Summing up…

The past two weeks hasn’t all been about the current improvements at Blashford, we have been in search of reptiles and amphibians on two Wild Days Out, run a busy family pond dip session (distinctly lacking in newts, we must have scared them all off the week before!) and woven some very pretty Easter baskets using materials found on the reserve.

And the reserve is looking lovely! It is getting greener by the day, although some trees are suffering more than others from the ever increasing number of munching Alder leaf beetles. This Crab apple in particular is being stripped bare:

There are plenty of wildflowers out, including Germander speedwell, Ground ivy, Cuckoo flower, Moschatel, Primrose, Cowslip and Common Dog-violet. Lesser celandine is carpeting the woodland floor near the reserve entrance and the Bluebells will soon be following suit, with some already flowering.

The warm sunny weather has bought the butterflies out in force, with Brimstone, Orange-tip, Speckled wood, Small white, Comma and Peacock all on the wing.

Large numbers of Sand martin have been investigating the holes in the Sand martin wall in preparation for nesting and Swallows are also back, although currently in much smaller numbers. Three Black tern spent most of today over Ibsley Water and as I left all three had alighted the Osprey perch out in the lake. Little ringed plover have been on the shoreline and Lapwing continue to display overhead.

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Sand martins

David Stanley-Ward sent in two very fine photos recently, one of two fighting Coot taken from the new Tern Hide and the other of two Great-crested grebes displaying in front of Goosander Hide.

Coots

Fighting Coots by David Stanley-Ward

Great-crested Grebe

Great-crested Grebes by David Stanley-Ward

If you have visited recently and would like to share your wildlife sighting with us, please do email them to BlashfordLakes@hiwwt.org.uk along with whether you are happy for us to use them on the blog and on other promotional material and how you would like to be credited. We don’t always manage to post images straight away, but do always enjoy seeing them, so thank you David for sharing these.

The woodland is full of bird song, with Chiff-chaff and Cetti’s warbler in particular standing out with their more striking calls. Blackcaps are seen frequently although they do not stay in one spot for long and Willow warblers are also present whilst Brambling and Reed bunting continue to feed in front of the Woodland Hide. Sedge warbler and Reed warbler can also be heard in the reedbeds by Ivy North Hide and Ivy Silt Pond.

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Brambling

And finally back to the events! On our Wild Days Out Amphibian and Reptile Rambles we managed one young grass snake, the same snake in the same spot on both days. This really isn’t the best photo, but if you look in the centre you might be able to make out the tip of it’s tail as it disappeared into the undergrowth.

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Spot the tiny grass snake’s tail!

On both days the weather was fairly cool so we failed to spot an adder, but both groups enjoyed a longer walk over to Goosander Hide and the older children managed to make it as far as Lapwing Hide.

Back at the pond we had more success, catching a number of newts, and we also found some under the logs in the woodland. Both days were enjoyed by all, even if the reptiles were a bit thin on the ground!

And last but not least, on Wednesday morning a very satisfying two hours were spent weaving in willow wood, with a number of children creating some very striking Easter baskets using materials collected on the reserve and a wooden disc base prepped by volunteer Geoff. We used rush, sedge and larch as well as the willow, with a couple of the older children even having a go with fresh bramble. One of the girls stripped the bark off some of the willow leaving the inner white of the rod on show. They all looked amazing!

The last couple of weeks have been very varied, but with the weather warming up it has been lovely to be out and about on the reserve. Spring is definitely here!

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Improvement update and birds, birds, birds!

Just a quick reminder to anyone who hasn’t visited us in a while or missed any previous blogs or onsite signage, improvements on the reserve are now well on the way so if you do decide to visit us soon, please bear with us!

The main nature reserve car park is open as usual, however Tern Hide is no longer there (it was dismantled at the start of the month so there was plenty of time to do the all important ground works) and the installation of the new hide will not take place until next month – if all goes to plan it should be open by the end of March.

The new pond by the Education Centre should be finished soon and the Welcome Hut which arrived on Monday should be completed by the end of the week – with both these works taking place so close to the Centre, along with deliveries arriving over the next few days for other aspects of our improvement works, car parking at the Centre is limited. If you are able to park in the main car park and walk across to this side of the nature reserve please do!

The Education Centre itself, Lapwing, Goosander, Ivy North, Ivy South and the Woodland hides are all open as usual.

Last week saw the delivery and installation of some brilliant chainsaw carved sculptures by Simon Groves, a chainsaw artist from West Sussex (to see some photos of these being enjoyed by some of our younger visitors, please read on!) and on Sunday our Young Naturalists worked with willow artist Kim Creswell on three dragonfly sculptures which will also be added to our newly named ‘Wild Walk‘ along with more of Kim’s wonderful work. A separate blog about Young Naturalists will follow!

On the bird front, two Bittern were seen from Ivy North hide on Sunday and at least one has been seen from there this week, including excellent views today, and a pair of Redpoll continue to visit the feeders at the Woodland hide.

And birds are the real reason for this blog, as last week was half term and it was a busy bird filled one, with a family event weaving willow bird feeders and two bird themed Wild Days Out where we were lucky enough to get a little closer to some of our native owls and raptors, courtesy of Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre, made a lot of bird feeders and visited the Woodland and Ivy South hides in whatever time we had left in a girls vs boys who could spot the most species challenge.

We were joined by John from Liberty’s on Wednesday and Jayson on Thursday, with both giving brilliant talks to the children about the different birds they had bought with them, encouraging them to ask questions and letting them stroke the owls, a definite highlight! On Wednesday we were treated to a Kestrel, Peregrine falcon, Golden eagle (which really was huge and delighted the children by going to the toilet in the classroom) and Barn owl and on Thursday saw a Tawny owl, Little owl (definitely my favourite), Kestrel, Peregrine falcon and Goshawk.

On both days the children loved seeing the birds up close and being able to stroke some of them, and they asked some very sensible questions. It was definitely a highlight and we would like to thank John and Jayson from Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre for taking the time to join us and supporting our Wild Days Out in this way. They once again very kindly demonstrated their birds free of charge to support Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, something they were only too pleased to be able to do as long standing “Wildlife Investors” of the Trust.

To find out how your business can support the work of the Trust at Blashford Lakes, or anywhere across the two counties, follow the link or contact Steph Watson on 01489 774400 or email Steph.Watson@hiwwt.org.uk.

Liberty’s owls and raptors were once again a hard act to follow, but whilst we had been waiting for them to arrive the children had been busy making popcorn bird feeders by threading popcorn onto a piece of wire, and fat balls using a suet, bird seed and sultana mix, so we headed outside to make our feeders for the fat balls to go into.

On the Thursday we had a few children who were bird feeder pro’s, having already made one either the day before or earlier in the month at Wildlife Watch, so they had a go at a different design, weaving one solely from willow instead of using the wooden disc base.

All three feeder designs looked great and everyone went away with two fabulous feeders. We then had just enough time to visit both the Woodland hide and Ivy South hide in two teams, boys vs girls, to see who could spot the most species of bird. On Thursday we even had time to walk a slightly longer loop so we could admire the new chainsaw sculptures that had been installed earlier in the week. The children loved them, with the badger in particular proving popular.

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Despite having photographic evidence of the boys using their binoculars to bird watch, I have to say the girls did spot more species both days, we were obviously being too competitive for photography! They also, rather sneakily, lulled Jim’s boys team into a false sense of security on the Thursday by making a right noise when the two teams crossed paths with each other, but up until this point had been super quiet and determined to see the most…

I know the boys did see a few bird species we didn’t see, but the girls’ lists over the two days included Coal tit, Great tit, Blue tit, Robin, Chaffinch, Dunnock, Long tailed tit, Goldfinch, Siskin, Blackbird, Greenfinch, Reed bunting, Jay, Jackdaw, Moorhen, Cormorant, Coot, Tufted duck, Great crested grebe, Black-headed gull, Mallard, Gadwall, Pochard, Collared dove, Treecreeper, Goldcrest, Pheasant, Carrion crow, Grey heron, Little grebe and Wood pigeon. I was particularly impressed with Megan for spotting the treecreeper! It was pretty good for a quick bird watch and I know they all really enjoyed their day.

Our Wild Days Out will be back for the Easter holidays, where we will be heading out onto the reserve in search of our reptiles and amphibians. Bookings may be made on-line only and are taken 4-6 weeks in advance of the activities via: https://shop.hiwwt.org.uk/product-category/events/

Whittling wands…

If you have children or grand children you will be well aware that it’s half term holidays for Dorset and Hampshire children this week – and to be honest even if you haven’t by now you have probably worked out that it is given the increased number of children at the swimming pool/around town!

So that’s our excuse for the reduction in blog activity this week – I was off the first half of the week, Bob’s been off all week and Tracy has been holding the fort solo much of the week and dealing with everything that comes up on a daily basis and therefore not managed to find time to blog as well…

On the wildlife front the most remarkable thing really to happen this week so far is that as of the latter half of this week, and today in particular, Autumn really has settled in. I even put the heating back on in the Education Centre yesterday! That said earlier in the week we were still seeing common darter dragonflies and the odd peacock butterfly on the wing in the sunshine and there has been up to two swallows around Tern Hide most of the week as well. I didn’t see one this morning, but was welcomed by one huddled up on the hide roof yesterday. Bird wise there has been marsh harrier around on and off, including two individuals earlier in the week and we still have three great white egrets (including Walter of course…). Wildfowl numbers continue to creep up, most noticeably with an arrival of pochard and up to five goosander recorded in the Tern Hide sightings book too. Elsewhere there have been one off sightings of both bittern and otter in Ivy Silt Pond…

As usual half term holidays allow opportunity for Tracy and I to get out on site and play… this weeks “Wild Days Out” were themed “Wild Witches and Wizards” and we both had a lovely time – I’m reasonably confident that the children did too!

Beginning with an indoor craft activity whilst everyone arrived and was signed in origami bats, cobweb making and general colouring in were all well received. I was particularly impressed by the small group of boys who took the bat template and then diligently both up and down scaled it:

Then we headed out in search of magical ingredients for our cauldron… who would have thought that we might find troll fur, fairy goblets and goblin eyeballs on our walk, but we did! These were then supplemented with other special finds which Tracy had hidden earlier and marked on a map to test the children’s (and Tracy’s!) orienteering skills… ground unicorn horn, dragons blood, pixie juice, troll snot, charred bone and more all discovered all of the ingredients went into the cauldron and were stirred. All very exciting, but definitely time for lunch afterwards. Must have been the troll snot whetting our appetite…

Post lunch we turned our attention to wand whittling and broom making with one enterprising individual foregoing a broom in favour of a “Gandalf staff”, complete with clay and plant decorated head and ornamentation. Not sure he’s ever been so quiet and it has to be said the same was true of all the children while they carefully whittled their wands. Such concentration!

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Finally there was just time (okay, actually there wasn’t quite time but we did it anyway and over ran by a few minutes!) to light the fire to bake some campfire “toffee apples” to finish our day. They looked pretty awful but did taste delicious (trouble with running a bit late and trying to cook on the fire while it was still blazing rather than having died down to perfect cooking embers). Tracy and I were more than happy enough to polish off the spares anyway!

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No Wild Days Out over Christmas but they will be back at February half term with a bird theme… bookings will be taken online on the Trusts “shop” from mid January:  https://shop.hiwwt.org.uk/product-category/events/

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 – although 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!

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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!

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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!

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It was cold, but so worth it and well done to all of the children who joined us in the river this summer – you 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!

 

 

 

Wandering in Nature

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Another belated blog post relating to our summer holiday activity program… this time a “Wildlife Wander”. Nice easy one to plan and prepare for this one. Basically gather children and head out on the nature reserve to walk, play and see what we can discover!

Being August, and with blackberries fruiting in the prodigious quantities that they are this summer, blackberry picking and eating featured quite highly throughout both of our wildlife wanders! Sometimes picking “traditionally” with fingers, sometimes “browsing” them off the stem directly like a deer or a giraffe, just for fun. Regardless the end result was lots of purple faces, although some did somehow end up a lot more purple than others! None more so than these two who opted for painting their hands with the fruit:

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There’s quite a lot of fruit around generally, although disappointingly this year the cherry plums have been spectacularly bad. Related to the cherry plums, the blackthorm seems to be producing a good sloe crop. Blackthorn is an occasional shrub at Blashford and by no means occurs in sufficient quantities for Tracy (or anyone else for that matter!) to keep herself in sloe gin, but there is more than ample for me to delight in encouraging young people to try the bittersweet fruit! Love it!

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Bird watching as well as foraging also featured highly in our expeditions, with visits to Ivy North, Goosander and Tern Hides. The “hidelight” was undoubtedly on the second day when we observed a large grass snake emerge from the water beneath Goosander Hide, much to the consternation of the grey wagtail we were also watching at the time, and then proceed to make its way to the wall and attempt to slither inside a crack in the blockwork at the base.

Bug hunting was on the agenda of many of our wildlife explorers too of course – we are after all talking about children, and children interested in nature at that! Best of all though were the wasp spiders in the hard rush tussocks amongst the scrub behind Goosander Hide where we picnicked. I was delighted to see these beauties as I had failed to see any earlier in the year when sweep netting in our small meadow by Ivy North Hide where we usually do see (and sometimes inadvertently catch) at least a few each summer. Of the children Thomas “bug boy” Baker was by far the best spotter, finding at least 12 on the Tuesday, but even his sterling efforts were far outstripped by Tracy on Thursday who must have found at least 20 herself. I was quite frustrated and didn’t find any of my “own” until I eventually did manage to get my eye in and find 8 or so (my excuse is that Tracy, being more vertically challenged than I, is more on a level with the spiders, thus making them easier for her to spot…). With the children finding a good number more it really was astounding just how many there are up there:

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Hmmm. Do I like this, or do I not like this…?!

And then there was the wander itself – it was lovely watching and listening to the children amble along with their friends and making new friends,  chatting about this, that and nothing in particular:

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The second day was a bit warmer than the first and, as far as the children were concerned, they had walked miles, so towards the end we needed an incentive to keep them going – what more of an incentive could a child need than the opportunity to get in a river? None it turned out and a good time was had by all – so at the end of the day a lot of tired, blackberry full, very wet children went home very happy!

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Wild Days Out

Firstly apologies for the recent lack of posting – due in part to Bob being on holiday, in part the reserve generally being fairly quiet on the wildlife front and in part (and in no means related to the latter point I’m sure) the fact that Tracy and I have been very busy leading our summer holiday program of activities…

On the wildlife front the recent (and in many ways welcome) cooling and wetting down weather wise has meant that invertebrate and reptile sightings have been fairly minimal and in fact last week in a marked shift to preceding weeks latterly, saw our site butterfly transect survey volunteers recording their worst week 20 ever.

Bird wise it has also been quiet. For the last few years August has been kingfisher month with photographers  gunning for space in Goosander Hide to capture some brilliant close up shots of kingfisher and kingfisher behaviour. This year has seen a few die-hard kingfisher hunters staking claim to their benches in Goosander Hide early on, but sadly, despite a great deal of dedication on their part, the kingfishers have not, to date, taken up residence as they have done previously and, a few fly-bys aside, dedication has not paid off. Not that kingfishers aren’t around – sat on the benches at the back of the centre, or even sat in the office with windows open, you can’t help but be aware of their piping as they zip up and down the Dockens Water and they are also showing quite well on Ivy Lake this year. Generally not close enough for good pictures but this morning one did pose beautifully outside Ivy South Hide for a few minutes after I had opened up.

Our public events program has gone well over the last couple of weeks – Tracy’s River Play Day Monday before last went well on the day and was booked twice over and then some in advance of the date. Originally planned as just a morning event there was so much interest she went in to fill an afternoon session with no advertising and we still had to turn people away! Families making the most of what may have been the last of the heat wave I think. Last Friday afternoons pond dipping was also full although with the wet forecast we did have some cancellations, filled with more hardy last minute attendees and boy when the heavens opened, did they open. Needless to say having been running on empty much of the last few months the pond is now full again! In addition last week we attended Ellingham Show and this week the New Forest National Park Authority Wild Play Day around Whitefield Moor Car Park near Brockenhurst.

Our main focus however, as it is every summer, has of course been our Wild Days Out activities.

Last week we tested the children’s engineering skills with a newspaper tower construction challenge as a warm up activity, followed by a giant catapult construction challenge, both of which were met with enthusiasm by both our older and younger children:

Newspaper towers to start –

Followed by catapult construction, and of course, testing –

Great fun was had by all, and the catapults worked relatively well, even if I must admit to being a little disappointed by the range achieved (maximum distance that a wet sponge achieved was just over 6m!). I now seek to tweak the design slightly and replace the bungee’s that we did use for something elastic with more stored potential energy (best idea I’ve had so far is old bicycle inner tube, but I am open to suggestions?!).

This week the challenge was less about engineering and more about creativity and flair as the children joined us for our Campfire Cookout Challenge – and , once more it has to be said, really did rise to the challenge producing campfire food that was (to my surprise!) not only edible, but nutritious,  and on occasion, downright delicious! Judged according to team work, hygiene (we very much pushed this one given that, as judges, we were to be sampling the end results!), taste, appearance, “soggy bottom-ness”, and “eatability” all of the teams did really well – although some of the flavour combinations were just a little weird (I could cope with the apple on the tomato and cheese based pizza produced by one team, after all some people enjoy pineapple on theirs, but blackberries, however freshly picked, were a step too far!).

Presented with a set of ingredients to choose from, the teams all produced an array of different menus which included “chips” (all delicious), pizza (with a variety of toppings and bases, some of which were more successful than others, one of which was quite possibly the best pizza I have ever eaten, campfire, home-made, restaurant or otherwise!), vegetable soups,  vegetable and fruit kebabs (some times vegetable, sometimes fruit, sometimes vegetable AND fruit, the latter of which I must confess were not quite as appealing as the former two!), fruit and chocolate filled breads and cookies, and baked fruit…

All of the cooking was done outside over a number of campfires but we did cheat slightly on day 2 when it chucked it down and prepare the food in the classroom instead. Surprisingly day 2 was actually a Thursday when it famously “never rains” on Blashford volunteer work party tasks. This weeks rare departure from this norm was, we all agreed, because Reserves Officer Bob was on holiday!

Preparation and cooking:

Enjoying the end result!

Needless to say all of the children, and the judges too, finished the day absolutely stuffed!

Next week will be more wildlife orientated again with a walk, explore and play all around the nature reserve and the following week we are back in the river again for coracle sailing and snorkeling. So I’m very much hoping for another mini-heat wave for the last week of August!

 

Blashford “What’s On?” – Summer/Autumn Events Programme

The latest “What’s On?” is now available from the centre or can be down loaded here: 180601BL WhatsOn July_October JD ii

It includes our Summer Holiday “Wild Days Out” activity days, further information about, and booking of which, is via the Trusts on-line “shop” here: https://shop.hiwwt.org.uk/product-category/events/.

A lovely short film of our Easter Wild Days Out can be viewed here if you would like to find out a little more about them: https://youtu.be/6I2MukbbMWI

Enjoy!

 

 

Another school holiday “survived”!

I’m sure there are a few parents, and not a few grandparents who can relate to that blog title ;- D

In this case it does actually refer to the theme of our school holiday activity “Wild Days Out” this half term, which, on Wednesday and Friday, explored the pre-requisites of survival – shelter, water, fire and food…

Starting with SHELTER our teams were tasked with designing and constructing a waterproof shelter using the minimum number of poles. Shelters complete the children entered them for a quick test deluge courtesy of a watering can. The finished designs were as varied as the children themselves, some more effective than others!

Shelters completed the next task was to set about trying to clean some rather disgustingly leaf, stick and mud ridden WATER using an old bottle, an old (clean – at least to start with!) sock and whatever other materials they could source from the nature reserve around them. The results were surprisingly at least as varied as the shelters had been but all of the teams really enjoyed this challenge, even those whose end result somewhat resembled the bottom of a beer barrel! The next step would of course been to boil and then drink it, but, rightly or wrongly my risk assessment of the activity stopped us at the filtration stage…

After lunch the children some children just relaxed and enjoyed each others company whilst others set out on some ad-hoc bug hunting in the lush vegetation of our Willow Wood glade, particularly enjoying all of the damselflies that took flight whenever they charged through the grass, Thomas employing his hat to catch them surprisingly effectively!

FIRE next – again with mixed results, although to be fair everyone did get there in the end.

On Wednesday, with the older children, we even got as far as making and baking some damper bread for our FOOD before packing up and heading home. Didn’t quite get that far with the younger ones, but everyone had a lovely day, including the staff. The highlight? definitely the water filtration challenge!

 

Due to a combination of staff sickness, staff leave and generally just being VERY busy I never did manage a Wild Easter Wild Days Out blog, so, just for the record, here are some pictures of what we got up to in April and do please take a look at this short film that was made on the day – surprisingly good given that I had to speak in it 😉 – https://youtu.be/6I2MukbbMWI

We’re busy planning our summer holiday programme now and will be releasing activities and dates shortly, so watch this space!

 

 

 

 

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!

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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…

An adventurous couple of days…

A couple of weeks ago I posted a blog (here) that included a brief description of my initial foray into the Dockens Water in preparation for our Wild days Out “Stream Snorkel Safari” and all of my reservations having braved the icy water… this week saw us leading 41 intrepid children aged 5-12 (not all at the same time!) into the Dockens Water to do just that and I am so glad that we did… it was brilliant!

The older children went first on Wednesday. Wednesday, you may remember, was grey, gloomy and COLD! Following the unusually glorious Bank Holiday weekend and highs of 29°C,  Wednesday saw the temperature plummet to a high of 14°C and a weather forecast dominated by heavy rain and jumping into the river was the last thing I really wanted to do!

Did it put us off? Well yes, of course it did!

Did it stop us? NO!

We split into three groups in the end – a large number of children had wetsuits so on the basis they would feel the cold the least, they went first – along with one or two other children who were just hard-core! Next we had those who did not have wetsuits but were up for the challenge, and finally, there was an opportunity for those who were really keen to give it a go but reluctant to venture too far, or for too long, to brave the small plunge pool at the end of our usual river dipping area:

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Getting “suited” up! (Gloves were a last-minute addition to the PPE requirements following my earlier recce when I realized that stream snorkeling involved more “crocodile crawling” than actual swimming!)

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On our way… not sure why they all have their hands up. Looks like we are forcing them into the river at gun point but I assure you we weren’t!

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Last minute briefing…

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Temperature acclimatization…!

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And we’re off! (It has to be said that some did more snorkeling than others! And that the boy took a great deal of delight in pouring the icy cold water out of his glove down my back. Again… and again… and again!)

Unlike my previous snorkel this time, despite having umpteen noisy, splashy, silt stirring children with us, there were times when we lay still and let the water clear around us that we could actually see under water:

And believe it or not we even saw fish! Nothing bigger than a few centimeters and nothing other than minnow or bullhead, but fish, in their natural environment, nonetheless. Very exciting… it made us squeal through our snorkels anyway!

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FISH! Minnows maybe?

While we were snorkeling Tracy Nigel and Yvette were getting on with the more usual business of river dipping, boat building and damming with everyone who had either snorkeled already or who were waiting to snorkel:

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Our usual version of river dipping!

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What have we got?

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Not the usual use of our nets!

In light of the temperature (as it was the forecast rain, thankfully, did not really come to anything in the end) we compressed the in-water river activities into the morning and warmed up with lots of hot blackcurrant drinks over lunch before setting out for a brisk walk to finish the day. Heading off in the direction of Ivy North Hide and the sweep netting meadow we had a good explore and, with reference back to Tracy’s last “Young Naturalists” blog from the weekend (here), this is the pink grasshopper that didn’t get away on this occasion!

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A PINK meadow grasshopper!

And then on Thursday we did it all over again with the 5-8 year olds:

You can’t tell from any of these pictures but I will confess that I bottled it and dug out my old wetsuit on day 2…  having shown solidarity with the children who did not own a wetsuit for my initial recce and on day 1, I decided that on the basis that I was spending much more time in the water than any of the children would be it was perfectly acceptable for me to do so. I have to say that , although no more or less enjoyable, it was by far a more pleasant experience with it on!

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Not what you usually expect to see heading off along the path into the woods!

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Acclimatization time again! Slowly does it!

And, for the less adventurous, or less well insulated but equally bonkers, the “plunge pool” beyond the river dipping area provided an unusual and equally exciting opportunity for discovering the river – including fantastic fish watching with a couple of very obliging (and no doubt confused!) bullhead:

It really was a wonderful, adventurous, “once in a life time” experience for everyone, staff and volunteers included  – but I can not begin to tell you just how cold it actually was, so hats off and respect to all of the children who literally jumped in at the deep end and went for it regardless! Especially those who did not have the benefit of wetsuits!

I had the day off to look after my own children yesterday while my wife was at work and I took them to the beach – we had a bit of a swim and I have to tell you that the sea temperature was like a bath tub compared to that of the river!

The summer holidays are now all but over and the stream snorkel was the grand finale of our Wild Days Out events – look out for the next during the October halfterm holiday:

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