Camping out

At our last Young Naturalists session in July, we spent a night on the reserve, exploring Blashford and the surrounding area late in to the evening and early in the morning. It seems like a really long time ago now, but hopefully this blog is better late than never…

After arriving on the Saturday morning we got straight on with setting up our camp, using old army ponchos to make dens to sleep under and whittling pegs out of willow.

We then headed to the back of the Education Centre to sit by the pond and butterfly spot as part of the Big Butterfly Count. The Purple loosestrife proved to be very popular with the butterflies and we saw a large white, numerous small whites, a green-veined white and brimstones, along with a gatekeeper and painted lady by the bramble. We also watched the water for newts coming up to the surface and spotted a number of young frogs.

After lunch we headed up into the Forest, exploring the local Rockford and Ibsley Commons for a different view of the lakes. The bell heather was in flower and attracting lots of honey and bumble bees.

We paused for a while at the bridge over the Dockens Water, exploring this stretch of the river and taking a closer look at some of the plants before heading up on to the Common for another view of the reserve, this time Ibsley Water.

On arriving back at Moyles Court we paused by the ford for a paddle, although Jorge got wetter than most!

Walking back along the Dockens we spotted this fabulous Chicken of the Woods fungi growing on an old log:

Chicken in the woods

Chicken of the Woods

Arriving back at the Education Centre, it was time to empty the light trap from the night before so we could re-set it for the Saturday evening and we also set some mammal traps to see if we could catch any of our smaller resident mammals.

It was then time to think about food and the group did a great job of chopping the ingredients before tucking in to healthy wraps toasted over the fire followed by slightly less healthy popcorn and banana stuffed with chocolate and mini marshmallows…

Lysander had also very kindly bought some of his left over Cadet rations to share with the group, cooking them through using his stove. Whilst not all sampled his food, we were pleasantly surprised by how nice it tasted!

After eating we headed off on a night walk in search of bats, picking up pipistrelles on the bat detectors in the woodland and near Ivy South hide.

After convincing the group to get up bright and early on Sunday morning, we roused them at 5.30am and headed off up to Lapwing Hide for some early morning wildlife spotting.

It was lovely and peaceful to be out on the reserve so early, and whilst we didn’t spot anything out of the ordinary we had a good wander and worked up an appetite for breakfast which we cooked over the campfire.

Breakfast

Breakfast, looking slightly sleepy

It was then time to check the mammal traps we had put out the previous evening, but sadly although a couple had been sprung we were unsuccessful. The two light traps however gave us 31 different species off moth to identify, along with a Dark bush cricket and an Oak bush cricket:

After tidying away our camp and bringing everything back to the Centre it was time for the group to head off, a little sleepy but having spent a very enjoyable time overnight on the reserve.

Emperor dragonfly

Emperor dragonfly at the Education Centre Pond

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

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Another school holiday “survived”!

I’m sure there are a few parents, and not a few grandparents who can relate to that blog title ;- D

In this case it does actually refer to the theme of our school holiday activity “Wild Days Out” this half term, which, on Wednesday and Friday, explored the pre-requisites of survival – shelter, water, fire and food…

Starting with SHELTER our teams were tasked with designing and constructing a waterproof shelter using the minimum number of poles. Shelters complete the children entered them for a quick test deluge courtesy of a watering can. The finished designs were as varied as the children themselves, some more effective than others!

Shelters completed the next task was to set about trying to clean some rather disgustingly leaf, stick and mud ridden WATER using an old bottle, an old (clean – at least to start with!) sock and whatever other materials they could source from the nature reserve around them. The results were surprisingly at least as varied as the shelters had been but all of the teams really enjoyed this challenge, even those whose end result somewhat resembled the bottom of a beer barrel! The next step would of course been to boil and then drink it, but, rightly or wrongly my risk assessment of the activity stopped us at the filtration stage…

After lunch the children some children just relaxed and enjoyed each others company whilst others set out on some ad-hoc bug hunting in the lush vegetation of our Willow Wood glade, particularly enjoying all of the damselflies that took flight whenever they charged through the grass, Thomas employing his hat to catch them surprisingly effectively!

FIRE next – again with mixed results, although to be fair everyone did get there in the end.

On Wednesday, with the older children, we even got as far as making and baking some damper bread for our FOOD before packing up and heading home. Didn’t quite get that far with the younger ones, but everyone had a lovely day, including the staff. The highlight? definitely the water filtration challenge!

 

Due to a combination of staff sickness, staff leave and generally just being VERY busy I never did manage a Wild Easter Wild Days Out blog, so, just for the record, here are some pictures of what we got up to in April and do please take a look at this short film that was made on the day – surprisingly good given that I had to speak in it 😉 – https://youtu.be/6I2MukbbMWI

We’re busy planning our summer holiday programme now and will be releasing activities and dates shortly, so watch this space!

 

 

 

 

Challenging and Wild Play!

This week has seen our summer programme of Wild Days Out events come to an end – they’ve been a lot of fun! We began on Monday with a Wild Challenge for the older children, where in teams they had to explore the reserve and tackle different challenges on the way – they were certainly up for it!

We spent slightly longer than planned making our all important team flags, mainly because we decorated them with paints made from natural finds – charcoal, the baked clay that had lined our pit furnace, chalk and blackberries. We also collected leaves and bracken to print with, and painted our hands and feet!

Whilst finishing off our flags in the classroom, we had a go at our first challenge of the day, some dingbats, or visual word puzzles of well known words or phrases.  Volunteer Cheryl gave the two teams a great example to get them going and by the time we headed outside the boys were just ahead by one point, as they had got all their dingbats right and gained a bonus point by finishing first, it was starting to get competitive!

Dingbats

Dingbats – forever; double decker bus; Jack in the box; banana split; snowball; lazy bones; ants in your pants; misunderstanding; four wheel drive; up hill struggle; Cheryl’s example, mayonnaise

Heading outside our challenges got more serious and we played the chocolate game, where you have throw a six with a dice, dress up and try to cut a bar of chocolate using a knife and a fork whilst everyone else in the team keeps rolling for a six. If someone else rolls one, you have to change over. The boys were very vocal with this game, but unfortunately both teams were so good at rolling sixes the girls only managed to cut two pieces and the boys one, meaning they were neck and neck. Here’s Millie demonstrating the chocolate game in her very fetching health and safety gear, much more exciting to wear than a woolly hat and scarf!

Chocolate game!

The chocolate game, with a health and safety twist

We then headed to the woodland for two more challenges, a plant identification memory test and some fire lighting. Both teams were brilliant at their plant challenge, remembering most of the leaves, grasses and flowers hidden under the tea towel, although we did give them both a second sneaky peak!

It was then onto fire lighting, with one point awarded for creating a spark and two for lighting a piece of cotton wool.  All were brilliant at persevering with the strike sticks, as you do need to apply a fair amount of pressure to create a spark, but the girls just crept into the lead with everyone in their team managing to light a piece of cotton wool.

We finished the day by setting a trail for the other team to follow, with points awarded for how good their trail was, e.g. could the other team actually follow it successfully, and how well they hid at the end. Amber, Connor and Max all gained an extra point each for being expert hiders!

Whilst waiting for the other team to set their trail, we played two more games: magic carpet, where you have to flip over the ‘carpet’ you’re standing on without putting your foot on the ground; and human knot, where you have to hold hands with each other and un-tangle yourselves back into a circle, without letting go:

Both teams fully embraced the challenges and had a lot of fun – although the girls just beat the boys to it by a whopping one point, they were all brilliant and equally rewarded at the end!

Arrows

Arrow on our tracking trail

Yesterday the younger children joined us for a Wild Play session, a lovely way to finish off the holidays! We began by making kites then headed outside to see if they would fly – luckily there was just enough of a breeze:

Kite flying!

Kite flying, with just enough of a breeze!

We spent most of the day in our camp area, making paints, decorating flags, tree climbing, den building, bug hunting and fire lighting, before having an afternoon popcorn treat! We tried flavouring our popcorn with a little bit of cinnamon and sugar, which needs a little bit of perfecting but was very tasty…

We had a couple of great wildlife spots whilst in the meadow, catching an awesome Dark bush cricket, which hung around long enough for a photo, and spying a brilliant Goat moth caterpillar, which we quickly re-located to a safer spot. The Goat moth caterpillars feed principally on willow, a species we have plenty of!

Goat moth caterpillar

Goat moth caterpillar

We finished off our play day with a paddle in the river to cool off, and a game of hide and seek.

There will be more exciting Wild Days Out in the October Half Term – keep an eye on the website for details:

http://www.hiwwt.org.uk/whats-on

Bronze Age, Bioblitz, Birds and Bugs!

The last two weeks have seen children on our Wild Days Out embracing the Bronze Age, carrying out their own Blashford Bioblitz and embarking on a bird and bug hunt, with a bit of fire lighting, den building and damper bread cooking thrown in for good measure!

Last week we stepped back in time and embraced the Bronze Age, with help from Dr Chris Standish from the Department of Archaeology at the University of Southampton. The Bronze Age saw bronze gradually replace stone as the main material for tools as a new culture arrived in Britain via cross-channel connections with mainland Europe. By 2200 BC the period known as the Early Bronze Age had begun.

Our fire pit was transformed into a pit furnace so we could have a go at copper smelting. The pit was lined with clay and a fire lit in the bottom, before a crucible containing copper ore (malachite) was placed into it and covered with more charcoal:

To increase the temperature, bellows were used to blow air into the bottom of the pit furnace, close to where the crucible had been placed. It was hard work!

We also had examples to look at of the materials and equipment used for copper smelting:

Whilst waiting to have a turn with the bellows, we entertained ourselves by making spears and bows and arrows from willow and turning charcoal, clay and chalk into face and body paint:

The university had also kindly lent us a flint knapping kit, an activity hugely enjoyed by the group:

After everyone had been able to practice with the bellows, we attempted to smelt the copper ore by bellowing continuously for a longer period of time. The charcoal was carefully scraped back and the crucible was removed from the pit furnace and its molten contents emptied over the axe mould.

Unfortunately there wasn’t enough copper to fill the axe mould, but we did manage to pour a shape which, once cleaned up looked remarkably like Britain! Thanks again to Chris for giving up his time and sharing with us his knowledge of the Bronze Age and copper smelting and to the University of Southampton for lending us their flint knapping kit.

With the younger children, we embarked on a Wild in the Woods Wild Day Out, den building, having a go at fire lighting, face painting and making chocolate flavoured damper bread! Here are some photos from the day:

This week we challenged the older children to a Blashford Bioblitz, visiting as many different habitats as we could in search of amphibians, reptiles, insects, birds and more. We began with a rummage through the light trap and roped Bob in for his moth knowledge! The trap revealed 17 different species of moth, a harlequin ladybird and caddisfly whilst we also spotted a southern hawker dragonfly and brimstone butterfly over by the pond.

Rummage through the light trap

Rummaging through the light trap

It was then time to delve into the pond to see what else we could find, adding another 23 species to our list, including cased caddis, pond and ramshorn snails, water stick insects, newtpoles or ‘efts’, lesser and greater waterboatmen, whirligig and screech beetles, phantom midge larvae, damselfly, dragonfly and mayfly nymphs and a leech.

After lunch we headed to the meadow, finding a brown hawker dragonfly, common blue damselfly, meadow grasshopper, honey bee, ants and spiders, amongst others. The meadow was also the perfect place to test out our homemade pooters, with Archie managing to catch ants and a spider in his. Inspired by Bob’s talk of how moths were named, the girls decided their common blue butterfly was to be called Ambermidia, a mixture of their names.

In an attempt to find some shade, we popped into Ivy North Hide, spotting coot and mallard, then headed to the woodland to see what we could find up in the canopy. We held a beat tray under a tree branch, then shook the branch to see what, if anything, fell out:

Our most exciting finds were an oak bush cricket and a buff tip caterpillar, with James carrying the naming theme on, renaming a midge ‘annoyingus midginus’.

After a quick visit to the Woodland Hide which revealed 9 more bird species and a bank vole, we headed down to the river for a proper cool off, catching pond skaters, freshwater shrimp, beetle larvae and stonefly nymph whilst we were there, but sadly no fish.

Finally, we had a quick peek in the compost bin and were rewarded with 3 grass snakes. Here’s a not particularly great photo of two of them, as they didn’t hang around for long!

Grass snakes

Grass snakes in the compost bin

With a grand total of 81 different species, we had done brilliantly considering the heat!

Yesterday we carried on with the bird and bug theme with the younger children, making bee finger puppets and decorating birds on sticks before trying to camouflage our own moths by colouring them in and hiding them outside, testing our camouflage skills!

We went on our own mini bird hunt challenge, visiting both the Woodland Hide and Ivy South Hide in two teams – the totals were almost the same, with only a Coal tit in it for the winning team!

There were birds there a minute ago

Bird watching from the woodland hide, there were birds there a minute ago!

After embarking on a fun and rather giant bug hunt, we headed to the meadow to see what we could find:

So all in all it’s been a fun and busy couple of weeks, filled with birds, bugs, copper smelting and more. Thank you for reading to the end!!!