Operation Wallacea!

One of our Young Naturalists, Talia, spent two weeks over the summer taking part in Operation Wallacea. Operation Wallacea is a conservation research organisation that is funded by, and relies on, teams of student volunteers who join expeditions for the opportunity to work on real-world research programs alongside academic researchers.

Talia signed up to the programme through college, with this year being the first year this particular trip was being offered to college students. She raised funds for the expedition to Africa through working part time, running photography workshops with her dad and asking participants for a donation towards the trip and also received sponsorship directly from the Cameron Bespolka Trust, who kindly fund our Young Naturalists project.

Talia always takes fantastic photographs whilst on our Young Naturalists sessions, so after a lot of trawling through the many images taken whilst away, she has shared some of them with us along with a write up of her experiences.

So, for something a little more exotic than our usual Blashford wildlife, please read on!

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Zebras – Liwonde

During the first 5 days I was in Tanzania, near one of the crater lakes known as Lake Kisiba. We stayed at the local school, getting to work with the students to teach them about England and learning about their culture as well.

The conservation team in Kisiba are working to survey the species present in the lake. This will help to protect them in the future. The first task my group had was to collect invertebrate samples from the lake and from a nearby stream. Using kick sampling we collected the invertebrates in nets before identifying them. Unfortunately some had to be preserved in ethanol to be studied in the lab but the majority were released. We found a variety of species including cichlid fry, dragonfly nymphs and some freshwater crabs.

The other sampling we did around the lake was taking water and plankton samples. We then analysed these in the lab, finding the different plankton species in Lake Kisiba.

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Zooplankton – Kisiba

After doing this we got a chance to look around the lake shore, a few of the group taking the opportunity to find some of the land invertebrates at the lake. We succeeded in finding a dragonfly, butterflies and a stalk-eyed fly. A small skink even showed itself to us long enough to get a quick photo before disappearing again!

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Dragonfly – Kisiba

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Pea Blue Butterfly – Kisiba

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Stalk-eyed Fly – Kisiba

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Yellow Banded Acraea – Kisiba

We also discovered some less welcome ‘bugs’ when we returned to our dorm rooms. African Wolf Spiders the same size as an adults hand, luckily they aren’t venomous and we caught them in a cup to take them away from the dorms.

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African Wolf Spider – Kisiba

One of the other activities I took part in at Kisiba was a bird survey. After helping to set up two mist nets to catch the birds it took just 20 minutes before six birds had been caught, a pair of Little Bee Eaters, a pair of an unidentified species of Greenbul, an Olive Sunbird and a Variable Sunbird. The birds were weighed, measured and photographed before being released, with the larger species being released by my group. I got to release one of the Little Bee Eaters, a bird that has always been one of my favourites!

After the 5 days at Kisiba we moved to Nkhata Bay, on the shore of Lake Malawi. Here we took part in fish surveys, gaining our PADI dive certificate in the process. Lake Malawi is the eighth largest lake in the world and holds more species than any other lake. In particular the scientists are studying the cichlid species that are unique to the lake. Currently Lake Malawi is being severely overfished, many of the large fish species are no longer caught and the majority of fish sold at the local markets are tiny. Because of this it is important to know what fish are in the lake, with the cichlids being the most important for scientists as they are found only in Lake Malawi. To survey the fish we used both GoPros and underwater writing equipment to record fish as we saw them.

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Cichlids – Nkhata

As well as surveying fish in the bay we went out to a nearby beach to take some invertebrate samples, using the same techniques as we used at Kisiba. While going on this trip we got to feed a pair of wild African Fish Eagles, an experience I believe will never be matched. They are massive birds with 2 meter wingspans and they were just meters from the boats!

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African Fish Eagle – Nkhata

Another thing I loved about Nkhata Bay was the lizards. I couldn’t go anywhere without finding a few on the path ahead. Both Five Lined Skinks and a species I suspect is a Rainbow Skink could be found sunning themselves on the rocks at any time of the day. My dive group also had the experience of swimming with a Rock Monitor, one of the larger reptile species in the area.

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Five-lined Skink – Nkhata

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Rainbow Skink – Nkhata

After a week at Nkhata Bay we moved down to Liwonde National Park for a bit of a holiday. We went on a land safari and a river safari, even being lucky enough to see a large herd of elephants along with the other species in the park.

Overall, Operation Wallacea was an amazing experience and one I would love to take part in again. If I ever get the opportunity to go on a similar trip I will definitely take it! Doing this trip has taught me much more about conservation and how is it done as well as giving me important skills and experience for the area I want to work in, wildlife conservation.

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Free Time in Nkhata

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Residential spaces available!

In a couple of weeks we will again be heading back to Beaulieu for our second Young Naturalists residential. The weekend away in the New Forest is almost fully booked, but we have two spaces available!

If you know of a young person interested in birds, nature and conservation and aged between 13 and 17 please let them know about this fantastic opportunity. The residential is from 7pm on Friday 24th until 4pm on Sunday 26th November. Based at the Countryside Education Trust in Beaulieu we will be exploring the local forest and coastline in search of birds and other wildlife.

For further details please email BlashfordLakes@hiwwt.org.uk, telephone us at the Centre on 01425 472760 or visit the website. The deadline for booking a place is Friday 17th November.

To see how much fun we had last time, take a look at the following blog posts:

Weekend Wanderings Part 1

Weekend Wanderings Part 2

Watching avocets

Our Young Naturalists group is supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

Boxes for Birds

On Sunday eleven of our Young Naturalists made twelve very fine bird boxes to replace some of the older ones on the reserve that have seen better days. Volunteer Geoff very kindly sourced some offcuts of timber and pre-made the kits for the session, leaving the group with the task of putting them together and numbering them, so they could be identified later on and monitored. I’m not sure what they enjoyed the most, the opportunity to use power tools or the opportunity to have a go at pyrography to put their stamp on their creation…

We began by fixing the box pieces together using screws, then attached the lid to the box back using a strip of pond liner so the inside is easily accessible for monitoring and cleaning.

After building the boxes, we numbered them and added the builder’s initials, so we knew who had made which box. Some added more than others…

Whilst the group took it in turns to build their box and embellish it, they recorded the moths in the light trap. There were only eight moths in total, and five different species including a very fine feathered thorn.

They also took part in Seabirdwatch, which those of you who tuned into Autumnwatch last week will be aware of. Seabirdwatch consists of a number of camera trap sites which have been placed around the north Atlantic, and these cameras have taken thousands of images of kittiwakes and guillemots. It invites you to head to the website and after a quick tutorial identify and click on images of birds and their chicks, enabling us to understand more about breeding success, chick survival, time of breeding and much more.

It is a great citizen science project to be involved with, and one which Thomas, Will, Megan, Olivia and Jodie really got behind. Collectively they counted 2427 kittiwakes, 917 guillemots, 66 chicks and 3 other birds, across 36 photos. Thomas was our chief counter, counting birds on 21 of the 36 photos. To get involved and help with the counting, visit their website – there are plenty more photos to look at!

After finishing our boxes we lined them all up for a group photo and to admire our handiwork:

Group photo

Some of our group with their finished boxes

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Finished boxes

Once the boxes are up at suitable locations within the reserve, we will hopefully be able to help out with the checking and monitoring to see who moves in.

After lunch we headed out for a wander, visiting both the Ivy Lake hides and the Woodland hide.

Thank you to Geoff for taking the time to make up the box kits for the group and for the loan of the pyrography set, I know they all enjoyed having a go at writing and drawing on the wood. Thanks to volunteers Roma, Nigel and Jonathan for joining us for the session.

Our Young Naturalists group is kindly supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust. The Cameron Bespolka Trust is supporting a talk by Keith Betton on the return of the red kite and peregrine falcon at Winchester College on Wednesday 8th November, at 7pm. More details can be found on their website. Admission is free and there is no need to book, so if you are interested in finding out more about these fantastic birds please do come along.

Blashford Bird Trail 2017

Well I told Tracy I’d blog the Bird Trail and as she told everyone in her last post that I would be I suppose I really should!

The Bird Trail is a joint event run by Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust with the Hampshire Ornithological Society with the express intent of engaging groups of children and young people in wildlife and, of course, in bird watching in particular.

The 2017 Bird Trail was another great success and it would not have been so without the support of many people and organisations: first off I will thank all of the Hampshire Ornithological Society and HIWWT volunteers who helped out on the day and ensured that it was the great success it was! Volunteers led on a multitude of tasks from photographing the event, to supervising the road crossings or administering the group registration and totaling up the bird lists, to leading activities including owl pellet dissection, pond dipping and river dipping to name but a few! Thank you!

We are also very grateful to Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre, Waders for Real, Bird Aware Solent and the Natural History Museum for attending on the day with some fantastic displays, information and interactive activities as well as British Trust for Ornithology volunteers for their bird ringing demonstration – a definite highlight for many.

We had some fantastic prizes with thanks to sponsorship from Christchurch Harbour Ornithological Group, Hampshire Swifts, In Focus, Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre, Nutbags, Pearsons and Birds of Poole Harbour – thank you!

Thank you to Chris Packham, President of HOS and long-term supporter of the Bird Trail since it’s very first inception many, many years ago, who once again somehow managed to find time in a very full calendar of filming and other commitments to support the event himself and gave a typically short but well made, pointed yet humorous talk on wildlife watching, why we should all do it and how we can all help it as well as awarding the prizes and spending time with the volunteers, young people and exhibitors participating in the activities. This year the focus of his talk, having only recently returned from there, was the on-going illegal slaughter of 100’s of 1000’s of songbirds in Cyprus for it’s restaurant trade…

And finally of course, thank you to the groups of children and young people themselves and particularly the group leaders and parent helpers who gave up their Sunday to bring them… although to be fair I think you had almost as much fun (as much fun?!) as the children did!

Guided, chaperoned and instructed by HOS volunteers our groups (this year including multiple teams from Ringwood and Fordingbridge Beaver Scouts, Blashford and Havant Wildlife Watch groups, Titchfield Haven Wildlife Explorers and our own Young Naturalists) set off at intervals on a set route around the nature reserve to see (or hear!) as many species of bird as they could. Before or after starting their bird watch groups also had the opportunity to participate in a raft of other activities including pond dipping, river dipping, a BTO bird ringing demonstration and owl pellet dissection as well as enjoy interactive displays laid on by our visiting project exhibitors.

The winning team – 3rd Ringwood Beavers (team 1) came top on the day with over 5o species of birds (their list has subsequently gone missing in action and I can’t remember the exact total!) and they won individual pairs of Opticron Vega binoculars (courtesy of In Focus) as well as individual tickets for each team member and an accompanying adult to join the Birds of Poole Harbour Christmas Birdwatching cruise.

Close behind, with 47 species, was our very own Young Naturalist group winning family tickets to Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre, and in third place, with 42 species was Titchfield Haven Wildlife Explorers who won themselves a “Nutbags” sunflower heart filled bird feeder and a FSC guide to the Top 50 Garden Birds, courtesy of the Hampshire Swift Group.

All entrants were awarded with an embroidered “Bird Trail” camp blanket badge (sponsored by Christchurch Ornithological Society) and a certificate (printed by Pearsons) signed personally by Chris Packham himself.

Bird highlights? Goldcrest in the hand at the ringing demo, and peregrine and kingfisher sightings. Other highlights? Definitely the pond dipping and the owl pellet dissection!

Now just need to start thinking about Bird Trail 2018…?

The start… and getting used to our binoculars!

Bird watching…

Pond dipping…

Owl pellet dissection…

Activities and displays with our visiting exhibitors…

Bird ringing demonstration…

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Adjudicating the final scores!

And the winners!

Go Team!

Last Sunday our Young Naturalists participated in the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust and Hampshire Ornithological SocietyBird Trail” here at Blashford Lakes.

The bird watching and wildlife event for teams of children and young people was hugely fun to participate in, and I’m sure another blog from Jim will follow shortly!

We had a while to wait until our allocated start time, so swiftly headed over to the bird ringing demonstration led by British Trust for Ornithology bird ringers Graham Giddens and Marcus Ward. The group have always enjoyed watching bird ringing demonstrations as it is such a good way to see the birds up close – we were lucky enough to see blue tit, great titnuthatch and goldfinch. Thomas spotted a chiff-chaff being caught but the bird made a speedy getaway so we were unable to get a closer view. A couple of the group, including Thomas below, had a go at holding then releasing the birds, a real privilege!

We then visited Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre‘s static display of birds, again enjoying such close up views.

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

Kestrel

Kestrel

Still having time to wait we headed over to the Education Centre to have a look at the moths caught in the light trap the night before and the Natural History Museum stand, which contained lots of interesting identification guides and survey projects.

Natural History Museum

Natural History Museum

Finally it was time for us to start the trail, so we headed over towards Ivy North Hide, spotting robin, chaffinch, woodpigeon on our way with Thomas taking charge of our list. Before reaching the hide we were treated to distant views of a Peregrine falcon which we watched for some time. At Ivy North Hide we focused on the water birds, spotting cormorant, mute swan, Canada goose, grey heron, coot, gadwall, great crested grebe, shoveler and tufted duck. We also saw jay, swallow and herring gull.

Bird spotting

Bird spotting from Ivy North hide

On our way to the woodland hide we added a few more woodland birds to our list, including blackbird, siskin, long-tailed tit, dunnock, coal tit and greenfinch. Sadly though, despite our best efforts we couldn’t spot a wren

Pausing by the silt pond in the hope of a flash of blue, we heard Cetti’s warbler and rook whilst from Ivy South hide we watched mallard, black-headed gull and little grebe. From Ivy South hide we headed over the boardwalk and followed the path back along the Dockens Water. Backtracking for Thomas’ rucksack we spied a kingfisher (thanks Thomas!) then on making it to Ibsley Water we saw little egret, grey wagtail, greylag goose, Egyptian goose, lapwing, starling, lesser black-backed gull, jackdaw and buzzard from Goosander and Tern hides.

In total we had spotted a very respectable 47 species – thank you to HIWWT volunteer Nigel Owen and HOS volunteer John Shillitoe for expertly helping us with our bird identifying and for verifying our finds. Thanks too to Corinne Bespolka who was able to join us for the day.

On heading back to the Centre and handing in our sightings sheet, we were delighted to discover our bird spotting efforts had paid off and we had come second! I know those who joined us will thoroughly enjoy their prize, a family ticket to Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre – thank you Liberty’s for supporting the event!

 

Young Nats by Corinne Bespolka

Our team, minus those who had to leave early, with Chris Packham and Karima from Bird Aware Solent, by Corinne Bespolka

Our Young Naturalists group is kindly supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

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:

https://shop.hiwwt.org.uk/product-category/events/

 

 

Roasting and toasting

It was rather warm on Sunday for our August Young Naturalists gathering, so we decided to roast ourselves even more by spending time in the meadow, a habitat we haven’t really visited yet this year, followed by a bit of blackberry bread cooking over the campfire…

We began though with a look through the light trap which revealed at least 19 different species including a lovely Peach blossom, a Purple thorn, a Pebble hook tip and a Chinese character, amongst others.

We were then distracted by a Southern hawker flying over the pond, which Talia managed to photograph whilst it was busy hawking for insects:

Southern hawker by Talia Felstead

Southern hawker by Talia Felstead

After gathering up some sweep nets, identification sheets and bug pots we made our way over to the meadow in search of wasp spiders, grasshoppers and bush crickets and anything else we could find. It didn’t take us long to locate the wasp spider, just inside the gate on the left hand side.

Wasp spider by Talia Felstead

Wasp spider by Talia Felstead

I set the group a challenge to find a pink grasshopper and a Roesel’s bush cricket. I don’t think they believed me about the pink grasshopper, but once they’d spotted one they tried their best to catch it and find more, but without any success! So sadly no photo!

Most grasshopper species are a more sensible green-brown colour, allowing them to blend in with their surroundings, but some do carry genes that make them pink or purple-red. They just might not survive for long in the wild (or stay in one place long enough for a photo!), as they are more likely to be predated. The group did now believe there were pink grasshoppers though, and there were plenty more sensibly coloured ones around that didn’t move quite as fast for us to catch and look at closely.

As for the Roesel’s bush cricket, although we swept through the grass outside the meadow as well as in it, we couldn’t find one, so I will have to be content with the photo Bob put on the blog yesterday instead. We did though catch a very fine looking female long-winged conehead cricket instead:

Female bush cricket by Talia Felstead

Long-winged conehead by Talia Felstead

Bush cricket

Long-winged conehead, quite content on Megan’s hand

We also found a number of other spiders, including some brilliantly patterned orb web spiders and a wolf spider, alongside caterpillars, an orange swift moth, common blue damselflies, honey beesbaby toads and more.

After getting a bit hot in the meadow, we relocated momentarily to the shade and picked blackberries before heading to the campfire area to attempt a bit of bread making. Megan and Will H did a superb job of mixing us up some dough whilst Will S and Ben helped lay the fire which Ben then lit.

I offered the group blackberries, dried fruit, freshly picked marjoram and chocolate buttons for their ingredients, which seemed to cater for all tastes, and we had a mix of fillings and shapes on the grill – not everyone opted for chocolate! Everyone went back for seconds…

The group enjoyed bread making so much they requested more campfire cooking, so we agreed on a winter cookout towards the end of the year, the food list is already quite lengthy!

We also found time to hunt here for minibeasts, finding a flat backed millipede that managed to stay still long enough for Talia to take a photo and a ground beetle larvae.

Flat backed millipede by Talia Felstead

Flat backed millipede by Talia Felstead

Beetle larvae by Talia Felstead

Beetle larvae by Talia Felstead

Thanks to volunteers Geoff and Roma for their help on the day and to Talia for taking lots of great photos and sharing them with me for the blog.

Our Young Naturalists group is kindly supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

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.

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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:

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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.

Messing around on the water…

Last Sunday fourteen of our Young Naturalists met up again for our usual monthly meeting, and this time we were back in Beaulieu and heading out onto the water on a canoe safari with New Forest Activities. We were hoping to get a different view of some of the river birds and spot some of the moon jellyfish we had heard so much about. Moon jellyfish can often be seen in large numbers in the Beaulieu River during the summer months and are easily identifiable by the four rings visible in the centre of their transparent bodies.

After a briefing from our instructors we sorted ourselves out into canoes and headed out onto the water.

Briefing

Receiving our briefing

The weather wasn’t as hot and sunny as it had been, possibly a good thing for being out on the water, but it was warm and the group didn’t appear to mind getting a bit wet. Some got wetter than others!

After getting used to our canoes we headed upstream, foraging for wild samphire along the way and spotting lapwing. We also looked at a nesting platform which hopefully may one day tempt a passing osprey to stay in the area for longer.

We soon noticed lots of small jellyfish in the water, which the group were particularly excited by. We had a go at scooping up some of them to see what they felt like before quickly returning them to the river. They were quite hard to catch but Annabel in particular seemed to have the jellyfish catching knack.

A lot of the creeks and inlets were out of bounds due to nesting birds but we were able to explore one, spotting crabs in the shallower water and watching the jellyfish drift by. Turning back round at the end was entertaining.

Heading up the creek

Heading into the creek…

On the lookout for crabs

On the lookout for crabs…

After a picnic on the shore at Beaulieu, it was time to head back down river and back to Bailey’s Hard. Although the sun had by now come out, the wind had also picked up and getting back was definitely harder!

The group had a great time, spotting lapwing, oystercatcher, mute swans, mallards and swallows on and over the water, but the wildlife highlight was definitely the jellyfish!

Thank you to New Forest Activities for a fun day out and to volunteers Nigel, Geoff and Emily for joining us.

Our Young Naturalists group is kindly supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

Chalk downland extravaganza!

On Sunday twelve Young Naturalists joined us for a trip to Martin Down National Nature Reserve, one of the largest areas of uninterrupted chalk downland in Britain. Jointly owned and managed by Natural England and Hampshire Country Council, the reserve is home to a fantastic variety of plants and animals associated with chalk downland and scrub habitats.

Regular readers of the blog will know that part of Martin Down National Nature Reserve, Kitts Grave, belongs to Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust. This site is managed as part of the wider reserve by Natural England, but our volunteers do a couple of tasks there each winter – we did not visit this part of the reserve so as to avoid a busy road crossing and the car park height barrier, parking instead at the end of Sillens Lane and exploring the Down between here and the Second World War rifle range.

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Martin Down

The weather was in our favour and we got off to a great start, spotting brown hare in a field close to where we had parked the minibus. We headed off in the direction of the rifle range, keeping our eyes peeled for butterflies and listening out for the distinctive purring of turtle dove. This stretch kept us busy with our cameras and binoculars as we saw yellowhammer, skylark, red-legged partridge, jackdaw and chiff chaff.

The butterflies also didn’t disappoint, with specked wood, common blue and large skipper settling close by for photos. We also spotted a red and black froghopper and a fabulous caterpillar, later identified as that of a drinker moth.

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As we left the edge of the tree line and headed into more open downland, we saw small blue, orange-tip, small heath, brimstone, large white and Adonis blue butterflies, along with a cinnabar moth. We also spotted a number of stunning golden bloomed grey longhorn beetles, with their fantastic long and stripy antennae.

The butterfly highlight of the day though was possibly this beautiful Marsh fritillary, which was in no hurry to fly away:

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Marsh fritillary

Geoff took a photo of this caterpillar, which we think is that of a six-spot burnet moth.

Six-spot Burnet caterpillar by Geoff Knott

Six-spot burnet moth caterpillar by Geoff Knott

We also stumbled across lots of tent caterpillars, so grouped because of their ability to build conspicuous silk tents in the branches of host trees. They are sociable, with many grouping together in one spot and we believe most of those we saw are larvae of the small eggar moth – the second photo may show a different species or an older instar, I’m not completely sure!

We also scoured the tops of small trees and bushes in the hope of spotting a Corn bunting amongst all the signing skylarks, a bird I’d been hoping to see! We were in luck, watching one for some time before it flew off to perch further away on another bush.

Corn bunting by Nigel Owen

Corn bunting by Nigel Owen

We paused for lunch at the rifle range, an excellent spot as it turned out as whilst sat on the top we watched a female cuckoo fly from bush to bush below us, sitting on the top of one for a few moments before flying back into the scrub and out of sight.

We then followed the Neolithic Bokerley Ditch which snakes along the western edge of Martin Down, defining the Dorset and Hampshire border. Possibly built as a boundary in the Iron Age, it was fortified in the 5th or 6th centuries AD against invading Saxons. We were now in search of orchids, spotting plenty of common spotted orchids and finding the beautiful burnt tip orchids.

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Burnt tip orchids by David Felstead

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Orchid hunting

The other wild flowers did not disappoint either and we identified yellow rattle, kidney vetch, horseshoe vetch, meadowsweet and wild or yellow mignonette amongst others. We also saw and heard stonechat, more yellowhammer, a roe doe and two brown argus butterflies.

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We decided we had just enough energy and time left for one last slope in the sunshine so headed uphill, in search of a greater butterfly orchid. At the top of the slope we found these along with fragrant orchid and also spotted a five spot burnet moth.

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Greater butterfly orchid

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Fragrant orchid

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Five spot burnet

It was then time to head back to the minibus before the showers started and we almost made it! We had unfortunately run out of time to linger for long by any of the scrub for the sound of turtle doves and the rain shower although very refreshing began to get heavier, but Geoff who was walking at the back of the group did manage to pick out their distinctive call.

We had a brilliant day, it was definitely hotter and sunnier than we had been expecting which bought out a great variety of butterflies including Adonis blue, brown argus and the beautiful marsh fritillary. We also had great views of brown hare, corn bunting, yellowhammer and cuckoo. Martin Down is a brilliant site for downland species and definitely worth a visit on a sunny day!

Back at Blashford, the two oystercatcher chicks were again showing nicely in front of Tern Hide with both adult birds also present and continuing to be very attentive. The light trap has been revealing more moth species now the nights are warmer, with highlights on Sunday including a chocolate-tip (sadly no photo as my camera seems to have momentarily malfunctioned!) and scorched wing and yesterday we had lots of light emeralds and a lovely privet hawk-moth.

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Our Young Naturalists group is supported by the Cameron Bespolka Trust. Thank you to volunteers Nigel, Geoff, Emily, Kate and Roma for your help on Sunday!