What Happens at a Wildlife Safari Sensory Workshop

Last Saturday we held our first Wildlife Safari Sensory Workshop with ‘Wildman’ Stuart Mabbutt leading it.  This was an opportunity for everyone, myself included, to explore the wildlife secrets of Clue Hill Farm.

Warming by the Fire at the Wildlife Safari

Warming by the Fire at the Wildlife Safari

The weather was quite chilly and very windy to start with, which meant that for the first use of our one of our senses: hearing, the dominant sound was that of the leaves rustling in the trees, interspersed with the sound of some very loud chiff chaffs and robins.  Almost to order, a Great Spotted Woodpecker ‘clucked’  as Stuart was explaining how we should slightly disengage our hearing in order to be able to listen to everything around us.

Our woods abut the Woodland Trust woods of Piddington and by a strange coincidence they were holding a bat survey on Friday night.  (We do not fence our boundary between their woods and ours, as this permits the free movement of wildlife).  Despite the poor flying conditions on Friday night, the volunteers, led by Stuart Jenking, the Warden managed to find 38 bats in 4 boxes.  These were: Common Pipistrelle, Natterer’s Brown Eared Noctule bats.  It’s wonderful to know that the Clue Hill pond is the water and insect supply for these nocturnal creatures.

You can install your own bat box in your garden, but remember, once it has been installed, you need to get permission from the Bat Society to remove/relocate it, so that its residents are not disturbed.

Stuart explained how important dead wood is as an insect habitat.  At Clue Hill we like to leave small piles along the woodland edge, some of the larger logs to just decompose and some actually in the pond (half in and half out of the water as it attracts dragonflies and we have these in great abundance in the summer) – just as Stuart suggests we can replicate in our own gardens.

One of the Clue Hill Farm Hay Meadows

One of the Clue Hill Farm Hay Meadows

Our sheep had done a good job grazing throughout the winter and the hay meadow leading up to the woods is now starting to come alive with wild flowers, which all attract butterflies, bees, spiders, millipedes, birds.  Stuart explained that leaving small parts of your garden to go ‘wild’, along with differing lengths of grass will attract butterflies, eg Gatekeepers and Meadowbrowns

The sun then started to shine, looking especially impressive as it came in through the woods creating the beautiful dappled lighting effect.  Stuart commanded silence, so that we could all hear the wonderful birdsong and learn how to relax and engage with all that was around us, explaining how different bird species require different sections of the trees to inhabit.  Leaving the woods undisturbed is an important part of protecting their habitat.

‘That’s Oxford’ TV cameraman Alex visited us and filmed the morning’s activities:

hayfields

Discovering all of our senses by sitting in the hayfield

woodland

Looking and touching the different types of trees in the Clue Hill Wood

The Birdsong is Amazing at this Time of Year – The Cuckoo is Here!

On my dog walks around Clue Hill Farm last week I heard the cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) three days running.  A true sign for me that spring is really here.  I think that this must be a real privilege, as the call of the cuckoo is becoming a

wood violets

Wood Violets in the Sunshine at Clue Hill Farm

very rare sound in the U.K., because fewer and fewer of them return to breed here every year.  It seems that very little is known about their habitat and where they go, so it is therefore very difficult to concentrate on their conservation.  We just hope that the conservation work that we are doing will prove beneficial to providing the correct habitats for birds such as the cuckoo.

I may have heard one, but I certainly did not see one and I wonder how many people would recognise one if they did see them?  The cuckoo is a dove-sized bird and has blue/grey upper parts, head and chest, with dark barred white under parts.  They have a sleek body, long tail and pointed wings, which is not unlike kestrels or sparrowhawks.

The females lay their eggs in the nests of other birds, especially meadow pipits, dunnocks and reed warblers.  The unfortunate host birds then take on the duties of parents and feed the cuckoo chick, unaware that the baby bird is not their own.  A female cuckoo may visit as many as 50 nest in one year – which if they are such prolific breeders, begs the question as to why they are in such decline; but due to their recent decline, they have now been listed as a Red List species by the RSPB.

Planning for the Wildlife Safari in the Barn at Clue Hill Farm

Planning for the Wildlife Safari in the Barn at Clue Hill Farm

When I met with Stuart Mabbutt last Saturday, who is now our Resident Wildlife Sound Recordist* at Clue Hill Farm, within the space of 25 minutes of walking around the woods and surrounding hedgerows, he heard: robins, willow warbler, wren, great tit, blue tit, pheasant, blackcap, green woodpecker, dunnock and saw two buzzards searching for prey.  We did not hear the cuckoo though.

Stuart was preparing a site study for his Wildlife Safari on May 16th and was really pleased to see how the woods and pond were springing into life.  He had last visited us in late autumn and our careful and sustainable management of the area is proof of how we try to nurture the environment to encourage wildlife.

Meanwhile, I shall be looking to spot my first cuckoo.  They are masters of disguise.  Some of them are even able to match their eggs to those in their chosen nest, making it less likely for the real owners to notice the new addition. How clever is that?

* Our Resident Wildlife Sound Recordist will be using Clue Hill Farm to build his sound archive so that he can produce soundscapes.  This is an exciting new collaboration for us, so watch this space!