Wild Days Out

Firstly apologies for the recent lack of posting – due in part to Bob being on holiday, in part the reserve generally being fairly quiet on the wildlife front and in part (and in no means related to the latter point I’m sure) the fact that Tracy and I have been very busy leading our summer holiday program of activities…

On the wildlife front the recent (and in many ways welcome) cooling and wetting down weather wise has meant that invertebrate and reptile sightings have been fairly minimal and in fact last week in a marked shift to preceding weeks latterly, saw our site butterfly transect survey volunteers recording their worst week 20 ever.

Bird wise it has also been quiet. For the last few years August has been kingfishermonth with photographers  gunning for space in Goosander Hide to capture some brilliant close up shots of kingfisher and kingfisher behaviour. This year has seen a few die-hard kingfisher hunters staking claim to their benches in Goosander Hide early on, but sadly, despite a great deal of dedication on their part, the kingfishers have not, to date, taken up residence as they have done previously and, a few fly-bys aside, dedication has not paid off. Not that kingfishers aren’t around – sat on the benches at the back of the centre, or even sat in the office with windows open, you can’t help but be aware of their piping as they zip up and down the Dockens Water and they are also showing quite well on Ivy Lake this year. Generally not close enough for good pictures but this morning one did pose beautifully outside Ivy South Hide for a few minutes after I had opened up.

Our public events program has gone well over the last couple of weeks – Tracy’s River Play Day Monday before last went well on the day and was booked twice over and then some in advance of the date. Originally planned as just a morning event there was so much interest she went in to fill an afternoon session with no advertising and we still had to turn people away! Families making the most of what may have been the last of the heat wave I think. Last Friday afternoons pond dipping was also full although with the wet forecast we did have some cancellations, filled with more hardy last minute attendees and boy when the heavens opened, did they open. Needless to say having been running on empty much of the last few months the pond is now full again! In addition last week we attended Ellingham Show and this week the New Forest National Park Authority Wild Play Day around Whitefield Moor Car Park near Brockenhurst.

Our main focus however, as it is every summer, has of course been our Wild Days Outactivities.

Last week we tested the children’s engineering skills with a newspaper tower construction challenge as a warm up activity, followed by a giant catapult construction challenge, both of which were met with enthusiasm by both our older and younger children:

Newspaper towers to start –

Newspaper Towers 1
Newspaper Towers 2
Newspaper Towers 3

Followed by catapult construction, and of course, testing –

Catapult 1
Catapult 2
Catapult 3
Catapult 5

Great fun was had by all, and the catapults worked relatively well, even if I must admit to being a little disappointed by the range achieved (maximum distance that a wet sponge achieved was just over 6m!). I now seek to tweak the design slightly and replace the bungee’s that we did use for something elastic with more stored potential energy (best idea I’ve had so far is old bicycle inner tube, but I am open to suggestions?!).

This week the challenge was less about engineering and more about creativity and flair as the children joined us for our Campfire Cookout Challenge – and , once more it has to be said, really did rise to the challenge producing campfire food that was (to my surprise!) not only edible, but nutritious,  and on occasion, downright delicious! Judged according to team work, hygiene (we very much pushed this one given that, as judges, we were to be sampling the end results!), taste, appearance, “soggy bottom-ness”, and “eatability” all of the teams did really well – although some of the flavour combinations were just a little weird (I could cope with the apple on the tomato and cheese based pizza produced by one team, after all some people enjoy pineapple on theirs, but blackberries, however freshly picked, were a step too far!).

Presented with a set of ingredients to choose from, the teams all produced an array of different menus which included “chips” (all delicious), pizza (with a variety of toppings and bases, some of which were more successful than others, one of which was quite possibly the best pizza I have ever eaten, campfire, home-made, restaurant or otherwise!), vegetable soups,  vegetable and fruit kebabs (some times vegetable, sometimes fruit, sometimes vegetable AND fruit, the latter of which I must confess were not quite as appealing as the former two!), fruit and chocolate filled breads and cookies, and baked fruit…

All of the cooking was done outside over a number of campfires but we did cheat slightly on day 2 when it chucked it down and prepare the food in the classroom instead. Surprisingly day 2 was actually a Thursday when it famously “never rains” on Blashford volunteer work party tasks. This weeks rare departure from this norm was, we all agreed, because Reserves Officer Bob was on holiday!

Preparation and cooking:

Cooking 1
Cooking 2
Cooking 3
Cooking 4
Cooking 5
Cooking 6

Enjoying the end result!

Eating 1
Eating 2
Eating 3
Eating 4
Eating 5

Needless to say all of the children, and the judges too, finished the day absolutely stuffed!

Next week will be more wildlife orientated again with a walk, explore and play all around the nature reserve and the following week we are back in the river again for coracle sailing and snorkeling. So I’m very much hoping for another mini-heat wave for the last week of August!