Bluebells to Beaulieu

I have been very absent from the blog this last few months, so this is another quick round up of what our Young Naturalists group have been up to since April – it seems like such a long time ago now!

At the end of April we visited another Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust nature reserve, Roydon Woods.  Spring is a great time to visit and we had timed ours perfectly with the flowering bluebells.

Bluebells

Bluebells

The group also enjoyed photographing and identifying some of the other spring flowers, including Bugle, Greater stitchwort, Wood spurge and Wood anemone:

We also saw Primroses, Lesser celandine, Arum maculatum or Lords-and-Ladies, Speedwell and Wild strawberry. There were also a number of Dor beetles on the paths:

Dor beetle

For the birds, we saw Song thrush, Buzzard, Redstart, Black cap, Great tit, Blue tit, Blackbird, Swallow and Raven and heard Great spotted woodpecker and Chiffchaff.

It was great to discover a different part of the forest with the group, and perhaps we could return again in the Autumn to experience the nature reserve at a different time of year.

During May we met twice, once for the Bird Trail and again at the end of the month to carry out some nest box monitoring with British Trust for Ornithology volunteer Brenda, who keeps a watchful eye over all of the nest boxes on the reserve.

The Bird Trail was organised by Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust in partnership with Hampshire Ornithological Society, with each competing team vying to be the one which saw, identified and recorded the most species of bird (and other wildlife – the number of which would be critical in the event of a tie in the number of birds seen).

Following a set route that took in Tern Hide, Ivy South Hide, Woodland Hide and Ivy North Hide, we were also kept busy with a range of other wildlife activities throughout the day including a bird ringing demonstration, pond and river dipping, looking at the moths caught in the light trap, owl pellet dissecting, a static birds of prey demonstration by Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre and a bird feeding strategy activity provided by New Forest National Park Authority Rangers.

Jim was able to blog after the event, and our Young Naturalists team did manage to improve on last time’s second place to come first, recording 44 bird species over the course of the day. Our highlights were probably the Hobby, which flew over the Education Centre whilst we and some of the other teams were having lunch, along with the Chaffinch, simply because it took us all day to see one – we had to wait until we had completed our circuit of all the bird hides and had walked back up to the feeder by the Welcome Hut.

At the end of May, Brenda offered to once again take the group round a number of the nest boxes on the reserve as she checked them and ringed the young. They were delighted to be able to peak inside the nest boxes, a couple of which had been made by older members of the group, see the birds being ringed and handle them carefully before putting them back in their nests.

The nest box monitoring and checking on the reserve by Brenda is carried out following the BTO’s Nest Recording Scheme Code of Conduct and we ensured at all times that nest disturbance was kept to a minimum and our observing did not have a negative impact on their chance of success. The group were incredibly quiet, careful, asked lots of great questions and knew how lucky they were to get the opportunity to join Brenda for a closer look inside the boxes. 

After spending time with Brenda we headed off down to the river in search of two invasive species, Himalayan balsalm and Pink purslane, which when found we pulled up. Hopefully we made a little bit of a difference!

At the end of June, which doesn’t seem quite so long ago, we returned to the Beaulieu River for another canoe safari, an activity the group did a couple of summers ago and really enjoyed. It was brilliant to see the wildlife from a different perspective.

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Receiving our briefing

Whilst out on the water we saw Little egrets, Oystercatchers, a Common tern, lots and lots of Canada geese, Swallows, Black headed gulls, a Buzzard, Marbled white butterflies, dragonflies and a Bee which we rescued from the water.

We tried samphire (not popular with all!), watched fish jumping and stuck our hands in the Mermaid’s hair.

The highlight though had to once again be the thousands upon thousands of Moon jellyfish which we paddled through along one stretch of the river:

We had a great day wildlife watching from our canoes, but only Alex opted to jump in off the jetty at the very end:

Alex

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

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30 Days Wild – Day 19

Another rainy day, all the trees dripping and overall just drab and damp. The mild night resulted in a few moths, a few new for the year; purple clay, elephant hawk-moth and blotched emerald.

It was not cold and I suppose this was why the grass snake were out on the tree stump at Ivy South Hide, two seemed to be there all day, both a good size, but one especially large one.

Poor weather is a signal to catch up on paperwork, or at least to try to. However too much paperwork is bad for the soul, so this afternoon we were out doing something I have never done before. Hanging woven willow sculptures in trees, specifically three each of dragonflies and wasps.

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willow dragonfly

The dragonflies were made in workshops led by Kim Creswell as part of the Veolia Environmental Trust project  by our Young Naturalists Group and the wasps made by members of the local Home Educators community who have regular field visit meet ups here throughout the year. They have joined the various other sculptures on the circular walk from the Centre south via the boardwalk and back along the Dockens Water.

willow wasp

willow wasp

As well as doing the blog, more or less daily, look for tweets @30DaysWild from us and loads of other people, you can add your own and use #30DaysWild, if you tweet about Blashford use #BlashfordLakes too if you can.

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Weaving dragonflies

At the end of February our Young Naturalists worked with willow artist Kim Creswell to create three dragonfly sculptures that will form part of our new ‘Wild Walk‘. To those familiar with the reserve, the walk is the loop closest to the Education Centre that takes you past the Woodland Hide, Ivy South Hide, over the boardwalk and the bridge across the river then follows the path to the right, along the river and round to the larger bridge where we river dip with school groups and on family events.

The sculptures along the trail have been funded by the Veolia Environmental Trust and include the four chainsaw carved sculptures by Simon Groves as well as a number of willow sculptures by Kim. Kim is back with us tomorrow to work with a small group of children and young people from our local Home Educators group who will be having a go at weaving wasps for the walk, and will also be bringing some willow deer with her which we are very much looking forward to seeing!

Kim began by sharing her plan of the dragonflies with the Young Naturalists, before dividing them up into three groups and giving each individual a body part to work on, either the head, thorax, abdomen or wings.

Dragonfly plan

Dragonfly plan

She then got them started with the willow, demonstrating how to create the basic shape of each body part before getting them started with the weaving.

It was then time to add a bit more detail by giving the dragonflies some eyes, Megan did a great job with hers, adding the willow until they became quite bulbous.

After creating between them three heads, three thorax’s, three abdomens and 12 wings, it was time to lie the parts out on a picnic bench and put them together.

The group were really pleased with their finished dragonflies and they did a great job weaving them. They looked great against a lovely blue sky!

Finished dragonfly

Group with their dragonflies

Whilst we were finishing off we also had time for a bit of wildlife watching, finding a number of Alder leaf beetles on one of the posts behind the new pond, along with a frog.

Alder beetle

Alder leaf beetle

Frog

Frog

Thanks to Kim for teaching the group how to weave a dragonfly from willow, we’re really looking forward to seeing them up along the trail. Hopefully some photos of willow wasps and deer will follow!

Thanks too to Veolia Environmental Trust for providing funding for the sculptures along our ‘Wild Walk‘, including the two workshops with Kim. I know they are already proving very popular with our younger visitors!vet-logo

Two for one

I am behind with our Young Naturalists updates, I think mainly because New Year and time off got in the way after our December session, so here’s a quick update from the last couple of months.

We met in between Christmas and New Year for a festive campfire cookout, something the group had enjoyed doing at the end of 2017 and requested again. We had a slightly random feast, depending on what food items each of the group had brought along, including crumpets, sausages, bacon, a very festive and warming fruit punch and of course marshmallows.

After tidying everything away we headed off for a wander and decided to go down to the Dockens Water to see if we could spot any tracks in the soft ground. We found plenty of signs of deer and some much smaller tracks which we decided could have been squirrel, I should have taken something for scale!

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Walking along the Dockens Water

Corinne from the Cameron Bespolka Trust, who very kindly sponsors our Young Naturalists group, enabling us to run the sessions, venture further afield and enlist the help of specialists, had called in to leave Trust t-shirts and Great grey shrike pin badges for the group. The group were delighted with both, and we handed them out again in January to those who couldn’t make it in December. Despite the cold, I managed to convince a number to put them on straight away for a photo:

At the end of January we once again took part in the Big Garden Bird Watch, a survey we have now taken part in for three years. We spent an hour in the woodland hide, recording the greatest number of each species seen at any one time, no mean feat where the chaffinch were concerned!

In total, after comparing results from each pair, we had counted 91 birds and 18 different species, along with three grey squirrels. They were: 38 chaffinch, 9 reed bunting, 6 goldfinch, 5 siskin and blackbird, 4 great tit, blue tit and dunnock, 3 long-tailed tit, 2 greenfinch, robin, jackdaw and woodpigeon, and 1 coal tit, nuthatch, brambling, great spotted woodpecker and jay.  Both the chaffinch and reed bunting were hard to count where they were mostly feeding on the ground, and I’m sure we missed a few. In addition, and not included in our results as they were flying over, Will spotted a cormorant and herring gull, so it was a good bird watching hour!

Compared to the past two years, our number of species has gradually increased, with 15 different species recorded in January 2017 and 16 recorded in 2018. Interestingly chaffinch numbers have risen from 16 to 23 to 38 whilst no reed bunting were recorded in 2018 and only 1 in 2017. Greenfinch numbers have decreased with 2 recorded this year compared to 4 in both 2018 and 2017, whilst 2017 saw 10 blackbird out in front of the hide, compared to 4 in 2018 and 5 this year. Finally, last year we picked a good hour and saw 1 lesser redpoll, something I had been hoping for this year, but it really does just depend on what is about on the day. It will be interesting to see what results we get next year.

After lunch we headed back out to lay a short stretch of hedge along the reserve boundary, past Ellingham Pound and by the A338. Stretches of this hedge have been laid at different times over the past few years and it has been laid with wildlife in mind rather than traditionally. A nice, thick, denser hedge is the perfect sanctuary for smaller mammals and birds, giving them a safer place to nest and hide from predators. As it continues to grow it will thicken out and grow up, with the new growth providing the perfect cover.

The two photos below show Geoff explaining to the group how to cut at an angle into the tree so it will bend and lay over those previously cut without breaking, and the stretch of hedge before we began working.

As well as laying the trees, we did a bit of ‘tidying up’, so to speak, clearing the many brambles growing in between and entwining around them to make them easier to lay and also more comfortable for us to get to them, and also as this hedge is hawthorn and blackthorn, cutting back any of the branches likely to again impede our task.

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Cutting back

We managed to lay a good stretch whilst we were out, leaving the odd tree still standing and working in from both ends. There is not much left now to lay, so perhaps we will get a chance to head back to it again another time or the volunteers will be able to lay the final bit. The weather had changed for my ‘after’ photo, but hopefully you can see the difference. The gravel mound across the road is certainly more obvious!

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The hedge after

Thanks to Geoff, Nigel and Roma for your help on Sunday.

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

A trip to the coast

At the end of November we headed to Keyhaven Marshes for some coastal bird watching with our Young Naturalists. We were last here with the group a couple of years ago so it was great to return again with some who came last time and take some of our newer members who had never visited this part of the coastline before.

Pleasantly surprised by the weather (I had been keeping an eye on the forecast all week and been expecting to get wet), we headed off from the car park under a lovely blue sky. Deciding once again to list the different bird species spotted, we were quick to see collared dove, house sparrow (bathing in puddles along the side of the road) and starling. We scanned the first area of reeds for marsh harrier but were unsuccessful, settling for mallard, black-tailed godwit and grey heron instead.

Keyhaven view

Keyhaven on a lovely blue sky day

Following the path we watched a number of turnstone rummaging for insects, crustaceans and molluscs on the shoreline. On our way to Keyhaven Lagoon we added black-headed gull, little egret, brent goose, magpie, pintail, gadwall and wigeon to our list. Pausing by the lagoon we watched mute swan, coot, shelduck, avocet and Canada goose for some time and flock of linnet also flew over our heads. Whilst walking along the path between Keyhaven Lagoon and Fishtail Lagoon we saw buzzard, curlew, redshank, dunlin, stonechat, lapwing, shoveler, teal and herring gull. Out in the Solent we saw great crested grebes and on pausing to chat to a group on the corner by Butts Lagoon we were directed towards a pair of peregrine, perched either end of a concrete block on an island.

Peregrines

Peregrines perched on a concrete block in the Solent with Hurst Spit behind

The group also told us they had seen red-breasted merganser from this corner as well, so we spent some time trying to pick these out using the scope and were rewarded for our patience.

Bird watching

Looking at the Red-breasted merganser

We carried on along the path, noting down great black-backed gull, moorhen, blackbird and carrion crow. We found a sheltered spot to stop for lunch (it was still a bit windy out on the sea wall) before heading inland and following the path past the old tip.

Walking

Heading inland towards lower Pennington Lane and the ancient highway

Here we did not spot what was spooking the lapwing and golden plover but we did enjoy watching them flocking overhead.

golden plover

Golden plover

lapwing

Lapwing

We decided we had enough time to make a brief detour towards Pennington Marsh so headed along the lane, watching kestrel, pheasant, robin, chaffinch, jackdaw, wood pigeon, rook and dunnock and hearing the distinctive call of a Cetti’s warbler. We then turned back and headed towards Keyhaven and the car park, following the ancient highway and watching cormorant and tufted duck on the pond by the landfill site. Along this path we also saw meadow pipit, blue tit and great tit and heard a nuthatch calling.

Finally we paused again by the bridge over Avon Water, scanning the reed bed and trees behind for signs of a marsh harrier. We spotted a large bird perched on the top of a distant tree and whilst this is a good place to see marsh harrier, with its back turned to us we couldn’t say for certain it wasn’t a buzzard. We let Will decide whether or not this was a sighting and he quite rightly decided it wasn’t, as we couldn’t be certain. It had been worth the look though as whilst here we saw a kingfisher fly past, a very lovely bird to be last on our list.

Keyhaven view 2

Keyhaven

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

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Sharing our experiences

At October’s Young Naturalists session we were joined by Corinne from the Cameron Bespolka Trust and Craig from the New Forest National Park Authority to share with them all the many wonderful and varied things we have been up to as a group over the past year.

Looking back it was great to see just how many places we have visited and how many different activities we have been able to do, which have largely been made possible by the generous funding from the Cameron Bespolka Trust.

It enabled Corinne to catch up with some of the older members of the group who have been with us for some time whilst also meeting some of our newer members. For Craig, it was a great way to tie in all our sessions with the John Muir award, something we have been working towards since our residential in Beaulieu last November.

The John Muir award is an environmental award scheme which focuses on wild spaces, encouraging people to connect with nature and enjoy and care for the landscape around them. John Muir was an influential Scottish-American naturalist, author, environmental philosopher, glaciologist and early advocate for preserving the wilderness of the United States. Muir was instrumental in the foundation of the National Parks system in America and since the first was established at Yellowstone in 1872, 6,555 protected areas have been created across the globe including 15 National Parks within the UK.

The award encourages people to connect with, enjoy, and care for wild places through four challenges:

  • Discovering a wild place
  • Exploring its wildness
  • Conserving it
  • Sharing your experiences

We shared a short powerpoint presentation with Corinne and Craig, the slides of which can be seen below in this blog, with the group adding their comments or highlights as we talked about all the things we had done over the past year. Our discovering has taken us far and wide:

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Discovering the wild spaces around us

We have been able to venture across the New Forest to Beaulieu, visited Needs Ore Marshes, walked up to our local Rockford and Ibsley Commons, explored the chalk downland of Martin Down and headed into Dorset to Brownsea Island, Shell Bay and Kimmeridge. Finally, as well as our trips away we have spent a considerable amount of time here on the reserve, discovering the many wonderful habitats Blashford has to offer.

Whilst exploring the many wild places mentioned above we have been lucky enough to do a number of activities, learning about moths, pond and river life, farm life, the night sky, the history of falconry, fossils, the wildlife in rock pools and the flora and fauna found on chalk downland. Just to name a few!

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The group have taken part in a number of conservation activities, with highlights including building lots of new bird boxes which replaced a number of old ones on the reserve, assisting with the bird box monitoring and beach cleans. We do enjoy a good beach clean!YN Slide 5 TS

One of our group members, Megan, nominated the group for the Waitrose Community Matters Fund with the funds raised going towards repairing the current dipping pond here on the reserve.

Finally we needed to share our experiences with others, and inviting Craig and Corinne to the session was part of this. A number of the group take photos for me to share via the Blashford Blog and they are usually obliging in having their photos taken for Twitter, Instagram and the blog…

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Their best sharing though has to be the video a number of the group took part in, where they voiced their own opinions of the group and the activities we get up to. If you haven’t yet seen it, it is available here:

After talking through the presentation, we headed outside and the group led a pond dip with Corinne and Craig.

The John Muir award has been perfect for the group as so many of the activities we do fit in with one or more of the four categories. It doesn’t however need to be completed over such a wide geographical area or such a long time; a wild place could be school grounds or a green space or park in an urban area as well as a National Park or stretch of coast, whilst working towards the introductory discovery level of the award over a year meant a number of the group could achieve the minimum time commitment of four days even if they missed a session or two. It is an accessible award to work to!

For more information about the John Muir award please visit their website.

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

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What a difference six months makes…

At the end of September we headed back to the Purbecks with our Young Naturalists to repeat March’s snowy residential, and the weather was glorious!

Staying once again at Brenscombe Activity Centre, just outside Corfe Castle, we headed over on the Friday evening to make the most of the weekend. On Saturday we once again visited Brownsea, with the weather a stark contrast to the freezing cold of our last visit.

Brownsea

Brownsea Island from the Studland to Bournemouth Ferry

We met up with Dorset Wildlife Trust staff member Nicki and volunteer Claire, who took us on a guided walk around the part of the Island managed by the Wildlife Trust.

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Start of our guided walk

From Low Hide we had great views of the birds on the Lagoon, spotting Cormorant, Black-headed gull, Spotted redshank, Avocet, Common redshank, Spoonbill, Little egret, Shelduck, Oystercatcher, Grey heron, Shoveler, Wigeon, Teal, Moorhen, Little ringed plover, Starling, Great black-backed gull and Dunlin.

We then headed further in to the reserve on our walk, past The Villa Wildlife Centre and through Venetia Park up to the viewpoint. This was the view we missed out on last time:

The view

On our way we spotted Wood pigeon, Magpie, Coal tit, Great tit, Chaffinch, Blue tit, Pheasant, Nuthatch, Buzzard, Canada goose and on stopping to break for lunch we had great views of a Sparrowhawk overhead. We were now on our way to the beach and on a part of the reserve not open to the public – it was great for red squirrel spotting and we saw a number up in the tree tops.

After exploring the old buildings we headed down to the beach. At first look it was fairly clear of litter, but on closer inspection we managed to collect a fair amount of rubbish from the shoreline and spotted a few natural finds too, including crab claws, oyster shells and pottery fragments. Given this part of the reserve is not open to visitors, all of the litter we collected had washed on to the beach from the harbour.

After carrying the litter closer to the path for Nicki and Claire to collect later, we carried on with our walk and headed back towards The Villa, again red squirrel spotting along the way. We also spied a female Common darter basking in the sunshine.

On reaching The Villa we thanked Nicki and Claire for their time and made our way to the area by the Church. This spot had given us some great close up views of red squirrels last time we were here and we had about 45 minutes to spare before having to catch the boat back. We were lucky enough to get quite close to a Sika deer that wasn’t at all worried by all the people around her as well as peacocks and red squirrels.

We were enjoying the weather so much we decided to spend some time on the beach at Shell Bay after leaving Brownsea, paddling in the sea, beach combing and having a wander along the shoreline.

On the Sunday we headed up onto the ridge above the activity centre and walked towards Corfe Castle.

We then headed back to the coast, this time heading over to Kimmeridge Bay for some fossil hunting and rock pooling. Before going down to the beach we visited Dorset Wildlife Trust’s Fine Foundation Wild Seas Centre. We loved the indoor rock pool and the centre is well worth the visit if you are ever in the area.

To give the tide more time to go out we then walked up to Clavell Tower, enjoying the view down to Kimmeridge Bay below.

After lunch on the beach we began fossil hunting for ammonites, something the group really enjoyed as they constantly tried to find an ammonite to better than the one they already had.

Finally we finished off with some rock pooling and a walk back along the beach, looking for shrimp, anemones, fish, shells and larger ammonites still under the water:

Admittedly it was a while ago now, but we had a fabulous time in the Purbecks and certainly enjoyed the sunshine on the Saturday. The group really enjoyed spending time on the coast, spotting red squirrels on Brownsea and the beach clean, an activity they are very good at!

Thank you to Nicki and Claire for showing us around Brownsea on the Saturday and to our brilliant volunteers Geoff, Nigel and Michelle for again giving up another weekend to join us, we certainly couldn’t run the weekends away without them!

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

Shell bay 3

Shell bay

 

A film and many questions…

Back in April our Young Naturalists group were joined by Paul from Strong Island Media who came along to film them engaging with nature and participating in a number of different activities. As a result, we had a brilliantly varied session and Paul was able to produce a fabulous short film of them chatting about their experiences and their interest in wildlife, a brilliant snapshot of the group and a great piece of promotional material.

The group did a fantastic job and the film is available here: https://youtu.be/GSyY1C_upvg , please do take a look and share it with anyone you think may be interested in seeing it or possibly joining us at future sessions.

Slightly less polished was our very wet session at the end of August, although at the time the pond was certainly grateful for a top up. We tidied the area at the back of the centre, weeding the gravel and cutting back the bramble and other vegetation that was coming through the fence by the pond. It was a soggy task!

We did then retire to the classroom where the group had a lot of fun dissecting owl pellets, an activity we had been doing that week on our Wild Days Out. I had been hoping someone would find the skull of a small bird amongst all the small mammal skulls (just for a bit of variety!), however Lysander managed to go one better discovering a bit of metal instead which we were excited to discover was a bird ring.

Bird ringAfter studying the bird ring under the microscope to decide exactly what was written on it, we settled on Poland St. Orn. Gdansk JA 40684 and submitted it online via Euring Web Recovery to see if we could find out more.

Unfortunately, we have had our pellets at Blashford for a rather long time and are not entirely sure when we got them or even where they came from, with Testwood Lakes and even Lincolnshire via Jim both possible candidates. But it was still incredibly exciting to have found the ring of a bird originally ringed in Poland and exciting to see what else we could discover about its life via the Euring Recovery programme.

So the results? Our bird was a dunlin, a wading bird slightly smaller than a starling and one we do get in small numbers from time to time at Blashford. It is the smallest of the regular wading birds found on our local coastline and they can be seen here all year round, preferring estuaries where they eat insects, worms and molluscs. Locally the largest numbers are present in the winter and these birds will depart in the spring to their breeding grounds of Northern Scandinavia and Russia. The dunlin seen overwintering in the Solent are not the same birds seen in the summer.

This particular bird was ringed in Ujscie Redy, Gdanskie, Poland by Wlodzimierz Meissner Kuling when it was in its second calendar year but it is unknown whether it was male or female. Ringed on 30th July 1983, the ring is now 35 years old with the bird possibly 37 if alive today. According to the BTO the oldest recorded dunlin was 19 years, 3 months and 26 days (record set in 2010) so I suspect ours had been dead and languishing in an owl pellet for a considerably long time.

It was fascinating to learn a little bit more about this particular bird and fingers crossed it did live to a ripe old age before its unfortunate demise. Not knowing where the pellets came from (in terms of geographical location and owl species as they had begun to disintegrate) or when the pellets were found the ring discovery does raise a lot of questions:

– which owl species eat dunlin (from a quick bit of research Short-eared owls possess the ability to take shore birds and seem the likeliest candidate, with pellets taken from Farlington Marshes during the winter of 1970-71 illustrating this, however Barn owls are also capable of taking larger birds as prey).

– was the wader roost raided, was the bird a solitary target or was it already sick or injured?

– did the owl migrate or the dunlin, and if it was the owl where was it feasting before its migration? I have really been assuming it was the dunlin, but there is always a chance it was the owl. It can take up to 10 hours for an owl to regurgitate a pellet, I have no idea how long it would take for an owl to fly from mainland Europe to the UK, this dunlin could have been its last meal before that flight…

– when did the owl eat the dunlin?

Sadly we will never know, but it has been fun and very interesting thinking about it!

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Dunlin at Keyhaven by Thea Love

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

Camping out

At our last Young Naturalists session in July, we spent a night on the reserve, exploring Blashford and the surrounding area late in to the evening and early in the morning. It seems like a really long time ago now, but hopefully this blog is better late than never…

After arriving on the Saturday morning we got straight on with setting up our camp, using old army ponchos to make dens to sleep under and whittling pegs out of willow.

We then headed to the back of the Education Centre to sit by the pond and butterfly spot as part of the Big Butterfly Count. The Purple loosestrife proved to be very popular with the butterflies and we saw a large white, numerous small whites, a green-veined white and brimstones, along with a gatekeeper and painted lady by the bramble. We also watched the water for newts coming up to the surface and spotted a number of young frogs.

After lunch we headed up into the Forest, exploring the local Rockford and Ibsley Commons for a different view of the lakes. The bell heather was in flower and attracting lots of honey and bumble bees.

We paused for a while at the bridge over the Dockens Water, exploring this stretch of the river and taking a closer look at some of the plants before heading up on to the Common for another view of the reserve, this time Ibsley Water.

On arriving back at Moyles Court we paused by the ford for a paddle, although Jorge got wetter than most!

Walking back along the Dockens we spotted this fabulous Chicken of the Woods fungi growing on an old log:

Chicken in the woods

Chicken of the Woods

Arriving back at the Education Centre, it was time to empty the light trap from the night before so we could re-set it for the Saturday evening and we also set some mammal traps to see if we could catch any of our smaller resident mammals.

It was then time to think about food and the group did a great job of chopping the ingredients before tucking in to healthy wraps toasted over the fire followed by slightly less healthy popcorn and banana stuffed with chocolate and mini marshmallows…

Lysander had also very kindly bought some of his left over Cadet rations to share with the group, cooking them through using his stove. Whilst not all sampled his food, we were pleasantly surprised by how nice it tasted!

After eating we headed off on a night walk in search of bats, picking up pipistrelles on the bat detectors in the woodland and near Ivy South hide.

After convincing the group to get up bright and early on Sunday morning, we roused them at 5.30am and headed off up to Lapwing Hide for some early morning wildlife spotting.

It was lovely and peaceful to be out on the reserve so early, and whilst we didn’t spot anything out of the ordinary we had a good wander and worked up an appetite for breakfast which we cooked over the campfire.

Breakfast

Breakfast, looking slightly sleepy

It was then time to check the mammal traps we had put out the previous evening, but sadly although a couple had been sprung we were unsuccessful. The two light traps however gave us 31 different species off moth to identify, along with a Dark bush cricket and an Oak bush cricket:

After tidying away our camp and bringing everything back to the Centre it was time for the group to head off, a little sleepy but having spent a very enjoyable time overnight on the reserve.

Emperor dragonfly

Emperor dragonfly at the Education Centre Pond

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

Exploring the downs

On Sunday we too were up on Martin Down with our Young Naturalists group. The reserve is home to a fantastic variety of plants and animals associated with chalk downland and scrub habitats so makes a nice change to Blashford and the New Forest. Unlike Bob, we avoided the nice shady part of the reserve at Kitt’s Grave and instead opted for the more open part of the site, parking at the end of Sillens Lane. It was rather hot!

Group at Martin Down 2

Young Naturalists at Martin Down

We had last visited Martin Down with the group at the end of May last year, a trip many of them could remember, so we took a different route this time and were interested to see what flora and fauna we would spot that little bit later in the year.

Will got our list of species off to a good start, spotting Bullfinch and Yellowhammer whilst waiting for us to arrive – we didn’t see any more Bullfinch but there were certainly plenty of Yellowhammer to hear and see and we also heard Chiffchaff calling. We were also lucky enough to hear the purring of Turtle doves at a couple of different spots.

The insects also did not disappoint and we soon saw Cinnabar moth (and later Cinnabar caterpillar) along with Meadow brown, Marbled white, Small skipper, Brimstone, Gatekeeper, Small heath, Holly blue, Ringlet, Small white and Small tortoiseshell butterflies.

The butterfly that delighted the group the most and kept them on their toes was the Dark green fritillary. There were a number flying low over the grass, giving the best opportunity for a photo when they landed on knapweed or a thistle.

We also spotted a Brown hare in a neighbouring field, which obliged us with glimpses when it crossed the gap in between taller vegetation and a couple of Roe deer. Sadly both were too distant for a photo. There were also lots of beefly and bees on the flowers, along with a five-spot burnet moth, soldier beetles and thick legged flower beetles.

The group were also intrigued by the tent webs made by the caterpillars of the Small eggar moth and there were a number to spot. After emerging from the egg, the caterpillars immediately construct tents out of silk either at their hatching site or nearby on the same bush. They live and develop in these tents as colonies, repairing and expanding the structure as they develop: the layers of silk fibres form air pockets which insulate the nest and provide resting spaces for the caterpillars inside. The tent is essential to the caterpillar’s survival and they do not abandon the structure until they are ready to pupate.

Whilst a number of the Common spotted orchids were now past their best, there were still plenty of Pyramidal orchids in flower.

We heard the croak of a Raven a few times and had a great view of a Linnet which perched nearby whilst we were eating lunch. Other birds included Buzzard, Skylark, Corn bunting, Stonechat and Swift.

Once back at the Education Centre we had time to look through the moth trap before the session ended, something the group really enjoy doing.

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