Bronze Age, Bioblitz, Birds and Bugs!

The last two weeks have seen children on our Wild Days Out embracing the Bronze Age, carrying out their own Blashford Bioblitz and embarking on a bird and bug hunt, with a bit of fire lighting, den building and damper bread cooking thrown in for good measure!

Last week we stepped back in time and embraced the Bronze Age, with help from Dr Chris Standish from the Department of Archaeology at the University of Southampton. The Bronze Age saw bronze gradually replace stone as the main material for tools as a new culture arrived in Britain via cross-channel connections with mainland Europe. By 2200 BC the period known as the Early Bronze Age had begun.

Our fire pit was transformed into a pit furnace so we could have a go at copper smelting. The pit was lined with clay and a fire lit in the bottom, before a crucible containing copper ore (malachite) was placed into it and covered with more charcoal:

To increase the temperature, bellows were used to blow air into the bottom of the pit furnace, close to where the crucible had been placed. It was hard work!

We also had examples to look at of the materials and equipment used for copper smelting:

Whilst waiting to have a turn with the bellows, we entertained ourselves by making spears and bows and arrows from willow and turning charcoal, clay and chalk into face and body paint:

The university had also kindly lent us a flint knapping kit, an activity hugely enjoyed by the group:

After everyone had been able to practice with the bellows, we attempted to smelt the copper ore by bellowing continuously for a longer period of time. The charcoal was carefully scraped back and the crucible was removed from the pit furnace and its molten contents emptied over the axe mould.

Unfortunately there wasn’t enough copper to fill the axe mould, but we did manage to pour a shape which, once cleaned up looked remarkably like Britain! Thanks again to Chris for giving up his time and sharing with us his knowledge of the Bronze Age and copper smelting and to the University of Southampton for lending us their flint knapping kit.

With the younger children, we embarked on a Wild in the Woods Wild Day Out, den building, having a go at fire lighting, face painting and making chocolate flavoured damper bread! Here are some photos from the day:

This week we challenged the older children to a Blashford Bioblitz, visiting as many different habitats as we could in search of amphibians, reptiles, insects, birds and more. We began with a rummage through the light trap and roped Bob in for his moth knowledge! The trap revealed 17 different species of moth, a harlequin ladybird and caddisfly whilst we also spotted a southern hawker dragonfly and brimstone butterfly over by the pond.

Rummage through the light trap

Rummaging through the light trap

It was then time to delve into the pond to see what else we could find, adding another 23 species to our list, including cased caddis, pond and ramshorn snails, water stick insects, newtpoles or ‘efts’, lesser and greater waterboatmen, whirligig and screech beetles, phantom midge larvae, damselfly, dragonfly and mayfly nymphs and a leech.

After lunch we headed to the meadow, finding a brown hawker dragonfly, common blue damselfly, meadow grasshopper, honey bee, ants and spiders, amongst others. The meadow was also the perfect place to test out our homemade pooters, with Archie managing to catch ants and a spider in his. Inspired by Bob’s talk of how moths were named, the girls decided their common blue butterfly was to be called Ambermidia, a mixture of their names.

In an attempt to find some shade, we popped into Ivy North Hide, spotting coot and mallard, then headed to the woodland to see what we could find up in the canopy. We held a beat tray under a tree branch, then shook the branch to see what, if anything, fell out:

Our most exciting finds were an oak bush cricket and a buff tip caterpillar, with James carrying the naming theme on, renaming a midge ‘annoyingus midginus’.

After a quick visit to the Woodland Hide which revealed 9 more bird species and a bank vole, we headed down to the river for a proper cool off, catching pond skaters, freshwater shrimp, beetle larvae and stonefly nymph whilst we were there, but sadly no fish.

Finally, we had a quick peek in the compost bin and were rewarded with 3 grass snakes. Here’s a not particularly great photo of two of them, as they didn’t hang around for long!

Grass snakes

Grass snakes in the compost bin

With a grand total of 81 different species, we had done brilliantly considering the heat!

Yesterday we carried on with the bird and bug theme with the younger children, making bee finger puppets and decorating birds on sticks before trying to camouflage our own moths by colouring them in and hiding them outside, testing our camouflage skills!

We went on our own mini bird hunt challenge, visiting both the Woodland Hide and Ivy South Hide in two teams – the totals were almost the same, with only a Coal tit in it for the winning team!

There were birds there a minute ago

Bird watching from the woodland hide, there were birds there a minute ago!

After embarking on a fun and rather giant bug hunt, we headed to the meadow to see what we could find:

So all in all it’s been a fun and busy couple of weeks, filled with birds, bugs, copper smelting and more. Thank you for reading to the end!!!

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7 thoughts on “Bronze Age, Bioblitz, Birds and Bugs!

  1. How I wish that I had been one of those children. Far, far better than being glued to Tablets, Computers or iphones. What a wonderfully exciting time they had with so many different things to do and learn about. Far better than any school could provide. Thank you to everyone who contributed to such an exciting time for the children. I’m sure they went home with many memories and would love to do it all over again.

    • Hi April, thank you for taking the time to comment on our programme of events – I’m really pleased you like the variety we’ve been able to offer the children this summer, with a little help from some outside expertise! It has been fun and the children have all thoroughly enjoyed themselves!

  2. Tracy, I really enjoy your postings of the wild days out and the young naturalists groups, but this time you have excelled yourself. Wonderful stuff, keep it up. I also enjoy your odd comments about Jim, especially the coracle episode.

    Jim’s Dad

    • Thank you Peter! I’m really pleased you enjoy reading the blogs and following what the children and young people visiting Blashford get up to, as well as the staff! I will endeavour to keep up with the odd comments, we did enjoy going out in the coracle, with or without a paddle! Thanks again, Tracy.

  3. Ah thank you – spotted both of my children! It’s so nice to know what they do as sadly they don’t tell me all of it!

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