About Jim Day, Blashford Lakes

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

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.

 

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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

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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:

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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!

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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:

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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:

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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!

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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!

 

This weeks wildlife highlights

Further to Bobs post earlier this week, in which he mentioned the unusually early bittern sighting and egrets galore, today saw more signs of autumn passage with thousands of hirundines, house martins in particular, gathered over Ibsley Water this morning and later on in the morning Robin Smith came in for help with the identification of this osprey photographed over Ibsley Water as it flew from the north west to the south east, not hanging around for closer pictures unfortunately:

Osprey by Robin Smith

Elsewhere on the reserve a hobby has been very active today and for the last couple of days – particularly over the lichen heath and northern half of Ivy Lake.

This year has also proven a very good year for Autumn ladies tresses, with more flower spikes than ever now showing beautifully in their particular understated kind of way:

Autumn ladies tresses by Jim Day

Autumn ladies tresses

 

Wild Days Out

Firstly apologies for the recent lack of posting – due in part to Bob being on holiday, in part the reserve generally being fairly quiet on the wildlife front and in part (and in no means related to the latter point I’m sure) the fact that Tracy and I have been very busy leading our summer holiday program of activities…

On the wildlife front the recent (and in many ways welcome) cooling and wetting down weather wise has meant that invertebrate and reptile sightings have been fairly minimal and in fact last week in a marked shift to preceding weeks latterly, saw our site butterfly transect survey volunteers recording their worst week 20 ever.

Bird wise it has also been quiet. For the last few years August has been kingfisher month with photographers  gunning for space in Goosander Hide to capture some brilliant close up shots of kingfisher and kingfisher behaviour. This year has seen a few die-hard kingfisher hunters staking claim to their benches in Goosander Hide early on, but sadly, despite a great deal of dedication on their part, the kingfishers have not, to date, taken up residence as they have done previously and, a few fly-bys aside, dedication has not paid off. Not that kingfishers aren’t around – sat on the benches at the back of the centre, or even sat in the office with windows open, you can’t help but be aware of their piping as they zip up and down the Dockens Water and they are also showing quite well on Ivy Lake this year. Generally not close enough for good pictures but this morning one did pose beautifully outside Ivy South Hide for a few minutes after I had opened up.

Our public events program has gone well over the last couple of weeks – Tracy’s River Play Day Monday before last went well on the day and was booked twice over and then some in advance of the date. Originally planned as just a morning event there was so much interest she went in to fill an afternoon session with no advertising and we still had to turn people away! Families making the most of what may have been the last of the heat wave I think. Last Friday afternoons pond dipping was also full although with the wet forecast we did have some cancellations, filled with more hardy last minute attendees and boy when the heavens opened, did they open. Needless to say having been running on empty much of the last few months the pond is now full again! In addition last week we attended Ellingham Show and this week the New Forest National Park Authority Wild Play Day around Whitefield Moor Car Park near Brockenhurst.

Our main focus however, as it is every summer, has of course been our Wild Days Out activities.

Last week we tested the children’s engineering skills with a newspaper tower construction challenge as a warm up activity, followed by a giant catapult construction challenge, both of which were met with enthusiasm by both our older and younger children:

Newspaper towers to start –

Followed by catapult construction, and of course, testing –

Great fun was had by all, and the catapults worked relatively well, even if I must admit to being a little disappointed by the range achieved (maximum distance that a wet sponge achieved was just over 6m!). I now seek to tweak the design slightly and replace the bungee’s that we did use for something elastic with more stored potential energy (best idea I’ve had so far is old bicycle inner tube, but I am open to suggestions?!).

This week the challenge was less about engineering and more about creativity and flair as the children joined us for our Campfire Cookout Challenge – and , once more it has to be said, really did rise to the challenge producing campfire food that was (to my surprise!) not only edible, but nutritious,  and on occasion, downright delicious! Judged according to team work, hygiene (we very much pushed this one given that, as judges, we were to be sampling the end results!), taste, appearance, “soggy bottom-ness”, and “eatability” all of the teams did really well – although some of the flavour combinations were just a little weird (I could cope with the apple on the tomato and cheese based pizza produced by one team, after all some people enjoy pineapple on theirs, but blackberries, however freshly picked, were a step too far!).

Presented with a set of ingredients to choose from, the teams all produced an array of different menus which included “chips” (all delicious), pizza (with a variety of toppings and bases, some of which were more successful than others, one of which was quite possibly the best pizza I have ever eaten, campfire, home-made, restaurant or otherwise!), vegetable soups,  vegetable and fruit kebabs (some times vegetable, sometimes fruit, sometimes vegetable AND fruit, the latter of which I must confess were not quite as appealing as the former two!), fruit and chocolate filled breads and cookies, and baked fruit…

All of the cooking was done outside over a number of campfires but we did cheat slightly on day 2 when it chucked it down and prepare the food in the classroom instead. Surprisingly day 2 was actually a Thursday when it famously “never rains” on Blashford volunteer work party tasks. This weeks rare departure from this norm was, we all agreed, because Reserves Officer Bob was on holiday!

Preparation and cooking:

Enjoying the end result!

Needless to say all of the children, and the judges too, finished the day absolutely stuffed!

Next week will be more wildlife orientated again with a walk, explore and play all around the nature reserve and the following week we are back in the river again for coracle sailing and snorkeling. So I’m very much hoping for another mini-heat wave for the last week of August!

 

Old faithful?

Reports of our first great white egret of the summer on Ivy Lake today – unfortunately it was wading and therefore no one was able to see colour rings on its legs and confirm whether it is THE great white, “Walter”.

Other season firsts today, for me at least, common darter dragonfly and brown argus butterfly, whilst opening the hides in the morning was a wildlife extravaganza with fox cub, roe deer, bullfinch and kingfisher all sighted as I nipped around quickly on the bike to be ready for my morning with Hyde Preschool!

Brown Hawker dragonflies all very much in evidence across the reserve now too.

Blashford “What’s On?” – Summer/Autumn Events Programme

The latest “What’s On?” is now available from the centre or can be down loaded here: 180601BL WhatsOn July_October JD ii

It includes our Summer Holiday “Wild Days Out” activity days, further information about, and booking of which, is via the Trusts on-line “shop” here: https://shop.hiwwt.org.uk/product-category/events/.

A lovely short film of our Easter Wild Days Out can be viewed here if you would like to find out a little more about them: https://youtu.be/6I2MukbbMWI

Enjoy!

 

 

Another school holiday “survived”!

I’m sure there are a few parents, and not a few grandparents who can relate to that blog title ;- D

In this case it does actually refer to the theme of our school holiday activity “Wild Days Out” this half term, which, on Wednesday and Friday, explored the pre-requisites of survival – shelter, water, fire and food…

Starting with SHELTER our teams were tasked with designing and constructing a waterproof shelter using the minimum number of poles. Shelters complete the children entered them for a quick test deluge courtesy of a watering can. The finished designs were as varied as the children themselves, some more effective than others!

Shelters completed the next task was to set about trying to clean some rather disgustingly leaf, stick and mud ridden WATER using an old bottle, an old (clean – at least to start with!) sock and whatever other materials they could source from the nature reserve around them. The results were surprisingly at least as varied as the shelters had been but all of the teams really enjoyed this challenge, even those whose end result somewhat resembled the bottom of a beer barrel! The next step would of course been to boil and then drink it, but, rightly or wrongly my risk assessment of the activity stopped us at the filtration stage…

After lunch the children some children just relaxed and enjoyed each others company whilst others set out on some ad-hoc bug hunting in the lush vegetation of our Willow Wood glade, particularly enjoying all of the damselflies that took flight whenever they charged through the grass, Thomas employing his hat to catch them surprisingly effectively!

FIRE next – again with mixed results, although to be fair everyone did get there in the end.

On Wednesday, with the older children, we even got as far as making and baking some damper bread for our FOOD before packing up and heading home. Didn’t quite get that far with the younger ones, but everyone had a lovely day, including the staff. The highlight? definitely the water filtration challenge!

 

Due to a combination of staff sickness, staff leave and generally just being VERY busy I never did manage a Wild Easter Wild Days Out blog, so, just for the record, here are some pictures of what we got up to in April and do please take a look at this short film that was made on the day – surprisingly good given that I had to speak in it 😉 – https://youtu.be/6I2MukbbMWI

We’re busy planning our summer holiday programme now and will be releasing activities and dates shortly, so watch this space!