Wildlife Weirdo. Naturalist & nerd. Fighting for a wilder world. – This amalgamation of Lucy’s social media bio’s succinctly summarises her, but in this blog we got the opportunity to get to know Lucy a bit better and she’s as amazing as you would have thought…
For those who don’t know you, please can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about what you do…
I would traditionally describe myself as a naturalist and conservationist, but I think there’s more to it than that. I’m a nature nosey-er. I’m curious, inquisitive, and intrigued by our natural world. I’m a prodder, a poker, an ogler and a sniffer. I like to experience nature with my whole body – I’m part of it after all! I spend my time trying to spread that passion, sharing my love for nature in order to get more folks on board with helping it.
You are brilliant at engaging people with the natural world, how did it all start?
With fistfuls of worms as a three-year-old, I was like most toddlers naturally are; transfixed with anything living. Although I only started formally learning about British wildlife as an adult, I was always animal-mad as a kid. Frogs, newts, woodlice and snails were staples of a childhood spent outdoors; wellied-up and covered in mud.
After uni, I managed to blag my first conservation job with the RSPB. A whole world of bird-nerdery, natural history culture and wildlife experts opened up to me – it was wonderful and baffling in equal measure. Barely knowing a Blue Tit from a Great Tit, I dove into birdwatching with eyes wide open.
At the end of my first contract, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma. This meant 8 months out of work to undergo Chemo – so to fill the time I started teaching myself about wildlife. I started my Instagram, under the name Lucy Lapwing, as a way of recording what I found and writing a little bit about it. As a normal (ish) 23 year old, I enjoyed talking about wildlife informally, just like you do over a pint down the pub. I try to convey humour, enthusiasm and a bit of silliness in my nature comms, I find it connects with people so much more than dry scientific descriptions!
Where is your favourite place in the U.K.?
A place that’s particularly special to me is RSPB Coombes Valley, in Staffordshire. This was the location of my first job with the RSPB, and it blew me away. It’s where I saw my first ever Pied Flycatchers and Redstarts; it’s where I held my first ever Elephant Hawkmoth, and learnt about flowers like Pignut and Harebells. It’s a moist, gnarled and hilly ancient oak woodland, and it’s delicious. It’s one of few places I know where you can stand in the middle, and not hear a single human-made noise. You can get quite lost in yourself there, and for that I love it.
What’s the most astonishing wildlife encounter you’ve had in the U.K.?
I feel like every day, my most astonishing nature moment can change. Sometimes, it’s the big dramatic stuff – watching a White Tailed Eagle soaring over panicking geese. The crunch of a crab, as a sharp-toothed otter cracks through its carapace. A peregrine nailing a lapwing out of the sky. You know, the obviously awesome encounters! But then, my most special nature moments can be something very humble and ordinary. The way a toad’s amber eye glints in torchlight. The dripping of misty rain from curtains of lichen, hanging from an ancient oak. The path of a tiny caterpillar, mining through a bramble leaf. A prowling ichneumon wasp, an unfurling snail, a neon-orange slime mold – there’s special and wonderful and mind-blowing moments waiting to be discovered everywhere!
Do you have a favourite species?
Again – this can change constantly! One of my spirit animals, a creature I return to time after time, is the Common Toad, Bufo bufo. They’re unashamedly ugly, clumsy and weird, and I love them for it. I volunteered on a local Toad Patrol for a while, and scooping hundreds of the warty beauties into buckets really created an affinity with them. Their squeaks, lumps, and eyes of burning ember just make me melt.
What’s your one piece of advice for people getting into wildlife watching?
From the outside, the world of wildlife watching can be quite intimidating. It’s all about who’s got the biggest list, the longest lens, the shiniest binoculars. But it’s so much more than that! I’d say just take it slowly, and don’t pile pressure upon yourself. The best tool you can pop in your pocket is curiosity and endless nosiness. Follow noises, movements, smells – they could lead to something amazing! One of my favourite ways of watching wildlife is to just go for a walk – anywhere’ll do – and take photos on your phone of anything you see. Bugs, beetles, flowers, fungi – it’s lovely to sit at night with a brew and try and ID what you’ve seen.
What are your top three tips for winter birdwatching?
Birdwatching in winter tends to conjure images of wetlands; a swirling congregation of Golden Plover perhaps, or a marching herd of cackling Pinkies. But for me, I love winter birdwatching in the woods.
1. Don’t go searching – wait for the wildlife to come to you. Sitting in one spot, it’s only a matter of time before a mixed flock comes through. Branches of every tree are suddenly flickering and bobbing with feathered life. Movement envelops you; a 360 tit-flock experience!
2. Close your eyes. Listen. When a mixed flock surrounds you, the sound is amazing. The chiming of finches, bickering of tits, and tinkling of goldcrests fills the trees with busyness and music. T’seeping Redwings, cackling Fieldfares and rattling Mistle Thrushes bring cheekiness and character. I love it!
3. Bring in the other senses. When I’m outside in winter, I like to treat myself. Hot chai tea, or a spiced, mulled wine make wonderful companions on a bitter, icy walk. Enjoying something tasty helps seal the memories – whenever I drink mulled wine, I think of wanders through reedbeds and pinging Bearded Tits, and it makes me smile!
What do you think of your Leica Noctivids?
My Leica Noctivids have very quickly become my best mate. I travel with them everywhere, slung upon my hip like some sort of nerdy cowboy. I feel like my bins open up a whole new world – they let me step a tentative toe into the lives of birds, it’s amazing. The clarity from my Noctivids let you see so much detail – the barbs of feathers, delicate preening, the snapping up of a tiny midge – they blow my mind every time I use them!