From pond to meadow

At the beginning of June we re-started our Wildlife Tots sessions, discovering the weedy depths of the Blashford Pond. 

Our morning session started with a rescue, with Isabelle fishing this Emperor dragonfly out of the pond. It was quite happy to be handled, or relieved to be rescued, so we were all able to take a really good look.

I then relocated it to a safer spot, where it could finish drying off. It was still there when we met the afternoon group, so they were able to take a look at it too before it flew off. 

Emperor dragonfly

Emperor dragonfly

Newly emerged adult dragonflies are known as tenerals. They are weaker in flight and paler in colour. As the body and wings harden off they begin hunting for food, spending about a week feeding away from water and gradually acquiring their adult colouration. They are then ready to return to the pond to mate. 

It was a good day to look for dragonflies, we found lots of exuvia on the vegetation around the edge of the pond and found another newly emerged Emperor dragonfly along with a newly emerged Broad-bodied chaser.

Dragonfly exuvia

Dragonfly exuvia

Emperor dragonfly (4)

Emperor dragonfly

Broad bodied chaser

Broad-bodied chaser

From the pond itself we caught dragonfly and damselfly nymphs, newts and a caseless caddisfly nymph, amongst others: 

It was also nice to see the other insects enjoying the vegetation around the edge of the pond, like this honeybee, large red damselfly and figwort sawfly:

Honeybee

Honeybee

 

Large red damselfly

Large red damselfly

Figwort sawfly

Figwort sawfly

At the end of the day I was lucky enough to spot another dragonfly emerge, this time it was a Black-tailed skimmer:

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So it was a very good day for dragonflies!

At the beginning of July we headed to the meadow. On the edge of the lichen heath we spotted this small tortoiseshell butterfly:

Small tortoiseshell

Small tortoiseshell

As we went in to the meadow we disturbed this grass snake, and we watched it slither up the hill to the birch trees at the top.  

Grass snake

Grass snake

We then sat quietly and did a still hunt, looking closely at the miniature world of the meadow around us before using sweep nets to catch grasshoppers, spiders, beetles, true bugs and more.

Meadow sweeping

Meadow sweeping

We also saw a solitary bee, small skipper butterfly, ruby-tailed wasp and marmalade hoverfly:

Solitary bee

Solitary bee

Small skipper

Small skipper

Ruby-tailed wasp

Ruby-tailed wasp

Marmalade hoverfly

Marmalade hoverfly

My highlight from the meadow though was this solitary wasp, the Bee-wolf. The females prey on honeybees, paralysing them with a sting and carrying them back to their sandy burrow. Up to six paralysed honeybees are placed in each chamber within the burrow, then a single egg is laid and the chamber is sealed with sand. After hatching, the larva feed on the honeybees before spinning a cocoon to hibernate in through the winter and emerging the following spring.

Bee wolf

Bee-wolf

Bee wolf

Bee wolf

Our Wildlife Tots group offers fun outdoor play and wildlife discovery activities for pre-school aged children and their parents or carers once a month, usually (but not always!) on the first Monday. After a break in August, we will be meeting again in September, and details will be available on the events page of our website soon. 

Small copper

Small copper

Wildlife Tots is back!

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Blashford Lakes Wildlife Tots by Rex Waygood

Following on from last Monday’s update about our Young Naturalists group making a welcome return to on-site meetings, we’re very pleased to announce our Wildlife Tots sessions will be following suit, with the first sessions planned for Monday 7th June.

Our Wildlife Tots group offers fun outdoor play and wildlife discovery activities for pre-school aged children and their parents or carers once a month, usually (but not always!) on the first Monday. On the 7th we will be discovering the weedy depths of the Blashford pond…

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Pond dipping by Rex Waygood

Booking is essential via Eventbrite – for further details and to book a space on Monday 7th June please visit one of the following two listings:  

Morning – 10.30am until 12noon

Afternoon – 1pm until 2.30pm 

If you can’t make the 7th but would like to join us at a later date, please email BlashfordLakes@hiwwt.org.uk and ask to be put onto our Wildlife Tots mailing list for details about future sessions.

We are looking forward to seeing everyone again soon!

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Newt

dragonfly nymph2

Dragonfly nymph

Feathered Friends

Last Monday we went bird watching with our Wildlife Tots, enjoying some bird themed craft activities before heading outside to see what we could spot.

We began by making bird puppets out of recycled materials and binoculars to help us with our bird watching.

They loved the binoculars!

We then headed outside in search of some cuddly toy birds and had a go at naming them and deciding whether each bird would prefer to live in the woodland or on water.

We then headed to the Woodland Hide to see which woodland birds we could spot and visited Ivy Silt Pond in search of some ducks. In the afternoon with a smaller group we also managed to visit Ivy South Hide.

Jon even did a bit of bird watching from the badger:

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Bird watching from the badger by Rex Waygood

We finished off the session by making bird feeders, mixing suet, raisins, sunflower seeds and sunflower hearts together before squishing the mix in to a pine cone.

Hopefully the birds will enjoy them!

Next month we will be looking for signs of Spring and enjoying some fun sensory games and activities on a short wander around the reserve. Details including how to book via Eventbrite can be found on our website.

A huge thank you to volunteer Rex for joining us on both sessions and taking some lovely photos!

Feeling Festive!

It’s the time of year for festive wreath making and we have been busy with a number of different groups, weaving a willow hoop then decorating it with greenery found on the reserve.

First up was our Dine and Discover event at the end of November,  where we enjoyed a short walk gathering holly, ivy, pine, larch, ferns, seed heads and anything else that caught our eye before harvesting some willow from our main osier bed and having a go at making a wreath. After a very scrummy lunch cooked over the campfire of broccoli and stilton soup, brie and cranberry wraps and a festive spiced apple juice (thanks to Jim and volunteer David for keeping the fire going and doing most, if not all, of the cooking!), we decorated the wreaths with the greenery collected and they all looked amazing:

Our Dine and Discover events are monthly sessions (usually on the last Friday) for adults excited by wildlife, nature and the outdoors. They are themed with the changing seasons and include preparing and cooking a simple meal together around the campfire alongside the main activity. We are having a break in December and January so our next Dine and Discover will be on Friday 28th February where we will be going on a walk to discover the wonderful wetland wildlife Blashford has to offer. Further details can be found on the website.

Next up was Wildlife Tots where we made leaf wreaths by threading different leaves onto some wire, collected all the pom pom baubles to decorate our tiny Chrismas tree and had a go at making a simple willow wreath, tying different natural treasures on with wool to decorate:

January’s Wildlife Tots session on Monday 6th has a ‘Stickman’ theme and we will be enjoying a short walk around the reserve with some fun activities along the way. The morning session books up fast but there are usually spaces available in the afternoon from 1pm until 2.30pm and again details can be found on the website.

Finally last week we were joined by the local Home Educated group who visit us a number of times a year to take part in wildlife themes activities. As it was December we were again wreath making and after a walk gathering materials they had a go at weaving and then decorating their willow wreaths:

I think we’ve made about 50 wreaths in total, so hopefully they’re all hanging pride of place on a door somewhere!

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!

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

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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?

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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