Calke Abbey

Blog 4
Calke Abbey

As I said in my previous post, we are now members of the National Trust!
So this weekend I printed out our temporary membership cards and Jo printed off a walking map with a suggested route round the grounds (2.5 miles, 1.5 hours and graded as easy).

We made some cobs (tuna and jam – not in the same cobs though, that would be weird!), packed up crisps and sausage rolls and headed off. (for anyone not from round these parts, a cob is a roll, bap or bun)

Although we’d been there before a few years ago, I forgot how near it actually it was, and in about 20 minutes we were there, quick enough for no-one to get car sick, or get bored.

First things first, we headed to the cafe for a pre-walk drink and cake. We shared two scones and a flapjack, all freshly baked, Jo had a latte and I had a double espresso, which was as good as I had tasted in quite a while. Full of sugar and caffeine, we went to the reception and booked a time-slot for the house (1pm – 1.15pm) which would give us enough time for a walk and a picnic.


We set off from the back of the car park down around the lake, going clockwise towards the fenced off deer park and wood. In the wood we saw a huge buzzard, which kept landing and flying off in front of us quickly enough to avoid any pictures, but giving us enough time for a collective woooooow.

View of the lake

At some point in the walk through the woods Joseph decided he was too tired to walk any further, and devoted his energies into whinging and asking to be carried, so he ended up on my shoulders for the rest of the journey. We came to a fork in the path and we didn’t listen to Abbie (in charge of the map) and accidentally cut the walk quite short and walked back up to the car-park just before lunch. Joseph miraculously recovered after seeing the kids play area and I went an hid in the bird hide for a bit. The hide does not look much, it’s basically a shed in the corner of the car-park, but looks can be deceiving – it gives close-up views of some brilliant birds.

It is one of my two favourite hides, the other being the garden hide at Old Moor. The thing I most like about both of these hides, is that they allow you to get really close to the birds, so you don’t need a massive lens, scope or binoculars to see some great birds up close.

The feeders are close to the hide, and the birds stack up on the surrounding trees waiting for a slot on the feeders. I saw Great Tits, Blue Tits, Goldfinches, Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Collared Doves, Jackdaws and a Rat snuffling around for the leftover seeds on the floor. The bloke sat next to me had just seen a great spotted woodpecker, and there are nuthatches around as well, but my stomach was growling at me, so it was time to meet back at the car for lunch.

Fully occupied bird feeder

After a car picnic (carnic ?) we went to look round the house, which was another pleasant surprise. When we last went (in 2010, or 11) it had been deliberately preserved in the state that it was handed over to the NT in 1984, and only one room had been restored to it’s former glory. This time a lot more rooms had been restored, and fewer had been left in a state of disrepair. I can’t help wondering if was due to funding (or lack of it) that last time it was left as-is from 1984, and it was just a bit of spin to say it was done deliberately…

The house was a good mix of upstairs and downstairs, which a few rooms stuffed full of (precious) junk which didn’t fit anywhere else.
Jo, who is much more knowledgeable about history stuff than me, told me the house and estate went to wrack and ruin, because the lord of the manor preferred going round the country shooting birds to looking after the estate, and that seems to be evident in the vast amount of stuffed birds in glass cases in almost every room.

Another big attraction for the kids was the amount of tunnels there were. It seems the past owners of the house were absolutely obsessed with keeping the servants hidden via a network of tunnels, which while making the servants life a lot less pleasant, made the kids visit much more exciting!

Ghostly figures

After the house we looked through the gardens, but we were all starting to feel the effects of the morning’s walk. We walked across to the Grotto, up to the church grounds, and then along the tunnel back to the walled gardens, but after that everyone’s legs were beginning to give in, so we didn’t see the ice-house and instead walked back to car.

Both the car park and the church grounds offered some excellent views of the Deer park (Roe deer, I think) and they seemed very relaxed when posing for photos!

Roe Deer

But that is the great thing about being members and having beautiful places so close by, next time we will take a picnic and sit and relax in the gardens and look at the things we missed and re-visit the things we enjoyed, because it won’t cost us anything more!

Summer Flowers

When we got home, and after a reviving cup of coffee, I checked the pitfall trap in the garden with Joseph. He was disappointed to only find ants in it and no Stag Beetle, which is at the top of his “most wanted” list (I want to get a devil’s coach horse beetle!). So we re-stocked it with an apple core and left it again. <Update from this morning – still only ants, we are going to try some other old fruit tonight!>

We are already thinking about next weekend, and a trip to another local NT location, but before that the car has to go in for it’s MOT, so please keep your fingers crossed for it on Wednesday! It’s also payday this week, so if the MOT goes well, the next stage of the wildlife pond could get the green light!

I will see you all again in the next blog.



SpoJo 2.0 (Now has 11 downloads!)

Crapsy (Well known dice game – name changed after hassle from Hasbro)



What I did this week

Hello SpoJos,

First off, before I write anything else, I promise to have read this through a couple of times before publishing, after fishing for compliments from Dad after he read the last Blog.

Me: “Did you like it?”
Dad: “Did you read it through, before you posted it?”
Me: “Did you like it?”
Dad: “It didn’t make sense in places, and you missed out word here and there.”
Me: “:-(”


This week I’ve been working on an update to the SpoJo Android app, which now allows you to see locations near where you currently are, and locations where specific birds are. I think it’s pretty cool, and I’ll show it off later.

This week started off with style, as it was Father’s Day! I was greeted by the kids coming in with a basket of all my favourite things: Chilli Pringles, Bombay Mix, Pork Scratchings, Fudge and a new one-cup Cafetiere and coffee,  to replace the old cracked one. But best of all was the envelopes of “Dad vouchers” that came with the treats. So now at any point in the next year I can go for “Moan free” trips to Attenborough, and Old Moor. Enjoy a bacon butty for breakfast, or fish and chips for tea, a guitar session with Abbie, a movie night of my choice or  a night of uninterrupted computer use!

After that, we had bacon butties prepared by the girls and then a quick trip to Attenborough before it got too hot, where we saw a Whitethroat (another tick for the year). This was followed by an afternoon in the garden, with a water pistols, a hose and the paddling pool, finally hot-dogs done on the BBQ!

Thanks Kids! (and Jo for organising them!)

This week we also made a decision to end our membership of the RSPB and Derbyshire Wildlife Trust.

We left not for any political, or moral issues we had with either organisation, we just wanted to get value for money.
In an ideal world we would be members of all the local wildlife trusts around us, and the RSPB, but it’s not an ideal world, and families can’t afford to be altruistic. Our nearest RSPB reserve is Carsington Water, and that is a good 45 minute drive away, the next closest is Old Moor, and that’s an hour away, which are both expensive in terms of petrol. We live in Derbyshire, but to be honest we have been to about 4 DWT reserves in our 4 year membership. So we thought about leaving and joining Notts Wildlife Trust, because we spend a lot of time at Attenborough, and it would save us parking money if we go more than once a month.

But in the end, we sacked both off and joined the National Trust, because they have allow you to pay in monthly installments, and family membership is £9.50 a month, which matches the combined RSPB and wildlife Trust membership, and we get a free pair of binoculars! And as a member I will be lobbying the NT to stop hunting activity on their land.

I want to say that I do fully support both the RSPB and all the Wildlife Trusts, but when you have a family and a limited budget, then something has to give. This month we finally had to get our front fence replaced, and the MOT is due at the end of the month, and kids school trips needed paying for, which meant all the nice things get put on hold, like the lining for our wildlife pond which we have already dug out and are getting impatient waiting to fill up.

Whenever we visit anywhere, we always budget carefully: We check the deals on offer beforehand, always take a pack-up and like most families , we try and hurry the kids through any gift shops as quickly as possible.

What I’m trying to say is our family is normal, with a limited budget, and hopefully in any future blogs I will always try and pass any money saving deals I find on to you, and please feel free to comment with any of your hints and tips.
Here’s a good one to start with. If you go to Warwick Castle, before you go buy some promotional Cadburys grab bags (a pound each at co-op), and you will get a free ticket for every adult going. When we went, it saved us over £80 for 6 people!

So, now we are NT members look out in the future for blogs from our local adventures at Calke Abbey, Hardwick Hall, the Derbyshire Dales and maybe further afield!

Anyway, after that digression, back to the new version of the SpoJo app, which I tested out on Sunday at Attenborough. I have also been using this really cool tool that I downloaded that allows you to mock up your GPS location –  I’m currently using it to virtually cycle from Lands End to John O Groats and finding the nature patches along the way!

Because it’s only got 10 downloads so far and I want to show off here’s a quick summary of SpoJo Mobile 2.0.

First off you have to log in, or register.
Log in screen
Then have a look at your current life, year and month and last visit lists.
My Year List
You can choose a location from the existing list to start a visit from, or if you are out and about, you can choose your current location from the map.
Location selector

Once you’re in the map screen, you can also see all the nature patches around you.
Local Map Locations

If you want to see a specific bird (for example, a puffin) then type in the name and refresh the map.
Local Map Locations

Once you have started a visit, all you have to do is say what you’ve seen, and at the end of the visit, close it.
House Sparrow Description

Say what You See

That’s it, a really simple way of building up your bird list, so if you are not one of the 11 already, download for free at the play store!

Finally this week, Joseph and I have put a mini-beast pitfall trap at the bottom of the garden, so in the next blog, I will let you know what we found. (With pictures if we are brave enough!)

Download the Android app  from




My Local Reserve

I was going to call this blog, “My Favourite Nature Reserve”, but I think I would already be contradicting myself, because in my previous post I have already said that it was RSPB Old Moor, and thinking about it, Titchwell Marsh is up there too, but that has the unfair advantage that we only go there, when we are on holiday in Norfolk, so I’m bound to be happier! But I really do believe this one is my favourite.

However in number 1 spot of my favourite reserves is (fanfare please) Attenborough Nature reserve in Nottingham. Before going into too much depth, I will give you a bullet point summary of why:

    1) It’s a 10 minute drive from my doorstep (No long drive for the kids to get stroppy about).
    2) It has a huge diversity of wildlife to see.
    3) It has a great cafe, which does huge doorstep bacon butties, and the best cakes and flapjacks.
    4) There is also a Costa and a McDonalds nearby, for picking up a warming drink beforehand in the winter, and for bribing the kids, who may start to get a bit weary on the way round.
    5) It is the location of some of my greatest sightings ever!
Attenborough Nature Reserve – The Basics

Attenborough Nature Reserve

For extra information see: and for my suggested walking routes around the site have a look at


Attenborough was where I got back into wildlife and nature in general. I have always been interested in Birds since I was a child, but slowly and gradually over the years I had let other things take over, computers, drinking, girls (well, one particular girl, Jo, who is now my wife), jobs, kids, etc…

So many years ago, myself and Jo decided to go for a walk round Attenborough for the first time, fed the ducks, had a slice of cake and a drink in the cafe, and generally had a nice time, without taking too much notice of the actual specifics of the surrounding birds. I probably didn’t realise it at the time, but this is where it all started again.

Over the next few years, and the introduction of a baby Abbie we visited again and again, and slowly we all started to notice more, recognise new birds and look them up when we got home in a new Bird book, and went from looking at “ducks” to Mallards, Tufted Ducks, Grebes, and the awesome king of the water, the Grey Heron.

After that, I remember seeing our first Little Egrets at Attenborough, and being impressed that something so exotic could come to a location so close to home.
Fast forward to now, Abbie is a moody teenager who reluctantly comes along with us, but our ground work has paid off, despite her appearance of disinterest, she cannot help herself but get excited when we see something new and rare, like the Green Woodpecker she saw last year.

The only downside with experience is that we now have become a bird snobs –
“What’s that?”
“It’s just a chaffinch.”

“What’s that?”
“Little Egret”

“Wow – what’s that singing in the bush over?”
“It’s just a Robin.”

A few years ago, Chaffinches, Robins, and especially Egrets got us excited, and now it has to be at least a Year tick to impress us!

Having visited for many years, I will let you into a few pro-tips to get the most out of your visit.

  1.  When you come out of the visit centre, and turn right over the big bridge, the scrape on your left is the best place to see birds!
    It the bit of land with channels of water running along it, just before you get the to path going to the Bittern Hide (The one of Stilts)
    In our years of visits we have seen a Snipe, a Jack Snipe, a Yellow Wagtail, and a Green Woodpecker there.
  2. This one applies to anywhere there are people and nature. If you see a group of people all looking in one direction, ask them what they are looking at!
    Birders may not appear it, but they are very friendly if you are interested. We have looked through other peoples binoculars, scopes and even on occasion borrowed a very expensive camera and lens to take pictures!
  3. If you turn left after the scrape and follow the path, you will get to the Bittern hide. Where you stand the best chance of seeing the elusive bird. To get the most out of this hide, you will need a decent pair of binoculars or a scope. (Or as per the previous tip, just sit close to someone who already has one!) I have never seen a Bittern (here, or anywhere) but I did once see a Water Rail from here through a borrowed scope!
  4. If you don’t turn left you get to the Kingfisher hide. I once saw a very distant kingfisher here, but with binoculars you can seen a large number of waterfowl across the vast area of water. Mandarin Ducks, Goldeneyes, and Ringer Plover have all been ticked off my list from this hide.
  5. Finally, don’t forget to sample the cake at the visitor centre, or start from here and take the homemade flapjack around with you!


P.S If you see a family walking round Attenborough this weekend, with an especially noisy 4 year boy, please say hello! Even if it’s not us, then you’ll have made someone smile!
Download the Android app  from


Hello world!

First things first, I am forty-something, married, with three kids, two girls and a boy (13, 10, and 4) and in these blogs I hope to give you an insight into my attempts to get our collective family interested in Nature,
along with my thoughts, rants and tales of other aspects of family life.

I have always had three major hobbies in my life, computing,
photography, and bird watching, and in the last few years these have begun to form into one project “SpotterJotter”.

SpotterJotter started life a long time ago, and a few (proper) jobs ago, when I wanted a way of recording my life list of birds, to cut a very long and boring story of design, implementation, bug fixing, re-design, more bug fixing, etc…

Now it is now a fantastically successful web-site, used
internationally, with a huge revenue, which means I can spend my days relaxing and writing blogs now….

…Back in the real world, does exist, but
despite my efforts over the years, it does not generate any revenue, and has a handful of dedicated users. The big success is the SpotterJotter
Facebook group, from which I have gained many friends, a huge amount of knowledge and a few enemies along the way.

If you are already reading this, I’m probably preaching to the converted, but you will find no more friendlier, knowledgeable group of nature loving people on the Internet!

It feels like a first date as I’m typing this: “What should I
tell them about myself? How much should I give away? Am I rambling?”

But the good thing is, you can’t reply to me, I can’t see if you’re yawning, so I will carry, let’s talk some more about ME.

Every day I read Facebook posts, blogs, Instagram stories, from
people who do what I do (photography, wildlife, web-sites, coding, etc…) all of whom do it soooo much better than I do, and I always fall into the same trap of feelings, that they have more
(a) time
(b) money
(c) talent
and what’s the point of me doing it, when it’s already been
done a million times before, with so much more success.

Well, it’s taken a very long time, but I am finally starting to realise that thinking like this is worthless. All you see on the Internet are the good bits of people’s lives, the edited highlights, and the show-reel. Who knows what goes on behind the scenes?

This blog is about celebrating the up and downs of life, aspiring
to greatness, but accepting that most of the time you are a little bit crap at
things, and having fun along the way. Trying and failing, and sometimes, very rarely, trying and succeeding. Going out and having a go, getting stuck in, being bad at things, and enjoying the here and now, and having fun along the way.

It’s OK to go out to a nature reserve with the kids, all of whom would rather be inside, zoning out to whatever digital media is streaming into
their sub-consciousness, and not see a kingfisher, bittern, or even a grey heron, and come back aching from carrying a bike, your camera, a  rucksack filled with a supply of drinks and snacks to keep an army satisfied, and a four year old on your shoulders because 2 minutes into the expedition he decides he is too tired to ride the bike, or walk.

It’s OK, to come home, download your award winning photographs of
a Swan coming into land on a lake, beautifully lit by the evening sun, to find them all out of focus, over exposed, or all in sepia, because you nose had touched the back of the camera and messed with settings.

It’s OK, because in those seeming failures ,you have gone out and
experienced something, and enriched your life with your family and nature, and I’m sure someone more clever than me, once said it’s better to have tried and failed, than to have stayed at home watching cats on YouTube.

The best example of this is my Life List. Life lists are a very personal thing, and the longer you have one and maintain it, the more precious
it becomes. my life list of birds currently stands at 128 species, which to me is brilliant, other birders can easily see that many in a year, but to me it’s amazing, and to that effect, I’ve created my own category, which I may, or not be top of “Birds seen by a lazy person, not too far from where they live, or go on holiday”

Again, 128 species is not good in terms of “proper” birders, but when I look down my list, I see memories alongside the birds.

Squacco Heron : 5th Nov 2011 : Attenborough Nature Reserve

When I took the girls to see this absolute rarity, and we did a 6
mile walk round the reserve, only to find the bird (and about 50 other birders) about 200 yards from the car park.
And we had cake afterwards to celebrate!

Puffin : 30th Apr 2016 : Bempton Cliffs

I went with Abbie to meet other SpoJos and see Puffins. I remember Abbie getting stressed on the way there, because
2.5 hours into the drive, we still hadn’t passed a McDonalds, and I had promised her a Sausage and Egg McMuffin as the bribe for her coming with me. We did see a Puffin, but for me the real stars of the show were the Gannets, Razorbills and Guillemots. (And Carol’s cupcakes!)

Our first Kingfisher : 4th Sep 2016 : RSPB Old Moor

This is our favourite nature reserve, because whenever we go, we see shed-loads of birds and almost always see a new one to add to our list. It also has a decent Kids
playground, and child friendly hides. (Kids and Bird Hides is a topic for a future blog!)

But this occasion marked a very rare event, we went there to see a Kingfisher. This is the bird we have never ever seen before (Well, I claim to have seen them before, but for a
spot to be accepted within the family, it has to verified by another family member!) and I was starting to believe they had been invented purely as an elaborate prank on me by the birding community.

Jo had done some research beforehand, and as soon we arrived at the visitor centre asked
where the Kingfishers were. We headed off to the hotspot and waited, and waited. I had set a limit of about ½ an hour to see one, after which Joseph (3
at the time) would definitely start to get fidgety and noisy. But after 10 minutes, right in front of the hide, appeared a kingfisher, we all sat quietly
in awe, whilst I triple checked the camera setting, before firing off hundreds of pictures with the big lens that I had borrowed for the day. Then it flew
off, and left all of us with a warm glow that only a kingfisher can give.
We did see other new birds that day, but all I can really remember was the Kingfisher.

If you’ve ever thought about keeping a list, then I urge you to do so, I keep  life, year and month lists, because it makes our birding outings more meaningful, fun, and gives them a competitive edge, which the kids love!

“What’s that?”
“I think it’s a Goldeneye…”
“…Have we seen one before?”
“Yes, but not this year!”

Anyway, even I’m bored listening to me talk about me, I’ll be back with another irrelevant, rambling, but hopefully more entertaining blog very soon.

Keep reading, as things can only get better, but in the meantime check out SpotterJotter on the web.

Download the Android app  from