Lichens of Kempton Nature Reserve

First off, I have some very exciting news; I have be offered a 3 month placement this summer July-September on Skokholm Island, located off the south-west coast of Pembrokeshire, where I will be working alongside the wardens maintaining the island, greeting visitors and surveying and ringing puffins, manx shearwaters and storm petrels among other wonderful things! I am very excited and grateful for this opportunity 😀

Apart from it’s seabirds, Skokholm is known for its amazing array of lichens. This got me thinking about the lichens I have previously noticed in one particular area of Kempton Nature Reserve. So I went back to have a proper look and ended up spending a lovely sunny afternoon on my knees half way up a gravelly lichen-covered bank with my face and hand lens to the ground…. An afternoon well spent I think! I am definitely no lichenologist, but  I had a good stab at identifying what I found. And had a lot of fun along the way! As always feel free to correct me.

Cladonia portentosa

Cladonia portentosa


Cladonia pyxidata

Cladonia pyxidata


Cladonia pyxidata with C. portentosa

C. pyxidata with C. portentosa

Peltigera hymenina

Peltigera hymenina

Peltigera hymenina, showing the pale rhizines

Peltigera hymenina, showing the pale underside and rhizines

IMG_4143Next task is to get stuck in to the bryophytes…. That might require more than one afternoon though 😉


Ringing, Reed Buntings and Redpolls…… And Other Things Not Beginning in ‘R’!

Hi all!

First off just wanted to tell you how my second bird ringing session at Bedfont Lakes went last Sunday. In my overly keen state I some how managed to be a whole 20 minutes early (like 7.30am isn’t early enough for a Sunday morning!) which meant I got to hang out in the car park whilst the sun slowly rose, shortly followed by a Buzzard overhead – already I was thinking that the day had definitely been worth getting out of bed for! It was a frosty morning but I was extra prepared in my new thermal fingerless gloves (easier when handling equipment etc), thermal socks and tea flask; all vital winter bird ringing equipment!

My trainer then arrived shortly followed by the others and, after having to push one car out of the mud and transfer all the gear to another with 4×4, we slowly got started. It was a lot quieter then the week before (see here!), I asked if that might be due to the cold and was told that actually the weather didn’t seem to have anything to do with it – some weeks you get loads of birds, some weeks you don’t! Still I got to do a fair bit of handling; mostly Blue tits, Great tits and a feisty Robin that managed to escape the grip of my skinny fingers (not hard!) and fly off to a nearby tree where it sat staring mockingly at me 😉

It was only my second week and I was very chuffed when I managed to get my first wing measurement correct. Getting the bird, wing and ruler in the right position is harder than they make it look!

Last week I also managed to get down to Staines Moor where I saw a flock of at least 70 Fieldfare


Staines Moor



Imagine this, but times by 70…… It occurred to me after I should’ve got a photo of the whole flock 😉

I also got brilliant views of a male and female Stonechat, a Buzzard, 5 Little Egret and 30+ Meadow pipit which I spent a good while following around trying to spot a possible Water pipit or 2 amongst them as I know they have been seen there recently. Next time!

I’ve also made the most of the sunny mornings this week and made a couple of visits to Kempton Nature Reserve.


Kempton Nature Reserve – view from the west hide

Perhaps this view doesn’t compare to the tranquil lochs and glens of the Scottish Highlands or the majestic lakes of the Lake District….. OK it doesn’t AT ALL. But my point is it means something to me and it never fails to put a smile on my face and a calm feeling in my belly, especially on a sunny day!

OK this is all getting a bit too poetic, back to the birds……..

I saw all the usual suspects – Gadwall



Teal, Little Grebe, SparrowhawkReed Bunting……


Reed bunting


Male Reed bunting

I see up to 10 and some times more of these guys most times I visit – the warden puts out a feeder filled with millet for them and they absolutely love it. They’ve started doing some bird ringing there on a Saturday and I’m told they caught 18 individual Reed buntings in one morning!

And on Monday, as well as 5 Fieldfare and 4 Redwing I managed to spot 3 Lesser Redpoll


Lesser redpoll

Can you spot it? 😉 it’s the slightly forked tail that first caught my eye. Then later on I got excellent views of what I presumed to be the same individuals bathing in a puddle semi-hidden amongst some trees. They didn’t seem to have any idea I was hiding just around the corner and managed to get some fantastic views through the branches of one having a good preening session – lovely intimate moment. Chuffed as these aren’t regularly spotted at this site, I’ve only seen them there once before.

One last thing…. In light of the forecasted heavy rain and hail storm I spent a good hour this morning debating whether to cycle or get the bus to London Wetland Centre where I volunteer every Friday. In the end I opted for the cycle, as I always knew I would. Funnily enough I didn’t get even a little bit wet – in fact the sun came out! After arriving my friend texted me saying he was going to also be at the wetlands that day collecting Backswimmers for an experiment. Shortly after I was told that the reserve warden was off sick so that meant no cutting down endless amount of willow (that’s not ALL we do…. promise!) and instead I got to do a bit of pond dipping followed by some bird watching!

The result was lots of oohing and aahing at Backswimmers (they’re so shiny!), admiring some diving beetles (I think this species) and my first Brambling! Beautiful birds, love the contrast of the white belly and dark markings.

So after writing this blog post my life seems even more exciting than I thought! What I don’t mention is the endless job and PhD searching and applications 😉

Still, I can’t complain!

Until next time….

Green Sandpiper, Pixie-cup Lichen and Kempton Nature Reserve Open Day

Hi all!

I’ve managed to do a bit of birding lately and hope to do a lot more as the months turn colder. I love Autumn!

This afternoon I got a great view of a lovely Green sandpiper at Kempton NR!

I’ve been told my camera is unfixable and I will need to purchase a new body, not something I will be able to afford any time soon! So apologises for the appalling photo but you get the idea.


Can you spot him (or her)?

I also saw a Snipe and a Grey wagtail in the same spot last week. And I’m 99% sure a Clouded yellow butterfly flitted past and off in to the distance! Pretty unmistakable but I didn’t get a decent view before it disappeared, never to be seen again despite my persistent searching. I know that one was spotted earlier this year in this area and apparently they can still be seen on the wing as late as November!

There has been a number of Jack snipe sightings at London WWT so I went to have a look after volunteering last Friday but no luck! But I did see a couple of Snipe, a Stonechat and lots of Wigeon and Teal. Can’t complain!

I also wanted to share with you my favourite lichen.


Cladonia pyxidata

As part of my Masters I had to make a lower plant collection and, as much as I appreciate mosses and liverworts some of them are, to be blunt, a pain in the arse to identify! So much of my collection was made up of lichens, and I grew to really love them.

Apart from the ones that grow on stone, they rival the mosses and liverworts when it comes to difficult identification. Plus they aren’t quite as pleasing to the eye.

This one is Cladonia pyxidata or ‘pixie-cup lichen’ said to be used by pixies as cups to sip the morning dew from……. Well, I like to think so any way 😉

Cladonia pyxidata

Cladonia pyxidata

In fact all the Cladonia species are pretty impressive! If you look at the left of that last photo you can see Cladonia rangiferina or ‘reindeer lichen’.

You can come and see these lovely lichens for yourself at Kempton Nature Reserve open day on the 26th of October and help celebrate the opening of the new hide! Which is definitely worth celebrating – it is gorgeous!

And in case you were wondering, so is the view.

View from the new hide at Kempton NR

View from the new hide at Kempton NR

Membership is £20 for 3 years (a steal!) but on this day it is open to the public so come along and get a taste of this beautiful wetland…. Apparently there will also be some ‘autumnal activities’!

More info here if you are interested and this is the official flyer!

My Little Place of Calm, a Bold Little Grebe and a Few Garden Moths

Hi all!

For those of you that read my last post I mentioned I that I am joining the reserve volunteer team at London Wetland Centre – turns out there was some confusion and I actually start this Friday not last! So I will have to contain my eagerness for a another few days. Particularly excited to read that this morning a Bittern has been sighted at the reserve, which will no doubt be a frequent occurrence over the colder months!

In this post I wanted to share a few photos from one of my favourite places; Kempton Nature Reserve. And share a few recent moths from my home-made garden trap.

I’ve taken to visiting this beautiful area of wetland in the evenings which has allowed me to see it, quite literally, in a whole new light.


Sunset at Kempton Nature Reserve

I mean who could not feel at peace with this sort of view? Bliss.

And Friday night I was joined by this little guy.

Littel Grebe at Kempton NR

Little Grebe at Kempton NR

This Little Grebe came right up in front of the hide and I had the most enjoyable time watching him dive, following the air bubbles and guessing where he was going to pop up next, and what he may have caught. They are always a delight!

I say ‘he’ but honestly I don’t know if this is a male or a female – can any one tell?

This encounter has spurred me to see if I can get my decent camera fixed! Going to find a local camera shop tomorrow.

Yesterday evening I saw a few Wigeon that were sat on the bank preening themselves; they seemed to still be moulting their eclipse plumage which you could see evidence of from the surrounding feathers.

I also came across this Knot Grass caterpillar having it’s dinner.


Knot Grass Caterpillar

And this neat Fly Agaric fungus.

Fly Agaric

Fly Agaric

How fairytale-esque!

Now on to the moths.

Square-spot Rustic

Square-spot Rustic Xestia xanthographa – the one on the right was one that I caught last week and the one of the left a couple of weeks before that. After reading this great post I learnt that there can be huge variation within this species, as you can see with these two individuals. This caused me a bit of confusion!

Another moth that shows a wide range of variation in forewing colour and pattern is the Lesser Yellow Underwing Noctua comes.


Lesser Yellow Underwing

Not making identifying these guys easy for me! But that’s all part of the fun 😉

I’ve also been getting lots of these little micros and have developed a bit of a soft spot for them.

Tachystola acroxantha

Tachystola acroxantha

They don’t have a common name and I can never remember the latin, Tachystola acroxantha, so I’ve taken to calling them ‘flame bottom’…… Can you see why? 😉

Gall Wasps and Orb Weaver Spiders – Going Bird Watching and Getting Distracted by Insects….

Does anyone else ever do that? No? Probably just me….

I’ve always been curious about my natural surroundings; we are all so nosey about human lives (who’s dating who, who’s wearing what…), I am also nosey about OTHER animals lives. Birds. Insects. Lives that many of us walk past every single day – most people aren’t aware that such DRAMA is unfolding right in front of them 😉

Lately I can’t seem to even walk past a leaf without thinking what is that mark? Is it a disease? Or Was it made by a leaf mining moth? Or beetle? Or wasp? Or fly? Which species? (This is a great website on identifying UK leafminers) and then what is that that just flew past my head??? So many questions, so much to learn; the natural world is a fascinating place.

So today I went to Kempton Nature Reserve to do some bird watching. I did do some bird watching; I saw teal, lapwing, gadwallgreen woodpecker, long-tailed tits and a lovely green sandpiper – love the way they bob their tail up and down! Always a joy to watch.

But really I ended up spending most of my time crawling around in the undergrowth and turning over leaves whilst muttering to myself, like sane people do 😉

Kempton Nature Reserve

Kempton Nature Reserve

I’ve noticed wasp galls before but didn’t realise just how many different shapes and sizes they come in! They can also be induced by flies and aphids but most prolifically by wasps. And I don’t mean those huge mean looking yellow and black social wasps, these are small harmless (to us, maybe not so much to the host tree….) solitary wasps.

The female gall wasp lays her egg on the bud, leaf or stem of a specific plant (particularly Oak) then once hatched the feeding activity of the larva stimulates the plant to grow a ‘gall’ that provides nutritious plant cells for it to feed on and shelter from predators. Pretty smart eh? Everything it needs in one place!

So here are a few I discovered today


Gall of the Knopper Oak Gall Wasp Andricus quercuscalicis

Oak Marble gall wasp

Gall of the Oak Marble Gall Wasp Andricus kollari

Bedeguar gall wasp

Gall of the Bedeguar Gall Wasp Diplolepis rosae – these are spectacular!


Bedeguar Gall Wasp again

Common and Silk Button Spangle gall wasp

Galls of the Common Spangle Gall Wasp Neuroterus quercusbaccarum (the flat ones) and the Silk Button Spangle Gall Wasp Neuroterus numismalis (the cupped ones)

I also spent some time observing this guy preparing his breakfast (look away now if you are eating yours ;))





Garden Spider Araneus diadematus – the most common of the orb weaver spiders; common by still awesome!

And if gall wasps and spiders don’t float your boat I also came across this beauty 

Small Copper Lycaena phlaeas – surely there is a place in everyone’s heart for this little guy 🙂