A Wild Day Out at last!

During the half-term school holiday of February 2020 we enjoyed some unseasonably mild, but very, very wet weather amidst the good company of children, both regulars and newcomers, and enjoyed some natural craft activities on our school holiday activity days known as “Wild Days Out” (see the blog post that followed it here:https://blashfordlakes.wordpress.com/2020/02/28/winter-craft/).

Little did we know at the time that that would be the last for 18 months!

So it was with some trepidation, but mostly delight, that this summer holiday we finally held Wild Days Out again – Tracy at the beginning of the holidays with some den building and fire-lighting fun, me at the end with an aquatic adventure; pond dipping and river dipping with a difference.

The weather throughout August could have been better, but it could have been a lot worse, and I think it is fair to say that staff, volunteers and children all had a ball and that everyone involved was genuinely pleased to be back doing what we love! Yet another milestone in the road to pandemic recovery.

I love my job as an Education Officer, but even so it is not often that I will declare that all of the children that I work with are delightful, but, in this instance, they really were and it was so lovely to spend some time playing outdoors with them all, everyone sharing a love of and learning about nature 🙂

We started our Wild Day Out off at the pond with some pond dipping following on from some colouring, wordsearch, frog origami and pipe-cleaner dragonfly crafting activities while we waited for everyone to arrive and be registered. Given that the dipping pond we were using is only just more than two years old it amazes me every time we dip it just how much wildlife has already colonised it – and is colonising it. All of the children had memorable close up dragonfly encounters whilst being inspected by the southern and migrant hawkers standing guard over their territory!

Still as good as the pond is, and the promise it holds, I very much hope we are successful in raising enough money through our current boardwalk and pond replacement fundraising appeal to replace the neighbouring “original” dipping pond which, sadly, despite the incredible biodiversity it once held, no longer holds water and which has, during this very dry summer that we have had, now all but dried out completely.

We need to raise £5,000 to supplement some money which has already been secured, partly by a very generous donation from a regular supporter of, and visitor to, Blashford and if you would like to help us achieve this amount – and in doing so ensure that we are able to continue to offer incredible educational experiences and wildlife encounters for children and adults on Wild Days Out, school visits or events – please do visit our appeal page and donate to the project by following the link to the website here: https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/appeals/blashford-lakes-boardwalk-pond-appeal

A very heartfelt thank you to everyone who has already contributed to our appeal – as well as to everyone who I hope will now do so!

We spent a lot of time at the pond and what was particularly gratifying on this occasion especially was how long the children spent studying and identifying the invertebrates in their catch: all too often it is the “thrill of the hunt” which captivates them so this was great 🙂 !

Following lunch (which again was remarkably civilised for a Wild Day Out) we headed down to the river dipping area to explore the Dockens Water, pausing on route to make some soft rush boats on our way down, always a much loved, favourite and memorable past time!

Rush boats making – and a none too subtle hint of what was to come when we got to the river!

Boats sailed (see the video clip I posted in my Twitter feed here: https://twitter.com/JimDay22857614/status/1430944382287556616 !) we got on with the business of kick sampling to see what river wildlife could be found:

Sadly there was not as much wildlife to be found as we would normally expect to see, although more than enough to satisfy us on this occasion. I fear that a lot of “dam building” by visitors this summer may have excessively disturbed the river bed and thus dislodged the invertebrates – and some fish – who were sheltering under the cobbles and amidst the gravels that were used in the construction. Although I am reasonably confident that the wildlife itself is fine, and just resettled downstream, it has left our dipping area somewhat bereft of its usual abundance of life, and probably won’t be recolonised until we get some rainfall and the spate conditions which follow re-distributes the animals along the course of the river. There is a lot to be said for encouraging river play, and indeed I positively encourage it myself, but it should always be borne in mind that our actions can, and do, often have unintended consequences. Indeed it is due to the impacts that our river activity can have on the wildlife that within the nature reserve we very much limit our activity to one very small section of river.

With time marching on, the end of the session (and collection by parents) drawing closer it was time to take the plunge – quite literally – for those that wanted to, and were daft enough!

While some children (probably quite sensibly) continued fishing with their nets, a handful of us (lumping myself in this group as the biggest kid of the lot 😉 ) donned masks and snorkels to see what, if anything we could see…

Some of us were content to just put our faces in…

Some of us wanted to go further, but were not quite committed enough…

And some of us went for it!

And just for the record I did see fish – some little minnows which I was ridiculously excited to see as the exclamations through my snorkel would testify to all that were there to hear them!

And was it cold? Cor blimey, yes it was! A lot colder than the sea had been when I’d gone swimming with the family at Highcliffe a couple of days before hand!

A lot of fun though 😉

All being well the next Wild Day Out will be held during the October half-term holiday. Although the theme for the activities is yet to be decided they are likely to run on Tuesday 26th October (for 7-12 year olds) and Wednesday 27th October (for 5-8 year olds) if you want to pencil those dates in your diary! We’ll advertise and take bookings through the website as normal when we are ready: https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/events

The Best of Blashford

The second Pop-up Cafe of the winter today and, thankfully, the weather was a great deal better than the damp day we had at the start of the month. The reserve was busy and there was a good deal to see from most points, for most of the day.

Opening up Tern hide I saw a water pipit, although my first notable birds were at the main gate, where there was a fieldfare with a couple of redwing and a pair of bullfinch. 

I then spent a couple of hours attending to various tasks about the office before getting out to Lapwing and Goosander hides. We have done quite a bit of work on and beside the paths in this area with the object of both maintaining good access and making the walk more interesting for visitors and wildlife. To this end we have been scraping back the path edges and thinning the small trees to make clearings, increase the light and open up some views over the reeds. This work should also benefit insects and the reptiles that use this area, so we have been making sunny sheltered clearings and have dug one new sandy bank for solitary bees.

Up at Lapwing hide I was surprised to see several hundred large gulls, it was only late morning, so way to early for a roost gathering. I noticed the other day that there were  a lot of large gulls on the lake very early in the day. I suspect there are two possible explanations, either they are feeding very nearby and dropping in and out between bouts of feeding, or they have found somewhere with so much food that they are getting their fill in just a couple of hours. Looking through the gulls I saw the Caspian gull found yesterday, it is a “textbook” first winter bird, which always helps with these potentially difficult to identify birds.

At Goosander hide on the way back there were 2 green sandpiper and a dunlin, the latter flushed from the Long Spit in the company of a snipe by a peregrine. I took the long way back as I wanted to investigate some tyre tracks I had noticed on the Lichen Heath last Monday. Hidden away on the far side of the water treatment works I found out where they had been heading and why, a heap of fly-tipped material. I suspect dumped in the rain last Saturday, since it must have been in the day and when there were not many people around. We are certainly welcoming donations at the moment, but not this kind! It goes without saying that if you are on the reserve and ever see anything suspicious like this please make a note of what you safely can and let us know.

We always welcome donations of course, but at present we are trying to raise money to make a number of improvements to the reserve. The largest of these is the replacement of the Tern hide, the existing hide is suffering a bit and we recently won a grant to replace it, if we can raise the rest of the funds, to find out how you can help us see The Blashford Appeal

On my way back from a bird food buying trip I dropped in at Tern hide and saw 3 great white egret in the distance flying north up the Avon valley, I assume our regulars, but who knows? After another spell in the office I got out again in the late afternoon where there was a marsh harrier visible in the distance. Out on the lake the numbers of gulls had increased a lot and were more than I have seen this winter so far by some margin. I found the ring-billed gull deep in the flock, but unfortunately had to take off my glasses and when I looked back I could not find it again.

The Pop-up Cafe had done well, they will be back with more excellent cake on the first Sunday of December, so if you missed them today you could come then, or on the 16th of December, or both and New Year’s Day as well. You can also get a range of Wildlife Trust gifts and Christmas cards.

Locking up I saw 2 great white egret as usual at Ivy North hide, there were also at least 160 cormorant roosting in the trees and at least 161 tufted duck on the water.

It had felt like a good day almost all round, fly-tipping excepted. The reserve was busy with a range of people watching wildlife, from keen rarity hunters to families enjoying the nuthatch and the fine male sparrowhawk perched at the Woodland hide and there was cake too. Blashford Lakes is fortunate to have elements that appeal to a wide audience, we have popular events for ages from toddlers onward and different parts of the reserve that offer highlights for all types of wildlife seekers. Hopefully the reserve can continue to enthuse a wide and growing audience, our wildlife needs all the supporters it can get!