Day 11-An inordinate fondness for beetles

If Thursday was a butterfly day today is a beetles day.

J.B.S. Haldane, the evolutionary biologist was asked by a theologian what he could deduce about god from a lifetime of studying animals. His apocryphal response was that god must have an inordinate fondness for beetles. This alludes to the fact that there are more species of beetles than in any other order. With around 40,000 varieties they make up a massive amount of insect varieties. Their role as detrivores makes them vital in many ecosystems. Each year in school I like to put some time aside for looking at beetles as part of our animal topic, but this year I have got something special for the children.

I have set up a tank for a pair of giant rhino beetles for our new class pet. I received two larvae of Megasoma elephas elephas. These beetles can be found from Venezuela to Mexico and are one of the largest beetles in the world reaching up to 13cm in size. The substrate is all set and the larvae seem to be settling nicely into their new habitat. I hope the kids are as fascinated by them as I am. The variety of beetles and amazing range of colours makes them a stunning species to study.

The larvae will take a number of months now to bulk out on the wood and leaves in the soil before they make their pupa to emerge as beetles.

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The tendency in schools is to cover the more showy butterflies or frogs for looking at life cycles, but beetles are really easy to set up and their are some lovely stories and non-fiction books available.

Steve Jenkins-The beetle book

This beautifully illustrated book shows off many beetles from around the world, discusses beetle facts and many different types of beetles.

A beetle is shy-Dianna Hutts Aston & Sylvia Long

Another beautiful non-fiction book looking at types of beetles and their life cycles.

The life cycle of a beetle

A quick read covering the life cycle of the beetle in easy to understand language.

 

Within the classroom mealworms are really easy to rear if you want to show children a lifecycle and if you get a good colony going you can feed the meal worms to the birds.

Instructions here

Not my video but covers the basics.

 

Stag beetles are the largest beetle in the UK, but are under threat. See detail here. Sadly not an insect we get up North, but see what you can do if your in the South here. Even if you’re not going to attract stag beetles a wood pile is a vital habitat for wildlife in the garden. I have a small wood pile in the garden where I also pile twigs and leafs to encourage wildlife. I started one with my class at school, but the caretaker told us we had to dismantle it as it was a fire risk if people broke onto the site they may set fire to it. Don’t get to have any fun. But I look forward to seeing how my rhino beetles develop.

Day 10-A more domesticated wild

Up to day 10, a third of the way through. So far managed something each day, some days more wild than others.

Today I took my class on this half terms trip to Hull RSPCA Animal Welfare Centre. While not wildlife, many of the animals at the centre are pretty wild. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was originally set up by 22 reformers. MP Richard Martin being the most significant. But William Wilberforce of Hull was also involved in establishing the RSPCA. Wilberforce is probably better known for his involvement in abolishing the slave trade, but also helped the RSPCA, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and the Church Missionary Society. The Hull branch of RSPCA was established in 1903 and is now largely responsible for domesticated animals.

 

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William Wilberforce (1759-1833)

While at the centre the children got to see the dogs, cats, rabbits and the newly established ferret unit. The children were a bit frightened of the dogs. Many of the dogs are of the rip of your face off variety, thus why they’ve been taken to the RSPCA. The kittens entranced the children more with lots of oohs and aahs. The ferrets were largely sleeping, but for many of the children it was the first time they’d seen ferrets and that in itself was exciting enough. The rabbits were fussed over with many children wanting to take them home.

 

Overall a nice trip out, but the children were a bit disappointed they didn’t get to handle the animals. As many of the animals have been taken from bad situations they can be quite skittish and many have never encountered children. That along with the risk of spreading disease means the animals can’t be handled. But I’m glad the children get a chance to see these animals and start to understand that not all humans look after their animals carefully. They were taught about the RSPCA five animal freedoms. Hopefully by taking the children to the centre less animals will end up there in the future.

RSPCA-5-Freedoms

 

 

Day 9-Butterflies

Today has been a day for butterflies. Before I left on paternity leave last month I had a butterfly home set up in the classroom with caterpillars set to pupate. However sadly for me they hatched out and needed releasing before I returned, so I was deprived of seeing them fly. The children however told me lots about them on my return. From their description we identified them from the National Trust-Butterflies as painted lady butterflies.

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I feel I missed out on one of the school yearly rituals of cultivating the caterpillars and releasing the butterflies. So I have brought my butterfly guide home. I hope to set up a few butterfly feeders to attract some more into the garden. I’ve seen what I think are small whites in the garden. I want to see if I can spot any more as butterflies are not an area of entomology I know that well. However it is looking like rain, so going to hold off for now.

Later in the year can use the RSPB butterfly banquet set up.

Carrying on with the butterflies I introduced Alice to the classic Eric Carle’s very hungry caterpillar. She responded by screaming for the source of milk (also known as mummy). Hearing that the caterpillar was still hungry obviously appealed to her.

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Day 8 feeling the grass

Today I took my class out to explore bare foot walking on the grass. Year one science targets involve exploring our five senses, so we smelled, looked, listened and felt the grass. We left off tasting it. I thought I might get a few parental complaints if their children came home saying their teacher had told them to eat grass. They loved taking their shoes and socks off and exploring something they go over every day in a different way.

We came back in to discuss how it felt and they wrote up their thoughts. In the background we had one of the Springwatch live cams on. They enjoyed seeing the baby blue tits.

It is world oceans day today. Nice to see National Geographic listed snotbot as a breakthrough innovation in saving our oceans. See here.

Snotbot was done as a kickstarter campaign. People pledged money to give the money to allow drones to be bought to monitor whales. Rather than the more invasive techniques of need to get close to the whales the snot bot can take samples without touching. The snotbots are drones that can hover over the blow hole and take samples from the spray. I donated to it back in the year and it’s good to see the project going well.

See here.

 

Day 7-A new book and new listen

Today has been a busy day at work and with friends visiting hasn’t left much time for wildness. Alice has started to encounter the creatures of England through the stories of Beatrix Potter. My partner Amy has been reading these classic stories to settle her for bed. Next month marks what would of been the 150th birthday of Beatrix Potter. Certainly a women worth celebrating. Her stories have delighted parents and children for many years. But more importantly for her work buying up large parts of the Lake District around her home to be preserved for years to come. The National Trust has a number of events to celebrate.

See here

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While Alice is starting a new series of books I have also started a new book-Richard Louv-Last child in the wood. I’m sure many of you will be familiar with this book detailing how children have lost touch with nature. This has been recommended for a long time, but I haven’t got round to it. But with a new child I want to make sure Alice gets the opportunities to enjoy nature. A chapter in I am enjoying this thoroughly.

I have also stated a new audiobook-The butterfly Isle by Patrick Barkham. Over a year Patrick tried to find all 59 species of British butterfly. So far covered 10 species, but I’ve a feeling it’s now going to start getting harder for him to find the other 49. An interesting challenge taken on by someone who states that they had become detached from a love of nature in their childhood.

Hopefully tomorrow will see a bit more wild as planning to take my class out to feel the grass under their feet.

Day 6 – write a poem

So far most of the poems I’ve seen have been haiku’s. Being a year 1 teacher I will stick with the simpler acrostic poem.

Terrific

Heart-warming

Idealistic

Regenerative

Titillating

Yearly

Delightful

Amazing

Yeatsian

Satisfying

Olfactory

Flourishing

 

Wonderful

Inspiring

Little

Distractions

 

Not amazing, but a bit of a rushed job.

A few photos from my parents garden.

 

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Day 5-bird watching

Day 5 sees me sat in on a sunny day working planning lessons for school. I’ve been working from the kitchen table, but so I can enjoy a little wild I’ve set up the camera with remote in the garden watching the bird feeder. So far the sparrows have been fighting over the feeder. It’s the first time using the remote. I would like a better telephoto lens, but thought I would try a cheaper option first of using a remote and a bit of patience.

 

Day 4-staying close to home

Alice is a hungry baby today leading to us staying close to home as we aren’t getting long between feeds. So today has been a day of enjoying the little things in my garden.

I mowed the lawn leaving an edge to grow longer to provide a passageway for wildlife. Along the border a number of plants are flowering from wild flower mix put down a month back. Not actually sure what they are though.

Refilled the bird feeders in the front and back garden.

Alice is sleeping now so I’m going to try to watch into the wild.

Day 3-A couple of nature podcasts

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After recommending a number of audio books yesterday I thought I’d carry on with a couple of podcasts to enjoy while in the car, stuck in the home, having a bath, wherever you get a chance to stop and listen.

 

BBC-best of natural history

An excellent short podcast (up to 30 minutes normally) to listen to. It covers a wide range of nature topics.

BBC-Costing the Earth

A weekly BBC podcast examining man’s impact on the environment.

RSPB-Nature’s voice

The RSPB podcast covering all things ornithological. It covers bird news, interviews, garden advice.

Nature podcast

A weekly podcast covering natural science stories from around the world.

RHS podcast

Full of lots of tips on maintaining your garden.

Day 2-An early start

Day 2 has been off to an early start with feeding Alice. It’s looking like another grey day outside, so may be looking at cloud watching from inside. Reading though many of the comments on facebook I’ve seen a lot of people looking for indoors activities or quick activities.Today I would like to recommend starting an audiobook. As a new father I knew I wouldn’t have as much time to read as I used to. I enjoy listening to Audible audio books in the car on the way to and back from work. If you sign up for Amazons audible you get one free audiobook. You aren’t tied to the subscription, so if you want to just try one you can and then leave it. Audiobooks are allowing me to carry on taking in books at a time when my personal “me” time is limited. I’ve binged on nature/animal books the last few months. Here are a few of my favourites.

Raptor a journey through birds-James Macdonald Lockhart

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Audible link

James Macdonald travels the UK examining 15 species of breeding birds of prey in the UK. Birds of prey hold a special fascination to most bird watchers. The descriptions of the different birds of beautiful. He details background to how the birds have fared historically in the UK and how they are doing currently as well as prob lems they are facing. Throughout the book James uses the life of William MacGillivray to create a narrative through the book. Willaim MacGillivray was a Scottish ornithologist (1796-1852) who wrote what was in essence the first guides to British birds. This was a very engaging listen with good narration.

 

Meadowland-John Lewis Stempel

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Audible link

In this book John Lewis-Stempel spends a year detailing the events of an English meadow on his farm. Through this I discovered much about the life of a meadow field I was unaware of. John’s writing has a poetry to it often describing everyday events as the wonders they should be taken as. He details the fauna and beasts that live in the field as well as species disappearing from the countryside.I’ve re listened to this several times taking in different details each time.

 

Life on air: Memoirs of a broadcaster-David Attenbourough

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Audible link

Britain’s favourite nature presenter tells the story of his life as a broadcaster I listened to this earlier in the year before all of the celebratory programs came on for David’s 90th birthday. This was a superb listen, gripped me throughout. I hadn’t known about David’s time as controller of BBC 2 as it first got going. It was fascinating to see how television programs have developed, how the technology developed to allow better filming of animals, and David’s stories of the animals along the way. Narrated by David himself delivering it as only he could. I was disappointed when it finished.

We bought a zoo-Benjamin Mee

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Audible link

The story of Benjamin Mee was turned into a Matt Damon movie a few years back. The movie changed pretty much all the details. It moved the story to America. It changed the relationship with Mee’s wife. It changed the whole family set up Mee created. Mee and his family uprooted their lives to buy a dilapidated zoo on Dartmoor. The family have little experience in looking after exotic animals. They have financial problems. Mee’s wife Katherine was diagnosed¬† with cancer.¬† As a journalist for the guardian for many years his writing is very entertaining. There are many heart-warming moments within the book. A nice easy listen.

Being a beast-Charles Foster

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Audible link

Charles Foster spends time trying to get to know what it is like to be a badger, an otter, a deer, a fox and a swift. He tries to avoid anthropomorphising the animals and write what life for them might really be like. It looks at the neuroscience and psychology of the animals. He spends time trying to love as each of the animals do. These accounts are often humorous.  His accounts of spending time digging around for worms as a badger are very funny. A good nature book turning views on their heads.

Our Zoo-June Mottershead

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Audible link

The BBC made June’s account into a lovely drama. It changed many of the details, but made for nice family entertainment. June’s story of how her father George Mottershead set up Chester zoo. It’s a thoroughly engaging look at how the zoo was set up and developed over time. It will bring tears of joy and sadness as her story goes back and forth.

H is for Hawk-Helen Macdonald

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Audible link

Helen Macdonald tells how she trains a goshawk after the death of her father. Throughout the book she also tells the tortured tale of the life of W.H. White, author of the goshawk and the once and future king. It tells her story of loss and how she heals through training her hawk and reconnecting to a world she withdraws from. Written with great warmth and a level of intimacy. Helen narrates the book herself giving the delivery the appropriate delivery of particularly emotional sections.

 

And a few in my library waiting to be listened to.

Fingers in the sparkle jar-Chris Packham

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Audible link

Cuckoo-cheating nature-Nick Davies

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Audible link

The shepherd’s life-James Rebanks

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Audible link