A wet and wild week

 

After a super busy summer term the holidays are here and we’re just as busy with our usual monthly events and our Wild Days Out programme of children’s holiday activities.

Our Young Naturalists met last Sunday for a beginners photography session led by local photographer Clifton Beard. Cliff was a brilliant tutor, keeping things simple and remembering the group would be taking photos with a variety of equipment from smart phones to point and shoot to digital SLRs.

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Cliff set us little tasks throughout the session, encouraging us to think more before merrily snapping away and ran through the importance of light, composition and moment. We looked for certain colours, lines, edges and lots more and tried focusing on macro subjects before having a mini photo competition with our best images of the day.

As we didn’t stray far from the building, it was really interesting to see what everyone managed to find close by. Cliff’s parting advice was that the best camera is the one you have on you, which really is true, if you don’t have it with you then you will miss the shot!

Thanks to Cliff for giving up his day to share his knowledge and expertise with the group and to Amy Hall and Corinne Bespolka from the Cameron Bespolka Trust for joining us too.

Wednesday was an entirely different affair, with a very wet and soggy Wild Day Out. Not to be deterred from our ‘Wildlife Safari’, we began the day dissecting some owl pellets, an activity the group thoroughly enjoyed. We had fun picking them apart with cocktail sticks and trying to decide which bits of small mammal we were looking at; a rib, or a shoulder blade, or a jaw bone or a skull. To tie in with this we also had lots of bones and other signs of wildlife to look at and hold.

After a short while we decided it was about time we braved the elements, pulled on our waterproofs and headed outside. Despite the rain, we soon spotted lots of cinnabar caterpillars on the ragwort on the lichen heath. As we looked closer we also disturbed a grasshopper and realised the wildlife was still all around us, just hunkering down low to avoid the wet weather. Probably a very sensible thing to be doing!

Our first sign of something ever so slightly bigger than our grasshopper was this pile of rabbit droppings:

Muddy ground is great for spotting tracks, however the first ones we noticed were not of the wildlife kind, or at least not the wildlife we were after:

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Vehicle tracks in the soft mud

We then headed towards the Dockens, taking the path towards the road crossing to Goosander hide and playing pooh sticks on the bridge over the river. Continuing along the path, we found a safe spot to get into the river then explored upstream, occasionally having to get back out again and walk along the bank when the pools became too deep. Whilst exploring the river we came across a number of deer tracks in the soft mud.

We were now quite wet, although some were wetter than others, and Isabelle and Millie had to empty their wellies after our river wanderings.

We picked blackberries on our way to Goosander hide, looking forward to a dry spot for lunch. We were stopped in our tracks by a scattering of feathers, trying to decide what had happened, who had been eaten (we decided a duck after studying the feathers) and by whom (we thought fox). A little further along the path we found the kill site, spotting a hollow off to the side of the path which contained the remains of two different birds. One of the skeletons was complete and as it was a bit on the large size for a duck we thought it could be a goose. The other we weren’t so sure!

We lunched in Goosander Hide, watching the rain get heavier and the sand martins and swallow flitting low over the water. Despite the weather we saw herons, cormorant, black headed gull, mute swans, little grebe and great crested grebe. The highlight though was the kingfisher, who didn’t seem put off by the rain or the bunch of 7-12 year olds picnicking in the hide and flew across in front of us a number of times, pausing for a while on one of the branches in the water.

We headed back to the Education Centre, dried off and warmed up with the help of a hot chocolate, happy in the knowledge that even in the pouring rain there were still plenty of signs of life and the wildlife itself to entertain us!

Thursday’s Wild Day Out was somewhat drier, a nice change to Wednesday! We were in search of dragons so headed to the pond to see what we could catch and keeping our fingers crossed the sun would put in an appearance and bring dragonflies hawking above the surface of the water.

By the time we had eaten, the weather had brightened up considerably and we headed over to the meadow, munching blackberries along the way. It was too wet to meadow sweep but we still embarked on a still hunt, finding a quiet spot in the meadow to just sit and look and watch the meadow world go by. We then had a go at stealthily catching some of the creatures we had been watching using bug pots. Slightly harder than using a sweep net, it certainly made us look closer.

We also managed to spot five wasp spiders in the meadow, making sure we left them safely in their webs:

wasp-spider

After discovering the miniature world of the meadow we headed to the Woodland Hide in search of birds then went on to Ivy South Hide, spotting a grass snake on the edge of Ivy Silt Pond.

We then returned to the Education Centre the long way (there were lots more blackberries to pick the long way back), seeing how many small children it takes to hug a rather large oak tree (I can’t remember the answer, but it was a fair few!) and playing pooh sticks on the bridge over the river.

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Tree hugging, with I think seven 5-8 year olds!

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Pooh sticks on the Dockens Water, and looking for fish!

It’s been a rather wet and wild week!

We still have some spaces left on our upcoming Wild Days Out this summer, if you know of someone who might like to join us please visit the website for details and to book.

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Weekend wanderings – part 2!

As promised earlier in the week, here’s what happened on day two of our Young Naturalists New Forest residential.

On Sunday morning we started bright and early, meeting Home Farm’s Education Officer Steve Barnard for an animal feed session. Steve took us on a tour of the farm, letting the group help out with some of the feeding tasks, collecting eggs and generally having the opportunity to ooh and ahh or gobble at every animal they came across…it was a definite highlight of the weekend!

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We particularly enjoyed watching Lysander feed the ducks, which he had to get to via some sheep…he did a brilliant job…

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After our fun feed session we thanked Steve for his time and went to meet Paul and Mandy Manning from Amews Falconry for an incredibly informative falconry demonstration. We began in the garden room with Paul introducing us to four different birds, an American red tailed hawk, a peregrine falcon, a kestrel and a European eagle owl. He gave the group a basic understanding of these different birds of prey along with their training and care.

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We then headed outside for two tremendous flying displays from a Harris hawk and a Gyr falcon.

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Paul with the Gyr falcon

KODAK Digital Still Camera

Gyr falcon by Geoff Knott

Thank you Paul and Mandy for a fabulous morning!

We then headed over the Lepe Country Park for lunch followed by a wander through the nature reserve.  Whilst at Lepe we saw peacock, brimstone, red admiral, holly blue, orange tip and large white butterflies along with kestrel, swift, chaffinch, shelduck, godwit, redshank, grey heron, blue tit, Canada goose, little egret, oystercatcher, lapwing, black headed gull and ferel pigeon.

After an ice cream break we headed along the shore for a spot of beach combing before it was time to head back to Home Farm and head home.

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Everyone had a really enjoyable weekend, adults included! We managed to find 52 species of bird, plus seven different types of butterfly, an extraordinary great diving beetle larvae on a mission and two different species of bat on our wanderings. We visited heathland, broadleaved woodland and the coast, well and truly exploring this lovely part of the forest.

Will’s favourite part of the weekend was hearing his first cuckoo while Lysander enjoyed beach combing at Lepe. Everyone else enjoyed the farm feed session and the falconry display whilst visiting Needs Ore and listening to churring nightjars were both firm favourites with the adults.

Which leaves me to say a huge thank you to volunteers Emily, Harry, Nigel and Geoff who gave up an entire weekend to spend time with the group, cooking one splendid dinner, two great breakfasts and preparing two lunches – we couldn’t have done the residential without you!!

Thanks too to the Countryside Education Trust for being such great hosts, Home Farm was a great place to stay and hopefully we’ll be able to visit again soon!

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We’ve had a fab weekend, we’re just a tad sleepy…

Our Young Naturalists project is funded by the Cameron Bespolka Trust – empowering today’s youth through love for nature.

Weekend wanderings – part 1!

This weekend ten Young Naturalists joined us for our first weekend residential in the New Forest, staying from 7pm Friday night until 4pm Sunday afternoon at the Countryside Education Trust‘s Home Farm centre in Beaulieu.

From our base we explored a mixture of habitats including the local heathland, the traditionally managed broadleaf woodland at Pondhead, near Lyndhurst, the Needs Ore Marshes which form part of the North Solent National Nature Reserve, the farm at Home Farm and the shoreline at Lepe. We also had time for fascinating and informative falconry display by Amews Falconry, so all in all it was a fun, varied and packed weekend!

Here’s what we got up to…

After settling ourselves in at Home Farm, we headed out onto the heathland at Fawley Inclosure in search of churring nightjars, meeting up with Bob just after 8.30pm who was going to be our guide for the evening. We didn’t have to wait long! After walking a short distance down to the dip near Flash Pond we picked up their distinctive call, pausing to listen. We staying in this part of the Inclosure for a few minutes and were rewarded for our patience, with at least two different birds deciding to fly. One perched on the top of a gorse bush giving us great views of this secretive bird in the evening light.

I’m sure you can make out the nightjar shape in the photo below…thanks Nigel!

spot the nightjar Nigel Owen

Spot the nightjar… by Nigel Owen

We also spotted Stonechats and on turning on the bat detectors picked up both Common and Soprano pipistrelles. It was a great spot for Nightjar spotting so thank you Bob for sharing it with us.

On Saturday morning we headed over to Pondhead Inclosure, just outside Lyndhurst. The inclosure is a unique area of woodland in the Forest, being the only remaining area of hazel coppice with oak standards on the Crown land. In addition is has not been grazed by ponies and cattle for well over a century which has resulted in a rich variety of flora. Today the woodland is managed by the Pondhead Conservation Trust in partnership with the Forestry Commission.

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Walking through the woodland at Pondhead

Here we met Derek Tippetts who led us on an informative wander around the woodland, sharing his knowledge of the site’s history along with its current management, namely hazel coppicing and charcoal production. Charcoal burning is a historic New Forest industry which traditionally takes place during the summer months, thus complementing the winter coppice management. It also enables the Trust to manage the woodland in a self sustainable way through the sale of their New Forest charcoal to the local community.

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We were lucky to have caught the end of the bluebells which still carpeted the woodland floor, along with greater stitchwort and wood spurge. We also spotted herb Robert and bugle.

After being impressed by the craftsmanship that went into creating the Pondhead dragon, we made our way back to the minibus and thanked Derek for our brilliant guided tour (we had definitely lost our bearings by this point after venturing down some of the smaller paths and grassy rides!).

Pondhead dragon Nigel Owen

Pondhead dragon by Nigel Owen

From Pondhead we headed back towards Beaulieu, making our way down to Needs Ore Point for a picnic lunch. It was a lovely spot for a picnic, listening to the oystercatchers and redshank and watching the boats on the Beaulieu River.

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Our lunchtime view from Needs Ore Point

We explored the point, peeking into the old gull watching hut, spotting Sandwich terns as they flew past and watching the nesting oystercatchers.

We then made our way back along the track to the Needs Ore Marshes, which form part of Natural England’s North Solent National Nature Reserve. We spotted three distant spoonbills whilst crossing the field towards the hides and spent some time watching the birds on the Blackwater. We had heard a cuckoo calling throughout the afternoon, but the girls were lucky enough to spot one from one of the hides, which landed briefly on a tree in front of them before taking off again.

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We then walked further up the track, making our way towards Gravelly Marsh in search of a good view towards the Isle of Wight and to see what other bird life we could spot. We were stopped in our tracks however by two lapwing calling overhead. On close inspection of the ground below we spotted two lapwing chicks, camouflaged in amongst the soft rush and grass. We didn’t go any further and watched them for a few minutes before leaving them in peace.

On our way back to the track we were stopped again, but this time by the larvae of a great diving beetle, not something we expected to see wriggling its way with determination over the grass! We took a lot of photos before moving out of its way.

From here we got back on the minibus and made our way round to Park Lane, following the footpath down to Park Shore. We followed the shoreline back towards Gravelly Marsh to see if we could spot any nesting avocets on the nature reserve. We walked as close as we could and were able to spot a number in and on the edge of the pools on Great Marsh.

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Megan also found time for some sand art on the beach:

After a lot of bird spotting and making the most of the sunshine, we decided we had walked far enough for one day and headed wearily back to the minibus then back to the centre for dinner, cooked expertly by Emily and Harry.

Small copper Jackson Hellewell

Small copper by Jackson Hellewell

Thank you to Derek Tippetts for our excellent and informative tour of Pondhead and to Adam Wells, Reserves Officer, for his tips on where to go and what to look out for whilst on Needs Ore Point and Marshes and whilst exploring this fabulous part of the North Solent Natural Nature Reserve. Thanks too to Adam for sorting out our permissions for visiting both here and Park Shore with the Beaulieu Estate.

Thanks also to Geoff, Nigel, Jackson, Megan C and Megan Y for taking lots of fab photos during the day and for letting me pinch them in the evening for the blog.

Our wildlife sightings for Friday evening and day one (in no particular order!) were:

Stonechat, nightjar, soprano pipistrelle, common pipistrelle, Canada geese, greylag geese, cuckoo, linnet, chiff chaff, mistle thrush, spoonbill, lapwing, two lapwing chicks, reed bunting, reed warbler, black headed gulls, avocet, redshank, turnstone, mallard, blue tit, oystercatcher, ringed plover, Sandwich tern, common tern, cormorant, robin, red legged partridge, pheasant, gadwall, pied wagtail, mute swan, grey heron, Cetti’s warbler, wood pigeon, coot, crow, jackdaw, goldfinch, starling, little egret, swallow, blackbird, rook, shelduck, sparrow, kestrel, little grebe, house martin, pochard and skylark, along with great diving beetle larvae and a small copper butterfly.

To be continued…

Coastal Bird and Wildlife Spotting

Yesterday was a great wildlife spotting day. On opening up Tern Hide, a male Goldeneye was clearly visible on Ibsley Water and this was soon followed by views of an otter on the far side of Ivy Silt Pond, a first for me at Blashford and a great start to the day.

It was then time to head over to Keyhaven Marshes with our Young Naturalists, on our first outing from Blashford Lakes.

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Young Naturalists on our first outing to Keyhaven, raring to go on a great bird spotting adventure

We got off to a great start, with views of a juvenile marsh harrier from the car park and even better views once we had started walking of it hunting over the reed bed. We also watched a fox making its way through scrub and grassland, disturbing the birds as it got closer to them.

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In total, we clocked a grand figure of 74 different species, including a great white egret, 2 Dartford warbler, a peregrine, a ruff, Mediterranean gull, eider and red-breasted merganser. A number of species were present in large flocks, such as golden plover, knot, dunlin, wigeon, teal, black-tailed godwit and lapwing. The bird spot of the day though had to go to Jackson, who spotted 3 spoonbill flying over. We kept our eyes peeled for them as we carried on walking and had distant views of them feeding out on the salt marsh.

The find that excited the group the most however, was this dead juvenile Brent goose, close enough to the footpath for Bob to reach so we could take a closer look. On close inspection it appeared to have perished from natural causes as there were no obvious signs of predation. The bird would likely have hatched somewhere on the Taymyr peninsula, in northern Siberia, making the long journey here to overwinter on our warmer shores. Whilst many do survive the journey, this goose had a somewhat sadder ending!

Thanks to Bob for joining us for the day and providing a wealth of local site and bird watching knowledge, and to Nigel for driving the minibus.

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Hurst Castle with the Isle of Wight behind

 

A night on the reserve…

Last week a number of our Young Naturalists spent the night at Blashford, camping out under shelters they had made themselves, cooking dinner and breakfast over the camp fire and embarking on a night time adventure around the reserve.

The Young Naturalists project has been shortlisted for the Young People category of Hampshire’s 10th annual Countryside Awards, organised by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE). With judging taking place over the summer, they began their camp out by hosting the judges and showing them some of the activities they enjoy taking part in and some of the areas they have worked in around the reserve. We went through the light trap, looking at and having a go at identifying the moths, then wowed our important visitors with the variety of life found in the pond. After pond dipping, we headed off to the woodland to show them the log circle the group had replaced last June and the Woodland Hide.

After the judges had left us, it was time to think about setting up camp and we selected our materials and headed over to our camp area. It had been incredibly hot during the day, but we were expecting rain overnight and possibly some rumbles of thunder, so all were keen to construct a good shelter and we had a nice variety of designs:

It was then time to think about food so we gathered firewood and got the fire going, prepared an extravagant dinner of jacket potatoes, fish and a vegetable bean chilli and began cooking once the fire had died down a little.

Whilst cooking and eating dinner, and pudding, we enjoyed a stunning sunset:

Stunning sky

It was then time to head off into the night in search of some wildlife! We had already set the light trap, set some mammal traps near the Centre and locked the Woodland and Ivy lake hides, so decided to venture over the road towards the Clear Water Pond and Goosander Hide. Armed with bat detectors, torches and Bob’s homemade moth gloop (a sticky concoction of unrefined sugar, treacle and half a bottle of bitter, designed hopefully to attract moths if painted liberally onto tree trunks), we headed off into the night.

Our bat detectors soon picked up the characteristic ‘wet slaps’ or ‘smacks’ of both Common and Soprano pipistrelles as we passed the lichen heath and paused near the bridge over the Dockens Water. As we followed the path along the Dockens we painted some of the trees with our moth gloop, in the hope that on our return a little later something may have been attracted to the sweet syrup:

Painting trees with moth gloop

After carefully crossing the road we followed the path around the Clear Water Pond towards Goosander Hide and were rewarded with a bat feeding frenzy, picking up Daubenton’s bat and more Pipistrelles. Whilst Daubenton’s bat are picked up on the bat detector at the same frequency as Common pipistrelle, they can be distinguished by a different call, a rapid series of regular ‘clicks’ which resemble rapid machine gun fire. We enjoyed listening to them and spent a while watching them dive low over the water and fly overhead.

It was then time to head back to the Education Centre and we had a lot of painted trees to check on the way. On our way back we spotted slugs, spiders, woodlice (the only thing really attracted to Bob’s moth gloop) and a toad.

After not a lot of sleep (we had rain and a couple of rumbles of thunder, but luckily, with the exception of volunteer Geoff’s, our tarp shelters stood up to the test) it was time to think about cooking breakfast. Geoff had been up bright and early and got the fire going again for us, after rather a soggy nights sleep (sorry Geoff!), so we cooked breakfast then headed off to open up the hides, top up the bird feeders and check the light trap.

You may have spotted the tent in the first picture, this was Jess and Maddy’s plan D, after seeing the forecast for the night and taking three attempts to make their shelter. They retreated here at about 3 o’clock in the morning, not beaten by the weather (their shelter was bone dry, Geoff would have loved it!) but by the slugs…

Our final task of the morning, aside from taking down our shelters and tidying camp, was to check the mammal traps we had put out the night before. We were rewarded with two bank voles and two wood mice, out of the ten we had set – not a bad catch!

Thank you all the Young Naturalists who joined us for a night on the reserve, and a really big thank you to volunteers Geoff, Nigel and Emily for giving up their time too!

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