Big Garden Birdwatch 2017

This years Big Garden Birdwatch saw me more hopeful than last. Our previous house had a regular species drop in of three: blackbirds, wood pigeons and starlings. While I am actually fond of all three it doesn’t make for the most exciting hours viewing. However our new garden sees a much greater diversity with over ten regular species dropping in and a handful of irregulars.

I had planned to try to do the watch early morning or just after dinner, but marking, planning and parental duties took priority. But we now have a good storage unit in the sitting room for Alice’s toys and books.

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Man duties done I settled in to monitor the birds later than I’d intended, so I did think I’d miss out as late afternoon/early evening isn’t an amazingly active point and next doors cat sitting on the fence for a while won’t of helped, but haven’t had too bad a time. I’ve missed out on a few of the finches who have been regular visitors and the collared doves, but still managed double figures of species.

The survey works by taking the largest number of each species you see at once, so you don’t count birds coming in and out. My results were as follows:

Eleven starlings

Six blackbirds

Four wood pigeons

Three blue tits

Two great tits

Two chaffinches

Two house sparrows

One robin

One wren

One crow

One common gull

I managed to capture many on the trail cam with a number posing nicely for the mugshots.

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Taking the story out

Today I’m going to be starting a series of articles covering ideas for 30 days wild for teachers and parents. Fairy tales and traditional tales are a key part of childhood. They capture children’s imagination, teach moral lessons and prepare them for the hardships of life. The vast majority of these stories take place outside and often in woods and forests. The backdrop of the forest makes up a large part of our fairy tales and folklore going back to a time when people were worried about the perils of the forest.This idea was well covered in gossip from the forest-Sara Maitland

Now we have the reverse situation if we don’t get people outside we face dangers for their mental well being and physical health. Teaching and taking the children out has been shown to be beneficial for children’s health and developing their education. Whether you subscribe to forest school practises or just the ideas in Richard Louv’s-last child in the woods, outdoor play is important. It promotes health, helps tackle childhood obesity, but more importantly for me it develops a love of nature and creates imaginative children.

A key message in last child in the woods is that a lot of the best imaginative play happens outside, seeing as many of the best fairy and traditional tales happen outside it is a perfect chance for going out of the classroom, out of the house to tell them. This might only be a basic as taking the picnic blanket out in the garden, to the park on the school playing field, but it changes the engagement with the story. It makes it more than just a story at hometime in school. Some parks have dedicated story spaces to go and read a story in or a story chair.York Museum Gardens have a storytelling area hidden away.

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For some teachers reading in this way may be a worry. The children will be too excited, their focus will be elsewhere. At the start of the year I explain to classes these times we are going outside to learn have the same expectations as the classroom. We are still going out to learn and the same expectations to listen are still required. It is made very clear that children who can’t follow instructions will miss out next time. I am fortunate in that my school has a large playing field (it is one that hasn’t been sold off to make a new housing estate)  with trees along the back giving us nice spaces to go out onto, but even going out a concrete playground will add interest to the kids.

In terms of practicalities in Summer going out to read a story on the field or playground is straightforward as most of the time the grass is dry enough to sit on. Currently though it is not. I have a large tarpaulin that we take out. The children take the edges and stretch it out and then sit on the edges while I peg it down. If you have a nice spot under a tree or maybe a stage on the playground it again adds to the feeling of the story being more of an event than just home time story.

I like telling stories orally, but that requires an element of performance and acting some teachers may not be comfortable with. For stories I don’t know as well I generally stand to read the story with the children sat on the tarp. When it’s a story I know well it can be told orally acting the story out. This allows more fluidity and movement, moving amongst the children keeping their attention better. It’s a good way to engage the children in their topic. By reading the story outside it encourages the children to continue the story during their break time as they connect their story with outside. So I find stories read or performed outside will be re-enacted during break and dinner time extending their learning into these times. Becoming familiar with stories and having the opportunity to act them out is a vital element in children becoming story writers. Pie Corbett refers to this as imitation. Through this stage of imitating stories they then come to innovate and change the stories to make their own versions. By reading and performing stories outside it widens the possibilities of a story. For example a chase between the wolf and woodcutter in Little Red Riding Hood can stretch over the field rather than being squashed in the classroom.

For parents just taking the picnic blanket to the park with a story again has an added element of excitement, taking the story beyond just reading it for bedtime.

So key reasons for reading outside:

  • Create excitement and engagement.
  • Extend the learning beyond the classroom, children will often continue their story games into break and dinner time.
  • Time outside benefits health and mental health.
  • Space to roleplay stories with no limits on running, jumping, etc that you would have in the classroom.
  • Boy engagement. It always makes up an element of school improvement plans now. The boys in my class like getting out and generally end up following close behind for outdoor stories so they can spread the tarp. This then ends up with many of them sat at the front for story rather than trying to hide at the back not listening.
  • Creating a love of literature and the outside.

 

I will be following this blog up with several examples of stories I like to use outside and what additional activities I do alongside reading the story. If you use any stories outside currently or decide to take your class or children out please comment below. I’d love to hear others experiences.

 

Preparing for the big garden birdwatch

Over this weekend I’ve been keeping an eye on the bird life in the local area and in my garden. I’ve had a flurry of new species into the garden the last week and don’t recognise them all. So checking through the field guides ready the big garden birdwatch next week.

I felt the need to visit the local park after my earlier post local park after my earlier post. The crows and gulls were present as always, but also snapped a pied wagtail on the goal posts and a blurry bull finch. Couldn’t quite get close enough to the bullfinch for a decent shot. The wagtail was very obliging staying still sat atop the most useless goal around. In the middle of the goal is a tree stump and just in front of that is a bog. Possibly explaining why I’ve not seen it in use.

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Back at home I’ve had the trail cam on seeing what is raiding the feeder and to check it’s working ready for monitoring next weekend. Nothing out of the ordinary today, but the feeders have seen plenty of visitors, which is always nice. The blackbirds haven’t actually eaten much. They just seem to like posing in front of the camera.

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Parks under threat.

With local councils under threats from budget cuts our parks are in danger. Reduced funding and threats of spaces being sold off are real. These spaces can not be got back once sold as real estate. Read the article and please sign the petition if you would like to see your parks protected. Green spaces are important for our children as well as our mental health. Don’t let them go.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jan/20/parks-at-risk-green-campaigners-launch-crowdsourcing-study

The petition.

https://speakout.38degrees.org.uk/campaigns/1355

 

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Quiet as the grave

Yesterday went for a little walk to the shops with Alice. We walked past Southgate Cemetery, which I haven’t investigated yet. Graveyards are usually excellent spots for wildlife, normally filled with birds and often squirrels and other small mammals. There is often an excellent variety of fungal activity with fairy rings being common. However yesterday it was obviously too cold for anything to want to move. Apart from the obligatory graveyard crow there was no sign of life, which believe it or not is actually unusual in a graveyard. Lots of bird song, but few visible.

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There was however signs that wildlife is being provided for with a number of batboxes and bird boxes around the site.

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Walking the graveyard reminded me of the Buddhist practise of reflecting on death, so it seemed like a good time to consider the five remembrances as detailed by Thich Nhat Hanh.

I am of the nature to grow old.
There is no way to escape growing old.

I am of the nature to have ill health.
There is no way to escape ill health.

I am of the nature to die.
There is no way to escape death.

All that is dear to me and everyone I love
are the nature to change.

There is no way to escape
being separated from them.

My actions are my only true belongings.
I cannot escape the consequences of my actions.

My actions are the ground upon which I stand.

What may seem like gloomy statements on first read actually bring much solace as understanding comes through reflection. Without an acceptance of our impermanence progress towards happiness would be hard.

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Returning home Alice is really making progress with trying to stand. She is a very determined young lady. Doesn’t want help. She may well be off and walking before 9 months at the rate she’s going. She’s crawling, but doesn’t seems to consider it undignified, so is pushing for walking instead.

In the evening I released the first of the tiger moths we had been studying in school. We’ve seen them through from caterpillar to moth. I’m not convinced that their getting the sustenance they need from the suggested sugar water. They may not last long out in the wild this time of year, but they can at least have a taste of freedom.

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My wild winter

The Wildlife Trust has put out a super little PDF on winter activities.

My Wild Winter

It has some good ideas on ways to stay wild during these chilly months.

Included are ideas on:

  • Making bird feeders.
  • Making a snow globe.
  • Discovering animal tracks.
  • Making a Winter bird bath.
  • making ice decorations.

Each are nice activities for a few hours on a weekend or Spring holiday to fight the boredom and still get outside.

There are some challenges to do in the snow such as making snow animals. Suggestions include making a snow hedgehog using sticks for spines. It would make a nice change from a snowman and won’t take anywhere near as long! It also lists wildlife and winter events to look out for.

The activities are largely family/young children orientated, but it’s free so you’re not going to lose anything (beyond a few minutes of time) by looking.

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Snow and Birdwatch

The last few days has seen snow come to Hornsea. It’s the first time Alice has seen snow. I wasn’t there to see Alice’s reaction, but apparently her face was a picture.

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With the snow unfortunately came a storm and has flooded the roads on the sea front. So we will be avoiding walks down along the front for a few days.

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This week I received my RSPB Big Garden pack. This is the worlds largest wildlife survey according to the RSPB’s claims. Simple idea, sit and watch your garden for an hour and record which birds come in. It has been going since 1979 after featuring on Blue Peter it went big. It provides one of the best long term studies of garden birds numbers. From the results the RSPB know which birds numbers are down and which could do with our help.

last year the top 10 were as follows:

  1. House sparrow
  2. Starling
  3. Blue tit
  4. Blackbird
  5. Wood Pigeon
  6. Goldfinch
  7. Chaffinch
  8. Great Tit
  9. Robin
  10. Long tailed tit

Within my garden starlings will probably come out top, but we may have some more unusual visitors being by the sea with various gulls visiting regularly.

The pack contains some useful identification sheets. A wildlife calender for what to look out for through the year. They even threw in some ground coffee to drink while watching. Although as a coffee hating tea drinker I will be giving that a miss.

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In the build up I’m going to be trying to makes sure the birds in my garden are being well supplied on the feeders. With the solid ground and snow they will struggle for food sources, so more than ever they need a good stock.

Alice is getting more mobile. She is pulling herself up, crawling and standing with small support. It won’t be long until she’s walking on our adventures out.

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Smoke on the water

We returned to the mere for the first time in a few months. With the cafe closed for the winter granddad has lost interest in taking Alice here.

On previous visits we’ve been past the field on the way in and watched the sheep, but it seems they’ve been relocated to further round the mere. The field was however full of one of my favourite collective nouns; a murder of crows.

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Several crows and magpies were scavenging over the fields along with a few pied wagtails pretending to be part of the crow family.

Alice seemed happy to be returning to the mere.

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Having just finished crow country I’m still finding myself keeping track of crows on our walks.

A group elegantly silhouetted in the trees on the approach to the mere.

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The mere itself had a fine layer of mist layered around the edges giving it something of an Arthurian Avalon feel with the Lady of the Lake ready to leap out and startle the bird watching group.

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The bird watchers had come fully kitted with large telescopes. As far as I could tell they were watching the same ducks and swans that were swimming up to the shore, but maybe they could see something more exciting than my little binoculars. I suppose if you’ve brought big kit you’ve got to use it.

The gulls and ducks were swarming round the other side as several people fed them.

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We left the mere to go back home by the railway track. Alice decided nothing of any more interest was going to happen and went to sleep.

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The track is looking pretty lifeless currently. Just a few gulls returning to sea.

A pretty grim day at the seafront with the sky and sea merging seamlessly into an endless wall of grey. The boundaries between sea and sky had disappeared.

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I made a start on Richard Fortey-the wood from the trees. After leaving the Natural History Museum he bought a section of woodland. In this book he chronicles the wood in the style of a museum of curiosities. Should be interesting.

Crows

In the last few days managed to finish off, Mark Cocker’s-crow country, ready before I go back to work.

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Mark Cocker takes us through his obsession with crows. He examines the variety of birds within the crow family. The crows, ravens, rooks, magpies, jays, jackdaws and choughs. He takes us on trips out rooking following the birds to their rookeries. Mark tries to come up with explanations for the social behaviour of rooks and why they form in large groups of mingled species. There was an examination of the crow within literature.

Finally he examines why his own motivation for becoming obsessed by the crows. He looks at other bird enthusiasts who became fixated on single species. Concluding that this biophilia is a way of engaging all your faculties. A way of seeing the interconnectedness of all things. It elevates your view of life.

I am rather fond of crows. They may not be fancy colours or bright, but they have a style about them. Even though there common in the park and on the journey to work I do enjoy when they visit the garden. I enjoyed learning a bit more about them through crow country, although I still feel I’ve barely scratched the surface.

A rook heading off at dusk tonight.

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