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.

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!

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Oh Christmas Tree!

On Monday our Wildlife Tots got into the festive spirit, making willow wreaths and decorating them with natural treasures collected on the reserve. We began with our usual indoor craft activity, creating hand and finger painted reindeer and indulging our inner sparkle, decorating simple willow stars with glitter. It was messy!

jessie

It was then time to head off to the woodland, in search of the smallest Christmas Tree, gathering natural items such as seed heads, bracken, leaves and birch twigs as we went which would be used to decorate our willow wreaths.

On arriving at the woodland log circle we embarked on a brightly coloured bauble hunt to decorate our tiny tree with, and the Tots were very good at hanging them on. With the baubles, a star on top and some lights our tree looked much happier!

Usually we visit the woodland in the summer, when the nettles are taller than the Tots and surround us, so Douglas couldn’t resist exploring and having a peak over the bank to see just what was on the other side. Now is the right time of year to take a look!

douglas-exploring

We then set about making simple hoop shapes out of willow, binding our natural treasures to them with wool and ribbon to turn them into fabulous festive wreaths:

Here are just a few of our finished creations, they did a grand job!

kenya-olivia-and-sam

group-photo-2

Thank you Wildlife Tots for another lovely day!

Preparing for Winter!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you Wildlife Tots for a lovely day!

kenya-sam-and-olivia

Kenya, Sam and Olivia being scary!

 

Ugly Bug Ball!

Today was a slightly later in the month than usual Wildlife Tots, and we headed to the woodland in search of all things bug. We began by colouring in some moths, trying to think about the colours we used so they blended in with their surroundings when outside. To help us with our camouflaging, we had some moths from the light trap for inspiration, including this stunning Merveille du Jour with its brilliant lichen-like markings and colouring:

merveille-du-jour

Merveille du Jour, or ‘marvel of the day’

After camouflaging our moths, we headed outside to find a good spot close to the centre to hide them – would we find them all on our return?

hidden-moth-2

Camouflaged moth hidden in the undergrowth

After playing bug follow my leader, scuttling like spiders, jumping like grasshoppers, buzzing like bees and walking all together like a centipede, we searched for our ugly bugs in the woodland, pairing them up so they could go to the ugly bug ball:

ugly-bugs

Some of our ugly bugs, paired up and ready to go to the bug ball!

It was then time to find some bugs of our own, so armed with bug pots and paintbrushes (to make sure we were super careful when putting them into our pots), we rummaged under logs and in amongst the leaf litter.

After showing each other our finds and carefully putting them back, we had a go at making some bug sculptures on the ground, using leaves, sticks, bark, grass and logs:

Finally it was time to head back to the centre to see if we could remember where we had hidden our moths, and if we could spot them after camouflaging them so well…luckily, we all could!

sam-with-his-moth

Sam proudly pointing to his hidden moth

Thank you everyone for a lovely afternoon in the woods!

Meadow marvels

We’ve spent a lot of time in the meadow over the last few weeks, weather permitting! Occasionally we have had to resort to ‘look, but don’t touch’ as the showers have left the grass too damp for sweep netting, but this habitat has certainly come alive with a great range of insects, spiders and bugs.

Today we headed there with our Wildlife Tots, after a crafty caterpillar and butterfly making session in the classroom and a quick look in the light trap. We also had a look at the Lime hawk-moth caterpillars we have been rearing in a tank in the centre, they have certainly grown on their diet of silver birch leaves (more accessible than the lime trees we have on the reserve!) and look even more impressive!

Lime hawk moth caterpillar

Lime hawk-moth caterpillar

On our way to the meadow we were distracted on the lichen heath, finding flowers for our card and pipe cleaner butterflies to nectar on, and discovered these cinnabar moth caterpillars. Once we had our eye in, we found lots of black and yellow caterpillars munching their way through the ragwort:

Cinnabar caterpillar

Cinnabar moth caterpillar

On entering the meadow, we embarked on a still hunt, no mean feat for a group of toddlers! We found a quiet spot on the path so as not to trample the long grass and sat quietly, looking intently at the miniature world going on around us:

still hunt

We’re going on a still hunt…

After being brilliant still hunters, spotting butterflies, damselflies, bumblebees, grasshoppers and beetles, we had a go at catching many of the creatures using a sweep net.

Thanks too to Wendy for sending us this lovely photo of Wildlife Tot Sam with his very impressive sunflower, planted during our March into Spring session back in, yes you’ve guessed it, March! It’s so tall!!

Sam and his sunflower

Sam with his amazingly tall sunflower!!

Carrying on with the meadow theme, this was also the focus of our last Young Naturalists session at the end of June. We were fortunate to have more sun than today, with the butterflies in particular quite happy to let us get close enough for photos.

little skipper

Small skipper butterfly

Common blue butterfly

Common blue butterfly

Meadow brown

Meadow brown butterfly

cricket

Cricket, with super long antennae, longer than the length of its body

Grasshopper by Talia Felstead

Grasshopper, with its antennae shorter than its body

Robber fly

Robber fly

Fairy-ring longhorn beetle

Fairy-ring longhorn beetle, I think!

common blue damselfly

Common blue damselfly

Identifying our catch 2

Identifying our meadow creatures

The moth trap as usual revealed a good selection of moths ready for the group to identify, whilst we also spotted Mullein moth and Orange tip butterfly caterpillars:

Although the meadow was a fitting spot to visit as we met right at the end of National Insect Week, it wasn’t all about the insects and we still found time to visit Ivy South hide in search of a basking grass snake…

Grass snake by Talia Felstead

Grass snake by Talia Felstead

…and spotted this toad whilst carrying out Plantlife’s Bee Scene survey, in search of wildflowers good for bumblebees:

Toad by Talia Felstead

Toad by Talia Felstead

Luckily our wanderings found plenty of wildflowers good for bumblebees, a relief perhaps as we were looking on a nature reserve, but still a worthwhile activity for the group to do, encouraging them to brush up on their plant identification. Of the fifteen Bee Scene flowers we had to look for, we found dandelion, white clover, hedge woundwort, foxglove, bramble, red campion, red clover and thistle throughout the day, luckily spotting a few bumblebees too!

Buff tailed bumble bee by Talia Felstead

Buff tailed bumble bee by Talia Felstead

More details about the survey can be found on Plantlife’s website – all you need is a local green space, which doesn’t have to be a nature reserve, it could be your garden, a park, footpath or school grounds. Happy wildflower hunting!

Red campion by Talia Felstead

Red campion by Talia Felstead