiny little bird that bobbed up and down wagging its tail a bit like a wagtail does.

As always while Chris concentrated on the birds, I kept getting side tracked by the insects. There were quite a few large bumblebees buzzing around and the pussy willow was provided much needed sustenance to several, like this Red Tailed Bumblebee.

While trying to get a decent photo of a buff tailed bumblebee, I spotted (no pun intended) this pair of 24 spot ladybirds. They were very small and the grass they were on was waving around in the breeze, hence the less than perfect photo. They were slightly less shiny than other ladybirds and look as if they have a fine covering of downy hairs, which would make them the 24 spot ones  – a new one for me.

When I was looking at the red ladybirds above, I hadn’t noticed at the time that there was a pile of creamy coloured ones right next to them. Again they are not perfectly in focus, as I obviously wasn’t focussing on them as I didn’t know they were there! These ones turned out to be 16 spot ladybirds – another new species.

And finally, because I can never resist a comedy photo – here is the very rare 4 winged duck and a rather splendid pair of owls on top of the Wagon Wheel Inn’s thatched roof.

Out and About – Upton Warren Wetlands

It’s March and we ventured Out and About properly last weekend for the first time this year. We’d joined Worcestershire Wildlife Trust a few months ago and decided to take advantage of this by visiting the Upton Warren Wetland Reserve.  It was so nice to get some fresh air and explore somewhere new. The reserve has a mixture of freshwater and saline pools (the result of previous brine extraction work), which attract a wide variety of birds. The reserve is pretty big, so we only managed to do about half of it on this first visit. It’s a fantastic site though, so we will definitely be back soon to try out the other half.

At the first hide, the Trust people had hung out a few bird feeders and we noticed a lot of small brownish birds that looked a bit like sparrows. Being novices, I had to ask the helpful gentleman who was in the hide with us what they were – I was a bit worried he might just say that they were sparrows, then I really would look clueless, but fortunately it turned out they were reed buntings. I had sort of expected reed buntings to hang about in the reeds and be difficult to see, but I guess why would they do that when there were easy pickings from a feeder?  Top one here is a male and the bottom is the female (at least I think it is, unless it turns out to be an embarrassing sparrow).



The reed buntings weren’t the only ones using the bird feeders; they had stiff competition from the bullfinches in particular, who in turn had to contend with the greenfinches.




All the dropped seed of course attracted the inevitable rats, including this particularly bold one. Not the most welcome visitor to a bird reserve, but it was interesting to see a rat that close up in broad daylight – a first for me.

We may have been watching the birds, but we were definitely being watched too. This Canada Goose seemed particularly interested in us and came right up close to the hide.

A portly looking moorhen was lazily scanning around for bird seed, while a coot cruised the nearby inlet.

There were quite a few regular mallards about, but then we spotted a duck that looked a bit different. Umpteen blurry photos later, we finally got one good enough to identify it as a Shoveler Duck. Turns out they are fairly common, but it was new to us.

There were a few cormorants about – weird looking birds. Even the RSPSB website describes them as reptilian looking, which seems a tad unkind!

By far the most common birds we saw were these black-headed gulls. At first we thought there were 2 species; but it seems the one with the full black head has already got its summer plumage, whereas the one with just a dark spot behind the eye is in his winter plumage still.

One species we were really pleased to see was the lapwing. We’d only ever seen these on TV (Springwatch most likely) and they are such characterful looking birds, we were really chuffed to find a small flock of them. They were a bit far away to get really good photos, although when they all took off we got a slightly better view.

It was only when we got back home and I was going through the photos of the lapwings that I realised Chris had accidentally caught some snipe in some of the photos too. I’m not sure we can really claim to have seen them, as we hadn’t noticed them there at the time, but at least we’ll know to look out for them next time.

Having lived by the coast for many years, one bird we were familiar with was the oystercatcher – never imagined we’d see them in the middle of Worcestershire though! We heard them at Upton before we saw them – that distinctive, fairly shrill call. A pair landed on a small island in front of us, easily recognisable with their bright red beaks and legs (I do like an obvious bird!) Again they were a bit far away to get really good photos, but later as we walked back to the car, there was one just standing in the field!

Without doubt the most beautiful bird we saw was this Little Egret, which Chris spotted as we walked between hides. Almost ethereal with its pure white plumage, we watched it for a few minutes before it disappeared into the reeds.

All in all we had a great afternoon and although we were only there for a few hours, we still clocked up 18 species of bird, several of which were completely new to us. We heard another birdwatcher commenting that there was “nothing much showing” – he was no doubt much more experienced than we were and probably hoping for something unusual. Sometimes it’s good to be a novice, as we were absolutely delighted with everything we saw – lots of the birds were new to us, so it was all exciting and we were happy just watching what was there. For us there was plenty showing.

In The Pink

This week I managed to combine a visit to Slimbridge Wetland Centre with meeting friends for lunch – a win-win day out in my book! Slimbridge is only an hour’s drive from us and is the most amazing wetland reserve, overflowing with birds both native and from abroad. If you’re into bird watching, it must be one of the top UK sites to visit. In the few hours we were there, we only managed to get round maybe less than half of it (probably due to too much time scoffing sandwiches and yapping in the café!)

I was trying to take photos as we meandered around, but there’s almost too much to take in and I kept forgetting to actually snap away. For some reason, when I got back and looked at the photos, I appear to have got a bit obsessed by flamingos! Nearly half the day’s photos seem to feature them. There are apparently 6 species, although I think I’ve only got 3 here (which vaguely irritates my OCD that having unwittingly got a bit obsessed, I didn’t then photograph them all!)

These first ones are Caribbean Flamingos – the brightest pink ones we saw. The colour always seems unnatural to me, but logically I know that it’s due to their food and that Slimbridge aren’t dying their flamingos for our gratification!


This next one is an Andean Flamingo and possibly my favourite of the ones we saw. The feathers are absolutely stunning. Unfortunately this species is classed as Threatened – mainly by hunting, mining activities and habitat loss.


The next two photos are of Lesser Flamingos. In the upper photo you can see the teeth or serrations along the edge of the beak that it uses to filter the food out of the water. The lower photo I included just because I like the way they sinuously wrap their necks around – it’s hard to tell where one bird ends and the next begins.



Besides flamingos, there were birds everywhere – particularly geese and ducks. Many had clearly learnt that visitors = food, but this Bar-headed Goose was way too dignified for that and just sailed serenely by.


There were lots of quite showy birds, but for some reason I really liked this South Georgian Pintail Duck. Nothing flashy, just quintessentially ducky!


Probably my favourite photo of the day is this seemingly two headed duck! (Ruddy Eider Ducks I think)


We listened to a very interesting talk by one of the WWT volunteers, all about the Great Cranes. Slimbridge has been heavily involved in a project to reintroduce these majestic birds into Britain. It’s hard to believe but these huge birds were once common here until they were hunted to extinction. Fortunately they survived in Europe and thanks to the efforts of the WWT, they have got a toehold back in Britain.


It’s not all birds at the wetland centre though. They have several mammals, including otters, a beaver, voles, shrews and these adorable harvest mice – the only ones who would pose nicely for photographs. Unfortunately they were behind glass, so the images aren’t great, but they were wonderful to watch – such quick inquisitive little creatures.



Final bird of the day though was this Spoon-billed Sandpiper – made entirely of Lego. They were setting up giant Lego animals while we were there for a children’s trail opening this Saturday. The lady who gave us the Crane talk had told us about these little birds (in non-Lego reality they are apparently tiny) and how the WWT is doing such valuable work to try and save them. This was the closest we got to seeing one though!


You don’t have to be into birdwatching to enjoy Slimbridge, although it is obviously a bonus if you are. I’d definitely recommend it as a day out for anyone even remotely interested in wildlife and conservation. For more information go to: http://www.wwt.org.uk/wetland-centres/slimbridge/

30 Days Wild – Day 26

TWT 30 Days Wild_countdown_26Day 26 of 30 Days Wild and we were driving about quite a bit today, which can restrict the opportunities for nature spotting. But, if you choose the right spots, there’s wildlife to be found all over the place. We stopped at two motorway service stations – deliberately picking ones we knew had some kind of water feature and slightly more environmental credentials. The result was a couple of very pleasant interludes to break up the monotony of driving.

First stop just had a small pond, but it still attracted quite a few birds – mainly ducks. Baby ducks are always irresistible photo wise, so here’s one heading straight towards us – probably thought we had food – it does look as if it’s drooling at the prospect!

Baby Duck

There were also a few of these striking Black Headed Gulls. They were clearly totally used to the crowds of humans around them and let us get quite close up.

Black Headed Gull

The second stop had more of a lake and grasslands surrounding it. Full marks to them as they’d left a large area un-mowed and it was full of butterflies. We saw these three species – Ringlet, Meadow Brown and Small Heath, plus lots of damselflies and bees.


Meadow Brown

Small Heath

Swallows were flying about over the water and we caught this one having a bit of a rest. There was a nest a few yards away with another one sitting in – perhaps incubating eggs?

SwallowThere was one majestic swan gliding about – he came really close to us, we could have reached out and touched him, although I suspect he would expect food from us if we had taken such a liberty.


We saw him again later from a distance, stretching his wings. I’d forgotten what beautiful birds they are.

Swan 2

Our final species was a new one that required a quick google to identify as a Tufted Duck, although with hindsight he was a duck with a tuft, so perhaps we could have worked that out for ourselves!

Tufted Duck

So not bad at all for wildlife in the short time it took us to stretch our legs. Just shows that with a bit of effort these motorway services don’t have to be sterile environments. Shame more of them don’t make that effort.

Prickly Sow Thistle 30 WEEDS

And finally the latest weed in my 30 Lazy Garden Weeds – the Prickly Sow Thistle. I can see why it’s called Prickly and I can see that it looks like a Thistle, but I’ve no idea where the Sow bit comes in? They can grow really big – we have a massive one under our apple tree that is about as tall as me (admittedly that is only about 5 foot tall). Their prickles may not endear them to some people, but under our apple tree it is not a problem and they brighten up what would otherwise be quite a dull shady spot in the garden. So they’ve redeemed themselves in my book.

30 Days Wild – Day 14

TWT 30 Days Wild_countdown_14Embrace the rain! I decided that was my motto for today – Day 14 of 30 Days Wild. I got soaked at work about 3 times and the clouds were looking ominous over the Malvern Hills as I set off for home. So I decided rather than avoid it, I would just go for a walk in the rain. I can’t remember when I last did that (not sure I ever have)? Of course I’ve been for walks and got caught in downpours, but that’s not the same as deliberately setting out to walk in the rain. It was quite liberating in a way, knowing you are going to get wet, so no point trying to avoid it.

Having decided on a watery walk, I figured I might as well take the wet and wild theme a step further and walk along the river. Since I work on the edge of Upton on Severn this wasn’t a difficult thing to achieve. It wasn’t a long walk, but I really did enjoy it. Even in the rain there was plenty to enjoy and take photographs of – spoiler alert – there is some serious cuteness at the end of this blog!

View downstream

The rain was pretty much non-stop as I walked – not torrential, but definitely constant. I loved watching the rain falling on the river and the tiny concentric circles emanating from each droplet. It was quite hypnotic and had there been somewhere to sit without getting a wet bum, I could have watched for ages.

Rain on the river 2

The first wildlife I saw was a swan the other side of the river, pulling leaves off the overhanging bushes. It was a bit far away to get a decent photo, but at least it is recognisable as a swan!


I hadn’t really expected to see much in the way of insect life today, but this bee had found this patch of foxgloves and was as busy as ever. Whether he was really after the nectar or just using the foxgloves as walk in umbrellas though I don’t know.

Bee in foxglove

There were lots of House Martins swooping low over the river, presumably catching insects over the water. They were virtually impossible to photograph as they were just too quick. The best I managed is a (very) brief glimpse of them in this video flying past a duck that was progressing more sedately down the river.


A wagtail kept me company on the walk, tail bobbing up and down as it searched for insects (or possibly for food dropped by the riverside pub customers!) Shame that in the only half decent photo I got of him, he was standing on what looks like astro-turf rather than somewhere more scenic!


But of course it was the ducks that were really the stars of my watery walk. There were a few cruising up and down the river – I love the bow wave that has formed around this one as he paddles serenely up stream.

Duck & bow wave

Quite a few though were just sitting on the bank – although it was supposedly “nice weather for ducks” today, they didn’t actually look that happy about it.


Female duck

I think these were all Mallards – they may be common ducks, but the colours on the males in particular are absolutely stunning.

Male duck close up

I was just starting to head back to the car, when a group of people peering over the edge of the river wall waved me over. Baby ducklings – what can I say, but serious cuteness overload! There were 5 in total, paddling about with their Mum. I could easily have loaded dozens of photos of them here, but have restricted myself to just the two.

Baby duck

Baby duck 2

I couldn’t resist trying to video them as well. They may only be small, but they’ve clearly got the hang already of rummaging about in the weeds for food.


I’d guessed that I’d probably see ducks today in the rain; but to find ducklings was better than I could have hoped for – the perfect end to my walk.

Ivy 30 weedsAnd finally the latest weed in my 30 Lazy Garden weeds is Ivy. Beautiful glossy leaves, covering up our ugly fence – evergreen, so brightening up the area all year round. Ivy is particularly good for insects, providing not only cover and homes, but the flowers provide much needed nectar when there’s little else around. Moths of course absolutely love Ivy – so for that reason alone it would get my vote!