Sunday, 2 October 2016

A while in the making

My last blog seems a very long time ago now - and that's because it was, almost 20 months ago!  That particular blog was all about a trip to Worcestershire Wildlife Trust's Knapp and Papermill reserve, where we mostly looked at fungi, and I was reminded of it (and the heinous gap between blog posts) as this afternoon has been spent on a fungal foray at that very same reserve.

I never actually meant to stop blogging - life just happened to get slightly in the way!  In the time between my last blog post and writing this one we've moved house again - this time to a house we actually own!  I'm still not entirely sure how we managed to buy, but we now live on the Malvern Hills, and can be out onto the hillside in minutes from our new front door.  The lack of a landlord also means we're finally allowed pets, and so in June we adopted a dog from the local animal rescue centre... and now I have even more excuses for wandering the hills on a daily basis!
Our view, out across the valley to the Cotswolds
Dog, enjoying camping
We moved in April, interrupted only by a quick trip north to take part in Sally-Ann Spence's brilliant EntoSci event - spending the day talking insects and fieldwork misadventures with Andy Salisbury (RHS), Darren Mann (OUMNH), Simon Leather (Harper-Adams), George McGavin (TV), and Max Barclay & Erica McAlister (both NHM) to (try to) inspire the 300 attending school children into taking up entomology as a career.  Seemed to go over well on the day at least!
Before: a stria of coleopterists drinking coffee
Caught in the act
Not long after, the year's travel began in earnest with a week on Jersey.  Visiting the Channel Islands has been on my to-do list for a very long time, so when Paul Chambers of the Jersey Government invited me over to talk at their recording conference, I leapt at the opportunity!  The weather wasn't ideal for bees but it was great to meet up with some of the amazing local entomologists and recorders.  As well as Paul, several others - notably Simon Robson, Tim Ransom, Roger Long & Richard Perchard - all gave up their time to show me around and were great company!
Jersey, shortly before the snow started...
The Jersey (and Continental European) subspecies of the Buff-tailed bumblebee, Bombus terrestris terrestris
Work has taken over much of both the summers since I last wrote, but we did manage a week away in June.  Starting with my brother's wedding in south Wales, we drove up to Ardnamurchan in the far west of Scotland for a week or two's walking.  Unfortunately, in the evening of our first full day in Kilchoan, I managed to empty an entire kettle of boiling water over my left foot.  Consequently, we spent much of our week sitting in the van or the tent, looking out at the rain.  Far from all bad - we saw sea eagles and dolphins, red deer by the hundred, and a couple of new gall species - but with the scald and a couple of other minor disasters the holiday has now been christened 'A Series of Unfortunate Events'.
Campervanning it in Kilchoan
Our previous holiday, to the New Forest in November, hadn't featured any injuries but was enlivened by the sight of the beginnings of an alien invasion, with hundreds of foul-smelling tentacles hatching from pale, gelatinous eggs on the ground.
Mysterious eggs in the grass
Don't look directly into it! 
This one had narrowly missed grabbing someone's face
Luckily it turned out that they were the fungus Clathrus archeri, Devil's Fingers, and they're from Australia rather than outer space (accidentally imported with Australian troops during WW2). I'm told they're yet to cause any mysterious disappearances. Thanks to Dan Hoare for the location!

My other main activity over the past winter was writing a book!  Over the past few years, Bloomsbury have teamed up with the RSPB to produce a series of 'Spotlight Guide to...'.  These are relatively short (c. 115 pages) but informative, fun and with plenty of pictures.  Having published the Spotlight Guide to... Robins, Foxes, Otters and Puffins, Bloomsbury offered me (and I accepted) the chance to write the 'Spotlight Guide to Bumblebees'.  This will be the first in the series to cover an insect, and the first to cover a group rather than an individual species, and it will hit the shelves in spring next year - can't wait to see it!