Smelting and melting…

Last week we embarked on two Wild Days Out with a difference, exploring autumn and the changing seasons through alchemy and art. In particular, we had a go at smelting pewter with the older children and wax with the younger ones, pouring the molten metal and wax into molds made out play-doh which we had pressed natural finds such as acorns, sycamore seeds and pine cones in to. The results were fantastic!

On both days we began with a forage in search of natural treasures, gathering up firewood on the way.

We found time to pop into Ivy North Hide and Harry made a note of all the birds we were spotting in the hide diary.

After collecting lots of different seeds and leaves, we headed into willow wood and laid the fire. We used play-doh to make a mold of our natural finds then sat it on the edge of the fire surround. Once the pewter shot had melted we carefully poured it over the mold then left it to cool before popping it out of the mould and into a bucket of water to finish cooling off and be cleaned of any last play-doh residue.

The pewter creations, once wiped clean looked fantastic and the children were all thrilled with the results. The acorns in their cups and pine cones worked particularly well:

With the younger children, we swapped the pewter for wax, melting it in a pan over the fire before decanting it using the spoons into their molds:

Wax objects in their play doh moulds

Wax objects cooling off in thir play-doh molds

The wax objects came out just as well, but the play-doh was a bit harder to peel off from the blackberries and pine cones!

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Wax pine cone and blackberry, needing a little more cleaning to remove the play-doh…

Whilst we out experimenting, we did some leaf bashing, Toby made a rush boat, went in search of minibeasts and generally embraced just how muddy the clay pit and the area in general had become…

We had two great days, I’m not sure who enjoyed experimenting with pewter and wax the most, us or them, but they were all very happy with their creations and keen to make more! We will definitely do it again…

Boxes for Birds

On Sunday eleven of our Young Naturalists made twelve very fine bird boxes to replace some of the older ones on the reserve that have seen better days. Volunteer Geoff very kindly sourced some offcuts of timber and pre-made the kits for the session, leaving the group with the task of putting them together and numbering them, so they could be identified later on and monitored. I’m not sure what they enjoyed the most, the opportunity to use power tools or the opportunity to have a go at pyrography to put their stamp on their creation…

We began by fixing the box pieces together using screws, then attached the lid to the box back using a strip of pond liner so the inside is easily accessible for monitoring and cleaning.

After building the boxes, we numbered them and added the builder’s initials, so we knew who had made which box. Some added more than others…

Whilst the group took it in turns to build their box and embellish it, they recorded the moths in the light trap. There were only eight moths in total, and five different species including a very fine feathered thorn.

They also took part in Seabirdwatch, which those of you who tuned into Autumnwatch last week will be aware of. Seabirdwatch consists of a number of camera trap sites which have been placed around the north Atlantic, and these cameras have taken thousands of images of kittiwakes and guillemots. It invites you to head to the website and after a quick tutorial identify and click on images of birds and their chicks, enabling us to understand more about breeding success, chick survival, time of breeding and much more.

It is a great citizen science project to be involved with, and one which Thomas, Will, Megan, Olivia and Jodie really got behind. Collectively they counted 2427 kittiwakes, 917 guillemots, 66 chicks and 3 other birds, across 36 photos. Thomas was our chief counter, counting birds on 21 of the 36 photos. To get involved and help with the counting, visit their website – there are plenty more photos to look at!

After finishing our boxes we lined them all up for a group photo and to admire our handiwork:

Group photo

Some of our group with their finished boxes

finished boxes

Finished boxes

Once the boxes are up at suitable locations within the reserve, we will hopefully be able to help out with the checking and monitoring to see who moves in.

After lunch we headed out for a wander, visiting both the Ivy Lake hides and the Woodland hide.

Thank you to Geoff for taking the time to make up the box kits for the group and for the loan of the pyrography set, I know they all enjoyed having a go at writing and drawing on the wood. Thanks to volunteers Roma, Nigel and Jonathan for joining us for the session.

Our Young Naturalists group is kindly supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust. The Cameron Bespolka Trust is supporting a talk by Keith Betton on the return of the red kite and peregrine falcon at Winchester College on Wednesday 8th November, at 7pm. More details can be found on their website. Admission is free and there is no need to book, so if you are interested in finding out more about these fantastic birds please do come along.

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!!!