A wet and wild week

 

After a super busy summer term the holidays are here and we’re just as busy with our usual monthly events and our Wild Days Out programme of children’s holiday activities.

Our Young Naturalists met last Sunday for a beginners photography session led by local photographer Clifton Beard. Cliff was a brilliant tutor, keeping things simple and remembering the group would be taking photos with a variety of equipment from smart phones to point and shoot to digital SLRs.

Group in classroom resized

Cliff set us little tasks throughout the session, encouraging us to think more before merrily snapping away and ran through the importance of light, composition and moment. We looked for certain colours, lines, edges and lots more and tried focusing on macro subjects before having a mini photo competition with our best images of the day.

As we didn’t stray far from the building, it was really interesting to see what everyone managed to find close by. Cliff’s parting advice was that the best camera is the one you have on you, which really is true, if you don’t have it with you then you will miss the shot!

Thanks to Cliff for giving up his day to share his knowledge and expertise with the group and to Amy Hall and Corinne Bespolka from the Cameron Bespolka Trust for joining us too.

Wednesday was an entirely different affair, with a very wet and soggy Wild Day Out. Not to be deterred from our ‘Wildlife Safari’, we began the day dissecting some owl pellets, an activity the group thoroughly enjoyed. We had fun picking them apart with cocktail sticks and trying to decide which bits of small mammal we were looking at; a rib, or a shoulder blade, or a jaw bone or a skull. To tie in with this we also had lots of bones and other signs of wildlife to look at and hold.

After a short while we decided it was about time we braved the elements, pulled on our waterproofs and headed outside. Despite the rain, we soon spotted lots of cinnabar caterpillars on the ragwort on the lichen heath. As we looked closer we also disturbed a grasshopper and realised the wildlife was still all around us, just hunkering down low to avoid the wet weather. Probably a very sensible thing to be doing!

Our first sign of something ever so slightly bigger than our grasshopper was this pile of rabbit droppings:

Muddy ground is great for spotting tracks, however the first ones we noticed were not of the wildlife kind, or at least not the wildlife we were after:

IMG_0552

Vehicle tracks in the soft mud

We then headed towards the Dockens, taking the path towards the road crossing to Goosander hide and playing pooh sticks on the bridge over the river. Continuing along the path, we found a safe spot to get into the river then explored upstream, occasionally having to get back out again and walk along the bank when the pools became too deep. Whilst exploring the river we came across a number of deer tracks in the soft mud.

We were now quite wet, although some were wetter than others, and Isabelle and Millie had to empty their wellies after our river wanderings.

We picked blackberries on our way to Goosander hide, looking forward to a dry spot for lunch. We were stopped in our tracks by a scattering of feathers, trying to decide what had happened, who had been eaten (we decided a duck after studying the feathers) and by whom (we thought fox). A little further along the path we found the kill site, spotting a hollow off to the side of the path which contained the remains of two different birds. One of the skeletons was complete and as it was a bit on the large size for a duck we thought it could be a goose. The other we weren’t so sure!

We lunched in Goosander Hide, watching the rain get heavier and the sand martins and swallow flitting low over the water. Despite the weather we saw herons, cormorant, black headed gull, mute swans, little grebe and great crested grebe. The highlight though was the kingfisher, who didn’t seem put off by the rain or the bunch of 7-12 year olds picnicking in the hide and flew across in front of us a number of times, pausing for a while on one of the branches in the water.

We headed back to the Education Centre, dried off and warmed up with the help of a hot chocolate, happy in the knowledge that even in the pouring rain there were still plenty of signs of life and the wildlife itself to entertain us!

Thursday’s Wild Day Out was somewhat drier, a nice change to Wednesday! We were in search of dragons so headed to the pond to see what we could catch and keeping our fingers crossed the sun would put in an appearance and bring dragonflies hawking above the surface of the water.

By the time we had eaten, the weather had brightened up considerably and we headed over to the meadow, munching blackberries along the way. It was too wet to meadow sweep but we still embarked on a still hunt, finding a quiet spot in the meadow to just sit and look and watch the meadow world go by. We then had a go at stealthily catching some of the creatures we had been watching using bug pots. Slightly harder than using a sweep net, it certainly made us look closer.

We also managed to spot five wasp spiders in the meadow, making sure we left them safely in their webs:

wasp-spider

After discovering the miniature world of the meadow we headed to the Woodland Hide in search of birds then went on to Ivy South Hide, spotting a grass snake on the edge of Ivy Silt Pond.

We then returned to the Education Centre the long way (there were lots more blackberries to pick the long way back), seeing how many small children it takes to hug a rather large oak tree (I can’t remember the answer, but it was a fair few!) and playing pooh sticks on the bridge over the river.

Tree hugging

Tree hugging, with I think seven 5-8 year olds!

Pooh sticks

Pooh sticks on the Dockens Water, and looking for fish!

It’s been a rather wet and wild week!

We still have some spaces left on our upcoming Wild Days Out this summer, if you know of someone who might like to join us please visit the website for details and to book.

April Catch-up

April is flying by and we’ve been busy! We’re sorry for the rather long gap between this and the last blog, but hopefully this one explains a little of what we’ve been up to and what’s currently out and about on the reserve.

The sunshine brought plenty of visitors to our local craft event, who enjoyed the excellent refreshments provided by Nigel and Christine’s pop-up café (which will return in November) along with basket making, hurdle making and wood turning demonstrations and the chance to have a go at making bird feeders from willow.

Willow bird feeders

Willow bird feeders made at our craft event

This was swiftly followed by Wildlife Tots, who got into the spirit of Spring by making excellent nests for our cuddly birds.

Jessie with nest

Jessie with her nest for a Teal

We then entertained a holiday club visiting from London with den building and fire lighting activities, followed by a night walk. We’ve welcomed new six-month volunteer placement Harry, who is with us now until September and thrown him in at the deep end with a group of beavers who were here to enjoy a river dip. Luckily that didn’t put him off and Emily and the other volunteers have been busy showing him the ropes.

This week we’ve had two wet Wild Days Out, pond and river dipping in search of newts, fish and other monsters, rescuing ducks, floating boats, building dams and enjoying a balloon free water fight. Our most monstrous find was this awesome Great Diving Beetle Larva, which tried to devour anything in its sight:

Great diving beetle lava 2

Great Diving Beetle larva ready to pounce

Our volunteers have been super busy, with the warmer weather bringing with it the start of our butterfly transects and reptile surveys. The butterfly transects have had an excellent start, with Peacock, Orange Tip, Brimstone, Speckled Wood, Comma and Small White all recorded and Holly Blue, Green Veined White and Small Tortoiseshell also seen around. They have already recorded more than they did in the whole of April last year, so fingers crossed numbers will continue to be good!

Grass snakes and adders have started to venture into areas accessible to visitors so if the cloud disappears and the temperature warms up again keep your eyes peeled! Two grass snakes were seen recently from Ivy South hide, but out of the window at the far end rather than their usual basking spot on the log outside the front; whilst the grass verges too and from Lapwing hide are usually good places to try for a basking adder.

In bird news, Lapwing, Common sandpiper, Redshank and Little ringed plover have all been showing nicely in front of Tern Hide, along with the Black headed gulls which are getting more and more vocal! An osprey reportedly flew over the reserve on Wednesday and a Common tern was also seen on Wednesday from Tern Hide.

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Thank you to Richard Smith for emailing across a photo of two very busy Little ringed plover:

Little Ringed Plovers by Richard Smith

Little ringed plover by Richard Smith

A Great spotted woodpecker has been busy excavating a hole in a tree trunk near Ivy Lake and best viewed from the far right hand window in Ivy North hide. Brambling were also still being spotted from the Woodland Hide this week, looking very smart as they develop their summer plumage and our first fledglings have been seen too – Robin and Dunnock – so keep an eye out for parent birds feeding their young.

Thanks to Lyn Miller and Steve Michelle for also sending in some great photos from recent visits to the reserve:

Kingfisher by Lyn Miller

Hungry kingfisher devouring a newt by Lyn Miller

Redpoll by Steve Michelle

Lesser redpoll by Steve Michelle

Black Headed Gull by Steve Michelle

Black headed gull by Steve Michelle

Finally thank you to everyone who’s popped in to tell us what they’ve seen, Jim and I have unfortunately been slightly office bound when not out and about leading events and group visits, so it’s great to know what’s going on out on the reserve!

We will try not to leave such a long gap between this and next blog, Bob’s back from leave soon so fingers crossed!

The martins have landed…

Sand martins that is, yesterday in fact, although they didn’t hang around long, not being there at the start or the end of the day, or indeed, this morning! Good to know that Spring is definitely here though and further demonstrated today by the little ringed plover on the bank east of Tern Hide.

Not sure if it has been around today, but earlier in the week the water pipit was still being reported – thanks to Steve Farmer for sending in this picture to blashfordlakes@hiwwt.org.uk :

water-pipit by Steve Farmer

Water pipit by Steve Farmer

An adult drake scaup was also seen again on Ibsley Water yesterday where up to two red kites have also been seen, possibly attracted to the road kill roe deer that has also drawn in raven – indeed yesterday there was a raven there throughout the day that hardly moved at all!

At the Woodland Hide visitors are still seeing brambling and lesser redpoll, and chiffchaff arrived earlier in the week – not sure when exactly but certainly on Tuesday morning there were chiffings and chaffings from all across the site! The winter wildfowl on the other hand have all but left us, as apparently, has the tawny owl that delighted all that saw him by perching out in the open south of Ivy Lake. He, I’m sure, is still there, but probably in a more discrete, and typical location. David Cuddon rose to the challenge set in one of my previous blogs and e-mailed this picture in last week (thanks David!):

Tawny owl by David Cuddon

Tawny owl by David Cuddon

Tomorrow see’s the penultimate “Pop-up café” of the winter so don’t miss out on Christine’s home-baked treats in the centre classroom from 10.30am-3.30pm.

And finally, if you have children or grandchildren aged 5-12 years don’t let them miss out on a “Wild Days Out!” this Easter – bookings are being taken now via the Trusts online shop for this holidays pond and river themed children’s activity days:

For 7-12 year olds on Tuesday 11th April: https://shop.hiwwt.org.uk/product/wild-days-out-wet-n-wild-7-12s/

For 5-8 year olds on Wednesday 12th April: https://shop.hiwwt.org.uk/product/wild-days-out-wet-n-wild-5-8s/

And a final finally, if you don’t have children/grandchildren or even if you do and you are wondering why they should have all the fun then wonder no more… Instead call 01425 472760 or email blashfordlakes@hiwwt.org.uk and book onto our “Pond and River Dipping for Grown Ups – Adults Only!” session on the morning of 1st April, 10.30am-12pm!

 

 

 

 

 

February round up

We’ve had a busy half term, with Winter Craft themed Wild Days Out, an evening under the stars (of which there really were many!) with the Fordingbridge Astronomers and our usual Young Naturalists monthly meeting.

Our Wild Days Out saw the children getting very messy in the clay pit, den building, fire lighting, creating dream catchers and baskets from willow and ice art sculptures. Lots of arty and hands on activities that involved natural materials! We even attempted to make burn out bowls in the fire, using hollowed out pieces of elder as straws. It was a slow process…

Our Young Naturalists did a great job making bird boxes, using a plan to mark up their planks of wood, cutting up the individual pieces and nailing them all together. The bird boxes along with a number made by the volunteers will replace some of the older ones on the reserve which are a little past their best, and will be a welcome addition. Thank you guys for all your hard work!

We also spent quite a while watching the kingfisher catching newts from the Education Centre pond – a very good distraction! The pond has become a favourite hunting spot for at least two birds, which are best viewed from inside the Centre as they don’t hang around for long when disturbed – hopefully they will leave a few newts for us to catch over the summer!

kingfisher

Kingfisher by the Education Centre pond

The wild daffodils by the Woodland Hide are probably now at their best and definitely worth a visit, adding a welcome splash of yellow to the woodland floor.

daffodils

Wild daffodils near the Woodland Hide

The feeders at the Woodland Hide are still being visited by three brambling and at least one lesser redpoll, whilst a number of reed bunting have been foraging around on the ground.

Goldeneye, black necked grebe and goosander are still present on Ibsley Water whilst lapwing numbers are increasing, with some beginning to display over the lake with their distinctive flip-floppy flight. The water pipit has also been viewed from Tern Hide.

We’re expecting the bittern and great white egret to leave us any day now – if indeed they are still here! The bittern was seen on Sunday whilst Jim’s most recent view of the great white was last Wednesday.

A tawny owl has also decided to roost at the southern end of Ivy Lake, best viewed from the last window in Ivy South Hide. Noticed on Sunday, it has been there most mornings and still there some evenings so it’s definitely worth a scan of the trees on the lake edge.

Finally, thank you very much to Dave Levy for sharing with us this sequence of photos of a pair of great crested grebe displaying on Ivy Lake. Spring must definitely be here!

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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!

 

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

Wild and Watery Days Out!

As promised by Jim, here’s a quick round up of what we’ve been up to over the last couple of weeks. With the holidays in full swing, we’ve been busy entertaining a number of holiday clubs, running family events and of course leading our Wild Days Out, which are offered in partnership with New Forest District Council.

We got off to a fishy start, with a marine themed Wild Day Out, complete with willow weaving, fish printing and the all important sand castle competition! We began with a closer look at some fish, before Jim demonstrated how to create a fish print:

Whilst waiting to paint and print our fish, we used willow to weave simple fish shapes which were then tied with wool to a willow fishing rod. We then had to go fishing from the boat!

Willow fish on a stick 3

Willow fish on a rod

After lunch we creatively sculpted beach scenes from sand, adding natural materials to them creating volcanoes, caves, sea horses, sand people and more!

Our Marine Madness and Fishy Fun Wild Day Out was followed by a family Wild Play Day, where we made rush and paper boats, caught fish in the river and sploshed around, made clay models and had a go at leaf bashing to create beautiful leaf prints on fabric:

Last week we challenged the older children on our Wild Day Out to weave a coracle out of Blashford willow before testing it out on the Dockens Water, an activity thoroughly enjoyed by all, especially as it had rained the night before and the river was up…

After practising our boat making skills in the classroom by making rush and paper boats  and rafts using corks to float plastic cows on, we inspected the coracle made earlier in the year by our volunteers and lined by our Young Naturalists, and headed down to the river for a demonstration on how to loose your paddle by Jim…

Jim showing us how its done 3

Jim showing us how not to do it! Note the paddle wedged at the base of the tree…

In groups we wove two more coracle frames from the willow which had been soaking in the river to make it nice and bendy, before adding on the liner.

It was then time for the moment we’d all been waiting for, to test our coracles on the river to see if they floated:

Which of course the did! They were however slightly flatter after we’d all had a go and the boys had purposefully sunk one on their turn…

It was a lot of fun! As the coracles were still floatable and Spinnaker Sailing Club didn’t need the life jackets they had very kindly lent us back in a hurry, we decided to use them again the next day with the younger group. After some pond dipping in the morning we headed down to the river to test our paper boats, river dip and try out the coracles. This time, Jim demonstrated how to do it properly!

It was then time for the children to have their go:

They all thoroughly enjoyed it! Thanks again to Spinnaker Sailing Club for the loan of their life jackets.

There are more fun filled Wild Days Out to come over the summer holidays, details are in our What’s On which can be picked up from a number of local ‘outlets’, the Centre or viewed here:

160616 Blashford Whats On Jul-Sept TS