Nature Quest: discovering nature in 2014

Bluebells at Long Wood, SomersetIt’s that time of year again when I look back at my wildlife experiences over the past 12 months and look ahead to what the new year might bring. Last year I reviewed my wildlife highlights of 2012, and the year before I looked at my year in wildlife in 2011. I’ve had more great wildlife adventures in 2013, including visiting a red kite feeding station, seeing my first ever goshawks, getting great views of ospreys, discovering some new nature reserves and launching the first national Garden Bioblitz. However, it’s also been a busy year spent setting up my new freelance business, moving house and generally not finding as much time as I would like to get out and about in the countryside.

As the new year is almost upon us, it seemed a good time to set myself some wildlife goals for 2014. As well as getting out into nature more, I also want to try and see some new species, get back into my wildlife photography, and find ways to inspire others in their own wildlife adventures.

Introducing… Nature Quest!

To try and make sure I see more wildlife in 2014, I’ve decided to embark on a ‘Nature Quest‘, setting myself some challenges in terms of species to spot, wildlife spectacles to experience and nature-filled activities to take part in. But rather than simply ticking things off a kind of nature ‘to do’ list, I want to make the most of each experience, documenting them in words and pictures and seeing the challenges as a way of getting outside and experiencing everything nature has to offer.

I’d also like to encourage others to take on a ‘nature quest’ of their own, so I’ll be coming up with ideas and suggestions as to how you can see and do some of the things on my list.

Peacock butterfly on buddleiaI’ll be writing about my experiences here on my blog, so watch this space for regular updates. If you’d like to take on a nature quest of your own, do get in touch – I’d love to feature your stories on here too! You’re welcome to take on my challenges for yourself, or you could come up with a list of your own must-see species and must-have experiences. And why not challenge me to something too?! You don’t need to be an expert naturalist and you don’t have to take on a huge list like mine – why not just aim to swish your feet through some leaves, visit a bluebell wood or watch the birds in your own garden?

My current list of ideas is getting longer by the day, but below are just a few of the things I’d like to do. Some are things I’d usually do anyway, but life can get so busy that setting some goals will hopefully help me to do more. I don’t expect to be able to achieve every single one, but at least it gives me something to aim for!

Spotting Species

I always have a list in my mind of species that I really want to see one day. Every year I promise myself that I’ll try and spot them – sometimes I succeed and sometimes I don’t! There are also many species that I’ve seen before but which are still special or unusual to me and which I’d love to see again. I’ve come up with a few ‘must-see’ species below, but I’m sure I’ll add to it as the year goes on.

Some species I have yet to see in the wild and would love to spot are:

  • Otter
  • Adder
  • Lesser spotted woodpecker
  • Turtle dove
  • Hawfinch
  • Ring ouzel
  • Great bustard
  • Orca / any large whales!
  • Stoat and weasel
  • Dormouse
  • Golden eagle

European otter (captive), British Wildlife Centre Adder (captive), British Wildlife Centre

Some others which I’d love to see again, or get better views of:

  • Puffin
  • Nightingale
  • Bittern
  • Badger
  • Red squirrel
  • Woodcock
  • Owls (various species)
  • Cuckoo
  • Hare
  • Chough
  • Cranes
  • Peregrines (I’d love to see one hunt)
  • Bearded tit
  • Hobbies
  • Glow worms
  • Merlin
  • Wild boar
  • British reptiles (various species)
  • Water vole

Puffins, Farne Islands Water vole, Cheddar Gorge

Common lizard, Mendips Peregrine chick being colour-ringed, Bristol

Wildlife Experiences

The UK offers a wealth of amazing wildlife spectacles, from mesmerising starling murmurations to clamouring seabird colonies. Each season also offers its own particular delights.

In 2014, I’d like to discover some new nature reserves, make the most of seasonal spectacles and enjoy some specific wildlife-watching outings.

Winter: snow at Ashton Court, Bristol Winter: frost on woodland floor

Spring: wild garlic flowering Summer: sunshine through woodland ferns

Summer: summery view across RSPB Dungeness, KentAutumn: autumn leaves at Knole Park, Kent Winter: misty valley

Some of the specific experiences on my list include:

  • Watching winter wildfowl
  • Experiencing a starling roost and a corvid roost
  • Visiting a seabird colony
  • Going on an owl prowl
  • Bat watching
  • Watching a deer rut
  • Visiting a bluebell wood in spring
  • Enjoying a wildflower meadow
  • Experiencing the dawn chorus
  • Going on a night walk
  • Going on a crisp winter walk
  • Spotting fledgling birds in spring
  • Experiencing bird migration
  • Going butterfly and dragonfly spotting
  • Listening to a skylark singing
  • Hearing the first chiffchaff and willow warbler of the spring
  • Hearing the first redwings of the autumn

Watch winter wildfowl: Bewick's swans and other wildfowl at WWT Slimbridge Experience a starling murmuration: Starlings on the Somerset Levels

Spot baby birds in spring: Fledgling coal tit, Shapwick Heath Visit a new reserve: RSPB Lake Vyrnwy in 2013

Go butterfly spotting: Common blue butterfly, Draycott SleightsGetting Back Into Nature

As well as the specific wildlife experiences above, I’m also setting myself some more general challenges to get me out and about, rediscovering the joy of being a naturalist, learning new things and also, if I’m honest, getting back to my childhood a bit. Again, my list keeps getting longer the more I think about it, but here are some of my current ideas – many of which I’d like to challenge you to do too!

  • Go on a bug hunt
  • Go fossil hunting
  • Find an amazing beach
  • Take part in some bird ringing
  • Plant something
  • Go rockpooling
  • Learn to ID some more trees and wildflowers
  • ‘Twitch’ a rare bird
  • Go on a fungal foray
  • Go on an urban safari
  • Visit a new habitat (one I’ve not seen before)
  • Canoe down a river
  • Find a bird’s nest
  • Set up a bug house
  • Be a wildlife detective
  • Defy the weather
  • Get muddy
  • Go for a long walk
  • Find an amazing view
  • Go pond dipping
  • Swish through leaves
  • Look more closely at a ‘common’ species
  • Learn to ID some bees and other insects

Go on a bug hunt: Cockchafer at Blaise, Bristol Go on an urban wildlife safari: black-headed gulls in central Bristol

Experience wildflowers: Oxeye daisy, WWT Slimbridge Look more closely at 'common' species: Starling Defy the weather: Mallard, WWT Slimbridge

Be a nature detective: Look for chewed nuts and other wildlife signs Go on a fungal foray

Go fossil hunting: Ammonite at Kilve, SomersetOther Challenges

Finally, there are a couple of personal challenges I would like to set myself this year, and some other wildlife events I’d like to take part in. They include:

  • Improve my wildlife photography
  • Do some wildlife art
  • Blog about an environmental issue
  • Get better photographs of common garden birds
  • Take part in the Garden Bioblitz
  • Introduce others to nature

Improve my wildlife photography: Greylag goose, WWT Slimbridge Improve my wildlife photography: Greylag goose, WWT Slimbridge Do some wildlife art... The patterns in this log would be a good place to start!

Take part in the Garden Bioblitz 2014: Hoverfly in my garden last year Photograph garden birds: Robin

Blog about an environmental issue: Plastic amongst driftwood, Severn BeachOVER TO YOU!

What wildlife challenges would you like to set yourself for the year ahead? Do you want to spot a particular species in 2014? Are you keen to take some amazing wildlife photos? Or do you just want to get out into the great outdoors with your kids?

Whatever you’d like to do, I’d love to hear from you. Or if there’s an amazing wildlife experience you think I should include on my list, let me know! If you want to keep up to date with my Nature Quest on Twitter, you can follow me @lillashaw and use the hashtag #naturequest

Happy wildlife watching in 2014!

Vole at WWT Slimbridge Red kite, Gigrin Farm, Wales Kingfisher Resting seal, Exe Estuary

7 thoughts on “Nature Quest: discovering nature in 2014

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