From a heatwave to much needed rain, we’ve been having fun at Blashford!

It’s not been quite as busy here with events as in previous summers, but the events we have run really have been fantastic. I thoroughly enjoyed Family River Dipping – seeing children lying down in the river with their masks on, looking into the underwater world of the Dockens.

Another highlight was Family Den Building! I love building dens, and I challenge any adult to look back on their den-builds of the past and not remember them with a smile. We had beautifully sunny weather… which was perfect… because of course, the dens had to be ‘tested’ for waterproofness! It’s one of my favourite bits of the session… wandering about with my watering can to see if anybody inside gets wet when it ‘rains’. The only drawback (which the children find absolutely hilarious), is that I really am not tall enough to reach the tops of the dens properly, so they may stay dry inside, but I usually end up with half the watering can down my pouring arm!

Wildlife Tots had a break over the summer, and it was great to have them all back on the 5th September. We had a ‘teddy bear’s picnic’ – everyone brought a teddy (my bear is called William), and we went to the campfire area to search for other cuddly toy animals that our bears could ‘picnic’ with. Then (with the help of some tall people.. some might call them adults, but really they’re big kids) we built some dens! I was thoroughly impressed with how well the Tots handled the pole-carrying, and were guided to tie knots with good concentration and dexterity.

After the dens were constructed we all gathered around a small campfire and toasted bread for butter and jam. We learnt about campfire safety, and made sure our teddies stayed away from the fire. After some tasty snacks it was the end of the session, and the heavens opened! I had elected to dismantle the dens myself…. and so as the Tots and tall people went home… I sat in a very well made den for a bit and contemplated the rest of my day.

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.

removing Himalayan Balsam 2

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:

Broomsticks

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

pausing to look at the Dockens Water 2

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.

Stick Man arrives at Blashford Lakes, spends time with the Tots, what route does he take?

The Stick Men began life as a pile of sticks, and were soon brought to life by our Wildlife Tots group. They collected all different shapes and sizes of leaves to create fantastic skirts, trousers, and even legwarmers for their Stick Men! The leafy hairdos and headdresses were ornate, and that left only one thing, a scarf to keep the stickmen warm.

As Tracy read through the story, we moved around the reserve. First, we took our Stick Men on a walk towards the river, to get away from the fictional dog who would have used them for a game of fetch!

The next obstacle in our Stick Men’s quest to get home… pooh sticks! We gathered some sticks and went to the Docken’s bridge, careful to drop our sticks and not our Stick Men. 1…2….3…. DROP! Sticks into the river and Stick Men safe, we ran to the other side of the bridge to see who would win.

Having survived the pooh stick game, our Wildlife Tots and Stick Men moved on to our next activity, building a nest for a swan. We gathered some sticks and put them all together, then counted out some ‘eggs’ for our cuddly toy swan to keep warm. In the next part of the story, the Stick Man drifts down the river and out to sea, washing up on the beach.

Tracy read on, “Here comes a dad with a spade in his hand. Stick Man oh Stick Man, beware of the sand!’ ‘A mast!’ yells the dad, ‘An excellent mast!” and our next activity, making sandcastles of course! We got pots, sticks and leaves, and using sand next to the river a village of castles was made.

We left the river, some castles were trampled by Tots feet, and we made our way to the campfire area, stopping in some muddy puddles for a splash on the way. It’s winter in the story now, and the Stick Man’s next hurdle on his way home… is being mistaken for the perfect ‘stick arm’ for a snowman. As is the usual way with Hampshire… it’s not snowy despite it being winter, so we created doughmen instead of snowmen!

The group scrambled around to find good sticks for the arms, and charcoal for eyes and buttons. We then had a quick briefing on campfire safety, and, keeping all our Stick Men safe, Tracy lit a small fire. Enthralled by the campfire, the Tots were the quietest they had been all morning, and listened intently to the last part of the story. The Stick Man in the story helps Father Christmas escapes the fire, helps to deliver the presents, and then gets returned safe and sound to his Family Tree. After putting out the fire, we walked back to the centre and all the newly created Stick Men got in the car with their Tots, ready to go on another adventure.

What’s on at Blashford Lakes this half term?

Campfire “toffee apples”

Lots!

Starting with storytelling around the campfire during the afternoon of Saturday 23rd October, complimented by the wonderful seasonal campfire delicacy that is sugar coated apple baked on a stick. What’s not to like?!

See the website for more details and to book:

https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/events/2021-10-23-go-wildcampfire-taleshttps://www.hiwwt.org.uk/events/2021-10-23-go-wildcampfire-tales

Woodmouse being released behind the Centre during a previous event

I’m delighted to say that we are also running Wild Day Out activity days for children again this half-term – and that bookings are going well.

The theme this half-term is mammals, tracks & signs. There are some places left, but they are limited, so book now if you want to avoid disappointment!

Tuesday 26th October, Traps, tracks & signs, is our Wild Day Out for 7-12 year old children: https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/events/2021-10-26-wild-day-out-traps-tracks-and-signs

And Wednesday 27th October, Animal Quest, is our Wild Day Out for 5-8 year old children: https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/events/2021-10-27-wild-day-out-animal-quest

And finally, being the last Sunday of the month, from 10am to 2.30pm on Sunday 31st October there will of course be our regular meeting of the Young Naturalists led by Tracy (our wildlife and conservation event for 13-17 year old young people) – details and booking information to follow shortly on the Events pages of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust here: https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/events

Bookings for all events must be made in advance online via the above webpage links, but if you have any queries you are very welcome to email us on BlashfordLakes@hiwwt.org.uk and we’ll get back to you ūüôā

Of moths and other insects, and a bit more besides…

I’ve fallen behind with my Young Naturalists updates, but since meeting at the reserve for the first time in April, enjoying the bird song and river dipping, we’ve been out onsite enjoying all the reserve has to offer, looking for reptiles, improving our moth identification, pond dipping and enjoying the insect life in the meadow. We’ve also been campfire cooking and improving the biodiversity of one part of the reserve by spreading wildflower seed.¬†

At the end of May we went for a walk on the northern part of the reserve, in the hope of finding some reptiles. We saw chiff chaff, blackcap and reed bunting and enjoyed listening to the reed warblers and Cetti’s warblers calling in the reed bed.¬†

We headed off into the reedbed to check some of the reptile refugia or felts used by the volunteers when they survey the reptiles. Our first sighting however wasn’t of a reptile, instead we found this caterpillar of the Oak eggar moth on top of one of the felts:

oak eggar caterpillar

Oak eggar caterpillar

The hairy caterpillars feed on bramble, blackthorn, willow, hawthorn, hazel and other woody plants.

Under another refugia we were lucky enough to see our first reptiles, finding two adders. The first disappeared quickly into the vegetation, but the second stayed long enough for some of the group to get a good look and take some photos:

adder Daisy Meadowcroft

Adder by Daisy Meadowcroft

Adder by Daisy Meadowcroft

Adder by Daisy Meadowcroft

After leaving the reed bed we saw speckled woods enjoying the sunshine and watched the sand martins flying over Goosander Hide. We also saw a female adder basking on the bank by the hide.

After lunch we decided to pond dip, catching a very smart male smooth newt:

smooth newt

Smooth newt

We also caught an impressive Emperor dragonfly nymph, which given the number of exuvia around the edge of the pond was a bit of a surprise, there were still more lurking in there!

Emperor dragonfly nymph

Emperor dragonfly nymph

Dragonfly exuvia

Dragonfly exuvia

Dragonfly exuvia 2

Dragonfly exuvia

The larva’s final moult takes place out of the water. As the adult dragonfly emerges from its larval skin, the cast skin or exuvia is left behind. It’s always fun to carefully look for evidence of their metamorphosis amongst the vegetation (and man made structures!) in the pond margins and the group had a good hunt, photographing their finds.

In June I had planned to spend the session focusing on insects, but with the weather so changeable we ended up adding in some campfire cooking as well. We began by looking through the moth trap where the highlight was this Poplar hawk-moth:

Poplar hawk moth

Poplar hawk-moth

Alex with a Poplar hawk moth

Alex with the Poplar hawk-moth

We also had a Buff tip, with its amazing camouflage, a very smart Muslin moth and a Burnished brass:

Buff tip

Buff tip, doing its best broken silver birch twig impression

Muslin moth

Muslin moth

Burnished brass

Burnished brass

Rummaging through the moth trap didn’t take very long, and with the sun briefly making an appearance we hot footed it to the meadow before the showers came.

Meadow sweeping

Meadow sweeping

In the meadow we saw a small skipper butterfly, grasshoppers, a speckled bush cricket, a green leaf weevil and a green-eyed flower bee enjoying the selfheal.

We also saw a number of Thick-legged flower beetles, also known as swollen-thighed beetles and false oil beetles. They are often seen on the flowers of ox-eye daisies and other open-structured flowers and only the males have swollen thighs:

Thick legged flower beetle

Male Thick-legged flower beetle on Ox-eye Daisy

Female Thick-legged flower beetle

Female Thick-legged flower beetle on Perforate St John’s-wort

The meadow and the lichen heath are both covered in Perforate St John’s-wort at the moment, it is having a really good year. Traditionally it was used as a remedy for all kinds of ailments, including wounds and burns, and is still popular today for the treatment of mild depression. Research and opinions however differ on how effective the latter is.

It can be identified by its bright yellow star shaped flowers and the tiny ‘holes’ in its leaves. The holes are in fact colourless glands that apparently give off a foxy smell. If you hold a leaf up to the sun, the tiny holes are easy to see, but they’re definitely more obvious on a sunny day!

Perforate St John's Wort

Tiny ‘holes’ in the leaves of Perforate St John’s-wort on a sunnier day

After a short while in the meadow, we headed back to the Centre collecting nettle tops on the way to make some nettle soup. We also picked some mint and lemon balm from around the pond to make tea. After gathering the kit and our lunches, we headed to the campfire area.

Alex decided to toast his sandwich and after eating we boiled some water for the tea and made our soup. Both had mixed reactions, although to be fair some teas did contain nettle, mint and lemon balm and we possibly gave the wrong person the nettles to wash… so our soup did contain a number of less welcome additions!

July’s session was also influenced by the weather. I had planned to do the Big Butterfly Count with the group last Sunday, something we have participated in with them for the last few years. The UK wide survey is running until the 8th August, so there’s still time to take part if you would like to, you just need 15 minutes and a sunny spot…

Thankfully, moth trapping has improved over the past few weeks, with more species and numbers of moths coming to the traps, and we were able to spend the morning having a good look through and identifying most of what we found.

Daisy made a list of those we were able to identify (we lost a few on opening the traps and some of the micro moths did stump us) and we managed to record 70 moths of 39 species in the first trap and 63 moths of 28 species in the second trap. Both traps were close to the Centre, with one positioned out the front towards the mini meadow by the Welcome Hut and the other positioned out the back of the building.

Our grand total from the Saturday night was 133 moths of 52 species. Here are some of the highlights:

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The Large emerald in particular proved popular:

Large emerald 2

Large emerald

Rosie photographing the large emerald

Rosie photographing the large emerald

After lunch, we went back to the meadow to see if the Bird’s-foot trefoil had gone to seed. If it had, we were going to collect some to add to the other seed we had from Bob to sow, but unfortunately it wasn’t quite ready. We did see a Common blue butterfly resting on a seed head:

Common blue

Common blue

We then went looking for wasp spiders on the lichen heath, managing to find two in amongst the soft rush. Their colours mimic the common wasp, keeping them safe from predators.

Wasp spider

Wasp spider

Wasp spiders build large orb webs in grassland and heathland. Their webs are quite distinctive, with a wide white zig-zag running down the middle known as a stabilimentum.

After some impromptu boat making by Kimberley and Harry, we stopped off at the river to see whether or not their boats would sail:

We then began our seed sowing, adding Bluebell seed in amongst the hazels to the side of the path between the bridge over the Dockens Water and the road crossing to Tern Hide. We swept away the leaf litter and put the seed thinly on the soil surface, before brushing the leaves back over to cover them.

We then crossed over the road towards Tern Hide and went through the gate to the part of the site currently still closed to visitors. This was once a concrete plant, and when the plant was demolished we began restoring the area, including the old main entrance roadway. Although it has taken time, this spot is now well colonised by lots of plants and our addition of some extra seed will hopefully help improve it even more. 

We added Wild carrot to the driveway, scattering it thinly onto patches of bare ground, Devils-bit scabious up on the bank as it prefers a deeper soil and Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon on the same bank, poking each seed individually into the ground using a pencil (we also saved some of these for the mini meadow by the Welcome Hut). Finally we also added Yellow rattle seed and some assorted hawkbits and crow garlic.

Fingers crossed some of them come up!

Thank you to the Cameron Bespolka Trust for funding our purchase of tools and equipment for the group.  

Green-eyed flower bee

Green-eyed flower bee on Inula hookeri by the Education Centre

 

Winter craft

Last week we carried on regardless with our craft themed Wild Days Out despite the weather, making the most of our outdoor shelter so we could still have a fire and spending a little more time indoors than we would do normally, in particular on the Thursday. We did though manage a wander in search of firewood – which we saved for another day as everything really was rather soggy – and some outdoor play at lunch time to let off some steam.

Being craft themed, our main aim over the two days was to use the fire to melt some pewter before carefully pouring it into a mould to produce a cast of a natural object. We made some play-dough (one cup of flour, half a cup of salt, two tablespoons of cream of tartar, one table spoon of oil and some water) to use for our moulds which worked really well and could even be re-used once partially baked by the pewter. Acorns, alder cones, pine cones and shells were carefully pressed into the dough then removed, leaving an imprint behind that could be filled with the pewter.

Once the moulds were ready, we carefully heated up some lead-free pewter shot (a mixture of 95% tin, 4% antimony and 1% copper) over the fire in a spoon attached to a long handle, and once melted poured this into the mould.

Once the items had cooled down, they could be removed from the play-dough:

The children really enjoyed having a go at pewter casting and their items all looked fabulous! The shells in particular came out really well, and the pine cones did look like little hedgehogs.

Whilst we were doing this in small groups, they also had a go at modelling with the play-dough, willow weaving, painting and making rush boats.

Despite the weather, a fun time was had by all! Easter’s activities have a somewhat appropriate watery theme as we explore the pond and river. Bookings can be made from Monday, for more details please visit one of the following:

Wet n’ Wild for 7 to 12 year olds on Tuesday 7th April

Splash! for 5 to 8 year olds on Wednesday 8th April

More autumnal fun!

Last week we had two Autumn themed Wild Days Out, where we looked for fungi, collected leaves to preserve in wax and cooked toffee apples over the fire.

We spotted lots of fungi on our walk including some fresh fly agaric in the meadow by Ivy North Hide. We also saw a species of Mycena, a blackening waxcap and candlesnuff fungus, along with plenty of common puffballs which the children enjoyed poking to see how they dispersed their spores.

After lunch we headed over to the campfire area with the leaves we had collected on the morning’s walk. Before¬†melting the wax which would be used to preserve the colour of the leaves, we had a go at cooking toffee apples over the fire. First we whittled a stick then pierced the skin of the apple a number of times using a fork. The apple was then warmed up over the fire then removed so a sugar and cinnamon mix could be sprinkled over. This process was then repeated until the sugar had caramelised nicely – they tasted¬†delicious!

Once the fire had begun to die down we melted some wax in a pan then tied a piece of string to our favourite leaves and carefully dunked them into the melted wax. The wax will preserve the colour of the leaves so they stay looking autumnal for longer and they make great bunting or mobiles.

Whilst the leaves were left to dry on the line, Jim demonstrated how to ignite the dry fruiting bodies of King Alfred’s Cakes, another fungi we had found and collected that morning. Once ignited they can be used as kindling to start a fire, which explains the other names that have been given to this fungus, including carbon balls and coal fungus.

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King Alfred’s Cake used as kindling

Once lit, the King Alfred’s Cake can smoulder gently¬†for a long time, which has led to the speculation that in the past people could have used the fungus to transport fire from place to place.

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King Alfred’s Cake

We also found time to have a rummage in search of bugs and Thomas found this impressive beetle larva under one of the logs:

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Beetle larva

Our Wild Days Out will return next year at February Half Term, where we will be using natural materials to sculpt and weave along with fire to melt and create with pewter! To be added to our Wild Days Out mailing list to receive information and details on how to book via Eventbrite please email BlashfordLakes@hiwwt.org.uk

To see what else we have coming up over the Autumn and Winter please visit the website.

As well as our Wild Days Out last week, Jim attended the New Forest National Park’s Wild Play Day at Holmsley, expertly assisted by volunteers Nora and Nathanial. Armed with plenty¬†of clay they were overseeing the wonderfully titled ‘Brown and Sticky’ activity and a messy time was had by all. Here are some of the creations sculpted on the day:

IMG_20191030_152428

 

Autumnal activities

Last Sunday we headed up to the area of silver birch trees by Goosander Hide with our Young Naturalists to have a go at making besom brooms. The group felled a small tree each, then removed all the side branches and top, cut the pole to size and bundled the twigs together before binding them to the pole.

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It was a lovely activity to do in the sunshine and they really enjoyed it. I hope a lot of sweeping went on this week!

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Before heading back to the Centre we popped into Goosander Hide and were delighted to get really good views of a kingfisher. Thank you to Alan Burnett who was in the hide at the same time and very kindly shared his photos with us:

Fishing-2 by Alan Burnett

Kingfisher by Alan Burnett

Fishing-4 by Alan Burnett

Kingfisher by Alan Burnett

After lunch we cooked toffee apples over the campfire, which did take a bit of getting going, and they tasted scrummy!

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Cooking toffee apples over the slightly smoky campfire

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

Camping out

This summer our Young Naturalists once again spent a night on the reserve, cooking dinner and breakfast over the campfire, setting and checking mammal traps, listening to bats, sleeping under a poncho or tarp shelter and getting up nice and early for a morning stroll up to Lapwing Hide.

Meeting in the morning, our first task was to finish off the bug hotel which we had almost completed the month before. To finish it off, we lined the roof with pond liner before adding a piece of wood around each of the four edges which enabled us to add a layer of gravel on top of the liner. We then put some sedum matting which had been left over from the construction of the Welcome Hut on top of the gravel.

Should it rain heavily, the top of the bug hotel will be protected by the liner which will stop water from seeping down and the gravel should allow a space for drainage ensuring the sedum does not become waterlogged.

The bugs have been quick to move in! We have already spotted spiders, parasitic wasps checking out the bamboo canes and our Welcome Volunteer Gail, after some very patient waiting, managed to take this photo of a Digger Wasp inside one of the tubes:

Digger wasp by Gail Taplin

Digger wasp by Gail Taplin

It was then time to head over to our camp area and put up our shelters for the night, using tarpaulins or ponchos and whittling tent pegs from willow. Finley and Percy had a go at making clay models – their clay men looked brilliant!

Clay people

Clay people by Finley and Percy

Shelters by Torey

Shelters by Torey

After setting up camp we gathered firewood whilst locking the hides, put out some apples and Geoff’s trail cam by the Woodland Hide¬†to see what wildlife we could film overnight, set some mammal traps near the Education Centre and re-set the moth trap.

It was then time to get the fire going and cook dinner:

Camp

Chatting by the fire

 

Cooking

Ben in charge of the chips (we did eat more than chips!)

That evening we went on a night walk in search of bats and had a great time on the edge of the Lichen Heath and in Ivy South Hide listening to them on the bat detectors. We also heard Tawny owls calling and spotted a couple of constellations (The Plough and Cassiopeia) in the night sky. After a pudding of marshmallows, baked apples or bananas filled with chocolate it was time to retreat to our shelters and try to get some sleep.

Fire

Campfire

After threatening the group with a four am start (they weren’t keen) we were up¬†just after¬†five am and after a quick snack, headed off up to Lapwing to see what wildlife we could spot.

Damselfly

Damselfly hiding behind the soft rush

Heading back via¬†Tern Hide¬†we opened up the rest of the reserve, retrieved Geoff’s trail cam and checked the mammal traps set the night before. Whilst most of them were empty, we were lucky enough to catch a¬†woodmouse in one, which we looked at before releasing it carefully back into the bramble:

WoodmouseIt was then time to light the fire again, cook breakfast and tidy away our shelters.

After breakfast we went through the light trap to see what had been attracted to it the night before, and this Burnished brass was definitely the highlight:

Burnished brass

Burnished brass

Finally,¬†we had¬†a look at Geoff’s trail cam and we were delighted to discover images of a jay, lots of footage of the fallow deer enjoying the apples and rather excitedly a fox:

jay

Jay

deer

Fallow deer

fox

Fox

A huge thank you to Geoff and Yvette who very kindly volunteered their time for¬†the campout and stayed the night, we definitely¬†couldn’t run such sessions¬†without their help.¬†We had a lovely time!

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

Two for one

I am behind with our Young Naturalists updates, I think mainly because New Year and time off got in the way after our December session, so here’s a quick update from the last couple of months.

We met in between Christmas and New Year for a festive campfire cookout, something the group had enjoyed doing at the end of 2017 and requested again. We had a slightly random feast, depending on what food items each of the group had brought along, including crumpets, sausages, bacon, a very festive and warming fruit punch and of course marshmallows.

After tidying everything away we headed off for a wander and decided to go down to the Dockens Water to see if we could spot any tracks in the soft ground. We found plenty of signs of deer and some much smaller tracks which we decided could have been squirrel, I should have taken something for scale!

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Walking along the Dockens Water

Corinne from the Cameron Bespolka Trust, who very kindly sponsors our Young Naturalists group, enabling us to run the sessions, venture further afield and enlist the help of specialists, had called in to leave Trust t-shirts and Great grey shrike pin badges for the group. The group were delighted with both, and we handed them out again in January to those who couldn’t make it in December. Despite the cold, I managed to convince a number to put them on straight away for a photo:

At the end of January we once again took part in the Big Garden Bird Watch, a survey we have now taken part in for three years. We spent an hour in the woodland hide, recording the greatest number of each species seen at any one time, no mean feat where the chaffinch were concerned!

In total, after comparing results from each pair, we had counted 91 birds and 18 different species, along with three grey squirrels. They were: 38 chaffinch, 9 reed bunting, 6 goldfinch, 5 siskin and blackbird, 4 great tit, blue tit and dunnock, 3 long-tailed tit, 2 greenfinch, robin, jackdaw and woodpigeon, and 1 coal tit, nuthatch, brambling, great spotted woodpecker and jay. ¬†Both the chaffinch and reed bunting were hard to count where they were mostly feeding on the ground, and I’m sure we missed a few. In addition, and not included in our results as they were flying over, Will spotted a cormorant and herring gull, so it was a good bird watching hour!

Compared to the past two years, our number of species has gradually increased, with 15 different species recorded in January 2017 and 16 recorded in 2018. Interestingly chaffinch numbers have risen from 16 to 23 to 38 whilst no reed bunting were recorded in 2018 and only 1 in 2017. Greenfinch numbers have decreased with 2 recorded this year compared to 4 in both 2018 and 2017, whilst 2017 saw 10 blackbird out in front of the hide, compared to 4 in 2018 and 5 this year. Finally, last year we picked a good hour and saw 1 lesser redpoll, something I had been hoping for this year, but it really does just depend on what is about on the day. It will be interesting to see what results we get next year.

After lunch we headed back out to lay a short stretch of hedge along the reserve boundary, past Ellingham Pound and by the A338. Stretches of this hedge have been laid at different times over the past few years and it has been laid with wildlife in mind rather than traditionally. A nice, thick, denser hedge is the perfect sanctuary for smaller mammals and birds, giving them a safer place to nest and hide from predators. As it continues to grow it will thicken out and grow up, with the new growth providing the perfect cover.

The two photos below show Geoff explaining to the group how to cut at an angle into the tree so it will bend and lay over those previously cut without breaking, and the stretch of hedge before we began working.

As well as laying the trees, we did a bit of ‘tidying up’, so to speak, clearing the many brambles growing in between and entwining around them to make them easier to lay and also more comfortable for us to get to them, and also as this hedge is hawthorn and blackthorn, cutting back any of the branches likely to again impede our task.

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Cutting back

We managed to lay a good stretch whilst we were out, leaving the odd tree still standing and working in from both ends. There is not much left now to lay, so perhaps we will get a chance to head back to it again another time or the volunteers will be able to lay the final bit. The weather had changed for my ‘after’ photo, but hopefully you can see the difference. The gravel mound across the road is certainly more obvious!

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The hedge after

Thanks to Geoff, Nigel and Roma for your help on Sunday.

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