Our Third Nature Book starts with the Wildlife Weekend at Bradgate Park which we went to on 17th June 2017, when Amelia was still aged 5. There were lots of activities and a guided Nature Walk.
Fallow Deer have lived in the Park since before the 15th Century. The colours and patterns of their coats vary a lot.
Males are called “bucks”, females are called “does” and the babies are “fawns”. Only bucks have antlers. Antlers fall off every spring, but new ones grow again immediately. For the first 2-3 years, they are single spikes. As they get older, the antlers develop ‘branches’ and then become palmate (flattened).
Amelia made animals from nature objects in the Forest School tent.
How many kinds of WASPS do you think there are?
There are 9,000 species in the UK. Wow! Only a very few of them actually sting people. And it is only the female wasps that can sting anyway – so we really don’t need to panic about wasps! We were shown some very small wasps, including ones that live in tiny holes in the ground.
The GALL WASPS below make galls (sometimes called “oak apples”) which develop when they lay their eggs on stems or leaves of oak trees. Can you see some tiny larvae and some adults?
This is a female FOUR-SPOTTED CHASER, which is like a dragonfly. It emerged from a nymph which took up to 3 or 4 years to develop in the pond in Bradgate Park.
Below is the NYMPH of a DAMSELFLY, which we found in Gran’s pond, and an empty DRAGONFLY NYMPH case which a dragonfly has come out of.
There are lots of GREAT POND SNAILS in Gran’s pond. They ‘hang’ upside down from the water surface and breathe air through a simple lung and store it in a cavity for using when they are under the water. They are hermaphrodites (both male and female in the same body). They lay eggs in a sort of ‘jelly’ under water lily leaves. The eggs hatch into miniature snails. Can you see any developing in the ‘jelly’?
POND SKATERS (below) are carnivorous insects (eating other little creatures) and fly a long way from ponds to hibernate (sleep safely) through the winter. They can walk on water!
The tiny water molecules on the water surface (too small to see) cling together and form a sort of ‘skin’ referred to as “surface tension”. Some little creatures like Pond Skaters can walk on the surface because they are too light to break the ‘bond’ between the water molecules. You can actually see the surface ‘skin’ stretching and dipping under their weight!
Do you know what an EFT is? There are lots in Gran’s pond during spring and summer.
Efts are baby NEWTS and are equivalent to tadpoles. They have feathery gills (like fish) so that they can breathe in the water. Can you see their gills in front of their front legs?
Adult newts, like the Common (or Smooth) Newts below and Frogs have lungs, like us, to breathe air, which means they can live on land as well as in the water. They are called AMPHIBIANS.
This RED ADMIRAL butterfly is well camouflaged on the ground when its wings are closed. You can see its proboscis (like a tubular toungue) sucking up minerals and moisture from the ground.
In October 2017, we stayed a few days with Tessa, Matt, Becky and Rob in Amelia’s new house in Clyst St Lawrence, Devon. We had lots of ‘exploring walks’, looking for nature.
Coastal plants that grow near the sea are different from those which grow inland. They have developed and adapted to cope with salty air, strong winds and sandy or rocky soil.
These friendly horses had been brought to help manage the environment by grazing plants which grow too much and threaten to take over and push out weaker, smaller plants.
We don’t know what kind of rock this is, but we loved the colours and patterns which were formed millions of years ago.
These are NOT spiders – they are two HARVESTMEN! Although they have 8 legs like spiders, the body of a harvestman appears to be one big blob instead of having a tight waist between the head end and the abdomen which spiders have. Harvetsmen can’t make webs and don’t have fangs to bite, so please don’t hurt them. They are sometimes called Daddy-Long-Legs! How many legs can you count in this picture?
Becky helped Amelia set up the wormery which she gave Amelia for her birthday.
There were WRENS and HOUSE SPARROWS in the garden.
Amelia is very good at spotting little things. Although these ROSEMARY BEETLES have a pretty name and are beautiful, they don’t belong in England, but were first seen in London in 1995. They eat rosemary, lavender and other aromatic herbs. There was one larva (equivalent to a caterpillar).
Gran has sent details of our Rosemary Beetles to the Royal Horticultural Society who have been doing a survey and collecting information since 2008.
We walked along the lane to the church of Clyst St Lawrence and round the churchyard to see what we could spot.
Here are some of the things we saw in the hedgerow ………..
Ferns are ancient, primitive plants which don’t have flowers or seeds. They reproduce by spreading thousands of spores which are formed under their fronds (leaves). The Hart’s Tongue spores are produced in linear sori (long parallel lines). Other ferns have round sori.
We found BADGER footprints in soft soil (below left) near their track through the hedge. In the churchyard, there were lots of molehills (below right). Moles live underground and make long tunnels when they look for worms to eat. They also live in tunnels. They push the loose soil they dig when making tunnels out up onto the grass.
There are 15,000 FUNGI species in the UK. They live on land, in the water, in the air, and even in and on plants and animals! They vary so much in size and form, from the microscopically tiny to the largest organisms on earth (one ‘body’ can spread its threads miles under the ground over several square miles)! Yeast, used for making bread, beer and wine, is a microscopic fungus. Mushrooms are also fungi, but many fungi are poisonous.
The old stone crosses in the churchyard were covered in LICHENS.
LICHENS can be found on trees, walls, roofs, rocks, stones and dead wood. There are 1,800 kinds of lichens in the UK. Gran likes the strange shapes, colours and textures of lichens.
Lichens are fungi which have joined with algae to become like one plant so that they can help each other – the alga makes the food and the fungus protects the alga. Living together like this is called SYMBIOSIS.
Which of these lichens do you like best, and why?
This old horseshoe, which was hanging on the gate, is made of iron which has gone rusty because iron combines very easily with oxygen in the air, especially when it is wet. Horseshoes are fitted to horses’ feet to stop them wearing down when walking on roads.
We went to Willington Gravel Pits Nature Reserve (Derbyshire, near Burton-on-Trent) one bitterly cold afternoon in November to watch Starlings murmurating as the sun set. Our guess is that we saw about 1,000 Starlings, but there can be up to 10,000 in a flock. They collect together at dusk from a wide area and perform a beautiful aerial synchronised dance for about 10 minutes before they suddenly drop down to roost in the reeds for the night. They only do this in winter, probably to keep warm by snuggling up close together through the night and to exchange information such as good feeding areas.
There was also a flock of Canada Geese mixed with Greylag Geese which flew through the middle of the Starling murmuration.
Here are some of the other birds we saw at Willington.
Sunset at Willington Gravel Pits Nature Reserve.
Before Christmas, Amelia helped Gran and Grandad make the Christmas Puddings. As well as all the fruit, we had to put SUET ‘pellets’ in. Amelia wondered what suet was.
Suet is a special hard fat which is found round the kidneys of cows and is shredded into pellets for cooking, eg: in mincemeat pies, traditional steamed puddings and dumplings.
For our annual Christmas Family Day, we went for a walk from Kirk Hallam to Dale Abbey in Derbyshire on 6th January 2018.
Identifying plants can be very hard in the winter when they don’t have flowers. Amelia wondered what the green leaves were, but Gran didn’t know without the flowers.
Although this Green Field Speedwell was flowering, they were so tiny and pale it was difficult to see them! Gran has drawn circles round 4 of them. There are more – how many can you find?!
Pretty yellow CATKINS are one of the earliest flowers; but they don’t look like flowers, do they? They don’t have any petals!
Catkins are only the male part of the HAZEL flower, producing masses of pollen dust. The female part is just a tiny tuft of red styles coming out of a bud (below right) which catch some of the pollen dust – most people never spot them!
Gran and Grandad gave Amelia a packet of IRON FILINGS and two BAR MAGNETS for Christmas. We put a piece of paper on top of the magnets and sprinkled iron filings on the paper. It was fascinating to see the patterns that formed as each tiny iron filing became a miniature magnet which was attracted by the big magnets. Amelia arranged the magnets differently, creating a different pattern each time.
We walked round Netherfield Lagoons near Nottingham on 24th February 2018.
We saw a FOX several times. There were lots of animal footprints in the mud, but we couldn’t be sure if they were foxes or dogs. There were trails in the grass under the wire fence into the scrub where we saw the fox disappear.
Below is a RABBIT SCRAPE with droppings (faeces). Rabbits probably make scrapes to eat roots and leave their scented droppings to mark their territory. Rabbits are mainly nocturnal. They spend much of the day underground, resting and passing soft, dark droppings which they eat to extract more nourishment from them and keep their burrows clean. The rabbits then produce hard droppings above ground.
We watched the sun set.
At the same time, we could see the MOON which was in the “waxing gibbous” state. We could even see some of the craters on the moon’s surface. It looks as though part of the moon is missing. The moon has its own day and night. This diagram shows how the moon goes in a circle round the the earth, which takes a month. From the earth, we can only see the part which the sun is shining on, so it looks a different shape every night.
On 10th March, we went to Attenborough Nature Reserve near Nottingham, where we saw lots of water birds. Winter is a good time to visit because many ducks migrate here from colder, northern European countries.
These are Mute Swans which live in England all the time, but there are some kinds of swans which migrate here for the winter only. The swans which had some brown feathers are last year’s babies (cygnets). One large male swan was a bully and kept attacking the others.
We also saw Canada Geese (below). They are wild, but were introduced to the UK in the 17thC. Swans and geese have large webbed feet to help them swim on the water.
Amelia was very good at making all the links on the Information Board.
This beautiful Red-crested POCHARD is rarer than the ordinary Pochard. It was Gran’s favourite.
Below are male TUFTED DUCKS. Most live in the UK all year, but some extras migrate here from Europe in the winter. They are DIVING ducks (collecting their food from the bottom of lakes), but sometimes also dabble (collecting food just under the water surface). Females and non-breeding males don’t have any white.
SHOVELERS (below) are DABBLING ducks, scooping along the surface of the water with their large bills and filtering out vegetation and water creatures to eat. Some stay in the UK all round the year, but others migrate south to warmer countries for the winter. The female is very different from the male.
A pair of TEALS and a pair of MALLARDS were feeding in this flooded area (along with a CROW). We also saw a pair of GADWALLS.
Very few Teals and Gadwalls breed in England – most migrate here from colder northern countries just for the winter and return home for breeding in the summer. They are all dabbling ducks.
SHELDUCK (below) are more common by the coast. They breed in England but most migrate to northern Germany for their annual moult, leaving all the ducklings behind in England in the care of a few non-breeding adults! They lose their wing and tail feathers when they moult, so for 4 weeks, they cannot fly while they wait for their new feathers to grow. We saw them feeding by dipping their heads in the water and sticking their bums and tails straight up!
Attenborough Nature Reserve is encouraging Blue Butterflies to breed on the reserve by planting and managing this meadow.
The last treat of the day (and of this book) was a family of EGYPTIAN GEESE which we watched from a hide. They had only just hatched – it seems we were the first to see them!
Egyptian Geese are not very common as their natural home is in Africa. Some were introduced to England in the 17th C, but most live in Norfolk. They often nest in trees. This family had nested in a large box at the top of a high pole. The 8 baby goslings had to drop out of the box onto the ground! They are very vulnerable. We saw one parent chasing a crow away when it got close to the babies. Sadly, when we returned 5 weeks later, the pair of adults had no goslings with them. Perhaps they died in the bad weather and snow which came a few days later.
Amelia is now aged 6.
Our next book will be about our visit to Bempton Cliffs in May to see the colonies of nesting sea birds, especially Puffins and Gannets.