Day 9 Rockpool

I managed to prise F away from the farm this evening. Anyone who is or knows a Dairy farmer will understand how difficult this can be. Farming is not a 9 to 5 job, it is a 24 hour 365 days of the year way of life. At the minute, with the price of milk being so low, this way of life is a hard slog and at times quite demoralising. Making time to get away, even for an hour or two is important. So in order to ‘kill two birds with one stone’ (strictly metaphorically) I decided we should go rockpooling for our 9th day of Wildness.DSC_0553

 

I made a picnic and got the car loaded up so all F had to do was shower and change once he had finished his evening chores. We headed for Poppit Sands, a beach in the North of the county. The beach forms the start (or end) point of the Pembrokeshire coastal path. The sun was still shining as we pulled up at the car park,  but a blanket of sea mist hung ominously just off the shore.

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The start of the picnic wasn’t particularly auspicious. C had fallen asleep on the journey and woken grumpy. She refused to eat anything except for the Mr Kipling cake slices I found at the bottom of the changing bag (individually wrapped-super handy). JoJo wanted to eat everything in sight-sand, pebbles, driftwood,she thought it was all perfectly  acceptable to teeth on. F refused to take his work boots off, and looked as natural on the beach as I imagine a white rhino would in the Antarctic.

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In an attempt to liven things up, I headed for the rockpools. C immediately perked up and started paddling about. She marvelled at the gelatinous sea anemones suckered to the rocks (Look Mummy, they are like Jelly babies) .We scooped up handfuls of Sea Lettuce, holding it up to look through it, like sheets of  acetate. Then we let it slide between our fingers back into the pool with a satisfying ‘plop’.DSC_0561

Laver, the key ingredient for Laverbread, lay draped over the rocks like a red-purple shawl. Fronds of Bladderwrack dangled into the clear pools, unsubmerged airbladder bursting like firecrackers if we accidentally stood on them.

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With all our ungainly splashing and Cs’s lack of patience, I didn’t think we would spot any fish. In a shallow pool that still held warmth from the hot afternoon I noticed some thin tracks snaking across the sand. I waded slowly through, and a flash of gold caught my eye. A small fish had darted under an overhanging rock, possibly a Goby. I tried to get C to come over for a closer look, but she lost her footing and landed with a splash.I braced myself for the inevitable wail, but it never came. Instead she giggled ‘ Mummy, i’m soaking! I need a new dress.’ By now, the mist had started to roll in , so we decided to head back to the car. Hopefully we will come back and finish our exploration another day.

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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!

 

 

 

 

 

Withybush woods

‘Accessible walks’ – yet another thing I have become accustomed to now that I am Mummy to two small children. In deepest darkest West Wales these are quite a novelty I am slowly expanding my list of walks that are ‘buggy and toddler friendly. Two and a half years in I have a few firm favourites. One of these is Withybush woods. It ticks lots of my criteria for walks with both a toddler and a baby. There is a car park, most of the paths are tarmack  or at least easy- to- push-a- buggy on , it is a relatively short distance and has plenty of flora and fauna to keep them (and me!) interested. The only downside to this walk is that the local firing range is just through the trees, so it can be a bit unnerving at times!

The woods are located at the end of an industrial estate in Haverfordwest. They once formed part of the Withybush Estate, which no longer exists.  C was quite keen to get going on today’s adventure, and shot off down the path as soon as I got her out of the car.

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Toddler on the loose!

The sycamore trees at the start of the trail house a rookery, and the inhabitants were quite raucous today. We followed the path until we came to the first stone bridge over the stream which meanders through the woods.

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C hasn’t quite fallen in love with ‘Pooh sticks’ yet, so my offer of a game was met with a resounding ‘no!’. I had a quick squint for otter spraint or tracks, as one of the information boards listed them as a resident of the woods. I couldn’t see any , and although it does look like good otter territory the woods are a favourite with local dog walkers.The banks around this bridge were churned up and full of doggy paw prints. I would be surprised if there were any otters here. DSC_0791

The wooden bridge is quite beautiful in its own right. I love its zigzag shape. F was quite content in her buggy listening to the different bird calls that filled the air. On top of the buggy are the different leaves we collected on our walk. I hope to make a simple identification chart for the girls .

Once we crossed the bridge we turned right to carry on with our figure of 8. The path on this side is tarmacked which is super for buggies. I remember doing this stretch just a few weeks after the birth of C. I was still extremely sore from the c section, and the distance from the car to the pond seemed vast.

The lake used to supply Withybush Estate with wild duck and fish. Now it acts as a haven for a myriad of species. Today we settled on our favourite bench and watched theWhirlygig beetles shooting across the surface. It wasn’t long before we were joined by the resident family of Mute swans. The Pen appeared with her beautiful brood of cygnets. Unfortunately there were only four today – one less than we counted on our visit 4 days earlier.

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Pen and cygnet

The cygnets were having a whale of a time, splashing about and practicing diving. They reminded C of her ‘Ugly Duckling’ story book at home.

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Very downy cygnet!

The Cob was swimming nearby, fending off some Mallard ducks who dared to swim just a bit too close to his brood.

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The family stayed close by for some time before making their way back across the pond towards the nest site. You can’t see it in this picture as it is well hidden in amongst the reeds behind the Rhodedendron bush.DSC_0847C and JoJo were busy enjoying a snack so I had the chance to watch some of the other bird life. I spotted several blue tits, coal tits, chaffinches, a robin, blackbird and nuthatch within a few minutes of sitting quietly on vantage point. I could also hear the distinctive two note call of the Chiff Chaff from amongst the trees behind me. After a while the girls started to get a bit restless so we headed on our way.

A few feet further up on the bank of the lake sat another Swan. It looked like a cygnet from last year as it still had a few greyish feathers. I am suprised the pair hadn’t driven it off from the lake yet. There were also a few Coots milling about on the pond, as well as some Mallard drakes.

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We crossed the stone humpback bridge which marks the end of the lake and headed back along the path towards the car park. I tried to keep a mental tally of the different trees we passed. around the lake were sycamore,ash, beech, oak and holly. The marsh land behind the lake was covered with alder, bog myrtle and willow. We crossed the bridge and were back amongst more beech, sycamore, hazel, lime and horse chestnut trees. C was quite tired now, and wanted carrying on my shoulders. Fortunately it wasn’t long before we reached the car park. C said goodbye to the rooks and told them we’d come to visit again soon.