BirdFair, Rutland 2014

Bird Fair at Rutland has to be one of my favourite shows of the year, as it is really a quite unique experience! Rarely do you get such a huge gathering of wildlife enthusiasts together in one place for a weekend and it is definitely a recipe for great wildlife experiences, talks and products of course! It is also a wonderful opportunity for catch-ups with old wildlife friends and meetings with new!

As of last year, I was on the Bushnell Stand in the Optics Marquee. As part of my role as the UK Brand Ambassador, I designed and built the stand, along with the team, to showcase the very best of the Bushnell ranges. As trail cams are the kit I use most, my stand design aimed to show the many contexts that these rather addictive pieces of kit can be used in.

The stand is split into two sections in the marquee, with a walkway  in the middle. I designed half the stand to be a garden set-up, with the other side depicting a woodland. These are the areas that I feel most people use trail cams. I love creating stands and there is months of planning and searching for products that will help me create the scene I have in my mind! My garage port was full of show stuff and on the Wednesday morning, I loaded the hire van up and even managed to squeeze in two trees, thanks to G-Scapes, in Lichfield, the wonderful local nursery who support me with loan of great plants and materials for the shows I undertake.

Arriving at BirdFair on the Wednesday, there is  a buzz of anticipation as lorries, forklifts and people heave boxes and stand materials into place. Luckily, the weather was quite kind and the sun was shining and the ground was not too wet. Andy, the stand builder had built the main structure of the stand and it was then up to me to put all my plans into action and create the vision I had had in my mind for the last six months!

It is always exciting, starting with a blank canvas and gradually putting all the parts into place. I started by unloading all the kit out of the van … it always looks like I have brought way too much, but it soon starts to fit into place….P1060412

I started with the woodland area, using some Birch stumps that Rob at SilverTrees had kindly made up for me. We had also collected lots of woodland debris to add to this section to make it look authentic. I had bought some Silver Birch wallpaper that had been put on boards for behind this section…

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It is rather like building a stage set! Once all the materials and ferns were in place, it was time for some characters! I had searched the Internet for some natural looking animals and had found some great resin creatures that added the final touch to the scene…

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I mounted trail cams on the stumps, along with information. I was really pleased with the final effect, so moved on to build my garden! I had brought some artificial turf, plants, feeders, bird table, nest boxes and some great new product from CJWildlife that will then be trailed back in my patch at home. I started by creating a pool out of tyres… like Fern Pool I have here at home, along with a hedgehog house from Ark Wildlife and log piles. All of this could easily be created in your own garden!

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It took me the rest of Thursday to create the garden area, plant it and arrange everything…

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By the end of Thursday, I was finally happy with what we had created and the rest of the team had sorted all the stock and the displays of the Bushnell products… we were ready to go! This year, Gareth Jones also joined the Bushnell team and his experience with trail cams meant he was a great asset to our team!

Staying at Spanhoe Lodge nearby (thoroughly recommended!!) meant that we were easily able to get to the show each morning before the doors opened and I love this quiet time before the show. There is a last minute flurry of activity as stand holders prepare for the day ahead and a feeling of excitement as we prepare for the day’s visitors! 

P1060457 P1060455Simon King and I were also excited to announce that there will be a big new Bushnell competition launched in September for all you Bushnell Trail cam users out there! We will be announcing the details on our websites very soon. We will be looking for the best Bushnell video clips or stills, of British wildlife that you have captured. There will be some great prizes to be announced as the competition launches in September. Simon will be judging the adult category and I will be judging the under 18s category. I am very much looking forward to seeing some of the great captures :o)

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We had an absolutely wonderful show and it was truly lovely to meet so many enthusiastic wildlife people! I was especially pleased to meet lots of young naturalists, many who came to see me and show me some of their great blogs, websites, photography and trail cam clips! As you know, I am very keen to encourage the next generation in their wildlife pursuits and I always love hearing about what they are up to. There seem to be so  any more wonderful opportunities available to the youth of today and the Internet has meant that they are able to meet and network in a way that was never possible when I was a child.

The only problem being on a stand is that I was not really able to get out and visit many of the other great stands or listen to the talks which looked incredible this year. 

Thank you to the fantastic Bushnell team and to all the amazing people who came to see me and talk to me… it is what makes this show so special! Roll on BirdFair 2015…. I am already planning the stand… 

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Mike Dilger and I in the Bushnell Garden!

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Build your own Wildlife Water Feature Oasis!

When SwellUK contacted me and asked me if I would like to choose something from their website in return for a blog post, I leapt at the chance! Swell Aquatics have a website packed with just about everything you would need to create any kind of pond or water feature in your garden. You can check out their website by clicking HERE. I started to look through the website. I already have a pond and a small water feature I made out of old tyres up at one end of the garden. I wanted to create something at the patio  end of my garden. This space is not very big, totally paved with just a few small beds. I wanted to create something that would fit in a small space, would not need loads of excavation and be perfect for wildlife to drink and bathe in.

After some looking I came cross this feature pool; a preformed pool with a chamber in the bottom that a pump could fit in. I wanted a pump to keep the water clean and also so it would remain relatively ice-free in the winter, as the patio is pretty sheltered. I chose the smaller of the 2 pools.

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I asked advice as to which pump to use and Swell chose this one for me…

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This one has a UV bulb included, but I think a cheaper version would do ok as well, if you wanted something a little cheaper… like this….

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I did not want to sink this into the floor, as I felt in the enclosed space of my patio, the birds would be reluctant to come to the ground. I decided to use 2 old tyres to raise the pool off of the ground. If you visit a tyre centre, they are usually more than happy to give you old tyres for free! I have used them for pools before and planters… they are a great recyclable resource!

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I started by choosing a space near my fence, next to the lowest part of the trellis (for easy access) and lay the tyres down. I levelled them and made sure I was happy with the position. The pump is cabled, so I made sure the cable ran as far as my boiler house, where I have power.

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I had already checked the diameter… the pool sat nicely on these tyres …

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I removed the clover over the central reservoir and placed the pump down inside. It was too big to sit flat on the base, so I angled it slightly with the output pipe pointing upwards. I could not get the cover back on top, due to the angle of the pump, but I was not too worried as I know I was going to cover it with rocks etc. I started by trying a terracotta pot over the top with a hose attachment coming out of the hole in its base….

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I filled the bottom reservoir with water and turned the pump on. By placing a small stone mushroom on top, I attempted to get the water to flow down the sides of the pot….

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I was not happy with how it looked, so removed that and started playing around with bits of rock I had gathered from around the garden. I wanted it to look as  natural as possible, so chose some mossy rocks and pieces of slate and began to experiment with arranging them….

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I wanted the water to bubble over one rock and the rest of the space be filled with other rocks and some cobbles which I bought. I needed various shallow spaces for drinking and bathing…. it took me a while of experimenting before I got the look I had envisaged…

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I pulled a few little plants from the pond to soften some of the edges. It was now beginning to look how I wanted it to look. The next issue was the tyres. I wanted to cover them, so they were not visible. If I had built this up the other end of the garden, I would have piled rocks and soil all the way around to create a natural mound which I could have planted up. In this spot, this was not an option. I had some old hessian in my garage that I had reduced from a skip at school!!!… I wrapped this around and secured it with string…

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I also had some remnants of willow screening and I trimmed it so it was the same height as the tyres. Then I wrapped it all around and started to position some of my patio  pots around…

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With a couple of perches, bits of bark and some plants, it was really stating to look lovely! I fiddled around for a bit until I was happy with the final effect and how it blended perfectly in with the patio set up…

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With relatively little effort, I had created something that looked great in my garden, took up a small amount of space, yet I felt it would offer a great place for birds to drink and bathe throughout the year. I know I was lucky enough to have the pump and base given to me, but you could create this for under £100 and with very little effort needed. 

I did not have to wait long for it to be used. The very next morning, I was thrilled to see the robin taking full advantage of this great new spa! I set up the Bushnell trail cam with a close-up lens on and captured this footage of the robin having a bath and a magpie taking a drink! I just know that this is going to be great for wildlife and a superb, attractive addition to my garden patio area.

I hope you are inspired to have a go yourself and create a wildlife spa for your birds this summer!

 

 

My BBC Springwatch Blog Post!

I was delighted to be asked to be a guest Blogger for the Springwatch Blog that is running all summer and last week, my blog went live. Many of us are off on the school summer holidays and thus have kids around that need occupying! This blog post is about some of the FREE activities I often get up to with friends’ kids and my younger nieces and nephews. Being 19 and 17, my own children do not need me to entertain them this summer!

Do dip in and take a look… I have also included lots of websites and Apps that I use with kids, that can be a really good way of getting technology and PC-crazy youngsters to use the technology they love to help them learn more about the natural world!

To read my full blog, click on the screen shot below.

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Incredible Footage of Bank Vole giving Birth!

I think I have just captured the most incredible footage I have ever captured! I have been experimenting with a new mammal box, with an HD Vivotek camera and lights inside. This box is not live streaming yet, but it is constantly monitored by i-catcher software, which means it saves footage whenever movement is detected. I regularly check my cameras and you can imagine I had a double take, when I looked at the image within this mammal box and there was a vole with absolutely TINY babies! I was astounded! I ran the footage back from earlier in the day and, over about half an hour, this female vole gave birth to 4 young right in front on my HD camera! I have the whole process recorded (and backed up!)

This is a wild vole, giving birth in a lit box with no bedding or nest of any kind. I am unsure as to why she chose to give birth here… but happy she did as I now have, what I believe to be, pretty unique footage. She stayed in there cleaning and suckling these tiny babies, that can only be a cm in length, before another vole, a male, came in to feed. She valiantly fought him, trying to keep him away from her young. Eventually he left and she then proceeded to move the babies, one-by-one, out of the box. I presume she has another burrow nearby.

What I have been left with is truly amazing video footage and I still have not had time to watch the whole process. I am sure there will be lots of mammal experts out there who will love to see this!

I have captured a few screen captures to show a few scenes from  this truly incredible insight into the secret lives of the mammals who live in our gardens….

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I set up my Moth Trap and catch a beauty!

I finally got round to setting up my moth trap in the garden last night. I had popped it away safely for the winter after buying it late last season, 2nd hand. I then had to locate the 12v battery that powers the Actinis bulb and charge that up… finally I was ready to go. I set it up in the middle of a small circular lawn. The conditions were perfect… a warm and still July night! 

I was up early, as you really need to check the trap and release your captives as soon as you can. I had decided I was not going to be too fussed about all the micro small brown moths… but start by just selecting the most distinctive ones. I have not to any specimen pots (although I did order some today!) so I carried the trap down to my conservatory, where I had set up my little studio. I started to check the egg boxes inside. Lots of small brown moths… and a couple of interesting (as of yet unidentified) moths and then I turned over one box to reveal what I had been hoping for… a Hawkmoth…. and not any old Hawkmoth; the stunning Elephant Hawkmoth! I was excited to say the least!

These moths are not only amazing to look at but amazingly tolerant and docile. They will happily sit in one position and do not really attempt to fly in the daylight unless really forced to do so. Handled gently and they will pretty sit on whatever you put them on! I gently moved it into my studio and took a selection of shots, from different angles. It is a truly stunning moth!untitled-7983 untitled-7990 untitled-7996

Later in the day, my dad popped over. He is a very keen macro photographer and loves insects, particularly bees. He spent a lot of time watching my bee hotels where the leaf cutter bees are now nesting… he was keen to get some shots of them in and out with their neatly cut leaf sections….P1060077 P1060074

My Hawkmoth was now on a piece of bark I had found for it and it posed beautifully, giving dad  and I plenty of opportunities to get the perfect shot. I supported the camera and shot on a really slow shutter speed to achieve a good depth of focus…

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The wonderful thing about macro photography is that it enables you to really study an insect up close and see details you would never see normally. This is quite the most beautiful moth I have ever had the pleasure to photograph and the colours are truly incredible.  This moth stayed on the bark until it was dark, before it disappeared into the night.. what a total privilege to have been able to study it in so much detail…. It was also great to spend a couple of hours with my dad…. his love of the natural world was definitely played a big part in making me what I am today! Thanks dad!

Check out my dad’s (@Ed_P_Wildlife) work at: http://www.edphillipswildlife.com

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Hedgehog Rescue!

Tonight, I received a phone call from my daughter. Her boyfriend’s family had spotted a very small hedgehog in their garden earlier in the day, when it was light, and it was still around. They have given it some meaty cat food and water, which was exactly the right thing to do… never give bread or milk. They were concerned and rightly so…. any hedgehog seen out in the day, especially when they are this small needs help!  I drove straight over and we located him up behind their gate. He was tiny… small enough to fit in the palm of my hand and way too small to be out on his own. Although he looked ok, I knew he was too small to be alone and I popped him in a shoe box and brought him home. Straight away, I rang my friend and hedgehog expert, Joan, at West Midlands Hedgehog Rescue. She confirmed that this little chap, weighing just 120g, was too young and small to be left out. He needed to be bought into the centre, fed up until he was at least 3x the size before release. I put in some hedgehog food I have for my wild hedgehogs and he was soon tucking into the Spikes semi-moist and a few mealworms. He also drank quite a lot from a saucer and then a small bottle top I put in, filled with water. P1060028 P1060039 P1060050 P1060055 P1060058 I then prepared a cat basket with some bedding, more food and water and left him in the quiet. Tomorrow, I will take him up to Joan to look after until he is ready to go back into the wild.  P1060062 I took a little video of him tucking into some food….

With the drastic drop in hedgehog numbers here in the UK, every single hedgehog is precious…. so remember if you ever see one out in daylight, particularly in this hot weather, then PLEASE put some meaty cat food out and some water and contact a local Rescue Centre ASAP.  If it is as tiny as this one is,  and it is out, in daylight, on a very hot day, then it is definitely in need of help. I think we have caught this hedgehog in time, as he was pretty alert and ate and drank well. Another day out in this heat and the story may not have been so positive.

July mothing and a hawk moth beauty

Rob, at SilverTrees has regularly been running his moth trap and recording all the visitors. I have been so busy, I have not had the chance to pop up again for a few weeks.  When he said he was starting to have hawk moths visit, I was keen to get up there with my mini macro studio and have a mother go at photographing some different species. A text telling me of his success sent me packing the car and heading up there in the morning sunshine!

This time of the year is great for nothing and, with such a wonderful site, Rob always catches some beauties. This time he had caught quite a few species that I had not photographed before. Using my little hand-made foam board studio and my flash gun firing up into the roof of it, I carefully positioned the moths into the studio so I could grab a few shots before they warmed up and headed for freedom! We had a few that were off before I had the chance to photograph them, but these guys hung around long enough for a decent shot.   I am beginning to learn some names, but it is great having an expert like Rob around…

 

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August Thorn

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Bird Cherry Ermine

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Black Arches

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Coxcomb Prominent

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Drinker

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Ear Moth

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Early Thorn

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Grey Dagger

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Not a moth!!!! Hawthorn Shield Big

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Northern Eggar

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Northern Eggar

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Northern Eggar

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Northern Eggar

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Peppered Moth

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Swallow Prominent

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The highlight for me, though was this spectacular Poplar Hawk Moth…. they are simply stunning and a lovely moth to photograph as they are pretty happy to sit still! It is only when you look at the macro hots that you can appreciate the beauty of these insects and notice things that you simply can’t see with the naked eye. I am hoping that Rob catches some other hawkmoth species for me to photograph soon!! 

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