Easter Wet & Wild Days Out!

We truly did have wet and wild days, exploring the pond behind the centre and the Dockens water with two wonderful groups of children.

It’s been a while since we had a Wild Day Out, in fact, it would have been during my very first week here at Blashford in October. I had a great time then, so I knew our Easter days would be fab too!

We started both days with some froggy arts and crafts in the classroom, using coloured paper to make frogs and blowing bubbles in a mixture of paint and washing up liquid to pop bubbles onto paper for frogspawn. This worked very well for Jim’s example (exceptional craft skills, 10/10!), but not necessarily for everyone else then one child had a clever idea, to use the glue lid and mixture to make frogspawn circles – very resourceful!

Our first outdoor activity on both days was pond dipping. With all the equipment set up around the pond and on the benches, Jim let everyone know how to dip safely, and we began. The problem with remembering how to dip safely (either sat crossed legged or one knee down, one knee up so as not to tip into the water) …. is that it’s just TOO EXCITING!

Pond dipping

We love excitement for nature here at Blashford, what we don’t like is children covered in ‘pond snot’, but thankfully everybody stayed dry!

We had a bit of a competition between tables, filling the grid trays with all the different creatures we could find. Dragonfly nymph, water beetles, water louse, damselfly larvae, water boatman and the mecca of all finds (which is always combined with a shriek), the NEWT! My favourite exclamation, was a repeated, ‘I FOUND A MEWT, A MEWT!’ and I think maybe I will always endearingly now think of them as mewts.

Looking in trays and classifying our finds

After lunch and some time to play out on the hill it was time to walk to the river. Wellies were donned in the hope that nobody would get wet feet… and we headed for the Dockens. On the way we passed some rushes and made rush boats to float down the river, some with elaborate sails made of leaves added on.

After demonstrating best practise for kick-sampling in the river (it’s important to hold the net downstream of your feet!) everyone got into the river to have a good go! With the help of some ID sheets the children did very well at identifying their finds, cased-caddis fly being a firm favourite. Some otter spraint on a spot under the bridge caught Jim’s attention and we even had some brave children give it a little sniff (otter spraint smells sweet, mink will smell fishy).

The determination to catch fish is a common theme when river dipping, and both Wild Days Out were no exception. With Jim holding all the nets in a row, we created a ‘fish trap’ and all the children agitated the river bed upstream of the nets…. and what a catch, one net had both a bullhead and a lamprey! Excellent teamwork and so much excitement…… and, as is always the way… lots of water inside welly boots!

Bullhead

The time at the river always goes quickly, even when combined with hula hooping! We had brought the hoops down to the river to play a game, but as time was pressing we didn’t play, but we did attempt to hula hoop! We had some very proficient children, and I combined guarding the deep water area with some hula hooping (I am pretty good… but my Trust fleece did hamper me slightly), and Jim even had a go too!

Time pressing on we walked back to the centre, and stopped the children short of the door. ‘Does anybody have water inside their wellies’….. a chorus of YES! and an instruction to empty them outside the building was heeded by all, although some did end up aiming their water onto coats that had been discarded on the floor.

Two Wild Days Out, lots of excited children, happy staff and volunteers, and many creatures later we were finished, and I am sure our finds were glad to be left in peace in their pond and river homes. Little do the pond creatures know… we’ve got a family pond dip event on tomorrow!

On mammals and murmurations…

Further to the last couple of short blog posts with information about the storm damage and the impact upon access at Blashford Lakes, I can confirm that all is now well with the exception of just two short sections of path (one between Ivy North & Woodland Hide, one along the Dockens Water) which remain closed due to the ongoing danger posed by large branches which have been torn from the tree’s and caught up in lower branches at height over the footpath.

Visitors have been asking about starlings for several weeks now and last night I saw my first more significant murmuration of the season. Consisting of several thousand starlings, they gathered to the west of the A338 before going to roost shortly after 4.30pm in the old gravel pits north of Ellingham. It’s still early days and bodes well, I think, for another good sized roost and wildlife spectacle later this winter. As always we recommend viewing the starlings from the viewing platform at the back of the main car park – where you will never be particularly close, but from where it is almost always possible to view the birds regardless of where they actually choose to roost in the valley.

Last week was half-term, as anyone with children or grandchildren will know (they’ve only been back at school a week and it already seems an age ago!). As such we once again held our popular “Wild Day Out” activity days and, once again, everyone had fun and, once again, it was questionable who had most fun – the staff and volunteers or the children!

This time round the theme was one of mammals and the day began with a “what am I quiz?” as they arrived – a collection of various animal remains and leavings to be identified (not all mammal it has to be said). The children did very well, albeit with the odd clue or hint dropped here or there šŸ˜‰

We then bought in our Longworth small mammal traps which were put out around the Education Centre at the end of the preceding day and left out overnight with the hope that if we were lucky we might catch mouse or vole or two. And lucky we were! On the first day 15 traps resulted in one common shrew, 4 bank voles and 3 wood mice and 14 traps on day two resulted in 3 bank voles and 4 wood mice which is a pretty good return by anyone’s reckoning! Interestingly we did not capture a single yellow-neck mouse – despite these currently being the most commonly trapped mouse in the Centre loft, where they are trapped and removed to be released in suitable habitat at the far end of the nature reserve (far enough away, we hope, not to come back to the Centre and cause damage) on an almost daily basis at this time of year.

The mild, misty, weather at the start of last week clearly suited our small mammal quarry but the conditions also very much suited molluscs and as a result, in addition to the mammals described above, we also released at least as many Arion ater, common slugs, and which are easily large and heavy enough to “trip” the traps.

Sadly for the molluscs I think it is fair to say that most children were more interested in the mammals we released!

With such a good haul in the traps we took our time and were all ready for lunch after the last animal had been released back into the place it had been trapped. Post lunch we took ourselves off for a walk to think about how we might hone our senses to become more aware of the wildlife around us and practice our tracking skills with a couple of games and activities, including one in which we split into two teams, one of whom laid trails of sticks, stones, bird seed and other marks for the seeking team to follow to the end and try and spot the hiding, trail laying, first team and then swap. I think it is fair to say that this activity was for most participants (and volunteers!) the best bit of the day and many (but not all!) particularly enjoyed the opportunity to “camouflage” their faces (and in some cases arms, hands and legs) with charcoal and clay…

Some of the children really were exceptional at hiding themselves away at the end of the trail – thanks to a combination of their camo-“facepaint”, camo clothing and the very un-childlike ability to be still AND quiet for a surprisingly long length of time while the “seekers” tried to find them. These two boys were exceptional šŸ™‚

Can you see them? We couldn’t for ages, even when stood right next to them! They are a bit easier to spot with a close up:

…others of course, despite their best efforts, were not quiet so well hidden šŸ™‚

Sorry Nigel šŸ˜‰

I’ll round off this blog with a lovely observation from one of the children at the end of the day that really struck a chord with me:

“What I really liked was doing new things and meeting other people. I don’t get to do that much anymore”.

That’s why we do what we do and why we will keep on doing so.

No Wild Days Out over the Christmas holidays but you can email blashfordlakes@hiwwt.org,uk to be put on the mailing list for Wild Days Out updates if you want to find out when and what Wild Days Out we are holding over February half-term.

Hope you enjoyed reading this post almost as much as we enjoyed our Wild Days Out!

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 šŸ™‚

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 andĀ 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.

Group in classroom resized

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;Ā 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 cinnabarĀ caterpillars on the ragwort on the lichen heath. As we lookedĀ 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:

IMG_0552

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, andĀ Isabelle and MillieĀ 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 largeĀ oak tree (I can’t remember the answer, but it was a fair few!)Ā and playing pooh sticks on the bridge over the river.

Tree hugging

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

Pooh sticks

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.