Nature Club

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Wanstead Nature Club For children aged 7 to 13

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Bring your child along each month to have fun with others, learning about our local nature: birds, plants, trees, butterflies, pond-life, insects and more.

We meet each month at the Harrow Road changing rooms building (Harrow Road, Wanstead Flats, E11 3QD) on the following Saturday mornings between 10 and 12:

Contact Gill James on: 020 8989 4898020 8989 4898 or Email her at:  gilljames@btinternet.com

December 2016: Artists at work

Little tomatoes, mangoes, squashes, holly berries sat on the table in a colourful heap. We tried really hard to paint and draw these fruits and seeds with pastels and paints.

Luckily local artist Anita McCullough was there to give us a helping hand and we painted some great pictures to take home and frame. So we are now promising artists!

We also went on a winter bird search on Jubilee Pond to see what was new and identified no fewer than 16 species, including three kinds of gull, a shoveller, a cormorant, some pochards, and even a great crested grebe. Well done all eight children on fantastic skills.We tried counting up all the water birds – and counting all those gulls and canada geese was challenging. We came to some amazing totals and were rewarded with lots of gold coins as it is nearly Christmas.

November 2016: A Rainy Day


Today it rained ALL morning. We made a giant spider’s web with Charlotte in the middle. Then we made leaf art : we rubbed the undersides of dried leaves ( the veins show more on the undersides) to make beautiful leaf skeleton pictures. Then we played Big Bingo. Menuo was a very good caller and Ruduo won the game.

October 2016: Autumn Leaves

What a surprise present today: Ruduo and Menuo brought in the dried up body of a large dead hedgehog! We had a good look at its little feet and its skeleton and spines.

Then we had a rather damp walk across the Flats to see if we could spot any skylarks and collected lots of different shaped leaves on the way. We particularly like the big clumps of Rosebay Willowherb, whose leaves were turning a lovely deep shade of Autumn red. The stalks were taller than us. Apparently some people make tea out of the leaves.Then we made Leafy Lanterns. We stuck our colourful leaves on the outside of jam jars, and made a handle and put a tealight inside. Very pretty if a bit sticky!
Seven children today.

September 2016: Pond Dip and Bird Song

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A lovely warm day again. We listened to some recorded bird songs we were likely to hear around Jubilee Pond like coot and mallard and were pretty good at guessing which was which. We found guessing the swan’s song quite difficult!
Then we went pond dipping and found a lovely fat leech, lots of waterboatmen and dozens of pond snails. The pond snails had clear sacks of eggs attached to themselves and to pondweed. We also saw some small red-bodied dragonflies called common darters flying around. We had a great time on the swings too.
Then we went to investigate the six large mystery holes which have appeared in the little wood by the changing rooms. We will have to do more detective work to find out who made them…..
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August 2016: Grass Art and Grasshoppers

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What do you do on a warm dry August morning? You go hunting minibeasts in the long dry grass! We looked especially for crickets and grasshoppers, the Olympic champion jumpers of the insect world. If they were the same size as us they could jump a whole football pitch in three jumps- that’s about 30 meters per jump! We tried it ourselves but we weren’t nearly as good. We found lots of late summer flowers in the grass and made wreaths for our hair out of bindweed flowers. We made doll figures out of the long dry yellow grass stalks, tied their arms and legs with raffia nad gave them clay faces with mini apples for eyes. They looked like the corn dollies people used to make after the harvest.
8 children today.

July 2016: Woodlice and other Minibeasts

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Did you know that a woodlouse has 14 legs? And that we used to swallow them live to cure a tummy ache? That’s why some people call them pill bugs. We did an experiment to find out where they prefer to make their home and found out that they prefer being in the dark and they like being damp too. They are not very waterproof like us and dry up quickly and have shells like lobsters. Like worms they are Nature’s Recyclers as they like to eat old decaying leaves and wood. So next time you see a woodlouse, don’t tread on it, it is doing a useful job!
Then we went round Jubilee Pond which looked very pretty in the sunshine with lots of wild flowers out. We had a go at catching butterflies and other creatures such as crickets and ladybirds with our sweep nets in the long grass. We got a bit hot and thirsty and fed the ducks with some proper duck food pellets.
9 children today.

June 2016: Earthworm Watch and Minibeast Hunt

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More Citizen Science for our young scientists! We took part in a national survey of earthworms called Earthworm Watch by looking at earthworms on Wanstead Flats and seeing what kind of soil we have. We dug a hole in a recently cleared patch of earth where some tree had been cut down. It was very hard as it had probably never been dug before and had tree roots and lumps of yellow clay. Ruduo was a terrific digger. Then we carefully sifted through the dark brown surface soil we had dug out and found 6 pale coloured surface- feeding worms, one of which had a ‘saddle’ which told us it was an adult. Then we poured a mustard powder and water mixture in the hole to see if there were any deep-living worms down there at the bottom. Worms don’t like this, so they come out. Mustard must be too hot for their taste, but it does not hurt them. We saw two more longer and darker worms appear!
We also did a test with a few of drops of vinegar to see if the soil fizzed. It did not so we learnt that it was not a limestone soil. We could squeeze handfuls of soil in to sausage and patty shapes which told us it was not a sandy soil but a clay soil. This is typical of the soil in the Thames Valley area where we live.
We also went looking for minibeasts amongst the lovely waving flowering grasses and found some beautiful spiders carrying their young in egg sacs between their spinners. We identified them as a wolf spider and a nursery web spider.
7 children today.

May 2016: Pond Dip and Water Survey

Studying pond dip finds

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Images: GJ – Retrieving a ph strip. Studying pond dip finds.

We followed up the Clean Water Survey we did on our two ponds in March when we tested for water pollution. This time we thought about what wildife we might find in Spring in our ponds and we looked at some sedge plants, dried up yukky deadfrogs, some live toadlets, water snails and even a newt borrowed from Gill’s pond to remind us what to look for.
We did three tests on Jubilee Pond as part of the national OPAL survey. First we tested to see how clear the water was by collecting the pond water in a plastic bottle and working out if we could see the spots on the Opalometer disc in the bottom. The water was nice and clear and slightly green. Then we tested to see if the water was acid or alkali by dipping ph test strips in the pond and seeing what colour they turned. They turned greeny-blue, which told us that the water was not too alkaline which is good for wildlife. Finally we did our pond dip! It was quite cold and we only found small things such as beetles, lots of water boatmen, tiny bugs or fleas, and damselfly larvae and other larvae, which told us that the pond was a good place for wildlife and has a high Pond Health Score.
The ducks, swans and geese already knew this as there were lots of them there and they hadn’t done any of the tests! We had thirteen children today and several parents too.

April 2016: London Pigeons

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Images: GJ – Jubilee Pond pigeons. Drawing pigeons.

Today we took a closer look at a very familiar bird: the pigeon! We looked a two bird’s eggs to compare their sizes and worked out that the larger white one was a pigeon’s egg. Then we looked at pictures of different kinds of pigeons, some of which we might see in the garden like the wood pigeon and the collared dove- and we listened to their songs ( ‘two teas please Louise….’) and Anya told us about when she dissected and ate a ( cooked) wood pigeon! We saw an amazing film of a huge flock of racing pigeons being released on Wanstead Flats. Then we went out and found our own flock of pigeons near Jubilee Pond , chose one pigeon ( they are all different) and carefully drew it. Our pigeons were called Alphie, Mr Hoo, Sharon, Polly, Jimeela, Honko and Percy. Then we went to find where they roost at night- it was easy to find the roost under the railway arches because of the piles of poo underneath!
Then, because it is spring, we planted some dwarf bean seeds in pots to take home to grow and, we hope, eat one day.

March 2016: Clean Water for Wildlife

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Image: GJ – Holding up nitrate test tube.

We did a scientific test on the water quality of the two ponds we know well, Jubilee Pond and Cat and Dog Pond. We used clean water kits to test how polluted the water was with two nutrients, nitrate and phosphate, which can be bad for freshwater plants and animals. We found that the Cat and Dog Pond,which is a natural reedy pond with lots of frogspawn in it, had almost no nitrates and phosphates. This kind of water pollution is more common in farming areas. Jubilee Pond, which is much busier with people and bird life like ducks and geese, had slightly more nitrates and phosphates so is not so rich in wildlife. Afterwards Gill submitted our results to the Clean Water for Wildlife survey. We did a nice collage of the two ponds showing what plants and animals rely on them.

February 2016: HEDGEHOGS

Hedgehog Cake

Hedgehog expert Barry Chapman told us loads of facts about hedgehogs and how we can help them to survive. There are some on Wanstead Flats and if we ever see any we should let Barry know. They are hibernating now in little burrows and nests in secret places like piles of leaves because it is winter and it would be hard for them to find any slugs and worms and beetles to eat. They need lots of space to roam around on summer nights and so we have to make sure they can get into and through our gardens. We played a game where we pretended to be hedgehogs smelling out worms under the ground, and then we pretended to be predators, foxes and owls, trying to catch hedgehogs in the dark. Then we made spikey chocolate hedgehog cakes. Yum yum.

January 2016: SQUIRRELS & WINTER TREASURE HUNT

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Squirrels collect nuts like acorns in the Autumn when there are lots about and they bury them in the ground so that they can find them again when it is cold and miserable in the winter and they are hungry. They can smell them out as they have such good noses! We pretended to be squirrels and we hid some chocolate gold coins in the wood in secret places. Then we went back later to find them. This was very hard as we do not have such a good sense of smell! We also spotted a squirrel drey high up in the trees where they go to keep warm and have their babies.It looked like a large football made of twigs and grass.

Then we went on a treasure hunt .We had three different teams and we got points for finding things although it is hard to find flowers and insects in winter.We had to find five different coloured flowers, some seeds, a live insect and a feather around Jubilee Pond. Then we had to identify the flowers and we were very good at naming the flowers. The yellow ones were dandelions, sowthistle, mustard, ragwort and gorse. We found a millipede, a spider, a hoverfly, a snail, a beetle and a woodlouse. The Nutty Team won but we were all brilliant!

December: ROBINS AND TREE DECORATIONS

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Seven children today for our seasonal celebration. First we visited the birds on Jubilee Pond and took them some presents in the shape of peanuts, fresh grapes and fatballs. This was all gratefully hoovered up by the swans, tufted ducks, pochard, mallard and lots of Canada geese. There was also a cormorant there diving to catch fish. Some of these birds are migrant birds which come from far up north where the water is now frozen so they can’t find food in winter.

Then we dressed a tree! We chose a little apple tree and draped its branches with the bunting we had made by tying things like feathers, bunches of dried yellow grasses , and branches with red and white berries on to pieces of coloured wool. All these things will rot in time as they are all natural so we can leave them on the tree.

The last thing we did was make some robins with pine cone bodies and plane tree seed heads and we stuck on wings and a red breasts. The robin is a popular bird because it is so friendly to humans but not to other robins which might try to invade their territory to steal their worms!

SEPTEMBER: THERE BE DRAGONS!

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A fine morning, great for dragonflies ! Eleven children today. We made some fantastic model dragonflies, some with sycamore seedcases for wings and plantain heads for bodies. Dragonflies are champion fliers- they can even fly backwards and they are hard to catch as they zoom around so fast. They are also very special as they were flying 300 million years ago and some of them were a lot bigger than we see nowadays. We did see some big ones -probably southern hawkers- flying over Jubilee Pond but there was no way we could catch them for a better look.

AUGUST: INSECT HOTELS

All together

Pond Dipping

Where do insects go in the winter? There are lots of bees and wasps and ladybirds and other insects buzzing about now it is summer but when it gets colder there are no flowers and so no food. Many insects will die but some will hibernate and wake up again next spring.
Where do they hibernate? They look for somewhere cosy and dry!
So we went on a stick safari to find some suitable material for insect homes. We found lots of hollow stems of grasses and reeds.
Then we made our insect hotels. Some were made out of upside-down plastic drinks bottles stuffed with hollow stems. Some were made from pieces of wood which we screwed together to make little houses. We stuffed them with lots of cosy leaves, sheeps wool, old decayed bits of wood, and hollow stems and reeds. Some already had insect lodgers in them! Our homes looked very inviting so we will put them somewhere sheltered in the garden and hope for the best.

JULY: POND-DIP & BUTTERFLIES

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Eight children today and a special visitor, Minakshi, and a lovely new helper, Charlotte.
The sun was shining and there were hundreds of little brown butterflies flitting around the nettles and grass (Small Skippers).We had fun chasing them with our nets. We also found two large brown ones ( Meadow Brown & Speckled Wood) and a large white one ( called a Large White!)
Then we did a Ducks Picnic. Ducks should not eat too much bread as it is bad for them so we laid out a pondside buffet at Jubilee Pond for them to choose from: grapes, carrot, lettuce, peas, birdseed, a fatball, and some mealworms. The ducks and swans were quite fussy and went for the seedy things and mealworms and not the veggie things!
Then we took our nets and waded into the pond where it is shallow. We found lots of tiny things such as small fish, big fat leeches, mayfly larvae, and a perfect tiny bivalve shell. We saw big Emperor dragonflies swooping about and we saw a mother tufty duck with four tiny ducklings which she was protecting from a gull which was trying to snatch up a duckling for its dinner. Every time the gull swooped down, the ducklings disappeared under the water and in the end the brave mother duck flew up and chased the gull away.
Then we sat down at one of the picnic tables by the Pond and had a mini-picnic and the custard creams disappeared in a flash.
Last of all we spotted some scarey yellow and black striped caterpillars on the ragwort. They will magically turn into something quite different next month. Do you know what?

JUNE: BIRDS & BUGS

We had 7 children (Holly, Menuo and Ruduo, Nils, Ruby, Clementine and Anya the vicar’s daughter). Jane and Tim were there and two mums stayed too. To start with we looked at some patterned feathers, tried to work out how they ‘zip’ up, and drew them. Ruby brought an abandoned robin’s nest complete with old eggs (she donated it to Nature Club).
Tim’s game on bird migration was great fun and we learned a lot. Some birds make amazing journeys. We walked through the long grass to the Cat and Dog pond, looking for bugs en route.There were some huge tadpoles and we spotted lots of baby frogs. Tim identified some moths for us. Then back for refreshments and more feather sketching and bug identification. Time seemed to fly by.

MAY:EGGS, NESTS & SPARROW FOOD & SOMETHING WEIRD….

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We had a good look at an old sparrows nest which was made of grass twisted round and round & we listened to the chirpy sparrow song- cheep cheep! The parent sparrows can eat seeds, but their babies are too little for this and need to eat insects. We saw lots of sparrows hunting in the long grass for caterpillars and insects and flying back to their nests in the hedges and buildings nearby.So we went on an insect hunt with a big net and caught lots of tasty bugs.
We also played the sparrowhawk game. Sparrowhawks hunt and eat small birds like sparrows. We took turns being the sparrow hawk and the rest of us were trees with sparrows in them and we had to throw the beanbag sparrow back & forth & hope the sparrowhawk did not catch us!
We looked at how our tadpoles were doing after two months in the Cat and Dog Pond. They now have little back legs and long tails. The reeds are now very high.
And we found something very strange in the pond – a little tube made of tiny sticks stuck together with a hole in the middle. Inside was a little insect called a caddis fly, which walks around with its own portable home-made house stuck together with silk like spiders make.

APRIL: FLOWER BOMBS AND MORE FROGSPAWN

In April the flowers in the little wood near Harrow Road are a riot of blue and white comfrey and green alkanet.These are flowers which come out in early spring before the leaves on the trees emerge and make the ground under the trees too dark and shady for flowers.
We took apart some tulip flowers to find out what the bees are doing when they visit flowers. We found where the pollen is which the bees collect and we found next year’s seeds at the bottom of the flower which the bees pollinate.
Then we went a threw some flower bombs! These are clay pots which are full of wildflower seeds. You throw the pot, it breaks and the seeds scatter, and the pot dissolves in the rain later. We did a map of where we threw them so we can go and look in the summer and see if any thing grew.
We had another look at the mass of frogspawn wriggling madly in the Cat and Dog Pond. The jelly we saw in March has collapsed and the baby frogs now have bodies , heads, tails and gills to breathe through, but no arms or legs yet. We will look again in May to see what they do next!

MARCH: FOXES & FROGSPAWN

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We often see foxes in our gardens and roads so we found out a few amazing facts about them & drew some nice pictures.
Three fox facts: Did you know that a fox can run at 30 mph? And its hearing is so good it can can hear a watch ticking at 40 metres away? And foxes use 28 different types of calls to communicate with each other?
Then we examined some fresh frogspawn. It was very gooey like soft jelly amd had little black spots like eyes.We drew it. Will it look the same when we come back next month? We went to see it in the Cat and Dog Pond and we saw a heron flying away. Maybe it had been eating the frogspawn.. There were lots of dead frogs lying about which maybe were worn out after laying all that frogspawn.
We looked at a pretty newt with an orange tummy and made drawings and models of it. Then it went back in its pond in Gill’s garden…

FEBRUARY: MORE WINTER TWIGS, BUDS & BARK

What’s inside the fat bud at the end of a bare winter twig?

We cut cross sections of sticky brown horse chestnut buds to find out. We found tiny curled up green leaves and tiny fluffy flowers waiting for spring to arrive. Then we looked at some green lichen on old twigs and through the microscope the lichen seemed like a beautiful miniature garden. After that we enjoyed making millions of tiny brown spores puff out of a puffball ,which is a kind of fungus.

Then we went for a cold walk to look at tree bark. It comes in all sorts of patterns. We did four bark rubbings with paper and wax crayons on a lime tree, a silver birch tree, a plane tree and an elder tree and they all looked different.

Then we got creative with some clay, sticks and bits of leaf and feather and berry and made model birds, horses, woods and reptiles.They looked great!

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DECEMBER: WATERBIRDS & CHRISTMAS WREATHS

Last meeting of the old year- nearly Christmas. A lovely bright morning so we made sure we knew which birds which might be seen on Jubilee Pond and then went with our binoculars to see if they were there- and we saw lots of black-headed gulls ( without black heads but with a little black spot instead!) and Canada geese, some swans, a white duck, a moorhen and coots. These are all resident birds which means they stay there all year round. There were also some shovellers, tufted ducks, and pochards, which are winter migrants which go northwards in the summer. The pochards might have come all the way from Russia- where it is much colder and snowier in winter so they can’t find any food there and fly all the way to Wanstead Flats to find something to eat!

Then as it was Christmas we made some wreaths out of bendy willow sticks ( called whips)which came from Bush Wood and decorated them with green leaves so they looked really nice.

Then finally a game of Bird Bingo which was won by Neels and Ruduo.

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OCTOBER 2014 NATURE CLUB: DEER ANTLERS, TRACKS & TRAILS

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Jordan Thomas who is an Epping forest Keeper brought along his collection of deer antlers and skulls to show us. We were surprised how heavy they were! There were antlers from British deer such as red deer, roe deer and fallow deer , though the only kind of deer we might see near here in Bush Wood is the little Muntjac, which is the size of a dog.

Then we went out to look for tracks and signs nearby and we followed some interesting trails in the long grass, until we found a fox den and a mouse’s nest, and some very smelly mystery poos which we thought might be mink.

SEPTEMBER:SPIDERS AND POND-DIPPING

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We went spider-hunting and found hundreds! Some were busy building webs in the brambles and some were scuttling about in the leaf litter on the ground. We saw one garden spider with a big cross on its back catch a crane-fly in its beautiful sticky orb web and paralyse it and wrap it up in a little parcel.

Then we went pond-dipping in Jubilee Pond and found a water beetle and lots of other tiny creatures but the best things were the leeches looping their way along and sticking to stones. A lady with a dog kindly showed us a very large terrapin who lives around the pond and it kept sticking out its stripey face at us.

A very scarey thunder and lightning night and early morning- just three children today.

AUGUST 2014 NATURE CLUB:DEN BUILDING & BEES

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We went on a foraging expedition to find suitable branches of dead wood to make our den. They had to be tall enough and strong enough. We lent the branches together in a wigwam shape and then covered them with grass and leaves to keep out the wind and rain, taking care to leave a door and a window, and when it was finished it was just big enough to fit us all inside! It looked really nice and we decorated it with brown leaves and wished we had a flag to put on top.

We found a dead hedgehog full of maggots which made us feel sad. We thought it might have been killed by a fox. But it means there must be more hedgehogs around on Wanstead Flats which is good.

Then we went back and looked hard at Gill’s collection of dead garden bees to see if we could identify the differences between a honey bee and different kinds of bumble bee. We identified a little furry orange tree bumblebee.

Then we played the Nector Collector game where we pretend to be bees collecting nector for the hive-we were running backwards and forwards with a sponge full of water ( nector) to our buckets ( the hive) and got quite wet.

Seven children today.

JULY 2014 NATURE CLUB: SNAIL-RACING & MINI BEASTS

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The Emperor Moth caterpillars which Nils had taken home last month and fed with lots of bramble leaves have now turned into rather dull brown pupae. They will stay like that until they hatch out as beautiful moths and Tim has taken them home to look after them.

We took our bug pots and nets and went to look for minibeasts. We walked a short distance and found lots of butterflies. We identified four kinds: little orange skippers, larger meadow browns and pretty gatekeepers in the long grass in the sunshine and speckled wood butterflies in the shade under the trees. We also found crickets, spiders, a giant black slug and lots of bees visiItng the clover on the playing field.

Then we had our snail race! We labelled up our snails, put them on the edge of a large damp sheet and pointed them in the direction of a pile of delicious-looking lettice & carrot in the middle. Sure enough they headed in the right direction and Ruby’s snail practically galloped to the winning post, despite being nobbled by another snail. Gill’s large black slug was,sadly, last.

Eight children again today.

MAY: NEST TESTING & SKYLARKS

The birds are very busy feeding their young in their nests right now. We had a look at some old nests from last year, which were made out of grass,moss, leaves, twigs, even some strange green stuff which felt like tennis balls! Then we had a go at making our own . Could we make nests that were strong enough to hold an egg safely? Would it be strong enough to stay in a tree on a windy day?

We put a  raw hen’s egg in each nest  and  took our nests outside and dropped them from a great height! There was a lot of raw egg on the grass! Only Emely and Samantha’s egg survived the fall: they were declared Nest-Making  Champions.

Then we went on a hot walk across to the rough grass on Wanstead Flats where the skylarks lay their eggs in nests in the grass. The nests are well hidden and we had to be careful not to walk in the long grass in case we trod on them. We  saw a skylark fly straight up into the sky until it was a tiny dot among the clouds and heard it sing its lovely song.

12 children today.

April 2014: Spring Flowers and Pond-dipping

12 children today on a bright spring morning. We looked at some oak tree seedlings and saw how their roots grew out of
last autumn’s acorns. Then we went into the little wood and planted some of the oak seedlings. Will they grow into massive trees one day? The wood was ablaze with wildflowers, perhaps because of the very wet early spring – there were banks of white Comfrey, blue Green Alkanet (what a strange name!) two different kinds of Bluebells including some white bluebells – white Cow Parsley,  yellow Dandelions, Daisies, pink Cranesbill – and a small jumping frog which Menuo wanted to take home but which we let go.

Then  we went to Jubilee Pond. It was looking very dismal as the winter floods have now receded, leaving the soil around the edges compacted, and the geese have busily nibbled away the struggling new grass. As the water level was quite low the new pond-dip platform was too high above the water for us to reach properly with our new pond-dip nets so we went to another area and waded in. We found lots of minute animals which you could really only see through a magnifying lens: water fleas, water boatmen, beetles, damselfly and mayfly larvae, snails – all good food for something bigger!

March: Owl Hoot

Richard Oakman of the Wren Group came along. The children seemed to like the stuffed Tawny Owl, and the clock that uses bird calls every hour and the Birdmike to demonstate owl calls. They looked at my numerous bird books, which were suitable for every age group and Richard was impressed that one child was able to read roman numerals (1905); Richard’s  chat lasted about 20 minutes or so, then the children went on to make clay owls and after that to examine owl pellets. Then it was a short walk to a little pond to watch out for pond life. There were about a dozen children there so it was a good meeting for attendance and Richard was able to chat to several parents as well as the young people aged 4-12!  All in all, a very rewarding session.

February: Floods and Moths

We don’t often see moths, as they fly at night, so it was surprising to see Tim’s lovely pictures of moths and learn about their weird and wonderful life cycle. Thanks Tim. We coloured in a large moth shape, which started off as a Death’s Head Hawkmoth and ended up a very mixed but colourful moth. Then we played Bat and Moth, where the blindfolded Bat has to find the very quiet and elusive Moth. Then we went for our wettest walk yet! As it has rained so much this year Jubilee Pond had flooded right over its banks and across the new path in many places. It was impossible to see where the Pond banks were so we had to be careful not to fall in! After that we had a game of Bird Bingo and Sara and Alanna won. There were 8 children today plus one lttle’un.

January: Garden Birds

We examined  and drew a beautiful but dead garden bird which was very light and did not smell nasty at all – it had black and yellow wings, a short thick beak and a bright red face mask. We looked it up and found it was a goldfinch, which likes to eat seeds and is quite likely to visit our gardens. After a while we got brave enough to handle it and we gave it a very nice burial in the little wood outside, where it will be food for creep-crawlies. We also walked to Jubilee Pond where we spotted lots of waterbirds and tried out our binoculars to do some birdspotting in the nearby wood. We are getting quite good at naming the waterbirds now.

December 2013: Waterbirds on Jubilee Pond

We looked at pictures of birds we were likely to see on Jubilee Pond and looked them up in bird books to identify them. Then we put on our wellies and went out to see what was really there! It is muddy around the pond since it was relined this summer. We saw lots of different kinds of waterbirds: black-headed gulls, Canada geese, greylag geese, Egyptian geese, shoveler ducks, tufted ducks, mallard ducks, coots and swans.
Then we came back and played Bird Bingo! Jacob was the caller and Hassan won. We’ll see who wins next time….

November: Worms and Woodland Tales

Daniel brought along some more sticky stick insects, Menuo had researched October’s wood beetle at home, and some children brought along lots of worms for our wormery. We put layers of earth and coloured sand in stripes in the wormery box, which has see-through sides. Then we added the worms and some leaves on top. Zachary got to take this home for a month to see what the worms do next! He will have to keep it in a dark place and make sure the worms are kept damp and have enough leaves.

Then we went for a walk into Bush Wood. It was cold but sunny and the leaves shone golden on the trees. We carried story sticks like little fishing rods and tied things we found like feathers and leaves onto the wool on the sticks. We spread a tarp on the ground and sat down. Then Marian, our story-teller, plucked a story off the cuff of one of our jumpers and told us a wonderful story. It was lovely to sit in a real wood listening to a story told by a real live storyteller! Today we had fifteen children and lots of mums and dads.

October: Fungi Hunting and Leaf Magic

Daniel brought along a stick insect which had very sticky feet! The weather is still warm, the leaves are mostly still on the trees and
there are lots of insects still around. We looked at different leaf shapes and tried to learn their names. Some leaves are quite easy, like holly, which is spiky and evergreen, and oak which has wavy edges. Then we went on a fungi hunt and found lots of tiny fairy bonnets and some great big parasol mushrooms. We also found a couple of very busy and buzzy wasp nests! We also found a mystery object: a strange star pattern underneath the bark on a fallen log. At first we thought this was a fossil, then a fungi, and finally we decided it was made by the larvae of a wood beetle.

Then we made brilliant leaf firework pictures with brightly coloured autumn leaves stuck on black paper. We had seven children today.

SEPTEMBER- DEN BUILDING AND FIRELIGHTING

We collected lots of branches from the wood to build our dens. First of all we had to find two  big strong branches that ended in a Y shape to make a strong frame for our structures.  Andrew Harby, a City of London officer, showed us how to do this.Then we built them up round the sides with lighter branches and finished them  off  with lots of dry grass to fill the gaps. The girls worked together very well and made splendid dens! Afterwards we had to put all the branches back where we found them.

Then  Andrew showed us how to make a small fire. We learnt how to make sparks with flints.  We used the spark to light a piece of  cotton wool smeared with vaseline in a little twist of dried grass. It worked brilliantly- we soon had lots of little fires going!

We had ten children plus two toddlers and lots of  mums along to help out- what an exciting day.

AUGUST- MORE NECTAR COLLECTORS, AND ANTHILLS TOO

Bank Holiday Weekend- just four children today, which is an improvement on last August Bank Holiday, when we had only one!

A drizzly morning.   We looked at different kinds of dead bees to sort out the honey bees from the  bigger bumblebees, which mostly live on their own in holes in the ground and not in beehives.We looked at butterflies too and Sara made a lovely butterfly sticker picture. Both  butterflies and bees visit and  pollinate flowers and help to grow our food.

We went into the little wood and buried two old birds nests in dry places . We will revisit them next spring to see what might be living in them ! Bumblebees? Mice?Fairies?

Then we went over to the rough grassland to see what we could find living there. We found hundreds of yellow meadow ants in the big anthills and Sara found lots of ants eggs. Joe, Hassan and Daniel found an amazingly large scarey-looking black spider which may have been a wolf spider!

Then we went back to eat our Bee Breakfast,: apple juice, honey and blackberry jelly on pancakes, all created thanks to a bee pollinator.

JULY: WIGGLY WORMS & NECTAR

 COLLECTORS

After a two-week heat-wave today was not the best day to find wiggly worms- all the really big ones had burrowed down a long way underground to find somewhere cool and damp! However we did look at some of the small red ones which live in compost heaps and we found which way was up and which end was front and found out how to make a wormery. Worms are very useful creatures as they turn all those leaves and vegetables into soil for us to grow things in.

There are lots of bright flowers on the Flats at the moment , like purple willow herb and yellow ragwort, and they are covered in hundreds of little brown skipper butterflies searching for nectar to drink. We caught some in our nets to look at.

We played a great Nectar Collector Game. We pretended to be bees looking for nectar in the flowers- lots of getting wet with sponges and waggling of bottoms!

 

JUNE: SNAIL RACING

We had a good look at some tasty big snails and slugs moving round upside down and all ways on their one big foot leaving a slimey sticky trail of goo behind them. We found their one breathing hole with our magnifying glasses and saw their two long and two short tentacles for seeing and smelling with.

Then we had a snail race! Joe had brought his own snail. We put stickers on their shells so we knew which one to cheer for and saw which one moved the fastest. Hassan’s won the first race and Joe’s the second race.

Then we went out into the little wood and looked under some old logs for creepy crawlies who like damp dark places. We found worms, beetles, spiders, centipedes, and lots of slugs and woodlice.

Then we did an experiment with woodlice. We put them into compartments in a shoebox to see where they went. Did they prefer the empty dry compartment? Or the damp dark compartment? We decided they definitely liked the dark! We could have made the experiment work better if we had made the damp bit damper.

 

 

 

A Visit from the ‘Batman’

We learned lots about BATS at our May Nature Club meeting from Keith French, the Head Keeper of Epping Forest. He showed us some bat-detecting equipment and we listened to their high-pitched squeaks.There are lots of different kinds of bats, from vampire bats to pipstrelles, and they are very useful to us. For example, without bats there would be no chocolate! We passed around a tiny dead pipistrelle – a little furry thing in a matchbox. Bats are all around us and if we go into Wanstead Park at dusk on a warm evening we will see them flying around catching insects.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were very busy today as EIGHTEEN children turned up (including a few tiddlers)! We all enjoyed looking at the things Keith had brought to show us, such as a large pickled grass snake, and we did some detective work, identifying a butterfly and a large egg shell found nearby.

Then we went outside with lots of helpful mums and played the Bat and Moth game, where the blindfolded Bat has to catch the quiet Moth, and then we went with some nets and bugpots to see what minibeasts we could find around the Cat and Dog Pond. We found tadpoles, slugs, spiders and lots of small yellow meadow ants. We had a go, using a walking stick, at knocking down lots of tiny caterpillars and bugs hiding in the lower branches of the oak tree.

We are hoping to organise a Bat Walk for children in Wanstead Park with Keith soon, so we can see (and hear) real live bats in motion!