Roasting and toasting

It was rather warm on Sunday for our August Young Naturalists gathering, so we decided to roast ourselves even more by spending time in the meadow, a habitat we haven’t really visited yet this year, followed by a bit of blackberry bread cooking over the campfire…

We began though with a look through the light trap which revealed at least 19 different species including a lovely Peach blossom, a Purple thorn, a Pebble hook tip and a Chinese character, amongst others.

We were then distracted by a Southern hawker flying over the pond, which Talia managed to photograph whilst it was busy hawking for insects:

Southern hawker by Talia Felstead

Southern hawker by Talia Felstead

After gathering up some sweep nets, identification sheets and bug pots we made our way over to the meadow in search of wasp spiders, grasshoppers and bush crickets and anything else we could find. It didn’t take us long to locate the wasp spider, just inside the gate on the left hand side.

Wasp spider by Talia Felstead

Wasp spider by Talia Felstead

I set the group a challenge to find a pink grasshopper and a Roesel’s bush cricket. I don’t think they believed me about the pink grasshopper, but once they’d spotted one they tried their best to catch it and find more, but without any success! So sadly no photo!

Most grasshopper species are a more sensible green-brown colour, allowing them to blend in with their surroundings, but some do carry genes that make them pink or purple-red. They just might not survive for long in the wild (or stay in one place long enough for a photo!), as they are more likely to be predated. The group did now believe there were pink grasshoppers though, and there were plenty more sensibly coloured ones around that didn’t move quite as fast for us to catch and look at closely.

As for the Roesel’s bush cricket, although we swept through the grass outside the meadow as well as in it, we couldn’t find one, so I will have to be content with the photo Bob put on the blog yesterday instead. We did though catch a very fine looking female long-winged conehead cricket instead:

Female bush cricket by Talia Felstead

Long-winged conehead by Talia Felstead

Bush cricket

Long-winged conehead, quite content on Megan’s hand

We also found a number of other spiders, including some brilliantly patterned orb web spiders and a wolf spider, alongside caterpillars, an orange swift moth, common blue damselflies, honey beesbaby toads and more.

After getting a bit hot in the meadow, we relocated momentarily to the shade and picked blackberries before heading to the campfire area to attempt a bit of bread making. Megan and Will H did a superb job of mixing us up some dough whilst Will S and Ben helped lay the fire which Ben then lit.

I offered the group blackberries, dried fruit, freshly picked marjoram and chocolate buttons for their ingredients, which seemed to cater for all tastes, and we had a mix of fillings and shapes on the grill – not everyone opted for chocolate! Everyone went back for seconds…

The group enjoyed bread making so much they requested more campfire cooking, so we agreed on a winter cookout towards the end of the year, the food list is already quite lengthy!

We also found time to hunt here for minibeasts, finding a flat backed millipede that managed to stay still long enough for Talia to take a photo and a ground beetle larvae.

Flat backed millipede by Talia Felstead

Flat backed millipede by Talia Felstead

Beetle larvae by Talia Felstead

Beetle larvae by Talia Felstead

Thanks to volunteers Geoff and Roma for their help on the day and to Talia for taking lots of great photos and sharing them with me for the blog.

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

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Wild and Autumnal Days Out

The October Half Term has seen our Wild Days Out have a very Autumnal theme, as we headed onto the reserve to enjoy the seasonal changes, discover how nature responds to the cooler weather and spot fungi.

We began by challenging the older children to a game of human knot, with a mycelium twist, demonstrating the outward growth from a spore once it has germinated underground and begins to send out branches, or hypha. As the hyphae repeatedly branch out underground, they assume a larger circular form which is noticeable when the fruiting bodies, or fungi, appear above ground as a fairy ring.

They had to stand in a small circle and reach their right arm in to the centre, taking hold of someone else’s hand but making sure it was not that of the person right next to them. They then had to put their left arm in, taking someone else’s hand, before working together to untangle the human knot without letting go, ending up in a larger circle, or fairy ring.

After an entertaining attempt at the human knot, we explored the woodland along the Dockens Water in search of colourful Autumn leaves, seeds and fungi, with the most exciting find being these Dead Man’s Fingers fungus, Xylaria polymorpha:

dead-mans-fingers

Dead man’s fingers!

Whilst many leaves are falling and the Autumn colours are coming through, the beech trees were still very green and leafy, casting a dappled shade in the woodland:

beech-leaves

Beech leaves in the woodland alongside the Dockens Water

After a squirrel nut hunt (there were some very sneaky squirrels!) and a hedgehog hibernation challenge we finished by collecting some firewood and team laying a fire before cooking some toffee apples :

cooking-toffee-apples

Cooking toffee apples over the fire

 

With the younger children we headed straight to our camp fire area, making leaf crowns and collecting Autumnal leaves on the way which we were going to preserve with a wax coating and turn into Autumn mobiles. After getting the fire going and snapping lots of candles, removing the wick, we watched the candles melt before very carefully dunking our collected leaves into the wax.

It was a lot of fun and gave stunning results!

They too baked toffee apples, carefully whittling sticks to bake them on first:

After embarking on a squirrel nut hunt we finished with a game of apple bobbing which was enjoyed by all, some got wetter than others!