Preparing for Winter!

November’s Wildlife Tots was all about how different animals prepare for the winter. After getting slightly messy with the paint, creating leaf prints and leaf rubbings indoors, we headed outside and positioned a number of mammal traps around the building – we had prepared these especially for the wood mice and bank voles, who stay active all year round, filling them with lots of cosy hay and some tempting bird seed!

We then pretended to be squirrels, hiding our acorns (or pasta shells) in various secret places to see if we could locate them again later – a test of our squirrel-ness! We searched for natural holes, hid them under leaf litter and looked for crevices in tree bark.

It was then time to head over to our willow wood, to make a cosy home fit for a hedgehog to hibernate in. We collected lots of different natural materials, including grasses and soft and cosy moss to turn into an animal home, before placing a film canister (our pretend hedgehog!) filled with hot water inside.

Whilst our pretend hedgehogs stayed in their homes, we delved into the clay pit to make hedgehog sculptures to take home:

It was then time to re-take the temperature of the water inside our pretend hedgehogs. It had started off at a whopping 54 degrees Celsius, cooling down to somewhere between 17 and 22. Although the temperature had dropped, they all did a really good job at keeping their hedgehogs cosy and warm!

It was then time to head back to the Centre, to check the mammal traps we had put out (sadly we were unsuccessful at catching anything this time!) and to search for the acorns we had squirreled away. Almost all of them were found, with the lost few remaining in the undergrowth. We were brilliant squirrels, but were reminded about how important squirrels, and in particular jays, are at helping the oak tree, as the ‘lost’ acorns are able to then germinate in the ground.

Thank you Wildlife Tots for a lovely day!

kenya-sam-and-olivia

Kenya, Sam and Olivia being scary!

 

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A night on the reserve…

Last week a number of our Young Naturalists spent the night at Blashford, camping out under shelters they had made themselves, cooking dinner and breakfast over the camp fire and embarking on a night time adventure around the reserve.

The Young Naturalists project has been shortlisted for the Young People category of Hampshire’s 10th annual Countryside Awards, organised by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE). With judging taking place over the summer, they began their camp out by hosting the judges and showing them some of the activities they enjoy taking part in and some of the areas they have worked in around the reserve. We went through the light trap, looking at and having a go at identifying the moths, then wowed our important visitors with the variety of life found in the pond. After pond dipping, we headed off to the woodland to show them the log circle the group had replaced last June and the Woodland Hide.

After the judges had left us, it was time to think about setting up camp and we selected our materials and headed over to our camp area. It had been incredibly hot during the day, but we were expecting rain overnight and possibly some rumbles of thunder, so all were keen to construct a good shelter and we had a nice variety of designs:

It was then time to think about food so we gathered firewood and got the fire going, prepared an extravagant dinner of jacket potatoes, fish and a vegetable bean chilli and began cooking once the fire had died down a little.

Whilst cooking and eating dinner, and pudding, we enjoyed a stunning sunset:

Stunning sky

It was then time to head off into the night in search of some wildlife! We had already set the light trap, set some mammal traps near the Centre and locked the Woodland and Ivy lake hides, so decided to venture over the road towards the Clear Water Pond and Goosander Hide. Armed with bat detectors, torches and Bob’s homemade moth gloop (a sticky concoction of unrefined sugar, treacle and half a bottle of bitter, designed hopefully to attract moths if painted liberally onto tree trunks), we headed off into the night.

Our bat detectors soon picked up the characteristic ‘wet slaps’ or ‘smacks’ of both Common and Soprano pipistrelles as we passed the lichen heath and paused near the bridge over the Dockens Water. As we followed the path along the Dockens we painted some of the trees with our moth gloop, in the hope that on our return a little later something may have been attracted to the sweet syrup:

Painting trees with moth gloop

After carefully crossing the road we followed the path around the Clear Water Pond towards Goosander Hide and were rewarded with a bat feeding frenzy, picking up Daubenton’s bat and more Pipistrelles. Whilst Daubenton’s bat are picked up on the bat detector at the same frequency as Common pipistrelle, they can be distinguished by a different call, a rapid series of regular ‘clicks’ which resemble rapid machine gun fire. We enjoyed listening to them and spent a while watching them dive low over the water and fly overhead.

It was then time to head back to the Education Centre and we had a lot of painted trees to check on the way. On our way back we spotted slugs, spiders, woodlice (the only thing really attracted to Bob’s moth gloop) and a toad.

After not a lot of sleep (we had rain and a couple of rumbles of thunder, but luckily, with the exception of volunteer Geoff’s, our tarp shelters stood up to the test) it was time to think about cooking breakfast. Geoff had been up bright and early and got the fire going again for us, after rather a soggy nights sleep (sorry Geoff!), so we cooked breakfast then headed off to open up the hides, top up the bird feeders and check the light trap.

You may have spotted the tent in the first picture, this was Jess and Maddy’s plan D, after seeing the forecast for the night and taking three attempts to make their shelter. They retreated here at about 3 o’clock in the morning, not beaten by the weather (their shelter was bone dry, Geoff would have loved it!) but by the slugs…

Our final task of the morning, aside from taking down our shelters and tidying camp, was to check the mammal traps we had put out the night before. We were rewarded with two bank voles and two wood mice, out of the ten we had set – not a bad catch!

Thank you all the Young Naturalists who joined us for a night on the reserve, and a really big thank you to volunteers Geoff, Nigel and Emily for giving up their time too!

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