From a heatwave to much needed rain, we’ve been having fun at Blashford!

It’s not been quite as busy here with events as in previous summers, but the events we have run really have been fantastic. I thoroughly enjoyed Family River Dipping – seeing children lying down in the river with their masks on, looking into the underwater world of the Dockens.

Another highlight was Family Den Building! I love building dens, and I challenge any adult to look back on their den-builds of the past and not remember them with a smile. We had beautifully sunny weather… which was perfect… because of course, the dens had to be ‘tested’ for waterproofness! It’s one of my favourite bits of the session… wandering about with my watering can to see if anybody inside gets wet when it ‘rains’. The only drawback (which the children find absolutely hilarious), is that I really am not tall enough to reach the tops of the dens properly, so they may stay dry inside, but I usually end up with half the watering can down my pouring arm!

Wildlife Tots had a break over the summer, and it was great to have them all back on the 5th September. We had a ‘teddy bear’s picnic’ – everyone brought a teddy (my bear is called William), and we went to the campfire area to search for other cuddly toy animals that our bears could ‘picnic’ with. Then (with the help of some tall people.. some might call them adults, but really they’re big kids) we built some dens! I was thoroughly impressed with how well the Tots handled the pole-carrying, and were guided to tie knots with good concentration and dexterity.

After the dens were constructed we all gathered around a small campfire and toasted bread for butter and jam. We learnt about campfire safety, and made sure our teddies stayed away from the fire. After some tasty snacks it was the end of the session, and the heavens opened! I had elected to dismantle the dens myself…. and so as the Tots and tall people went home… I sat in a very well made den for a bit and contemplated the rest of my day.

Young Naturalists in the picture

Our latest Young Naturalists session was all about photography.  We were hoping to be joined by Clare, a local landscape photographer, who unfortunately couldn’t make it, so we are hoping to get her to one of our sessions later in the year.  Meanwhile, we took out our phones and cameras and took lots of images of the wildlife.

We started with the moth trap, where we were joined by Simon, who is a moth expert, and who not only identified all the moths we found, but also gave good tips on getting the best photos.  After a warm night, there were loads of moths to choose from, so here’s a selection:

Willow Beauty, by Lucas, Blood-vein, by Arun

One of the most striking moths in the trap was an Elephant Hawk Moth, and Fletcher caught this spectacular front-on close up:

Elephant Hawk Moth, by Fletcher

Of all the moths which regularly turn up at Blashford, I think my favourite is the Buff-tip, which looks exactly like a broken birch twig:

Buff-tip, by James

We spent the rest of the morning in the wildflower meadow, where there were lots of insects to photograph, and we had sweep nets to catch and have a good close look at the different species.  I think Rosie’s ground-level photo of the meadow captures it perfectly:

The Wildflower meadow, by Rosie

The damselflies were everywhere around us, though they were difficult to photograph, as they don’t settle for long.  Here are a couple of shots:

Common Blue Damselfies, by Fletcher (left) and Rosie (right)

After lunch, we checked the hoverfly lagoons (no sign of hoverfly larvae yet), and had a go at clearing some of the slime off the pond, before heading down to Ivy Lake for a final try to capture more images of the day.  I finally got my camera out, and took a shot of one of the resident black-headed gulls (why isn’t it called a brown-headed gull?):

Black-headed gull, by Nigel

The Young Naturalists group is open to all 13 to 17 year-olds, and this month’s session gives you the chance to be a tree for the day.  Its on Sunday, 31st July, from 10am to 2:30pm, more details and to book a place, click here:

Blashford Lakes Young Naturalists: Tree Challenge Tickets, Sun 31 Jul 2022 at 10:00 | Eventbrite

Nigel Owen

Young Naturalists Leader

Easter fun – family pond dipping!

Whoever is in charge of the weather really favoured us last Wednesday, we had beautiful sunshine for our family pond dipping day. Initially our plan was to run a morning session, but because of demand we opened up an afternoon slot as well, it’s encouraging to see so many people wanting to participate in nature based learning activities during the school holidays.

A family being helped by one of our brilliant volunteers

After a quick chat about health and safety, and how to pond dip responsibly we gathered around the pond. I ensured the children knew how to supervise their adults properly, and with the help of volunteers Nora and Louise we had a brilliant session. The children quickly got to grips with identifying the creatures they found, so ‘water spider!?!!’ was soon correctly identified as dragonfly nymph (they do have rather long legs!), and ‘swimming lizard!!’ got recognised as an amphibian and subsequently a newt.

Our pond is rather weedy at the moment, which can mean that after a few sweepy figure of 8 motions with the pond net it can be quite a job to haul the net out of the water. Collecting weed (and pond snot!) can pay off though, as lots of invertebrates do love to hide in it.

Catching a lot of weed, and pond creatures!

One particular family seemed to have the monopoly on newt catching, and although I think every family in the afternoon session did catch a newt…. they managed to catch 8! The highlight was a little boy catching a newt eft, which started discussions on amphibian lifecycles, and where pet axolotls originally come from. We caught a huge diversity of species, and just before the afternoon session started we even saw a large adult grass snake slide across the grass by the pond.

Smooth newt

All animals were safely returned back to the pond at the end of the sessions. We are very clear to highlight responsible handling, and it is always wonderful to see people treating their finds with care. My personal highlight of the day was a parent who came up and thanked me at the end, as he had never been pond dipping and had always wanted to do it with somebody who was knowledgeable. We didn’t lose any children or parents to the pond, and everybody left with smiles on their faces!

Easter Wet & Wild Days Out!

We truly did have wet and wild days, exploring the pond behind the centre and the Dockens water with two wonderful groups of children.

It’s been a while since we had a Wild Day Out, in fact, it would have been during my very first week here at Blashford in October. I had a great time then, so I knew our Easter days would be fab too!

We started both days with some froggy arts and crafts in the classroom, using coloured paper to make frogs and blowing bubbles in a mixture of paint and washing up liquid to pop bubbles onto paper for frogspawn. This worked very well for Jim’s example (exceptional craft skills, 10/10!), but not necessarily for everyone else then one child had a clever idea, to use the glue lid and mixture to make frogspawn circles – very resourceful!

Our first outdoor activity on both days was pond dipping. With all the equipment set up around the pond and on the benches, Jim let everyone know how to dip safely, and we began. The problem with remembering how to dip safely (either sat crossed legged or one knee down, one knee up so as not to tip into the water) …. is that it’s just TOO EXCITING!

Pond dipping

We love excitement for nature here at Blashford, what we don’t like is children covered in ‘pond snot’, but thankfully everybody stayed dry!

We had a bit of a competition between tables, filling the grid trays with all the different creatures we could find. Dragonfly nymph, water beetles, water louse, damselfly larvae, water boatman and the mecca of all finds (which is always combined with a shriek), the NEWT! My favourite exclamation, was a repeated, ‘I FOUND A MEWT, A MEWT!’ and I think maybe I will always endearingly now think of them as mewts.

Looking in trays and classifying our finds

After lunch and some time to play out on the hill it was time to walk to the river. Wellies were donned in the hope that nobody would get wet feet… and we headed for the Dockens. On the way we passed some rushes and made rush boats to float down the river, some with elaborate sails made of leaves added on.

After demonstrating best practise for kick-sampling in the river (it’s important to hold the net downstream of your feet!) everyone got into the river to have a good go! With the help of some ID sheets the children did very well at identifying their finds, cased-caddis fly being a firm favourite. Some otter spraint on a spot under the bridge caught Jim’s attention and we even had some brave children give it a little sniff (otter spraint smells sweet, mink will smell fishy).

The determination to catch fish is a common theme when river dipping, and both Wild Days Out were no exception. With Jim holding all the nets in a row, we created a ‘fish trap’ and all the children agitated the river bed upstream of the nets…. and what a catch, one net had both a bullhead and a lamprey! Excellent teamwork and so much excitement…… and, as is always the way… lots of water inside welly boots!

Bullhead

The time at the river always goes quickly, even when combined with hula hooping! We had brought the hoops down to the river to play a game, but as time was pressing we didn’t play, but we did attempt to hula hoop! We had some very proficient children, and I combined guarding the deep water area with some hula hooping (I am pretty good… but my Trust fleece did hamper me slightly), and Jim even had a go too!

Time pressing on we walked back to the centre, and stopped the children short of the door. ‘Does anybody have water inside their wellies’….. a chorus of YES! and an instruction to empty them outside the building was heeded by all, although some did end up aiming their water onto coats that had been discarded on the floor.

Two Wild Days Out, lots of excited children, happy staff and volunteers, and many creatures later we were finished, and I am sure our finds were glad to be left in peace in their pond and river homes. Little do the pond creatures know… we’ve got a family pond dip event on tomorrow!

Go Wild this June!

June is almost upon us and 30 Days Wild is back for its sixth year! It is a fun, feel-good challenge run annually by The Wildlife Trusts which aims to bring people closer to nature and take small actions on a daily basis that can collectively have a big impact, for their health, wellbeing and for the planet.

You can sign up to the nature challenge here, where you will get a downloadable pack full of wild ideas to see you, your family or those in your care through the month. You could plant for pollinators, go on a bug hunt, give up plastics for a day, dig a pond, make a bug home, litter-pick, listen to birdsong, cloud watch, walk barefoot through the grass, get up to watch the sunrise, the options are endless.

If you’re on social media, you can share your random acts of wildness by using the #30DaysWild and @HantsIWWildlife on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. We’d love to see what you’re up to!

The website also has lots of extra ideas for those of you who are currently homeschooling, how to stay connected to nature if you are working from home and how to create a wildlife garden.

Have fun going wild!

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Ivy Lake in the sunshine

“A fallen tree is like a free playground”

131030 Wild Days Out 20resized by J Day

The title of this blog refers to my quote of the week from Rosie, who made this observation even before we came across the fallen tree pictured above and spent a significant part of the morning on or around it! That quote is closely followed by “Who needs wi-fi when you’ve got nature?”, by Sam. Both children were participants in the autumn themed “Wild Days Out” activity days this week which were thoroughly enjoyed by all, despite the wet weather on Friday.

I, personally, fully endorse both quotes and both go some way to explaining why I think my job and my work are so important and why I so strongly believe that the more experiences like this that I and like-minded people in the Wildlife Trusts and other organisations can provide children, the better our world will be.

Stepping off my soap-box, mixed weather again today – sunshine, showers and wind, though thankfully nothing anywhere near the scale of Sunday night/Monday morning.

We had a family birdwatching event this morning which played host to a select, but very enthusiastic audience! Birds generally speaking were, and are, a bit thin on the ground – a combination of the relatively mild weather having minimised the influx of migrant birds to both woodland and wetland, an abundance of fruits and seeds in the tree’s and hedgerows decreasing the woodland birds need for the bird feeders and then the wet weather dispersing a lot of grazing wildfowl like wigeon, into the valley and thus away from the lakes. Still nuthatches and great spotted woodpeckers performed at the woodland hide where it was also interesting to note that coal tit have now obviously moved back from having summered in the coniferous plantations. Highlight of the morning however was towards the end of the morning/early afternoon at Ivy South Hide where two bittern were confirmed in the reeds to the left (north) of the hide, one flying in from elsewhere whilst another could be seen stalking along the very edge of the reed/water boundary. As far as I am aware there have still been no bittern seen from Ivy North Hide (or the “bittern hide” as it is known to many!), but it doesn’t mean they are not there! Also reported again today, over on Ibsley Water and best seen from Lapwing Hide, was a sighting of the black necked grebe.