Gwennol- A Swallows Song

“I am, I am, I am”

She cries,

As she skims over treetops and barns.

“I am

here,

After Six thousand miles,

At last!’

The staccato song of her travels,

A whirring, churring, chirping call

Traces her journey back

To these green pastures.

It tells of her flight,

From the arid scrub of South Africa,

Across shifting Namibian dunes.

Skirting the skeleton coast

She flew North.

She soared over the Zambizi,

Swept down to drink from the Congo’s water,

Twisted and flitted through crowded Brazzaville streets,

Then on,

Over Savannah

And dense rainforest,

Where Colobus calls echoed amongst the trees.

Before her the Sahara,

She crossed it,

in two hundred thousand wing beats,

To reach the Souks of Morroco.

The Straits of Gibraltar beckoned winged migrants on

To Europe.

A skipping flight through Spain and France,

She barrel rolled over the channel

To these familiar shores.

Along the way we called to her,

Pointing

At her tumbling, tearing flight.

We named her;

Inkonjani

Tififiliste

Hirondelle.

She is

Malenkama

Nyenga

Golondrina

Gwennol.

She is

Swallow

She is

All of these and none.

Day 2 – Petrichor

TWT30DaysWild_countdown_02Torrential rain, memory loss and toddler tantrums. Not an auspicious start to the second day of our #30DaysWild, but as the saying goes, bad things come in threes. Once we had them behind us the day could only get better. With the mini farmers departing to spend time with relatives, the rain clouds rolling off into the distance and the garden beckoning I decided on a simple stroll around our ‘patch’; the wild, uncouth area that lies to the side of the farmhouse.

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Once upon a time it was a more formal affair, with carefully tended rose beds and well pruned shrubs. Nowadays, through years of benign neglect, it is a tangle of weeds. Until last June, I found it an eyesore, and started trying to tame it back into some semblance of a tidy space. But with the arrival of 30 days wild, I started to see it as something different. No longer was it a messy disgraceful space, but home to all manner of ‘mini beasts’ . It provides food for birds, bats and foxes. So this year I left it wild and let nature run its course. Today, with the scent of petrichor hanging over the patch I set off to see what creatures I could find.

I came across this Scorpion fly perched atop a bramble leaf . These curious insects earn their name from their long scorpion-like tail. They feed on dead insects, including those trapped in spiders webs. Like some spiders, the male needs to placate the female during mating with a ‘nuptial gift’, so she isn’t tempted to kill him.

Next up, some day flying moths. This male long horned, or Fairy, moth was sunning himself on a nettle leaf. This species has amazingly, bordering on ridiculously,  long ‘filiform’ antenna. In this chaps case they were at least 4 times the length of his body, with an apparent life force all of their own.

On a neighbouring clump of nettles I spotted a micro moth, which turned out to be the rather aptly named ‘Nettle Tap’ moth.img_6845

With all my crashing around in the path (even though I was desperately attempting to avoid being ungainly) I disturbed a Silver-ground carpet moth. This moth is nocturnal but easily disturbed from its daytime resting spots. The caterpillars of this species feed on Cleavers and Primroses, which are plentiful in the ‘patch’.
Not to be outdone, several species of butterfly were fluttering around the patch. Only this speckled wood alighted long enough for me to snap a quick photo.

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There were many, many more creatures flitting and skulking about the patch. I’m glad I bothered to let it stay wild. If we had mown the nettles, chopped all the brambles and pulled up the other assorted ‘weeds’ this little patch would be a whole lot poorer for it.

 

 

 

 

 

30 Days Wild 2017- Prologue

One day until our 30 Days Wild experience begins. Well, technically speaking there are only approximately 3 hours left of May, but I’m not planning on kicking off this years challenge with a dawn chorus walk or a spot of midnight moth trapping.

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It seems bizarre that an entire year has passed and we are planning on taking part again. Last year was my first year being involved in this month long challenge. It was a fantastic experience, spending a whole month immersing ourselves in nature. Looking back I’m not sure quite how I managed to squeeze in so many acts of wildness with the a 2 year old and a 7 month old in tow. We created a wormery to watched red kites soar above us, collected finds for a nature table, visited a bug farm, took part in a bioblitz, attempted to lure moths and even managed a beach clean with the baby ‘helping out’. The whole month passed by in a blur, and I can honestly say the experience left a lasting imprint on our lives. It helped me start along my road of recovery, away from depression ( a road with many potholes, dead ends and detours), which was one of my hopes in the run up to last years challenge. It reconnected me with writing, and my passion for the great outdoors which had somehow got lost under the everyday mantle of ‘being a mum’. As the challenge is self driven, I could dip in and out as much as I wanted. On ‘bad days’, when the ‘dementors’ were knocking on the door, we managed small nature based goals. On ‘good days’ anything goes. This year, the cloud of depression has lifted, only to be replaced by Partial Seizures. My newly acquired condition means I get tired easily and (worse still) can’t drive. I have done some ‘pre planning’, jotting down some ideas of things I would like to attempt, and I hope we can at least tick off a few.

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Participating in 30 Days wild also means you get to meet a lovely group of like minded individuals through the online 30 days wild community- on twitter and facebook. Seeing what others get up to daily, learning from each other, helping identify nature finds and sharing ideas on what to do next all adds to the fun.

I can’t wait to see what this years challenge brings. Reflecting on  the legacy left by last years experience was wonderful . It allowed me to see how much of a personal journey I had made over the month. If you feel like joining in this year there is still time to sign up here, and you can even nab yourself a free pack too (it has stickers, who doesn’t like free stickers?!).

 

 

 

Batty about bats

I have been coveting a bat detector for ages now. The niggly little desire to own one began way back in June with the 30 Days Wild Challenge. Unfortunately I was on maternity leave at the and I couldn’t get my meagre budget to stretch enough to get one . Seeing as I’m now back at work I decided to splash out. Not as extravagant as the new Joules wellies I’ve also had my eye on, but equally practical! I did my research and the Magenta 4 bat detector seemed to fit my needs- affordable and easy to use. The parcel arrived just in time for some Halloween bat detecting. I love getting Amazon parcels, even though I know what they are and  that ive paid for them its still a little bit like Christmas!

For once Amazon hadn’t gone overboard on the packaging and I managed to get into it pretty quickly. My heart sank a little when I realised that batteries were not included – noooooo!I’d made the school boy error of not ordering any. Fortunately the house is quite full of those annoying talking childrens toys that require tons of batteries, so I raided them instead!  4 AAA batteries later and I was ready to roll!

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I am a complete novice when it comes to bat detection. The magenta 4 is brilliant-it comes with really straightforward instructions on how to assemble (well, insert batteries) and how to get started. It also has an inbuilt torch which proves extremely useful, not only for working out what frequency you are currently set to, but also in preventing me from face planting in the mud! The detector also makes listening in to bat echolocation possible, picking up sounds that can’t normally be detected by our ears and translating them into ‘clicks’, ‘slaps’, ‘tocks’ and ‘chirps’. As each bat species uses a different frequency locating it’s prey and navigating the environment using a detector can help figure out what bat species are about.

We know that we have bats on the farm.  On summer evenings I have watched at least a dozen bats flitting about over the main yard. More  hunt low over the fields to the rear of the farm. The farm does provide ideal habitat  for bat species. Ancient farm buildings, a lot of which are unused and undisturbed, provide plenty of roosting opportunities. In fact when the car is parked alongside one of the barns it gets covered in a layer of bat poo! We also have a large number of dead trees with cracks and crevices that can offer homes. The pasture, woods and water courses around the farm offer a reliable source of insects for the bats to feast on. The hedgerows and fencelines act as navigation aids and allow safe passage between hunting grounds and roost site. Sometimes they even decide to pay us a visit indoors!

Unfortunately, by the time I managed to slip out and start waving the detector about (probably not the intended technique) I couldn’t see any bats flying. It isn’t the best time of year for using a detector. The evenings have cooled suddenly and November is the time bats start to hibernate. They have spent September and October building up fat reserves to see them through the long winter. As the temperature drops, bats will enter Torpor,  to decrease the amount of energy they need to stay alive. They can go in and out of this state, depending on ambient temperature. As the months march on and daylength shortens the bats start to hibernate. Hibernation is different from Torpor– the bat’s body temp and metabolic rate drops even lower and they stay in this state for prolonged periods of time.

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Despite not picking up any flight sounds, I did pick up something with the detector. There was an awful lot of ‘clicks’ ‘chirps’ and ‘slaps’ coming from beneath the roof of the kiln, one of the barns used to house calves. I picked up similar noises from under the arches of the grain store, the old bull barn and stables, as well as the workshop beside the farmhouse.These noises were part of the social calls that bats produce when roosting.  The noises could also have come from mice which can produce ultrasonic squeaks that can be mistaken for bat chatter. However, the sites at which the detector picked up noise are definite bat roosts, so its more than possible that I was eavesdropping on bat conversations!

Either way it made a nice change  to be out in the dark instead of wasting the evening in front of the telly. The stars were out too; another awesome perk of living in the countryside means minimal light pollution and a clear view of the milky way. I can’t wait for summer and a chance to really get to grips with bat detection!

 

 

 

Starlings and a side order of goose

Suddenly the weekend is upon us again. The working week has taken its toll, with Friday being particularly tough. It has left an emotional hangover lingering well into Saturday, with the metaphorical dementors hovering over my shoulder once again. But no chance of a duvet day as I play the role of working mum on her second ‘job’- running about trying to catch up on all of the household chores I haven’t completed during the week. By 4pm (having been up with the mini farmers since 7am) I really, really needed a break. Fortunately it was tea time, so whilst F took the mini farmers in for tea, I headed off in search of Starlings.

 

 

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Sturnus vulgaris from the RSPB

Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) are listed on the RSPB Red status list. This may come as a surprise, as they are still one of the most abundant birds at UK bird tables. However, European flocks have declined substantially (by 80%) over recent years.

At first glance,these birds are extraordinarily beautiful. Dappled plumage, gleaming iridescent green and purple-black as it catches the light.They are noisy and gregarious, full of personality. Their mechanical song, full of clicks, whirs and chirrups is delightful to listen to. Delightful, that is in, when there are only one or two.

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Autumn time sees the arrival of hundreds if not thousands of starlings to our farmland. This year they seem to have arrived a bit later than usual, normally arriving by the 19th. Over the past few weeks they have appeared in small flocks of 10 or 20 birds, but by the end of this week our trees were adorned with thousands of them.

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The birds spend their days roosting in trees around the farm, heading down to the fields or into the cattle sheds to feed. Just before dusk they start to gather, getting ready to head off for their night time roosts, in reed beds, woods or even farm buildings. As daylight fades they come together in flocks until their number reaches into the hundreds of thousands.  This is the time to see their aerial performances, the spectacle of the murmuration.

If you have witnessed a murmuration you will know how mesmerising they are. Thousands of small bodies seemingly flying as one, a massive feathery swarm that shape shifts, dives and belly rolls over your head. Why it occurs is a bit of a mystery. Varies theories have been postulated, including sensible suggestions of dilution effect (whereby the large flock of starlings will make it harder for a predator to single out an individual victim as prey) and heat conservation. Whatever the reason it is still a sight to behold.

As I make my way across the Croft field a flock of starlings rises up from beyond the field boundary hedge. It spirals upwards, tornado like, before splitting in two. One flock settles back down behind the hedge, the other atop a sycamore tree.

A distant honking signals the arrival of geese. According to F these have been coming to feed on the stubble aftermath for several weeks now, but I haven’t had the chance to see them. Sure enough they perform a fly past, in v formation, before banking right and landing in the stubble. I later count 70 individuals, honking and waddling their way across the shorn field.

 

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My camera battery died so I had to resort to iPhone back up! you can just make out the mass of birds against the hedge line….if you squint!!

I make it to the gate between the croft and the barley stubble field. From the middle of the field came a tidal whoosh and crash as hundreds of starlings took off as  one. They swirled overhead, individual dots set in almost Brownian motion across the steel grey sky. Like a cloud of midges on a summer evening, the hover over head, swooping and soaring around the field margin before settling back down again. Apparently each bird’s movement influences the flight pattern of its closest seven neighbours only, which explains  the fluidity of their flight en masse.

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Despite my awe at murmurations I must confess to having a love hate relationship with S.vulgaris. The zoologist in me sees a fascinating bird, capable of creating one of natures most amazing phenomenon. After several years of living on a farm and working with other farms where starling flocks roost, I can also see the downside. Every year our cows, and cattle on other farms, suffer from Starling pressure. Cow feed is an easy free meal for our feathered friends, and it is nigh on impossible to keep them out of the barns. We have tried everything, from bird scaring devices to mesh bird screens, and even helium balloons (a pink flamingo worked for a short while!)The sheer number of birds that arrive on the farm means that a lot of food is eaten, food that is meant for the dairy cows. The cows can even become ill, with stary coats, and look a sorry sight if they end up covered in starling poo. Its not just the cows that suffer either. After a couple of days of living with thousands of starlings outside your front door, the novelty soon wears off. Everything gets covered in starling droppings, and their incessant chatter en masse is deafening! I can understand why people (including myself) get fed up with them. I guess this is just one small scale example of living with conservation- the birds are protected under law. We live in an area which provides suitable habitat for them to roost. Loss of permanent pasture and pesticide use has been attributed to the decline in Starling numbers, but as you are now more likely to see a rural rather than urban starling, questions need to be asked about what has happened to push the birds out of the towns where they used to roost historically (e.g Manchester and Newcastle.)

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As a result of our fields full of winter stubble and plentiful supply of easy feed we end up living cheek by beak with thousands of starlings for approximately 6 months of the year. We have to put up with a lot of noise and mess, to the point that 2 year old C refers to all bird poo as ‘naughty starling poo’! On the flip side, we do get to witness spectacular murmurations without having to venture too far at all.

 

A Swallow’s Tale

The Swallows arrived here late this year, the first one being spotted at the end of May. They came in dribs and drabs, until the air around the farmyard was filled with their noisy chatter. 

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 Every barn has at least two mud and moss cups glued to the beams, perennial nests that lie empty all winter, waiting to be repaired and filled with chicks. There is even a nest directly above the desk in the farm office, and inevitably any papers left underneath soon end up splattered with droppings.

rsz_swallowOn sunny days the birds fly high, swooping and soaring with their distinctive forked tails backlit by the sun. Some alight on the weather vane, keeping lookout and alerting the others to the presence of the farm cat with a loud, indignant ‘Sifflit, Sifflit’ call.

DSC_0102__2___1471592634_36483When it is overcast they skim low over the fields and garden, long streamer tail feathers trailing as they snatch insects on the wing. As dusk draws in they perch along the telephone wires, excitedly twittering and whirring away. They are an everyday presence, as common to us as blue tits and sparrows, their song part of the soundtrack of my summer. It is easy to forget just how amazing they are.

This morning  I headed into one of the barns, in search of tools for a gardening job. A blur of feathers shot out of the door over my head. Startled by my unexpected arrival, the adult swallows had escaped buttwo juveniles were left flitting and fluttering around the barn. I stepped back from the doorway, leaving plenty of space for them to exit but they settled back up on a beam and looked down at me. They won’t be here for much longer, I thought. Soon it will be time for them to leave, and to start their long migration to the Sub Saharan wintering grounds.

DSC_0028__1471592387_25638The adults usually begin the southward journey in mid August, travelling in short bursts towards their destination. Some juveniles may have already set out on their very first trip. Before them lie many obstacles. First they must make it to the south coast of England, before heading across the channel and into France. Then they cross the Pyrenees and enter Spain. Heading ever southward, they cross the straight of Gibraltar and begin their venture over the vast continent of Africa. Most will skirt along the west coast, across the western edge of the Sahara and eventually arrive in South Africa.  Some may head east and travel down the nile. Others may brave the broad expanse of the Sahara itself. Starvation, exhaustion and storms will take their toll. Those who leave late may end up overwintering in Italy, southern France, Spain or North Africa.

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Migration of the Swallow – Map shows ringed bird recoveries (credit http://www.bto.org)

So the swallows that nest here on this little farm in South Wales may travel more than 8,000 miles, all the way to the Cape of Good Hope. A journey which, Google maps reliably informs me, will take 190 hours if I travelled by car. I imagine it would probably take a bit longer, taking into account border checks, passport control, ‘rest stops’ and breakdowns.

 Not only do these remarkable birds do it once, they will make that self same journey in reverse come Spring. This time it may take as little as 5 weeks to return, coming back to the same nest in the same barn that they used last year. It is hard to comprehend that something so small can travel such a long way, safely, under its own steam.

 

 

 

Silence in the garden-Where are all the birds?

 

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Today I am up early and start the day with a prowl around my garden patch. There is a definite chill to the early morning air, and I tug the sleeves of my fleece down to cover my hands. It feels as if Autumn is already on the breeze, shaking off the scent of summer in a flurry of fallen blossom. Now the scorching days of June seem like a very distant memory.

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It isn’t just the temperature that has changed. Through June and July the early morning air was alive with bird song. Now the garden is strangely silent. The swallows are still barrel rolling overhead, clicking and chattering as they go, but other bird life is missing. No chaffinches trilling in the Hawthorn hedge.

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No shy woodpecker clinging to the peanut feeder stealing an early breakfast before the humans appear. No Wrens belting out their unmistakeable song from the farmhouse roof. And most noticeable of all, no cheeky chirpy sparrows. A fortnight ago every barn roof overlooking the farmyard had a family of House Sparrows squabbling on the slates. The ivy covering the gable end of the old bull stall would move as if it were alive, as twenty or so little brown birds hopped about under the cover of the leaves. I had watched as Sparrows evicted a House martins couple from their nest, and duly set about making it their own. Each morning the male of this pair would sit on the gutter above the bird feeder, patiently watching my every move as I replenished the seeds. He didn’t make an appearance this morning .I spotted a single male perched on the corrugated roof of the wood shed, where a fortnight ago there had been 5 or 6 greedy little birds posturing and posing over the plates of sunflower hearts.

Where have they all gone? Probably not very far at all. And the silence in the garden isn’t a bad thing either. In fact, it is just as nature intended it.

August sees the end of the breeding season for many garden bird species. Now bird song is no longer ‘needed’ to attract a mate or hold onto a territory,  the pleasant chirping and warbling I have become accustomed to will inevitably cease.

This month also sees adult birds beginning their moult. Gradually, over the next few weeks, feathers will be shed and replaced. As the feathers drop out the birds become more vulnerable, and choose to hide themselves away until their downy covering grows anew.

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Late Summer also means the crops and wild fruits begin to ripen around the farm. Natures larder is full to bursting, with a  veritable cornucopia of seeds and berries tempting the birds out  from the garden into the fields, away from the ‘boring’ offerings of the bird table.

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Once the harvest is over, and the cool of Autumn truly settles over the farm I suspect my feathered friends will be back. It won’t be long either until the farm’s migrant visitors come to join them. The Starling flocks will arrive in their thousands, covering the  Autumnal skeletons of the bare trees with their glossy little bodies, and a new soundtrack, one of mechanical whirs and clicks will echo around the farm yard, from sun-up till sunset when they will leave, as one, to roost.

 

 

 

 

Under 5’s at the National Museum of Cardiff

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If you happen to find yourself in Wales this summer and are looking for something toddler (and adult friendly) to do on a drizzly grey day, I can highly recommend a trip to the National Museum Cardiff. We went last month, just before the Schools broke up for Summer. It is a bit of a trek from the Farm, and I was slightly apprehensive at the thought of a 2 hour road trip with C and JoJo screaming in unison. Fortunately it turned out to be a super straight route and, despite gatecrashing some Graduation photos on the steps of the Museum (!) , we had a fantastic time.

Here are my top 5 reasons to visit:

1.Hands on exhibits

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I have been to a fair share of stuffy museums and exhibits , with and without small children in tow. I remember getting ‘politely’ asked to leave the Tate as a child when my brother accidentally waved his arm too close to a priceless painting. I hate it when I can feel the guards eyes boring a hole in my back if I lean in towards a cabinet, bearing a ‘Do not touch’ sign .

It gets worse when there are toddler shaped tornados following me. It is seriously no fun for anyone to spend the whole visit listening to me bark orders ‘Don’t touch that! ‘Don’t lick the cabinet!’ ‘Don’t climb on the Reliant Robin (yes, it did happen.)’ No. I am avoiding any museum or gallery that is not interactive, engaging and entrancing until my little ones are safely through the toddler years.

Fortunately the National Museum is very hands on and accepts sticky toddlers. We skipped the  floor which houses the art exhibitions .C was in ‘Whirling Dervish’mode , and when we got out of the lift on the top floor she made a bee line for a bronze statue, arms outstretched in preparation to climb. I managed to spin her back round into the lift, and we went to look at ‘Wriggle: the wonderful world of worms’ exhibit. DSC_1115__1470740494_22576

The centre piece of this amazing family friendly exhibit is the Wrigloo, which is essentially a giant wormery. It offers visitors a chance to experience a worms-eye-view on life, complete with predators watching your every move . JoJo and C thought it was great!

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C enjoyed dressing up as a caterpillar, but wasn’t keen on trying the ‘Scientist’ costume on!

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I managed to do some learning and exploring of my own whilst the girls checked out the worm related book corner.

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My favourite discovery was that the late Lemmy from Motorhead had a ‘late’ worm (a fossil) named after him.How very rock and roll. I have somehow managed to cut the model out of the photo (well done me), so I’ll leave it as a surprise for you to find out what Kalloprion Kilmisteri looks like!

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This exhibition runs until September 2016, so still plenty of time to check it out.

The Clore Discovery Centre, located on the ground floor to the left of the main entrance, is another wonderful family friendly area. I couldn’t get over the fact that we were free to explore the items on display here.

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Skulls, arrowheads, fossils, preserved insects ;things that are normally encased in glass, behind barriers or locked in storage vaults.

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It was really enlightening to be able to  handle them and even use a microscope to get a closer look.

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2.Toddler time

We discovered that this is on (during Term Time) completely by fluke. On every floor, tucked into a quiet corner were little ‘treasure chests’ stuffed full of toys, instruments and books.

Each box was themed to the relevant section of the museum. They seemed really popular, so much so that we had to circle the dinosaur section twice before we could get to the box!

The marine box had a fantastic selection of toys and books which occupied the girls for quite a while.

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We also had fun taking part in the play activities in the Clore Discovery Centre.There were lots of different musical instruments for the kids to try, with some supervision from staff members. C also got to make a jingley jangley set of bells. She chose to put a single bell on. One. Measly. Bell. It was still a lot of fun.

3.Its Free!

Need I say more? Not much in life is free any more, certainly not when it comes to amusing children. I advise using the car park at the rear of the museum.(Currently priced at  £6 for a days parking). There is a direct path round to the entrance and tickets for the carpark are bought in the museum gift shop, so no faffing for change! We got there at 10.30 and left at 4, so that makes it a pound an hour for entertainment!

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Winning at ‘rewilding’- just beside the car park.

There are touring exhibits, which require tickets to be purchased.’Treasures:Adventures in Archaelogy’ is currently based at the museum, but as this is on until the end of October 2016 we opted to save it for another day.

4.Child friendly feasting

The café downstairs has a great set up for the under fives.The food looked and smelled delicious, but being the skin flint I am we had our own packed lunch. I did stretch to a caffeine hit and a piece of cake, mainly so the girls could take advantage of the games and books stationed around the restaurant.Our seating area was right next to a trolley full of things to keep little hands occupied. I think JoJo’s favourite bit in the whole day was playing with an activity cube, the very same make and model as the one we have at home. The museum is also Breastfeeding friendly, with a designated room should you wish to use it.

5. Something for everyone

There is an awful lot packed into this museum. The ‘Evolution of Wales’ gallery was so good, we went round twice. In fact, C watched the audiovisual about our galaxy three times. I think she’d still be there now if she’d taken enough food in with her.

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The natural history galleries are also jam packed with interesting finds. I dare you to stand under the Basking shark and not be amazed at the sheer size of a creature that feeds only on Zooplankton. Mind blowing stuff!

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If nothing else in this blog takes your fancy, go and visit Kevin the crab. For a hermit crab, he’s pretty friendly!

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For more information and an up to date list of ‘what’s on’ take a look at the Museums website. If you do visit, let me know what your favourite bit was and why!

Adventures in Aberystwyth

Tuesdays are usually our day for spontaneous trips and succumbing to wanderlust. Midweek exploration benefits from quiet roads, beaches free from humans and empty attractions. Heaven!

I had stumbled across Bwlch Nant Yr Ariant the night before, whilst faffing about on the internet. I scrolled through the sites attractions and discovered they had Red kite feeding. That was me sold.

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Aberystwyth is a 2 hour drive away, and allowing for traffic and breaks I figured it would be best to start out early. I was flying solo today so bundled the kids into the car along with a picnic, snacks and birding gear and set off shortly after 8.30am.

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We headed north, cutting across the misty Preseli mountains. As we crested the summit we spotted a herd of wild Welsh mountain ponies grazing close to the road. We drove on, vowels disappearing from the village names (Eglywsyrw…need I say more!) the further North we got. Eventually we made it to our destination, four and a half hours before Kite feeding time! Plenty of time to explore!

We started off in the visitors centre. First stop-the loo.

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By the time we had ‘freshened up’ the café had opened and the smell of breakfast was wafting out from the kitchen. I hadn’t planned on buying anything but C decided otherwise. Whilst my back was turned she had helped herself to a milkshake carton from the fridge, unwrapped the straw  and was settling down at a table to drink it.To be honest, it didn’t take much to twist my arm into buying a coffee and sausage sandwich. The girls enjoyed sitting up at their very own pint sized picnic bench whilst I lounged back and enjoyed the view.

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Over breakfast we were treated to an avian floor show.Siskin, redpoll,sparrow, blue tits and chaffinch flitted back and forth from the evergreens to a massive feeder hanging from a climbing rope.

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Once my mug was drained and sandwiches scoffed we headed to the  adventure playgrounds. I don’t think I’ve ever been on a climbing frame with such an amazing view.

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The girls would quite happily have stayed on the basket swings all day, but I thought we should attempt to have at least a short walk. The most accessible route is the circular Barcud Trail, which leads along the shore of the lake and round to the Bird hide. It is perfect for little legs and buggies, and their are plenty of strategically placed benches along the way.DRAG.jpg

To keep little minds engaged you can take part in the animal trail, and try to spot the wooden animals that are dotted about. Unfortunately some are really quite well hidden, and it wasn’t until I spotted the dragonfly (number 10) that I realised we were going backwards along the route!DSC_0564__1468007935_52989

The wind was whipping over the lake, rippling the surface and sending tiny, choppy waves in to shore. A crested grebe propelled itself solemnly across the water, heading for a patch of reeds on the far side.

DSC_0629__1468008397_10609We followed the gravel path along the shoreline, gently sloping down to enter a stand of conifers.The scent of evergreen resin and pine needles hung heavily in the warm air. Further on it meanders through birch, rowan and oak trees. We traced our steps back along to the hide.We claimed our spot right in line with the feeding area, set out our picnic and played with the bird call ‘machine’.Lunch was eaten in the company of ‘a prince'(according to C, they were due to be married.Such an imagination!)

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Around 2pm the slate grey sky began to fill with kites,their whistles and shrieks bouncing around the valley as they lazily rode the thermals.  By 2.30pm I estimated there were about 100 birds waiting patiently for their meal.

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The 3pm feeding frenzy was spectacular. Birds practically dropped from sky, plummeting down to the patch of green grass to snatch up scraps of meat before shooting out over lake. Some flew low over the water, dragging their talons behind them over the surface Others hassled a gull that had floated a bit too close to the feeding station.

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Once the majority of the meat had been snapped up, the crowds of people dispersed quickly. We wandered back to the playground which was almost level with the Kites that had remained.A young boy  stood beside us and watched, open mouthed as a juvenile kite soared overhead. He stretched his arms up towards the bird as it disappeared over the crest of the hill. ‘Woah, did you see that?’ he exclaimed to nobody in particular.

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By now the girls had had enough. We managed to pick up a handmade Red kite badge as a souvenir (family tradition, its getting quite tricky to find real badges!) from the shop, and started out on the journey home. Soon both children were asleep. I spent the remainder of my trip with Mr Packham, narrating his amazing ‘Fingers in the Sparkle Jar’. Bliss.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 19- A change of perspective

Age 5. It’s the early 90’s and I’m in the playground at primary school. We are looking for stones along the pavement beside the nursery. Something shiny catches my eye, caught between the cracks in the concrete slabs . I crouch down and carefully poke a stick into the crevice to retrieve my treasure. A gold bracelet. I scoop it up and run to the teacher, expecting praise for handing in my find. “Why do you spend so much time looking down?” she says, scornfully”Look up, look up at the world. Don’t you know how much you will miss if you spend all your time looking down?” Slightly ironic telling a 3 foot child to ‘look up at the world’ but never mind.

Despite her warning, looking at the ground is a habit that has stuck. Sometimes it is handy. As a very broke student I found a trail of £5 and £10 notes in the city centre that nobody else had spotted. All because I was looking down. Anyway, I digress. Todays random act of wildness challenged me to change my perspective for the day.

I decided to ‘look up’.

Up at the clouds.

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Up at a sycamore leaf

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Up at an oak leaf.

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Up at the roof.

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Up at the horizon.

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I guess that teacher had a point.