Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Birds & Bugs

So sadly this Tuesday (12/07) was our last Bog Blog session. The aim of this session was to head out to the bird hide and use our binoculars to record what birds we  could see on the marsh.
Spider Nest
Magpie Moth Cocoon?
As is often the way, we got very easily distracted en route to the bird hide. The bushes and plants were filled with extensive funnel -shaped spider webs, beetles and lots of other insects. The sight of a nest of baby spiders even illicited an , "ah cute!" from one child that had a mild dislike of our 8 -legged friends.

We also found a rather beautiful cocoon which we later found out was a Magpie Moth. It was black and yellow striped and wondered if this was a true or fake warning to birds not to eat it because it may be poisonous.

We finally got to the bird hide after wading through tall grass and brambles and settled down for some bird watching. We reminded ourselves of how to use the binoculars (provided by ACA funds in 2014) and started scanning the estuary and South Efford Marsh.

The children recorded what birds were seen:

Mute Swans
Black-headed Gull
Little Egret
Herring Gull
Mallard Duck
House Martins

We then looked in the book which previous bird-watchers had recorded what birds they'd seen. This had an impressive 16 species which had been recorded over an hour. We also chatted about beak shapes and why birds had different shaped beaks depending on what they fed on. The swan having a beak for shovelling, while an Egret had a sharper beak for capturing fast moving little fish.

It was great to hear lots of children talk about how there was "no such thing as Sea Gulls". I hope that they go on with their new found knowledge of just a few birds to be able and interested in finding a few more species when they are next out in the wilds of Devon.

Some of the children wrote in their nature diaries about what they saw and how they felt. And we finally after a brief shower, which we sat out in whilst in the bird hide, made our final journey back to school.

I would like to say a huge thank you to the school for their support, the children for their enthusiasm, the parents who helped with lifts to the marsh and of course the Aune Conservation Association for giving the children of Aveton Gifford the chance to get to know their local wild spaces. I personally feel that engaging children with their natural environment in this fast-moving and technology orientated society is an incredibly valuable opportunity that we really must share with our children.

Until next time!

Avon Estuary
On our Final Journey Back

Thursday, 7 July 2016

South Efford Marsh After School Club

Again thanks to Aune Conservation Association funds the children of Aveton Gifford Primary School were given the chance to explore South Efford Marsh through a variety of nature orientated activities.

Week 1 

The children were reminded of stealth walking. The art of walking slowly and mindfully to become more aware of the environment around them.

Deadly Nightshade
As we walked to the bird hide from the access gate (approximately 1km) we passed a tray from the front of the stealth walkers to the back with each person collecting a wild flower for pressing. We had a look at what they had found and made sure that we didn't pick any poisonous plants. We did find the beautiful Deadly Nightshade lurking in the hedgerows which we stayed well clear of.

As we walked to the bird hide we were able to see many birds which we tried to identify. These included being able to spot Egrets and a Heron and also the migratory Swallows.

Reaching the hide we opened the hatches to reveal the estuary and the marshland and two very different habitats. We looked at all the different flowers that we found and why they are important for different bees and bugs and consequently the birds too.

It wasn't long before we had to head back to school and on the way back saw lots of birds which all the children were able to now identify.

Week 2

Unfortunately, the weather gods weren't playing ball this week so we did a classroom session. Having pressed the flowers they were mounted in to an album which we went through and looked at how many we could remember the names of - lots it appeared!

We then went back to doing more buttercup illustration so that we had a really good understanding of how many plants could be found at South Efford Marsh, why they are important and the details of the flowers which help them reproduce.

The illustrations and flower press collection will go on to the display boards for all to see.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

"Stepping stones Project" Science Week June 2016

Thanks to the generous support of the Aune Conservation Association, Learn to Sea was able to offer another nature, outdoor learning experience for the children of Aveton Gifford Primary School.

This year the whole school were able to take part in a full week of activities which aimed to explore the local area surrounding the school and leading down to the Avon Estuary and on to South Efford Marsh.

The following year groups explored the following areas:

Reception: "Our School" - the pond and forest area on their own school grounds.

Year 1/2: "Our Village Stream" - the stream and outdoors area adjacent to the village hall

Year 3/4: "Our Estuary" - venturing down to the upper tidal road of the Avon Estuary

Year 5/6: "Our Marsh" - heading to Devon Wildlife Trust managed South Efford Marsh

Our School

Discovering Pollen
This catered for the youngest children of the school. We went to the outside area of the school grounds where the young children were encouraged to use their eyes to find the finest detail in their local environment. As a result of this they found aphids on stems of flowers, ants under rocks, the detail of a dandelion and even that tapping a hedgerow would encourage wisps of pollen to be released in to the air.

The children went on to see how colourful their local outdoor space was thanks to the plants and flowers. They made a rainbow of the colourful plants and flowers to reinforce just how colourful their wild patch is.

Dragonfly Nymph 
Finally, we had a good pond dip in the school pond. It seems this pond is extremely healthy! We found an impressive dragonfly nymph with budding wings, a newtlet and a whole selection of invertebrates which proved just how rich and diverse the life in the pond was!

Rainbow Nature
Our Pond
The follow on classroom session included, in small groups, acting out the life cycle of either the dragonfly or the newt. It's one to be seen! They then coloured in illustrations of the cycle to add to the display boards.

Pond Dippers 

Our Village Stream

European Eel
Stream Kickers! 
The focus of this session was in the stream. Here the children split in to 4 separate groups who all had pond dipping kit (provided by the ACA in 2014). We had a fantastic time exploring the stream which lies not a stone's throw from the school. We found that the stream was, again, extremely healthy with not only the expected mayfly larvae and hundreds of caddis fly larvae but also a very special visitor - a European Eel! What a find! It was great to be able to tell the children that this little Eel had travelled all the way from the East coast of America all the way to our little stream here in Aveton Gifford.

Following on from this we did an exercise on the village green using our senses to explore our surroundings and thinking of words to help describe our senses. At the end the children offered a single word to describe what they found.

Follow on classroom session included chatting about the European Eel - discovering cool facts about them like where they migrate from and why they are endangered. They then went on to draw illustrations of the life cycle of the eel including the lovely term of "leptocephalus". Other children put a poem together using the words that they had pulled together from their multi-sensory exploration.

Powerful kicking of the stones,
Finding a beautiful stunning eel,
A cool, sliding pond skater,
Looking in the tray I felt excited.

A joyful field with burning sun,
The flowing water in the stream,
Sailing down to the deep, blue sea.
The eel happily swims along!

I smelled the pretty flowers while I was running through,
I saw the gentle wind blowing through the leaves,
We saw pollen for the lovely bees.
I heard birds happily singing.

We all love living by the stream.

Kick Sampling

Our Estuary

Using Notebooks to Remember their Experience
With this group of children we walked from the school, past the village stream (mentioning what we'd discovered) on to the tidal road.

Here we found a great spot to sit on a wall that looked over the estuary and with the children's note books at hand explore our surroundings. The children looked at what they could see around them both near and far. They then went on to think of things that people liked doing around the estuary. Some of this they could see - people walking dogs, sail boats, cycling, swimming and even farming in the adjacent fields. We then looked at what we all loved to do at the estuary and why it was important to us. We ended up with a substantial list of reasons why the estuary was very important to us.

What a load of rubbish! 
This then led us on to why we need to protect the environment. As it also happened to be World Ocean Day we talked about how whatever we put in the estuary here could end up in the sea and end up harming wildlife not only in the estuary but also in the sea. So we decided to do something about this as we all wanted to continue doing what we loved doing on our estuary. We did a mini beach clean and collected a variety of pieces of plastic, crisp packets and other litter.

In the follow up classroom session the children wrote impassioned pleas about why we mustn't drop litter and why they love their estuary. There were also some children who chose to create a drawing of their estuary inspired by they note-taking and sketching from their field trip.

Our Marsh

The older children headed to South Efford Marsh for their session. Here we sat by the stream and the children were asked to pick one of the many buttercups surrounding them. With little instruction I asked the children to draw the buttercup. This they did and they drew some very pretty drawings. I then did an exercise to show how amazing our eyes are at seeing both near and far. We then looked again at the buttercup and I asked the children to describe to me in word what they saw from the petals to the leaves. They then peeled a petal away so that they could see all the details of the buttercup.

After this they were asked to draw the buttercup again but this time with as much detail as possible and included labelling the parts of the flower such as sepals, anthers and filaments.  We talked about how different flowers use different ways to spread their pollen or to be fertilised.

The children also carried out a multi-sensory exploration of the marsh whilst sat in one spot. This is really an exercise to better engage the children with their surroundings in a quiet and still way. It helps create a comprehensive understanding of what makes the South Efford Marsh ecosystem.

The follow on sessions from all these classes helped create a display board both in the school and separately to help tell people about just how wonderful their local environment surrounding their school really is.

South Efford Marsh

Sunday, 18 May 2014

The Grand Finale!

THE BOG BLOGGERS! (plus my dog Boo who snuck in!)
Last week we had our very last Bog Blog session of 2014. While we have seriously lucked out with the weather each week, we were super lucky on our last day to have a gloriously sunny and warm summer's day to see the Bog Blog out.

As it was the last session we had a more informal session to celebrate our last Bog Blog. All of the brilliant Bog-Bloggers have been a pleasure to "teach" and explore the marsh with. Miss Amos and the school have also been very helpful and Miss Amos great to have along for fox poo sniffing and mealworm tasting (see previous blogs).

In previous blog sessions we have always followed the dedicated path for the general public. However, today the mini wildlife rangers had been given permission by Devon Wildlife Trust to go on the normally out of bounds path which leads to the sluice gate so that they might get a chance to see what makes the marsh...well marshy!

Surprisingly the path wasn't quite as dry as we expected. In the muddy pools along the path a very eagle-eyed wildlife ranger noticed tadpoles and also a little newt! Unfortunately, I had missed an opportunity to slip in one of my favourite amphibian jokes...I should have introduced my pet newt "Tiny" to the group called Tiny because he's my newt...

Anyway, we progressed on to the sluice gate which was a great chance to reinforce to the group that this was a developing habitat. That the sluice gate had only recently been put in place to allow water (from the estuary's incoming tide) into the marsh to develop more saltmarsh habitats. That the children were here to see what wildlife could be found here in 2014 but that perhaps in years to come it will have developed in other ways and might look very different with a variety of new wildlife and plants. Hopefully, the school and other groups might come and use the site for further investgations!

We headed towards our (we have now made claim to it!) bird hide  and again these wildlife rangers who were not going to miss a thing spotted a lizard scurrying across the dry and cracked mud - a Common Lizard.

A Common Lizard found close to the South Efford Marsh Sluice Gate
Despite it being an informal and fun last session we still managed to find 2 new species! There were signs of new life too with both Pigeon and Mallard Duck egg shells. Indeed, today (Sunday 18/05) while I was kayaking further down the estuary I saw a mother with 11 chicks - perhaps one that had hatched from the egg shell that was found!

After stopping for a mini picnic and seeing a formation of Canada Geese fly over and 4 Swans making their charachteristic thwacking noise when in flight I asked the children what had been the best part of the Bog Blog to which they replied, "EVERYTHING!"

During our celebratory picnic we saw hundreds of birds enjoying a snack too!

On our walk we used a sweep net over the long grass and saw lots of different flies, spiders and midges. Sadly, we haven't had time to fully look at them for identification but it gave a sense of all the mini bugs that were living all around South Efford Marsh.

A wonderful sight to see the children at home in the great outdoors!

The children certainly seem to have developed an affinity with South Efford Marsh. Some of the girls independently decided to do a litter clean which just went to show how much they had grown to treasure this wildlife haven.
The Bog Blog Litter Pickers!
Next week we will prepare for our guided tour. This will take place on Thursday 5th June between 1430 - 1530 for members of the local community and 1530-1630 for primary school parents and children. We would love to see you there. The children will give their own guided tour to South Efford Marsh so that you can see what an "epic" place it really is.

I'd just like to take this opportunity to say a big thank you to the Aune Conservation Association and it's members for funding this project. I think the children's enthusiasm for South Efford Marsh shows just what a valuable experience it's been for all involved.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Wild Flowers - dyed oinkers....

The penultimate session was held last week...sniff sniff. As we are reaching the end of our time on the 2014 Bog Blog we see that the marsh is exploding with colour and life thanks to the wild flowers, plants and trees.

Plants from South Efford Marsh are busy pressing!
This week we were to collect some plants to show just what a wonderful variety of plants support the wildlife at South Efford Marsh.

I had managed to collect a flower press from a car boot sale for the pricely sum of £1. Before the session I opened it up to discover an impressive collection of garden plants! However, we were going to show just how beautiful wild plants are. We started looking through the banks and hedgerows and realised just what variety of plants could be found. Each child chose a plant and they are, as we speak, pressing. We collected plants such as Nettle, Red Campion, Buttercups, Goosegrass and an oak leaf from a sapling. We also chatted briefly about Latin names and how, sometimes, it's good to remember them with funny connections. I explained that at university we had to learn all the Latin names and why it's useful to know the names. It can even be fun! The grass Poa annua, for example, I remembered it by thinking of a poo-y annual. When I asked if they remembered the name at the end of the walk the children almost got it right!

Silene dioica (Red Campion) was a dyed pink pig - died made sense to me!
One of the children shows her chosen plant.

 As we were reaching the end of the sessions I decided to lay a little surprise of laying 3 mammal traps. As we reached the bird hide we discovered that 2 of the traps were triggered. The first was an adult Field Mouse who was definitely not Helena. This mouse had darker colouring we decided. This mouse had to be named...Marianna.  When it comes to connecting children with wildlife I have no hesitation about anthropomorphism!
Marianna the Mouse!

The final trap was hiding under the bird hide. As we carefully let the creature out of the trap out popped a young Field Mouse. I have never heard such a loud and unified, "Awwwww...." from adults and children alike. After naming Sameya the baby mouse we released it back into the wild to go on to forage another day.

Walking towards the bird hide it was fantastic to see that the marsh was busy with feeding Swifts, Swallows and House Martins. We chatted about our summer visitors and how they are feeding low to the ground to catch flying insects from the marsh. The children were able to identify a Swift from a Swallow by the end of the trip!

For our final session next week we will be looking at some of these insects with a sweep net and heading towards the sluice gate to see what structure was put in place to help re-establish this wonderful wetland. It will be sad to visit South Efford for the last time. However, on the walk back to the entrance I was talking to a couple of children who I was reassured to hear loved the marsh - thought it was "epic" and planned on coming back again through the summer! Mission accomplished...

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

A sensory exploration by more than "average human beings".

Feeling the delicate seeds of the Dandelion clock.

Last week we had another lucky escape from very heavy down pours. We left school in dark clouds but arrived in sunshine! We hadn't visited the marsh in 3 weeks so it was great to see the trees really filling out with vibrant green leaves.

The aim of this weeks session was to become extraordinary human beings. The session stems form Leonardo Da Vinci's famous quote,

The "average human looks without seeing, listens without feeling, eats without tasting, moves without physical awareness, inhales without awareness of odour or fragrance, and talks without thinking."

We chatted about how we often walk along a path without really looking about us to see the smaller pieces of the big and beautiful jigsaw that is life. We might not really listen to our surroundings and how what we hear (but not necessarily see) effects that place. Similarly,  how often do we take a moment to smell objects around us to get another sensory understanding of what it is and what it's influenced by. As a result of having a better understanding of all that we can see, hear, touch and taste we get a much better sense of all that is going on in one space and time.

So we were to focus on each sense and show what extraordinary human beings the children are. Showing that they have the ability to really get to know an environment through their senses and even inspire some writing.

We "stealth walked" around the perimeter of South Efford Marsh concentrating on one sense at a time. We went through some exercises to help us focus on our ability to see, hear, touch, smell and taste. As we completed each sense we then had a chance to write our thoughts or words that came to mind about those senses.

Children stealth walking and focusing on all they can hear around them at South Efford Marsh

As we were working on our sense of smell one of the children spotted a nice pile of poo. As this isn't a dog walking area and from its texture we decided it must be fox. I stuck a piece on a rush and some brave children breathed in the strong aroma! Miss Amos happily set a great example! We chatted about how naturalists would use their nose to identify where a fox may have been by knowing what a badger, fox or otter poo might smell like. Chris Packham was (naturally) mentioned as a keen fan of not overlooking the things naturalists can learn from a nice piece of poo.

Miss Amos happily smelling the rich aroma of fox POO!

Taste was obviously a tricky one in today's age of health and safety so we sat on the bank overlooking the marsh closed our eyes and stuck our tongue out. Trying to see if we could taste different things on different parts of our tongue. For experimental purposes (!) the children were each given a sweet. The children first looked at the sweet, felt the sugary coating and then placed it on their tongue to see what aromas and tastes they could sense. This seemed to go down very well!!

Children sticking their tongues out to taste their air.

Finally, we took a moment to complete a short piece of creative writing. The children's writing showed that they had now a full sense of South Efford Marsh as an environment and a full working ecosystem effected by all they could see, hear, touch and smell. The writing also demonstrated that by using all our senses and describing them we can create a very clear picture of our surroundings for the reader. 

Children writing their creative pieces inspired by all they can see, hear, touch and taste at South Efford Marsh.
Here are a couple of examples of their BRILLIANT writing:

"Hearing all sounds nice,
Being as quiet as Field Mice,
Wet and dry smells around.
Some coming from the ground.

Walking around the meadow, 
Seeing how the flowers have gone bright yellow,
At the end a little treat,
Really was quite sweet."
Sam, aged 10

"Strong, demanding cold air,
Is tracing on my face, 
Nearby refreshing green grass,
is flickering on my nose.

Sticky, hooky duck leaves,
Are sticking to my finger,
Blinding hot yellow sun in my eyes
And the blue sky is disappearing
From all the grey clouds."
Maddie, aged 9

"Splish splash I see the muddy water,
Raining down into the sea,
This is Efford Marsh with the fresh, green grass
Efford Marsh is a wonderful place to be.

Tip tap rain on my face,
Wonderful to me,
Cold air blowing at me like a flying bee,
This is the best place to be.

Fluttery soft flowers all around
Fluffy feeling to me
What is this cold feeling in April
Well this is the most amazing place to be."
Elizabeth, aged 9

The temperature in the creek now reads 14.7 deg C

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Mouse POO!

Mouse "POO"!
 So we started the session under dark clouds! The forecast was that the heavy rain would be clearing in the later afternoon and thankfully as we made our way out in to South Efford Marsh the weather cleared and we were spared the heavy rain.

We decided to "stealth hunt" the wildlife. We walked in single file as quietly as we could so that we could concentrate on our listening and seeing skills maximising our chance of seeing all the wildlife on South Efford Marsh. We noticed budding leaves on brambles, the Willow buds bursting open as well as tree leaves starting to appearand heard lots of bird song.

I had previously laid out 4 mammal traps and 8 pitfall 'bug' traps so that we could discover some of the terrestrial insects and the small mammals that might feed on them.

The children were numbered 1 - 12 and would then be responsible for the sequential 12 traps. We approached pitfall No. 1 to discover somebody had kindly tidied it away and was nowhere to be found!

No. 2 could not be found initially (as I was having a senior moment)...although we did discover a nice Earthworm in the meantime and an ant in the trap once discovered. The pitfall traps proved to have a small variety of bugs in them which we put in containers ready to identify once we had got to the bird hide. We were even able to learn how to use a pooter to carefully suck a small spider up for later identification.

I was sure that we would be successful with the mammal traps. There were so many little burrowed holes in the banks. The first trap we came across was sadly not triggered and there was nothing inside. The second was also not triggered but as I peered in I noticed a slug wrapped around the trigger wire and once we opened the trap we found not 1 but 4 ants!! At least we had something!

The third mammal trap was looking good I could see some of the bedding had been pulled out but on closer inspection there was in fact an open door and nobody was home. When we opened the container we discovered mice POO!!! This was exciting but just not good enough...could it mean that the fourth trap under the bird hide might just be the lucky one?

We stealth hunted our way to the bird hide and tentatively approached Mammal Trap No. 4 and myself and number 11 child kneeled down to see that it has been triggered and the door was closed! Number 11 decided that she would rather I picked it up. I discovered it had definitely got the weight of a small mammal who had just gorged on meal worms!

The trap was laid down onto the floor and out popped a very timid looking little mouse!

We were all delighted to see our furry friend and stayed nice and quiet so as not to unduly freak the poor little rodent out! We were all so pleased to have finally caught something in our mammal traps.

Once in the hide we used our field studies key to identify our insects. We had insect larvae, a Harvestman spider, a Ground Beetle and a non-identifiable moth larvae.

Slowly we are painting a clear picture of the diversity of life at South Efford Marsh from the fox to the otter; to the birds and the beetles; the shrimps to the boatmen and now to our new and named friend Helena the Mouse who lives around the lovely habitat of The Water Pipit Hide in South Efford Marsh...lucky mouse.

On the way back I asked one of the children how the session was out of ten and she said, "a billion out of ten". That'll do nicely.

(Water temperature had gone down this week to 12.6C)

One of the girls carefully captures a Harvestman with a 'pooter'.

The trap door is closed and the trap is feeling heavy!

Carefully releasing the mystery mammal... discover a mouse!

We release Helena the Mouse back into the undergrowth.