What a difference a day makes!

After a gorgeously sunny Christmas Day yesterday, today saw the return of the rain and I got soaked opening up the hides – needless to say the reserve has been very quiet today! Even the wildlife decided to stay in the warm and dry – we have been keeping an eye on the Tawny Owl box as something has definitely moved in and made itself a very dry and cosy home out of oak leaves and soft rush. Although not the owl we had been hoping for, it is still very nice to see a grey squirrel up close on camera, although you can’t see much when it hunkers down inside its nest:

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Squirrel making itself at home in the owl box

Last week we realised one had stashed food in the box as we noticed it rummaging through the wood chip that had been put in the bottom – clearly it decided with all the rain we’ve been having this was a good spot, came back and made some home improvements. This morning I watched it look out the hole a few times before it decided it was better off back in bed:

Wet grey days are definitely for catching up with the blog, and this one may turn out to be quite long as I am two Young Naturalists sessions behind, one of which was our November residential at the Countryside Education Trust’s Home Farm in Beaulieu…

Unfortunately the weather was not quite on our side then either, although we were able to dodge most of the showers. We began on the Friday night with an excellent talk by Steve Tonkin about the night sky – sadly it was too cloudy to head outside for any observing so we will have to invite Steve again another evening, but the group enjoyed the talk and asked some excellent questions that definitely kept Steve on his toes.

Astronomy 2

Astronomy talk

On Saturday morning we headed to Rans Wood, just outside Beaulieu, to meet Sally Mitchell from Wild Heritage for a fungi walk. We didn’t have to stray too far from the car park and were rewarded with over thirty species which was great for late Autumn. Before heading off Sally tested the group’s current fungi knowledge with an identification activity – they knew a few edible and inedible species and were also very good at erring on the side of caution with those they weren’t sure about.

Fungi foray

Testing our knowledge

Fungi is not my strong point so it was brilliant to go looking with someone able to identify what we saw and also be so enthusiastic about it. Sally also has permission from Forestry England to pick the fungi for identification purposes (not to eat as there is a no picking ban for this in the Forest), so we were able to study some close up and take a closer look at the gills or pores. We also used mirrors to look under some, including the Amethyst deceiver, so we could see underneath without picking.

We did quite a lot of sniffing! Here are some of the different species we found – I think my favourites were the Amethyst deceivers, the bright Yellow club and looking at the tubular pores inside the Beefsteak fungus:

We also paused to have a go at ‘creating’ a Fly agaric – sadly we were unable to find any – using a balloon and a tissue. The tissue was held over the balloon and sprayed with water to make it damp. When air was blown into the balloon, the balloon became larger and the tissue broke up into smaller pieces as this happened, to create the speckled effect of white spots seen on the Fly agaric fungus.

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Making a Fly agaric

We also found a huge oak tree so decided to see how many Young Naturalists could fit around it:

Tree hugging

Hugging a very large oak tree!

After thanking Sally we headed to Hatchet Pond and had lunch with the Mute swans, Black-headed gulls and donkeys.

We then spent the afternoon at Roydon Woods, another Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust nature reserve, and tested the fungi identification skills learnt that morning, keeping our fingers crossed for a glimpse of a Goshawk whilst we wandered. We last visited the reserve in the Spring, when the woodland floor had been carpeted in bluebells and other Spring flowers, so it was nice to return in the Autumn.

Some of the group were also lucky enough to spot a Goshawk fly past, but only because we had stopped to wait for others to catch up and it flew past behind them. A lucky encounter!

On the Sunday the group enjoyed a farm feed session first thing with Education Officer Steve whilst Michelle and I tidied and cleaned Home Farm ready for our departure. They love doing this as they can get up close to many of the animals and help out with the feeding:

We then visited the New Forest Wildlife Park and were joined by another couple of the group who had been unable to stay for the weekend. We had arranged a guided tour with one of the park’s education team and Laila was brilliant – I think she enjoyed a slightly older audience to usual and the group were great at engaging in conversation about the wildlife and different conservation projects. I was impressed by how much they knew. We got caught in a couple of heavy showers whilst we were there which made taking photos a bit difficult, but here are a few, the harvest mice were popular…

We had a brilliant weekend so although it was a while ago now, would like to thank Steve for the astronomy session, Sally for her fungi knowledge, Steve for the farm feed session and Laila for the brilliant tour around the wildlife park. We also couldn’t run residentials without volunteer support so would like to say a huge thank you to Geoff, Nigel and Michelle for giving up their weekends to join us and help with all the cooking, cleaning, minibus driving and evening entertainment (we had a quiz Saturday night which was hilarious)…

Sticking with the Young Naturalists theme, on Saturday we ventured over to Poole for a boat trip with Birds of Poole Harbour. The group had been fortunate to win the boat trip as their prize for coming first in the bird trail here at Blashford back in May, and we were able to open it up to other group members who hadn’t been able to join us on the day and turn it into our December session.

It was rather cold and wet at times, and we saw a lot of rainbows whilst out in the harbour, but also managed at least 26 species of bird including Red-breasted merganser, Shag, Great black-backed gull, Great crested grebe, Great northern diver, Brent goose, Gadwall, Avocet, Shelduck, Teal, Shoveler, Cormorant, Black-tailed godwit, Grey heron, Oystercatcher, Grey plover, Dunlin, Knot, Little egret, Wood pigeon, Sandwich tern, Goldeneye, Starling, Carrion crow, Spoonbill (very distant!) and Curlew.

We had some nice views of Brownsea Island and the lagoon…

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Brownsea Island

Brownsea lagoon

Lagoon at Brownsea

…and a very distant view of a rather grey Corfe Castle:

Corfe Castle

Corfe Castle

The rainbow photographing opportunities were numerous:

Our Young Naturalists group is kindly supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

Thanks for reading! Here’s a sunnier photo taken just up the road at Ibsley when I was passing yesterday morning as a reward for getting to the end, hopefully it will stop raining again soon!

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View from Ibsley Bridge – the River Avon is just out of shot to the right

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…

Back to Beaulieu…

At the end of November we headed back to the Countryside Education Trust‘s Home Farm in Beaulieu for another two night Young Naturalists residential. With a few different people to our last visit in May, we had plans to re-visit some of the activities and places we enjoyed earlier in the year, whilst also doing something a little bit different. Here’s what we got up to…

After meeting on the Friday night, we woke up early on Saturday morning to a heavy frost. We had set some mammal traps the night before in the hope of catching a wood mouse or a bank vole, but given how cold it was overnight were relieved to find these were all empty!

Mammal trapping

Emptying our empty mammal traps!

Jess and Megan went off in search of some frosty photos whilst we cooked breakfast:

We then headed over to the Needs Ore Marshes, which form part of the North Solent National Nature Reserve for a beach clean in the sunshine. The group spent about an hour litter picking smaller items (sadly and not surprisingly there was an awful lot of plastic on the shoreline) and also dragging some of their more larger finds back along the shore to where we had based ourselves, including a rather large lobster pot and a rather large sheet of plastic! They didn’t seem too phased when I said we had to take everything back to the track to be collected on Monday by Reserves Officer Adam Wells…

We managed to find time to explore the shoreline for some more natural finds, discovering this sea urchin and oystercatcher skull amongst lots of other shells, crabs legs and more:

After lunch we headed over to the bird hides to see what else we could spot. We had begun a bird list that morning and had already spotted 33 different species on the drive to Needs Ore marshes and whilst on the shoreline: black headed gull, mute swan, mallard, blackbird, dunnock, rook, pheasant, feral pigeon, wood pigeon, peacock (!), red legged partridge, jackdaw, magpie, blue tit, long tailed tit, buzzard, lapwing, brent goose, oystercatcher, pied wagtail, knot, meadow pipit, common tern, little egret, chaffinch, stonechat, cormorant, turnstone, wheatear, robin, crow, kestrel and raven.

Heading to the hides

Heading to the hides

Whilst in and around the hides we added the following birds to our list: grey heron, curlew, coot, wigeon, Canada goose, black tailed godwit, shoveler, starling, goldfinch, gadwall, great tit, teal, tufted duck, pochard, pintail, shelduck, goldcrest, goosander, song thrush, wren, herring gull and greater black backed gull.

The most exciting spots however were the marsh harrier, which we watched hunting over the reed bed and a scaup:

Scaup by Megan Conway

Scaup by Megan Conway

We had been very lucky with the weather, although cold the sky had been a beautiful blue all day and we made the most of the photo opportunities the light provided us with.

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Sunlight through the reed bed by Jess Parker

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Moon by Jess Parker

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Lobster pot by Jess Parker

We then headed back to Home Farm, for an early evening astronomy talk by Steve Tonkin, who gave us a guided tour of the night sky and entertained us with tales of Greek mythology.

Astronomy talk

Astronomy talk with Steve Tonkin

After the talk we headed outside to observe the night sky using binoculars and a selection of telescopes Steve had bought with him, spotting Cassiopeia, the Seven Sisters and the Andromeda galaxy. Whilst outside Talia set up her camera and took some fantastic photos of the sky.

On the Sunday, we met James from the CET for another fun farm feed session, assisting with some of the feeding tasks and collecting eggs. It was brilliant to once again get up close to the different animals.

We were then joined by Paul from Amews Falconry, who delighted the group with another fantastic talk on the history of falconry and a spectacular flying display. We were able to see up close a peregrine falcon, North American red tailed hawk, kestrel, European eagle owl, harris hawk and gyrfalcon and learnt lots about each bird.

Harris hawk by Talia Felstead

Harris hawk by Talia Felstead

European eagle owl by Talia Felstead

European eagle owl by Talia Felstead

Gyrfalcon 2 by Talia Felstead

Gyrfalcon by Talia Felstead

Gyrfalcon by Talia Felstead

Gyrfalcon by Talia Felstead

Peregrine falcon by Talia Felstead

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Harris hawk by Talia Felstead

North American red tailed hawk by Talia Felstead

Whilst listening to Paul’s talk, we spotted house sparrow and marsh tit which took our grand total of bird species for the weekend up to 59.

In the afternoon, we headed into the forest to meet Craig Daters from the New Forest National Park Authority, to discover more about the wild places on our doorstep. We met Craig at the pony sales yard and had a look around, learning more about commoning, conservation grazing and the New Forest pony.

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Discovering more about the New Forest and commoning, with Craig from the New Forest National Park Authority

We then headed from Shatterford towards Denny Wood, pausing to discuss the New Forest’s different habitats, namely at this point heathland, mire and streams before reaching the woodland and engaging in some sensory activities:

After taking the time to explore this spot, something everyone in the group seemed to really enjoy, we discussed conservation designations with the help of a game and the different threats to national parks and other protected landscapes.

We had met up with Craig primarily as the group have begun to work towards their John Muir Award, and whilst the 10 minute video clip we watched on the Friday evening was a good introduction to the award, it was great to get outside and think about John Muir, the award and the special qualities of the wild spaces on our doorstep with someone else, so thank you Craig for joining us! We will be exploring other parts of the Forest over the coming months as we work towards completing the award.

It was then time to head back to Home Farm at the end of another busy weekend. the group had a lovely time, with their particular highlights being the time spent on the shore near Needs Ore and the activities in the Forest with Craig.

Shoreline

Exploring the shoreline

Thanks to Talia, Megan and Jess for taking lots of great photos over the weekend and for sharing them with me so I could include them on the blog. Thanks too to Craig from the New Forest NPA, James from the CET, Steve Tonkin and Paul from Amews Falconry for joining us and enthusing the group with their different specialisms.

Finally, thank you to volunteers Michelle, Geoff, Emily and Jonathan for giving up their weekend to join us, we definitely couldn’t offer a residential without your help and hard work!

Our Young Naturalists group is supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

Introduction to stargazing

Young Naturalists Stargazing by David Felstead

Places are filling up on the Introduction to Stargazing evening event we are hosting with the Fordingbridge Astronomers on Thursday next week (6.30-8.30pm, 27th October). Suitable for adults who want to whet their appetite, or for families with children and young people aged 8 and over who are already fascinated by our night skies and are wondering what else is out there, there are still some places available – but book on sooner rather than later so we can be sure to have enough equipment prepared for the evening.

Places on the event are £6 per person with proceeds split between the Trust and the Astronomers.