About Jim Day, Blashford Lakes

Education Officer at Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trusts Blashford Lakes Nature Reserve, near Ringwood.

Pop Up Cafe TODAY!

Despite the damp weather and the lack of tempting cake and warming hot drinks yesterday a steady stream of visitors continued to arrive in search of bittern and yellow browed warbler. It would be unfair to say everyone was successful, but everyone departed happy – and full of compliments for the reserve which I was pleasantly surprised by given the state the centre surrounds are in at present!

The cafe will no doubt prove to be a welcome addition today – it is still open as planned but the centre car park is still currently closed. Hopefully we will be reopening the car park before the end of next week. I’m also delighted that Walking Picnics are extending their opening to include an extra cafe in March, on Sunday 24th!

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Watching Wildlife

First Blashford Wildlife Watch meeting of the year this morning and as such I thought we’d start off with a meeting to reflect the name of the Wildlife Trusts children’s membership club for 6-12 year olds – and watch some wildlife!

So during a delayed start while we waited for latecomers (who didn’t come anyway!) we kept ourselves occupied with bird “Top Trumps” , and word searches, before heading out for a short walk via Tern Hide and Goosander Hide to see what we could see:

On route to Tern Hide: blue tit, nuthatch, blackbird, jackdaw, robin, chaffinch and linnet.

The linnets put on a lovely show with a couple of flocks of 40 or so birds reeling between the cherry laurels by the entrance to the car park, the willows in the dead hedge along the edge of the car park and the shore outside Tern Hide itself.

From Tern Hide: dunnock, coot, Canada goose, cormorant, little grebe, goosander, tufted duck, mute swan, lesser black backed gull, common gull, herring gull.

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Blackcurrant, biscuit and a kestrel!

From Goosander Hide: shoveler, kestrel, water pipit, mallard, moorhen, golden eye. We also had a nice chat with some of the very friendly photographers in there who enjoyed showing the children bird pictures they had taken that day and elsewhere – and who had seen the kestrel take a shrew from just beneath the hide shortly before we arrived.

The children also enjoyed, what I think must have been a rare treat from the reaction it received, a cup of hot black currant squash and a chocolate digestive biscuit. For some reason all of them ended up with bits of biscuit floating around in their drinks having dunked, which just seems terribly wrong to me, but maybe I’m just too old to appreciate it!

On route back to Centre: coal tit, great tit.

Not an extensive list, but everyone enjoyed themselves and we also took time out from the birds to admire the hazel catkins and scarlet “flowers”, candlesnuff and curtain crust fungus, and flowering common field speedwell.

Sticking with a bird theme when we next meet in February (10.30am-12.30pm, Saturday 9th) we will concentrate on woodland birds and make some bird feeders to put out on the reserve and take home. For more information about our Wildlife Watch group email blashfordlakes@hiwwt.org.uk, or to find out if there is another group nearer you email wildlifewatch@hiwwt.org.uk

One of our members nipped off down to Ivy South Hide with her Dad before they left to see if they could catch up with the yellow-browed warbler. They did, and so did lots of other birders today as well!

It continues to haunt the area between Woodland Hide and just beyond Ivy South Hide, often, but not always, associating with a flock of long-tailed tits, and around Ivy South Hide more often than not. There were already about half a dozen birders looking for it even before we had opened up this morning and there has been a steady flow of people coming to see it all day, usually successfully.

Also showing today has been the bittern, again, as yesterday, predominantly to the right of the hide rather than the left where it has been seen most often prior to this week.

Bob may well re-mention it again tomorrow if he finds time to post a blog but please be warned that the centre car park and track up to it will be closed from this Monday. There will still be pedestrian access up the footpath through the willow wood adjacent to the track so everyone can still access the Centre (and toilets!) and all of the hides, but the vehicle access track will be closed to both cars and pedestrians for as long as it takes to level the car park – contractors are going to be re-working it ahead of the visitor access improvements this spring in order to improve the drainage off the car park. At this point we do not know how long these preliminary works will take but we are allowing up to two weeks, although we hope it will take less time than that and will obviously re-open the track and car park as soon as we can do so.

In the meantime parking will be limited on the south side of the nature reserve and I therefore urge visitors to park in the main Tern Hide car park if they are able to do so – it will avoid parking frustration and free up parking nearer the centre for less mobile visitors who really need it.

 

 

Blashford Bird Box Bulletin

Introduction by Jim Day

Brenda Cook, British Trust for Ornithology volunteer and bird ringer, has been ringing and recording birds at Blashford Lakes with fellow BTO volunteer and lead ringer Kevin Sayer for many years now, but the nest box monitoring scheme is her own project and relatively new having started in 2012. She and her stalwart HIWWT volunteer assistant, Jacki, were actually in today checking, cleaning, repairing and replacing nest boxes where needed ready for the 2019 nesting season so this blog, based on her report which was e-mailed to us on New Years Day, is quite timely!

I believe it makes interesting reading so have sought Brenda’s permission to publish it here.  If nothing else it may help to explain to all those visitors who are curious as to why our nest boxes are so (relatively) low – basically so Brenda can see into them without the need for a step ladder, solving a H&S conundrum, generally making life easier and the birds don’t care anyway! Thanks to Brenda for her hard work and for sharing the data collected with us:

BLASHFORD LAKES NESTING REPORT FOR 2018 – by Brenda Cook

Each year since 2012 as soon as Christmas and the New Year celebrations are over I always begin to think about the Blashford Lakes nest boxes and it was the same this year in 2018. Spring would soon be arriving and the birds would be beginning to look at the nest boxes in preparation for building their nests. I wanted to do my usual checks of cleaning out, repairing and replacing the very old rotten boxes as soon as possible. The Young Naturalists (YN’s) had kindly made 12 new boxes this year which I planned to use to replace old boxes or site on new trees.

yn bird box

It was on January 13th that Jacki and I found the time and suitable weather to go round and do our checks in preparation for the breeding season. We eventually ended up with 62 boxes to start monitoring. The boxes have a variety of hole sizes from 25mm – 32mm to suit either Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit or Nuthatch. Each nest box now has a metal plate fitted around the hole to prevent predation from particularly woodpeckers and squirrels. This has been very successful. I also have a couple of specially made Tree Creeper boxes which I am hoping one day will be used for nesting.

The first official nest box check took place on 14.4.18 and we found nest building taking place in many of the boxes. There were even cold eggs in 3 of the nest boxes. I knew that by the following Saturday there would be females incubating eggs. The first naked and blind chicks were found in 2 boxes on 29.4.18. This was much earlier than in 2017 when we had to wait until 22nd April for our first chicks.  I was keeping a close eye on the new YN’s boxes and pieces of moss were found in a lot of these boxes, but not all continued to form a complete nest.

I took photos at different stages and sent these with updates so Tracy would be able to inform the YN’s of the progress in their boxes.

The early weather was not perfect for the nesting birds, but then as we all know conditions improved and it became hot and dry which meant the adults did not have to do so much brooding of the growing chicks and were able to spend their time collecting the plentiful food. Chick survival rate was good and also the numbers which eventually fledged. A total of 204 Blue Tit eggs were laid in the boxes and 169 chicks were ringed. Great Tit females laid 141 eggs and 102 chicks were ringed.

I was able to show the YN’s a little about nest box monitoring on Sunday 27th May. They came round with me in small groups and we looked in nest boxes to see different stages of nesting and saw the difference between a Blue Tit and Great Tit nest. The Blue Tits line their nests with lots of feathers and the Great Tits line theirs with hair, fur wool and other soft material, though rarely feathers.

The YN’s also saw adult birds in the hand and chicks at different stages of development. They actually saw me ring some chicks which they all seemed interested in, so maybe there will be some future ringers among the YN’s!

A total of 42 nest boxes all reached the egg stage which is from when the BTO like me to keep records to enter on the new online DEMON data system. Out of the 12 new YN boxes 6 of them fledged young successfully. The last check for fledging from the final nest box took place on 7.6.18.

I also found time to monitor a Blackbird’s nest in a bramble bush and 3 Reed Warbler nests during the breeding season at Blashford.

These are the results from all the nests I found at Blashford Lakes in 2018.

 

SPECIES NESTS EGGS PULLI RINGED PULLI FLEDGED NEST SUCCESS NEST FAILURE
BLUE TIT 23 204 169 154 21 2
GREAT TIT 19 141 102   70 16 3
NUTHATCH   1        4     4     4   1  
BLACKBIRD   1        4     3     3   1  
REED WARBLER   3     12     8     8   2 1
             
             

I am always interested in re-trapping the females who are nesting in the boxes. I managed to trap all females from the boxes monitored. This is time consuming, but if done at the right time provides me with data on their age, their survival rate how many eggs they lay, how many they manage to hatch and the numbers of chicks they have successfully fledged. I always take measurements of these birds. The most interesting is their weight. If the birds are of a good weight they have prepared themselves well for breeding. They have managed to find plenty of food and survived well over the Winter months. These birds are likely to lay more eggs, be good at incubating, and are fit enough and have enough energy to be able to feed their hatched young through to successful fledging. The heaviest female Blue Tit this year was 13.8 g and the heaviest Great Tit was 21.9g. I also managed to trap a few of the males and would like to try to trap more next year to add to my data and see if any have the same mate.

I have discovered over the years that once females have used a particular nesting box they like to use it the following year. If another female has got there before them they nest in a neighbouring box and then return to their original box if possible the next year. The 4 oldest birds I had nesting this year were born in 2013 and most of them I have trapped each year while nesting.

Another piece of interesting data is that 5 chicks I have ringed in boxes over the years are now using nest boxes to produce their own young. 2 of these were ringed in 2015.

We have done a couple of mist netting sessions in November to help collect data for a new project on Blue Tit moult for the BTO. This has also provided me with some re-traps of this years fledged chicks. This data shows me which young are surviving and I hope to find them nesting in 2019.  There were 3 Blue Tit chicks from Box 102.  2 from Box 6b.  1 from Box 107A. 1 from Box 110 and 1 from Box 113. There were also some Great Tits re-trapped and these were  1 from Box D. 1 from Box 5A. 1 from Box 101 and 2 from Box YN 11(TB.) There was also 1 Nuthatch chick re-trapped from the four I had ringed.

We also caught 2 Blue Tit chicks from Box 110 on 29.8.18 and 16.9.18 during one of our mist netting sessions near the Lapwing Hide. The second bird was undergoing post juvenile moult. A Great Tit was also re-trapped on 24.10.18 and this bird was able to be aged as a 3M and was from Box YN 9(WH).

I am really pleased with all the data I have managed to collect since 2012. Each year I have increased the starting number of boxes which I begin monitoring. I have records of dates when the birds begin to nest, lay their eggs, their young hatch, the numbers of chicks I have ringed and finally the numbers fledged. I have evidence of re-trapping females in the same nest box each year and now there are chicks I have ringed who are using the nest boxes to build their own nests and have their own young.

Below are charts showing the results of my NEST BOX MONITORING for Great Tit, Blue Tit and Nuthatch from 2012 – 2018.

 

GREAT TIT NESTS EGGS PULLI FLEDGED SUCCESS FAILURE
2012 11 75 51 19 6 5
2013 8 49 40 15 4 4
2014 13 93 88 44 9 4
2015 18 133 94 58 12 6
2016 19 121 81 56 14 5
2017 13 95 85 55 11 2
2018 19 141 102 70 16 3
BLUE TIT NESTS EGGS PULLI FLEDGED SUCCESS FAILURE
2012 11 85 26 10 3 8
2013 12 101 65 32 7 5
2014 13 103 82 38 9 4
2015 12 101 75 59 8 4
2016 17 129 107 62 14 3
2017 16 148 137 87 13 3
2018 23 204 169 154 21 2
NUTHATCH NESTS EGGS PULLI FLEDGED SUCCESS FAILURE
2012 0
2013 1 7 7 7 1
2014 1 7 7 6 1
2015 2 13 12 10 2
2016 1 7 7 4 1
2017 1 3 3 3 1
2018 1 4 4 4 1

 

I always enjoy doing the nest box monitoring, but would not be able to do it without the kind permission and help from the people mentioned below.

I would like to say thank you very much to John Durnell and Bob Chapman for giving me permission to monitor the boxes. To Jacki Griffiths for helping me again this year and to two of my friends who filled in when Jacki was on holiday. To Jim Day who kindly lends me Jacki from her usual Saturday voluntary jobs and lastly to Tracy Standish, Geoff Knott and the YN’s for making the new nest boxes.

Where’s Wally?

A “proper” January wintery day today. Cold, clear and sunny and with it lots of visitors to the nature reserve and a classic mix of Blashford visitors it was too – a few families and grandparents with grandchildren out for a nice walk and a steady stream of year listers with bittern at, or near the top of the list of their target species for the day. Sadly for them as I write this post at 2.45pm it has steadfastly laid low so far today, despite some good appearances on a pretty much daily basis recently. No doubt many of those hopeful watchers will at some point have seen at least one clump of reed or reedmace doing a remarkably good job of looking like a bittern 😉

Elsewhere in the Valley a single Bewick swan could be seen amongst 100 plus mute swans in the Avon Water meadows north of Harbridge. I say could be seen – several visitors reported seeing it, but several more also reported seeing an awful lot of swans but unable to pick out the Bewick from amongst them!

Where’s Wally indeed.

Thanks to David Green who did see it (on the 3rd January) and took the trouble to email in this lovely picture:

Bewick swan by David Green

So, for everyone that came and didn’t see, and all those who are planning on coming and hope to see, a little taste of what can and might be possible on the bittern front – thanks to Lyn Miller for sending these pictures in to blashfordlakes@hiwwt.org.uk with permission for us to share them:

bittern by lyn miller1bittern by lyn miller2bittern by lyn miller3bittern by lyn miller4

And if you are planning a visit here this Sunday, for bittern, Bewicks or otherwise, do remember that the Pop Up Café will be open in the centre selling hot drinks and delicious homebaked treats from the classroom, 10.30am-3.30pm (or until they sell out – don’t leave it too late!).

Blashford Lakes”What’s On?”….

… our events and courses leaflet for the coming months will be available from the Centre soon and is available to view/print from this blog post HERE right now!

The next family event is Festive Family Willow Wreaths on December Sun 9th, 10.30am – 12.30pm: Creative family craft in time for Christmas – enjoy a short walk gathering materials before creating and decorating a willow wreath to take home. Donation £4 per person, booking essential (telephone 01425 472760 or email blashfordlakes@hiwwt.org.uk)

And the next course is Astronomy for Beginners on 6th, 13th, 27th Feb and 6th Mar, 6.30 – 8.30pm with course tutor Stephen Tonkin to learn about the night sky, recognising constellations, understanding the solar system and deep space? Cost £96 (to book please telephone our head office, 01489 774400 or e-mail courses@hiwwt.org.uk)

In the meantime, because no blog post is complete without at least one lovely picture, the following have been sent in by visitors over the last few weeks but not yet made it into the blog and this seems a suitable place to belatedly post them! Both species are still very much in evidence. In fact, Bob had a lovely view of a peregrine harassing the small (“just” a few thousand) starling murmuration last night. Thanks to Caroline Herbert for the great white egrets and David Stanley-Ward for the peregrine:

Walter plus one by Caroline HerbertPeregrine

Look forward to seeing you soon…

Pop Up Café – opening times

Yes, we are pleased to announce that Walking Picnics are opening our Blashford Lakes Pop Up Café again this winter!

Delicious home-made snacks, cakes and hot drinks will be available from the Education Centre from 10:30am to 3:30pm on the first and third Sunday each month, from this coming Sunday through to the beginning of March:

4th & 18th November

2nd & 16th December

New Year’s Day: Tues 1st January, 2019

6th & 20th January, 2019

3rd & 17th February, 2019

3rd March, 2019

A percentage of their takings will support our conservation and education work on site at Blashford so you can enjoy a guilt free slice of cake (or indeed an extra slice of cake) knowing that you are contributing to the Trusts valuable work in doing so.

In addition they will be selling a small amount of Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust merchandise (2019 calendars, Christmas cards, bird boxes etc.), the proceeds from which all help fund the Trusts work.

 

Whittling wands…

If you have children or grand children you will be well aware that it’s half term holidays for Dorset and Hampshire children this week – and to be honest even if you haven’t by now you have probably worked out that it is given the increased number of children at the swimming pool/around town!

So that’s our excuse for the reduction in blog activity this week – I was off the first half of the week, Bob’s been off all week and Tracy has been holding the fort solo much of the week and dealing with everything that comes up on a daily basis and therefore not managed to find time to blog as well…

On the wildlife front the most remarkable thing really to happen this week so far is that as of the latter half of this week, and today in particular, Autumn really has settled in. I even put the heating back on in the Education Centre yesterday! That said earlier in the week we were still seeing common darter dragonflies and the odd peacock butterfly on the wing in the sunshine and there has been up to two swallows around Tern Hide most of the week as well. I didn’t see one this morning, but was welcomed by one huddled up on the hide roof yesterday. Bird wise there has been marsh harrier around on and off, including two individuals earlier in the week and we still have three great white egrets (including Walter of course…). Wildfowl numbers continue to creep up, most noticeably with an arrival of pochard and up to five goosander recorded in the Tern Hide sightings book too. Elsewhere there have been one off sightings of both bittern and otter in Ivy Silt Pond…

As usual half term holidays allow opportunity for Tracy and I to get out on site and play… this weeks “Wild Days Out” were themed “Wild Witches and Wizards” and we both had a lovely time – I’m reasonably confident that the children did too!

Beginning with an indoor craft activity whilst everyone arrived and was signed in origami bats, cobweb making and general colouring in were all well received. I was particularly impressed by the small group of boys who took the bat template and then diligently both up and down scaled it:

Then we headed out in search of magical ingredients for our cauldron… who would have thought that we might find troll fur, fairy goblets and goblin eyeballs on our walk, but we did! These were then supplemented with other special finds which Tracy had hidden earlier and marked on a map to test the children’s (and Tracy’s!) orienteering skills… ground unicorn horn, dragons blood, pixie juice, troll snot, charred bone and more all discovered all of the ingredients went into the cauldron and were stirred. All very exciting, but definitely time for lunch afterwards. Must have been the troll snot whetting our appetite…

Post lunch we turned our attention to wand whittling and broom making with one enterprising individual foregoing a broom in favour of a “Gandalf staff”, complete with clay and plant decorated head and ornamentation. Not sure he’s ever been so quiet and it has to be said the same was true of all the children while they carefully whittled their wands. Such concentration!

181025WDO_WildWitches by J Day (8)

Finally there was just time (okay, actually there wasn’t quite time but we did it anyway and over ran by a few minutes!) to light the fire to bake some campfire “toffee apples” to finish our day. They looked pretty awful but did taste delicious (trouble with running a bit late and trying to cook on the fire while it was still blazing rather than having died down to perfect cooking embers). Tracy and I were more than happy enough to polish off the spares anyway!

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No Wild Days Out over Christmas but they will be back at February half term with a bird theme… bookings will be taken online on the Trusts “shop” from mid January:  https://shop.hiwwt.org.uk/product-category/events/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Messing about in boats…

…with boats, out of boats and under boats!

Yes, the last week of the summer holiday saw us, and the children on “Wild Days Out” as well of course (I have to justify somehow), taking the plunge, quite literally, into the Dockens Water river again. The theme this week?

“River Adventure”…

Starting off in the classroom with paperboat folding and colouring/waterproofing them with wax crayons we were then ready to head down to the water to test them out and do some kick sample surveying for wildlife:

Plenty of invertebrates were of course caught but, as always, it was the fish which captured most children’s interest – with the exception of those few who caught either a leech (always exciting for their “yuck” or “eeuuurgh” factor), beautiful demoiselle or golden ringed dragonfly nymph (both similarly exciting and always elicit a “what is THAT?!” response).

On the fish front by far the most numerous species was minnow, but bullhead, as always, were much in evidence and we are also seeing signs of a good recruitment to the brown trout population this year too. Fishy highlights were an elver (second we’ve caught kick sampling this year, and again, a promising sign that they have had a good year) and a relatively large stone loach (easily identified by the barbels with which it finds its invertebrate prey amongst the silt and stones at the bottom of the river at night).

By this time and being, surprisingly, relatively dry and warm still we quit while we were ahead to stop for lunch – and then equip and prepare ourselves for the real adventure that was to come: coracle paddling and snorkelling!

The coracle had been pre-prepared this year by Tracy with one of our volunteers, Rex, who fulfilled a life long ambition by coming in over a couple of mornings to create and then paddle it himself! Thank you Rex! Thanks also to the Spinnaker Sailing Club for providing us with a loan of buoyancy aids for our intrepid adventurers to wear, “just in case”. As it was most children did manage to stay in the coracle, and the only time it actually sank was when Tracy, somewhat optimistically it has to be said, tried sending 3 children off in it!

Our craft, constructed from some of our willow pollarded last winter, was fitted out with a seat scavenged from a building site by another volunteer, Geoff, and then lined with some left over pond liner from a pond project at Testwood Lakes (pond liner works just as well at keeping water out of a boat as it does in a pond). And despite some heavy use survived completely unscathed – although to be fair, I did not actually have a go in it myself this year, and, had I done so, things might have ended differently!

180829RiverAdventure by J Day (6a) - Copy

So, with a little disappointment it has to be said, I didn’t make it into the coracle this year. Not too much disappointment however because the only reason I didn’t was that I was having far too much fun snorkelling beneath the peaty waters to spend too much time above it!

Having enjoyed (honest!) a very cold and wet weekend camping a couple of days before I was still tired and, with the weather grey as it was, I woke up and came to work with a certain amount of apathy towards the idea of deliberately submerging myself in the river again. However we’d said we’d do it so I reluctantly donned my wetsuit and we made our way down and in… and I was SO glad that I had! I, and everyone who was brave (or foolish) enough to come in with me had a ball and we saw SO MANY fish! As many as we had thought we had caught kick-sampling earlier it really was a very small fraction of just what was in the river!

180829RiverAdventure by J Day (4) - Copy

So you think they look a bit crazy? You have to be a little bit crazy to even think of doing this!

And its amazing just how much you can see, even in shallow water!

Although the deep water is fun too – the trick is to just swim/crocodile crawl up stream so all of the disturbed silt/sediment washes back behind you and definitely don’t try and snorkel down stream of a load of kick-sampling river dippers!

Wonderful, unusual, wildlife sights await those who brave the water!

180830WDORiverAdventureII by J Day (19) - Copy180829RiverAdventure by J Day (1) - Copy

It was cold, but so worth it and well done to all of the children who joined us in the river this summer – you are all part of what is a very small and highly elite group of people who have snorkelled and paddled the Dockens Water river.

You may call yourselves the “Dockens Divers” and, quite rightly, be proud of your achievement!

 

 

 

Wandering in Nature

180823WDOWildWander by J Day (3)

Another belated blog post relating to our summer holiday activity program… this time a “Wildlife Wander”. Nice easy one to plan and prepare for this one. Basically gather children and head out on the nature reserve to walk, play and see what we can discover!

Being August, and with blackberries fruiting in the prodigious quantities that they are this summer, blackberry picking and eating featured quite highly throughout both of our wildlife wanders! Sometimes picking “traditionally” with fingers, sometimes “browsing” them off the stem directly like a deer or a giraffe, just for fun. Regardless the end result was lots of purple faces, although some did somehow end up a lot more purple than others! None more so than these two who opted for painting their hands with the fruit:

180823WDOWildWander by J Day (4)

There’s quite a lot of fruit around generally, although disappointingly this year the cherry plums have been spectacularly bad. Related to the cherry plums, the blackthorm seems to be producing a good sloe crop. Blackthorn is an occasional shrub at Blashford and by no means occurs in sufficient quantities for Tracy (or anyone else for that matter!) to keep herself in sloe gin, but there is more than ample for me to delight in encouraging young people to try the bittersweet fruit! Love it!

180823WDOWildWander by J Day (2)

Bird watching as well as foraging also featured highly in our expeditions, with visits to Ivy North, Goosander and Tern Hides. The “hidelight” was undoubtedly on the second day when we observed a large grass snake emerge from the water beneath Goosander Hide, much to the consternation of the grey wagtail we were also watching at the time, and then proceed to make its way to the wall and attempt to slither inside a crack in the blockwork at the base.

Bug hunting was on the agenda of many of our wildlife explorers too of course – we are after all talking about children, and children interested in nature at that! Best of all though were the wasp spiders in the hard rush tussocks amongst the scrub behind Goosander Hide where we picnicked. I was delighted to see these beauties as I had failed to see any earlier in the year when sweep netting in our small meadow by Ivy North Hide where we usually do see (and sometimes inadvertently catch) at least a few each summer. Of the children Thomas “bug boy” Baker was by far the best spotter, finding at least 12 on the Tuesday, but even his sterling efforts were far outstripped by Tracy on Thursday who must have found at least 20 herself. I was quite frustrated and didn’t find any of my “own” until I eventually did manage to get my eye in and find 8 or so (my excuse is that Tracy, being more vertically challenged than I, is more on a level with the spiders, thus making them easier for her to spot…). With the children finding a good number more it really was astounding just how many there are up there:

180823WDOWildWander by J Day (9)

Hmmm. Do I like this, or do I not like this…?!

And then there was the wander itself – it was lovely watching and listening to the children amble along with their friends and making new friends,  chatting about this, that and nothing in particular:

180823WDOWildWander by J Day (17)

The second day was a bit warmer than the first and, as far as the children were concerned, they had walked miles, so towards the end we needed an incentive to keep them going – what more of an incentive could a child need than the opportunity to get in a river? None it turned out and a good time was had by all – so at the end of the day a lot of tired, blackberry full, very wet children went home very happy!

180823WDOWildWander by J Day (24)

 

 

 

Myths, moths and marshmallows

With the summer holidays over and the brief lull in group visits that always follows while the Southeasts children all settle back into school and  uniformed groups back into their packs and colonies, I am making the most of the opportunity to catch up on some outstanding blog posts from the summer. This one my storytelling event a couple of weeks ago…

Other than watching “Jackanory” on TV, or reading bedtime stories with my Mum and Dad when I was a child (and neither of those things are really quite the same as hearing a story being told), storytelling was not something I was aware of until I went to work in the USA, right back at the start of my career in outdoor education.

Initially employed as a Scuba Diver Instructor at the Catalina Island Marine Institute’s series of “summer camps”, my work permit and contract were extended such that I stayed on as an Outdoor Educator, taking parties of school children staying for week long residential experiences of island ecology, marine ecology, sea kayaking and snorkeling and “astronomy” evening sessions, among other things far to numerous to mention…

It was with CIMI that I broke in my outdoor/environmental educator boots and much of what I learnt there still informs what and how I deliver education at Blashford today. It was during the astronomy sessions that I had my first taste of “real” storytelling, and they really did strike a chord with me. I can still picture that first session I observed as part of my induction – a short 20 minute hike up from camp onto “Lions Head Rock”, Cherry Cove to one side of us, 4th Of July Cove to the other and straight ahead nothing but the guano covered Bird Rock reflecting the moon and starlight – and the Pacific Ocean. Overhead, with little, or no light pollution, nothing but stars and the lead instructor for that evening pointing out the autumn constellations with a powerful dive torch and then telling his audience, and I, the Greek and  Native American creation stories and myths of their making. I was hooked and was soon learning and enjoying telling those same stories myself.

Eventually, upon my return to the UK, I learnt and told new stories, giving performances  at work in various places of outdoor education in both voluntary and paid employment, and in schools or to WI groups  and similar. However, it has always been those first few stories that I heard on Santa Catalina Island that have stayed with me the longest and which I have been able to recall and recount with greatest ease though!

Storytelling still occasionally comes into work and my life, but as time has moved on, not as much as it once did, so it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I decided to dabble in to oracular history again this summer with our “Myths, moths and marshmallows” event.

I shouldn’t have worried: once a storyteller, always a storyteller!

Campfires and stories go together like bread and cheese so our first job was to light the fire:

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Always good when it works first time!

Then my first story, a Native American, Ojibwa, story of “How bat came to be”. Somewhat fitting given I had rescued a Soprano pipistrelle bat from behind the bins in the centre that very afternoon and, covered in cobwebs as it was, taken it down the road to our local Wildlife Hospital for a once-over and subsequent release…

Then a tale of how Cockerel lost his voice and gained his crow – involving a bit of audience participation (even a good audience can only stay quiet for so long!) and then, because even a good audience can only sit still for so long, we headed back up to the centre to look at and release our moths from the night before and re-set the traps for that night…

Upon our return the fire had died down to the perfect marshmallow toasting temperature so we all indulged ourselves in sweet treats before my final storytelling of a Lincolnshire snowy night and the magic of a tawny owl in a small wood outside a village… and, as the night drawed in, our evening came to a close.

If my audience enjoyed hearing the stories half as much as I enjoyed telling them, a good evening was had by all!

Thank you to my lovely volunteers for watching the fire while we let the moths go and for taking the above pictures of the evening.

And look out for “Myths, moths and marshamallows” next year if this blog has piqued your interest!