Wildlife Wednesday: I spy with my little eye

This post is a bit of a dry run for the iSPOT records that I’ll be making shortly. I found the website a while ago when I needed some help identifying a strange fluffy yellow caterpillar that had stripped my willow bare. Here is the critter that started something of an obsession.


My first iSPOT record: The Miller – Acronicta leporina

iSpot is a part of the Open Air Laboratories (OPAL), a partnership led by Imperial College London, which aims to create and inspire a new generation of nature lovers by getting people to explore, study, enjoy and protect their local environment. People upload their observations of wildlife, help each other identify them and discuss what they’ve seen.

I quickly found out that I didn’t know half as much as I thought I did, but that fellow recorders are keen to comment and share. I now use the website as a kind of diary of the new things that I see (rather like those kids ‘I-Spy’ car and digger books) and to get help when I don’t have a clue!

So here are my new ‘spots’: On Monday I spotted my first Little Owl ever (so excited).

little owl

Little Owl sunbathing in an old oak in the parkland

I’d recently been reading a colleague’s blog and had discovered that Wimpole is home to some Little Owls (Athene noctua). I managed to speak to Megan about the owls and have been looking out for them ever since. No joy for a week, but then on that lovely sunny Monday of this week I saw this beauty sitting in the preferred oak that I’d been told about. Luckily had my pocket camera with me I was able to take this highly zoomed picture from the car with no disturbance to the little owl. I shall continue to watch out for him.


Little Owl (Athene noctua)

Later, on the way home we saw this nuthatch, but he was flighty and fast. I’ve not seen a nuthatch in years. He was creeping up the tree trunks, circling them in ascending spirals in his search for insects, but flew down when something caught his attention here. We couldn’t see his lovely blue back in the shade, but on the ground it showed up quite well.


Nuthatch – Sitta europaea

Next ‘spot’ was a bird that I’ve glimpsed many times, but has always evaded photographic capture. However, I’ve discovered that this tiny goldcrest has a favourite hunting ground along the front of the tightly clipped yew hedges in the walled garden. A line of Teucrium fruticans in front of the yew acts as a lacy shield so that I can get reasonably close, unnoticed, for a good view of him.


Goldcrest – Regulus regulus

Along with the similar firecrest, he rates as the UKs smallest bird. In fact, since I couldn’t see any orange in the stripe on his head, this is likely to be a female.


Goldcrest hopping along the clipped yew hedge

The final ‘spot’ of the week was heard rather than seen. There are currently hundreds of redwings in the park at Wimpole. They were gathered in the tops of the trees along the pleasure grounds when I was walking in and the sound was deafening, like kids out in the playground at breaktime. Here is a digitally-zoomed view of a few of them.



Redwings – Turdus iliacus shouting out high in the tree tops

You can just make out the distinctive cream eye strip. These birds will soon be leaving to return to Scandinavia, so it was nice to spot them before they go.

Fortunately, I’ve finally timed a wildlife post to coincide with Tina’s monthly Wildlife meme. I hope that you will visit Tina’s blog to check out some of the colourful feathered friends that she’s been seeing (including some strangely familiar starlings).

About Frogend_dweller

Living in the damp middle of nowhere
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19 Responses to Wildlife Wednesday: I spy with my little eye

  1. Tina says:

    The more we know, the more we realize how much we don’t know. Great post and I’m tickled that you were able to see your Little Owl. Gorgeous bird! Your Nuthatch and Goldcrest are lovely too. That yellow “V” is quite fetching! The Redwings look a little like some of our sparrows, though probably bigger. I guess they come to Britain for the warmer winter? Thanks so much for joining in–it was a treat!

    • Yes, the redwings come for the rich pickings in the hedges and orchards as well as the weather. You tend to see them in open fields more now that the fruit is used up. I was especially delighted to see the owl.

  2. MeganS says:

    Good to hear you saw the Little Owl! And I’ve been loving the Redwings, there were about 200-250 on the field in front of the Garden Gate on one day!

    Also, you know the hedge on the right as you walk up from the Stable Block to the Garden Gate? A Goldcrest is seen there quite often. And another heads-up which you may like, we see a Nuthatch every now and then at the Garden Gate.

    Definitely my favourite ticket office to be in!

    • Well, a big thanks for cueing me in on the little owl. I’ve also seen that goldcrest in the hedge that you mention, but it slips into the depths so quickly. The garden gate is getting to be a bit like a bird hide. Enjoy!

  3. Great photos, goldcrests are usually so shy in our garden, so I’m very impressed with how close you got to her. The Little Owl’s wonderful too. Enjoy iSPOT, sounds like an excellent resource and way to share observations.

  4. Julie says:

    Great post Allison, I would love to see a Little Owl in the wild, that must of been a very exciting sighting. My sister-in-law is involved with the ISpot project, its a wonderful place to learn and share. I really enjoyed the link to Megan’s site, thanks for that. You are very fortunate indeed to work at Wimpole, wildlife and beautiful plants, what a privilege! The Goldcrest is gorgeous too.

    • Great to hear of your sister-in-law’s participation in iSpot. It is a wonderfully inclusive initiative. I was thinking of doing some of the OU courses they run. I love the owl, but those cute little goldcrests are my favourite.

  5. Gillian says:

    Thanks for sharing all this info and your lovely photos Allison. It’s a shame that we zoom past without noticing these wild creatures. Owls very often just sit still in the same trees each day. It’s magical to see them isn’t it?

    • Thanks Gillian. My father has the knack of spotting interesting wildlife and I wish that I had it a bit more of it! In fact we saw the owl in almost the same spot when we were leaving hours later. He was definitely the highlight of my week.

  6. Eliza Waters says:

    Delightful captures, Allison. iSpot sounds like a great program!

  7. diversifolius says:

    Lovely post – It is the first time I see the tiny Goldcrest! Indeed iSpot is a great initiative, we could use one around here too!

    • Thanks. Goldcrests are so tiny and weigh just 6.5g (approx. RDA of salt a day). iSpot has been very successful partnership and is creating such a useful, vast database of day-to-day information on birds, insects, plants, fungi and amphibians.

  8. Robbie says:

    I love bugs! That photo up above of the Acronicta leporina-WOW!!! It is a hairy caterpillar. I had to look it up and look a bit closer to really even see it in the photo. I thought at first where is the bug-lol-it is hairy:-) I now see it and can’t believe that it has long hair it looked like a pod being backlit. Amazing.
    I love seeing what others find in their yards/land. iSpot sounds neat. I am still trying to encourage more wildlife to our property. I am taking out more non-natives and replacing with natives that provide host/habitat for native pollinators. I only live on a .33 acre in USA and the house, cement, driveway and fences take up most of it, so we don’t have a lot of room. Lovely owls. We have two old trees(75+ old) on our property that the Owl hangs out in and when it decides to come down it is BIG. We hear them at night but don’t see them much during the day…even in an urban area you have nature around in the ravines between our homes.
    Great captures, I agree!!!

  9. Hello…visiting via Wildlife Wednesday.. I like the idea of “spotting”. We in the states and Canada do a bird watch every year during the winter. It really does make you hone in on wildlife. This summer I hope to be reporting butterflies and dragonflies for a project… I can’t wait… Michelle

    • You are right to say that these counts and watches have a positive effect on making people aware of wildlife and the supporting ecosystems. The RSPB bird count in the UK really encourages schools and children to get involved, which can only be for the good. Best wishes for your butterfly and dragonfly project. It sounds magical. I love watching dragonflies. I’ll look out for your post!

  10. Yes it’s so good to be reminded of the stunning varieties of wildlife on planet earth especially those close to home. Well done for spotting the owl and it may reappear in the same tree. Once on holiday in SW France three owls swooped into a tree in the garden at dusk every night at the same time for the ten days we were there. Awesome.

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