Wildlife Tots enjoying the Dockens Water

Not content with only getting into the river the week before, I decided Monday’s Tots session would also be river themed! I am delighted to say that we had a fully booked morning session for Tots, and ran an afternoon session as well – one boy enjoyed himself so much that he came to both sessions.

Our first was to make paper boats (or rather, my task the night before).. was to learn how to fold a piece of a4 paper into a boat. PAPER! I hear you cry! But PAPER SINKS!? Ah ha, well…. at Blashford we are rather clever you see.

A4 paper at the ready, we scribbled and scribbled and scribbled and scribbled.. and … you guessed it…. scribbled some more…. with wax crayons, until both sides of our paper was completely covered, and WATERPROOFED!

Once we had waterproofed our paper, everybody followed along with my folding (well done parents, and children!) until we had created some lovely little boats.

We walked to the campfire area and sat around in a circle, heard a little bit of a story and then meandered our way to the river, picking little ‘passengers’ (flowers, grass heads etc) for our voyage down the river. When we arrived at the river we got in, lined up and with an assortment of adults to ‘field’ for boats so we didn’t lose any down the river proper, we let them go and had a boat race. Well, we actually had about 5 boat races!

Once we had finished racing, and ‘passengers’ had gone overboard, we all had a go at river dipping. The Tots loved splashing in the river finding all sorts of tiny creatures, and we didn’t have anywhere near as many full wellies as I had imagined. A huge thank you to the parents in the afternoon session, I was helping the children wash their hands at the tippy tap, and as I got back to the riverside all the equipment was rinsed, packed up and ready to go back to the centre. A busy day, but a wonderful one.

Advertisement

Family River Splash!

We couldn’t let half term pass without trying to soak some children in a river… and so that’s (almost) exactly what we did!

The weather has been quite changeable recently, but thankfully this morning began bright and sunny. I got to Blashford and enlisted the help of Jacki one of our wonderful volunteers who was here for the regular volunteer party, to help me take all the equipment down to the river. Wheelbarrow full (although maybe not quite as full as Jim manages), and we trundled off to the river. ‘Danger’ deep water flags were set out… we don’t actually want to lose children in the deep bits, and nets, trays, ID guides too.

On arrival at the Education Centre the children engrossed themselves in colouring and water-themed word searches, and once we had everybody we got started. Our first stop was to find some rushes to make some rush boats to float down the river. After demonstrating how to fold the rushes and wrap them to secure the ‘boat’ and create a mast we all searched for a suitable leaf to be a sail. Some rush boats ended up a little top heavy!

We walked down to the river and followed the meander to race our boats and to see how the water feels whooshing past our boots in the deeper sections of meander. As we walked back to the bridge we hunted for pooh sticks, and with a yell of THREE, TWO, ONE, DROP! we raced them under the bridge.

I explained how to river dip, and what we might find, and then everybody got into the river again! It wasn’t long before the depth of water inside some people’s wellies was actually deeper than the water they were stood in, but they didn’t seem to mind!

We caught a lot of little freshwater shrimp, and all the families did well at using the guides to identify what they caught, and then we manage to catch some tiny little bullhead fish too.

Nobody really wanted to get out of the river, so we overran a little bit, and did a final pooh sticks challenge to finish. Once the welly boot water had been tipped back into the river it was time to wash hands and have some lunch. Well timed too, as not long after we stopped it started to rain.

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!

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.

P1240655

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:

P1240680

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:

P1240660

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

P1240684

Alex having a swim

Alex was happy to oblige for an underwater photo – he definitely enjoyed himself!

P1240672

Alex getting ready to take the plunge

Alex

Alex

P1240673

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.

P1240956

Removing birch trees near Goosander Hide

P1240961

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.

P1250241

Making wreaths

P1250245

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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:

P1250293

Elliott getting ready to release the Firecrest

P1250284

Alex releasing a robin

P1250277

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

P1250275

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.

P1250332

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:

P1250329

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

P1250348

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.

A Wild Day Out at last!

During the half-term school holiday of February 2020 we enjoyed some unseasonably mild, but very, very wet weather amidst the good company of children, both regulars and newcomers, and enjoyed some natural craft activities on our school holiday activity days known as “Wild Days Out” (see the blog post that followed it here:https://blashfordlakes.wordpress.com/2020/02/28/winter-craft/).

Little did we know at the time that that would be the last for 18 months!

So it was with some trepidation, but mostly delight, that this summer holiday we finally held Wild Days Out again – Tracy at the beginning of the holidays with some den building and fire-lighting fun, me at the end with an aquatic adventure; pond dipping and river dipping with a difference.

The weather throughout August could have been better, but it could have been a lot worse, and I think it is fair to say that staff, volunteers and children all had a ball and that everyone involved was genuinely pleased to be back doing what we love! Yet another milestone in the road to pandemic recovery.

I love my job as an Education Officer, but even so it is not often that I will declare that all of the children that I work with are delightful, but, in this instance, they really were and it was so lovely to spend some time playing outdoors with them all, everyone sharing a love of and learning about nature ūüôā

We started our Wild Day Out off at the pond with some pond dipping following on from some colouring, wordsearch, frog origami and pipe-cleaner dragonfly crafting activities while we waited for everyone to arrive and be registered. Given that the dipping pond we were using is only just more than two years old it amazes me every time we dip it just how much wildlife has already colonised it – and is colonising it. All of the children had memorable close up dragonfly encounters whilst being inspected by the southern and migrant hawkers standing guard over their territory!

Still as good as the pond is, and the promise it holds, I very much hope we are successful in raising enough money through our current boardwalk and pond replacement fundraising appeal to replace the neighbouring “original” dipping pond which, sadly, despite the incredible biodiversity it once held, no longer holds water and which has, during this very dry summer that we have had, now all but dried out completely.

We need to raise £5,000 to supplement some money which has already been secured, partly by a very generous donation from a regular supporter of, and visitor to, Blashford and if you would like to help us achieve this amount Рand in doing so ensure that we are able to continue to offer incredible educational experiences and wildlife encounters for children and adults on Wild Days Out, school visits or events Рplease do visit our appeal page and donate to the project by following the link to the website here: https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/appeals/blashford-lakes-boardwalk-pond-appeal

A very heartfelt thank you to everyone who has already contributed to our appeal – as well as to everyone who I hope will now do so!

We spent a lot of time at the pond and what was particularly gratifying on this occasion especially was how long the children spent studying and identifying the invertebrates in their catch: all too often it is the “thrill of the hunt” which captivates them so this was great ūüôā !

Following lunch (which again was remarkably civilised for a Wild Day Out) we headed down to the river dipping area to explore the Dockens Water, pausing on route to make some soft rush boats on our way down, always a much loved, favourite and memorable past time!

Rush boats making – and a none too subtle hint of what was to come when we got to the river!

Boats sailed (see the video clip I posted in my Twitter feed here: https://twitter.com/JimDay22857614/status/1430944382287556616 !) we got on with the business of kick sampling to see what river wildlife could be found:

Sadly there was not as much wildlife to be found as we would normally expect to see, although more than enough to satisfy us on this occasion. I fear that a lot of “dam building” by visitors this summer may have excessively disturbed the river bed and thus dislodged the invertebrates – and some fish – who were sheltering under the cobbles and amidst the gravels that were used in the construction. Although I am reasonably confident that the wildlife itself is fine, and just resettled downstream, it has left our dipping area somewhat bereft of its usual abundance of life, and probably won’t be recolonised until we get some rainfall and the spate conditions which follow re-distributes the animals along the course of the river. There is a lot to be said for encouraging river play, and indeed I positively encourage it myself, but it should always be borne in mind that our actions can, and do, often have unintended consequences. Indeed it is due to the impacts that our river activity can have on the wildlife that within the nature reserve we very much limit our activity to one very small section of river.

With time marching on, the end of the session (and collection by parents) drawing closer it was time to take the plunge – quite literally – for those that wanted to, and were daft enough!

While some children (probably quite sensibly) continued fishing with their nets, a handful of us (lumping myself in this group as the biggest kid of the lot ūüėČ ) donned masks and snorkels to see what, if anything we could see…

Some of us were content to just put our faces in…

Some of us wanted to go further, but were not quite committed enough…

And some of us went for it!

And just for the record I did see fish – some little minnows which I was ridiculously excited to see as the exclamations through my snorkel would testify to all that were there to hear them!

And was it cold? Cor blimey, yes it was! A lot colder than the sea had been when I’d gone swimming with the family at Highcliffe a couple of days before hand!

A lot of fun though ūüėČ

All being well the next Wild Day Out will be held during the October half-term holiday. Although the theme for the activities is yet to be decided they are likely to run on Tuesday 26th October (for 7-12 year olds) and Wednesday 27th October (for 5-8 year olds) if you want to pencil those dates in your diary! We’ll advertise and take bookings through the website as normal when we are ready: https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/events

Our Young Naturalists are back onsite!

Since May 2020 we’ve managed to stay in touch with 17 of our Young Naturalists and gain one new member, through 13 online sessions and three onsite sessions (we managed to squeeze two short campfire sessions in during December and met up again onsite at the end of April).

Using zoom and aided by the digital microscope we’ve looked at pond and river life, moths, birds (less successfully online I have to admit…) and a variety of skulls. Aided by PowerPoint and a lot of photos we’ve also covered topics including insects (primarily bees, butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies), reptiles, birds of prey and freshwater fish.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Their topic requests have at times kept me on my toes!

We were also joined online by Owain from Amphibian and Reptile Conservation back in the summer and Amy from the New Forest National Park Authority in October. Following on from our session with Amy, we were joined in November by a New Forest Commoner, Lyndsey Stride, who took us on an autumnal forest walk via zoom and talked about the key New Forest habitats, how her animals interacted with them and and the commoning year.

Rather than being attached to individuals, the common rights of the New Forest are attached to properties and land in the Forest, with the New Forest Commoners being those who occupy the land or property to which the privileges are attached. These privileges include the right to graze stock on the open forest and many commoners are descendants of families who have been commoning for many generations. Today commoning doesn’t generally provide a living, resulting in many commoners being employed elsewhere and it was really interesting to hear Lyndsey talking about her way of life.

At the end of April we were able to meet up properly on site, much to my relief as I had I think had my fill of zoom, and, being able to facilitate more young people than in December we also reverted back to our old meeting time of 10am until 2.30pm – it was great to have a bit more time to do things and a bit more time to catch up with the group.

With dawn chorus day (the first Sunday in May) fast approaching I thought it would be fun to make and try out parabolic reflectors, having seen some great do it yourself versions on social media. Using Sarah Dowling‘s fabulous art work as a guide, we had a go at making them using a plastic bowl and some wooden offcuts Geoff had kindly provided and prepped for us.

plant pot parabolic 4

Plant pot parabolic instructions by Sarah Dowling

We placed a piece of wood inside the bowl and put a couple of elastic bands around it, which would be used to keep the recording device in place, then screwed through this piece of wood (avoiding the elastic bands!), the bowl and into another piece of wood that would be used as the handle.

Once made, you could attach your recording device inside the bowl (in this case we used mobile phones) and either record the sound using a recording app or just via the video function on the phone. They worked brilliantly and I was impressed by how much bird song they picked up for something so simply made.

After testing our recording capabilities (the instructions suggested downloading either the ‘Rode Reporter’ app for IOS or the ‘RecForge II’ app for android) we went on a wander in search of bird song. Thankfully it was not hard to find!

plant pot parabolic 2

Using our plant pot parabolics

plant pot parabolic

Recording bird song

It was quite breezy so some of the recordings picked up a lot of background noise, but I was quite pleased with a couple that came out more clearly and you could make out blackcap, garden warbler, blackbird, robin, chiffchaff, and Cetti’s warbler singing, as well as a black-headed gull calling (or squawking) as it flew overhead. I’ll definitely be taking mine out again on a walk at some point!

After having lunch we headed down to the river, as having talked about freshwater fish during our last online session some river dipping seemed rather fitting.

Although Jim had been busy running river study sessions for small groups of home educated children, they had been exploring further down stream and as a result we caught a good number of bullheads and a stone loach in our usual river dipping spot. We also found a very nice demoiselle nymph.

Our next Young Naturalists session is on Sunday 30th May and if the weather is nice we will be heading off on a walk in search of reptiles. I’m keeping my fingers crossed!

If you know of an enthusiastic Young Naturalist please do spread the word, we are always keen to welcome new members – booking is essential via either our website or Eventbrite and anyone joining us for the first time will need to have completed a parental consent form, which can be obtained by emailing us at BlashfordLakes@hiwwt.org.uk

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

Messing about in boats…

…with boats, out of boats and under boats!

Yes, the last week of the summer holiday saw us, and the children on “Wild Days Out” as well of course (I have to justify somehow), taking the plunge, quite literally, into the Dockens Water river again. The theme this week?

“River Adventure”…

Starting off in the classroom with paperboat folding and colouring/waterproofing them with wax crayons we were then ready to head down to the water to test them out and do some kick sample surveying for wildlife:

Plenty of invertebrates were of course caught but, as always, it was the fish which captured most children’s interest – with the exception of those few who caught either a leech (always exciting for their “yuck” or “eeuuurgh”¬†factor), beautiful demoiselle or golden ringed dragonfly nymph (both similarly exciting and always elicit a “what is THAT?!” response).

On the fish front by far the most numerous species was minnow, but bullhead, as always, were much in evidence and we are also seeing¬†signs of a good recruitment to the brown trout population this year too. Fishy highlights were an elver (second we’ve caught kick sampling this year, and again, a promising sign that they have had a good year) and a relatively large stone loach (easily identified by the barbels with which it finds its invertebrate prey amongst the silt and stones at the bottom of the river at night).

By this time and being, surprisingly, relatively dry and warm still we quit while we were ahead to stop for lunch – and then equip and prepare ourselves for the real adventure that was to come: coracle paddling and snorkelling!

The coracle had been pre-prepared this year by Tracy with one of our volunteers, Rex, who fulfilled a life long ambition by coming in over a couple of mornings to create and then paddle it himself! Thank you Rex! Thanks also to the Spinnaker Sailing Club for providing us with a loan of buoyancy aids for our intrepid adventurers to wear, “just in case”. As it was most children did manage to stay in the coracle, and the only time it actually sank was when Tracy, somewhat optimistically it has to be said, tried sending 3 children off in it!

Our craft, constructed from some of our willow pollarded last winter, was fitted out with a seat scavenged from a building site by another volunteer, Geoff, and then lined with some left over pond liner from a pond project at Testwood Lakes (pond liner works just as well at keeping water out of a boat as it does in a pond). And despite some heavy use survived completely unscathed Рalthough to be fair, I did not actually have a go in it myself this year, and, had I done so, things might have ended differently!

180829RiverAdventure by J Day (6a) - Copy

So, with a little disappointment it has to be said, I didn’t make it into the coracle this year. Not too much disappointment however because the only reason I didn’t was that I was having far too much fun snorkelling beneath the peaty waters to spend too much time above it!

Having¬†enjoyed (honest!)¬†a very cold and wet weekend camping a¬†couple of¬†days before I was still tired and, with the weather grey as it was, I woke up and came to work with a certain amount of apathy towards the idea of deliberately submerging myself in the river again. However we’d said we’d do it so I reluctantly donned my wetsuit and we made our way down and in… and I was SO glad that I had! I, and everyone who was brave (or foolish) enough to come in with me had a ball and we saw SO MANY fish! As many as we had thought we had caught kick-sampling earlier it really was a very small fraction of just what was in the river!

180829RiverAdventure by J Day (4) - Copy

So you think they look a bit crazy? You have to be a little bit crazy to even think of doing this!

And its amazing just how much you can see, even in shallow water!

Although the deep water is fun too – the trick is to just swim/crocodile crawl up stream so all of the disturbed silt/sediment washes back behind you and definitely don’t try and snorkel down stream of a load of kick-sampling river dippers!

Wonderful, unusual, wildlife sights await those who brave the water!

180830WDORiverAdventureII by J Day (19) - Copy180829RiverAdventure by J Day (1) - Copy

It was cold, but so worth it and well done to all of the children who joined us in the river this summer Рyou are all part of what is a very small and highly elite group of people who have snorkelled and paddled the Dockens Water river.

You may call yourselves the “Dockens Divers” and, quite rightly, be proud of your achievement!

 

 

 

Fitting it all in…

At the end of April our Young Naturalists were joined by Paul from Strong Island Media, who had come along to take photos and film them during a session. As a result we managed to fit in a number of different activities to showcase what we get up to and enjoyed a very varied day!

Whilst Joel and Vaughan headed off to the Woodland Hide with Nigel to photograph birds the rest of the group opted to pond dip, something we hadn’t actually done in some time. We caught a number of dragonfly nymphs, water stick insects, some fabulous cased caddis fly larvae and a smooth newt. We also spotted a large red damselfly on the edge of the boardwalk, so moved it to a safer spot away from our tubs, nets and feet.

We then had a look through the light trap which we had begun to put out more regularly with the weather warming up. The trap unfortunately didn’t contain an awful lot as it had been cold the night before, but there were a couple of very smart nut tree tussocks along with two Hebrew characters and a common quaker.

Volunteer Geoff had very kindly made up some more bird box kits for the group to put together, so we tidied away the pond dipping equipment and they had a go at building the boxes:

Brenda has been keeping us posted on the activity going on in the nest boxes the group made in October and we put up in January, using them to replace some of the older boxes on the reserve. Out of the twelve boxes made, six are active with the others either containing a small amount of nesting material or nothing: Poppy’s box contains 11 warm eggs and the female is incubating them; Geoff’s¬†box contains 7 hatched, naked and blind blue tit chicks along with 2 warm eggs hopefully to hatch; Ben’s contains 3 downy and blind great tit chicks which will hopefully be¬†large enough to ring when Brenda next checks; Will H’s box contains 7 naked and blind great tit chicks and 2 warm eggs hopefully¬†still to hatch; Megan’s box contains 7 downy and blind blue tit chicks and 1 warm egg which may not hatch and finally Thomas’ box contains 9 warm great tit eggs.

Brenda has also been taking photos of some of the boxes for us to share with the group:

Thank you Brenda for continuing to update us on the progress of our nest boxes, we look forward to the next one!

After lunch we headed down to the river to see what else we could catch. Again we haven’t done this in quite a while so it was nice for the group to get in and see what they could find. We caught a stone loach, a dragonfly nymph, a number of bullhead and¬†a very smart demoiselle nymph:

Finally, those who joined us in February were delighted to see the willow dome is sprouting. As the shoots get longer we will be able to weave them into the structure, giving it more shape and support.

willow dome

Thanks to Geoff and Nigel for their help during the session and to Paul from Strong Island Media for joining us, we look forward to seeing his footage of the group and being able to share it to promote the group and our work.

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

“What’s on?” April – July 2018

View the latest copy of our “What’s on?” leaflet with details of forthcoming events and activities here: Blashford Lakes Whats On Apr – Jun 2018

Every year I am asked why we just do events for children and, in particular, why we don’t do pond dipping for adults, and every year I explain that we do – so I will particularly draw your attention to “Pond and River Dipping for Adults” on April Saturday 8th , 2pm ‚Äď 4pm and July Wednesday 18th, 7pm ‚Äď 9pm, as well as Bob’s “Mid-Summer Bugs“, guided walk with an invertebrate focus on June Thursday 21st, 2-4pm!

Most events, including these three, require booking in advance – email blashfordlakes@hiwwt.org.uk or call 01425 472760 and leave your name, contact details (a mobile number is always handy for last minute hiccups if you do book by email) and how many places you require.

See you soon!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Pond dipping – not just for children! Images by Rex Waygood

Spring Dipping for Lamprey

It was lovely to be back at Blashford on Sunday after a two week break, with the sun shining and chiffchaffs calling from what seemed like every other tree. It was time again for our monthly Young Naturalists meeting, and with the weather warming up we began with a rummage through the light trap. It revealed a number of Common and Small Quakers and Hebrew Characters along with this rather pale Brindled Beauty.

Brindled Beauty by Talia Felstead

Brindled Beauty by Talia Felstead

The light trap also contained a number of Clouded Drabs, with this one in particular making us take a closer look:

Clouded drab by Talia Felstead

Clouded Drab by Talia Falstead

We wondered if it could perhaps have been a Lead-coloured Drab instead, but couldn’t be sure. Having only a photo to show Bob today, we’ve decided it probably was a Clouded Drab, as their colours can be quite variable, but you never know, we might be wrong!

After carefully putting the moths back in the light trap to be released later in the day, we headed down to the Dockens Water in search of Brook Lamprey. Brook Lamprey can grow up to 15cm and can easily be confused with small eels, but they lack jaws, instead having a sucker disc with a mouth in the centre. They also lack scales, any paired fins and a gill cover, instead having a line of seven respiratory holes behind the eye. They are easily overlooked, burrowing down into sand, silt or mud before emerging in the Spring to spawn. They die soon after spawning, but their corpses are quickly devoured by fish and birds so often are not found.

Now was the time to go looking for them, and we knew a couple had been caught on a school visit the week before. We were in luck, catching nine in our usual river dipping spot and another two when we searched further downstream.

We also caught bullhead fish, mayfly nymphs, caddisfly larvae¬†and pond skaters. On moving further downstream, we caught a large number of dragonfly nymphs,¬†fourteen in total. We decided they were likely to be nymphs of the Golden-ringed dragonfly, a species that usually patrols upland and heathland streams. The nymphs often¬†burrow down into the stream’s¬†muddy or sandy bottom,¬†leaving only their head and the tip of their abdomen exposed. They may remain in the same position for several weeks, waiting¬†to ambush any prey that¬†passes by.

With the Dockens starting its journey to the sea in the New Forest, it is not surprising the nymphs have found their way downstream to us, and whilst we don’t get many sightings of the adults on the reserve they are sometimes seen hawking low over the water.

It was great to see so many nymphs of all different sizes, we should have Golden-ringed dragonflies emerging from the Dockens for a good few years!

Whilst down by the river, we took some Elder cuttings from nearby trees for Bob. A small deciduous tree native to the UK, elder grows well on wasteland, as well as in woodland, scrub and hedgerows. As they do so well on disturbed ground, they will be planted by the volunteers on the Hanson site where hopefully if they root well their flowers will be an important nectar source for a variety of insects whilst their berries will be a great food source for mammals and Autumn migrants.

After lunch we were joined by Corinne from the Cameron Bespolka Trust, who came with us for a spot of nettle pulling alongside a stretch of path in the woodland. Whilst nettles are fantastic for wildlife, we have plenty on the reserve and clearing some areas gives other flora the chance to thrive. We’re hoping to see increased amounts of ground ivy and hopefully twayblades, a medium sized orchid that can be easily overlooked, so keep your eyes peeled!

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