Day 28- Showcase on a nature table

During the whole month of June we have been collecting, sorting, storing and growing our treasure trove of nature finds.  The nature table takes pride of place in our little Montesori inspired corner of the kitchen.

 

The tally so far includes : Sensory box, wormery, Ladybird ‘viewarium’, Insect guides from the bug farm, Wildlife trust guides and our Go Find It cards (a fantastic nature based card game for families) .

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Decoration includes our 30 Days wild poster, stickers (lots of stickers) and a cool Ladybird lamp that happened to be here already!

 

I couldn’t fit all of the childrens nature books on, so we’ve had to have a second nature table in the living room! I’ll post about this later.

I am enjoying watching the girls being able to explore and learn about nature at any point in their day. C enjoys pulling a chair over to check out the finds on top of the table and to see if anything new has been added. This morning I watched as she ran her hand along the top of the unit until her fingers bumped into the cold, hard snail shell. She stood, with her face turned away towards me, running her fingertips over her find, tracing the outline of the coiled carapace. A slow smile crossed her face. ‘Ooh, smooth’ she exclaimed, before skipping off to take an important phone call from the Teletubbies .

She has started to learn the names of garden birds, and yesterday flapped across the living room, pretending to be a Blue Tit. When I asked her what colour feathers she had, she looked at me with a mix of disgust and disbelief and said ‘ Blue of course, you can stroke them if you like.’ Gosh, how wonderful it would be to be two again!

 

Day 3-Gone a hunting.

TWT 30 Days Wild_countdown_03Day 3 already, time is flying. This morning everyone was awake by 4.30am so this post should probably be about the dawn chorus I was privileged to hear thanks to my child shaped alarm clocks. It isn’t- mainly because I crawled back under the duvet and tried unsuccessfully to get a few more minutes sleep.

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Voila…a scavenger hunt fit for 30 Days Wild.

By 8.30 am everyone was dressed and fed. We had already read 3 million books (possibly an exaggeration), played with sensory toys and sung an awful lot of nursery rhymes. Time to head outside. Whilst C was putting her wellies on the wrong feet, I managed to draw up a scavenger hunt suitable for a toddler and baby. Considering I was using a gardening book as a ruler, I don’t think the result is too bad!

 

C managed to work out what she had to do, and raced off with her trusty collecting bucket. We had lots of fun figuring out where we might find things, and managed to tick off everything apart from butterflies. In hindsight it was probably a bit early for them.

 

First up were flowers…easy peasy! C chose some buttercups from the meadow patch .  Next were leaves…oak leaves to be specific, but my drawing wasn’t great! C knew they were leaves though, which was something!DSC_0373

We headed to the log pile to see if we could find some of the mini-beasts. With one flip of a log we ticked of millipede, woodlice and a worm. I was so incredibly proud of C- this is the first time she has held a worm. She has developed some sensory issues over the past year, and up until this point hasn’t wanted to touch ‘creepy crawlies’. Today felt like a break through. She gently picked the worm out of the palm of my hand and studied it carefully before breaking into song …”There’s a worm at the bottom of my garden….and its name is Wiggly Woo!” We were in fits of giggles.

DSC_0382She also found a snail shell, hidden in the moss on the chicken shed wall. I couldn’t see it at first, but C has amazing ability to pick out tiny details after just a quick glance at her surroundings.DSC_0387We also found an obliging Garden Spider, but it didn’t make it into the final picture! It seemed too content on its web so we left it be. Once the last item was ticked off, C skipped off across the garden, flapping her arms pretending to be an Owl. Game over for another day!

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Our scavenged items; Flowers, oak leaf, millipede, wood louse, pebble, feathers, stick, spider, butterfly, grass blade, worm and snail.

A log pile house

“Where are you going to ,little brown mouse? Come for a feast in my log pile house.”- from ‘The Gruffalo’ by Julia Donaldson.”

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The Gruffalo is probably C’s favourite book. We know it off by heart, and most walks through a wood entail reciting it whilst keeping a look out for a ‘gruffalo’. For those of you unfamiliar with the plot, a little brown mouse goes for a stroll through a deep dark wood, encountering various creatures before finally meeting a Gruffalo. One of the animals he meets is Snake, who lives in a log pile house beside a lake.

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On Monday  the girls and I explored our very own ‘log pile house’. We  didn’t feel like straying too far from home so decided to go for a mini beast hunt in the garden. At the side of the farmhouse we have the remains of a former chicken shed. It no longer has a roof, but the concrete walls provide shelter for our rather large log pile.

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It was created almost two years ago when we felled some large trees that were overhanging the main road. We intended to use the logs for firewood and they had been stacked neatly to dry. It turns out that we didn’t have to light the fire as often as we thought we would, and as a result the pile has been left virtually untouched. It now provides a perfect home for wildlife

Log piles simulate the conditions produced by fallen trees. They provide a source of food and shelter for mammals, reptiles, insects, amphibians and fungi. An alternative version of the log pile is the insect hotel.

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We started our hunt by looking in some of the leaf litter and bark at the base of the pile. C was very pleased by her first insect find- woodlice. She also spotted a milipede and a worm.

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Worms,slugs and woodlice under the bark.

C isn’t too keen on handling insects yet , but was happy to gently use her ‘bug collecting’ kit to scoop up some of her finds for a closer look. These little pots and scoops can be picked up really cheaply, we got ours from a high street shop. An old clean ice cream or takeaway tub works just as well.

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Practising her fine motor skills!

 

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Handy little bug ‘scoop’ (I’m sure it has a technical name too!).

I am hoping that by gently introducing the girls to ‘creepy crawlies’ at a young age  will prevent them being scared or ‘disgusted’ by them. If they learn to love them, even better!

We carefully turned over some more logs , and made sure to put them back where we found them once we’d finished.Here are some of our finds:

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I love Milipedes!

C was quite enamoured with the Milipede, and even held him in her palm after I showed her how harmless he was. She wasn’t so keen on the Leather jacket, but I can forgive her for that at the moment. Its one that ‘only a mother could love’ I think!!

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Spot the Leatherjacket! These are the larval stage of the Crane fly.

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An acrobatic ‘ Stone Centipede! Once I got him flipped back the right way up he scuttled off as fast as his legs could carry him.

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A ‘Soil Centipede’

After a short while C had had enough and pottered off to look at dinosaurs through her ‘noculars’. Next time i’m going to try and make this activity more  engaging and toddler friendly by using an”I spy” pictorial mini beast hunt with a checklist. When the girls are a little older we can try using a key to identify our finds. I’ll be sure to blog about our next adventure to the log pile to let you know how we get on!

If you want to make your own log pile here are some handy tips (or I guess you could go for the accidentally on purpose/ ‘organic’ approach like we did!!)

  • Choose a site in the shade to help the logs stay cool and dry
  • If possible site it near other wildlife areas e.g hedge or pond. This will make it easier for animals to travel to and from the pile.
  • Try and use a mix of tree species and sizes of logs to appeal to a variety of wildlife.
  • Source logs responsibly-befriend your local tree surgeon and ask if he/she has any spare.
  • Allow gaps between logs to encourage mammals and amphibians to shelter within it.
  • Let nature take over-once constructed, leave the pile sort itself out. Allow it to start to decompose to further enhance its value as a habitat.
  • After a year or so you may need to add in new logs to replace any that have rotted away.

Even simpler to build is a branch pile. Just ‘dump’ some branches in a quiet spot in the garden, and wait to see who moves in!

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Our ‘branch pile’! Here on our farm we have a ‘laissez faire’ attitude to gardening….on the plus side, lots of different micro habitats available!

 

 

 

 

 

Beetling about

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“Notwithstanding their filthy trade, the dung beetles occupy a very respectable rank.” J.H Faber.

After a rather damp and dismal morning, the sun finally appeared after lunch. As F still had jobs to do around the yard (Sunday is not a day of rest for a farmer), the girls and I went for a walk with him on the farm. We headed along the cow track to the ‘Ox park’, a field that the cows had  grazed in the night before. C was making quite a bit of noise (typical toddler) so I figured the chances of seeing any wildlife was pretty low. I was wrong-as we entered the field F motioned for me to be quiet. He had spotted a fox. It scoped us out for a few seconds before disappearing into the hedge. I was quite surprised to see a fox in the middle of the day, but F says he is seeing them more and more during daylight hours. He thinks it has coincided with an increase in numbers, which has possibly forced them out to hunt and scavenge during the day.

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The ‘Ox park’. You can see our dairy herd in the background.

C was having a great time finding cow pats to splodge in. I spent most of my time watching the ground to avoid stepping in the dung, as I had JoJo tucked in her sling. Although they might seem a nuisance, these piles of dung actually provide a valuable resource for some insects. Nearly every pat had a ‘sprinkling’ of little Yellow dung flies. These flies lay their eggs in the pats, and the emerging larvae are ‘coprophagic’ (they eat the dung!) . The adult flies feed on other insects that visit the pat.

Some pats  had lots of little shiny black beetles scurrying about on them. My entomology is a bit rusty, but I think they were Water Scavenger beetles. These beetles rely on cow dung for all stages of their life cycle. They play an important role in distributing and breaking down the dung- a ‘natural’ form of fertilising! They can be affected by the use of anthelmintics (medication used to worm cattle) , so it was reassuring to see them.

The beetles were fascinating to watch. Their tunnels snaked around under the crust of the cowpat, and every so often one would emerge from a burrow, scuttle about a bit and then disappear down another hole. I got a bit messy trying to get a closer look-next time I might try and set up a dung baited pitfall trap rather than resorting to digging about by hand!!

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Water scavenger beetle disappearing into its tunnel.