Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Buckenham Marshes

It was a cold, clear day at Buckenham Marshes, with frozen streams and frosty paths. This didn't stop the wigeon in their hundreds though. From stepping foot across the rail line, we could hear their whistling calls and see huge flocks nervously taking off and landing at the slightest shadow overhead. A teal or two were nestled amongst them, looking for security in the flock. Lapwings squared off at each other across the field, and robins laid claim to their territories. Rooks fed together in the fields and took off 'cawing' to the nearest clump of trees as we passed. The odd wren flitted across our path, and a kestrel hovered overhead. A perfect stroll in the winter sunshine.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

If you go down to the woods today...

... you might get blown away!

We were the only people around the entire of Foxley Wood yesterday, not another soul to be seen. Although it seemed like the trees themselves were possessed in the wind, creaking and rattling together like nothing so much as bones. We were mindful to try to keep away from the hanging branches; so many had snapped in the strong winds and were drooping down to the floor, held on by only a strip of bark.

It was far too blustery to see any birds of prey, and the woods were eerily quiet, barely any birdsong or evidence of any animal, although our keen eyes, now trained to look for hints of animals passing as well as the animals themselves, picked out a few tell tale signs.

I picked out the white rumps of two bullfinches as they flew away from the sounds of our approaching footsteps or the sight of our approaching silhouettes. Against the white, blanket cloud covered sky, I also picked out the dark silhouettes of several tree creepers flitting from tree to tree, their relatively streamlined shapes helping them in their efforts against the wind. My hunch was further clarified by finding two of these 'little brown birds', which I had only a fleeting glimpse of, and watching them wind their way up the swaying tree trunks.

As we delved further into the woods, we could hear the chinking alarm calls of blackbirds that we had accidentally disturbed, and could make out the occasional bird; wood pigeons sitting at the tops of trees silently waiting, then clattering off when we approached, or they had seen some phantom predator. The occasional miniature flock of blue and/or great tits trying to keep in the cover of the canopy, rather than risk being blown off course in the open. My husband spotted deer tracks in the mud, probably a roe deer, and I spotted the footprints of a large bird (probably a gull).

Not the greatest wildlife spotting adventure, but you don't always need to see 'them' in the flesh to enjoy a walk through the woods, and know that they are there somewhere, probably watching you from their far more sensible hiding places than walking through the woods, out in the open, blundering through a gale.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Creating a Nature Table

I think it's incredibly important that everyone takes an interest in observing and looking after our natural world. Being a secondary school science teacher, I do, in some respect, have the potential to influence the views of the pupils I teach. Even if ecology and natural history have no place in the new curriculum, that doesn't mean to say they have no place in my classroom.

When I first started at my school as an NQT, four years ago, I began a nature table. I could never remember, even at my primary school, seeing one when I was growing up, and thought it would be a good place to start. It generated some interest in my tutor group when they were year 7, but as they have grown, and as I have gained more responsibility, my nature table began to look dusty and unused.

I decided it was high time for a make over, so I have spruced up my nature table, at relatively low cost, and made it look a little more 'professional'. Here is a guide to how I did it, and I am writing in the hope that other teachers out there might follow my lead, or perhaps others will at home.

Materials required:

- 90 cm x 50 cm rectangle of green felt (£4.50)
- 50 cm strip of medium thickness wadding (£1.43)
- The lid of photocopier paper box
- brown and white acrylic paint
- The items you wish to display!

Steps to make your nature table:

1) Take your box lid and paint all one colour; I decided to go for a pale brown. Then, create a 'wood' effect by taking a darker brown and painting streaks all around the box lid. The idea behind this was to create a 'look-alike' drawer in which to display the objects of interest.

2) Cut out a piece of wadding to fit inside the box to line the bottom. This has two purposes; it creates a much cleaner look, and white is a nicer colour to display objects of varying colours on, and it also cushions the objects. The strip I bought is enough for more than three boxes.

3) Place your items inside the box in a pleasing arrangement, and write labels to identify them. If I had completed this part myself, I would have included both common and latin names, as well as date and place of collection. However, I decided to let members of my Science (STEM) Club identify and label them to get them more interested and involved.

4) On whichever surface your nature table is going to sit, spread out the green felt.

5) Place your box in pride of place, with other natural items surrounding it.

I am hoping to build up my collection of boxes. So far, we have a 'shell' box, and next on the agenda is feathers. If anyone else has any advice on making nature tables interesting to young people, I would be very interested to know, so please do comment below.