Welcome to my second blog, which is a lighthearted look at my adventures whilst out watching and photographing wildlife and birds in North Somerset. I hope my stories make you smile whilst highlighting the wonderful and diverse wildlife present in the North Somerset area.

You can also see my garden project which includes gardening for wildlife here:- http://higgysgardenproject.blogspot.com/

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Tales from the ‘Moth Men’

Hello All,

Again it's been a while since I posted up on here but don't worry I've been out wildlife watching and in true Higgy fashion creating material for you that will hopefully show the lighter side of wildlife watching and put a smile on your face as you read about Higgy's calamities once again!.

In the time that I've been away I got together with a good friend of mine 'James' to create a new 'Moth and Butterfly Group' within our local wildlife conservation group. I thought that a report of our first summers mothing and butterfly adventures would be of interest and I'm sure will present a few laughs along the way also!

The Elephant Hawk Moth was just one of many moths that we planned to find this summer!...

The Moth & Butterfly Groups starts, 'Rise of the MOTHMEN!'....

Higgy (on the phone) “Hi mate, great weather, do you fancy a mothing session on Friday night?”
James “Yes great mate, can’t wait!”

Higgy (on the phone) “Sorry mate, It’s absolutely typical! The weather is terrible, rain and wind! We’ll have to cancel our trap tonight again!”

As many of you will know James, Tony and I set up a new ‘Moth, Butterfly (& insect) Group’ for our local wildlife group at the start of this year. This group was designed to get out into the local villages and onto the group's reserves to start building a picture of the areas moth and butterfly population. To date, I have to report that this hasn’t exactly run as smoothly as it could have, especially weather wise meaning that our moth and butterfly records aren’t quite where they should be for the year!...

The concept of the group takes us back to a neighburing village's wildlife group's ten-year anniversary event, where James and I volunteered to do a moth trap on their reserve situated high up on a wooded hillside. This event has a lot to answer for as it was extremely windy and the small trap that had been provided didn’t fill either of us with much confidence of a successful trap. Relaying our concerns to the organiser and suggesting an early start the next morning we were informed that someone would be staying on site overnight as security and had a camping stove! Well for two growing lads like us this was just too tempting to resist and we returned the next morning at 4.30am complete with a pack of a dozen pork sausages! Getting our priorities right we ignored the moth trap and chucked our bangers into an old dirty saucepan. Unfortunately, with no oil and still being half frozen the bangers broke up and stuck firmly to the bottom of the pan half cooked! A flippant comment from James led to the now famous ‘Moth-Men’s Breakfast!’ To cut a long story short we failed miserably that day with only 6 moths in the trap and having very narrowly avoided food poisoning we spent the next two hours chasing spiders, beetles and any other bugs that moved just to have something to show the paying public! 
Despite our disastrous start the ‘Moth Men’ had truly evolved and we sold the idea of our new ‘dream mothing team’ to Tony who supported the idea fully and even wanted to be involved (he doesn’t know about ‘Moth-Men’s Breakfasts’ yet!!!!)

Our first public mothing event didn't exactly go too well and James and I ended up crawling around trying to find bugs and beetles to show the paying public!!...

After our initial disappointment and in true team spirit a ‘team training trip' out to South Somerset was arranged! Apart from the obvious need for team building this trip offered us the perfect opportunity to go and see the Large Blue butterfly that was once extinct in this country. I was sure that this trip would bond us as a true team and change our fortune from only a few moths and butterflies to a bounty of wildlife wonder!!...

James and I set off early (in the rain!!!) and within 30 minutes found ourselves sat behind plates of bacon, sausages, eggs and all the other trimmings that come with a real ‘Moth-man’s breakfast’!...

I know exactly what you're all thinking now, that we don’t actually ever see any moths or butterflies as we're too busy stuffing our faces!!..

Well I’m happy to report that we did have a great trip with both recording lifetime firsts in the form of: large Blue and Grizzled Skipper! On the way back we stopped off at Priddy Mineries in the Mendip hills to see the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries (SPBF) that reside there (in fact the only place in Somerset that I am aware they breed). To cap off a great day James recorded his first SPBF and Chiminey Sweeper Moth that again only resides on certain sites such as this. I think that we can all agree that this was a very successful and worthwhile ‘training’ trip!?! 

Grizzled Skipper was a first for me...
 Large Blue was a first for both James and I...
 Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary was a first for James...

Due to this huge and incomparable success we started making plans to go after the Adonis Blue later in the year! 

Back to reality!...

This year has seen our arranged mothing events cancelled one after the other due to inclement weather on the day! In fact, as I sit and write this I have just cancelled this weekends planned event due to a horrendous weather forecast!

Becoming completely frustrated by our bad luck we finally had a lovely hot sunny Saturday in July that seemed perfect for moth trapping, so I quickly got on the phone…

Higgy “Hi mate fab day really hot and still, it should be cracking for mothing this evening, do you fancy doing a trap in the wooded reserve tonight?”
James (very excited) “Oh yes mate can’t wait it looks superb we should have a trap full tonight! Really exciting!”
Higgy “Great, I’ll pick you up at 9pm and I reckon we better pack the sunscreen and cold drinks it’s so hot!”

I duly picked up James at 9pm and we loaded up my old truck and bumped our way down the dirty farm track that runs beside the reserve. It was a lovely evening and we watched the Rooks come into roost from our position at the bottom of the track so as not to disturb this fabulous spectacle. Now in high spirits we unloaded the car and set out a large white sheet to reflect the light from the small trap that we had borrowed for the evening.

Higgy “Drat the light’s not working!”
James “looks like a bad connection”...

45 minutes and two phone calls later, we had a working moth trap…

WHHHOOOOOSHHHHH!!!!!!...... Higgy & James “Arrggggggggg!”...

The biggest gust of wind you could possibly imagine promptly blew our reflective sheet over the car and into the field of cattle that were watching our antics with some amusement! The gust even proceeded in knocking over our newly mended moth trap! James then bashed his arm on the gate (“Oh drat!”) and I stood in a fresh cow pat! (“Oh drat!”)...

FWsssssssss, Grrrrrrrrr Booooommmmm… 

An almighty thunderstorm complete with torrential rain immediately followed this initial huge gust of wind! Like drowned rats we quickly packed up our gear (not having caught a single moth!) and climbed back into the car soaked through to the skin! We had a brew out of my flask and after an hour of torrential rain we gave up and drove home! On the way home the air conditioning in my old truck packed in so we had to use wet jacket sleeves and anything else we could find to clear the now misted up windows! To add further to the insult whilst negotiating the bendy roads across the Moor we seen so many moths in the headlights that I’m sure they were laughing at us!

Despite our continued bad luck and poor timing with the weather we have actually managed to get a few traps in over the summer and have even recorded several new species, which is promising. Here are the results of this year’s traps to date…

6th May we trapped in my garden and recorded twelve different species
Nut-tree Tussock - Colocasia coryli

13th May 9 species recorded in my garden
Muslin Moth - Diaphora mendica

3rd June Another garden trap and a dozen species, heavily represented was the ‘Diamond Back Moth’. This is an immigrant that turned up in large numbers across the country at this time.
Swallow Prominant - Pheosia tremula

4th June James and I supported The North Somerset Butterfly House by trapping at a public event held there. We recorded 18 species. Many of these were notably different species from what we have recorded in my garden including a beautiful Lime Hawk Moth expertly captured by James.
Lime Hawk-moth - Mimas tiliae

16th July 31 species recorded in my garden with three new garden records. It was great to have junior members represented at this event and they all thoroughly enjoyed seeing all the moths but especially the beautiful Elephant Hawk Moth that put in an appearance for them!
 Rosy Footman Miltochrista miniata & Common Emerald, Hemithea aestivaria.

23rd July an impromptu trap in my garden: I rang James at 10pm to see if he wanted to trap as it was so humid! After a little bribery involving some cans of cider and guiness he agreed and we recorded 40 species in just over two hours including 8 garden firsts! A cracking evening sat chatting on the decking and drinking beer whilst surrounded by moths!
 Popular hawk Moth - Laothoe populi

27th August was our last trap and we recorded an impressive 35 species in my garden including this gorgeous  Svensson's Copper Underwing which was one of three firsts for the garden that night. 
Svensson's Copper Underwing - Amphipyra berbera

Well I hope you will agree that depsite some fun and games and plenty of rain we still managed to get some good mothing and butterfly watching in. We have also recorded well in excess of 100 species in my garden so far this year with over 10 new species recorded also.

Following our successful 'team training day' we did have another one in September after the Blue Adonis and I'll let you know next time how this went, did it rain?? Did anyone fall over or get locked in their car?? Never! Surely not!!? You'll have to wait to next time!! :-)

Best regards


 P.S. Mrs H isn't too happy with me as the sausages I stole out of the fridge for the first ever 'MothMan's Breakfast' were being saved for sunday lunch!! ooopps!! :-)

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Hi All,
Time goes by so quickly and now that my new hip is settling in I'm back to work and struggling to get out and about and find the time to see my beloved wildlife.

I have managed an hour over a couple of  mornings recently and despite the lack of wildlife I've really enjoyed that time on your own at a time of day that is so magical, the sunrise. It really is magical at this time of year and I've snapped a couple of pictures using my phone camera. I don't know why but sometimes I just love to leave the expensive and heavy gear at home and go out and see just what I can capture on my phone! Try it sometime you may be surprised by the results...

Sunrise in the Gordano Valley, North Somerset...

Sunrise over the River Kenn, Kenn Moor, Clevedon, North Somerset...

 These pictures really make me realise that summer really is just around the corner! I hope that I will get the chance to get out and get some stories and experiences to post up on here but in the mean time I'm going to take you back to last autumn in November and my experience with a beautiful red fox, I hope you enjoy it...

Foxy going on is just what the doctor ordered….

It's the 23rd November and I've just had a really interesting meeting with Gill who is a friend of mine and looking at starting a really exciting pollinator project. I'm feeling alive with ideas and thoughts of what Gill is proposing and the difference that this project could make for the benefit of nature if she can get the right people involved. The sun is out and I'm also throwing ideas around my mind for another couple of projects that I am currently working on for my local wildlife group. All of this is a very welcome relief in what is turning out to be a long recovery from my recent hip replacement.
Choosing to travel back across Kenn Moor on my way home I negotiate the twisting lanes out of the West End of Nailsea, having to stop to give way to other vehicles who are speeding along with drivers behind the wheel oblivious to the beauty that surrounds them or maybe just living in a world much more important and stressful than mine! It's been said recently that nature is a healer and should be prescribed on the NHS to tackle work related stress and illness. I ponder this as I turn right towards Brockley, 'nature and my wildlife trips are certainly helping me both mentally and physically in my slow recovery', 'may be my good wildlife photography and GP friend from Bridgewater, Tim, who strongly believes in this has a point?'.
Having negotiated the strange road island whilst turning right towards Claverham I pass the newly rebuilt barn on my left that was a pile of old stone for so long but now sits proudly in its overgrown plot although seemingly still unused. I pull into the gateway of the field opposite and muddy water splashes up onto my old truck to add to the dirty used look that it so often has from my wildlife adventures at this time of the year. It's here in this field just outside Claverham that I have watched and photographed Lapwings and filmed over 1000 Starlings in the past. I always stop here for a look but today there are just a handful of Black-headed gulls that don't even bother to look up at the intruder who's just entered their world of muddy foraging and squabbling.

The Lapwing photographed on Claverham Grove fields a few years ago...

I move off down the road past the turning to Claverham Grove where I am actually heading and take in the barn on my left that housed a little owl for so long, but now it has been completely re-developed and this stirs an emotion as I think of all the current planning applications around our local villages and the wildlife that will suffer if it goes ahead, it makes me shudder to even consider the horror of this.

This Little Owl used to roost in this barn but it's now been redeveloped and it's now moved away!...

Turning around I take a left into Claverham Grove up over the railway bridge and look for the Young female Kestrel that so often sits on the telegraph poles here. Today she's absent but unknown to me she will give me the ultimate reward for perseverance in only a few days time! 

Perseverance and  local knowledge gave me the opportunity to enjoy and capture this beautiful Kestrel a few days later...

On the sharp left-hand bend I add another layer of mud to my now dull paintwork as I bump to a stop in the entrance of the rough lane that leads out towards the Old Kenn river. Here you can often see large flocks of birds and watch hunting birds of prey such as Sparrowhawks and Peregrine. In summer the occasional Hobby can be seen swooping down to chase the dancing dragonflies of high summer that seem so far away now. These fields here are affectionately called the 'Swan Fields' due to the large number of Mute Swans that overwinter on them, quite a spectacle and one worth taking the time to see at this time of year. You never know what can turn up here and it's in this very spot four years ago that I recorded the first sighting of Bewicks Swan on Kenn Moor, a real thrill. Today however it's quiet with little to see but ten minutes of scanning with the binoculars is somehow therapeutic this morning and the late season sun could only brighten the lowest mood.

Kenn Moor Swan Fields...

A local reserve is next on my list and this really is a magical place that my wildlife group have done a wondrous job of turning into such a superb nature reserve. I always stop here when out on the moors and recently on visits I have noticed that a fox can often be seen foraging at the bottom of the drove that runs aside it. I park up the truck so as not to cause an obstruction and scan the fields and drove with my binoculars and there she is once again, right at the bottom of the drove a beautiful and well-conditioned fox! I'm sure she's a vixen and she's just pouncing and playing in the sun without what seems like a care in the world! What a sight and a moment that I have dreamed of for so long, a chance to maybe get a little closer and observe her in her natural surroundings. It amazes me how special this moment feels having imagined it for so long. I have observed countless 'city' foxes prior to an early shift or during night shifts whilst working in Bristol but these animals are different, brazen, fearless, unkempt and mangy. I remember one morning when I parked my truck in the St Pauls area of Bristol and four foxes passed within a few feet of me but it felt more like a passing group of 'hoodies' not the wonderful animal that I am looking at now!
Carefully so as not to disturb her I slip through the gate and check the wind, it's blowing left to right but slightly back towards me, perfect! This is simple field craft but so important if not to disturb our wonderful wildlife. When I check the wind direction I automatically check the sun and more importantly my shadow, this is especially important with butterflies and insects that will vanish the moment that the warmth of the sun disappears in your shadow with the result usually being the failure to secure a picture. I'm wearing drab clothing, brown trousers and an army green coloured top, perfect for preventing obvious movements and concealing me against the hedgerow that I'm using as cover whilst creeping forward. My camera is on with settings already programmed in and of course lens cap off, the failure of so many perfect photo opportunities!
This isn't a race it's one foot placed carefully and slowly in front of the last, with the wind in the right direction and plenty of cover noise is my only enemy. A stop every ten steps or so shows the vixen fully engaged in her game and oblivious to my careful approach. I don't want to get to close as this would be unfair and should always be avoided so as not to disturb your subject but close enough for a record shot would be great and hopefully she will never know I was there. Half way down the grove a tree has fallen and has been cut to clear the path but still crosses the rhyne that it has fallen across and no doubt now offers a bridge to my new vixen friend, I can imagine her crossing the log claws scratching against the thickly fissured bark. But for now this is base camp and cover for me to crouch behind and get my picture but more importantly spend some time just watching and enjoying this amazing creature without disturbing her. 'Click, Click' I get my shot for the record but the sound of the camera shutter alerts her and she looks up but her look is inquisitive and she takes ten steps towards me, what a treat! I stay still and low a sudden movement would disturb her but right now she is focused only on me and approaches me slowly obviously intrigued by this new addition to her wild world. I can now clearly see her, she's fit and well fed, her coat glows orange in the late morning sun and her brown eyes are alert and bright reflecting the light from this beautiful morning. How could anyone not be enthralled by this moment, nothing else comes close, man and beast together here in North Somerset on this fine November morning. I'm excited but calm and she approaches further towards me, now within ten feet of me, I can see the reflections in her crystal clear eyes that are locked onto me. Although a magical moment it is at this time that sense needs to prevail as I don't want her considering humans as part of her world and she needs some fear to keep her safe from people who may not appreciate her as much as I do. It's now that I stand and break the deadlock I hope the sudden movement will spook her and make her turn away but she stands her ground for a moment eyes fixed on me before slowly turning away and casually making her way back down the path, a quick look back over her shoulder and she slips away into the undergrowth and is gone.

It is now as I make my way back up the path still slightly trembling from this fabulous experience that I remember my hip, the pain having subsided during this magical moment, maybe those experts are right and we do all need some nature and wildlife therapy once in a while…..

The beautiful Red Fox that prompted me to write this  tale...

Until next time...

Best regards


Thursday, December 31, 2015

Cadbury Hill Therapy - The Well-being Provided by Nature

Following my last post and intentions to start writing again, I am taking you back to September 2015 and just prior to my hip replacement operation.

I wrote the following report for my local wildlife group (YACWAG) following a magical late season walk where with eyes open the beauty of nature hit me again and acted as a great tonic in what was a difficult and challenging time for me.

I do hope that you enjoy reading this report and it inspires you to never give up enjoying nature all year round and despite whatever obstacles are put in your way...

Cadbury Hill Therapy - September 2015

It’s the 7th of September and my mood is a bit down, I’m waiting for an operation and I’m currently signed off work until the time comes. It’s early the house is empty and Willow our family dog is looking at me with those big brown eyes, she deserves a nice walk for being such a loyal friend and maybe a walk up onto Cadbury Hill in Congresbury would improve my mood and get the old joints working again!
We stroll up through the field below Cadbury Country Club and I’m amazed by the amount of Hawker Dragonflies on the wing. I identify a Migrant Hawker but it’s too fast for the camera and my tired bones! As for the other Hawkers they are just too fast for me to identify let alone photograph, but what a treat!
The sun has now broken through the cloud and it looks like it’s going to be a hot sunny day. We walk past the restored dew pond and Willow stops for a quick drink, here a Common darter Dragonfly flies past settling on a nearby bramble bush, I approach slowly for a better look and careful not to cast a shadow over this beautiful insect I take a couple of pictures for my records before leaving it to enjoy the considerable warmth of the sun.

I take the path up through the woods as it’s not quite as steep as the other paths. As we enter the woods the dense tree canopy casts shade to cool us both down and I’m relieved to be out of the sun that is climbing higher into the sky. Large White and Speckled Wood butterflies flutter by but neither stop for the camera. The birds are singing and I can hear a Bullfinch with its distinctive one note song that I liken to a creaky door. One of my favourite birds and no doubt enjoying the blackberries that are now on the brambles, I can’t see him but knowing he is there lifts my spirits and puts a smile on my face.
On top of the hill it’s hot, really hot! A small vole interrupts us and scurries across our path, Willow pounces but as usual the target is long gone working its way through the long grass. The call of a Buzzard close above us makes me wonder if the vole is brave or stupid for being out in broad daylight.
Willow is panting and the trickle of sweat down my forehead tells me it’s time to stop for a drink and a rest. The viewing area looking out across Congresbury Moor is approaching and offers the idea place to stop and just enjoy the day, especially as nature has once again lifted my mood.
I settle down next to one of the extensive patches of Field Scabious that this part of the hill now proudly boasts and watch the bees and other pollinating insects go about their daily business. What a perfect day and what a perfect place to spend it and right on my own doorstep, how lucky we are?

I recognise the numerous Carder Bees that are feeding on the Scabious and take some pictures of them whilst led on the grass beside them. It’s now that I feel really relaxed and completely in tune with nature, at their level, eye to eye with these incredible creatures.
Another bee joins the party and I easily recognise this as a Buff Tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) I snap a picture and then notice a smaller insect, definitely a bee but smaller and slimmer in appearance. Having identified it in my own garden recently I know it as Halictus tumulorum with its metallic green colour and small size helping with identification.
 Movement on the brambles to my left focuses my attention away from the bees and a small blue butterfly lands on some Bramble flower, further examination shows it to be a Holly Blue, which seems to be a butterfly that has had a good year locally from my observations. Another small butterfly flies in and this time lands on the Scabious, a Brown Argus, and another! Photographs taken and I’m building a good count for a September morning. A bigger butterfly joins our party and this time a Meadow Brown in perfect condition lands taking a long drink form the pretty mauve flowers. A large white flutters by disturbing the Meadow Brown and settles down on the same flower giving me the perfect picture from my position, propped up on my elbows whilst led on the ground. A hoverfly attempts the same flower but settles on the next after the white shifts its position. This is a fly that is easily recognised due to its long protruding ‘horn-shaped’ nose, it’s a Rhingia campestris and a fantastic pollinator busily moving from one flower to the next. Another hoverfly joins us and this time it’s Sericomyia silentis identified by its large size and the fact that it is a wasp mimic making me look twice just in case! Further observation throws up other hoverflies; Helophilus is a species easily identified by its striped Thorax and this one is most likely to be H Pendulus as it’s our commonest form. Eristalis is another common family of hoverflies and I have a stab at E Tenax with my identification.


A wet nose in my ear jolts me back to the hot sun and this is obviously Willows hint to get on with the walk! I reluctantly move away from the two large patches of Scabious just as another Brown Argus heads in for a feed. As the Holly Blue continues its dance around the bramble flowers we walk on to the old quarry, now partly filled with bramble. It’s here that another butterfly grabs my attention a beautiful Small Copper but this one is tatty obviously coming towards the end of its life, I wonder if it’s done its job and mated to bring new life here next year. A flash of blue spins me round and I’m looking at a Common Blue butterfly again tatty and torn but supping on the nectar of these bramble flowers. These late butterflies make me aware of just how valuable a plant the bramble is not only for its flowers but the fruit it provides at this time of year for Blackbirds and the flock of 20+ Sparrows that are stripping them from my hedges at home before I have time to pick them for our own consumption! Another Common Darter passes and then movement by my feet uncovers a mint moth – Pyrausta aurata. This is a small but very pretty purple moth with orange markings.

Willows pulling on the lead persuades me that it’s time to move on and unfortunately time to head home. On the way across the hill we see both Red Admiral and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies but both moving through with purpose.
We descend down one of the steep paths and a female Speckled Wood settles to warm herself in the sun on a nearby leaf. She allows me to move in close for that intimate moment that only a true nature lover can understand. She is perfect bright and pristine obviously newly emerged and the ‘yellowy’ markings that help me sex her over the males white markings shine brightly in the morning sun. This is a special morning in a truly special place and therapy, yes therapy for my mind body and soul!
A later count shows my morning stroll producing eight butterfly species, six hoverfly, five bee and three dragonfly species as well as numerous birds and of course that dear little Vole! Not a bad collection on a September morning and only minutes away from home! So next time you need some therapy remember the simple things that we are so fortunate to have right on our own doorsteps and many of them are thanks to the hard work that so many people do in their own time for the benefit of both nature and the local community a like!.

For more information about Cadbury Hill and the habitat management visit YACWAG's website here

A few more pictures taken on the day....





Thank you for reading my blog I do hope that you have found it interesting or at least entertaining? This blog is very much intended to be light hearted and a place where I can share some of my thoughts and experiences whilst out watching wildlife. Please do feel free to comment or contact me direct with your thoughts and suggestions as I'm always keen to hear from you.

Best regards