Highlights of Month Three and a Trip to the Yorkshire Dales

Hello,

It’s now the third month of my Buglife traineeship and the biggest highlight was getting to go on my first Field Studies Council training course, staying at Malham Tarn in the Yorkshire Dales for 4 days. Working on a freshwater project with Buglife and spending a lot of my time in and around ponds it only made sense to get up to speed with the world of freshwater invertebrates.

I spent much of the rest of the month planning my TCV solo project which will be based in the Southside of Glasgow and something I’m really looking forward to getting started on.  There was even more planning to be done with an exciting event I’m organising at RSPB Black Devon Wetlands Reserve. On Sat 5th Aug there will be a great family fun day and aquatic BioBlitz around the reserve, find more details here. I’ve been busy sorting the running of the day and recruiting volunteers to help, and will be heading over for a site visit later in July.

Life in a Shell // Snail Diary

On one of the first site visits I’ve been on to a current population, myself and my colleague Ally collected more specimens from a site in North Lanarkshire to create a second breeding group for the captive rearing programme. Things are really stating to get underway with this side of the project…

 

HIGHLIGHTS

Flower Power

One of the areas I felt I knew nothing about was in wildflower and plant ID so I took the opportunity to attend a course ran by Central Scotland Green Network. After a morning of learning we headed for Fallin Bing near Stirling for a practical session outdoors. As we walked around the site spotting the wildflowers we had explored in the classroom, it became easier to identify and understand how the different families are connected. It was really helpful to realise which were the food plants of the invertebrates I had been studying and we found some great wildlife down among the plants also.

It was a great day for ladybirds, hoverflies and bees, and we spotted a lot of different spider species on the thistles. My favourite was this cucumber spider, with the back of its abdomen looking like Wilson the volleyball from Cast Away, it made for a pretty cute predator just waiting for some prey to fly into its web among the thistle.

Meeting the Local Invertebrates

At the start of the month I took part in a TCV training course – Introduction to Invertebrates as a test to myself to see how much I have been learning and to pick up on some great new information. It was a brilliant introduction to all invertebrate groups and was finished with an afternoon session along near Stirling Castle where we found a whole host of beetles, bees and butterflies.  Being on a course which was running from my office was great as it allowed me to meet some local community groups as we were out and about in the afternoon and organise some events of my own. I bumped into a few nursery groups and ended up planning a visit to a nursery group in Stirling for the end of the month. This will be my first chance leading an outdoor session with a younger age group, 3-5 year old to be exact,and I’m excited to see what different activities and games I can plan!.

Yorkshire Bound

View from the hill opposite my bedroom

The main event of the month was my first ‘proper’ training course, staying at Malham Tarn in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales. This was a four day course by the Field Studies Council and has been one of the best experiences so far, I can’t recommend taking a course through FSC highly enough.  Day one was travelling to the site – through the lovely wee town of Settle and making my way across the Dales to the historic site at Malham. A definite high point is the food provided: cooked breakfast, packed lunch and three course meal every night not to mention the famous 3pm cake break. After an introduction to Sharon and Peter Flint who were leading the course we headed to our rooms in the old stable building for a sleep before our first outdoor excursion the next day.

Day one, pond nets and sampling

We went out the next morning to various sites around the Dales to learn the different methods of freshwater sampling and got a full overview of the creatures we were finding. There were some amazing locations and the full variety of life was found in the different pools, ditches, streams and lakes around Malham. Sharon and Peter’s exhaustive knowledge meant that we each took out of the day what we needed to, they were so open and approachable and welcomed all questions. Each afternoon and into the evening was spent in the lab getting to grips with microscope work. I decided to work my way through the Gastropods, as they related most to my work with Buglife, it was strangely addictive to work through the keys and find that I could get most of them correct.

Studying session on Odonata

Working at the microscope

Day two and another field trip, this time to Upper Gordale Beck where we kick-sampled the river and went searching for cased caddisfly larvae further up between the hills. With more lab work in store in the afternoon I decided to really look at Odonata and get up to speed on my dragonflies – this ended up being one of the most enjoyable sessions I had. Some delicious chocolate fudge cake, a walk around the tarn and some time watching the unique bird-life brought the course to an end on Sunday night.

Mask on dragonfly larva

Really getting absorbed in the microscope work with damselfly larva

Kick-sampling Upper Gordale Beck

 

I had a great couple of days in beautiful surroundings and found it was a huge boost in the right direction. FSC courses offer the chance to make good connections and enjoy  a peaceful weekend of study to genuinely take in a lot of new knowledge, you can get as much out as you put in and I can’t speak highly enough.

Sorting tray with catch from Gordale Beck

Horse leeches from the Tarn

View from the main house overlooking Malham Tarn

Until next time…

-Kirsty

 

Be sure to follow what I’m up to on Twitter, and check out TCV Natural Talent for an update on my fellow trainees.

Thanks to the Esmée Fairbarin Foundation for funding this brilliant programme. Find out more about them here

Also to Buglife Scotland for hosting my placement. Keep up with all the amazing work they are doing and support the small things!

Train Hard, Snail Hard: Highlights from June

Hello again, 

It’s already the second month of my traineeship which signaled the start of the school outreach programme attached to the Marvellous Mud Snails Buglife project. I’ve been on some really fun school visits in the last few weeks, plus the site visits to go out and record the current Mud Snail populations are also in the diary. I’m also hoping to get out and survey some potential sites and look for ideal places to re-locate and release the captive reared snails at the beginning of next year.

I realised that this month also marked the beginning of me noticing that the things I’m learning are sinking in. All the training opportunities – be it one day workshops or residential weekend field courses – have really been helping to improve my knowledge in areas which I previously knew nothing about. Plus it’s been so enjoyable.

In the short space of time from starting at Buglife in April, here’s a little run down of the training I’ve had so far.

Introduction to OPAL surveys one day practical course

One to one session with mollusc expert Adrian Sumner

Outdoor Games and Activities training course

Introduction to Beetles workshop and practical session

Scottish Natural Heritage Invertebrate Hunt

Introduction to Wildflower Identification

Working Outdoors with People with Autism one day training course

TCV Safeguarding Children and  Vulnerable Adults one day course

Dragonfly Identification Workshop

Introduction to Invertebrates one day course

4 day Field Studies Council Introduction to Freshwater Invertebrate Course in the Yorkshire Dales

 

All that in less than three months!

I find I have families of freshwater snails floating around in my head at all times, going to sleep and waking up repeating scientific names for all sorts of things. I’m slowly trying to build my knowledge base, from someone who about 2 and a half years ago only knew the basics, to now honing and developing skills that will hopefully make me an employable human in the field that I’ve grown to love so much.

I’m learning who feeds on what, who eats each other, who carries disease, and how invertebrates interlink with each other. Something so simple as preparing a school lesson plan which touches on what it means to be a predator in the animal world sends my brain into overdrive thinking about the more complex issues. Using a colouring in worksheet about food chains, outside of the classroom has me thinking and planning and preparing.

The Young’uns

After spending part of the previous week preparing my education packs, the middle of June saw me start the first proper education sessions for the Mud Snail project. The primary schools in the five local council areas where the population of snails are found will be looking after a tank each after the summer holidays and learning all about freshwater life.

First I took myself, and a tank of the famous mud snails along to Lennoxtown Primary for an indoor introduction to their new guests and the world of invertebrates in general before heading out to nearby  Whitefield Pond by a pond-dipping session using the OPAL Water Survey guide to log our results. We had a great hour before the rain started to come on and found that the school’s local pond is a great green space to use and houses a very healthy pond. Once back in the classroom I used some of the games and activities I’d been preparing to think about what we’d seen and learnt that day.

For the second visit it was off to Gartmorn Dam near Alloa, for an on-site activity with Deerpark Primary who will also be looking after the snails. We discovered that the vast pond was full of exciting underwater life, with a tadpole (sadly not an invertebrate) being the unfortunate star of the show. We saw the food chain in action as diving beetle larvae attempted to attack a caddisfly case leaving its occupant a little bit stressed. There were plenty of freshwater snails, beetles and leeches. We finished off with a wee quiz and drew favourite findings of the day to take home.

 

Life in a Shell// Snail Diary

‘Four of the best looking among us were chosen to visit some school kids. Apparently they thought we were interesting and they want to look after us in a few months. We continue to lay eggs like our lives depend on it, which they do. Nothing else to report.’

Highlights

Dragon Whisperer:

One of the highlights of this month was the Dragon and Damselfly Workshop  I mentioned. Ran through TCV, the British Dragonfly Society came out to Gartcosh Local Nature Reserve to see the emerging adults. It was a perfect spot with lots of varying pond habitats. I was keen to learn the difference between the seeming all blue small damselflies and can happily say I can now do so (all to do with a Honda logo…).

It was a beautiful sunny day, surrounded by swooping martens and kestrels hovering overhead we saw a huge variety of life and even managed to find an exuvia (the outer shell of the larva which Is left behind as the adult emerges). It was clinging still to a reed stalk, with the glossy new Four-Spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata) adult who was drying out on the top of the vegetation. The photo below shows just how beautiful these creatures are.

Beetlejuice:

I was lucky enough to visit a great, relatively new RSPB site at Black Devon Wetlands in Alloa. As the practical side to another great field course, Introduction to Coleoptera (Beetles),  we took a wander through the open spaces, marsh and pond area. It was a brilliantly warm summer’s day and I was feeling lucky to get to work outdoors so much of the week.

There was a lot to take in, with Beetles being a huge group of animals, but each has their own defining characteristics and we managed to make some great finds out in the field, mainly ground beetles and beautifully coloured shining leaf beetles. I have to mention this female adult Wolf Spider carrying all her young on her back. The fuzzy grey spots, they are all teeny little spiders! Look out for them at this time of year being carried around by the female, I’ve spotted quite a few recently.

Plus in the newly created small ponds  there were plenty of frogs making full use of the area, and a tonne of freshwater creatures I was keen to take a look at. I’m excited as the site will be used for a Family Fun Day and BioBlitz event that I’m organising for next month Watch this space!

Hidden at Home:

I was happy to be on home turf with a visit to The Hidden Gardens in Glasgow. I went along with my Buglife colleague to be a part of a pollinator workshop session she was running. The place was absolutely perfect for bees, wasps and hoverflies, pollinator heaven! A group of volunteers who already help out at the Gardens were keen to get a better understanding of their space and how they could make it more bee (and bug) friendly. Some follow-up visits have been arranged and I’m hoping to get back over at some point to record the results of some pitfall traps with Glasgow Natural History Society and continue to record the pollinators we find in there.

Some exciting discoveries were made as new records for Glasgow were logged. A female Patchwork leafcutter bee (Megachile centuncularis) was spotted in one of the beds, very noticeable as it has an extremely furry underside. This was only the second time it had ever been recorded in Glasgow, with the last being 1962. The fork-tailed flower bee (Anthophora furcata) was also recorded, and at the time had never been spotted in Glasgow. The site is brilliant for the biodiversity of the City and I’d encourage people to go along for a visit if they’ve never been.

A Day Well Spent:

The final high point of the month was definitely the wonderful TCV training day delivered by Scottish Autism. The ethos of The Conservation Volunteers is to encourage everyone regardless of age or ability to participate and engage with the outdoors. Scottish Autism already work with a few groups holding weekly practical outdoor sessions, on all sorts of things from woodcraft to practical conservation. Part of my traineeship is to contribute to this ongoing effort, to make connections and create opportunities for different community groups. This course –‘Working Outdoors with People with Autism’ so brilliantly explained the benefits and possibly adjustments I could make to hold a successful session. I took away so much from the day, and I feel I would want to run some kind of volunteer day, or activity for a sometimes overlooked set of people in society, that would help them become more involved with all things outdoors and hopefully that would be enjoyable for us all. It’s definitely something I’m thinking about for the future.

Until next time…

-Kirsty

 

Be sure to follow what I’m up to on Twitter, and check out TCV Natural Talent for an update on my fellow trainees.

Thanks to the Esmée Fairbarin Foundation for funding this brilliant programme. Find out more about them here

Also to Buglife Scotland for hosting my placement. Keep up with all the amazing work they are doing and support the small things!