Wild Intrigue Blog

Back in 2017, I spent the year as the Creative Content Developer intern for Wild Intrigue. As well as teaching me a huge amount about British wildlife, Wild Intrigue founder Heather gave me my first experience writing for a client. During my year with her and media director Cain, I wrote blog posts, took photographs and was able to attend incredible rewilding expeditions in Northumberland, Cumbria, Perthshire and the stunning Isle of Carna on Scotland’s west coast. I learnt how to use camera traps, bat detectors and Longworth traps, which are used to humanely survey small mammals.

Heather and I have stayed in touch regularly since I graduated. Now the coronavirus lockdown is interfering with small businesses and preventing companies like Wild Intrigue from running face-to-face events, I was keen to help out at a distance with a guest blog post. During these strange times, it’s so important to remember that nature is right outside the window and we don’t need to miss out. In my post I share intriguing insights into some common garden birds: blackbirds, blue tits and robins. I hope readers will learn something unexpected about these often overlooked species and be inspired to discover their local wildlife.

You can read my guest blog post here. To find out more about the amazing work Wild Intrigue does, check out their live video from last week where they share camera trap footage and reflect on their past projects and expeditions.


The Freeze

The snow was here again. It descended from the skies in heavy drifts, flakes swirling as they came to rest. All through the night the snow fell, dramatically silent, and when morning came everything was smothered in pristine white icing: irresistible.


Outside there was a chill that tightened the lungs, so cold was the air that even breathing in felt like getting smothered in snow. Each branch was cloaked, giving the impression of an overly enthusiastic artist splashing every bough with thick white highlights. Undisturbed snow on the sides of the track glistened, catching the light and sparkling with wintery luminescence. On the cusp of March, it was more of a spring wonderland than a winter one, and yet it could have easily been Christmas morning.


Up in the trees, a whisper of falling snow betrayed the presence of a blackbird, sending tremors up the branch that dislodged loose flakes. A male, black feathers stark against his festive background, spotted with rich red berries and the undersides of dark leaves. He chirruped softly, his song more melancholy than it should be.

A man passed me on his bicycle, his tyres crackling like static feedback that faded as he disappeared. The landscape quietened again, a deafening silence only found with snow, when the world stops and waits with baited breath for this unexpected phenomenon to pass. It is a time when even nature stands still. Water is stopped in its tracks, defiant of gravity’s pull.


Sloping down the bank to the river was a series of deep tracks, dogs mingled with hopping birds. The ever-falling snow began to repair the damage, forming undulations of half-hidden footsteps with softened edges. A wren sped past, trilling its bold song that seemed too big for its tiny lungs. What must the birds think? Have they anticipated this, read some sign in the climate to help soften the blow? The already challenging task of finding food in winter just became more trying, a test of strength and endurance in such temperatures.


After a while my feet began to grow numb and my stomach rumbled. As I trudged back up the track, curving away from the coursing, white-framed river, I thought how I would snuggle up in my warm house with something to eat. I glanced back over my shoulder and saw a song thrush foraging. It had a snail pinned in its beak, and was cracking the shell hard on a rock. Such work the birds put in, when all I needed to do was open a can of soup and I’d be warm.

Back at the house, I peered outside and saw the feeder swinging empty again. Thinking of the blackbird, wren and diligent thrush, I hurried into the garden and replenished the feeder with rich fatty seeds, sprinkling some on the ground for those too heavy or timid to feed from the plastic perches. The birds needed all the help they could get.

Birds on the Pond

Over this year I’d heard some good stuff about Hammonds Pond in Carlisle – the otter sightings had particularly caught my interest – so Zahrah and I set off bright and early to make the most of the morning.

We were immediately met by a beautiful green park with footpaths snaking off in all different directions. Nestled in the middle of the green was shimmering water. ‘Pond’ seemed too small and meagre a word for it. It took us half an hour to circle the perimeter, though that may have been as a result of us stopping to photograph the inquisitive and downright adorable Mallard ducklings (Anas platyrhynchos).


The skies were clear and the sun was shining down on Hammonds Pond. As we crossed the bridge that split the water in half I saw my first black-headed gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) of the year. The last time I’d seen these smart-looking little gulls was at St Andrews beach in Scotland several years ago. According to the ICUN Red List the species’ current population trend is decreasing. I hope they can regain their numbers; it’d be a shame for yet another British species to become threatened.


After leaving the water birds behind, we followed the track further down the pond. Suddenly a bright speck of blue appeared in the dark soil. After some deliberation we decided the egg had belonged to a blackbird (Turdus merula). Although similar to those of a thrush (Turdus philomelos), theirs aren’t quite as speckled. Sadly this egg was still inhabited – a crack in the shell showed a glimpse of shiny orange yolk inside. Although this bird wasn’t going to make it, we both knew someone would gladly take up the offer of a free meal.


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After a loop through the woods we had a sit down by the miniature railway and watched flies wander closer and closer to their fate on the spider-web covered information post. We were joined by a regular visitor to the pond, who told us that the otter had recently left, but that there had been sightings of three individuals here. Although we wouldn’t see any otters for the foreseeable future it was good to hear that these beautiful mustelids were visiting, especially since stumbling upon Hammonds Pond is unlikely. As no water leads to it, the otters were obviously travelling across land to reach the pond, which was both interesting and encouraging.

Soon I heard the sharp trill of a wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) and moments later the tiny bird appeared atop a signpost, singing at the top of its lungs. After graciously posing for us it took to the air and disappeared, though its voice could still be heard loud and clear.


Just before we started to head back we got one last treat: mating chaffinches (Fringilla coelebs). I’d only just seen the male chaffinch’s mating display in Carna a few weeks previously; watching him shuffle to one side then another with chest puffed out and head bowed was fascinating then and now. In response to his alluring routine the female bowed low to him with an upturned head and accepted him. It was a privilege seeing such an intimate moment and rounded off a great wildlife-filled morning.