Filling in the gaps

It has been some time since my last blog… I’m sorry about the gap! I had a bit of time off over New Year – which seems like a super long time ago now – and since the lockdown I have been part time furloughed (and spending more time exploring more locally to me in Salisbury), so I’m at Blashford three days a week at present.

So, after Christmas I had a break from weaving willow wreaths – our final wreath total was a whopping 94 (out of 100) sold for a donation, which was a fantastic response to the activity and we hope those who bought them enjoyed decorating them. I think we may have to offer it again next year…

This was briefly replaced with a ‘Forest Folk’ activity for our younger visitors, where they could make their own forest friend or stickman then enjoy some simple activities along the wild walk loop. Although short lived, due to the lockdown, a number of families took part and we will be able to put the activity and signs out again when restrictions are lifted.

I’ve also been out and about helping Bob more, mainly to provide first aid cover whilst he’s chainsawing, and it’s been nice to spend time on other bits of the reserve. We’ve spent a bit of time widening the footpath up by the screens on the approach to Lapwing Hide:

Whilst out and about it’s easy to get distracted by the signs of spring – it’s nice to know it’s on its way! I’ve seen my first scarlet elf cups and primroses are also in flower. The snowdrops near the Centre have emerged and the buds are very close now to opening fully.

I also found a nice clump of jelly ear fungus along the Dockens Water path…

… and a very nice blob of Yellow brain or witches’ butter:

yellow brain

Yellow brain fungus or Witches’ butter

According to European folklore, if yellow brain fungus appeared on the gate or door of a house it meant a witch had cast a spell on the family living there. The only way to remove the spell was to pierce the fungus several times with straight pins until it went away, which gave it the common name ‘witches’ butter’. In Sweden, it was burnt to protect against evil spirits.

Another sign of spring I like to look for each year is on the hazel trees. If you look really closely at the hazel you might be able to spot some of its incredibly tiny pink flowers, which look a bit like sea anemones. Hazel is monoecious, with both the male and female flowers found on the same tree. The yellow male catkins appear first before the leaves and hang in clusters, whilst the female flowers are tiny, bud-like and with red styles.

Once pollinated by pollen from other hazel trees, the female flowers develop into oval fruits which then mature into hazelnuts.

On the insect front, the only moth I’ve seen recently was this mottled umber, which greeted me on the Centre door as I was opening up one morning:

mottled umber

Mottled umber

The robins near Ivy Silt Pond continue to be very obliging, posing for photos, and I’ve also been watching the kingfisher by the pond outside the back of the Centre. It seems to prefer this spot when the lake levels are higher and visibility poorer, making it harder to fish for food.

robin

Robin

kingfisher

Kingfisher

And we have on occasion had some rain! These photos were from the heavy downpours last week:

On Sunday I was half expecting to arrive to a snowy scene, but it seemed to just miss the reserve. On my drive in it became less and less wintery and I arrived to a thin layer of melting slush, having left behind a rather white Salisbury. Given I had to get home again it was probably a good thing, but I admit I was slightly disappointed! It was though a good day for photographing water droplets, as everything was melting and there were plenty around!

I will finish with a blue tit enjoying the sunshine up by Lapwing Hide, and will endeavour to blog again soon… I’m woefully behind with my Young Naturalists updates…

blue tit

Blue tit enjoying the sunshine

Winter craft

Last week we carried on regardless with our craft themed Wild Days Out despite the weather, making the most of our outdoor shelter so we could still have a fire and spending a little more time indoors than we would do normally, in particular on the Thursday. We did though manage a wander in search of firewood – which we saved for another day as everything really was rather soggy – and some outdoor play at lunch time to let off some steam.

Being craft themed, our main aim over the two days was to use the fire to melt some pewter before carefully pouring it into a mould to produce a cast of a natural object. We made some play-dough (one cup of flour, half a cup of salt, two tablespoons of cream of tartar, one table spoon of oil and some water) to use for our moulds which worked really well and could even be re-used once partially baked by the pewter. Acorns, alder cones, pine cones and shells were carefully pressed into the dough then removed, leaving an imprint behind that could be filled with the pewter.

Once the moulds were ready, we carefully heated up some lead-free pewter shot (a mixture of 95% tin, 4% antimony and 1% copper) over the fire in a spoon attached to a long handle, and once melted poured this into the mould.

Once the items had cooled down, they could be removed from the play-dough:

The children really enjoyed having a go at pewter casting and their items all looked fabulous! The shells in particular came out really well, and the pine cones did look like little hedgehogs.

Whilst we were doing this in small groups, they also had a go at modelling with the play-dough, willow weaving, painting and making rush boats.

Despite the weather, a fun time was had by all! Easter’s activities have a somewhat appropriate watery theme as we explore the pond and river. Bookings can be made from Monday, for more details please visit one of the following:

Wet n’ Wild for 7 to 12 year olds on Tuesday 7th April

Splash! for 5 to 8 year olds on Wednesday 8th April

Woodwork and wandering

The weather last week resulted in two very different Wild Days Out, with Tuesday very wet and soggy and not the best conditions for wildlife watching although we did still manage a trip to the hides and a walk in search of wasp spiders, and the Wednesday much warmer and brighter.

On Tuesday we swapped wildlife watching for some making, made possible with a small group and limited only by the children’s imagination, the materials we could lay our hands on and the woodwork skills of volunteers Chris and Lucy and myself. The group did keep us on our toes! But the focus and determination that went into the making was fabulous, we started with a bit of wand making then this progressed into making paints from blackberries, charcoal and clay, bug homes, a willow snail and a sword and a shield.

And there was definitely time to play at the end, especially when they found a toad!

Playing

With very different weather on the Wednesday, we headed off to the lichen heath in search of wasp spiders, munched a few wild strawberries and blackberries then made our way to Goosander Hide to see what we could spot.

Unfortunately we didn’t manage to spot any adders, but on our way back we did see a number of butterflies enjoying the sunnier weather:

There were also plenty of butterflies and other insects enjoying the flowers by the pond at lunchtime:

We also spent a bit of time enjoying the new sand pit, tunnel and stepping stones:

After lunch we rummaged through the moth trap, with the highlights including a stunning Elephant hawk-moth, a Poplar hawk-moth and a Canary-shouldered thorn:

We then headed off on the ‘Wild Walk‘, keeping our fingers crossed for grass snakes and we were not disappointed, spotting six altogether either on the branches in Ivy Silt Pond or outside the front of Ivy South Hide: 

We carried on along the sculpture trail then headed down to the river to finish with a paddle and some rush boat racing:

We still have some spaces available on our summer Wild Days Out and details on how to book can be found on our website.

Smelting and melting…

Last week we embarked on two Wild Days Out with a difference, exploring autumn and the changing seasons through alchemy and art. In particular, we had a go at smelting pewter with the older children and wax with the younger ones, pouring the molten metal and wax into molds made out play-doh which we had pressed natural finds such as acorns, sycamore seeds and pine cones in to. The results were fantastic!

On both days we began with a forage in search of natural treasures, gathering up firewood on the way.

We found time to pop into Ivy North Hide and Harry made a note of all the birds we were spotting in the hide diary.

After collecting lots of different seeds and leaves, we headed into willow wood and laid the fire. We used play-doh to make a mold of our natural finds then sat it on the edge of the fire surround. Once the pewter shot had melted we carefully poured it over the mold then left it to cool before popping it out of the mould and into a bucket of water to finish cooling off and be cleaned of any last play-doh residue.

The pewter creations, once wiped clean looked fantastic and the children were all thrilled with the results. The acorns in their cups and pine cones worked particularly well:

With the younger children, we swapped the pewter for wax, melting it in a pan over the fire before decanting it using the spoons into their molds:

Wax objects in their play doh moulds

Wax objects cooling off in thir play-doh molds

The wax objects came out just as well, but the play-doh was a bit harder to peel off from the blackberries and pine cones!

IMG_20171031_151057

Wax pine cone and blackberry, needing a little more cleaning to remove the play-doh…

Whilst we out experimenting, we did some leaf bashing, Toby made a rush boat, went in search of minibeasts and generally embraced just how muddy the clay pit and the area in general had become…

We had two great days, I’m not sure who enjoyed experimenting with pewter and wax the most, us or them, but they were all very happy with their creations and keen to make more! We will definitely do it again…