Young Naturalists – Seven for the Price of One

Hopefully better (very) late than never, here’s an update of what our Young Naturalists have been up to over the last seven (!) months. It’s going to be long one!

August

In August the group decided they wanted to have a go at snorkelling in the Dockens Water. We’ve done this before with children on our Wild Days Out holiday activities, but never with the Young Naturalists. After roping in a friend (Ida) as our qualified diver (!) to satisfy our risk assessment needs and meeting Jo prior to the session to check the river was free of any hazardous debris, we were all set to do as much or as little paddling, swimming and snorkelling as we wished.

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Ready to snorkel

There was a lot of sticking bottoms up into the air, but a number of faces definitely did get quite wet as we stared closely at the gravel on the river bed:

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Getting our faces wet

We explored the river from the bridge by the road crossing to Lapwing and Goosander Hides down to our usual river dipping spot. We did some litter picking along the way:

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Litter picking on the way

Generally speaking the river is only ankle deep, but there are some deeper pools to explore and those who wished to managed to do a bit of swimming and snorkelling – we even managed to see some fish!

Ida

Ida snorkelling in the Dockens Water

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Alex having a swim

Alex was happy to oblige for an underwater photo – he definitely enjoyed himself!

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Alex getting ready to take the plunge

Alex

Alex

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Photographing Alex underwater

Alex underwater

Alex underwater

We also found time to remove some Himalayan Balsam from the edge of the river, definitely easier to do whilst stood in the channel and already wet.

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Removing Himalayan Balsam

removing Himalayan Balsam

Removing Himalayan Balsam

Introduced as a garden plant in 1839, Himalayan Balsam is an invasive plant found along river banks and in ditches that prevents native species from growing through its abilities to grow and spread quickly.

After drying off and having our lunch we headed back down to the river, this time to have a go at river dipping. I had borrowed a couple of underwater viewers, which led to a new watch and wait tactic on the edge of a deeper pool. They saw fish using the viewer but I’m not sure it improved their catching abilities!

September

September saw us heading up to the area by Goosander Hide to remove some of the silver birch trees which were encroaching on the open scrub habitat. Putting what we were cutting to good use, we used it to make besom brooms and added the excess to the dead hedge to the left of the hide.

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Removing birch trees near Goosander Hide

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Besom broom making

Some of the group took their broomsticks home whilst others made them for us to sell for a donation from the Welcome Hut in the run up to Halloween:

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Broomsticks for sale

We also went looking for wasp spiders but sadly we were too late in the year and had no luck. We did though find a number of their stripy egg sacs:

Wasp spider egg sac

Wasp spider egg sac

October

October’s session didn’t quite go to plan, with strong winds the night before putting paid to my plans for a fungi walk followed by a campfire. We adjusted the session slightly and spent the morning tidying up what storm damage we could and closing off paths as necessary.

We paused to look at the river which was in flood, and Harry made a boat to sail on the water below.

pausing to look at the Dockens Water

Pausing to look at the Dockens Water

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Distracted by the river

After lunch we did head over to the campfire to cook toffee apples. Before lighting the fire, we carefully emptied a sprung mammal trap from the Centre loft, which revealed a wood mouse who was very happy to pose for photos.

With the campfire lit, we prepped some toasting sticks and cooked our toffee apples:

We also had a rummage under some of the logs and found this juvenile newt, who we popped back carefully after having a good look:

juvenile newt

Juvenile newt

November

For November’s session the group helped pollard some of the willows growing on the northern side of the reserve, up towards Lapwing Hide, so we had plenty of cuttings to turn into willow wreaths. Once made, the wreaths were sold for a donation from the Welcome Hut in the run up to Christmas, with families and individuals encouraged to enjoy a short walk on the reserve gathering materials (or using cuttings from elsewhere) to decorate them with.

The new growth from the pollards this coming year will provide us with more willow rods next autumn and winter.

After carrying all of our cut material back to the Centre, some of the group had a go at creating and decorating a willow wreath to take home whilst others headed to the bird hides for some bird watching.

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Making wreaths

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Willow wreaths

December

In December we headed out of the reserve and up to Rockford and Ibsley Commons.

Our bird list for the walk totalled 41 species which wasn’t bad, given it was a rather dull, grey day and whilst up on Ibsley Common we did eventually manage to spot a very distant herd of deer – for a while we didn’t think we were going to see any.

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Our bird list for the walk was as follows: Siskin, Great tit, Blackbird, Wood pigeon, Long-tailed tit, Blue tit, Jackdaw, Coot, Mute swan, Robin, Buzzard, Goldeneye, Wigeon, Tufted duck, Great crested grebe, Herring gull, Carrion crow, Shoveler, Pochard, Gadwall, Great white egret, Lesser black-backed gull, Cormorant, Jay, Redwing, Mallard, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Song thrush, Treecreeper, Goldcrest, Coal tit, Stonechat, Meadow pipit, Starling, Canada goose, Grey heron, Pied wagtail, Magpie, Mistle thrush and Green woodpecker.

We enjoyed a different view of the reserve, looking down from Rockford Common towards Blashford Lake and down from Ibsley Common towards Mockbeggar Lakes and Ibsley Water.

Redwing

Redwing

We finished the session toasting marshmallows over the campfire.

Toasting marshmallows

Toasting marshmallows

January

January saw us treated to a bird ringing demonstration by BTO trained bird ringers Brenda and Kevin and trainee ringer Kate. The group learnt how to age and sex the birds, measure their weight and wing length and they practiced how to handle the birds using Brenda’s knitted example.

After the birds were ringed and processed the group were able to carefully release them under Brenda’s watchful eye:

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Elliott getting ready to release the Firecrest

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Alex releasing a robin

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Will releasing a chaffinch

A total of 43 birds were caught: 3 Chaffinch; 3 Dunnock; 8 Lesser redpoll; 5 Greenfinch; 12 Blue tit; 4 Great tit; 2 Long-tailed tit; 1 Goldcrest; 1 Siskin; 2 Robin; 1 Firecrest; 1 Goldfinch.

We also had time to visit the bird hides, but sadly the Bittern evaded us!

Bird watching from Ivy South Hide

Bird watching from Ivy South Hide

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Bird watching from Ivy South Hide

February

Finally, we met yesterday for some pewter smelting. Whilst some of the group laid the fire and had a go at fire lighting, others made a smaller fire in the base of a Kelly kettle so we could boil some water to make a play dough that would be used to create moulds for the pewter to be poured into.

With the water boiled, Isabella and Alice mixed up some dough. We divided the dough into balls and everyone had a go at pressing something they had either bought with them or found on the reserve into it.

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Moulds ready for pewter

Our items included alder cones (difficult to cast!), sea shells and snail shells, Chloe bought in a shark’s tooth and some pieces of ammonite, Will bought in an antler and Harry bought in a small wooden hedgehog.

We sat around the campfire for lunch, giving it time to take and burn down a little:

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Group sat around the campfire

After lunch we set about taking it in turns to melt some pewter shot before carefully pouring it into the moulds.

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With a bit of practice we slowly got better at pouring the pewter into the moulds and their results were fantastic:

Yesterday’s session was sadly my last with the group, so it was brilliant to see so many faces, both old and new, and spend a bit of time around the campfire. Nigel and Geoff very kindly bought in some cake for us all to share and the group had contributed to a photo book of our sessions, which included comments from some past members.

It was great to hear how our sessions have shaped some of our members, who have gone on to gain more knowledge and skills in conservation through work experience, on to further education courses at Sparsholt and Kingston Maurward Colleges or on to university to study subjects including Biology, Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Science (with a view to working with children and educating them about wildlife and conservation) and Zoology.

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Finishing off around the campfire

I shall definitely miss working with them all, the group has easily been the highlight of my time at Blashford and we’ve come along way since our first session with three young people as Wildlife Rangers back in April 2015.

Funding and support from the Cameron Bespolka Trust for five years enabled us to grow the group and try new things, venturing further afield for residentials, visiting other nature reserves and inviting experts to share their skills and knowledge with the group.

I know they will be in safe hands with Jim and Chloe going forwards and will continue to enjoy all the opportunities offered to them.

Wildlife sightings of the eagle kind!

Yesterday I was in earlier than usual for a bird ringing demonstration with our Young Naturalists group (I know I keep saying this, but a Young Nats blog will follow soon). We spent the morning bird watching in general when we weren’t with the bird ringers, visiting the Woodland Hide, Ivy Lake hides and Tern Hide with some of the group. We had our fingers crossed for both bittern and a white-tailed eagle fly by, but alas were not successful.

After an early start, the group left at midday, and about 20 minutes or so later I was still outside the front of the Centre when I saw a few visitors looking up to the sky. I looked in the same direction as they were, to see one of the white-tailed eagles soaring effortlessly overhead, with a sparrowhawk keeping it company.

It was a fantastic sight to see, but I genuinely couldn’t believe its timing – perhaps next time the group will get lucky.

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White tailed eagle above the Education Centre

The eagle managed to shake off the accompanying sparrowhawk and drifted off over the trees towards Ivy Silt Pond.

The bittern has been showing rather nicely at times in front of Ivy North Hide, but yesterday it too eluded myself and the group. I did head over there briefly in the afternoon, after hearing it had been spotted, but with no success as it had disappeared off deeper into the reedbed. I looked for it again whilst locking, but instead after hearing a commotion in the undergrowth towards the left of the hide I was treated to a very nice view of a fox, who decided to give up on whatever it was doing and trotted in front of the hide and off to the right.

Although the bittern has been present in front of the hide for a number of days now, it has often been in amongst the reeds, using its excellent camouflage to blend in. 

This afternoon I did get lucky, heading over to the hide with Chloe and Ben. Although it was in amongst the reeds, we could quite easily pick it out, especially when it was moving around. I did manage more of a record shot photo, but David Cuddon who was also in the hide at the same time fared much better and sent these images across:

Bittern by David Cuddon

Bittern by David Cuddon

Bittern by David Cuddon 2

Bittern by David Cuddon

Much better than my spot the Bittern photo! Thank you David for sharing them.

The kingfishers have been showing well, visible from both Ivy South Hide and on Ivy Silt Pond, and there have been good views of great white egret flying over Ivy Lake. Ring-billed gull, yellow-legged gull and green sandpiper were seen on or around the shore of Ibsley Water over the weekend.

In the woodland, firecrest have been seen in amongst the holly on the Dockens path while reed bunting, marsh tit, siskin and lesser redpoll have been coming in to the feeders at the Woodland Hide.  

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Teal by Ivy North Hide

A winter wander

I’m a little out of sync with Jim and Chloe’s last few blogs, but on Boxing Day I was back at Blashford and after catching up with my emails in the morning (only getting slightly distracted by the view from the office window of the Chiffchaff below, I’m still waiting for the Kingfisher…) I decide to head out for a wander.

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Chiffchaff by the Education Centre pond

The day had begun quite grey but after a brief stop in Tern Hide to see if anything was close enough to the shore to photograph the sun did start to break through the clouds.

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Pochard from Tern Hide

I cut across the closed path from Tern Hide to Goosander Hide (will 2022 be the year we can finally open the path to visitors?! We can but hope!) and paused to look through the screen at the ephemeral ponds.

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Ephemeral ponds with Ibsley Water in the distance

A large flock of Redwing were feeding around the edges of the ponds and in amongst the grass along with a Mistle thrush and Pied wagtail.

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Mistle thrush

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Mistle thrush

I watched the Mistle thrush for some time as it hopped about between the pools of water, at one point it extracted a rather large earthworm from the ground and proceeded to gulp it down.

The Redwings were more easily spooked by my presence at the screen and kept their distance, but on continuing along the path they would fly up to the larger trees at the sound of my footsteps and eventually I got lucky with one perching in a smaller silver birch.

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Redwing

I also watched a small flock of Goldfinch and Siskin feeding on the seeds in amongst the alder cones – there is still plenty of food for them in amongst the tree tops:

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Goldfinch pausing in a silver birch to finish feeding

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Siskin feeding on alder seeds

From Goosander Hide I watched a pair of Goosander in the bay, along with Coot, Grey heron and Tufted duck.

view from Goosander Hide

View from Goosander Hide

On my way up to Lapwing Hide I followed a flock of Long-tailed tits and scanned a flock of Chaffinch feeding on the ground for a Brambling, but sadly I was not in luck. We have though had a pair of females and one male seen from the Woodland Hide over the last couple of days, so there’s still time!

Near Lapwing Hide I had another good view of a Chiffchaff as it flitted about in the tree tops:

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Chiffchaff near Lapwing Hide

The water immediately in front of Lapwing Hide was quite quiet, apart from the gulls which took it in turns to sit and call loudly from the posts in the water:

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Lesser black-backed gull – I think!

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Black-headed gull in its winter plummage, without its dark chocolate-coloured head

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Ibsley Water from Lapwing Hide

From Lapwing Hide I headed back to the road crossing and followed the path along the Dockens Water.

woodland along Dockens Water

Woodland along the Dockens Water

Volunteer Geoff had mentioned a fungi near the bridge that crosses over the Dockens, he had spotted it on the walk back at the end of our Young Naturalists session before Christmas (a blog will follow at some point!) so I stopped to have a look:

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Wood cauliflower, Sparassis crispa

Unsure of what it was, I asked one of our welcome volunteers, Bryn, today and after heading off in search of it he reported back to say it was Wood cauliflower, although it sadly no longer looks quite as nice as it does in the above photo. 

Back at the Education Centre I looked for the first signs of snowdrops in amongst the leaf litter, and sure enough they are starting to come up:

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Snowdrops starting to push through the soil and leaf litter by the Education Centre

Given the afternoon had turned out quite nice, I decided to have a quick look at the feeder on the edge of the path by the Woodland Hide, watching Chaffinch, Blue tit, Marsh tit, Goldfinch, Dunnock and Siskin either on the feeder, on the ground or in amongst the surrounding trees. I also saw a bank vole scurrying around on the ground.

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Dunnock by the Woodland Hide

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Siskin by the Woodland Hide

Turkey tail fungus can be seen growing on the logs to the edge of the path whilst Candlesnuff fungus can be found on old tree stumps. Soon it will be the turn of the Scarlet elf cup which likes to grow on decaying sticks and branches in amongst the leaf litter, but I haven’t spotted any yet…

A look over the dead hedge to Ivy Silt Pond added Kingfisher to my list of birds for the day, and on that note I decided it was time I headed back to the office to get a couple more jobs done before it was time to start locking the reserve.

By the end of the day the temperature had dropped and a mist had descended over the lichen heath. As I peered through the screen by Ivy North Hide a flock of Redwing flew in to roost in the neighbouring trees.

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Evening view from Ivy North Hide

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Misty lichen heath

Today has been another very grey affair, so here’s a photograph of the Spindle which is brightening up the edge of the Centre car park:

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Bright pink fruit of the Spindle, Euonymus europaeus

This evening I’m hoping my locking up will be accompanied by the chattering and twittering of starlings from the reed beds near Ivy North and South Hides and the Silt Pond – Happy New Year!

Nature and wildlife on my doorstep

Young Naturalist Izzy Fry has written a blog for us to share about her experiences during lockdown, along with some fabulous photos. Whilst off she also began writing her own blog, titled My Nature and Photography, and you can find it here.

Enjoy!

Red admiral by Izzy Fry

Red admiral by Izzy Fry

 

Despite the current circumstances, Summer is just round the corner. The weather is warming; young hares begin to bound around the meadows and migratory birds have returned. Bees are busy collecting pollen, wildflowers are in full bloom, and butterflies begin to lay their eggs.

Hare by Izzy Fry

Brown hare by Izzy Fry

 

Although many of us are contained to our homes and gardens, there is still so much to explore! I am lucky enough to live on a farm surrounded by woodland and fields which is a haven for wildlife. From Rabbits and Pied Wagtails on the farmland to Spotted Flycatchers and Muntjacs in the woods.

I absolutely love photography, and it has massively helped me to get through these past months. One of my favourite things to photograph is the birds and squirrels in my garden!

Grey squirrel by Izzy Fry 2

Grey squirrel by Izzy Fry

I have made my own woodland table to get photos of my garden wildlife on natural objects. I get four Grey squirrels which spend hours munching on the loose food on the table as well as providing lots of different bird foods, to attract different species!
For example, peanuts for tit species and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, nyger seed for Gold and Greenfinches, fat balls for Robins and Long‐tailed tits and seeds for Nuthatches and Sparrows!

To give me a project during quarantine, I have also made my own nature and photography blog where I post about my photos and nature experiences. Nearly a year ago I made an Instagram account ‐ @focus.photograph.y – and I loved sharing my photos with people! I also have a big interest in journalism and so decided to make a blog to present my photos and journalism at the same time! This is the link to it – https://mynatureandphotographyblog.wordpress.com/

Blog

Homepage of Izzy’s blog

My family owns two hives full of honeybees which we collected from swarms in people’s gardens! I have been out learning more about them with my mum who is
a beekeeper. We have been looking at the three different types of bees – the drones, workers and queen! The drone honeybees have a bigger abdomen and their job is to care for the eggs and larvae! The worker’s job is to collect pollen and make the honey and the queen is the most important bee of all! The queen’s only job is to reproduce – she is the mother to every single bee (around 15,000!) in the hive!


I was walking back home one day from my daily exercise, when I heard a loud cheeping noise coming from a hole in a tree. At first, I thought it was a Nuthatch nest as they usually nest in small cavities in trees, but after sitting close by for a while, I noticed a pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers flying around in the trees nearby. After a bit longer, I saw them go in to feed their chicks! It was amazing to watch – unfortunately, I did not get any photos as I didn’t want to spook the parents by moving the camera around! But I plan to go back soon and see if I can get some shots!

To keep ourselves occupied during lockdown, my family decided to install a pond in our garden in the hope to attract more wildlife! After digging a big hole and placing the pond liner inside, we filled it with pond water from a nearby pond. We also had a mini pond inside full of tadpoles which had hatched from toad spawn which we put in too as well as 3 newts we caught and a caddis fly larvae!

Very close to my house, we have a small orchard where I saw a big group of juvenile blue tits! For the last couple of days, I have sat for ages photographing them in the trees and being fed by their parents. Did you know that even after having fledged, blue tit chicks will still rely on their parents for food for a while after leaving the nest!


Even though we are limited to a small space at the moment, there are still lots of activities that you can do to stay connected to nature! For example: make a bird feeder, build a bug house, watch a wildlife webcam.

Blue tit on feeder by Izzy Fry

Blue tit on homemade bird feeder by Izzy Fry

Currently we all have a lot of free time, and so it is the perfect time to explore!

Meadow brown by Izzy Fry

Meadow brown by Izzy Fry

Shovelling silt

On Sunday our Young Naturalists were treated to the lovely task of clearing all the silt, mud and other debris from the main car park by Tern Hide, following the recent flooding, a task they got stuck into and I think quite enjoyed!

Car park

Before

I think the thing they enjoyed the most, was trying to sweep the water lengthways down the puddle then through the outflow pipe…

Playing aside, they did scrape off a lot and Bob was very impressed by their efforts.

After lunch they then had a go at pewter smelting, as we had all the kit to hand and they hadn’t tried it before. They used the play-dough to make a mould before melting the pewter shot over the fire and carefully pouring it into the mould.

Their finished items looked great, we will have to do it again:

Pewter smelting by Izzy Fry 2

Pewter pine cone and mould by Izzy Fry

Cast items

Finished items – alder cones, shells, pine cones and acorns

After the session Izzy went to the Woodland Hide to see what she could spot and sent in these brilliant photos:

Thanks Izzy for sharing!

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

Feathered Friends

Last Monday we went bird watching with our Wildlife Tots, enjoying some bird themed craft activities before heading outside to see what we could spot.

We began by making bird puppets out of recycled materials and binoculars to help us with our bird watching.

They loved the binoculars!

We then headed outside in search of some cuddly toy birds and had a go at naming them and deciding whether each bird would prefer to live in the woodland or on water.

We then headed to the Woodland Hide to see which woodland birds we could spot and visited Ivy Silt Pond in search of some ducks. In the afternoon with a smaller group we also managed to visit Ivy South Hide.

Jon even did a bit of bird watching from the badger:

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Bird watching from the badger by Rex Waygood

We finished off the session by making bird feeders, mixing suet, raisins, sunflower seeds and sunflower hearts together before squishing the mix in to a pine cone.

Hopefully the birds will enjoy them!

Next month we will be looking for signs of Spring and enjoying some fun sensory games and activities on a short wander around the reserve. Details including how to book via Eventbrite can be found on our website.

A huge thank you to volunteer Rex for joining us on both sessions and taking some lovely photos!

Improvement update and birds, birds, birds!

Just a quick reminder to anyone who hasn’t visited us in a while or missed any previous blogs or onsite signage, improvements on the reserve are now well on the way so if you do decide to visit us soon, please bear with us!

The main nature reserve car park is open as usual, however Tern Hide is no longer there (it was dismantled at the start of the month so there was plenty of time to do the all important ground works) and the installation of the new hide will not take place until next month – if all goes to plan it should be open by the end of March.

The new pond by the Education Centre should be finished soon and the Welcome Hut which arrived on Monday should be completed by the end of the week – with both these works taking place so close to the Centre, along with deliveries arriving over the next few days for other aspects of our improvement works, car parking at the Centre is limited. If you are able to park in the main car park and walk across to this side of the nature reserve please do!

The Education Centre itself, Lapwing, Goosander, Ivy North, Ivy South and the Woodland hides are all open as usual.

Last week saw the delivery and installation of some brilliant chainsaw carved sculptures by Simon Groves, a chainsaw artist from West Sussex (to see some photos of these being enjoyed by some of our younger visitors, please read on!) and on Sunday our Young Naturalists worked with willow artist Kim Creswell on three dragonfly sculptures which will also be added to our newly named ‘Wild Walk‘ along with more of Kim’s wonderful work. A separate blog about Young Naturalists will follow!

On the bird front, two Bittern were seen from Ivy North hide on Sunday and at least one has been seen from there this week, including excellent views today, and a pair of Redpoll continue to visit the feeders at the Woodland hide.

And birds are the real reason for this blog, as last week was half term and it was a busy bird filled one, with a family event weaving willow bird feeders and two bird themed Wild Days Out where we were lucky enough to get a little closer to some of our native owls and raptors, courtesy of Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre, made a lot of bird feeders and visited the Woodland and Ivy South hides in whatever time we had left in a girls vs boys who could spot the most species challenge.

We were joined by John from Liberty’s on Wednesday and Jayson on Thursday, with both giving brilliant talks to the children about the different birds they had bought with them, encouraging them to ask questions and letting them stroke the owls, a definite highlight! On Wednesday we were treated to a Kestrel, Peregrine falcon, Golden eagle (which really was huge and delighted the children by going to the toilet in the classroom) and Barn owl and on Thursday saw a Tawny owl, Little owl (definitely my favourite), Kestrel, Peregrine falcon and Goshawk.

On both days the children loved seeing the birds up close and being able to stroke some of them, and they asked some very sensible questions. It was definitely a highlight and we would like to thank John and Jayson from Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre for taking the time to join us and supporting our Wild Days Out in this way. They once again very kindly demonstrated their birds free of charge to support Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, something they were only too pleased to be able to do as long standing “Wildlife Investors” of the Trust.

To find out how your business can support the work of the Trust at Blashford Lakes, or anywhere across the two counties, follow the link or contact Steph Watson on 01489 774400 or email Steph.Watson@hiwwt.org.uk.

Liberty’s owls and raptors were once again a hard act to follow, but whilst we had been waiting for them to arrive the children had been busy making popcorn bird feeders by threading popcorn onto a piece of wire, and fat balls using a suet, bird seed and sultana mix, so we headed outside to make our feeders for the fat balls to go into.

On the Thursday we had a few children who were bird feeder pro’s, having already made one either the day before or earlier in the month at Wildlife Watch, so they had a go at a different design, weaving one solely from willow instead of using the wooden disc base.

All three feeder designs looked great and everyone went away with two fabulous feeders. We then had just enough time to visit both the Woodland hide and Ivy South hide in two teams, boys vs girls, to see who could spot the most species of bird. On Thursday we even had time to walk a slightly longer loop so we could admire the new chainsaw sculptures that had been installed earlier in the week. The children loved them, with the badger in particular proving popular.

Despite having photographic evidence of the boys using their binoculars to bird watch, I have to say the girls did spot more species both days, we were obviously being too competitive for photography! They also, rather sneakily, lulled Jim’s boys team into a false sense of security on the Thursday by making a right noise when the two teams crossed paths with each other, but up until this point had been super quiet and determined to see the most…

I know the boys did see a few bird species we didn’t see, but the girls’ lists over the two days included Coal tit, Great tit, Blue tit, Robin, Chaffinch, Dunnock, Long tailed tit, Goldfinch, Siskin, Blackbird, Greenfinch, Reed bunting, Jay, Jackdaw, Moorhen, Cormorant, Coot, Tufted duck, Great crested grebe, Black-headed gull, Mallard, Gadwall, Pochard, Collared dove, Treecreeper, Goldcrest, Pheasant, Carrion crow, Grey heron, Little grebe and Wood pigeon. I was particularly impressed with Megan for spotting the treecreeper! It was pretty good for a quick bird watch and I know they all really enjoyed their day.

Our Wild Days Out will be back for the Easter holidays, where we will be heading out onto the reserve in search of our reptiles and amphibians. Bookings may be made on-line only and are taken 4-6 weeks in advance of the activities via: https://shop.hiwwt.org.uk/product-category/events/

Pop-up café this Sunday

Christine and Nigel will be back this Sunday serving hot drinks and delicious home baked cake and savouries in the Education Centre classroom between 10am and 3pm, so if you are planning to visit do bring a little extra cash and call in and see them. They will also have a selection of Christmas cards and calendars for sale, along with some bird boxes and FSC identification guides, again please bring cash.

walking picnics 2

The bittern has been showing well at times from Ivy North Hide, I popped over a couple of times on Sunday but managed to miss it – today though Jo and I had more luck and in calling in after lunch were treated to a great view when the sun came out.

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So, if you’re here on Sunday hoping for a glimpse and get a bit cold whilst sat in the hide, you will be able to warm up in the Education Centre with a nice cup of tea or coffee!

A trip to the coast

At the end of November we headed to Keyhaven Marshes for some coastal bird watching with our Young Naturalists. We were last here with the group a couple of years ago so it was great to return again with some who came last time and take some of our newer members who had never visited this part of the coastline before.

Pleasantly surprised by the weather (I had been keeping an eye on the forecast all week and been expecting to get wet), we headed off from the car park under a lovely blue sky. Deciding once again to list the different bird species spotted, we were quick to see collared dove, house sparrow (bathing in puddles along the side of the road) and starling. We scanned the first area of reeds for marsh harrier but were unsuccessful, settling for mallard, black-tailed godwit and grey heron instead.

Keyhaven view

Keyhaven on a lovely blue sky day

Following the path we watched a number of turnstone rummaging for insects, crustaceans and molluscs on the shoreline. On our way to Keyhaven Lagoon we added black-headed gull, little egret, brent goose, magpie, pintail, gadwall and wigeon to our list. Pausing by the lagoon we watched mute swan, coot, shelduck, avocet and Canada goose for some time and flock of linnet also flew over our heads. Whilst walking along the path between Keyhaven Lagoon and Fishtail Lagoon we saw buzzard, curlew, redshank, dunlin, stonechat, lapwing, shoveler, teal and herring gull. Out in the Solent we saw great crested grebes and on pausing to chat to a group on the corner by Butts Lagoon we were directed towards a pair of peregrine, perched either end of a concrete block on an island.

Peregrines

Peregrines perched on a concrete block in the Solent with Hurst Spit behind

The group also told us they had seen red-breasted merganser from this corner as well, so we spent some time trying to pick these out using the scope and were rewarded for our patience.

Bird watching

Looking at the Red-breasted merganser

We carried on along the path, noting down great black-backed gull, moorhen, blackbird and carrion crow. We found a sheltered spot to stop for lunch (it was still a bit windy out on the sea wall) before heading inland and following the path past the old tip.

Walking

Heading inland towards lower Pennington Lane and the ancient highway

Here we did not spot what was spooking the lapwing and golden plover but we did enjoy watching them flocking overhead.

golden plover

Golden plover

lapwing

Lapwing

We decided we had enough time to make a brief detour towards Pennington Marsh so headed along the lane, watching kestrel, pheasant, robin, chaffinch, jackdaw, wood pigeon, rook and dunnock and hearing the distinctive call of a Cetti’s warbler. We then turned back and headed towards Keyhaven and the car park, following the ancient highway and watching cormorant and tufted duck on the pond by the landfill site. Along this path we also saw meadow pipit, blue tit and great tit and heard a nuthatch calling.

Finally we paused again by the bridge over Avon Water, scanning the reed bed and trees behind for signs of a marsh harrier. We spotted a large bird perched on the top of a distant tree and whilst this is a good place to see marsh harrier, with its back turned to us we couldn’t say for certain it wasn’t a buzzard. We let Will decide whether or not this was a sighting and he quite rightly decided it wasn’t, as we couldn’t be certain. It had been worth the look though as whilst here we saw a kingfisher fly past, a very lovely bird to be last on our list.

Keyhaven view 2

Keyhaven

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

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Brilliant Brownsea

It seems like a long time ago now, but mid-March we headed with our Young Naturalists to the Purbecks, to hopefully explore and discover some different habitats and visit some new places. Unfortunately the weather was partly against us, and whilst I had hoped the snow from the start of the month would not return, it unfortunately did and cut our weekend short. A weekend away at the start of the year before many of the group became focussed on exams and revision had seemed a good idea at the time!

After meeting at Blashford on the Friday night, we headed over to Brenscombe Outdoor Centre just outside Corfe Castle which was to be our base for the weekend. On Saturday morning we were up bright and early and drove the short distance from the centre to the chain ferry, crossing the entrance to Poole Harbour for the ferry to Brownsea Island.

Brownsea map

Brownsea Island

A short boat trip later and we had arrived, meeting up with Dorset Wildlife Trust’s Poole Harbour Reserves Officer Luke Johns. Whist the island is owned by the National Trust, the northern section is managed by Dorset Wildlife Trust and Luke took us on a guided walk around this part of Brownsea.

Do we look cold

Beginning our guided walk, only ever so slightly cold!

It was bitterly cold and the group did brilliantly to keep focussed and answer Luke’s questions. There were also a number of bird hides for us to visit and shelter in, which gave us excellent views of wetland birds in the lagoon including avocet.

We had planned on taking part in a beach clean with Luke, but by midday the snow was falling fairly heavily, most of us had lost all feeling in our fingers and toes and the beach in question was fully exposed to the elements, so we abandoned that plan. Luke very kindly let us warm up and have lunch in The Villa Wildlife Centre, where the group were delighted to be able to red squirrel watch from the window – we had thought our chances of seeing any were now incredibly slim, given the inclement weather.

After lunch we headed to the Church, in search of more red squirrels – we had been advised this was the best place to try and weren’t disappointed. Distracted by the peahens which were too busy sheltering to worry about our group, we soon spotted two red squirrels, one of which came incredibly close to the group, in fact too close for most cameras!

Red squirrel by Talia Felstead

Red squirrel by Talia Felstead

Thomas was very pleased to find a peacock feather in the woodland, a fitting souvenir for our visit to the island.

Deflecting questions along the lines of ‘which boat are we getting back’ we headed across the island and managed to get down onto the beach on the southern side of Brownsea. It was a lot more sheltered down here and you could feel the change in temperature. We followed the shoreline watching oystercatcher and brent geese and looking for other things of interest, warming up in the process.

Whilst on Brownsea we had noted 27 different species of bird: avocet, shelduck, redshank, black-tailed godwit, black-headed gull, cormorant, gadwall, oystercatcher, wigeon, great black-backed gull, pintail, dunlin, curlew, mallard, moorhen, bar-tailed godwit, brent goose, great tit, chaffinch, tufted duck, great spotted woodpecker, great crested grebe, robin, blackbird and crow, as well as of course peacock and peahen.

We then headed to the site of Lord Baden-Powell’s experimental camp which was held on 1st August 1907 and set the foundation of the Scouting and Guiding movements today.

Whilst there we spotted a small number of Sika deer, which on spotting us headed off rather quickly, leaving good tracks in the soft mud. Britain’s second largest breed of deer, they were introduced to the island from Japan in 1896. They soon discovered they could swim across the water to the Isle of Purbeck and once here established new herds.

Finally, after exploring most of the island we headed back to the church to see if we could catch another glimpse of the red squirrels, which we managed, then headed back to the ferry. We’d had a brilliant day on Brownsea and, despite the freezing cold the group thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Unfortunately after waking on Sunday morning to spectacularly snowy scenes, the group enjoyed a snowball fight then we packed up and slowly headed back to Blashford for some snowy bird photography at the woodland hide instead. We didn’t want to get stranded anywhere in the minibus and equally weren’t entirely sure how easy it would be for all the parents to get to Blashford to pick the group up.

Although cut short, it was a great weekend and one we will hopefully repeat properly at a more sensible time of year! Thank you to Luke for our guided walk around Dorset Wildlife Trust’s reserve on Brownsea and to volunteers Kate and Geoff for giving up their weekend to join us.

Young Nats Brownsea

Young Naturalists at Brownsea Island

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