Category Archives: wildlife

The Story of Two Nests of Sparrow Chicks in our Garden and How they Ventured into the House.

Every year, sparrows nest in our bird box. We watch the mother and father fly in and out, building the nest. We hear the chicks when they are born and see the parents feeding them. When the nest is empty, sometimes we watch the chicks in the trees as they learn to fly.

sparrow chick in a tree

As I was sitting in the garden, a few days after observing this chick in the tree, one of the chicks flew into the house.  I followed it in and opened doors and windows to entice it out.

baby sparrow in the house

Shortly after the mother entered the house looking for her baby. Her distinctive clicking cheep sounded desperate as she tried to get the chick to respond to her.

 

After some time the mother left. We thought we saw the parents  flying around with the chick outside.  I could still hear the chick’s squeaky chirp, but assumed it was coming for the garden. We left the house, as we needed to go out. Some hours later, on our return the children came running, saying the chick was still flying around inside the house. It settled on a high window ledge and we could see the parents flying around outside and frantically calling.  I opened windows and doors again and the mother came in and out, searching and calling. The baby flew to above the front door but didn’t work out how to get down.

 

 

Eventually, after hours inside the house, the bird flew to the ground and hopped outside to be reunited with his parents.

A few weeks later, the girls were playing football in the garden and discovered a nest near a rock, shaded by fern. Inside were 3 tiny eggs. A few days passed and the girls ran in to tell me the eggs had hatched.  We watched them for the next few days. Sometimes the mother sat on them and sometimes they were left while she searched for food.  She was never far away and a number of times we saw her swoop down to scare off an inquisitive baby bunny.

mother sparrow on her nest

We watched  as the strange bald creatures with huge eyes grew into fluffy chicks.

Sparrow Chicks in nest day after hatching
Day 1
sparrow chicks in nest
Day 2
Baby sparrows in a nest
Day 4

Then one morning my daughter ran to tell me to come and look at the nest.  The nest had been pulled from its hiding place and was on the lawn. The birds were nowhere to be seen. Had an animal discovered them, or was it time to fly the nest?

sparrows nest

We soon discovered the latter was true. Carefully camouflaged by brown leaves, one of the chicks was hopping around the ground and waiting for the parents to come and feed it. We could hear the other chicks too but we think perhaps they had gone into next door’s garden as we couldn’t see them.

sparrow chick before it could fly

After 24 hours the chick had gone, probably learning to fly. We heard them for a few days and then no more as they moved on to discover the world.

I love that we have learned so much about birds simply from sitting in the garden on a summer day.

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Washed Ashore at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium

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If you read my previous post about our art project made from recycled plastic you will know that the inspiration for ‘swimming through plastic’ was the Washed Ashore Project.

shark sculpture made from plastic washed ashore

Washed Ashore, is the brainchild of artist and educator, Angela Hazeltine Pozzi, who distressed by the volume of plastic washed up on her beloved Oregon beaches, decided to take action. Pozzi, along with a team of volunteers, created giant sculptures made entirely from the rubbish they found on the beaches. Each sculpture is designed to educate about plastic pollution in our Oceans and encourage a change in consumer habits.

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Ten of the Washed Ashore sculptures are at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium until October 21. Last weekend we finally got a chance to see them.

At the entrance you will find Gertrude the Penguin.

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Each sculpture comes with an I spy activity, urging visitors to find objects hidden within. They range in difficulty from plastic bottles (of which there are many) to tiny toy cars and cell phones. The girls loved trying to find the hidden objects. It encouraged them to examine how the sculptures were made.

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The displays also share facts about plastic pollution in our oceans and the dangers to animals within this ecosystem.

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Outside the aquarium are Weedy the Sea Dragon and friends.

Washed ashore sculpture sea dragonWeedy the sea dragon

 

fish made from plastic washed ashore

Octopus made from plastic

 

Seal made from plastic washed ashore

My favourites are at the back of the aquarium. I love the detail in the coral reef and walking underneath the plastic bottle jelly fish.

coral reef sculpture washed ashore project

coral reef made from plastic trash

coral reef made from plastic trash

jelly fish made of plastic bottles

The theme of plastic pollution is present throughout the zoo. The marine exploration centre has many activities encouraging visitors to learn how to be more responsible in our plastic consumprion and creative ways of using non-recyclable plastic, like these botte tops with magnets attached for creating pictures.

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The zoo’s new Wild West show, shares a clear message of Refuse, reuse and recycle and the shop and café no longer use single use plastic, including plastic straws and cups.

Washed Ashore
Finding out more about plastic pollution
Once you have seen the sculptures, there are plenty of other things to see. If you haven’t been to Point Defiance before, it has a strong focus on marine animals and an aquarium full of native species and others from warmer climates.  Who could resist this little guy?

You can stroke a stingray, anemone or starfish, watch puffins, walruses, seals and polar bears from above and below, ride a camel or hand feed birds.

The marine discovery center Point Defiance Zoo aand Aquarium

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Our day out really helped the kids think about the things they throw away and the effect it has on the environment. If we were a little closer, I’d love to check out some of their summer events.

 

20 Outdoor Things to Do Before You are 5

 

outdooe pin.pngThese Ideas were originally written for Parentmap in 2013

When my eldest daughter was working through the National Trust’s list of ’50 things to do before you are 11 3/4′.  I was inspired to create a companion list for my younger children.  Some of the challenges on the National Trust list, like picking wild blackberries were easily completed by young children but I felt a list of basic foundational outdoor experiences for babies, toddlers and preschoolers could work alongside it.

I realise that we are fortunate to live in a house with a garden and nature all around us but I tried hard to make the experiences accessible to all, in all weather and without an outdoor space at home. There are many amazing things that young children can experience outdoors, these are the ones I believe are essential .

20 things to do before you are 5.   

  1. Splash in a puddle:  Put on your rain boots and/or waterproof trousers and splash in puddles large, small and muddy.puddles
  2. Blow a dandelion clock : counting out the hours of the day as you blow

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    child blowing a dandelion clock
  3. Play in sand: In a sand box, at the park or at the beach. Playing with sand needn’t be limited to building sandcastles. Explore wet and dry sand, fill containers, hide things in the sand, draw in it with a stick or make a dinosaur swamp.

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    Sand play
  4. Walk through crunchy autumn leaves: You could also catch some from the trees as they fall, take them home and print with them or make a crunchy collage.autumn leaves
  5. Catch blossom from a tree.blossom
  6. Play in the snow:  If snow is thin on the ground head out to a snow park or if you live in a country where you don’t have snow, set up some icy play in the sunshine.

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    I just want to lie in it
  7. Grow a flower from a bulb or a seed: Guess the colour of the flower that will grow or grow a tall sunflower and measure it as it grows.WP_20130718_004 (2)
  8. Ride a tricycle, bicycle or scooter.IMG_0513
  9. Make a mud pie: You could even build a mud kitchen using old pans and kitchen utensils.mud kitchens
  10. Walk barefoot on grass, mud or sand: Walking barefoot helps children to balance and strengthens muscles in the foot. It is also a great way to stimulate the senses and talk about different textures.IMG_0615
  11. Collect natural materials from the woods, beach or park: Collect shells, leaves, pinecones or seeds. Put double sided tape on a pair of boots or a hat and help the children collect items to stick on. Use them to make pictures, sculptures or for small world play.skeleton leaf
  12. Go on a bug hunt: Dig for worms, look in dark places or watch spider webs wet with dew.

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    I found a beetle.
  13. Play with a stick: Sticks can be swords, fairy wands or pencils. We have a huge collection outside our front door as our only rule is ‘No sticks in the house’.

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    Let’s see how many ‘Y’ sticks we can find.
  14. Go for a walk in the woods.
  15. Paddle barefooted in the ocean, lake or stream: If your budget or location doesn’t allow you to get to the seaside, lake or stream, paddle barefooted in a puddle.paddling
  16. Play Pooh sticks.pooh sticks
  17. Throw and kick a ball: Start with large balls and as children get older experiment with different shapes and sizes.

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    Throw the ball at the trampoline and see if you can bounce it into the tub.
  18. Go fruit picking: At a farm or pick wild berries in the woods or park.strawberry picking
  19. Run in an open space.kite(1)
  20. Chase and blow bubbles.
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    small bubbles

    My little ones are over 5 now but still their favourite thing to do is climb the tree in our front garden,  make a mud pie or potion (my 8-year-old carried a pot of gooey mud home from school yesterday) or collect and create with sticks, petals and stones.

What would be on your list?

 

How to Survive a Road Trip from Seattle to Yellowstone with Three Kids, a Dog and a Tent.

 

I love the idea of a road trip. It isn’t something people do that often in the UK, since it is such a small country and the main roads are really congested. With so many places here to explore and big open roads, I can’t wait to get out and explore. Perhaps it is a little unrealistic to expect it to be plain sailing with a three kids and a dog in tow, but I’m always eager for a challenge.  A few years ago we took a road trip to Curlew lake for our first family camping holiday, which was a really successful trip. Why not take the plunge and go for the long haul?

Close to 700 miles seems an awfully long way to drive so we broke up the journey with a camping trip with friends in Eastern Washington and an overnight stay in Missoula.

Packing

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We have camping packing down to a fine art. We decided not to take the kayak on this trip but everything else in the picture was loaded into the Suburban.  Our tent is an Alaknak with an added vestibule. It has plenty of room for our family of five to walk around inside and is quick and easy to put up. We sleep on camping cots and pack a camping kitchen but to be honest on this trip we didn’t use it a lot. The best time to see wildlife is early morning and evening so we rarely got back to the campsite before it was dark.  I was told it was cold at night so packed plenty of warm clothes. We didn’t need many warm weather clothes at Yellowstone. Yellowstone is mountainous territory so has considerably cooler temperatures than surrounding regions, we mostly wore long trousers and layers.

On the Road

After our weekend camping we headed through Eastern Washington( I saw tumbleweed for the first time) towards Spokane where we took a lunch break. We then crossed the State line into Idaho.  To keep ourselves amused, we accepted a friend’s challenge to spot  licence plates from different states. This was the perfect challenge for a trip like this. Yellowstone is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country, so there were plenty to find. We managed to find 45 of the 50 states by the end of our trip.

We then crossed another state line into Montana. There were lots of roads like this,

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They don’t call it the blue sky state for nothing.

Overnight Stop

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For our overnight stop we had pre-booked a cabin at KOA Missoula. I was really impressed with how neat and clean this KOA was. There were floral displays everywhere and a man who ventured out every morning to water and feed them.  The staff were really friendly and the shop well stocked.  Ice cream  was served in the evening (much to the delight of the girls) and breakfast in the morning. The girls enjoyed a dip in the pool before it got too dark.

Travelling to West Yellowstone

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The next leg of the journey, through Montana was really beautiful.  We stopped for lunch along the way and then another rest break (conveniently at a consignment/antique store) made the journey around six hours. Arriving at West Yellowstone KOA, the girls headed off to the indoor pool while Dad put up the tent.

Tips for Camping in Yellowstone

 

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Tips for Camping at Yellowstone

  • Our first concern regarding camping was that we were in grizzly bear country. The owners at the campsite assured us that they rarely see any wildlife on site except for foxes, but to keep any food locked in the car to be safe.  We also had a bear proof food container which was almost human proof too.
  • Even in the height of the summer, Yellowstone gets pretty cold at night often reaching below 0 degrees centigrade.  My advice would be to get good quality winter grade sleeping bags, lots of layers and hats for night-time.  We also bought a camping gas heater and with this on we were warm enough.  If you have very young children or are not seasoned campers I would recommend staying in a cabin or RV. Campfires are permitted at West Yellowstone KOA.
  • During the daytime, campsites are pretty quiet as all the guests are out exploring.  The pool and hot tub was very busy in the evenings when people returned.  We chose to stay at the campsite and use the facilities in the morning when it was quiet and head out after lunch. This gave us plenty of time to drive to the best places to view wildlife in the evenings.

How Easy is a Yellowstone Trip with a Dog?

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  • Dogs are permitted in Yellowstone but there are a number of restrictions.  Dogs are not allowed on any of the trails or boardwalks or on the roadside.
  • We were fortunate to have cooler, cloudy days so that we could leave the dog in the car when visiting big attractions like Old Faithful.  On warmer days we took the trails and boardwalks in shifts. I went with the younger children and then my husband and my eldest went when we got back.
  • Yellowstone is huge and a lot of the sites you can see from the road, particularly the wildlife.  I think we would probably had a different experience if we had used the trails more but it is perfectly reasonable to take a dog and do the trip in the car.

The Sights of Yellowstone

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Day 1. Artists Paintpots – We underestimated quite how big Yellowstone is and how much there is to see. On the first day we headed to artists paintpots, passing a few smaller sights on the way. We took it in turns to walk the trail and boardwalks around the hydrothermal basin, so we could leave the dog in the car. Artist paintpots is full of coloured pools and mudpots that bubble like a witches cauldron, perfect for making up fantasy stories for little ones. Yellowstone wildlife greeted us for the first time in the guise of a chipmunk and a coyote walking out of the woods past the car.

For the rest of our stay we decided we should plan the things we really wanted to see and work out a manageable route. This was our list and route.

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Day 2-Old Faithful – The times that Old Faithful is likely to erupt can be found on an app. The signal in the park is very poor, so once you get in you may find that it doesn’t work but the times can also be found in the shop. Next to Old Faithful is a display of photography and old cameras.  This was fun to visit.  At the shop we picked up Yellowstone Jack – a very cute friend to carry around and include in your pictures.  He can then be tagged on Instagram to win prizes.  The girls thought this was great fun. If geysers are your thing, there is a whole trail of different geysers around old faithful, but by this point we were a bit geysered out.

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Day 3Wildlife spotting   Our main destination for day 3 was the Hayden Valley, a good place to spot wildlife. Along the way we stopped to see an Elk, walking along the edge of the river. At the Old Faithful gift shop we bought a book,”Who Pooped in the Park”.  The book is a children’s guide to animal tracks and scat that might be found in the park. The girls were fascinated and walked around the meadow trying to identify all the different types of poop.

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We also stopped to admire many of the views and arrived at the valley at dusk.  We saw a whole herd of Bison, some walk along the road but mostly you watch them coming out to graze as daylight falls.

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We spotted a group of people looking out over the valley, so stopped to see what they could see.  They had set up very powerful scopes and showed us a pack of wolves, too far in the distance for the naked eye to see. We were hoping to see a bear but unfortunately not this time although we were assured there was one travelling down the hill.

Day 4-  Waterfalls .Our  first destination was  Canyon Village, where we stopped at the store before heading to view the Lower Falls.  The view was spectacular and you could clearly see the yellow rocks that give Yellowstone its name. Even the little ones were absorbed in a few moments of quiet contemplation.

img_0838-2 The girls amused themselves by climbing the rocks, travelling in different ways around a tree.

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Our next destination was the Lower Falls, a short distance away. We were a little cautious when we saw  bear warning signs but the girls soon found a tree trunk to amuse them.

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There is a longer walkway that takes you above the falls but it was a little late in the day to try that.   When we left it was beginning to get dark.  We saw a sign for Artist’s Point but debated whether it was too late to stop.  We decided to take a quick look and I’m so glad we did.  This was the biggest surprise of the trip, the view was so stunning that it almost didn’t seem real. The whole trip was memorable and full of new experiences but I think this is the view that will remain imprinted in my memory forever. It left me lost for words. I can clearly imagine sitting there for hours writing or painting, it certainly lives up to its name.

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I could have stayed here forever. The little ones thought the view was amazing too and they studied the rock faces with the binoculars.img_0972-2

Day 4 Final Day – The Quest to Find more Wildlife

We decided to cut our stay at West Yellowstone KOA short and booked a cabin in Deer Lodge, Montana, for a slightly warmer night and to shorten the journey home the next day. After packing up and letting the girls choose homemade fudge from the campground store, we headed back to the park for the last time. After 3 days of spotting bison, the girls were really keen to find different wildlife. Our first discovery was a mountain goat sitting in a ditch along the side of the road.

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We climbed the high ground to reach the Loire Valley.  The views as we climbed were magnificent and we stopped many times to take photographs.

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We were really keen to see bears, and stopped to use the binoculars to see if the dots in the distance might be bears, but sadly just bison.

loire-valley

Our intention had been to drive some of the valley to spot wildlife and then turn around to  exit the park.  After driving for some time we  realised we had driven the whole valley and reached an exit to the park in a little town called Silvergate, where we stopped for a drink at a small café.

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I overheard the owners saying that they had been visited by a bear on recent nights and often it could be seen on the hill in front of us foraging for wild strawberries. We sat staring at the hill, but didn’t see any wildlife.

The lady told us that in the park there was a dead Bison near the old ranger station and you could often see bears feasting on the carcass.

As we headed back into the park it began to rain and as we looked to the side we were greeted by the most magnificent full rainbow, one of the most amazing sights I have ever seen.

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The rain soon stopped and we carried on until we saw crowds of people along the side of the road.  The people pointed out the location of the Bison carcass and invited us to look through their scopes.  You could clearly see a pack of wolves feasting on the carcass. The girls thought this was really cool.

Finally we travelled to the exit of the park at Mammoth Springs. Mammoth village was a pleasant surprise. It houses the parks headquarters, hotel, lodges and a historic fort. Deer were grazing everywhere and I wish we’d had time to get out and explore.  This will definitely be our first destination if we return to Yellowstone.

mammoth-hot-springsPoints to consider when visiting Yellowstone with children

  • Expect a lot of driving.  The park is vast and getting to the main attractions often involves a few hours drive.
  • Pack snacks and drinks. There are places to eat at Old Faithful, Mammoth Springs,  Canyon, Grant Village and Yellowstone Lake but they may take a while to get too and are often busy. If you travel to see wildlife in the evening as we did it will be dark by the time you leave and more difficult to find food.  There are plenty of restrooms throughout the park.
  • A lot of the wildlife is far off in the distance –  the Loire Valley has lots of bison for  close up wildlife, or Mammoth Springs for deer.  If you want to see wildlife in the distance invest in a scope (a good pair of binoculars helps but you will only see wildlife clearly with a scope).
  • Go to a visitor centre on your first day, here you can pick up junior ranger activity booklet to keep the children occupied during their stay.  The stores also have some great books for nature-based activities, facts and figures and things to spot on your journey.

We stopped overnight at Deer Lodge KOA – a small KOA perfect for an overnight stop. Our final stop was Couer D’Alene in Idaho, where we stopped for lunch, a play in the park and a swim at the beach before heading home.

couer-dalene

Driving itinerary

Alta Lake State Park to Spokane – 3-4 hours (with a short stop at Grand Coulee dam)

Spokane to Missoula 3- 4 hours (overnight stop)

Missoula to West Yellowstone approx. 5 hours ( we also stopped twice;  for lunch at the Smiley Moose Deli in Bozeman and to browse antique shops between Bozeman and West Yellowstone, I can’t remember exactly where ).

Return

Mammoth Springs to Deer Lodge KOA approx. 3 hours (overnight stop).

Deer Lodge KOA to Couer D’Alene  3-4 hours.

Couer D’Alene to Eastside Seattle – 4-5 hours. (one short food stop).

The children on this trip were aged 12, 7 and 5. The trip was taken during late August.

Photographs by Michael Mcclary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big Rock Park

We consider ourselves very lucky to live in an area where there are lots of great parks. Last week saw the grand opening of Big Rock Park, so we took a trip to see what it was like.

I liked that it didn’t have the same old playground equipment.  The slide was built into a hill, with a natural climb up to it and the zip wire was low enough for young children to climb on independently. There were also a number of climbing posts made from tree stumps and plentiful building blocks crafted from branches.

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They have really tried hard to maintain this as a nature park.  The fences are all crafted from rough cut wood and they are still cultivating the meadow around the slide complete with little peep holes. In collaboration with STEM High School, Big Rock Park will design an environmental education programme and promote renewable technology.

Beyond the playground you can head down to the nature trails.  On the way admire the giant nest built by local families last year.

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At Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetlands centre, in England, the playground (wellyboot land)  had giant bouncy eggs. This nest is crying out for some of those.

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As you head into the trails you have a number of paths available, all well signposted.  The trails aren’t very long, so perfect for little legs to explore.

Leading towards the trail is another little guest.

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Where would Big Rock Park be without a big rock?

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This was easily the main attraction. The trails circle around the rock and lead back to this wonderful natural climbing area.

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We loved the new park and will be heading back soon with the older children, who were sad that they missed it.

We’re Going on a Bug Hunt

Some children hate bugs, they think they are disgusting or scary. That’s why I love our annual preschool bug hunt in the  woods. The children look for bugs, find out about them, collect them in bug jars and bring them back to observe in a terrarium for a few weeks.

bug hunt

In our front garden we have a wildflower border.  As we pass it each day we look out for bees, ladybirds and butterflies. When we found aphids on the lupins, we hoped they would attract ladybirds.

“Why can’t we spray them?” my daughter asked. She had been learning about aphids at school.

“If we spray them”, I explained, it will disrupt the ecosystem, “the ladybirds won’t come and ladybirds are good food for birds.  If we kill off all the bugs we will have fewer birds and small mammals in the garden.”

They don’t like every bug – they are a little afraid of spiders, think mosquitoes are a nuisance and my youngest is a little unsure about worms but they don’t see that as a reason to kill them. We know the worms in our compost bin turn our scraps into compost for the garden , spiders can be left alone if they live outside and they are good because they eat flies and even mosquitoes provide food for bats and birds. This is a useful resource for explaining to children why bugs are good.

There are two kinds of bug we don’t collect on the bug hunt.

  1. Termites because they will eat our preschool.  The children know that termites are important for breaking down old wood from fallen trees but they need to stay in the woods.

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2. Slugs because they will eat all the produce we have planted.  There is plenty of food for them in the woods.

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There were other bugs to collect.

Lots of worms and millipedes.

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Spiders

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and evidence of caterpillars munching leaves.

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We looked up
children and teacher look at trees

and down.
looking for bugs in a decomposing log

We saw evidence of how the bugs break down an old tree log so that it can go back into the soil.
tree log hollowed out

It gets smaller every year, we used to be able to fit inside.

girl balancing on hollow log

Sometimes it is useful to add a focus to a walk and those tiny bugs can easily be forgotten, so next time you walk with your kids, turn over some logs and stones and see what you can find.

Spring Babies

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On our walk to school every day, my daughter loves to stop and look at leaves and flowers, to take a short cut through the woods or to save worms stranded on the path.  Often there isn’t enough time to stop and share her observations and wonders.  It is important therefore, that I make time to walk with her when we aren’t constrained by time.

Last week, when I was out running, we spotted ducklings on the local pond.  I decided to take a walk and see what other babies we could find.

Our first  observation was a deep, vibrating sound, a little like a honking goose. The sound followed us but we couldn’t see anything. We thought perhaps it was a type of frog or maybe a bug.

We sat on the bank and watched the ducks come in and out of the water.

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As we carried on around the pond, we came across a family of geese.

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We watched them until they swam away. Passing a smaller pond,we decided to rest there a while, watching the birds and dragonflies.  We noticed ladybirds on the lupins.  Looking closer, we could see the leaves and stems were covered in aphids.  On the centre of one leaf was a pair of ladybirds, who proceeded to fight, just like in the ‘Bad Tempered Ladybird’ by Eric Carle.

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As we sat watching the ladybirds, the geese came swooping across the sky and landed in the pond with a splash.

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The spring baby theme has continued. We found a salamander with its eggs in a friends back garden, a newt in the drain and a tiny frog in our worm composter.

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The birds are building a nest in our bird box and we expect to hear the babies soon.

 

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We noticed that the frog spawn has gone from the storm water pond and if you look closely you can see tiny tadpoles swimming.

To top it all off, the horse at preschool finally gave birth to a foal.

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However simple, the wildlife we see  around us every day, is a constant source of wonder.  I hope my children will always see the world this way.

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This photograph depicts what all childhood should be; full of the magic and excitement of the unexplored. It reminds me of the magical tales of Enid Blyton that inspired me to pretend to run away to the woods, when I was a child. My friends and I would sometimes pack a picnic or a bag of sweets and sit deep in the trees, listening to the streams and waiting for magic to happen.

From Nature and her overflowing soul

I had received so much that all my thoughts

Were steeped in feeling.

William Wordsworth