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 2

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

What a difference six months makes…

At the end of September we headed back to the Purbecks with our Young Naturalists to repeat March’s snowy residential, and the weather was glorious!

Staying once again at Brenscombe Activity Centre, just outside Corfe Castle, we headed over on the Friday evening to make the most of the weekend. On Saturday we once again visited Brownsea, with the weather a stark contrast to the freezing cold of our last visit.

Brownsea

Brownsea Island from the Studland to Bournemouth Ferry

We met up with Dorset Wildlife Trust staff member Nicki and volunteer Claire, who took us on a guided walk around the part of the Island managed by the Wildlife Trust.

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Start of our guided walk

From Low Hide we had great views of the birds on the Lagoon, spotting Cormorant, Black-headed gull, Spotted redshank, Avocet, Common redshank, Spoonbill, Little egret, Shelduck, Oystercatcher, Grey heron, Shoveler, Wigeon, Teal, Moorhen, Little ringed plover, Starling, Great black-backed gull and Dunlin.

We then headed further in to the reserve on our walk, past The Villa Wildlife Centre and through Venetia Park up to the viewpoint. This was the view we missed out on last time:

The view

On our way we spotted Wood pigeon, Magpie, Coal tit, Great tit, Chaffinch, Blue tit, Pheasant, Nuthatch, Buzzard, Canada goose and on stopping to break for lunch we had great views of a Sparrowhawk overhead. We were now on our way to the beach and on a part of the reserve not open to the public – it was great for red squirrel spotting and we saw a number up in the tree tops.

After exploring the old buildings we headed down to the beach. At first look it was fairly clear of litter, but on closer inspection we managed to collect a fair amount of rubbish from the shoreline and spotted a few natural finds too, including crab claws, oyster shells and pottery fragments. Given this part of the reserve is not open to visitors, all of the litter we collected had washed on to the beach from the harbour.

After carrying the litter closer to the path for Nicki and Claire to collect later, we carried on with our walk and headed back towards The Villa, again red squirrel spotting along the way. We also spied a female Common darter basking in the sunshine.

On reaching The Villa we thanked Nicki and Claire for their time and made our way to the area by the Church. This spot had given us some great close up views of red squirrels last time we were here and we had about 45 minutes to spare before having to catch the boat back. We were lucky enough to get quite close to a Sika deer that wasn’t at all worried by all the people around her as well as peacocks and red squirrels.

We were enjoying the weather so much we decided to spend some time on the beach at Shell Bay after leaving Brownsea, paddling in the sea, beach combing and having a wander along the shoreline.

On the Sunday we headed up onto the ridge above the activity centre and walked towards Corfe Castle.

We then headed back to the coast, this time heading over to Kimmeridge Bay for some fossil hunting and rock pooling. Before going down to the beach we visited Dorset Wildlife Trust’s Fine Foundation Wild Seas Centre. We loved the indoor rock pool and the centre is well worth the visit if you are ever in the area.

To give the tide more time to go out we then walked up to Clavell Tower, enjoying the view down to Kimmeridge Bay below.

After lunch on the beach we began fossil hunting for ammonites, something the group really enjoyed as they constantly tried to find an ammonite to better than the one they already had.

Finally we finished off with some rock pooling and a walk back along the beach, looking for shrimp, anemones, fish, shells and larger ammonites still under the water:

Admittedly it was a while ago now, but we had a fabulous time in the Purbecks and certainly enjoyed the sunshine on the Saturday. The group really enjoyed spending time on the coast, spotting red squirrels on Brownsea and the beach clean, an activity they are very good at!

Thank you to Nicki and Claire for showing us around Brownsea on the Saturday and to our brilliant volunteers Geoff, Nigel and Michelle for again giving up another weekend to join us, we certainly couldn’t run the weekends away without them!

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

Shell bay 3

Shell bay

 

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.